The Art of Going Deep

As humans, we are always looking for ways to make some sense out of this temporary sequence of events called life. In fact, there is an entire industry (the self-help and personal development movement) dedicated to helping people improve their lives intellectually, emotionally, financially, as well as spiritually. A few years ago, determined to become the best person I could be, I delved head-first into this industry, voraciously reading everything I could on the topic, taking copious notes, watching videos of workshops, attending courses, and whatever else I could do to gain mastery of my own life.

And I did indeed learn a lot, improve my skills, and make valuable friends along the way. However, I later realized that there was one thing I was inadvertently doing, which increased my quality of life many times over and whose benefits far exceeded that which I gained through the aforementioned books, courses, and workshops.

That one thing is the topic of this article, and I must admit that up until recently, I myself was not aware of the fantastic power that lays within the grasp of nearly anyone who does this. No, I am not referring to anything supernatural, nor am I asking you to change your belief system. In fact, I am not asking you to do anything other than to dive as deeply as possible into everything you do. And that’s it. That’s the simplistic beauty of what I am about to tell you.

One of the first and best self-help books I ever read was Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. One of the reasons it had such a huge impact on me was that it delivered its message succinctly and powerfully, through passages such as the following:

Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in            the future; it will happen in the Now.

The book’s consistent and relentless focus on improving the quality of one’s life by concentrating solely on the present moment was, to me, a huge change from what I had read previously. Many self-help books either focused entirely on delayed gratification (which does have its benefits, I must admit), rehashed clichés such as “Time is Money,” cajoled people into buying expensive courses, or required one to change their belief system (and in some cases, asked readers to adopt a new religion).

The Power of Now, on the other hand, asks nothing of the reader other than to focus on the present moment. And what I am asking of you is something similar: in whatever you do, with whoever you are, and wherever you are, focus on going as deeply as possible. What do I mean by this? Let me offer you some examples.

When enjoying a cup of coffee, before you start sipping away, take a few moments to close your eyes and breathe in the scent of the coffee beans wafting through the air. When you start drinking the coffee, take it in slowly, enjoying the exquisite bitterness of the coffee beans, one sip at a time. If this was your last cup of coffee, how would you like for it to taste?

When listening to your favorite music, before you start tapping your feet, nodding your head, or engaging in a full-throated sing-along, try to focus on one instrument at a time. Then, slowly start incorporating the other instruments, and eventually, you might end up having a much better understanding of what the musician or band intended to communicate. For instance, focus on the drummer pounding away furiously, and then incorporate the chugging bass line, followed by the smooth, beautiful guitar melodies, and then the soaring vocals. If this was the last song you heard, how would you like for it to sound?

When having a discussion with a friend on a topic of shared interest or importance, listen intently to what your friend is saying and try your best to understand his or her point of view, without interrupting and without trying to finish their sentences. Then, after having heard their point of view, take some time to consider a reply that will deliver a positive outcome for them, whether that outcome is a solution to a problem, an additional point to continue the discussion, or just an empathetic response. By peeling away layers of a subject and diving deeper into the topic, you will not only come to a better understanding of the topic, but also of your friend, as well as strengthen your friendship. If this was the last discussion with your friend, how would you like for it to unfold?

When spending time with your significant other, stop trying to plan out every minute of the evening in incredible detail. Stop trying to focus on a specific outcome. Rather, try to focus on specific moments and experiences, such as a comment in passing, the smell of her perfume, the way she moves her hair as she turns her head, a fleeting kiss, a tender embrace, and the sound she makes as you touch her skin. If this was the last time you saw her, how would you like for it to feel?

In everything that you do, try to go as deeply as possible into whatever activity that might be. This is what I call the art of going deep. And for the longest time, I could not figure out what made a specific experience more rewarding or enjoyable than other similar, or even identical experiences. Until recently, that is. I suppose what started all of this was an Organizational Behavior class I took while completing my MBA degree, during which the professor implored us to “go deeper” into why people did the things they did, said the things they said, and acted the way they did. With every paper we turned in and every comment we made, the professor urged us to go deeper. While that class was among my favorite courses that I took while completing my MBA studies, I thought nothing of it until later, when I realized that every moment that we decline the opportunity to delve deeper, we rob ourselves of a precious experience that can never be gained back.

And that was the impetus to write this article. But why go all the way? Why take the trouble to go deeply into things? Aren’t we opening ourselves to complexity, heartbreak, and introducing Pandora’s Box if we try to do this?

In my mind, there are at least three reasons why we should go as deeply as possible in everything that we do, and they are as follows: going deep helps increase our enjoyment of interactions and events while contributing greatly to our quality of life, helps us to not miss important details when making decisions, and ensures that we do not pass through life with regrets about things we should have done but didn’t.

It may seem obvious that putting more effort or attention into an activity, such as playing sports, painting, or singing, will tend to increase your enjoyment of that activity, but it bears mentioning here again. I can guarantee you that approaching any activity or task halfheartedly or on a surface level will prevent you from gaining full enjoyment of it. For instance, when playing a guitar solo, do you just go through the motions, plucking away at the notes, or do you throw yourself into making each note sing, as if the guitar is an extension of your emotions? When working on your next piece of art, do you sloppily start painting a mountain and then hope everything will fall into place later? Or do you envision a majestic landscape in your mind, and enthusiastically and meticulously start drawing every contour of an impressive, snow-covered mountain range and the sun peeking out of the clouds to shine a light on your glorious masterpiece?  If you make it a habit of really delving deeply into the things you do, you will find that it leads to an increased quality of life, since stringing together events that are deeply satisfying will tend to add excitement, zest, and a whole host of other positive emotions to your daily life.

Additionally, this concept can even be applied to tasks, such as making an important purchase. This is because buying things is not just about money; it is also about the sort of experience you are hoping to gain as a result of that purchase. Going deep into such matters will help you take into consideration factors other than money. For instance, when shopping for a home, you may find that the price is within your range, but there are other factors that make it a deal breaker, such as street noise at certain times of the day or night, certain neighbors whom you would have a difficult time getting along with, or even just how it feels being in the house, doing things such as walking up and down the stairs, looking out the window to the view of the city, or enjoying a meal in the dining room. Of course, I am providing an obvious example here, since I would hope that most people buying a home would carefully consider such aspects. But since a big part of making such a purchase involves things that are not readily apparent, it behooves us to really go deeply into the matter to make sure we are making the correct decision.

Finally, there seems to be something deeply fulfilling about taking a scenario or situation to its logical conclusion, as opposed to prematurely giving up when deep down inside, you know you could have and should have done more. Whether this scenario involves conducting research on an investment that has a great promise for payoff, or a potential romantic relationship with someone you are interested in, you owe it to yourself to not give up before making an honest effort to go all the way. Why taste the pain and anguish of capitulation when you could taste the joy of victory instead? Asking just a few people around you about all the things they regretted not doing might result in a list much longer than you had thought. After all, who out there has not experienced pain and regret resulting from not going for it in a given scenario? Imagine walking out on a deal that could have landed you millions, but you were too lazy to conduct research on it. Imagine letting a woman walk away because you were too scared to put your ego on the line and risk rejection. What if this person would have been a great match for you? Are you willing to live the rest of your life knowing you could have had something you treasured, but you instead chose to throw it away?

As strong as my words may appear to be, I have written them out of a sense of duty and obligation to ensure that you derive as much value and enjoyment out of life as possible. In everything you do, go as deeply as possible. Because to do otherwise would be cheating yourself out of potentially amazing situations, as well as preventing others from being inspired by your infectious optimism and exuberance. If life does just turn out to be a sequence of events experienced either by yourself or with other people, and this is the only chance you get, wouldn’t you want to have lived deeply?

How to Overcome Reverse Culture Shock

As exhilarating, challenging, fascinating, and eye-opening life as an expat can be, there may come a day when, for whatever reason, you find yourself going back to where you came from. When that day comes, you should have your mental arsenal prepared for the shock of readjusting to life back in your home country. In fact, I will go so far as to say that you may face struggles greater than when you first left the shores of your land for a life of vibrancy and adventure many moons ago.

While these are strong words, they are necessary, for I feel that not nearly enough is done to prepare expats for the inevitable challenges that will ensue once they go back to their home country and have to re-acclimatize themselves. Indeed, most expats underestimate what will be required of them and find themselves woefully unprepared for what awaits them. In this article I hope to help expats make that transition more enjoyable, or at least a lot less arduous.

