Archive for the ‘brain’ Category

This week my 11 year old daughter asked if she could download and join snapchat. I immediately nixed that idea. I haven’t nixed her getting involved in much else technically where the EULA allows it. Snapchat touched a chord and got me to thinking (again) about identity – how we identify ourselves – who we think we are – and who others think we are. I think about this deeply every so often, sometimes becoming unglued when I think too hard about it. It’s a complicated concept.


So many things contribute to the patterns that are what we are. Our identity and sense of place in this world – undoubtedly conditioned by the modern world – is built around physical place (and now virtual places) and social circles (and now virtual social networks) and status within established networks of influence. This was probably not always the case when people were far more nomadic and identity wasn’t tied to a hometown or a home school or a 150 person social network. But now, more than ever, identity is a thing.

I personally have moved residences over 20 times in my life. 13 of them different cities (social networks) and 5 across state lines.

Non Existence -> Born (don’t remember)
Littleton, CO (don’t remember, sorta remember)
Colorado Springs (k – 2nd grade)
Aurora, CO Laredo Circle House (2nd grade – 3rd grade???)
Aurora, CO Laredo Court House (4th grade??? – 7th grade)
Miami, FL Kendall House (8th grade)
Miami, FL Baptist Hospital House (9th grade – 10th grade)
Aurora, CO Salsaleto House (11th grade – 12th grade)
Aurora, CO Some Apartment I Forget Where (Summer before college)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Freshman year college)
Aurora, CO Buckingham Mall House (Summer between Freshman and Sophomore Year)
Chicago, IL Woodward Court/Univ. Chicago (Sophomore year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Apartment (summer between sophomore and junior year)
Chicago, IL Blackstone Building/University Chicago (Junior year college)
Chicago, IL 53rd Street Co-Op Apartment (summer between junior and senior year)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (1999)
Chicago, IL Roosevelt and Michigan Apartment (2000 – 2002)
Santa Monica, CA 9th and Pico (2002 – 2005)
Playa Vista, CA Fountainhead Apartment (2005 – 2006)
Venice, CA Abbot Kinney House (2006 – 2010)
Austin, TX Travis Heights House (2010 – 2011)
Austin, TX Deep Eddy House (2012)
Marina Del Rey, CA (2013 – present)

My own children have now moved 5 times (the oldest one) and twice across state lines.

And these are just the residence moves – not all the jobs, schools, social circles, life phases and other changes that go into making up our context and our history. I have 692 friends on facebook, a couple hundred followers on twitter, tens of followers on instagram, one attempt at snapchat, fifty pinterest followers and so on. Sometimes I think of this all as an audience, which is quite insane to me as a concept but I doubt I’m the only one that feels like they have an audience online. I’ve done speaking engagements at conferences, I’ve written 8 years of blogs, somehow I authored several whitepapers, I think i have a patent or three, I’ve performed in 40+ live theater shows, I built hundreds of websites and mobile apps with between 1 and 50 million users a month…. WHAT THE F*** DOES IT ALL ADD UP TO? WHO AM I? and WHY IS THAT EVEN A QUESTION?

It’s a question because my daughters keep finding new ways to “express themselves” and “connect to others.” They “identify” with my wife or myself by saying “oh, i’m so like mom!” They intellectually get the ideas of genetics and art and fashion and learning and the delineation between it all.  They are very keen at telling me I don’t “get” them…. I keep waiting for the day when the TSA finally says they are full human identities and require proof of the case (driver’s license/passport).

It’s also a question because everyday the Western world bombards each other in ways such as:
“what am I worth?”
“tell me about your past.”
“are you this ism or that ism?”
“what party are you?”

and every other variation of class, job history, race, culture, language, outward appearance…

Anchors is my best guess at identities. Us, limited beings, pattern creating and recognizing beings find ways to lay anchors and say THIS IS ENOUGH – THIS IS WHERE I’M DROPPING ANCHOR and REMEMBER THIS. We drop these anchors – which are complex patterns we simplify – and label them as classes, races, job titles, cultures, state lines, political parties, etc. We drop anchors to save energy. That is, we hope the anchors keep us from having to remember all of the context and history that lead us to here when we are in the heat of the moment of making a decision. We want to save time when working out who we hire, with whom we partner, with whom we commune, with whom we war…


Identity is an illusion.

