How to choose the game before choosing how to play it

This is the 7th newsletter of Book Lovers sent on September 20, 2015, highlighting the need to not only look at efficiency but also at effectiveness. The game you play matters a lot.
This edition features Saint Augustinus, Paul Watzlawick, Peter Drucker, Tim Ferriss and George Leonard.

Don't miss the following letters:

Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.
-- Jane Kenyon - Everything I Know About Writing Poetry

Last week, we were talking about the fight against homeostasis and the way to initiate change. We also mentioned the importance of looking beyond our natural tastes.

The main takeaways: to initiate change, we must appeal to both our Elephant and its Rider, that’s to say to emotion AND rationality.

For that, we need to (1) direct the rider, because what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity, (2) motivate the elephant, because otherwise it's exhausting trying to keep an elephant in line, (3) shape the path, because what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.

This week, we will wonder: where should we be heading if we choose to change?

But before speaking about the right direction, we need to consider if selecting a direction is needed. And I have to confess that it is something that wasn’t natural for me.

Love vs strategy

This is a difficult topic for me, because my beliefs resonated hugely with the words of Saint Augustinus “Dilige et quod vis, fact” (love and do what you will). More precisely he wrote:

Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will. Whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.
-- Saint Augustinus Hipponensis, In Epistolam Ioannis ad Parthos, Tractatus 7 (407-409)

Do not waste your time predict the future, just root your thoughts and your actions with genuine love and enthusiasm. That belief in goallessness was strengthened by one of the reading that impacted me the most in my Youth:  The language of change by Paul Watzlawick (highly recommended). I discovered in this book that many resolutions lied in the change itself, independently of the content of the change.  

My core belief system, in two maxims?

(1) “Love and do what you will” & (2) “Keep on moving and you’ll be safe” (or to be a bit more Watzlawickian, I’d say (2 bis) “Act so as to maximize the possible choices” which implies the necessity of movement). 

But soon, I entered a world (business school & the corporate world) that didn’t work that way.

As they’d say, if you want to become master and possessor of nature you’d better embrace the culture of strategy: setting goals and finding optimal strategy to reach them.

There are already a lot to say and sooner or later I’ll talk about predictability, heuristics, game theory & decision making. 

But let’s focus on something broader for this edition: before maximizing the chances to win the game, you need to choose the game you want to play.

How to choose the game

When you enter the mighty world of business, you’re quickly confronted with concepts such as efficiency & effectiveness (Reminder by Peter Drucker (Management): Efficiency is concerned with doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things).

You can be really good at answering your emails, but if you could have a greater impact for your company doing something else, then you should not answer them (you’d be efficient but not effective).

The pace of our lives makes us take too much emphasis in efficiency. We read books and articles to be “more productive”, to “be better organized”, to “use better tools”, etc.
And we want to learn as fast as possible. We are not happiness seekers anymore, we are “life hackers”. We are not marketers, we are “growth hackers”.

And our culture is becoming more and more a culture of instant gratification (#pornfood), quick fix (#weightwatchers), with eyes on the winners only (#topmodels).

As I was thinking such pessimistic thoughts, I remembered a really great book on that matter. 
It is the kind of book that doesn’t make a lot of noise or win prizes. Worst, this is the kind of book you find in personal development. But this is a hell of a book if you ask me.

The book is Mastery, written by George Leonard, a former United States Army Air Corps pilot  and Aikido instructor (5th degree black belt). And as the title state, it is an invitation to the quest of mastery.

If Tim Ferriss, the guru of productivity, will focus on the 20% that makes you learn 80% of what you need to know, George Leonard invites you to spend 99.9% of your time to reach the top 0.1%.

And there are huge differences between these two philosophies of action. The first: “always be improving” and “create deadlines and maximize your learnings in short period of times”. The second: “fall in love with the plateau ; forfeit hard-won competencies in order to advance the next stage” and “practice as long as you are alive”.

For George Leonard, the 5 keys to long-term fulfillment are:

  1. Instruction: get first a first rate instructor that will point out both the good and the bad, keeping in mind that teachers are not perfect and that you will eventually have to say goodbye to your teacher
  2. Practice: for the sake of practice, even when you don’t progress, even when you lose, even when you feel you are worsening, even when you reach the top of the mountain (just climb the next one),
  3. Surrender: learning involves certain indignities, you will not look good from the get-go and even after. There are times when you forfeit hard-won competency in order to advance to the next stage. (like when a golfer decides to change his or her swing)
  4. Intentionality: visualizations, thoughts, images and feelings play into your success
  5. The Edge: you must be able to play the edge while respecting practice. Pushing the limits for higher performance, but never crossing the point of stupidity.

Why is it a hell of a book? I can’t say I was blown away by the novelty of his insights.

But Mastery is exactly what we need, because it offers something else, something we need to be remember.
And I see this book less as a source of rebalance but as a counterpoint: the relationship between voices that are interdependent harmonically (polyphony) yet independent in rhythm and contour.

Weekly #MustRead articles

1. In The Future and How to Survive It (McKinsey, HBR), Richard Dobbs, Tim Koller and Sree Ramaswamy show that during the last 3 decades corporate net income grew more than 50% faster than global GDP and explain us why (deregulations, privatization, urbanization, industrialization, global presence boosted by increase of a solvent demand worldwide, falling labor costs and higher productivity of both capital and labor). And the biggest beneficiaries are multinationals from North American (26%) and Western Europe (25%).

But the future won’t be as bright. If global economy has expanded by about 3.5£ annually since 1980, its growth averaged less than 2% in the 100 years prior to WWII, and the next 50 years will look alike globally. And they warn especially companies from North American & Western Europe: there is a shift in center of gravity & technology is changing the rules. The competition will get fiercer, with an increasing war for talent and the environment will be less favorable and less predictable. A must read!

2. In The IPO is dying (VOX), Marc Andreessen explains that IPO is getting a second choice for young companies because it implies a lot of costs & a high sensitivity to rumours. He also reminds us that due to regulation most people can’t invest where growth is occurring: the private markets.

3. In France Pavillonnaire (FR), l’envers du décor (Sciences Humaines), Anne Lambert, author of “Tous propriétaires!” highlights a very problematic trend in the suburban habitations in France: women’s work have a bigger opportunity cost due to the need to buy a 2nd car, to look after the children while at work, which is especially high when correlated with precarious job, often in part time and with low wages. So access to home, highly supported by the State, could go with demotion for women.

If you enjoyed this week's newsletter, please forward it to someone you like.And start the conversation by replying to this email or by sending my a quick tweet: @willybraun

Looking forward to having your feedbacks and your impressions after the readings.
Warm regards,