Before I begin offering advice, an explanation of what reverse culture shock is might be helpful. Culture shock is the experience you have when you move to a culture that is different from your own. This may manifest itself in many ways, such as disorientation, stress, confusion, irritability, and may sometimes even affect one’s health. Culture shock occurs when you become an expat and move to another country. Reverse culture shock, then, is the experience when you move back to your own culture or home country. Of course, reverse culture shock may also manifest itself in a number of ways, such as boredom, stress, alienation, a feeling of rejection, and may certainly also affect one’s health.

From my personal, subjective experience, while both culture shock and reverse culture shock are very real, reverse culture shock is more unexpected and hence requires one to be more vigilant. The reason for this is simple: when you move to another country, you expect that at least some things will be different, and thus you are more likely to be prepared for the unexpected, whereas when you move back home, one’s natural tendency is to assume they will fit right back in, since they are going back to where they came from. But this is a dangerous assumption and one that has caused many an expat great stress.

While there are many ways to reintegrate oneself,  here are three ways I recommend to battle reverse culture shock and get into the swing of things back home:

  1. Understand that you have changed in some ways and as such, your interpretation of your home country may have changed as well. Meanwhile, you should be prepared for the possibility that the people you used to know might still expect you to be the person you used to be
  2. Develop a diverse social network of people with similar interests, hobbies, and passions
  3. Approach your repatriation with optimism and an open mind, and take advantage of the things you can do back home that you couldn’t do overseas

Going overseas changes a person in many ways. Indeed, when you become an expat, you will experience not only new sights, traditions, and customs, but also new people and hence new mindsets, philosophies, and ways of life. All of these things contribute to changing a person in potentially many different ways.

For instance, I not only became a huge fan of Asian food after moving to Asia, but I also developed or improved many crucial skills, such as public speaking, emotional intelligence, sales skills, and management skills. Along the way, I also learned new languages, and of course, picked up new habits and customs, such as the Chinese sociological concept of face, the Japanese cultural concept of wa, and more. While all of these things contributed immeasurably to the person I am today and brought me more value than I could ever quantify, they also changed me quite a bit, and when I moved back to where I had left nine years prior, I was a much different person, and the people around me immediately took notice.

I wish I could say that everyone accepted who I had become, but alas, that was not the case. While family and close friends accepted that I had changed, some people from my past were at best indifferent and at worst, somewhat passive-aggressive. Specifically, some people I used to know were no doubt expecting to see the person I used to be, the person they remembered me as. However, for all intents and purposes, that person was dead and gone, replaced by someone much different.

Further, there were many things I found difficult to deal with at first, such as suburban sprawl, the near-total dependence on automobiles, the lack of a frenetic and vibrant city lifestyle, and the relatively more confrontational nature of some people, at least when compared to people in Asia. To be sure, if I am honest with myself, I probably disliked these sorts of things even before I became an expat, but now they were magnified, and hence, annoyed me more than before.

However, my feelings were completely normal, and to be expected. You will no doubt feel the same about certain aspects of your home country if you move back after being an expat for a while. Again, this is not only normal, but will almost certainly happen to you, and so you should be ready for it. And being ready for these feelings will help you deal with them, since being prepared takes away some of the sting of the unexpected.

If what I have described above seems like not a big deal, and even if you completely disregard what I have advised, you might still be just fine. However, if you learn nothing else from this article, and even if you ignore the rest of it, I would implore you to not ignore one aspect of reverse culture shock, and that is, the boredom, apathy, and alienation you may feel as a result of not having a network of friends and/or a support group you can gravitate toward when the stress of readjustment rears its hideous head. Indeed, this one thing hits harder than the others, and the fastest way to become emotionally shredded is to go for a long period of time without a social network of people with whom you share common interests or hobbies.

The reasons that this scenario may occur are numerous, but include the fact that many of your old friends may have moved far away, started families and demanding careers of their own, or, the more likely scenario, that you have changed in many ways and hence no longer have much in common with people you used to know. Again, I would like to point out that feeling this way is completely normal. However, since you may no longer have the excitement, sense of adventure, and feeling of newness that you used to have in your adopted home, it is paramount to build a new network of friends and involve yourself in activities that not only bring you meaning, but also, help you fill the hole created in your life after you stopped being an expat.

The reason for this are also numerous, and include the fact that unless one is a total sociopath, life is more enriching and enjoyable when one can enjoy experiences with friends. Additionally, friends and acquaintances can help you overcome some the difficulties of moving back by providing perspective and a different point of view, not to mention moral and emotional support. In my mind, the single best way to alleviate the pain of loss stemming from no longer living life as an expat is to build or rejoin a tight-knit group of friends whom you can share feelings, experiences, and stories with. It helps even more if you can enjoy experiences you found meaningful overseas, such as specific cultural activities of the country you were living in. Further, if you can enjoy these activities with people who come from that very same country, that’s a huge bonus, since it will allow you to keep the ties with your adopted home.

Finally, related to the previous point, one of the best ways to deal with reverse culture shock is to be optimistic and open-minded about moving back home and focus on things you were unable to do while you were an expat. For example, if you were on assignment in a landlocked country with extreme weather, and your home country or hometown has a temperate climate with a beautiful coastline and beaches, you can enjoy those things when you return home. Similarly, if you were working in a dense, expensive country with a high cost of real estate, and your home country has more space and cheaper real estate (and purchasing real estate is one of your goals), then you have an advantage when going back home. Doing this will not only make it easier to readjust to life back in your hometown, but also help you overcome some of the frustration and boredom that you may feel when you first move back.

As I have mentioned previously, being an expat is a wonderful experience and I believe it has improved my life vastly on many levels. At the same time, being an expat can take its toll on you, as you have to deal with many external stimuli simultaneously and nearly everything around you is different from before. While all of this is somewhat obvious, there is a nebulous dark side to moving back to where one came from, and it can manifest itself in many different ways. Being unprepared for moving back home can wallop you mentally, emotionally, and physically, and your best weapon against that is preparation, a positive mental attitude, and a group of friends. Some of the ways you can be prepared is to understand that you have returned home a changed person, and your interpretation of an environment you used to be familiar with may have changed drastically. Further, you should also not waste any time in developing or rejoining a group of friends or at least acquaintances with whom you can share the joys of life with. Finally, your physical environment may offer you advantages or experiences you may have missed out on while living life as an expat, and you would do well to recognize that and do the things you were unable to do while living overseas.

It is true that everyone’s experience moving back home is different, and that some people will actually appreciate and enjoy their hometown even more than before. Further, some people will be able to make the transition back home more easily and will be able to rejoin their old group of friends right away, thus getting reintegrated faster. It is also true that taking the above precautions by no means guarantees that one will have a smooth transition when they repatriate. However, I can guarantee you that ignoring the challenges brought forth by reverse culture shock will hurt you more than it will help you. Starting all over again, even in your mother country, is difficult, but it is my hope that the advice above will help you build a new life again in a land you once found very familiar and comfortable, but which may now feel somewhat foreign to you.

 

 

Supercharge Your Career by Going Overseas

A recent Harvard Business Review article discusses whether rejecting an expatriate assignment can be detrimental to one’s career aspirations at a global company, and having been an expat myself, I feel compelled to comment on the article’s conclusions, as well as add some of my own findings.  

As expected, the authors reached the conclusion that employees rejecting an expat assignment may indeed pay a price for their perceived lack of dedication and flexibility. Specifically, the article discusses an employee’s psychological contract with the organization, which is described as the implied, unwritten agreement about what is expected of each party. While breaching the psychological contract by refusing an overseas assignment may result in the employee receiving decreased personal support and mentoring, not to mention fewer opportunities to advance in the firm, this all depends on the reasons the employee is unwilling to go. For instance, if you are simply unwilling to take the overseas posting because you do not wish to leave your home country, you will likely be seen as lacking commitment, whereas if you refuse an expat assignment because of family concerns or concerns about your trailing partner’s career, you may not necessarily be penalized for saying no. 

Since this sort of logic is common sense, I will not comment on it further, but rather, focus on a rather interesting finding by the authors of the article. Specifically, the authors found that when people go back to their home country after working abroad, they often experience decreased job satisfaction, and sometimes even depression. In fact, according to the above Harvard Business Review article, up to 38 percent of employees returning from an overseas posting may quit in the year following their return. 

I can personally attest to the above claims, but perhaps not for the reasons you may think, and perhaps for reasons other than what the article intended to communicate. For me, going overseas was the best decision I ever made, not just on a career level, but on a personal development and social level, as well. In fact, I had such an amazing experience as an expat that it would indeed be very difficult, if not nearly impossible, for me to go back to my home country on a permanent basis and never be an expat ever again. Thus, the rest of this article will explain my reasoning for why taking an expat assignment might be the best career decision you will ever make. 

