Posts Tagged 'luck'

Winning Combination


Tom Brady wasn’t a superstar in college. And nobody knew who (coach) Bill Belichick was before they got together. What about: Ben and Jerry. Warner Brothers, Hewlett and Packard, Jobs and Wasniak, Click and Clack. The Wright Brothers. Larry Page and Sergy Brin. The cast of Top Gear or Friends. Simon and Garfunkel. Rush.

All were (or are) great together. Winning combinations.

Here’s another kind of list:

  • Stephen Duffy (Duran Duran)
  • LaTavia Roberson/LeToya Luckett (Destiny’s Child)
  • Michael Dempsey (The Cure)
  • Dik Evans (U2)
  • David Marks (The Beach Boys)
  • Doug Sandom (The Who)

Do you recognize those names? They’ve pretty much been relegated to answers to trivia questions.

History is filled with great partnerships and teams. Groups of people who came together to do something special that the same individuals couldn’t have accomplished on their own. Their power together being greater than the sum of the parts.

Finding a winning combination is magic, like catching lightening in a bottle.

When you find a winning combination, I would encourage you to pursue it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same one your whole life. But it’s so important to see the power in the combo – the team. You can go to new heights, together.

Lucky or Good

Wrong question.

It’s almost always both.

The first question is, how much good is really needed?

Second is, how do you get started? Nobody ever won a game he wasn’t in.

Third is, will you persist long enough to eventually get lucky?



Blind Spot


Aside from our other senses, we are temporarily blind to the half of the world located behind our head at any given moment. Some call that our blind spot. However, it’s not completely blind because we’re aware of the fact that we aren’t seeing it, not to mention the fact that the blindness is usually pretty easy to remedy when we need to, though it can be dangerous if we’re not paying attention.

Contrast that with our actual blind spot. Ironically the very place where the eye connects to the brain (via the optic nerve) is an area on our retina where we do not see – the blind spot. We do not notice it, and are thus unaware of it, because our brain fills the gap by extrapolating the likely content from the surroundings. We make it up. Fortunately this defect in our vision is small enough that it rarely causes a problem.

Combine those two characteristics and there would be significant issues. Imagine large areas of your vision that appear to be functioning fine, but are in fact being made up by your brain. We would call that being delusional (or one of a few other maladies).

Yet we are, in fact, delusional to some extent. We roll through life with our programming while being largely unaware that we’re thinking and acting according to it rather than objectively processing all the input we receive. These blind spots in our awareness – things we haven’t been programmed to be sensitive to – are all around waiting to trip us up. Most of the time the stumbles are minor, however, on occasion we can go pretty far astray and not be aware of it. We can hit the wall and crash, or we can do more subtle damage that we don’t see for a while, or we get what appears to us as having been randomly blindsided.

There is no solution to this in the moment. No easy shortcut to improve your odds beyond simply acquiring more wisdom as you experience more of life. You must start by accepting that what you see and believe is not an objective reality. It is simply what your brain has selectively chosen to make you conscious of. The best you can do is educate yourself and work at being informed and aware. Work at empathy by forcing yourself to be sensitive to others. Prepare within reason for mishaps so you can recover. There is a discipline to managing the risk, but in the end it’s impossible to eliminate it all. Being prepared includes the perspective of knowing we can’t be completely prepared. We must still be willing to act. To risk that we may be stepping into something that isn’t as it appears. Once we recognize how often this actually happens in our lives it could help us reconcile the fear we have when we do see the potential pitfalls. The risks our limbic system chooses to put in front of us are often as overblown as the risks we don’t see that are glossed over. Even the seemingly sure things had them. We just weren’t aware of it.

Risk of Patience


How risk averse are you? It’s in our DNA, actually. While we each are more or less prone to take risks in certain domains relative to others, there is a generally higher appreciation for adventure in some overall. Sometimes we look on from the sidelines, wishing we could muster that, while other times we appreciate the comfort of relative safety. Time is the element that changes us.

I don’t know how many times I’ve sat behind someone at a busy intersection watching their decision making from my perspective. Plenty of gaps in traffic sufficient enough to merge or get across go by, but they sit…and wait…for what seems like the perfect opportunity. Sometimes they get it, and the decision is easy. Other times their patience eventually wears down and the willingness to risk more or be more aggressive rises. I’ve seen people make dangerous moves when a moment before a much easier one was available.

