Diminishing Marginal Returns and Entropy.

A long established principle of classical economics. The more we develop something, and the better we get a it, the smaller the benefit of each incremental improvement becomes over time. I really love my latest iPhone, but it hasn’t changed my life the way the first one did. There are now more apps than I can count, but very few do something remarkable.

I am more efficient at what I do than ever before at what I do, but the challenge is that what I do is not as exciting to me as it was when I first set out.

It can be insidious. We progress more slowly, until we end up at a standstill without noticing.

Entropy.

Tomorrow is not there just to have a chance to be better at what I do today, it offers the prospect of noticing things that I won’t notice today.

At any one point I have a choice. To remain secure in what I know, and use it to advance in areas I understand; or to step into areas I don’t understand in the anticipation of finding something new and worthwhile that doesn’t just make be better at my current game, it changes the game.

Stepping from one area into the the other is a constant small act of courage.

Do the work

Reading often throws up interesting juxtapositions.

In his latest book, Roberto Unger defines three ways of making a living; wages work, self employment and cooperation, and emphasises we need to be focusing on the last two.

In the latest copy of the RSA Journal, Thomas MacMillan looks at a Populus Poll of 16-24 year olds, and their priorities for their work lives. Top of the list is a secure job. Top of their priorities for that job is that it protects nature.

So. It could be inferred that they want someone else to provide them with a secure job that delivers their values. Nice work if you can get it.

From a mindset standpoint, maybe we are best with a “company of one” approach, treating ourselves as self employed, even if we are in waged work. To adopt the principle of the self employed that we have no secure employment. To focus on who to work with based on our values. To avoid the illusion of job security.

The three most powerful addictions are cocaine, carbohydrates and a regular income. Nassim Taleb

If we can do that, the other options become conscious choices. Being dependent puts us in a comfortable but addictive position. Independence can be lonely, but gives us freedom. Co-operation is where the magic happens.

The time to make a choice is when we don’t have to. Choose to do the work that gives you the freedom of independence.

Awareness

It’s been twenty years since the U.S. Army coined the term VUCA to describe the challenging environment we found ourselves in the post Cold War period.

And if we thought it was VUCA then, what do we think it is now?

Yet, most of the people I talk to seem to regard it with detachment, rather as they might drive by an accident that’s happened to somebody else, or environmental change. As though somehow, it affects other people, not them.

Other people’s jobs will be automated, not theirs. The conditions enabling populism are caused by other people. Shame about the bees.

They hang on grimly to the edge of the cliff, even as the cliff edge crumbles.

The shame of this is we’re not doomed, and if we understand what’s happening around us we can do something about it. Buy an electric car, eat less, get involved.

The opportunity to make a difference is huge, even if seemingly scary.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance a whole lot less.

U.S Army Gen. Eric Shineseki

If you haven’t noticed, temporary has gone from being a phase to a permanent condition. The length of time our functional skills stay relevant, the mean time from a business becoming average to failing, your job description.

Underpinning all this is another uncomfortable probability. We cannot train as fast as the conditions around us are changing.

The things we have worked for – qualifications, promotion, networks – no longer serve the way they did when we sought them.

To thrive in the conditions we find ourselves in now require something altogether less quantifiable. We need to travel inwards, to understand what really matters to us, what we are prepared to commit to, and what we are willing to forgo.

To bring to the surface and work with what we sense as much as that we can prove. To not go with the crowd. To develop our own unique voice and use it.

To choose our friends like we choose our causes – with a willingness to commit to them.

It’s about the alignment of our stories. For a while, our story and those we spend time with – employers, politicians, partners – share common purpose, although over time, they change and we change. First gradually, and then suddenly we find ourselves far apart.

Whenever we enter a relationship with another we create three entities – them, us, and the relationship. Each has its own life and direction, and each needs to be nurtured. Ask anyone who’s been successfully married for a long time; the marriage has to be respected every bit as much as the spouse.

It applies to our jobs every bit as much as our partnerships.

USAF Colonel John Boyd – “the fighter pilot who changed the art of war” was a rebel, an original thinker, and in my view one of the clearest thinkers on coping with the sort of conditions we face today.

He regarded situational awareness (he used the German “fingerspitzengefuehl” – literally fingertip feeling) as one of the prime attributes for successful survival. Not just what’s going on “out there” but also internally – our own health, beliefs, purpose and anything else that contributes to our sense of “being”. He used to counsel his students that

“You have a choice. You can be someone, follow the rules, fit in, or you can do something you believe in. The first will get you promotions, good jobs and an easy life. The second will be difficult, but will give you a life worth living

Tomorrow will be different to today. Things will happen that set in train things that will happen further down the track.

The least we can do is to take the time to be aware of them.