On Being Human and Navigating Infinity

DVDA Dimensionally Vast and Dynamically Adaptive

When situations are difficult, it is time to zoom out to take in the big picture in order to increase clarity of what to do.  In thinking about the what does it mean to be human, one can consider we are each made up of the same stuff of the universe and we are also subject to the same natural laws operating in the universe.  By natural laws I mean those which do not care whether we believe them or not, unlike man made consensus laws. For example even if we do not believe is gravity nature does not care. Jumping out the window because you strongly believe you can fly still does not work. The laws of fashion or of marketing are more of a consensus type of agreement. People created these laws and tend to agree to believe them which can make them valuable, but it is not these laws that I am concerned about here when considering the big picture.

I am only completely certain of two things about being humans, which I have been unable to displace or disprove in two decades, unlike unnatural laws which can change with the seasons. We live in a dimensionally vast universe. And the only sane response to this is to be dynamically adaptive. This DVDA pair of thoughts seems to apply to the entire universe and everything in it including us humans.  What I mean by dimensionally vast is it does not matter which model you use – multiple parallel universes, or an infinite universe, the string theory universe or any other model we have. There are simply many many more dimensions than the three or four we usually think we live in and spend the majority of our energy process processing.  For all intensive purposes, since the universe is too large to comprehend all at the same time we can consider it to be infinite or at the very minimum vast.

As the universe and nothing in it including us is not static this creates a sense that we and it are adapting to change at pretty much every moment. And this is a very sane way to deal something very large – move around to see it from different perspectives and try to integrate this information in order to determine what to do by adapting, sometimes called innovating. Man made structures and mountains like crumble under wind and rain, children pull their hands out from fires  and everything and everyone is constantly adapting all of the time. It is a survival skill and it is just the way it is. We do live in a dimensionally vast universe which we are constantly (dynamically) adapting to.

It can be helpful to remember this when desiring the predicability of a static universe. It does not and never has existed, making it futile to try to stop the progression of time and the change that accompanies its passage. Even if humans invented time making it a consensual concept there is still no question that you can not step int he same river twice because things are changing all around us.

Navigating Infinity

The persistent problem we all have to cope with for all time past and future is the universe is bigger than we can imagine and therefore more than we can process which means we all have the job like it or not of navigating infinity. The most common way to do this is to shrink the number of dimensions we deal with on a regular basis to manageable number. There are an infinite number of ways to do this including working at the same job, or living in the same house, being married to the same person, having the same friends, and holding onto the same beliefs for as many decades as possible. This is not possible or even desirable for everyone and there are others who live in a more constantly changing set of careers, locations and beliefs.  We do all however have the same job, navigating infinity because this is where we live and the more comfortable we are with this notion the less difficult it becomes. Some people welcome the awareness of and dealing with new dimensions and changes and others resist it.  It can be rewarding, disturbing or even both at the same time but we do it by dynamically adapting to our dimensionally vast universe.

Navigate or Stay Put

There are two basic choices either navigate or stay put. We can stay where we are in terms of beliefs, ideas, locations and circumstances, we can go out and try to surf infinity and more likely we spend some time doing each of these and being in-between. Sometimes others do the navigating for us. Sometimes we like this and other times we do not. In either case you are not going to be able to control the entire universe as it is too dimensionally vast so you may as well learn to surf infinity and navigate in order to better understand where you are and where you are going. In either case the only way to completely arrest change is to die. For some people, some of the time, saying put is like dying for they thrive on volition. Innovators tend to belong to this camp. They have the tendency to want to more actively and consciously dynamically adapt to what is happening out there. And they are often doing it in the service of some particular goal or set of goals.

Wisdom of the Wisdom Literature

People have not changed genetically much if at all for then they would be a new species. Homo sapiens, the species humans belong to is not the same as Neanderthal (considered to be extinct) although from a behavioral and belief perspective sometimes this is questionable. The wisdom literature created by homo sapiens (in Latin  literally – wise man) is still wise because we have not changed much. Humans have been navigating infinity since the beginning because we all live in a DVDA universe. As humans pondered how to act and what to do in order to deal with infinity and to adapt, they have written many volumes which have withstood the test of time. The current crop of self help books is essentially a restating of the same insights put forth in the wisdom literature but sometimes updated or paraphrased. And the central issue to my mind is how to wrestle with and navigate infinity.  The tradition of commentaries upon religious literature and commentates upon the commentaries continues into the internet age where we have pointers to pointers to pointers all of the way down. This is wonderful because we can trace lessons and knowledge over millennia and observe much evidence about what works and what doesn’t. When you encounter an insight or a piece of modern wisdom there is a pretty chance it has shown up before. The good news is we have a tremendous amount of advice on how to live and what to do and most of it is pretty consistent.

