Category Archives: right livelihood

bombed back to the dark ages…

Driven by by the dual forces of my Dad being able to turn his hand to any sort of manual skill, and my paranoia about the world being thumped back to the dark ages, I’m very interested in how to survive in primitive contexts. Seems I’m not the only one to have wasted invested hours thinking about what would be the useful skills to have at your finger tips if you were time jumped back to 1,000AD. Jason Kottke, with Survival tips for the Middle Ages, picked up from Marginal Revolution’s Time travel back to 1000 A.D.: Survival tips.

First, a quick snapshot of 1000 AD. China and the Muslim worlds look like they’ve got it going on. England is waiting for William the Conquerer, the Pope is on the throne in Europe, and the rest of the place looks like the set of Jabberwocky. Actually, for the most part, commentary on the Kottke/Marginal Revolution sites bear startling resemblance to Jabberwocky, perhaps the film was a documentary.

I think survival skills are a topic worthy of consideration – I believe it is very possible we might well be headed there given our ongoing addiction to oil. The original question was – ‘How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.’ I intend to refine the question somewhat to include what skill sets would you be able to bring to today if you were suddenly transported to an economy that money was of extremely limited value?

I have lived in places where money was of very limited value. Most island communities are like this even today – money only has value if there is somewhere to spend it, borrow it, lend it. The old adage that it’s made round to go round is absolutely core to its value. In a barter based economy, skill sets and personal social contracts are the order of the day.

So, what would I bring to the table? Some of this stuff I did years ago, so my skills are a bit rusty, but I could pick them up again fairly quickly. If I could bring a few things with me, a good knife, a ball of nylon cord, and some vegetable and kefir seeds would be the items I’d start with. It’s a bit like building a CV for the dark ages.

  • Rotational cropping with nitrogen fixing plants (clover), coupled with composting and earthworm husbandry.
  • Plant propagation skills which include harvest, storage, preservation, and seed storage.
  • Bee-keeping, honey processing.
  • Hide preparation, preservation, and tanning for leather
  • Clay processing, building, wood firing, and salt glazing pottery
  • Brewing alcohol, including distilling spirits that can be safely consumed
  • Growing sour dough yeasts and making bread

And I’d probably be a dab hand at catching fish, and not too bad at aquaculture, given the right temperatures and species. I can read and write, albeit not in latin, and my maths is sort of ok-ish, so I think my best bet in Europe would be to head for a monastery if I wanted to preserve the ‘good life’. I can draw out labyrinths, so perhaps I’d find a gap somewhere in some monastic order. I think realistically, I’d do better heading towards the warmer climes, and finding a nice fishing village looking for someone who can take raw agricultural, horticultural, and aquacultural materials and create some added value. The trick in barter cultures is to be able to add value – everyone can catch a fish or raid a nest – the creator of a good gin is a valuable person to have around.

But Europe? Europe? Honestly, why would anyone want to go to such verminous and pestilential place, filled with oppressive regimes and bizarre religious activities? And it was no better in 1000 AD. My venue of choice for a flashback to 1000 AD would be the Cook Islands. Frankly, my dark ages CV would be of limited value – reading and writing and to an extent, maths – irrelevant; the plant propagation/fish farming would be of value; I don’t know that there’s viable clay for pottery – if so, great; tanning would be pretty much limited to dog or perhaps shark hide, bread depends on grain/flour, I’m unsure about the presence of honey bees (doubt it somehow); alcohol might be an option. What I could bring to bear is art and craft skills, and once I’d refined my limited Maori into Cook Island Maori language, story telling could be a good thing along with helping out with hunting and fishing. At least it would be clean, warm, healthy, and ok, so it wouldn’t have achieved the levels of ‘civilisation’ of Europe, but really, who cares? The end result is a planet that has a severely compromised immune system and a diminished resale value. I’ll take fresh fish and tropical fruit, washed down with clean water, on a tropical island surrounded by friendly, smiling people any day. That’s what I call civilisation. You can keep the horrors of the cathedral/plague ridden/crusade driven insanity.

How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.

lucky escapes

run o' the millOver the years I’ve had many jobs. Some of them have been great (like my current role) and others have been pretty good, and, thankfully, only a very few have been hideous. Normally it’s not the job per se, rather the management or my colleagues that have made the job as it was. I have have the privilege of working with some amazing people – I’ve learned a great deal from these generous spirits – often themselves working under difficult conditions.

