Tag Archives: ideas

Be Preposterous

Forward-thinkers have it all backwards. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

preposterous, a. (prɪˈpɒstərəs) [f. L. præposter, reversed]
1. Having or placing last that which should be first; inverted in position or order.

“Life can only be understood backwards,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard.

Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited, advises us to imagine what we want people to say of us at our funerals, and to live accordingly.

It’s called reverse engineering. Start at the end, work your way backward.

Put the cart before the horse. Read the last page first. The answers really are at the back.

“In my end is my beginning” – T.S. Eliot

Here is a great idea from the writer James Altucher: Take a sheet of paper and a pen. In the middle of the sheet, write THAT’S CRAZY. Now work backwards, figuring out all the pathways to THAT’S CRAZY.

James Altucher is crazy, because he doesn’t let THAT’S CRAZY get in his way, ever.

THAT’S CRAZY is where you want to end up in your life. It’s your wildest dreams, your fantasies, the things you tell yourself you can never have, or do, or be.

Why? Because that’s crazy.

So be crazy, and be preposterous.

Simple, not simplistic

We need more simple people. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

The best ideas are simple, never simplistic.

E=mc2 is simple. Einstein had other, earlier formulations, but none had the elegance of energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared.

Even a child can recite his simple formula. Few can comprehend its profundity. Einstein provided insight into the nature and relationships of matter, energy, light, and gravity.

If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. It’s simple. And yet there have been countless fad diets, promoting simplistic ideas like “don’t eat x.”

Simplistic ideas often resemble simple ones. Simple ideas summarize complex insights, while simplistic ideas remove them.

The only way to tell a simple idea from a simplistic one is to conduct a forensic audit, listening to the account an idea gives of itself.

The simple idea can not be superseded. It can explain even the simplistic competitor. The reverse is not the case.

Example: any fad diet that works involves eating less calories than you burn.

No one comes up with a simple idea until they have perceived, studied, and comprehended complexity.

Take something complex that you understand, and find a simple way to represent it: a mathematical formula, a picture, a phrase, a neologism.

Use your representation as a means to provide a fuller account.

Be simple, not simplistic, and serve the world.

What if everything you know is wrong?

Be loyal, and oppose. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

What if it turned out that the world was flat? Can you even show beyond doubt that it isn’t?

We don’t know what we don’t know, and we think we know what we think we know.

A person who goes around questioning everything is called crazy.

And yet, the opposite of crazy is conventional wisdom, or common sense.

Common sense says that it’s good to go to college, vote, drink milk, buy a house, and work your way up the corporate ladder.

I’ve done all of these things, and I don’t recommend any of them. I think some of the things recommended by conventional wisdom are crazy things.

In the Parliamentary system, there is an official, loyal opposition. The duty of the loyal opposition is to show that the people in power are wrong.

The opposition is called loyal because challenging power is valuable, even necessary.

I think it should be someone’s job in society to challenge powerful ideas.

Each week this person should write an article on topics like:

– your school grades don’t matter
– the experts are wrong
– democracy is a bad idea
– economic growth is dangerous
– dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together

I don’t think dinosaurs and people ever walked the earth together, but apparently some people do, and it may be worth understanding why. Or maybe not.

I don’t know what I don’t know, but by definition the person who does know will think differently than I do.

They might also be crazy.

Sometimes however the loyal opposition is going to be right.

After all, college may in fact be a waste of time, and voting may not make a difference.

– Find something that, your whole life, everybody has accepted uncritically as good
– Come up with all the reasons it isn’t
– Turn those reasons into opportunities
– Invent a product or service or new conventional wisdom that everyone fixated on the old conventional wisdom can’t see, because they think they know what they think they know and don’t know what they don’t know.

This is how all human progress works.

Is there a better way?

Seek not, and ye shalln’t find. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

I have a Post-It Note fixed to my desk, next to my keyboard. On it are written the words “IS THERE A BETTER WAY?”

I realize how this must look—like I’m at my rope’s end.

But I’m not saying “there’s got to be a better way.” There doesn’t. Everything in my world might be as good as it could ever be, and if that’s so I’m fine with it.

My life is good, after all.