There are few things in life with so little risk that they are no-brainers, and yet we often wait…as if that perfect moment (or the answer) will reveal itself to us. At intersections at least, our willingness to take risk is tied to a combination of our patience and mood. Watching how novices manage stocks or play at the casino is another interesting exercise.

In many situations the actual risk is calculable. It may be changing, but often those changes aren’t so complex that it can’t be approximately worked out in real-time (like the intersection). As time passes without (the desired) results we become willing to risk more. As our situation improves we become more patient. Even when the waiting had nothing to do with the improvement we may simply asses that there is more to lose. The key is in how we weigh the trajectory. If our situation worsens, do we believe it will continue to get worse at the same rate? As the traffic builds at that intersection we know it will subside again soon (barring some other mitigating factor such as a shift ending at a nearby factory or something), but once our willingness to wait is exhausted, aggressiveness takes over.

Here’s another thought. Rationalization. When we’re young we’re generally more willing to take risks. Overall most of those risks work out well enough, even if not exactly how we envisioned them. Gradually we stop taking them, and pretty much stand pat. We have too much at stake now to risk it. We concede to time and the idea of “good enough.” But how much more risky is it really to tackle something with all of the wisdom you can bring to it at an older age than it was when you were a naïve kid? We look too much at what there is to lose, and the fear gets us. It’s like turning around at that intersection and going back home to watch TV.

Time erodes our position. Whatever it is you want to do or become, there is now less time to do, or to enjoy the fruits of it, than a moment ago. The risk in doing it may have increased, but waiting more also increases the stakes. Can we learn to see the truth of this such that we forgo the idea of the ideal moment and just get on with it?

No Sense


Sometimes people do the oddest things. It makes no sense. All stupidity and lack of wisdom aside, studies are beginning to show that when under (enough) stress, decision making fundamentally changes. One problem with strategic, correlative based thinking is it’s rather predictable. Biologically this isn’t always good. When trying to elude a superior preditor the last thing you’d want to be is predictable. No, in a desperate enough situation you’d want actions to be random, as it may well be your only real chance to survive. The same could arguably be said of outwitting a superior foe competing for resources. Or for navigating yourself out of a hopeless situation. In short, when things get perceptually bad enough actions can show dramatically poor judgement or remarkable insight, though current research shows it possibly isn’t either. Hopefully someone will come to your rescue before you’re left to your own devices. Otherwise…good luck.



The photo is real, from 1948 Chicago. This was the result of a family facing some severely hard times that they didn’t believe they would recover from. There was a fifth child on the way at the time. All five were sold, and by all accounts not into the best circumstances. The two middle ones were purchased for $2 each as slaves, and treated as such, often being tied up in a barn.

It turns out people are remarkably resilient. Everyone involved went on to have somewhat normal lives. After this photo was published the mother did receive some job offers and money. Too little, too late. While it would be harder to discard children this way nowadays, the circumstances the family found themselves in are still occurring today, despite the fact that a 400 billion dollar fighter jet (F35, which doesn’t even work yet) represents enough money to give every unemployed person in our country over half million dollars.

She also went on to have four more children. The unborn child in the photo was later quoted as saying, “She got rid of all us children, married someone else, had four more daughters. She kept them. She didn’t keep us.” The two who managed to reconnect with their mother later were perplexed to discover she didn’t seem to show a lot of remorse about it.

Sounds pretty terrible. Just the photo alone, without any of the story, is heartbreaking.

I will not defend it, per sé, but let’s not be so quick to judge. Kids back then weren’t treated as the fragile little eggs they are now. They fended for themselves more than many would believe today, especially in larger families in lower socioeconomic environments. Why couples feel so compelled to have kids when they are ill equipped to handle them is a question to be further addressed later, but I get that religion and good old human nature are what they are. Not always the best judgement. Kids were sometimes viewed as a resource, like workers who could help with chores or farming once they got old enough. Never mind whether they will be able to find jobs of their own.

She didn’t show remorse later (at least not to the kids), but she does appear to be quite distraught, or at least embarrassed, about it in the photo. Perhaps a psychological defense mechanism, or she simply got over it and did fail to have compassion for those kids. Based on what little is known about them it is likely that the financial situation was potentially life threatening to the children. No work. No money. And by all accounts no belongings left to sell, and they were about to be evicted, having not paid rent in months. They were headed for the street…in Chicago…in the fall. She did get those kids roofs over their heads.