There is no doubt that taking on an expat role offers numerous opportunities to get ahead in your career. Before we begin, for full disclosure, while I did work overseas, I was not transferred by a company, but rather, took the riskier step of going overseas first and then finding a job. While I do not recommend doing it this way for most people, the fact remains that working in another country might be a great way for you to surge ahead in your career. There are many reasons why this is the case, but I will focus on just three: to gain valuable cross-cultural and global experience, to take on a demanding role that will help show your dedication and drive to a company that believes in you, and to build a new career in an industry you are interested in but might not have the skills to work in, yet. 

Becoming an expat means that you get to live in a country other than where you came from originally. Thus, this necessarily means that you will get exposed to cultures other than your own. This may not seem so special, especially if you are originally from a country that already has many different cultures within it, such as Canada, Australia, and the United States. However, it is one thing to see different cultures within your own country, and yet another to experience a foreign culture outside of your own country. This is because people who move to another country and live there for a few years invariably become at least somewhat assimilated, and adopt the customs of their new home. At the very least, they are exposed to a culture that is different from their own, and no matter how adamant one may be about staying the same, living in another country changes you in many ways, even if you do not notice it right away. Therefore, second- or third-generation Chinese in the United States tend to be much different from Chinese people in China, and will most definitely pick up American customs as a result of being born in the United States.  

Therefore, living and working with Chinese people in China will be a much different experience than living and working with third-generation Chinese in the United States, even though in both scenarios, you will be collaborating with people who are ethnically Chinese. 

The point I am trying to make here is that to experience many facets of a culture, it behooves you to go directly to the source. But why obtain cross-cultural experience anyway? Going back to the Harvard Business Review article, many companies expect their leaders to work overseas and develop the skills required to lead across different cultures. In my mind, there’s no better and quicker way to do so than to throw yourself into the fray and work in another country.  

Further, by accepting an assignment to work abroad, uprooting your entire life on behalf of the company, and taking on the challenges of living and working in another country, you are communicating to your organization that you are dedicated and flexible. What’s more, if you work at a firm that has global operations, you will find that many leaders may already have international experience, and if you desire to move up the ranks, then it will be helpful for you to acquire that international experience as well.  

Expat roles are not only challenging, but a company that sends an employee, and possibly his or her entire family, overseas, is incurring tremendous financial risk. Your company will not only be paying your salary and benefits, but in many instances, be taking on even more expenditures by paying for things such as private school tuition for your children, return flights home every year, and housing expenses. Accepting such a move and doing your best to succeed at it demonstrates your commitment to the company, something that will most certainly help you gain the firm’s trust and help you move up in the organization. While you do not necessarily have to be offered an expat assignment to advance in a company, accepting such an offer and doing well at it will always help your case. Similarly, being offered such a position and rejecting it arbitrarily will almost always hurt your case. At best, management may feel ambivalent about your future at the company. 

But what about people who are not offered an expat position by their current company? Also, what about those who may not yet have the experience to work overseas? Would it also help them to live and work in another country? I can emphatically state that going abroad may be the best decision for people who fall into these categories, mostly because I used to be one of those people.  

Before embarking upon my current career in the IT industry, I had little experience in the field, other than a contract position as a data analyst at a software company. However, a multinational hardware company headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan took a chance on me, despite my relative lack of experience in the software industry, and my total lack of experience in the hardware industry. While my being foreign, as I will explain below, certainly helped my chances, I also believe that my willingness to move halfway across the world and take on such a role, not to mention a great deal of luck, also played a part in me getting the job.  

I used that opportunity to springboard onto bigger and better things, such as positions at Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, both in Shanghai, China. I can honestly say that I would never have had a chance to work at such large companies had I stayed in my home country, especially given my lack of experience and the intense level of competition. However, I built a new career for myself and leaped up several rungs of the ladder simply because I took the risk of going abroad. The reasons I was able to do this are numerous, and in order to help others wishing to take this same path, I will list them here. 

Firstly, overseas firms or companies with offices abroad may be looking for a set of skills that only a foreign person may have, or rather, a set of abilities that a foreign person may be better at. The position I had applied for in Taipei required a native English speaker to create marketing materials, and because there are relatively few native English speakers in Taiwan compared to the population at large, I had an advantage there.  

Next, just being foreign by itself may be considered a valuable asset in many countries. Many companies overseas consider foreign applicants to have better management and communication skills, even though this may not necessarily be the case in reality. What’s even more interesting is the fact that in many countries, foreigners are considered exotic, and to even be seen with a foreigner can help a local elevate their social standing. While I would never condone anyone taking advantage of other people, I see nothing wrong with exploiting one’s own foreignness to get ahead, whether you are an Australian living in Dubai, or a Canadian living in Japan, and so forth.  

Finally, if you work in an industry that is highly competitive or work in a country that has a stagnant job market, it may help you to look for a position overseas. For example, you may have less competition if you are a French national looking for IT jobs in Shanghai than in Silicon Valley. This is because the Bay Area of California is where so many IT job hunters go to look for jobs, thus leaving other desirable locations relatively untouched, and also because you could use the fact that you are foreign to your advantage in Shanghai, whereas you probably could not in Silicon Valley. Also, supposing you are a talented Colombian software engineer, you may be able to find a better position in Toronto, Canada than you would back home, just because the Canadian software industry is likely more developed and offers more high-paying jobs.  

Of course, by offering the examples above, I am by no means making value judgments about any of the locations I mentioned, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages, and certainly their own charms. Additionally, what’s appealing to one person may be unappealing to another. For instance, I know people who prefer to earn less money and stay in their hometown or home country, than to take the plunge and brave the savage competition and astronomical cost of living in cities like London or San Francisco. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that.  

However, if you are interested in going overseas, and your company offers you such an opportunity, or you decide to go it on your own, either by applying for jobs abroad or starting a business in another country, there are plenty of reasons why making such a move would help you in your career. As mentioned previously, not only can you learn a tremendous amount about other cultures, but if you are an employee, you can show your dedication to your company and progress further in your career than if you played it safe and stayed at home. Finally, even if you do not have such an opportunity offered to you by your current employer, you can build a new career overseas, and maybe even a whole new life. For these reasons alone, it makes plenty of sense to consider going overseas.  

Thus, if you are ever presented with such an opportunity or feel the urge to actualize your dream of going abroad and becoming an expat, you owe it to yourself to seriously consider making the move. Indeed, there may never be a better time to take the plunge and go overseas, because life is simply too short to fritter away a glorious opportunity to become an expat and enjoy the splendors of a life many only dream of. Despite the many challenges that an expat assignment can present, the rewards are far greater than the risks, and you never want to look at yourself later in your career and wonder what could have been, had you taken that expat assignment. 

The Case for Floating Communities

Hot on the heels of the Seasteading Institute’s agreement with the French Polynesian government to develop a legal framework for the first floating island to be inhabited by humans, recent news coverage on seasteading has proliferated. Indeed, the idea of making one’s home on floating islands, or seasteads, is no longer the far-fetched, utterly inconceivable proposition it used to be. These floating islands have been pitched as self-governing communities that hope to spur business creation in a low-regulation environment. In fact, these islands have even been proposed as a solution to governments not innovating sufficiently, and as a panacea for the stifling regulations imposed on innovators by governments.  

However, as I will argue in this article, I believe the free-market, libertarian focus on minimal governance, as well as the hope that such floating islands will somehow become startup hubs that escape the regulations enforced on them by governments, are well-intentioned but end up missing the bigger picture. In fact, I believe that current media coverage is focused on the right topic (building floating communities in the ocean) but that the priorities and raison d’être are incorrect. 

Although there are many reasons why we may want to consider building floating communities, as I like to call them, three reasons in particular stand out for me. The first is to combat the very real problem of overpopulation and the potential resource scarcity in many of the world’s largest cities, many of which, not coincidentally, are near the ocean. The next reason, related to the first, is a controversial reason but one that I do not shy from announcing: the need to reduce the rent-seeking we see in the real estate industry, which concentrates wealth in the hands of a few people and results in backbreaking housing costs for the majority of residents. Finally, I believe that building floating communities can help us counteract some of the deleterious effects of climate change.  