Asking “is there a better way?” is not about hating how things are, or wishing they were better. It’s about cultivating an inquisitive, active mind.

A mind that is alert to the better way to open doors, to take notes, to eat food, to keep up with friends, to learn, to do laundry, to write a book, to build relationships, to find joy, to make a home, to be idle.

I’ve become an enthusiast of simplicity. Often, the better way is a more simple way. If I can do something in three steps and five minutes that yesterday took me five steps and fifteen, I’d say that’s a better way.

What I’m describing is the cultivation of an active mental discipline. Everything in our world works against it: gravity, habit, human laziness, fear, vested political interests, tradition, experts.

We probably will never find something we haven’t decided to look for. Seek, and ye shall find; don’t seek, and ye shalln’t.

Is donating the bulk of your material possessions to charity a better way? Or dropping out of school? Maybe it’s making less money and having more joy, or stopping everything you’re doing right now, to instead relax and take stock of your blessings.

I don’t know, and maybe neither do you. And the reason is probably because we’ve never decided we want to know.

What we do know are the things we never even asked to know—the conventional ways of thinking and doing:

– Follow the rules
– Go to school
– Get a job
– Work
– Retire
– Die

Is there a better way? The question doesn’t seem quite so weird when you consider the alternatives.

Thinking outside the laundry bin


CC photo “Down at Every Laundromat in Town” courtesy of hjhipster on Flickr


THERE’S A coin-operated laundry room in the building where I live. Each load, washer and dryer, is $1.75. That’s $3.50 for a full, wash-and-dry cycle. The machine-mounted coin collector has one slot for loonies (that’s a one-dollar-coin, for you non-Canadians) and one slot for quarters.

Yes, it sounds like the beginning of a math quiz. But in reality this a tale about human psychology.

For three years, I’ve been buying rolls of quarters and loonies from the bank to feed the laundry machines. Because there is a slot for both loonies and quarters, I enter my $1.75 in the form of one looney and three quarters. I’ve done it this way every time, for three years.

The coin tray is regularly raided for soft drinks, bus fare, coffee, and other items. Every day pockets are emptied, and coins are deposited in the tray. Eventually either the looney or quarter supply is depleted. The dollar coins are typically the first to go, leaving behind a bunch of quarters.

That’s what happened recently. So I go to the nearby convenience store to rebalance the quarter-looney ratio, because it’s one looney and three quarters to do a load of laundry. And all I have is a tray of measly quarters.

Have you spotted the fallacy I’ve been under for three years? It’s obvious once someone points it out to you, as it was pointed out to me this week.

It’s not one looney and three quarters to do laundry, it’s $1.75.

One of my family members came up with the idea. What if we just took the quarters and put 7 of them into the machine? The answer, of course, is that you get to do a load of laundry. No loonies required.

It’s remarkable to me that a household of highly-educated people could have missed this for so long. Talk about the obvious. And yet a machine with one slot for quarters and one for loonies has a subliminal ambiguity built into it. Is this a system which provides options, or is it delineating the requirements? Sub-consciouly we had decided upon the latter: there’s a slot for loonies and quarters because 1+3 is the inviolable rule.

It got me wondering about how many versions of this I’m living in my life, right now. Where else am I unnecessarily putting loonies and quarters into slots, metaphorically speaking? What else am I doing uncritically, mechanically, unconsciously? How many insights, breakthroughs, leaps, mind expansions, and personal liberations could I be effecting?

The lesson I’ve drawn is that opportunity is all around. What is required is a mindset that is ever-vigilant, always on the lookout for a new and better way: a mental attitude that says “don’t limit yourself by tacitly accepting things as they are.” There is always another way, if you go looking for it.

Led Zeppelin vs Spirit: What Is a Million Dollar Idea?


I READ WITH INTEREST Vernon Silver’s May 15 Business Week article concerning a lawsuit about to advance against Led Zeppelin, filed by living members of a 1970s band named Spirit. The closest this group came to a number one hit was the 1968 song “I Got A Line On You,” which reached position 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. If you accept some accounts, however, the late Randy Wolfe, better known by his stage name Randy California, is at least partly the composer of a #1 hit which also happens to be the number one rock song of all time.

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