I’ve lost count of the jobs I’ve had, and even moreso of the jobs I’ve applied for and not got – I know for a fact that there’s been hundreds. Very frequently I’ve been gutted to miss out on the jobs I’ve applied for, and then I’ve found out later that it was a lucky escape. Recently, while tidying up some of the back corners of my life, I found this particular response letter. I’d kept it (I’m guessing) from the late 1980s. The Mill is still in business, by the way, apparently language skills are not a tipping point requirement for selling booze in Wanganui. I’m not in the ‘hospitality’ business any more, but I have been wondering if the guy who signed (name removed because I can) this triumph of communication is the manager, or maybe the owner now.

customer service

A couple of weeks ago we picked up a tub of black olives from the Thorndon New World (TNW) deli. Pretty uncomplicated stuff, you’ve probably done that kind of thing yourself. We got home and decided to make an antipasto thang for dinner – casual, picnic style, off the coffee table, and watch a movie – as you do. Well, we do, anyway (thinks: when did I get such classy readers?).

The olives were disgusting. No, not olives are disgusting (we like them) they were disgusting. They had some weirdo plastic flavour and they were just bad. I was grumpy because I’m just not the same without an olive or twenty two. Back in the fridge they went, and I festered and moaned about the horror of bad olives.

The next night I bundled up the olives and high tailed it back down the TNW, all the time planning on my approach to complaining about the olives. THE OLIVES! The head-talk: “Two thirds of the world is starving to death and I’m upset about olives. Get a grip!” The other part of me was thinking, “No, those thieving mongrels have sold us poor innocents substandard olives, they must be punished for this heinous deed.” Then, of course, another part was big into the “Oh my god, what if they were from some country where the mafia/cosa nostra/triad/illuminati/young nationals replaced the olive oil with diesel or whatever the last Spanish olive oil scandal was about, and we’ve eaten – noooooo – gak!” And finally, “What if half Wellington dies of bad olives? Remember ‘The Meaning of Life’? It was the salmon.” … You’re never alone if you have enough voices in your head.

All of us – me, and all the voices – stormed up to the customer service desk (alert: key words – customer service). I’m barely coherent at this point because all the voices wanted a say. Liam was on duty that night. He looked at me, listened, smiled, apologised, looked at the olives, apologised, tsk-tsked, smiled, sniffed the olives, apologised, fired up the refund process, apologised, smiled, I filled in a form, smiled, they refunded me twice the sticker price, smiled, apologised, and in less than 10 minutes I was back in the car.

I don’t quite know where the voices went. I went home.

A week or so later, a letter arrived, thanking me for participating in their ‘quality assurance’ programme. Um, I wouldn’t have quite called it that, but that’s what I do for a job, so I’m happy to lend my shoulder to the wheel. Overall, I’m a very satisfied customer, even if the olives – olives? Schmolives – who cares about olives? Thanks, Liam, you’ve got a bright future in whatever your chosen field. TNW – thanks for sticking to the game plan – I guess we’re worth $15,000 a year to you, so $10 worth of refund is less than the daily shrinkage from the dried fruit and nuts dept – plus there’s the promo work I’m doing here for you. But it’s about a principle. When New World presents a 200% satisfaction guarantee, they deliver on the promise. This is what is known as ‘customer service’. Please, Mr and Ms NZBusiness, take a look at the concept of customer service, and try to find a way of fitting in to the picture. This particularly means you, telecommunication companies.

a journey of 10,000 hours

Marica is studying at the moment. We are study kind of people, we even met while we were studying. I fully expect we will be studying forever. One of the topics Marica is looking at is to name five people who have been influential in your life, and how they’ve helped form the person you are today. I think it’s a very, very interesting question. We both can think of many people who’ve been very influential in shaping the people we are today – who your five people, and how have they shaped you?

I frequently think about professional development and reflective practice – how do you get better at your job – or any other aspect of your life? How do your learn to cook better? Write better. And oh, dear oh dear, now that drawing has started again, how on earth do I get better at drawing?

As a kid I had weekly confirmation lessons with Bob Kempe. I realised he had a profound influence on my life with just a few words. He told me that he’d heard/read/believed/whatever that if you want to be in the top 5% of your career field, get as much training as you can, and then simply read one book, directly related to your field, every month. If you were that kind of person you would’ve probably added a journal or two, and these days you’d add a blog or two for daily updates. Bob said, “It’s not that you’re going to be the super expert, it’s that there’s plenty of room at the top, and most people don’t bother to keep up.” He also said it was true of fitness – a jog around the block once a day will make a significant change in your health. This was in the days when jogging was the order of the day – nobody did the running fitness madness then. I have been a reader ever since, and was to be seen running from time-to-time. A walk is my limit these days.

Zen Master, DamoWhen I did my masters I was surprised to find that the concept of ‘mastery’ had somehow become parted from the university. I felt vaguely disappointed that I hadn’t become some kind of zen master – you know, that gentle, good humored, wise … instead, there was just me. That was no surprise, the disappointment was that in the university the ‘traditional’ concept of mastery was treated (at best) as a joke.