It is no secret that the most desirable cities and regions in the world are also among the most crowded and expensive, the reason for which is simple supply and demand. While globalization and technology were supposed to level the playing field and diffuse some of the power that these metropolises hold, that has not turned to be the case so far. Indeed, we are seeing a movement from rural areas to urban agglomerations, and these megalopolises are becoming bigger and more influential, rather than smaller. One need only look at examples such as Shanghai, Tokyo, Silicon Valley, and London to see that this is the case. Thus, the argument that people could just move to a lower-cost region isn’t very helpful, since many jobs, companies, national governments, and centers of culture and influence are often found in these high-cost regions. There appear to be huge network effects, in which regions that offer greater opportunities for people to get ahead attract more and more talented people, who in turn attract other talented people, thus creating a virtuous cycle in which these regions become more populous and influential. 

Unfortunately, one of the consequences of this is overcrowding, and in turn, an increase in the use of resources. Indeed, while the rate of increase of the global population has slowed, United Nations estimates indicate that we will still see the world population rise over the coming decades; specifically, to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. Naturally, this also means that more resources, such as water and arable land, will be required. This is one area where the people at the Seasteading Institute are correct: large swathes of the world’s population lack access to fresh water, and the lack of the mineral phosphorus, which is key to agricultural production, may become an exceedingly important issue in the coming years. Therefore, to account for the increasing populations in these regions, in particular those that are near the coast, it would be helpful to have floating communities where people could live, work, and even use the ocean for sustenance through aquaculture. Of course, since these communities would be near the shore, residents could also commute to work onshore, if need be.  

One more problem caused by overcrowding is the fact that the cost of real estate is sky-high in many of these crowded metropolises such as New York City, Singapore, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, and so forth. And while I think that we should reward people who take risks and build businesses that deliver great value to humanity, what we are seeing in large regions and cities all over the world is the concentration of much of the real estate in the hands of relatively few people, who charge exorbitant rents. This in turn results in situations in which many people are paying half of their net income on rent, or for those who are fortunate enough to be able to purchase their home, backbreaking mortgage payments for 30 years. In both of these scenarios, people in these regions and cities are living with increasing levels of stress.  

Imagine if people living in large metropolises had other options, such as more government-subsidized housing, or, better yet, floating communities on which they could live, thereby hopefully bringing down the cost of housing, since a greater availability of units tends to lower the price of housing, whereas housing shortages tend to increase prices for everyone. 

Finally, the very real issue of climate change is one that we will have to deal with now, rather than later, especially since we are seeing record temperatures, rising water levels, and a huge chunk of Antarctic ice has broken off, among other threats. One way to attack climate change via floating communities in the ocean would be to experiment with multiple forms of clean energy such as ocean thermal energy conversion, ocean-based wind farms, aquaculture, and more. To be fair, the Seasteading Institute has mentioned climate change as one of the reasons to build floating communities. Specifically, low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean are at risk of losing land as the sea level climbs by 26 to 82 centimeters by the end of the 21st century, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. To make matters worse, a Paris-Sud University study in 2013 found that French Polynesia and New Caledonia were the French-controlled islands most at risk of being completely submerged by rising water levels.  

However, no matter how strong the case for floating communities may be, many challenges exist, such as waste management, weather patterns, environmental concerns, building costs, and more. Fortunately, we also have many resources available to us to build such communities. By some estimates, for example, there are nearly 27,000 abandoned oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Suppose these oil rigs were retrofitted, refurbished, and used for housing. These structures are already there, and are not being used at all, so it may be a good idea to see if they could be used. And even if, due to environmental or safety concerns, we deem them to be uninhabitable, we owe it to ourselves to experiment with different options. Thus, we may not even need to build new structures since we could use existing platforms.  

If we were to build completely new structures, there are many different ways of approaching the solution. For example, in its French Polynesia proposal, the Seasteading Institute has suggested three solar-powered pilot platforms, each roughly 50 meters by 50 meters. One rendering of the plan shows a floating island supporting a multi-story building. Furthermore, Dutch design firm DeltaSync has concluded that building modular platforms arranged in branchlike structures would be the best way for these artificial islands to withstand the force of the ocean. However, as I have mentioned, we are not obligated to build floating communities in one particular way, and have a multitude of different approaches we could take. The point is that whether we use existing structures or build new ones, finding a solution to the challenges of climate change, overpopulation, and rising real estate prices requires us to be creative with our solutions and vigilant about building a better future for generations to come.  

Further, rather than attempt to build a utopia for libertarian businesspeople to escape regulations and taxes, and rather than seeking to avoid governments in the planning and building of floating communities, we should be actively seeking their support and assistance. Indeed, the Seasteading Institute abandoned its original idea of creating new countries on floating islands out in international waters, mainly because it is currently unfeasible. Further, its recent steps taken toward build floating islands in French Polynesia with the support and blessing of the government are steps in the right direction. Given the fact that the organization itself has estimated the cost of building its first pilot at $66 million, it may behoove us to obtain support and more importantly, funding from governments, in order to get the floating communities built.  

While the idea of creating a new country in international waters, where we can take our time building a new nation with values that we deem important to us, and at the same time avoid many of the mistakes that governments and elected leaders regularly make, is admittedly an exciting one, I believe that we need to take the necessary steps to get floating communities built as quickly and efficiently as possible, given that we have many challenges to deal with right now. And the best way to get floating communities built would be to demonstrate to governments around the world that this is a realistic and valuable solution to the aforementioned challenges of overpopulation, rising real estate prices, and climate change. Indeed, our children depend on us to make the right choices to secure a better and brighter future, and one way we can do that is to go full-force toward building floating communities.  

And in conclusion, that is precisely why I use the term floating communities rather than floating islands or seasteads – because we are all on this planet Earth together and hence comprise a huge planet full of different communities of people with a shared goal of protecting the world for future generations. And one way to ensure we have a future worth living for is to acknowledge the fact that most of the planet is composed of water, and not just protecting the oceans, but using them to our advantage in building out sustainable, vibrant communities where like-minded people can work on important projects while also contributing to saving the planet.

The Consequences of Technology, Part 1

At first glance, the title of this article might unwillingly come across as misleading to some people. Not only have I used the word “consequences,” which, despite its actual meaning, tends to hold a negative connotation in our society, but given my career aspirations and trajectory, this may appear to be a strange choice of words. Indeed, I have dedicated most of my professional life to the information technology (IT) industry, and more specifically, the software industry. Additionally, I am a huge fan of video games, robotics, transhumanism, and other related topics, so why would I even consider implying that there should be limits to anything technological, when I am inspired by the countless ways that technology has improved our lives and pushed the human race forward?

Allow me to allay your concerns by saying that my hope is not to contradict my life’s work or to introduce doubt into the minds of budding technology entrepreneurs. Rather, my aim is to offer some topics to spur healthy discussion, and to inspire more introspection and exploration into some of the downstream effects of technology in our society, whether of the positive variety, or not.

When we read about technology or follow new developments and movements, we often hear terms and phrases such as “disruption,” “the sharing economy,” “big data,” “cloud computing,” and so on. What these terms imply is that there is massive change going on in the world, in society, and in our communities, and we ignore these changes at our peril. In fact, to some people, technology appears to be an unstoppable juggernaut that obliterates everything in its path, including old traditions, culture, and of course, jobs.

While these topics would be impossible to cover in single a blog entry, and might require a series of books to even give them justice, I would like to focus briefly on the last part: jobs.

I recently read a concise yet thought-provoking book by Jim Clifton called The Coming Jobs War. In this book, Clifton argues that according to all the polling his organization, Gallup, has conducted for more than 75 years, what would most change the current state of humankind in a positive fashion is the appearance of 1.8 billion jobs. The reasoning for this, Clifton states, is that there are 3 billion people on Earth aged 15 and older, who either work or want to work, but there are only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs. Thus, according to Clifton, there is a shortfall of about 1.8 billion good employment opportunities for these people.

Even if we debate the numbers presented above, Gallup’s massive and far-reaching World Poll, which the company began conducting in 2005, contains a vast body of behavioral economic data that represents the opinions of people across nearly every country and demographic and sociographic group. And the results of the World Poll so far state in no uncertain terms that what people want most now is a good job.

The reason this discussion has become more important than ever is that we are increasingly hearing about, and in fact, seeing, technology become a potential threat to possibly millions of jobs while at the same time also improving the quality of life for millions of people. What I am speaking about specifically is self-driving cars. What we are seeing is not just traditional automobile manufacturers working on autonomous, self-driving cars (and their components), but ridesharing companies as well, among others.