So easy to judge others. (Even in this post I have questioned government spending and having children.) You weren’t there. Had you been there as an observer to the situation, what would you have done?

Judgement is a double edged sword.

Happiness, Part xx2



Sometimes it’s very simple. A fun activity, or even something as straight forward as a warm feeling image can make us feel good. Happy, even if only for an all too fleeting moment. Those times are nice, but the realities of life and the situations we’ve put ourselves in are draining.

We left this topic last with the question of whether we can find effective ways to manipulate our dispositions.

We know there are things we can do that influence how we feel. A leading authority on the subject is Sonja Lyubomirsky. She says cognitive and behavioral strategies can be systematically retrained.

Intervention studies with students, kids, community members, workers, depressed individuals, and hospital patients are testing the efficacy of six cognitive and behavioral volitional strategies:

  1. Regularly setting aside time to recall moments of gratitude (i.e., keeping a journal in which one “counts one’s blessings” or writing gratitude letters)
  2. Engaging in self-regulatory and positive thinking about oneself (i.e., reflecting, writing, and talking about one’s happiest and unhappiest life events or one’s goals for the future)
  3. Practicing altruism and kindness (i.e., routinely committing acts of kindness or trying to make a loved one happy)
  4. Pursuing significant, intrinsic life goals (e.g., listing and taking action on “baby steps” towards goals)
  5. Affirming one’s most important values
  6. Savoring positive experiences (e.g., using one’s five senses to relish daily moments or living this month like it’s one’s last in a particular location)

She and others are testing a positive activity model by exploring whether the benefits of such activities differ across cultures, and whether their success is moderated by such factors as person-activity “fit,” motivation, effort, social support, variety, dosage, intrinsic motivation, and expectations. They also examine the “why” of happiness-boosting interventions by testing the mediating role of positive events, positive thoughts, positive emotions, and need satisfaction, as well as genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in responses to happiness-increasing interventions.

We can do it. Being engaged in something compelling to us provides a good conduit to get started. But what if we don’t find engagement? It still seems like we may need more.

Move Past Go

We’re often put in positions to make decisions we are ill equipped to make (especially when we’re young), yet some have lasting impacts on our lives. If only we could see how they would turn out, or at least have the wisdom of more advanced years to pull from.

Most decisions eventually lead to more decisions, though our usual goal in making them is to reduce or take away options. We had an option. We decided. Now it’s settled. No more decision…except the next one.

We have to watch out for decisions that result in the drastic reduction or changing of options. Do something deemed wrong and choices get taken away. You no longer have a say. An obvious example is breaking the law. Get caught, go to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect your $200. Options drastically reduced, and most of the remaining ones aren’t so nice.

So many decisions get made on auto-pilot, often with little real reflection about where they will ultimately lead. On balance this is good thing. We build guidelines and shortcuts from our environment and experiences to make us more efficient. We don’t have to actually decide because the decision is made for us and/or seems obvious. Of course…that can backfire.

Know that you have imprisoned yourself with your choices? We have all done it to an extent. Our lives are moving along a trajectory we set through decisions, most of which were simple or obvious. Decisions to comply. Yet as we choose, the more we find our options appear to be dwindling as time plays it out. How likely is it to end up where you want?

This is extremely hard to gauge in many cases, so we muddle along. We have to make them. Even choosing not to decide is a choice. So what can we do?

We inherently tend to weigh all we’re capable of factoring into our decisions as we go.

Really? If you believe that, I have a $200 bill in jail waiting for you.

What really happens is more limited. When we actually stop long enough to think about it we size choices up relative to past experience, what we want, and how much perceived risk there is. That’s usually about it.

Past experience is the weight we carry that informs us about the relative consequence of our choices…even though much of what has happened is probably more random or just the result of circumstances we didn’t have much control over. We’re also subjected to the perceptions others have of their experiences or beliefs, which in turn were fed from people in their circles of influence. We have little ability to be objective about it. Whether by our decision, influence of others, or simply some circumstance, what we believe in is the correlation of cause and effect. There is usually a lot more to it than what we perceive.

How good are we at figuring out what we really want? We really just want to be happy. For the most part happiness comes from within. It’s a perception all our own. And thus…supremely elusive.

