(2012-02-24) Rao Rader Remarkable Life

Venkatesh Rao and Gregory Rader have written a number of pieces over the past couple years about creating a Remarkable Life. I'm proposing using that term to contrast with Cal Newport's views: 2009-07-31-NewportRemarkableLife.

Jan19'2011: Rao thinks there are 2 kinds of people: Why can't you just stay on the straight-and-narrow, pay your dues, and live an honorable life?... The answer is a decision that John Boyd challenged each of his acolytes to make: in life you eventually have to decide whether to Be Somebody, or Do Something (Do Be Do Be Do)... Ask yourself what you want your life to have been like, when you are on your deathbed. If you instinctively come up with a vision of yourself in the future, at the peak of your life, you are a Be Somebody person. If you instinctively think of a vision of the impact you might have had, and are a little fuzzy on what you personally will be like, you are a Do Something type... If you converged on a "Be Somebody" answer like CEO, tenured professor, or simply rich and famous, you are in for some hard introspection, because Boyd had a definite "right answer" in mind: Do Something... Here's a curious paradox: the more you insist on sticking to a straight-and-narrow path defined by your own evolving principles, rather than the expedient one defined by current situation, the more you'll have to twist and turn in the real world. The straight path in your head turns into spaghetti in the real world. On the other hand, the more your path through the real world seems like a straight road, defined by something like a "standard" career path/script, the more you'll have to twist and turn philosophically to justify your life to yourself.

Mar09'2011: Rader notices a number of people (Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, Chris Guillebeau, Jason Shen, as well as Newport and Rao) demonstrating a sympathy towards bucking the conventional wisdom... For the past several hundred years human societies have endeavored to make the human world more systematic, predictable, manageable, and consistent... The emerging economy is a different beast entirely (Economic Transition). The foundations of the hierarchical institutions that imposed order on industrial society are crumbling. In their place is a wake of caprice and inconsistency... The conventional paths no longer reliably produce success. All the courses of action introduced at the beginning of this post are ultimately strategies for coping with and capitalizing on increasing uncertainty... (Rao's) Sociopath (Slightly Evil Reality Hacker) is the person who refuses to play by the established rules... who refuses to accept the conventional wisdom. In order to be a highly effective realist the sociopath must adopt responsibility for ‘stubborn individuality‘... You will either be one of the sociopaths capitalizing on the unpredictability of the emerging environment, or you will be a victim of that same unpredictability.

  • Oct'2011: Rader sees this as a transition from BigWorld to SmallWorld. Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum make the facepalm even more explicit. John Hagel reviews their new book That Used To Be Us, applauding their analysis while impugning their conclusions: "At the very same time that Friedman and Mandelbaum make such a compelling case that we are in the midst of a profound global shift in terms of how we work and live, they fall back on traditional pillars as the answer to drive America’s success in the future."... If the problem we face today is a “crisis of bigness” then the solution must come from smallness. To the anachronistic progressive, embracing smallness sounds like doing nothing. Embracing smallness would take us further away from the anachronistic ideal they seek to preserve, while doing little to assure solutions to the specified challenges... Anachronistic progress is an idealized dead end. It is a shallow and futile vision of the future.

  • Dec'2011: Rader reiterates that Economic Transition means that lots of old jobs aren't coming back (so we shouldn't be setting Public Policy to try and push that), and that we can't easily even anticipate what the new jobs will be. For the 19th century factory worker predictions of this impending shift would have sounded absurd. People will be paid to sit in comfortable offices and push paper around all day?

Mar12'2011: Rader on Newport's attitude toward Passion. Is Cal correct that passion is developed through Hard Work rather than introspection into innate personality traits? Does this necessarily entail developing a “foundation of ability gained through unabashedly conformist means” in order to earn autonomy later in life? There is much truth in Cal’s arguments, but unfortunately he is forced into a false dichotomy by the Context he intends his arguments to be applied to. StudyHacks, as the name implies, is primarily written for students and recent graduates entering their initial years in the workforce. Cal’s arguments therefore are addressed to the students who change majors repeatedly or the grads who desperately search for the ideal job in the expectation that everything will be effortless once they find the perfect fit. In that context I have a lot of sympathy for the Cal’s position, however presuming that context introduces a flawed premise... How are you supposed to know what you want to be when you haven’t been allowed the opportunity to discover what you want to do? Allowing students to explore by doing is a task at which traditional education systems (Educating Kids) fails miserably... Now what? Start exploring! Absolutely do not make big decisions like committing to a major or a new career before you have done a lot of self-directed exploring. Whatever you like to do, try it on for size... Don’t waste time developing fragile capabilities... The passion you are searching for is to be found in the process, not in the academic credentials or the job titles. If you develop the skills that you are intrinsically driven towards by actually doing things (Do Something) in the Real World, then the opportunities that demand those skills will present themselves, and the titles will be irrelevant.

Jan30'2012: Rader argues against Newport's focus on diligence. He (Newport) suggests that Steve Martin, in a different environment, might have been just as successful as a Rocket Scientist. Really?... There is a huge difference between focusing on developing comedic capabilities and focusing on being a stand-up comedian. Both involve Deliberate Practice. Only the latter prematurely reduces options... Surely the ability to engage in deliberate practice is a critical factor in career success, but so is a certain degree of compatibility with your chosen pursuit. This might not be obvious if you restrict your case studies to individuals whose careers followed a straight line from novice to initial success. However, numerous others have achieved success only later in life after bouncing around from one dead end to another. It would be foolish to assume that these people achieved success because they suddenly learned how to focus diligently. It would be just as reasonable to argue that such people finally learned how to focus because they discovered something worth focusing on.

Feb17'2012: Rader thinks Newport has a Cognitive Bias. Cal persistently seeks out universal principles that can be applied independent of Context. He attempts to distill literal cause-effect relationships from complex contextual information. He is attracted to external/social motivators, as evidenced by his primary theme: “being so good they can’t ignore you“. In contrast, several of my past posts demonstrate an almost pathological aversion to Extrinsic motivators. I am also highly allergic to formulaic thinking, tending instead to construct elaborate mental models even when I would be better served by simply following instructions. In an IQ test I will easily ace all the spatial/pattern-recognition questions and struggle with the word associations. The point here is not that one approach is better than the other.

Feb20'2012: Venkatesh Rao warns against various Logical Fallacy-s that detour you from Authentic Happiness. So clearly, expecting nothing to change when you undergo a major transformation is as silly as expecting everything to be perfect. So what can you reasonably expect? You can expect to become either a more complex person or a more confused person... The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because it predicts the exact opposite of what actually happens: that life will get simpler... To operate with the expectation that things will get more complex with every transformation is to live life. To operate with the expectation that things will get simpler with every transformation is to live a series of unsatisfying projects. Unless you are one of the lucky minority... American culture strongly conflates success and Simplicity on the one hand, and Failure and Complexity on the other. A life that gets progressively more complex takes a good deal more philosophy and reflection to navigate. Success and failure become matters of perspective and interpretation rather than simple arrival. You may even find that the categories become less relevant to you with each arrival. If I had to boil all this down to a bumper sticker, it would be the title of the post: live life, not Projects.


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