And the reason this matters so much is not because this technology is inherently “good” or “bad,” but rather, because the reality is very much grey, rather than black and white. Thus, this requires very deep and critical thinking on the part of our business and political leaders and, as a matter of fact, all of society. Indeed, with the advent of fully autonomous self-driving cars, we would be freed from having to focus so much of our attention and energy on what many consider the worst parts of our day: our morning and evening commutes. Imagine the amount of work we could get done in our cars if we did not have to focus on driving and instead let technology take care of this unpleasant, stressful, and nearly inescapable aspect of modern life. Further, imagine the millions of people who are unable to drive due to a physical disability. They too could take advantage of this technology to go wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted; of course, assuming that this technology would be ubiquitous and affordable, relatively speaking.

However, every technology, no matter how helpful or positive, may also have unintended downstream effects. For example, the proliferation of self-driving cars and trucks may result in many truck and taxi drivers losing their jobs, because if we can program software to enable a car or truck to drive itself, companies might find less of a need to employ large numbers of humans to drive these vehicles. And employees would not be the only ones affected; self-employed drivers would be impacted as well, of course. If we set aside, just for a moment, the fact that this technology is still very new and that these self-driving vehicles still currently require intervention by humans in order to avoid accidents, this has very serious implications for our society given the grim job numbers provided by Mr. Clifton.

While it may be easy or tempting for those of us employed in the IT industry to brush aside this concern and state that the displacement of a large group of people or jobs is one of the unavoidable consequences of technological innovation, and that the people affected should focus on building new skills in order to get new jobs, start their own companies, or embark on new careers, the fact of the matter is that it may not be possible for many people to do so, given a whole host of factors, which include but are not limited to, their age, current skillset, geographic location, and more.

Simply put, we cannot just assume that millions of people will be able to start a new career or will have good job opportunities available to them after having been displaced out of the job or career that previously helped them provide for their families. One of the tragedies of modern society is that we have not been able to provide jobs or opportunities for everyone who has become unemployed, as the manufacturing sectors in certain developed countries can demonstrate. And while innovative technology companies have indeed brought forth products and services that have created many jobs, helped build new ecosystems such as the app economy, provided money-making opportunities for freelancers, and improved the quality of life for many people worldwide, it is unreasonable to assume that these same companies will be able to provide a good livelihood for the 1.8 billion people who still need a good opportunity.

Hence, this is why having a deep discussion on the merits and downsides of such technologies is so crucial. Because we are at a sort of crossroads now, and because the actions we take may have both very positive and potentially harmful consequences for society, we owe it to ourselves to very carefully consider the downstream effects of technology and not just flippantly move toward a future we may not necessarily be happy with.

To be clear, I am all for technologies that move the human race forward, and I do not believe that we should stop working on self-driving cars just because it may result in many people losing their jobs, since at the same time, many people would benefit from this technology. I would add, however, that we should also look at complementary actions, such as companies providing further training, job opportunities, or freelancing opportunities for employees who become displaced as a result of technological innovation.

In fact, one could even argue that producing self-driving cars, which are actually still based on pollutive, outdated technology (no one can argue that the internal combustion engine is a groundbreaking technology in the 21st century), is not quite enough to move our society forward, since this would still entail bone-crushing commutes in large cities such as Sao Paulo, Bangkok, and Los Angeles. And although people who are physically unable to drive would then be able to get around easier, there would be more cars on the road. Even if we were to extrapolate and assume that self-driving cars would make better decisions than humans and drive more efficiently, the end-result would still be the same: many more cars on the road. Of course, we would also reach the same conclusion even if all cars were electric, rather than gasoline-powered, although one added benefit would be less pollution.

In a sense, the proliferation of self-driving cars could be offered as a critique of our elected (and unelected) leaders – why have we built entire cities and regions that are lacking in high-quality and ubiquitous public transport, are energy inefficient, technologically uninspiring, and are built completely around the automobile? One reason for this, I suppose, is that building extensive public transportation systems requires substantial initial investments. This would also be the case for the proposed Chinese elevated bus, but both the elevated bus and extensive public transportation systems would go a long way toward alleviating some, or in many cases, much of, the brutish traffic we encounter while driving, not to mention the ruinous pollution.

We could go even further and argue that real technological innovation would entail not just self-driving cars, trains, or elevated buses, but also, eliminating or reducing greatly the daily commute. We could let our imaginations run wild and envision teleportation technology that whisks us to and from locations, but, since there are multiple challenges associated with making this a reality, we could instead discuss technologies such as virtual reality and improved videoconferencing, which could help reduce daily soul-destroying commutes to work on crowded roads. In addition to the massive time savings this would result in, we could also cut down on pollution, energy usage (since even if we completely got rid of gasoline-powered cars, we would still require energy to generate the electricity that powers electric cars), and increase productivity at the same time. However, if we wanted to provide options for nearly everyone, we could develop and/or build upon technologies that would help us avoid commuting so much, while at the same time build out mass transit and produce self-driving cars.

Several years ago, while working at Hewlett-Packard in China, I came across a conference room that was referred to as the “Halo Room.” In this room we had a superb videoconferencing system, along with several enormous TVs. Using this technology, we were able to hold a live meeting with our colleagues at HP Japan, with crystal-clear video quality and zero latency. In fact, the sound and picture were so clear that it appeared that our colleagues were sitting right in front of us, as opposed to more than 1,000 miles away. This necessarily begs the question, if this technology was available in office buildings in the year 2010 (and earlier), why couldn’t we have this sort of technology in our homes?

Another related idea would be for residential communities across the world to have business centers, supplied with Wi-Fi, TV screens, desks, and work areas/conference rooms, where residents could gather to not only telecommute and get their daily work done, but also to possibly hold serendipitous meetings with other community residents. This would not only increase flexibility and efficiency for workers, reduce commuting, and save time and money, but it would also result in more people meeting each other and building out new hubs and social groups. I understand that this is currently being done in business districts through companies that offer shared workspaces and offices, and while this is certainly a move in the right direction, and definitely benefits people who live and work downtown, it still involves many other people enduring long, stressful commutes in order to reach those shared workspaces downtown, whether those people are employees or self-employed.

In any case, the point I am trying to make here is that technologies such as self-driving cars are not a slam dunk and we should avoid blindly attempting to move forward in a given direction without seriously considering the implications of such a move. I am not saying that this is not happening currently, but given the haphazard nature of some of the decisions made by national, city, and local governments, not to mention management teams of companies, I believe we should be putting more focus on the consequences of technology, both positive and negative, and make well-informed, considerate, and intellectual arguments for the paths we decide to take.

With that being said, I want to make it very clear that I agree with the tagline presented by the video game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – you can’t kill progress. I would never want to kill progress, and I believe technology has always held the key to massively improving the quality of life for billions of people on Earth. It’s just that we should always be mindful of the people who may be negatively affected by our march toward progress, and thus, we should find ways to include them in our path toward increased prosperity.

Stick To Your Purpose and Improve the World Too

Since I recently discussed failure and its many implications in a previous blog entry, today I would like to discuss success. Specifically, I will discuss how staying true to your purpose will not only make your life better, but may also contribute to making the world a better place to live in.

We are led to believe by many people that following our true purpose is selfish, and that we should just be realistic and get a job. As a result, most people don’t follow their true purpose, and ultimately deny themselves and the world the opportunity to benefit from the unique gifts that they have. To be fair, there is nothing wrong with getting a job, provided you feel that you are being compensated fairly for your efforts, your benefits (which can be described in both financial and non-financial terms) are sufficient, and your position gives you the opportunity to work on projects you enjoy with like-minded people who you get along with. Additionally, working for yourself can be a great experience – provided you enjoy it, are able to create something you are passionate about, and are able to deliver value to people in the process. Finally, I am not saying that we should all become anarchists or completely disconnected from society.

Now that I got my disclaimers out of the way, let me describe a scenario for you. Let’s take three different people: a homeless man, a schoolteacher, and the CEO of a large corporation. While I am aware that I am oversimplifying things for the sake of discussion, the end for each one of these people, at least in this life, will be the same. When they die, they will be unable to take any of their accomplishments, money or possessions with them.

Regardless of your religious background (or lack thereof) or beliefs about the existence or lack of an afterlife, the fact remains that you will be unable to take those material objects with you, whether you believe that one ends up under the ground, in another body, or in another universe.

As far as I am concerned, the existence or lack of an afterlife is no reason to throw away your current life. Let me repeat that: the existence or lack of an afterlife is no reason to throw away your current life.