We’re pretty good at sizing up risk most of the time, self preservation (or discomfort) being what it is and all. We tend to make decisions that minimize risk, but when we make a bad one we lose more than we want. Thus is the delicate balance of deciding how much we’re willing to let risks limit us. So when we encounter the unknown we decide to shut down or run away to reduce our exposure to things that might be harmful.

And let’s not overlook how our sociology (our need to fit in or look good to others) plays into these.

What a pickle. We guess. We reduce risk and hope nothing bad happens. If things turn out moderately okay we often find solace in knowing it could have been worse.

But it could have been better. Maybe a LOT better.

Religion provides a pass. A way to tranquilize ourselves. Suffer through the shortcomings of today in exchange for the promise of a better tomorrow. As long as we get to pass go and collect our $200 occasionally some of us can be content.

Oh, how I envy thee.

If that’s not working for you then maybe it’s time to modulate the parameters above. Change the balance. Get uncomfortable. You don’t want jail, but do you really need the metaphorical $200? Is that where happiness is? Running in circles?








CreativeFunnelWhat actually is creativity? Most of us think we have some, but how do we identify with it, and why do so many of us struggle to put it to practical use?

Many think creativity is the ability to come up with good ideas. That is part of it. Some are very good at the thinking required to generate ideas. They seem less inhibited by fear, and generally more wondrous and open to possibilities. This is the divergent thinking part of creativity. The ability to author ideas, no matter how wild, relating to a single subject. Kids are inherently great divergent thinkers…until the world beats it out of them in favor of conformity under the guise of obedience.

Great, so you have all these ideas around. What do you do with them? Many a songwriter has languished in the inability to pull it all together and finish.

We also need convergent thinking, which is the process of developing rules and applying judgement to enable the arrival at a single solution to a problem. This doesn’t feel like creativity to some, but it actually is a vital part of it.

Creativity isn’t just an ability to come up with ideas. That’s way underselling it, and spins it as too much of a gift only select few are born with. Creativity is actually the process of coming up with good ideas. That process includes all of the brainstorming, culling, problem solving, testing, vetting and reworking required to actually manifest the complete idea. Not to be confused with the actual implementation of the idea (like the painter who actually executes the paining), creativity can stop at the idea being compelling in some way, even if not feasible.

These skills can be developed through discipline and practice. For a writer, it takes writing and reading and experiencing and seeing in a way that others might not intuitively see. It often takes years of shitty or incomplete work to finally begin to be able to put the skills together. And in some cases one skill or the other never quite develops. That’s where partnerships work wonders.

Space of Possibilities

bookwormImagine you enter a library filled with seemingly endless rows of books. You open one and notice that it’s filled with random strings of characters. You take another book off the shelf. Same thing.

You pick up the first book off the first shelf and see that every page is blank. The next book has a single letter ‘A’ on the first page, and all the other pages are blank. You look at the third book. It has a single letter ‘B’ in it. And, again, all the other pages are blank.

You look out across the library, and the shelves go on and on as far as the eye can see. Your best guess is that each book in this library is a unique combination of characters, and that, collectively, the books in the library cover all the combinations that can be formed.

Then you begin to wonder what books might be out there.

There must be:

  • A copy of Hamlet, — Take THAT, infinite monkeys!
  • A copy of Hamlet with one typo.
  • A copy of Hamlet with a different typo.
  • A copy of Hamlet with two typos.
  • An elegant proof of string theory.
  • A book containing a cure for cancer.
  • An accurate biography of your life (from birth to death).

Wow! This is exciting. Those books are there somewhere. You just know it. You have a cure for cancer almost at your fingertips! And there must be a solution for whatever is tripping you up.

This characterizes the space of possibilities before you. It’s too much to say that anything is possible, but far more is possible than you likely realize, and FAR more is possible than what you act to achieve. At some point along the way the reality of the situation hits you, and you realize that the odds of finding any book you might want to find are very, very, . . . in fact vanishingly, . . . slim. How demoralizing.

Then the fear sets in. Why devote time and energy to finding a book I probably won’t be able to find? I’ll go through too much and might wind up with little or nothing to show for it.

The error in this thinking is that it presumes the envisioned destination is the outcome of value. No, as it turns out each point along the way creates for us a whole new space of possibilities. In the end the journey may take many twists and turns and end up nowhere near what was originally imagined. It’s not really about the destination. It’s about the journey you take and what that leads to.

Steve Jobs once said

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.

Begin. Take a journey.


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