Complexity Processing through Context Management

Managing ourselves in this complex dimensionally vast dynamically adaptive world can be accomplished through context management. In other words we have choices about which perspectives we chose to view the world through. We can consciously pick vantage points form which to view what is going on and we can even have multiple posts of view at the same time although this does require tolerance for ambiguity. We need to know when to apply which perspectives and it is a very dynamic dance. The ability to cope with dimensional vastness seems to require the wisdom (context awareness) to transcend a single perspective at single point in time. However since there is only a single point of time in the present moment when we can act or live it can be a difficult juggling act attempting to hold multiple perspectives (contexts) simultaneously yet that is what is required and we can do it.

Best Time Ever for Innovators 

If innovation is simply a fancy word for adapting, and as a survival skill all humans are born with it as a core competency, then we are all natural innovators. Genetically this is the case but over time we can shrink the dimensionality of our worlds to cope. This is the best time in history to be an innovator or an adaptor because we have more degrees of freedom and more choices and more dimensions and more ability and need to adapt than ever before. In part this is because the barriers to communication are the lowest in history so far. This is both the easiest time to learn and the easiest time to teach, making it the easiest time to adapt (or innovate).

It is worth remembering this when things look difficult because we are literally far more equipped to deal with a DVA dimensionally vast dynamically adaptive universe than ever before and communication barriers are shrinking every day making it more possible to cause change than ever before because we have a greater ability to manage context. And there is an exponentially exploding fountain of information that puts to shame any oil well, nuclear power plant or conventional form of energy in output. The real infinite energy is knowledge and it is infinite and therefore requiring developing more conscious ability to manage it by being aware of context, vantage point, perspective or whatever lenses we choose to view life through.

This is not only the best time to be an innovator, a universal human potential, but also a time when we need to consciously manage our context excellently to avoid pitfalls. We have the genetic disposition to do  it and have been doing it for thousands of years.

Innovation Presenter

This is a follow-on to Innovation Context Management, for being an innovator generally requires story telling.

Story telling is a special kind of presenting with tremendous opportunity for customization and interactivity both of which are immensely useful to anyone introducing new ideas.

I had the good fortune earlier in my career of spending fifteen years at Bose and Apple Computer, two tremendous innovation cultures, each of which was and still is, spectacularly successful at telling compelling stories leading to high margin uniquely innovative world class companies.  The story telling begins (perhaps) unconsciously during the interviewing process both of which were extremely long and detailed, requiring meeting a great many people. Each of these hiring processes ended up including on the order of forty hours of interviews during which many exceptional people were met, and the chance to begin to differentiate myself was put forth. In fact, if one did not rise to that occasion they were not going to get hired. Both organizations were all about innovation, at least in the departments I initially worked in, engineering on both cases. Both companies were all about innovation. That is to say, neither had any interest at all in imitating anyone or anything. You can not charge premium prices without offering something special, that is hard or even impossible to find elsewhere. Yet without those higher than normal margins, a company cannot afford to break new ground as R&D, marketing and the unique people required are expensive.

If you can not quickly make the point that you are different, than you also can not be better. Occasionally Amar Bose used to take two identical denomination bills from his wallet, hold them up and ask, “which one is better” to illustrate this point.  Clearly charisma is a large part of getting ideas adopted.  At Bose and at Apple, the ability to give a really good demo was critical, for are products cost a lot more than our competitors. In fact they cost so much more, that we had to redefine the price performance curve by adding new posts to it not previously present. Of course these needed to be presented by story and illustrated demonstration leading to Bose and Apple factory stores where this could occur more reliably.