Today, many of us who are fortunate enough to live in modern, industrialized nations find that we have little trouble getting enough food to eat, putting a roof over our heads, and finding at least some leisure time to do what we love or work on projects that are meaningful to us (whether they are hobbies or work-related). In short, despite the difficulties that we may face in The First World, life for most of us is at a level where we are no longer struggling to subsist, unlike many of our ancestors, who never had a chance to enjoy the many wonderful things we take for granted now, such as advanced medical care, fast and efficient public transportation, and the Internet.

Thus, we owe it to ourselves to do our best to enjoy life as much as we can and contribute as much value as we can to society. Whether we listen to other people and just get a job, take off and travel the world, or start our own businesses, the end result is the same, at least in this life. So why not enjoy these moments that you can’t ever get back?

More importantly, many studies conducted by psychologists, as well as research conducted by scholars and philosophers, has uncovered that what really brings joy to many people is not enormous monetary gain, but rather, being able to share experiences with people they care about and being able to work on projects that are meaningful to them. While these are by no means the only two things that contribute to making people feel content with life, they are too important to ignore, since spending time with people who are important to you and working on projects that are meaningful to you helps you ultimately give something extraordinary back to the world, whether that extraordinary thing is a new life-saving technology, a work of art, or an experience that you and your loved ones will cherish forever.

But let’s move on to the point of this blog entry – why stick to one’s true purpose at all?

Because the reason we have such fantastic technology, art, medical care, standard of living, and many other things that are good in this world, is a result of someone or some people sticking to their purpose and not following what everyone else did. But more importantly, it’s also because these people did not let fear hold them back from moving forward with their vision.

We have wonderful music, art, and literature that inspire us on a very deep level, because of people like Johann Sebastian Bach, Michelangelo, and Plato. Indeed, works such as “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and The Republic continue to inspire people to this very day.

Thomas Edison battled health problems as a child, got fired from his job at Western Union at the age of 19, and suffered countless setbacks in his professional career. However, he continued with his passion, and as a result, he became one of the most prolific inventors the world has ever known. His inventions, such as the light bulb, have made life easier for billions of people.

Louis Pasteur endured a poor childhood, and then the death of three of his young children. However, he never gave up, and his research brought about tremendous breakthroughs in the causes and prevention of diseases. He created the first vaccine for rabies, as well as the process of pasteurization. Prior to Pasteur’s research, few doctors washed their hands or equipment before performing surgery. I would imagine that millions of lives have been saved due to the efforts of Pasteur.

There are countless examples of people who followed their true purpose in life, and not only became successful, but also helped and inspired many people along the way. You can do just the same. The world wants to receive the gifts of your brilliance. I may not know you, but I am absolutely sure that the world could benefit from your vision and your ideas, no matter how insignificant you feel they may be.

But all this talk of purpose necessarily begs the following question: “What if I am not sure what my purpose is in life?” While this is a rather challenging philosophical question to tackle, especially within the confines of a blog, I could, however, offer some advice based on my own experiences. If you are not sure what your purpose is in life, perhaps the search for your purpose could become your purpose. What this means is that you continue living your life as you are right now, and along the way, you spend whatever free time you have on things that bring you joy, and you focus your attention on things that are important to you. While you may not find your purpose right away, I guarantee that if you do this, you will eventually have clarity on what’s important to you in life, and thus, you will be a lot closer to discovering your true purpose.

That’s exactly how I got into the IT industry and started working on software. I had always loved technology, computers, and video games, but for whatever reason, did not study computer science in university and did not even think about entering the industry earlier in life. I did eventually enter the IT industry and make a career out of it, but not until I was 30 years old. Sometimes, it takes many years of being observant and focusing your attention on things that you enjoy before you can finally find a way to make a living doing those things that you enjoy. Interestingly enough, I think what did it for me was my love of video games. And while I do not currently work in the video game industry, I do work on software, and the fact that I love video games and never took my eye off the ball helped me eventually get into a situation where I could get paid well for working on software. Additionally, one more thing I really enjoy doing is writing, and because I never stopped writing, I got to a point where I could not only earn money writing, but, also, work on writing projects that I enjoy (such as this blog).

In any case, whether you are crystal-clear about what your calling is in life, or whether you have no idea what your purpose should be, the time to take action and do something about it is now. If you wait until you are much older or until you are retired, you are likely to look back and feel that you played it too safe, and you may possibly have regrets about not following your purpose. So the time to live is NOW. Right now.

If you already know what your true calling is in life, don’t wait another day to start living life according to your purpose. The world needs people like you to help it advance and to improve life not only for yourself, but for others as well.

Now, I don’t wish to massively oversimplify things, but my main point here is this: we should do our best to live life to its fullest, focus on what brings us joy and is important to us, and, in spite of the many difficulties and tribulations we may experience along the way, we will likely end up with lots of adventures and memories to talk about and reflect on later in life, not to mention possibly coming up with solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges, inspiring works of art, and other things that move the human race forward.

While it may not be possible to do what I’ve written above all of the time, we can at least do it some of the time. And that by itself would be a start. As we all know, all great things have a beginning. Since you have to start somewhere, and sometime, why not start here, and now?

Why Failure Is Overrated

It is interesting how statements that would sound patently absurd to any discerning person get trumpeted in our society like they are objective truths. This is certainly the case with the idea circulating around Silicon Valley that failure is a good thing. However, sadly enough, it has now expanded outside of Silicon Valley and we hear people in the business world, and especially those involved in the IT sector with startup companies, claim that it is somehow a good thing for an entrepreneur to fail.

The idea behind this thinking is that if you start a company and fail, you ideally learn many lessons from it and are able to successfully apply what you learned from those experiences to your next venture, and hence be much more likely to succeed at it. While this is indeed possible, from my personal experience as well as what I have read about enormously successful businesspeople, this is an ideal scenario that is not necessarily the case in the real world, something I will explain in depth later on in this blog entry. Additionally, a very superficial consolation that is offered to people who fail goes something like, “The only failure is not trying.” While I agree that one should not let fear prevent them from accomplishing an important mission, and that not doing anything about it may result in the world being worse off, it appears that we are parading failure around as a virtue, rather than looking at it for what it is: something to be avoided at all costs. Indeed, I argue that failure is not only very unappealing, it is incredibly demoralizing. Furthermore, one is not guaranteed to be able to pinpoint the exact reasons why a startup failed, since there are often many different reasons that a company fails, and also because we are not able to run the same experiment with the exact same inputs and variables multiple times in order to see whether our hypothesis was correct. Finally, I argue that failure does not necessarily lead to success, something that is incredibly obvious but which has sailed over the heads of so-called experts and educated people.

It is very obvious that failing in any endeavor is not a desirable outcome, and that it would be much better to succeed than to fail, but why do we as a society not come out and simply say that? This is not a matter of me being a Pollyanna and focusing only on positives while ignoring the many perils involved when starting a business. This is a matter of trying to figure out why we seem to think that failure is a good thing, when it is clearly not. I suppose the reasoning behind this is that we want to hedge our bets and protect the ego in the likely scenario that our startup fails, since most new companies do not succeed as we would want them to. Thus, we want to be able to console ourselves if our company fails and say, “At least I tried,” or “What can I learn from this?”

Also, I suspect the self-help community is partially to blame for the proliferation of this sort of thinking, as nearly any self-help book you read will focus on taking whatever positives you can from failing, and regurgitating clichés based on “looking at the bright side of things,” rather than admitting that a business crashing and burning is a very negative event and one that we should do everything in our power to avoid. While I agree that it is a good idea to make the best out of any situation, the above scenario seems to me to be an unhealthy way of looking at things when you’re starting a company.

When you’re starting a company, and especially a technology startup, you’re often incredibly busy on many fronts, with a myriad of constraints, be it time, money, or resources. Thus, it’s probably not the best use of resources and time to focus on what will happen if you fail or trying to tell yourself that it is acceptable to fail because many businesses fail. By focusing on failure rather than success, we are actually setting ourselves up for failure rather than success. In my mind, it would be much better to focus on how to succeed. Simply put, failing is highly undesirable and we should try to avoid that as much as possible, rather than rationalize to ourselves that it is somehow okay.

Furthermore, related to the first point I made, failing in any given endeavor is incredibly demoralizing, especially if it is one that required a lot of resources. Imagine sinking several years’ time and all of your life savings into a startup only to have it fail. There is a risk that one will become extremely discouraged and demotivated as a result of the business not working out. I suppose that someone with extraordinary mental powers and fortitude could glean some positives from these sorts of scenarios, and could pick himself/herself back up and go at it again, but it would be dishonest to say that bankruptcy would not affect this person in any way, or that this person is somehow better off as a result of the company closing down. When one has a goal but does not reach that goal for whatever reason, it is extremely unlikely for them to be satisfied with that outcome. In my mind, we want to avoid scenarios that discourage and demotivate us, and, not surprisingly, failure is one of the most discouraging events in life.

