Capturing Fringe Thoughts

How do you decide whether to write about something you know vs something you’re figuring out?

Here’s my process:

I jot down my “fringe thoughts” on my phone all the time. I probably write a few notes a day. It’s all part of having a “mind like water” as they say in martial arts, and in GTD methodology. (

This way I don’t have to try to remember what I was thinking and when I do go to write, I’m rarely starting from scratch. I also just find myself to be more creative when I write things down. It’s a signal to my brain that writing these “fringe thoughts” matter.

These days I only decide to formalize my fringe thoughts into a written piece when I believe it’s something that some part of the world needs to hear.

If it’s just for me, I keep it to myself, on my phone, in my digital notebook/journal or whip up a quick coherent composition and email it to a few relevant friends.

For the category of “things the world needs to hear”, it could be either something I “already know” and have thought a lot about or something “I am trying to figure out”. But neither of those things really determine the urgency of the message. Whether I already know something or am figuring it out is fairly independent from what “the world needs to hear”. (Even though I may be inclined to believe that what the world really needs to hear, is just everything I know! :-p) Kidding aside, if I’m writing something that I believe the world needs to hear, the only difference between “something I already know” or “something I am figuring out” is how long it will take to write.

But they’re actually pretty connected, because endeavoring to write about something “you’re trying to figure out” is one of the best ways to really “know” it. And when you start writing about something you think you “already know”, you’ll often find out how much more there is to “figure out”.

And to wrap this little written splurge in a bow — the reason I took the time to write this is because I think understanding the value of writing fringe thoughts and turning some of them into formalized pieces, is something that the world needs to hear.

At this point it doesn’t deserve more formalization than a facebook post, but if the meme keeps revealing its relevance to me, I might take this “relatively developed fringe thought” and build it into more formal blog post or essay.


Twitter Roundup

I don’t know about you, but as activity on social media sites has surged the last year, I’ve found a lot more noise in my feeds and as result of my projects getting more serious I’ve had less time to sift. I know I’m missing a lot of interesting things people have to say and always find aggregation and curation helpful.

At my friend Tyler Willis‘ urging I signed up for the daily venture hacks email digest and they’ve been doing a terrific job of synthesizing important articles being written within the startup community.

In that spirit, here is an aggregation of my enduring tweets from the last few weeks:

  • The more you know the more you realize you dont know. But the more you know the more you can do. The goal is ability not absolute knowledge
  • Two consec 20 hr weeks != one 40 hour week of productivity. Off/on ramps to a project are long. Sustained focus super important. Batch.
  • The hedonic treadmill is so real. It’s great for accomplishment and progress but lame for happiness. Reflection of your path charted is key.
  • The right plan is critical. It’s not sufficient because the hard work is in the execution but executing well on the wrong thing is worthless
  • Time expectations: 3-5 hours are minimal if you’re coming from an empty schedule but fitting it in is a huge challenge if already maxed out
  • Good plans have agility & unpredictability built in. Bad plans steer you away from possibility of making bigger realizations.
  • A lot of smart is continuously eliminating false beliefs & building a repertoire of building blocks that construct increasing truthfulness
  • Authors of Made to Stick argue that mental simulation of the past is more effective then simulating the future. Counterintuitive. Pg 211-213
  • The music genome project aimed to “Capture the essence of music at the fundamental level”. The human genome captures humanity at a fund lvl?
  • Finished the checklist manifesto, excited by its potential. Its simplicity appears vapid but the way it interacts w cognition is profound
  • Noticed at the airport people are much happier at arrivals than departures. True with most things in life? Ppl seek comfort not uncertainty.
  • “Narcissists don’t care how you feel, whether you like them or not, they just want you to be in their movie. Apathy is your only weapon.”
  • “At times stories are ink-blot tests of what’s going on in the life of the reader.” – Steve Blank
  • “Many designers don’t measure real world impact. Many design orgs & schools give out awards for designing products that never get built” – Eric Ries
  • Great learning tool: ability to chat live w people reading the same blog post/article. Or easily see friends who have read the post. Exist?
  • One of my big irritations is when people make a mistake and I fix it, but they are unwilling to learn what went wrong so it doesn’t reoccur.
  • Customer Discovery provides a good way to inch into a startup idea partime before quitting your job and going full throttle.
  • Sean Ellis & Steve Blank measure PMF dif bc theyre talking about B2C vs B2B (& respectively Gratification vs. ROI are the important metrics)
  • The all things D interview with Steve Jobs makes me think a lot of the portrayals of Jobs as a dictator has some truth but is mostly wrong.
  • We all have tons of assumptions in our mental model of the world. Surrounding urself with smart ppl makes you more likely to adopt good ones

When Advice Contradicts It Usually Doesn’t

A pheonemna that really interests me is when advice from smart people clashes and there appears to be a contradiction.

However I don’t think there is actually a contradiction. Usually the contradiction can be resolved in one of 3 ways:

1) One or both people are wrong

2) They are actually both right, but they are describing different circumstances. For example the advice for a B2B business is different than that of B2C. Or what is useful advice for 5 year old may not be useful for a 25 year old. Overgeneralizing causes these different circumstances to be conflated and creates an apparent contradiction.

