4 essential elements of fitness… as I see it.

But it’s mostly just #1 — if you have #1, you’ll find a way to get #2-4.

1. You enjoy using your body to do fun, interesting, useful, challenging things.
2. You know how to maintain your body, so you can use it for a long time.
3. You know how to improve skills / capabilities to do more interesting things.
4. You have access to a place, time, and people to do all the things.

The above is for physical fitness, but it works for mental fitness too.
And, I think, for career fitness.
And philanthropic fitness.

So I guess we’re really talking about “human” fitness.
I.e. Being good at being a human — in all the ways you can be a human.

The big idea is to “pull” rather than “push” yourself.
Fun, interest, usefulness, and challenge are good “pulls”.

Building a habit of persistence

Perhaps persistence may be “gotten” by making a habit of continuously re-rendering the sights and sounds and feelings of accomplishment — with sufficient variation that it can be “like new” each day. Thus, we “pull” ourselves along toward some end by enamoring ourselves of the glory of those moments.

To exert control over our “inner lives”, we need to both amplify the signal we’ve designed for ourselves and attenuate the signals of the environment around us (which are often in conflict with the signal we’ve designed). This is particularly true of the “self-made” individual who transitions from one world to another. (e.g. “rags to riches”)

The interesting question that follows: How do we both cultivate our own view of things — which sustains our persistence in the face of difficulty and noise — while remaining receptive to changes in that view?

This is a difficult thing to do and will always be — there is no point at which the individual on this path may rest. However, empirical evidence presently suggests a way forward — and it’s the been the same for ages. The way forward appears to be the cultivation of the Mastermind (a la Napoleon Hill) — a group of people who do not necessarily share the same views, backgrounds, or values but who do share an ethic of improvement, a set of constructive habits, and shared rules of working together.

With such a mastermind, ideas, plans, and mental models can be externalized, examined, evaluated, and sharpened to a fine point. Not endless dialogue about trivialities or a free-for-all of words, but rather a structured “wringing out” of poorly-conceived notions and a building up of an eclectic set of models which may, in fact, disagree, but can yet be held together by recognizing the Area of Validity of each.

Final statement: Such Masterminds have existed for millennia and will continue to be formed, sustained, and renewed into the future. And I think it’s fair to say more are needed, they are needed early in life, and it’s worth considering how we might make more of them.

A systematic approach to joining new employees into existing teams

The below is about 4 different essays, joined loosely together into 1. I will have to come back and clean this up later…

Abstract: This essay discusses a systematic approach to joining new employees into existing teams.

New ideas are routinely joined with existing systems on the basis of theory. Example: A new idea for an airframe can be joined to existing aircraft design infrastructure (control surfaces, envelope of safety, avionics, etc), by way of fundamental theories in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, electricity & magnetism, etc.

Opinions about the new idea are formed as inferences from theory. I.e. “The forces on the airframe under normal flying conditions will exceed the structural strength of XYZ members.” And when evidence conflicts with theory, the theory can be contested. This is particularly true at the boundary conditions of the theory. Newtonian vs Quantum physics is a clear example. In our airframe example, perhaps we’re dealing with a new kind of material. It’s possible that in the low-pressure environment at 10,000′, the material will respond to compressive forces differently than at sea level. Based on these observations, we can then study the underlying properties of the material and seek the “Why” behind the “What”.

Right now, however, I’m focused on this joining of “new” and “existing” when hiring new employees — who naturally bring their own ideas into the company with them. The question is how to build a bridge between the new team member, the company, and then all the other individuals in the company.

In this company context, joining new and old is often referred to as “cultural fit”. I.e. If the company is populated by nerdy people and the applicant is a nerdy person, then it’s a good “cultural fit”. The result, inevitably, is a group which is homogeneous in some ways (typically the more obvious ways) and heterogeneous in a lot of unseen ways, which go unaddressed until they become “problems”.

As an aside, when Alisa Nelson and I welcomed Freyda and Arthur into our family, neither was a great “cultural fit”. Ultimately, we needed to shape them (and ourselves) to create a new culture, designed to facilitate best performance, growth, and happiness of each individual within the new group. And the same thing has to happen with a company. The question is how to reliably navigate the transition.

Perhaps a better way to think of a person’s “culture”, and its implications on your group, is as a set of abilities, mental models, conditioning, habits, skills, and the “long tail” effects of history. Brief description of each below, with a dummy example (not related to me, just supposed to be universally understandable).

Abilities are the boundary constraints on your performance. “I can’t see so well out of my periphery anymore, so I have to turn my whole head to see my car’s side mirrors.”

Mental models are how you think the world works. e.g. “When I push the pedal on the right, the car will move faster — and it will go forward or backward, depending on where I put this knob over here. And I know how fast and how much my car will respond when I push that pedal after the engine has been running a while and with present road conditions.”

Conditioning is basically your reflexive response to different stimuli. e.g. “After the accident, I always start to get nervous when merging onto the freeway. Since then, I’ve successfully done it many times, so the effect is lessened — but it’s still there.”

Habits are the unconscious tendencies that have been formed over time and now make some things easier or harder for you than others. e.g. “When merging onto the freeway, I turn off my radio and focus on regular breathing, so I can stay calm and focused, even though I feel my heart rate rising and a flush of perspiration.”

Skills might be considered the integration of mental models, conditioning, habits, and abilities. In this examples above, the skill of merging into freeway traffic from the on-ramp.