From my own work experience I have learned that it takes me about three years in a job to get to grips with it. Based on a 2,000 hour year, that’s about 6,000 hours. Like most people I wouldn’t achieve a 2,000 chargeable hours in a year, but by the time I add in the background reading and reflecting on my job I probably wouldn’t be too far short of the 2,000 hours per year. I’ve never held a job for ten years, but I have worked (and continue to work) with people who have been in the same(-ish) role for a decade or more, and without exception they have a mastery that is second to none.

I absolutely believe that what stands between me and beautiful drawings is 10,000 hours. It’s as simple as that. From a link on D*I*Y Planner, I found there is some published research to shore up my belief – Ericcson and Lehmann’s Expert and exceptional performance: Evidence of maximal adaptation to task notes that ‘innate talent is not valid for expert performance acquired through at least a decade of intense practice’.

David Seah writes a great article about building a niche of one. He trims out the 10,000 hours after reading about pilots –

* at 1 hour … you know some basics
* at 10 hours … you have a pretty good grasp of the basics
* at 100 hours … you are fairly expert
* at 1000 hours … you are an experienced expert
* at 10000 hours … you are a master

I don’t think that is true in learning a job – and I can’t think why they would be different. Obviously flying an aircraft is not a trivial task; however, in a job, 1,000 hours is the end of the first year, if we’re talking chargeable hours. The first six months if not. Neither time frame makes you an experienced expert in any job I’ve had since I became an adult. Sure, tasks can be mastered within that time, but I believe only the most routine of jobs will have you an expert in 6-12 months. Quite often these kinds of jobs are described as boring and repetitive, rarely the kind of jobs anyone sticks at for the 10,000 hours. Perhaps the difference is the 10,000 hours a pilot puts in is flying time, and doesn’t take into account the pre- and post-flight preparation work. It might take a pilot a number of years to clock up the 1,000 hours – I recall my friend Cam took a good long time to achieve the 50 hours he needed for his helicopter license.

Duff agrees there’s 10,000 hours to mastery, but notes there’s a tension when you want to master more than one thing. I think the solution there is to think ‘higher’ – don’t settle for just mastering tasks, work out how to combine the tasks into a more overarching mastery. Specific mastery is not without its costs – my best example is in the movie ‘Zoolander‘ – the main character (Zoolander – a male fashion model) is unable to turn left. At the end of the catwalk he turns right, and then right again to walk back – and to turn left, rather than making a 90° turn left, Zoolander turns 270° right. You see, two wrongs don’t make a right, but three rights make a left; and yes, ‘there’s more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking’.

Ahem. A small diversion. And there are so many opportunities for diversion on your 10,000 hour journey to mastery. Better get started then. If you decide to cast off on your journey towards mastery, you’ll find that you quite quickly start to move into unknown waters. There aren’t that many people on the voyage, and if you meet a friendly soul on similar journey it’s a rare and precious thing. In my case, I married the friendly soul so we could continue to journey together. It’s a good idea to make a map of where you are, and where you’ve been, so others might be able to follow. I’ve written before about exploring without a map: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 4 (cont), part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.

The other thing I think is vital to understand is that it is ok to take time to learn. Somehow we’ve become a society dedicated to condensation – to trying to condense everything into the shortest time. This is not ever how the master of old learned. In the classical European art tradition kids with some sort of painting or drawing talent were apprenticed for years before they became competent tradepeople in their own rights – yes – able to charge an arm and leg. It’s completely ok, if not even entirely desirable to build on David’s Niche of One. Marcel and I were emailing about this the other day. From Marcel’s creative perspective, ‘self validation is the only worthwhile validation to pursue and the most empowering’. I’m inclined to agree – if you can’t love your work you can’t expect anyone else to as much as like it. Be yourself and just get on with creating. Evelyn Rodriguez has responded, beautifully, about the snippy comments from web wankers about how the internet was being taken over by amateurs. Imagine that. Amateurs. Hey – it could be worse – could be religion, accountants, and other snake oil vendors. Evelyn believes an internet fed mostly by amateurs is fascinating:

And the Internet is our open studio to throw pots, take up a brush, collaborate on jam sessions, squiggle cartoons and practice, practice, practice. Anyone can drop into the studio without an appointment. Sometimes it’s a work in progress. And sometimes you walk into a masterpiece.

As a renowned documentary filmmaker (once an amateur whom trained herself by getting her hands on a camera and just-doing-it) once shared with me, “There’s a secret. If you put in the effort, the universe has a matching grant program. And it’ll meet you halfway every time.”