We are not the isms, the races, the classes, nor the anchors we drop. We all are ever evolving changing masses of organs, cells, and atoms that respond to the changes around them. We are connected – to each other, to the Web, to the world, to nature, to everything that passes gamma rays into us – EVERYTHING.

And this isn’t a ZEN kind of thinking i’m talking about. It’s a very simple, real concept that *WE* don’t EXIST. and the idea that WE EXIST is a major reason why “we” all end up fighting and destroying and gloating and taking credit and paying dues and every other manner of paying homage to an illusion. We do this because the delusion of singular identity is efficient in many respects. Capital markets reward identities. Democracies, despite their conceptual idea of the masses, reward identities. Social media and the internet reward identities.

And in all this efficiency created by identities we actually end up destroying things. Identities are the most efficient destructive concepts we’ve collectively devised. They shut everything down. They allow entire populations to be ignored. They tune our attention out. They tune our own senses out.

It makes sense this is so and that it persists.

Can it be resisted? *I* don’t know. Can we live without it?  I don’t know.

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The Point

Everything is a pattern and connected to other patterns.   The variety of struggles, wars, businesses, animal evolution, ecology, cosmological change – all are encompassed by the passive and active identification and exploitation of changes in patterns.

What is Pattern

Patterns are thought of in a variety of ways – a collection of data points, pictures, bits and bytes, tiling.   All of the common sense notions can be mapped to the abstract notion of a graph or network of nodes and their connections, edges.   It is not important, for the sake of the early points of this essay, to worry to much about the concept of a graph or network or its mathematical or epistemological construction.   The common sense ideas that might come to mind should suffice – everything is a pattern connected to other patterns. E.g. cells are connected to other cells sometimes grouped into organs connected to other organs sometimes grouped into creatures connected to other creatures.


As can be imagined the universe has a practically infinite number of methods of pattern identification and exploitation. Darwinian evolution is one such example of a passive pattern identification and exploration method. The basic idea behind it is generational variance with selection by consequences. Genetics combined with behavior within environments encompass various strategies emergent within organisms which either hinder or improve the strategies chance of survival. Broken down and perhaps too simplistically an organism (or collection of organisms or raw genetic material) must be able to identify threats, energy sources and replication opportunities and exploit these identifications better than the competition.   This is a passive process overall because the source of identification and exploitation is not built in to the pattern selected, it is emergent from the process of evolution. On the other hand sub processes within the organism (object of pattern were considering here) can be active – such as in the case of the processing of an energy source (eating and digestion and metabolism).

Other passive pattern processes include the effects of gravity on solar systems and celestial bodies on down to their effects on planetary ocean tides and other phenomena.   Here it is harder to spot what is the identification aspect?   One must abandon the Newtonian concept and focus on relativity where gravity is the name of the changes to the geometry of spacetime.   What is identified is the geometry and different phenomena exploit different aspects of the resulting geometry.   Orbits form around a sun because of the suns dominance in the effect on the geometry and the result can be exploited by planets that form with the right materials and fall into just the right orbit to be heated just right to create oceans gurgling up organisms and so on.   It is all completely passive – at least with our current notion of how life my have formed on this planet. It is not hard to imagine based on our current technology how we might create organic life forms by exploiting identified patterns of chemistry and physics.

In similar ways the trajectory of artistic movements can be painted within this patterned theory.   Painting is an active process of identifying form, light, composition, materials and exploiting their interplay to represent, misrepresent or simply present pattern.   The art market is an active process of identifying valuable concepts or artists or ideas and exploiting them before mimicry or other processes over exploit them until the value of novelty or prestige is nullified.

Language and linguistics are the identification and exploitations of symbols (sounds, letters, words, grammars) that carry meaning (the meaning being built up through association (pattern matching) to other patterns in the world (behavior, reinforcers, etc).   Religion, by the organizers, is the active identification and exploitation of imagery, language, story, tradition, and habits that maintain devotional and evangelical patterns. Religion, by the practitioner, can be active and passive maintenance of those patterns. Business and commerce is the active (sometimes passive) identification and exploitation of efficient and inefficient patterns of resource availability, behavior and rules (asset movement, current social values, natural resources, laws, communication medium, etc).

