On ambition — December 10, 2017

On ambition

“…[they] were consumed by their ambitions, which paradoxically made their worlds smaller and less comfortable than those who weren’t afflicted by the curse, for ambition meant never being satisfied, to be always hungering for more, constantly pushing forward because no success could ever be big enough to quell the need for new and even bigger successes, the compulsion to turn one store into two stores, then two stores into three stores… which required… concentration and singleness of purpose…”

Source: 4 3 2 1, Paul Aster

Ceaseless hunger for more, never satisfied, one success not quelling the compulsion to chase new and even bigger success… with a deep concentration and singleness of purpose.

Ambition, perserverance, lifelong learning, continual improvement and betterment, the quest toward perfection: these are all slight variations on the same theme.

Happy but not satisfied, with focus and discipline, to do deep work, beautiful and passionate and true to each individual’s authentic self.

Targets — December 9, 2017


Targets can be a statement of direction: lose weight, get better at service, reduce waste, lower cost.

A target that is expressed as a general direction or an overarching goal is not problematic.

What is problematic is when a target is translated into an arbitrary number, because meeting the target then becomes the de facto purpose of the system or individual.

For example, if a call centre exists to help customers solve problems, and you set a target of “customer calls should be kept to a maximum of three minutes”, then the performance of the call centre agents shifts to meeting that target, instead of helping customers.

If a target is set above the current level of capability, then the system (the individual or organisation) will game the system to reach it.

If a target is set below the current level of capability, then there is a disincentive to improve.

So when should we use targets and when do they distort behaviour, leading to sub optimal outcomes?

Tell me about a problem you solved? — December 8, 2017

Tell me about a problem you solved?

Somebody who has solved a hard problem never forgets the details. You can ask them questions on different levels and they will be able to answer, right down to the colours of the nuts and bolts. If you ask somebody about a problem they solved and they scamper through it, skipping over details or unable to tell you all the little hurdles and obstacles, then they were not really involved. So a good sorting question to find a good problem solver is:

  • Tell me about a problem you solved?
Value demand versus failure demand — December 7, 2017

Value demand versus failure demand

In systems thinking, we examine systems which comprise elements and interactions (between those elements), that are joined together to carry out a purpose.

For example, a university using the systems lens has elements (teacher, students, buildings); interactions (university regulations, government funding rules, student associations), to carry out a system purpose (educate students, make money, carry out research).

Value demand is the demand we want. Let’s say the purpose of the university is to educate students, so we apply the perspective of the student in our analysis:

  • How do I enrol?
  • What are your entry requirements?

Answering these questions creates demand that we want, because the more of these questions we receive and answer, the more the system is moving ahead with achieving its purpose of educating students.

Failure demand, on the other hand, isĀ ‘demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for the customer:

  • What has happened to my assignment?
  • I don’t understand your grading system.

These questions represent a system design failure. We don’t want more of these questions.

Without the systems thinking lens, we might treat, wrongly, these requests as being equal value – as tasks to be done, managed so we reduce the cost of carrying them out.

That is, using a targets and efficiency approach, a manager might set a 2% efficiency dividend on the costs to field questions from students, including both failure and value demand. The result is to miss the underlying problem of a system design failure, and, if using targets, to incentivise gaming or cheating or wronging the system, from the students’ perspective.

Mostly WFPB Recipes (to try, soon) — December 6, 2017

Mostly WFPB Recipes (to try, soon)

  • Mango salsa (mango, red onion, lime juice, lime zest, parsley or coriander)
  • Basmati rice (basmati rice, curry powder, turmeric, cardamom, nutmeg, flaked almond)
  • Potato salad (boiled cubed potato, spring onion, green pea, cannelloni beans, coconut yoghurt, sriracha sauce, maple syrup, mustard)
  • Black bean sauce (black bean, fried onion, fried garlic, cumin, cherry tomatoes)
  • Pea guacamole (thawed peas, cumin powder, coriander, chopped tomato, lime juice)
  • Roast pumpkin, sesame seeds, pepita seeds
  • Mushroom pate (dried porcini mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, pecans, nutritional yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, miso, tamari, black pepper, rosemary, black pepper, sundried tomatoes, lemon juice)
  • Carrots (sliced, then served with olive oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, sesame seeds)
  • Corn chips, lettuce
  • Eight Treasures Congee (glutinous white rice, red beans, wolfberry, Chinese dates, lotus seeds, peanuts, sugar)
Assertiveness — December 5, 2017
Meditation practice — December 4, 2017

Meditation practice

“People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them.

This is the aim of Buddhist meditation practices. In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realise how pointless it is to pursue them.

When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear, satisfied. All kinds of feeling go on arising and passing – joy, anger, boredom, lust – but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are. You live in the present moment instead of fantasising about what might have been.

It is like a man standing for decades on the seashore, embracing certain ‘good’ waves and trying to prevent them from disintegrating, while simultaneously pushing back ‘bad’ waves to prevent them from getting near him. Day in, day out, the man stands on the beach, driving himself crazy with this fruitless exercise. Eventually, he sits down on the sand and just allows the waves to come and go as they please. How peaceful!”

Source: Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind

This is a great explanation of meditation practice. By answering what, why and how of the thing it is explaining, and by giving an analogy, it allows the reader to understand, synthesise and apply the knowledge. The explanation boils down the thing being explained – meditation practice – to its most fundamental steps and principles. This allows any reader, no matter their background knowledge, to understand the cause-effect relationships that make up the phenomenon being understood. When we read material, we should latch onto explanations like this, because they are the most efficient way to learn (though perhaps only for some – others might thrive on more practical or more abstract explanations), and we should develop the ability to explain things ourselves in this thorough, methodical manner.

Our feelings are fleeting, transient, temporary, impermanent. Yet we crave good feelings to stay, and wish bad feelings to depart. The result is the “ceaseless arising and passing” of feelings. Meditative practice opens our awareness of these turbulent swings of feelings, and encourages us to realise how pointless it is to pursue them.

And when we achieve this awareness, the mind and body becomes relaxed, calm and satisfied.

Meditative practice for more understanding, reflection and… practice, including the potential use, if any, on reducing overeating.