If you move now, you can get the first couple of hours towards mastery done, before the next distraction comes in bellowing like a bull calf. Don’t hesitate, mastery awaits.

it’s about the stories (on becoming an international financier)

I recently changed my job. Feels good, thank you. The team I worked with were/are some of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Legendary hospitality, funny, generous, and indeed, some of the sharpest minds ever. And yes, I left and am now working elsewhere. In my old team it was customary to farewell colleagues with a morning tea and to have a whip around for a gift. Frankly the gift thing really caught in my craw – my previous experiences in these matters have been none too good – some gorpy horror – I only just rid of the last vase at a garage sale…

Meanwhile, on the other side of the (global) village, Ayawa Djoka – a married mother of five kids and entrepreneur who’d quit her studies in primary school – decided to step out again and seek investment capital. Ayawa has been successful twice previously, having borrowed and repaid money from the international pool, without incident. Located in Tsévié, Togo, Ayawa is following a deceptively simple regime – she buys fresh fish, and adds value by smoke drying it, and then resells the fish at a profit. Some of the profit is then reinvested in her produce farming – and the surplus is sold at a profit. Demand exceeds supply and so Ayawa sought capital to buy larger seed stocks of fish and materials for her farming enterprise. All of this is with the hope that she will be able to increase her revenue and her profit, and this so the surplus can be used to improve the living conditions of her family.

Not exactly Donald Trump. Rather than end up with some cloying and ghastly gift (I was particularly frightened by the thought my former team would identify my need for wall plates with kitten designs) I figured they’d really enjoy engaging with sorting out an investment with Kiva – the micro-investors. After a couple of false starts – the investment business is so hot by the time we’d sorted out an investment it had gone – yes, in minutes – we ended up shortlisting and then investing with Ayawa.

Image of Ayawa Djoka from Kiva.org - make an investment with them today, please.

I don’t imagine visiting Tsévié, Togo, any time soon – although I do have a craving for some great smoked fish. I just believe that thanks to Ayawa, and Kiva, and my generous colleagues, I’ve got a farewell gift that I will remember, and cherish for a very, very long time. Thank you all for playing your respective parts, and I wish the very best for this new business in a country I’ll probably never visit, run by an enterprising woman I’ll probably never meet, who uses a language I’ll probably never learn – all thanks to the foresight of strangers and the power of the web.

How good is that? What? You want to be an international financier too? You can, at Kiva.

Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow

Over on the Practice of Leadership, there’s been some discussion about Marsha Sinetar’s book, ‘Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow — Discovering Your Right Livelihood’. There’s no indication in the book that doing what you love will somehow guarantee you will become a millionaire. There’s no ‘and‘ in the title. That’s important. From page 5:

I write of this so that, at the outset, no one thinks I am suggesting that material rewards immediately flow out of the leap-of-faith which is made to do one’s right livelihood. The reason that this book’s title contains the phrase, ‘The Money Will Follow,’ is precisely because we must do the work first, invest of ourselves first, seed faithfully in the small, steady, incremental ways of our chosen work first, and then – as a harvest of abundant crops naturally follows the seeding, watering and constant caring process, of seeds – the fruits of our efforts result.

While the people I describe in the pages are working away at their chosen vocations, simultaneously as human beings. And this is the beauty of right livelihood.

I’ve done many different job roles in my life. All were interesting in their own way. Some I loved. It’s been frustrating when the ones I loved didn’t deliver the financial rewards as well as the other rewards they provided. Looking back at them I can see I was still learning the roles. I thought I had the role down, but in reality there was a lot more to learn to achieve true mastery. Had I learned and worked enough to have been in the top 5% of that field the money would’ve been there too. Patience. Diligence. Faith. They sound so old-fashioned. So un-web-2.

My first business mentor gave me some advice, ‘Keep working kid, you’ll be an overnight sensation after about 11 years of intensive effort.’ I’d just grit my teeth, roll up my sleeves, and work on where the next dollar was coming from. I can see now that was actually good advice. In these days of instant ‘whatever’ it’s easy to believe that just because you think you deserve it, it’s somehow your right to be rich. It is your right to discover your right livelihood. You spend time working on becoming enriched, the money will follow.

Money, by the way, is not the same as *millionaire*. Many people are working in roles they love, but they are not ever going to become millionaires. Nursing, teaching, gardening, the creative arts, and many, many more roles – in fact, heads up, people; only a minute number of employees ever become millionaires, government employees are even less likely to achieve that from their role. But that doesn’t stop them from succeeding in every measure, including any financial measure. History is replete with stories of fame and fortune – and failure. Fame and fortune seem to have a way of conspiring to create failure, usually in people who aren’t rich (and I’m not talking money here) in the first instance.

One of the things I would love to achieve is to become financially rich while doing something I love. One of my objectives for this year is to spend time working on mastering more of the things I love to do. I intend entering into a personal enrichment programme. Come back later and I’ll let you know how the money sides of things is working out. I may be some time…