There is not a category of inquiry or phenomena that can escape this analysis.   Not because the analysis is so comprehensive but because pattern is all there is. Even the definition and articulation of this pattern theory is simply a pattern itself which only carries meaning (and value) because of the connection to other patterns (linear literary form, English, grammar, word processing programs, blogging, the Web, dictionaries).

Mathematics and Computation

It should be of little surprise that mathematics and computation forms the basis of so much of our experience now.   If pattern is everything and all patterns are in a competition it does make some common sense that efficient pattern translation and processing would arise as a dominant concept, at least in some localized regions of existence.

Mathematics effectiveness in a variety of situations/contexts (pattern processing) is likely tied to its more general, albeit often obtuse and very abstracted, ability to identify and exploit patterns across a great deal of categories.   And yet, we’ve found that mathematics is likely NOT THE END GAME. As if anything could be the end game.   Mathematics’ own generalness (which we could read as reductionist and lack of full fidelity of patterns) does it in – the proof of incompleteness showed that mathematics itself is a pattern of patterns that cannot encode all patterns. Said differently – mathematics incompleteness necessarily means that some patterns cannot be discovered nor encoded by the process of mathematics.   This is not a hard meta-physical concept. Incompleteness merely means that even for formal systems such as regular old arithmetic there are statements (theorems) where the logical truth or falsity cannot be established. Proofs are also patterns to be identified and exploited (is this not what pure mathematics is!) and yet we know, because of proof, that we will always have patterns, called theorems, that will not have a proof.   Lacking a proof for a theorem doesn’t mean we can’t use the theorem, it just means we can’t count on the theorem to prove another theorem. i.e. we won’t be doing mathematics with it.   It is still a pattern, like any sentence or painting or concept.


The effectiveness of mathematics is its ROBUSTNESS. Robustness (a term I borrow from William Wimsatt) is the feature of a pattern that when it is processed from multiple other perspectives (patterns) the inspected pattern maintains its overall shape.   Some patterns maintain their shape only within a single or limited perspective – all second order and higher effects are like this. That is, anything that isn’t fundamental is of some order of magnitude less robust that things that are.   Spacetime geometry seems to be highly robust as a pattern of existential organization.   Effect carrying ether, as proposed more than 100 years ago, is not.   Individual artworks are not robust – they appear different to any different perspective. Color as commonly described is not robust.   Wavelength is.

While much of mathematics is highly robust or rather describes very robust patterns it is not the most robust pattern of patterns of all. We do not and likely won’t ever know the most robust pattern of all but we do have a framework for identifying and exploiting patterns more and more efficiently – COMPUTATION.

Computation, by itself. 

What is computation?

It has meant many things over the last 150 years.   Here defined it is simply patterns interacting with other patterns.   By that definition it probably seems like a bit of a cheat to define the most robust pattern of patterns we’ve found to be patterns interacting with other patterns. However, it cannot be otherwise. Only a completely non-reductive concept would fit the necessity of robustness.   The nuance of computation is that there are more or less universal computations.   The ultimate robust pattern of patterns would be a truly universal-universal computer that could compute anything, not just what is computable.   The real numbers are not computable, the integers are.   A “universal computer” described by today’s computer science is a program/computer that can compute all computable things. So a universal computer can compute the integers but cannot compute the real numbers (pi, e, square root of 2). We can prove this and have (the halting problem, incompleteness, set theory….).   So we’re not at a completely loss of interpreting patterns of real numbers (irrational numbers in particular). We can and do compute with pi and e and square root millions of times a second.   In fact, this is the key point.   Computation, as informed by mathematics, allows us to identify and exploit patterns far more than any other apparatus humans have devised.   However, as one would expect, the universe itself computes and computes itself.   It also has no problem identifying and exploiting patterns of all infinitude of types.

Universal Computation

So is the universe using different computation than we are? Yes and no.   We haven’t discovered all the techniques of computation at play. We never will – it’s a deep well and new approaches are created constantly by the universe. But we now have unlocked the strange loopiness of it all.   We have uncovered Turing machines and other abstractions that allow us to use English-like constructs to write programs that get translated into bits for logic gates in parallel to compute and generate solutions to math problems, create visualizations, search endless data, write other programs, produce self replicating machines, figure out interesting 3D printer designs, simulate markets, generate virtual and mixed realities and anything else we or the machines think up.