There are presentation lessons to be learned from performance artists as well. Jazz was the most popular music of its time for decades. It was clearly different than what came before. When it evolved into Bebop where virtuoso musicians were playing with their backs to the audiences and directing all of their attention at other musicians, they lost their audience to R&B, rock, pop and country.  Being a musician’s musician does not provide a monetizable popular market, but does work better in the classical world. The same is true for being an inventor’s inventor. What Bose and Apple did extremely successfully, was to find easy ways to present a story. The basic Bose story was simple – big sound in a small box. Since people who care about size in living rooms (woman) clearly tremendously outnumbers audiophiles (mostly men) it was a slam dunk, but took years for Bose to become larger than all of their competitors combined. Apple also eventually had a clear story – emotionally relevancy – it was (and largely still is) simply easier and more fun to use Apple products. Evidently enough so to become the worlds largest market cap and hence most valuable company.

The Blasphemous Assertion 

What is one key element of a superior presentation, story framework or context? Say something, that at first blush sounds impossible and then prove it.  At Bose we frequently gave demos that appeared to be very large speakers playing the very large sound people were hearing and then did the “reveal” where we showed the much smaller than imaginable source of the sound. At Apple Steve Jobs was the master of the demo – “we are introducing three new products which will revolutionize communication, computing and entertainment” all turning out to be the iPhone.  If you can say something which truly grabs everyones attention by being seemingly impossible and then prove it, you are well on your way to emotional relevancy and making a sale.

Even performers in small cafes playing for small audiences endeavor to make their performances relevant by providing context surrounding whatever they are doing in the form of introductory chatter. How often have you heard something like, “Anyone from New York here” or something else guaranteed to get a response. This is presentation skills 101. Very basic dialog, but important especially if you are going to do something different or unexpected. Set the stage for what follows. Think about flow.

Even a company as revolutionary as Tesla must use a lot of pizazz and sex appeal to accompany the world changing vision of Elon Musk.  He is not simply comping out an saying – “hey lets make electric cars, they will be good for the planet”. He is saying “look at how cool and beautiful and wonderful this is, and oh yeah it is also electric”.

To capture attention you have to listen. Before attempting to propose anything, get online, talk to people, or both, to see how much you can find out about your audience so you can customize what you say to make it maximally relevant.

This is part of being a good context manager. No it is not dishonest – it is respectful to your audience, for the greatest gift you can give anyone is to acknowledge (and know) them. This is true for individuals, companies, customers, investors and audiences. Try to listen before you speak! The best sales people listen more than they speak. This can be difficult, especially in a performance situation, but try it. After all, the audience (stakeholder) does not need to be there in person if you are just phoning it in.

Intimacy should be more valuable than bombast unless perhaps one is running for office but as innovators we try to stay as neutral as possible about such things.

Innovation Context Management 

Innovators should consider being supremely aware of context. Time to define terms.

SVII defines Innovation as Applied Insight. My trusty Apple dictionary defines context as a noun meaning; the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed. Insight can be thought of as generally relativistic in that, what is well known in some circumstances may not be known at all in others. In either case if it is not applied, than innovation is not occurring, and therefore has no chance of adoption or monetization. Hopefully, management attempts to integrate insights and resources in order to realize innovation and permit adoption.

Context, has been mentioned here as ever value increasing, when advancing data, to information and then knowledge. It is widely agreed that knowledge is more valuable than information and that information is more valuable than data. A stream of numbers without attached or implied units is far less useful than letting people know if what is being described is the weather on Mercury in Celsius or the Hong Kong stock market in Hong Kong dollars or how many miles a vehicle can travel. Changing units, locations, time zones and a multitude of other contextualizing factors dramatically impact the meaning of data and information. The half life of information or data dramatically increases when there is enough context to promote them to knowledge. When there is enough experience providing context it is even possible to get to a level of understanding that transcends domains and this is called wisdom.

As context increases both value and half life, it is certainly worth being aware of and of at least attempting to manage when possible. Innovators ignore context at their peril. On the other hand attempting to completely understand the technology, manufacturing, design, marketing, sales and managment of a products development process can take more time then is available. Too much context can be paralyzing and too little can be crippling.  This is why context has to be managed, and to mange it one has to be aware of it and of its importance. Understanding and managing context is singularly important to success for any creative person.

Consider situations when someone is attempting to describe something never seen or thought about before. Are they particularly observant, especially imaginative or both? The ensuing qualification process is one of (shared) context definition. Communication is on the critical path to innovation, and not just communication in general, but communication of context in particular.

Innovators have tendency to come up with insights requiring help to manifest. Even if they can completely apply their insight without external resource they still have to convince someone to adopt or at least try it. They need stakeholders which means there needs to be a story.  No story = No stakeholders.