Additionally, proponents of the idea that failure is a good thing often point out that one can learn many lessons from a failed business and will somehow be much more likely to succeed in the future since they will take those lessons and apply them to their next venture. However, according to venture capitalist and entrepreneur Peter Thiel, startup companies often fail for a multitude of reasons, and sometimes we don’t even know what exactly caused the company to blow up. Perhaps it was the wrong team members, or that the industry was far too competitive, or that the product wasn’t good enough, or lawsuits stemming from intellectual property disputes, or any other reason. The next time around you might be more careful when choosing team members to start your company with, or you may attempt to enter a market that has less competition, or you may even start a business that you are highly confident will not be engaged in legal warfare later down the line.

However, this still doesn’t guarantee that you will get it right the second or third time around, because there are so many variables involved, and also because it is impossible to run the exact same experiment with the exact same company and team members in the same market with the same product or service, again and again, to test your hypothesis of why it all went wrong.

Finally, it is incredibly difficult to prove that repeated failure in the beginning guarantees success later. We are bombarded with examples of people who failed many times before succeeding, but there appears to be very little evidence that the failures are what directly led to the success later, or that these people were somehow better off as a result of failing multiple times. Simply put, failing many times does not automatically make you more likely to succeed later – it just means you failed a bunch of times. Furthermore, how about people who succeeded right away? Or how about people who succeeded in the beginning, then failed, and then succeeded again? One could argue that Steve Jobs was a success straight away with Apple, before experiencing some challenges and setbacks and then succeeding again with his eventual return to Apple. But this wouldn’t fit the hypothetical model that I described earlier, that failure eventually leads to success. Indeed, some people succeed wildly in the beginning and later fail spectacularly; Eike Batista, the Brazilian business magnate who went from a net worth of $30 billion to a negative net worth in less than two years, comes to mind. How do we explain such scenarios?

To be clear, I am not saying one should give up right away whenever they face challenges or experience setbacks, since giving up too easily or being overly pessimistic rarely lead to success. I am also not saying that no lessons can be learned from a failed venture. There definitely are lessons one can learn from a failed business and there are positives one can take away from such situations. Additionally, being resolute is a quality that any entrepreneur should possess, but I would like to dispel the notion that failure automatically leads to success and that the more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed in the future, because there is little evidence that proves this to be the case. In fact, there is much evidence to the contrary, as I have pointed out above.

Searching for the phrase “failure and success” in any search engine brings up numerous articles and Web sites attempting to explain why it is good to fail and propagating the idea that failure leads to success. However, as I have described in my blog entry, before we start celebrating failure, it would be a good idea to ask ourselves why many people in our society believe that failing in a startup is a good thing. When the stakes are so high, it’s absurd to believe such half-baked propositions. As I have pointed out, failure is not only very unappealing, it is highly demoralizing. Furthermore, failure does not necessarily lead to success, and often times it is difficult to know exactly why a given venture failed. Thus, we should very deeply question the idea that failure is good, before we wholeheartedly accept it, since the consequences of not doing so can be disastrous to our well-being, not to mention to our society and indeed, to the world.

Why We Are All Connected To Each Other

I shall begin today’s blog entry with a simple but profound question: How connected are you?

But I’m not asking how many business contacts you have, how many people in your industry/neighborhood/social circle know you, or even if you are very sociable.

I mean, have you really grasped the fact that you experience part of your life every day through others? I imagine that some people out there have never even considered this to be a possibility.

We are seldom asked such questions, but I believe this question is among the most relevant on Earth today. But unfortunately, we are led to believe from a very young age that we are separate from others, that we are different from others, that the world is highly competitive, that many people will stand in our way when we try to achieve success in our lives, and that we must overcome those difficulties, and in essence, those people.

And it is this very belief of separateness that has contributed to the wars, violent conflicts, and many other evils in our world today.

When we interact with people, be it colleagues, family members, friends, or even strangers, we need to understand that even though we are interacting with a different person, he or she is part of the same collective consciousness that we are.

How so? Because this person exists just as much as we do, and has goals, dreams, and desires, just as we do. This person is not just a collection of atoms and nerves and bones, he or she is a living, breathing, active being, full of energy, and has just as much a right to experience the wonders of this planet Earth, as we do.

Whether you consider a person to be “good,” “bad,” “interesting,” “boring,” “weird,” “amazing,” “beautiful,” “ugly,” or any of the other adjectives we use to describe other people, realize that this person has the same right to strive for enlightenment and happiness that you do. And this person would gladly put him or herself toward the path of enlightenment and happiness, if he or she only knew how.

So it is our duty as fellow human beings, part of the same collective whole, the same collective consciousness, to help ourselves come to this awareness and then to help as many people as we can to also reach this awareness for themselves.

The desires we have in our lives, be it the desire to close a business deal, make a new friend, travel the world, or have a deep conversation with a family member, are really just desires to unite.

We are connected to the people we come into contact with on a daily basis, and even people we do not come into contact with; that is, people who we have not even met yet.

But how are total strangers, people we have not yet met, connected to us? This is again very simple yet profound – you are always one step away from meeting a new person that may help change the direction of your life, either slightly or dramatically. You are always one step away from meeting a person who needs your help, a person who helps you obtain a new and more interesting job, a person who introduces you to a book that changes your perception of things or your entire worldview interpretation, or even a person who breaks your heart.

All of these people have a role to play, in your life, in their lives, and also in the lives of others. Others’ decisions and actions put them on the path to meeting you, interacting with you, and likewise, your decisions and actions will lead you to meet and interact with different people. It is for this reason that we are all connected – our decisions and actions change the course of human lives and human history.

When I was a kid, I never even dreamed of being able to live on four different continents by the time I reached 30 years of age. But that is precisely what I have done. I never imagined I would make the extraordinary friends I have made, see the wonderful places I’ve seen, and experience the hardships and challenges that I have experienced.

Through good and bad, all of the people I have met and even those who I have not yet met, in some way helped change or shape my life into what it is today. And I am grateful for that.

But again, why feel connected to other people? Because without the awareness that we are all connected to each other, people are just going to go through the same suffering and unnecessary battles and challenges that they have been going through since the dawn of time.

Some people might say, “Why on Earth should I accept this so-called theory of connectedness? We are all different from each other, we come from different parents, we have different religions, we are born in different countries, and we speak different languages. We are just different and we have to accept that.”

Well, there is a very good reason why it would behoove us to believe that we are connected, rather than separate and different. And it is a very practical reason. Allow me to explain.

Believing in the theory of separateness will more than likely result in needless arguments and conflicts, violence, wars, being overly suspicious of other people, and other negative and ultimately destructive events and behaviors.

Believing in the theory of connectedness helps bring us fruitful discussions with others, an avoidance of violence and wars, belief in the goodness of oneself and others, helps us create and keep good friendships and relationships, and ultimately helps create a better world for oneself and for others.

Unless one is completely insane, I would imagine that he or she would prefer the outcomes resulting from following the theory of connectedness.

No matter what your religion, age, gender, personal history, ethnic background, or physical condition, you can believe that you are connected to others and it will enrich your life beyond anything you have ever imagined, without conflicting with any religious or spiritual beliefs you may or may not have.

This does not mean, however, that you should give up your individuality or not strive to be the best person you can be. You can indeed be your own person, have your own interests, desires, and goals, but also realize that you are in some way connected to everyone else on this planet.

It may not be easy, but ultimately, it is much more rewarding and much more enjoyable than the alternative – to disconnect from others and add to the strife, violence, and negativity that exist in today’s world.

That is why I know I am connected to others – because the lack of awareness of this fact is a major cause of the evils and pain existing on this physical Earth, and I don’t want to add any more pain to this world. I strive to add only goodness as a result of my thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

So from now on, whatever you do, wherever you go, and whomever you meet, try to remember that you experience part of your life every day through others.

The Importance of Living in the Present

It’s interesting how we don’t really appreciate the gift of life until we see death, destruction, and disease around us. Allow me to explain by telling you a story from my time in Taipei.

One beautiful Saturday morning, I went to my local hospital for a routine physical exam. I entered the monolithic building and was instructed to first go downstairs and get two photos taken of myself. I soon found the elevator and pressed the button for B2.