What lies beneath this all though is this very abstract yet simple concept of networks.   Nodes and edges. The mathematics and algorithms of networks.   Pure relation between things. Out of the simple connection of things from things arise all the other phenomena we experience.   The network is limitless – it imposes no guardrails to what can or can’t happen. That it is a network does explain and impose why all possibilities exhibit as they do and the relative emergent levels of phenomena and experience.

The computation of pure relation is ideal.   It only supersedes (makes sense to really consider) the value of reductionist modes of analysis, creation and pattern processing when the alternative pattern processing is not sufficient in accuracy and/or has become sufficiently inefficient to provide relative value for it’s reduction.   That is, a model of the world or a given situation is only as value as it doesn’t overly sacrifice accuracy too much for efficiency.   It turns out for most day to day situations Newtonian physics suffices.

What Next

we’ve arrived at a point in discovery and creation where the machines and machine-human-earth combinations are venturing into virtual, mixed and alternate realities that current typical modes of investigation (pattern recognition and exploitation) are not sufficient. The large hadron collider is an example and less an extreme example than it was before. The patterns we want to understand and exploit – the quantum and the near the speed of light and the unimaginably large (the entire web index with self driving cars etc) – are of such a different magnitude and kind.   Then when we’ve barely scratched the surface there we get holograms and mixed reality which will create it’s own web and it’s own physical systems as rich and confusing as anything we have now. Who can even keep track of the variety of culture and being and commerce and knowledge in something such as Minecraft? (and if we can’t keep track (pattern identify) how can we exploit (control, use, attach to other concepts…)?

The pace of creation and discovery will never be less in this local region of spacetime.   While it may not be our goal it is our unavoidable fate (yes we that’s a scary word) to continue to compute and have a more computational approach to existence – the identification and exploitation of patterns by other patterns seems to carry this self-reinforcing loop of recursion and the need of ever more clarifying tools of inspection that need more impressive means of inspecting themselves…   everything in existence replicates passively or actively and at a critical level/amount of interconnectivity (complexity, patterns connected to patterns) self inspection (reasoning, introspection, analysis, recursion) becomes necessary to advance to the next generation (explore exploitation strategies).

Beyond robotics and 3d printing and self-replicating and evolutionary programs the key pattern processing concept humans will need is a biological approach to reasoning about programs/computation.   Biology is a way of reasoning that attempts to classify patterns by similar behavior/configurations/features.   And in those similarities find ways to relate things (sexually=replication, metabolism=Energy processing, etc).   It is necessarily both reductionist, in its approach to categorize, and anti-reductionist in its approach to look at everything anew. Programs / computers escape our human (and theoretical) ability to understand them and yet we need some way to make progress if we, ourselves, are to persist along side them.

And So.

It’s quite possible this entire train of synthesis is a justification for my own approach to life and my existence. And this would be consistent with my above claims.   I can’t do anything about the fact that my view is entirely biased by my own existence as a pattern made of patterns of patterns all in the lineage of humans emerged from hominids and so on all the way down to whatever ignited patterns of life on earth.

I could be completely wrong. Perhaps some other way of synthesizing existence all the way up and down is right. Perhaps there’s no universal way of looking at it. Though it seems highly unlikely/very strange to me that patterns at one level or in one perspective couldn’t be analyzed abstractly and apply across and up and down.   And that the very idea itself suggests patterns of pattern synthesis is fundamental strikes me as much more sensible, useful and worth pursuing than anything else we’ve uncovered and cataloged to date.

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I did as I was told.

I did as I was told.

At the escape the pistons fire incorrectly.

She frowns at the sound of hushed murmurs.

Bound and silenced, his captors forget.

In an instant, bang, existence.

Swallow-filled woods hide the shadowy fleet of marching barbarions.

Billowing stacks fulfill the dreams of green-eyed titans.

Misfired, misdeed, mistake but still someone is dead in Ferguson.

“You lie!” from the commons it comes changing discourse discordingly forever.

“Hello [long pause] tell me your location,” the sleepy 911 operator sighs.

Dosed off, door unlocked, debts unpaid he sleeps perhaps too well.