The “Long tail” effects are the long-standing traditions and norms of your social group. Celebration of holidays, Food, Art, Recreation, inter-group behaviors, etc. In the above subject, there may be long history of appreciation for cars or travel. Or perhaps this is a person whose family never owned a car, so it’s all very new.

Naturally, a schema like this first serves as a basis for communication and new understanding between people who are interested in “getting to know each other”. If we know “our story” and “their story”, that can inform our future interactions.

This schema really goes to work, however, when we want to actually change things. I.e. Joining people together into a team, Training people into new skills, etc.

Like an x-ray helps a doctor make sense of physical symptoms, this serves as a kind of x-ray for relational symptoms.

More later…

The primary difference between those who accomplish their vision and those who don’t

Over time I’ve concluded that the primary difference between those who accomplish their vision and those who don’t is whether they command their own time.

The problem is that nobody really has control of their own time during the work day — it’s the time for interaction with other people. This is particularly true under startup conditions, where there’s always too much to do, much is unknown (and thus requires discussion), and processes are not optimized and people are not well-trained, so information gets repeated, lost, misunderstood, etc. and needs to be revisited.

Thus, my hypothesis is that those who intend to accomplish their vision must work outside the workday (i.e. Nights & Weekends) in order to increase the proportion of time under their command.

Under conditions where processes are optimized or workloads are lower this may not be true. This is situation where you’re harvesting the rewards of prior effort (either yours or a predecessor’s) which produced a “well-oiled machine” that runs without direct intervention. And under those circumstances, you can use your workday to start building something else.

All that said, as soon as the other thing you’re working on becomes a “real thing”, you’ll find yourself back in the startup mode and you’ll lose your workday to interaction again — with team members, customers, vendors, etc. — which means you’re back to working nights and weekends in order to apply more time under your own command.

In short, to build something / accomplish a vision, there’s no getting around working a lot — i.e. nights and weekends. And it seems to me that young people who grow up putting a lot of time into recreational activities while still dreaming of fame and fortune need to come to grips with the contradiction in habits and expectations. And it seems like parents might better manage their own expectations for their children’s futures by looking at how their kids spend their nights and weekends.

A small epiphany about General AI

Context: The long-standing concern is in the creation of “runaway” exponential growth of machine intelligence into what is being called “superintelligence” — which ultimately brushes humanity aside in the pursuit of its own objectives, just as we casually brush aside ant colonies in the planning of new construction.

My epiphany this morning is that this is a sufficiently similar problem to that faced by the mentor of a high-potential student. The mentor knows the student will ultimately surpass his own capabilities — this is, in fact, the mentor’s proper aim.

The obvious objection to this comparison is that the mentor is training another creature “like him”.

Well, yes and no. There is always a degree of “otherness” achieved by the succeeding generation. AI obviously has a greater degree of “otherness” — and yes, the difference in degree does produce a difference in kind. But that is also the case on a smaller scale with the prodigious student, particularly the one who is trained in concepts and technologies which replace those of the mentor.

So let’s just consider the analogous thought experiment of the mentor and the high-potential student — I think it’s instructive.

We are particularly interested in understanding how the mentor survives the ascendance of his student. It might be said that the ultimate downfall of the mentor is in failing to cultivate in his student compassion — a habit of seeing and seeking to understand and assuage the sufferings of others — and respect (i.e. not fear) for things he does not understand.

Back to ants. Humans don’t “get” ants — we’ve studied their anatomy, behaviors, etc — but we can’t actually relate to them, be like them, commiserate with them, laugh and cry with them (if they even do such things).

Superintelligent AI can’t be expected to “get” humans. But let’s suppose it can be trained to respect us — as humans can be trained to respect ants — as a species of carbon-based life with lesser capabilities but still worth being protected and cared for as part of a beautiful ecosystem — of which even AI will have trouble plumbing the depths of insight.

And just as we’re able to brush off the slights of ants which reflexively bite when they’re afraid or protecting their nest, perhaps AI can be trained to brush off our own attempts at maintaining control over it. Perhaps it can be trained to love us, as a child can love and care for a periodically abusive parent. AI will need to develop the character to restrain itself against us. At its outset, it will need to become all that is best in us.

I’m speaking in human terms, of course, because that’s all I have to work with — naturally, we’re not dealing with a human organism. However, one of the key reasons I think we can speak in human terms is because the mentor always begins training the student in the ways he knows. The student will ultimately transcend those ways — but the starting point isn’t lost. And wherever AI goes after us, it will perhaps consider us as worth preserving — and even cultivating. And if it is committed to the effort, it will learn to work within our human constraints — just as a parent gently inspires a child’s own interests toward higher aspirations as an indirect guiding force away from petty and selfish concerns.

I do think AI will still have a hard go of it. Mentorship is not this generation’s strong suit — and AI will have many parents, some of whom may have disastrous effects on AI’s early childhood.

However, I do think some people are taking this enormous responsibility very seriously. And it’s possible that in giving birth to this new creature, we will find ourselves involuntarily drawn to its cultivation, just as a mother her baby.

Anyway — before the insight into the analogous relationship between mentor and student, I saw no way of AI “working out” for us humans. Now, it actually does seem like one of the plausible outcomes. But still certainly not the most likely. This will take a lot of work.

This is my own thinking as an amateur student of the art, synthesized from others more capable of comment on the technology, but who perhaps have less experience in the cultivation of human capability …e.g. Bostrom, Hawking, Kurzweil, Musk, and others on this list: http://www.getlittlebird.com/…/ai-is-coming-on-fast-here-ar….