Note that most advice comes from people abstracting patterns from their experiences and since they likely had very different circumstances most of their advice doesn’t apply to you.

3) They are describing the same circumstance, and what they’re really describing are two different schools of thought, each viable. There is often more than one correct way to solve a problem.

Advice is not universal. It can only apply to finite number of circumstances and remain correct. But not all advice is created equal. Some statements apply to more situations than others, such as the golden rule: “Do to others as you want them to do to you.”

But even the golden rule as it’s limitations. People have come up with the platinum rule that describes even more circumstances than the golden rule. The platinum rule says: “treat others as they would like to be treated”.

What I am describing is partial truth. Things can be true but some things are more true than others.

I just wrote this post, attempting to resolve the contradictory advice given by Sean Ellis and Ash Maurya on pricing.

Asking The Right Questions

Good writing and good conversation seem to have many parallels. In order to continue to write you’re basically having a conversation with yourself and you need to intuitively, or perhaps, sliently whisper the right questions to yourself to prompt an interesting recall or synthesis of information. Asking myself better questions is definitely something I want to improve on. I think this ability, whether conscious or not, underlies the development of long trains of thought. Personally, I don’t feel like I know what the best questions to focus on are. In conversations I can feel there’s a next level that I don’t know how to reach; a way to draw more interesting comments out of someone, if only I knew what to ask. I have the same experience with writing. I will generate a ideas but not be able to take it as far as I want to. I can feel there is a next level to go to, if only someone asked me the right question. Or better yet, if I knew how to ask myself the right question, a flurry of insights would ensue.

But is focusing on asking the right questions the right model? Perhaps this idea is breaking down train of thought too finely to render focusing on the right question paralyzing rather than catalyzing. Yesterday on Twitter I asked “When is the advice not to take it one step at a time? Or are those words of wisdom universally applicable?” I think the answer is that, yes focusing on the next step is always the right thing to do, but the size of the step varies. The extremities run from focusing on only the desired end outcome, while ignoring the process, to focusing on an infinitum of smaller and smaller minutiae like in Zeno’s Paradoxes. In this case, I’m trying to discover what the right level of conscious focus is, to extend the complexity and length of trains of thought.

In reading, for example, first we focus on reading individual letters. Then we graduate to reading individual words. Then a few people move on to reading sentences. And even a smaller select few claim to be able to read paragraphs the same way most people read words. This is essence of what most speed reading programs teach. Those levels are the “what” of faster reading but what’s more interesting is the “how”, because that allows us to know not just what’s possible but achieve it ourselves. I’ve been experimenting with some of these techniques and have been able to get up to the level of reading sentences and thus paragraphs in a few eye movements in situations with few distractions (though those are hard to come by lately). Reading with a purpose is one such technique, but more on specific reading techniques another time.

In writing there is a similar process. We start out with very simple ideas and then string them together to form longer, complex thoughts. What is the technique, the “how” that unlocks the potential to begin connecting multiples of complex thoughts together. I think focusing on the right questions might be one successful approach.

Ultimately, what I’m talking about here is consciously understanding and modeling what many elite figures do intuitively and unconsciously, so if you asked them there’s a good chance they couldn’t articulate how they do what they do. What I hope to talk more about is the tremendous power and flexibility in understanding consciously many of the processes that skilled naturals understand only intuitively.

A Short Story

Here’s a short story I wrote up a few months ago. I was experimenting with ideas of randomness, networking and success in life in the form of a short story. I could have done a lot more with it and I have a lot of thoughts about how to improve it. This is my first crack at it. Not sure if I’ll end up taking a second…Enjoy

“Just look into the scanner right here and you’ll be good to go,” The clerk on the screen flashed a forced smile.

“Believable enough,” Isaac thought to himself. These automated personalities had been in circulation for just a few months, although the prototype was created a few years ago in the lab. Currently they are expensive and fairly uncommon but it is fitting that a research lab like this one would be using one.

“Your identity has been confirmed,” the clerk croaked in a robotic voice.

“Aren’t you supposed to be able to say that like a normal human being now.”

“Yes, you didn’t find that funny? I guess my understanding of irony is lacking. I could have spoken with inflection but honestly can you really say ‘identity confirmed’ and not sound like a robotic tool. HAhah—“

Isaac not amused stood staring blankly back at the screen.

“…Ok,” the clerk mumbled, “I guess humor isn’t as easy as it looks. I’ve been told it is the last thing I will acquire, as it is the pinnacle of the human condition.”

“…So what’s next?” Isaac asked, hoping not to engage in a philosophical conversation about the nature of humor.

“Well your LiveRecord™ is downloading from the cloud and is about 60% complete. The initial conditions for your SimulTest™ should be ready soon.”

Isaac knew that much of his life had been captured and stored but he’d never been aware that anything could be done with it other than to replay moments of his life. “Can you explain to me again what exactly what you are going to do with all my information?”