The far off chirp and the slight drip of sunsoaked cicles warns us that he will arise soon.

Logic gates flip bits determined to ruin fortunes.

She blushes at the his left left foot.

A scream reaches out signaling another miracle.

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What is art?

Art isn’t anything.  It’s everything and nothing.  Art is pattern.  It’s narrative.  It’s expression.  Anything we do someone else could consider as art.

What’s most important is that someone else can experience us, this art, the source of art.   And art doesn’t suppose an audience in its creation.  We all create art, constantly, regardless of whether we think someone else will view it, watch it, hear it, taste it. And everyone we interact with directly or indirectly (though culture, rules, laws) influences our personal art.

Is there ART?  that is, is there something that we’d all say that’s a clear expression of art?  No.  No there isn’t.  Even when people start out with the intent to make art and they make it clear they are making ART it’s no more or less art than anything else anyone does all day.  Art is simply that which we do that becomes noticed.

The key is Does Someone Notice.  Even if that someone is YOURSELF.  Art is that thing that makes you notice, that makes you change your perspective.   That’s it.  and that’s everything.

Art’s role in life is to be noticed.  Art is about creating audience.  The more entities that notice a new perspective because of it the more relevant the art (in American culture terms).

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The discussion of accountability and consent in anarchist and collective groups is very interesting to me. The groups are loosely organized groups that tend to impose few, if any, rigid structures and processes. Much of the point of these groups is to resist strict ways of being and supporting the safe exploration of ways to relate, live and engage. It is a set up that flat out resists explicit rule making. So when a group is confronted with an issue such as sexual assault it’s not entirely clear how the group and its members will and should respond. In a sense it provides a bit of a behavioral experimental playground much more so than more commonly organized groups of people.

In the specific case of sexual assault in these loosely connected groups the situation can be very complicated. The group doesn’t want to operate with well established rules that are marketed into its members. The group also doesn’t want to appeal to some moral or behavioral authority outside of the group. So there’s a real conflict in figuring out what exactly anyone is accountable for and what behavior to reinforce or extinguish. In some sense the lack of established processes and rules forces any conflict to always have reactive approaches rather than preventative. This doesn’t make it wrong or bad or ineffective. Consent and accountability isn’t necessarily dealt with well in a dogmatic rule enforcing set up. Often overly explicit ruled organizations create behavioral associations to following the rules rather than being attentive to others values, perspectives and personal comfort. So how should we think about consent? and respond to offenses?

The essay in IMPASSES “exploring critiques of the accountability process” mostly focuses on a synthesis and response to two pamphlets about accountability in anarchists groups. Presumably these pamphlets and others like them came about in response to specific challenges to accountability within the group. So I’m coming to my interpretation of the essay from both the context of the group’s possible issues and the general points the essay is trying to make.

The essay synthesis focuses a lot of energy on questioning the prevailing language used in accountability situations – that is situations where there needs to a response to some abuse. The author of the essay wants to resist any adherence to judicial or government like processes to organize people. I feel this is in general a useful intellectual approach. The fact is a resistance driven approach to living isn’t authentic if in the face of some adversity resistance is dropped and a person or group reverts to dogmatic or traditional approaches.

I believe the author is also justly critiquing these essays as giving in way too easily to common notions of victimhood and perpetrator and guilt and innocence. The world is vastly more complicated than most of our society’s media, processes and government admits.

The idea of consent is complex. And consent is a central component of identifying abuse and obviously possible healing behavior. Relating to each other in any open way requires a lot of listening and a lot patience. Often we don’t know our own rules and boundaries until they have been crossed. In some sense developing a sense of consent and vocabulary for communicating consent takes a willingness to approach and cross boundaries.

Values come about this way – one learns what behavior is reinforcing by behaving and experiencing consequences. The confusing part is that it can be extremely difficult to understand when a response to a behavior is a negative or positive reinforcer.

Even when rules are explicitly stated the ideas of consent and abuse are murky. The fact is whether we state rules or not we all are operating under a set of internal rules and values. These aren’t unchangeable laws but they are patterns of operating we’ve learned through consequences to our behavior. These rules can be hard to articulate but we all know when we’ve had one of our own rules broken.