As soon as I got out of the elevator, I ran smack-dab into a huge sign that read “Morgue.” I nearly laughed out loud, as it caught me by surprise. After getting the two photos taken, I walked back to the elevator, again seeing the enormous sign displaying “Morgue.” This time I stood right in front of it for about 10 seconds and stared straight at it, figuring that there was no one else down there, and for good reason – as far as I know, dead people cannot get up and walk around.

I then went back upstairs and to the examination area, where they proceeded to check my height, weight and blood pressure. When I got there, I saw this old bald man in a wheelchair, with his mouth wide open, his eyes in some kind of daze, and sprawled onto the wheelchair, unable to move. He was probably a stroke victim.

I stopped and stared at him for a few seconds, more out of surprise than intention. I figured he wouldn’t have even had the ability to get up and tell me off for staring at him, but at any rate, he did not seem to care.

But that old man could be any one of us in a few years, so I moved right along and got those tests done, then went downstairs and got my blood and urine samples taken care of. And that was the end of my physical exam, though not the end of the death and morbidity I witnessed that day.

I went outside and started walking back to my apartment, and along the way I saw a group of four or five adorable Chihuahuas. They were all running around and prancing playfully, until one of them wandered out onto the street and was quickly turned into a heaping mess of blood and guts by a car that sideswiped it.

As the dog lay on the road, gushing blood like a small fountain, a little girl stood there crying her eyes out. A man calmly walked over to the dog, picked it up by its legs, and dropped it into a nearby bush, while the other Chihuahuas curiously looked on, and then went over to it. I don’t know what happened afterward, as by that time I had already walked away, since there was nothing I could do about it. That whole scene I just described took no more than about 15 seconds.

And so it is with our lives, on this physical planet Earth. Your life on this material planet Earth can be ended in seconds. But because you may not be able to relate with an old man or a Chihuahua, here’s a story about a young man.

A few months prior to that event, I had attended a networking meeting in Southern California. After the meeting, I gave myself these three pieces of advice: savor and truly appreciate each day you are alive and healthy, understand and accept that tomorrow might be your last day, and forget about little annoyances that do not matter in the grand scheme of things.

The inspiration came from a woman who told us about her 28-year-old boyfriend, who had recently contracted lymphoma and who doctors had not given much chance to live. As horrible as that news is, it should inspire us to be grateful for everything we have in our lives now and realize that we have been given many years of gifts, every single morning.

One way to look at life is that you are here to actualize your divine purpose. So don’t let yourself down, and don’t let your multitude of “fans” down. There’s a whole world waiting out there to receive your gifts, starting today.

And part of being able to deliver those gifts to the world is by cultivating the right attitude, and that attitude is this: savor and truly appreciate each day you are alive and healthy, understand and accept that tomorrow might be your last day, and forget about little annoyances that do not matter in the grand scheme of things.

I sincerely hope that 28-year-old guy recovered and beat the lymphoma, just like one of my friends beat leukemia. But no matter what happens, I want you to fully understand and accept that that 28-year-old could have been you. The fact that it isn’t you is a gift that you must be grateful for.

But in today’s society, most people do not have lymphoma – they have other things instead. They have anxiety, inaction, and unhappiness. Those can be killers of life just as much as lymphoma is. Thus, why not start enjoying life right now and being grateful for everything, no matter what happens?

In the self-help community, they often point out that the average person in a first-world developed country lives about 28,000 days (nearly 77 years). If you turned 30 years old today that would be 10,950 days lived so far. Some of you have lived more days than that and some of you less. Go ahead and total up the number of days you have lived so far. It will really put things in perspective and make you understand just how valuable your time on this Earth is.

But the more important question is how many days do we have left? That’s the crucial question, and unfortunately, not one that we can answer. This means that every day we get is a precious gift, one that we shouldn’t fritter away doing useless things or making excuses for ourselves. We should make the best use of these presents, because no one knows how many more presents we have left. So this week, how will you spend the time you have?

Will you go after things you want? Or continue making excuses, such as: “It can’t be done,” “It’s impossible,” “It’s not for me,” “I didn’t want it anyway,” “What will my family think,” “Life shouldn’t be so difficult,” etc.

Life actually isn’t difficult or easy – it simply doesn’t care about you. Stop thinking life should be easy, or that it is difficult and should be overcome.

In fact, stop thinking so much, and just keep moving forward. That’s the problem we have nowadays. We intellectualize life too much, when we should just be living it.

It all happens right now.

Go for it!

The Power of a Good Slogan

I normally don’t care at all for corporate slogans. It is true that some slogans are very creative, and a few are even memorable enough to remain in people’s minds many years after they are introduced. But in my humble opinion, for the most part, slogans are usually contrived, often times lacking any real substance, and appear to have been cobbled together by a slick marketing team. Add this to the fact that one of the major goals of any corporation is, or at least, should be, profit maximization, and one can’t help but feel slightly jaded when coming across corporate slogans. However, I recently stumbled upon a slogan whose message was as hard-hitting as a tank and as devastatingly efficient as a Roger Federer service game:

“The end of No. The beginning of Now.”

While I am not sure whether this is, or will be, the company’s trademarked official slogan, this memorable statement by ServiceNow, a cloud computing company, reached out to me in a way that few other slogans have been able to. It is simple, but not simplistic; it is direct, but not intrusive; it is flexible without veering off track; it communicates a message that any of its customers can relate to; and, as an added bonus, it is a play on words (containing part of the company name in it) that is indicative of the rise of this firm into the ranks of the top enterprise cloud computing firms.

But before I go any further, let me fully disclose the following: I have been a consultant to the organization, have used its products in my professional career, and a few of my former colleagues now work there. However, I won’t be focusing at all on the company’s products or solutions, but just on the slogan itself, since this blog entry isn’t a promotional piece for ServiceNow, but rather, a brief analysis of its corporate slogan (or message, in case it hasn’t yet become the firm’s official slogan).

So what separates this slogan from the rest and sets it above the pack? Firstly, it communicates directly to the customer and promises solutions to the myriad of problems that IT departments face, replacing the word “no” with the word “now”, destroying any and all excuses along the way. ServiceNow isn’t trying to be clever or fancy here; it’s coming right at the customer and telling them, “We have the solution to your problem right here.” Simply put, there’s no dillydallying here, and there are no clichéd statements or clever marketing jingles, just a direct message to the customer, promising to solve their IT issues.

However, I think what really did it for me was the idea that this slogan promises a future that is better than the present, which is a huge departure from the apathy that exists in our society today. Let me give you an example. Fifty or so years ago, we declared a war on cancer, and proclaimed that we would soon find a cure. However, we still have not found a cure, and no world leader today would dare claim that we will have a cure for cancer soon. But ServiceNow’s slogan sweeps away any apathy, and in no uncertain terms delivers its promise clearly and powerfully: you will be better off later than you are right now.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the words themselves: we see the words “end”, “no”, “beginning”, and “now” within the statement. Thus, it promises an “end” to “no”, and the “beginning” of “now”. You really can’t get any clearer than that if you’re looking to broadcast a message to your customer base. But, as I stated previously, the reason I am so impressed with this slogan is that I truly love technology and happen to be a positive person, focusing on solutions rather than problems, so the idea that the future should be better than the present really resonates with me.

And while I fully understand that most, if not all, companies are probably more concerned with their revenues than how the future will turn out from a technological perspective, it is refreshing to see a slogan that promises a vision of the future that is not only positive, but would both satisfy a company’s bottom line and address the operational concerns IT departments face every day better than how it is being done currently.

Now, some of you may accuse me of reading too much into all of this, because after all, it’s just a statement. To be fair, it is certainly possible that the company did not intend to broadcast that the future will be any better than the present. In fact, just to be very cynical for a moment, it is also possible that the organization is looking at things purely from a business perspective and is just hoping to score more deals and customers with this message. Additionally, ServiceNow is one of many cloud computing firms, consisting currently of a couple thousand employees at most, and it’s not as if the organization is promising something as colossal as a cure for cancer. So while there is no way to know for sure what ServiceNow’s ultimate goals were when releasing this statement, after checking out a corporate presentation in which this slogan was introduced, it seemed to me at least that this statement attempted to demonstrate that things would indeed be better in the future and that the company’s reason for bringing forth the slogan was not limited to just monetary gain.

Additionally, it’s rather difficult to come across a slogan as direct, practical, and optimistic as this one. Indeed, what better way to tackle challenges than with the confidence and conviction that no matter what comes your way, you will be ready for it, and will rise above it? And in conclusion, that’s why I think this slogan is so great– with one swift motion it knocks down excuses and obstacles like bowling pins en route to a glorious strike, and focuses on the solution, while delivering a vision of the future that is better than the present.