A story is a great way to simultaneously convey in an integrated manner, information and context. Stories are also experientially and emotionally relevant. This is impossible without considering, managing and delivering context.

Innovators tend think of disruption or of being more evolutionary.  In both cases they need to ultimately become forces of convergence, not divergence. Divergence may be necessary at the beginning of the story, but by the end convergence is needed for market adoption. Context handled well provides the right mix of divergence, differentiation, convergence and relevancy.

If you are a creative person on the way to your next innovation please pay attention to, and do not unconsciously assume context.

Artificial Accuracy

Coming from a family of educators, I have become deeply concerned about the state of education in the United States today. My largest issue is how education does not relate enough to innovation, as the only hope for humanity to solve its problems has always been through education. This has been true since we learned to learn, and will continue until or unless we forget how to learn.

The concept of signifiant digits, also called signifiant figures is relevant here. My embedded Apple dictionary defines this as “each of the digits of a number that are used to express it to the required degree of accuracy, starting from the first nonzero digit: this text will round numbers to three significant figures.” The basic concept is beyond a specific point, more numbers do not increase accuracy. Ten divided by two is five. There is only one signifiant digit even though 5.00 or 5.0000 are also correct but without increasing accuracy. Infinitely long series of digits are important in science and engineering but less so for normal business people where in general there is only one significant digit.

It is rare for a business plan to predict anything with better than 10% accuracy, which is why 100 page business plans are not more significant or useful beyond 10 pages. As most plans do not survive contact with reality, there is not much point to being overly attached to detailed results derived from hypotheticals. Innovators and startups are both much more likely to succeed when they are flexible enough to change in response to the external world. Until an enterprise gets into a feedback loop with reality, through engaging real customers, suppliers, staff and the other stakeholders, extended speculation is counterproductive.

Much more than a page or three on predicted revenues for a startup is engaging in artificial accuracy.  And from an innovation perspective so is teaching to a test. There are several problems with it. It presumes someone actually knows what should be on the test that is being taught to, and that implies a universe that is more static than it really is.  Also it is the lower primary and secondary grades who are tracking the most to tests, and these individual teachers have been taught to teach, often do not have much domain expertise which comes from experiences in the outside real world. On the other hand higher education is staffed by individuals with significant domain expertise who are often not trained in teaching or in the communication of knowledge.

There is a problem here – the world is accelerating so much that the half life of specialized knowledge is decreasing every year. In other words when we teach students increasing amounts of information,  or even knowledge which is more context rich, its life expectancy decreases every year.  The only hope is teach people how to learn increasingly quickly accompanied by the critical thinking skills to determine what to learn and what to forget.

We desperately desire rigor for repeatability and predictability which brings us to metrology, the science of measurement where the notion of significant digits lives. It also brings us to a more philosophical approach to life as determining what to measure, and how to measure it, is often not straight forward.

One notion accompanying our changing society is the current definition of quality has been changing as well.

The Metrology of Quality, Quantity and Convenience

Convenience and quantity seem to be becoming society’s new definition of quality. Both require less consumer discrimination than quality. Storing 10,000 songs or photos is considerably easier to understand objectively than determining which ones are great. Is driving 1000 miles better than walking ten great ones?

Meaning, usually more dependent upon quality, is usually achieved more through diminishing returns, than either quantity or convenience. As such quality usually requires more resources in the forms of time, money and effort to achieve. It can also be more difficult to qualify than to quantify.

Metrology, the science of measurement, continues to be critical for humanities development. Rigor requires repeatability, for without the ability to measure how can we repeat and progress? It appears, that for much of the world there has been a shift from quality to quantity, perhaps because it is easier to quantify than to qualify?

This presents us with multiple challenges to overcome – what to measure, how to measure it and how much accuracy is real? And all of these border on the philosophical.

People want real not fake rigor, but they also tend to only absorb information that is emotionally relevant.  This raises the issue of context and context management.

Context and Stories  

Data has less value than Information, which has less value than knowledge. And knowledge has less value than wisdom.   What is increasing along this path from data to wisdom at every level, is context.

One reason stories are so successful at transmitting lessons is they place information and knowledge within an experiential context. This permits making information and knowledge emotionally engaging which is necessary for emotional relevancy, the only kind of relevancy.

This makes it difficult to determine exactly which accuracy is not artificial.