The main challenge in any relationship is one of communication. The issue of consent or rather avoiding abuse is discovering rules before they are violated. The challenge the essay takes on is what should we do in reaction to an abuse. In particular, how should we handle things such to create more suffering by anyone in a process of healing and resolution. My interpretation of most common processes provided in schools, society, etc is that they are woefully simplistic and formulaic and focus far too much, as the author suggests, on defining things into victimhood and guilt. Typically in society once we can direct blame, accurately or not, our processes end. Unfortunately these approaches do not heal and increase perspective.

There’s is a ton of interesting research and literature on punishment and punitive approaches to society. The works of B.F. Skinner are worth a read. There’s also a great collection of essays under the book title “Beyond the Punitive Society” that are worth a browse. I point some of this material out because I think these materials get to the heart of consent and responsibility and accountability much more so than this essay in IMPASSES.

America is very much a punitive culture. From how we discipline our children to our judicial system to our religious views almost all processes we engage in for conflict resolution are punitive. It’s efficient, I suspect… Or it feels like it is. Oddly though it does not appear to be effective long term. Positive reinforcement (not the pop psyc positive mental attitude) is by far more effective. No person who violates a rule does so because they are evil or in isolation is a bad person. In this regard I side with the author of the essay in a search for better way to think and talk about accountability and consent and to not give into established approaches that don’t appear to be that effective in creating a safe, open culture.

I do hope the author(s) of the essay publish more about what they uncover. The world has far too few discussions about fundamental and powerful concepts like consent.

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“Tripping over Buddha” is an expression about not recognizing the obvious…or important stuff.

“If you were looking for Buddha [or insert subject of VALUE here], you could trip over him and be unaware of whom you had encountered.”

Such a statement can be pejorative or it can be about nothing more than the difficulty in not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Likewise, if we’re looking for a way to understand what the hell is going on in the world and we need some place to start, the recommendation is for you to start with “The Man in the Mirror” (thank you, Michael Jackson).  Us.  Homo sapiens.

By starting with ‘us’ then there’s a chance that you’ll learn how frustratingly complex organisms we are. For starters, perhaps you’ll be amused that we all

  1. sense things that aren’t there (do we really need examples?) and
  2. don’t sense things that are there (do we really need examples?)
  3. but continually muster outrage, violence, and retribution when we aren’t taken serious about our interpretations of life – from art to asinine and politics to potentates

So, as a starting place for getting to know what makes us tick, what makes us frail and what is the best hope we have of recognizing Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] if we should trip over him (or her), START HERE.


This is by far the best site I have ever come across with regards to what’s going on about ‘us’. Yes, great for sorting out the complexity from the hyperbole. No, it can’t be watched and absorbed in a week, or on YouTube.   So go look, mess around, add it to your computer’s links, find what you are interested in or just gape at the wonders of it all but do it.

And, if you do, I hope you enjoy it.

But, like the Earl Nightingale once recounted, if you do take the time and effort to examine only a spat of the rules that govern you, in the end you’ll find you’re alone because the effort to grasp even the simple rules was too great a challenge for pretenders.  You know, those who claim to be looking for Buddha [or what the hell is going on] but don’t recognize what is there in front of them when it’s encountered.

If you do process what is there and you come away convinced there is something more or better or of greater value, then fine.  Now you know some serious empirical stuff you are rejecting and Buddha [or subject of VALUE here] may be right around the corner.

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To start, the goal is not to be an ‘elite’ athlete…

(1)   Sports, like businesses or social movements have goals and costs. In sport, the goal is to win. Thus, the most skilled movement (plan) is one that accomplishes the goal at the lowest cost.

We tend to think more of just getting something rather than the cost of getting it. That is, we tend to think less about getting what we want efficiently in terms of material, time and effort.   If that is the case, our ‘response cost’ is probably much more than that it should be to get what we want.  The same Response Cost framing can be used in assessing your work in business.

Signs that you may not be working efficiently are:

  1. you spend little time thinking about what the heck you are doing and just “do”
  2. you make immediacy and avoidance of not looking busy more valuable than expertise
  3. you work extremely hard every day for social or financial benefit not knowing exactly why

If you do any of these things, then you have not been spending enough time thinking about efficiency in your life.

So, that is one of five connections between Business People and Elite Athletes for consideration…

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