Balanced, Contextual Approaches to Thought & Action

Whether it’s your professional or personal life, sports team, volunteer group, or dinner plate, humans tend to think big. We see ourselves as astronauts on the moon, living happily by the beach, winning the championship, eliminating poverty, and sitting in front of the most beautiful plate of oven-baked lasagna.

In such cases, our human instincts serve us well; thinking big provides the foundation from which our minds find motivation, our lives feel purposeful, and our networks and circles come together under common goals and desires. Thinking big is a critical aspect of maintaining a purposeful life, by seeing life as a journey and not as a big mess of disconnected days, actions, people, movements, and thoughts.

That being said, our goals, dreams, desires, and overall intrinsic value come not through thinking big, but by acting small. The actions we take at each step in life are the driving factors behind where we end up and the impact we make. Our actions give us shape, form, and direction to realize our big thoughts. Our actions carry us through each day to build a purposeful story.

But is this notion of “think big, act small” (TBAS) the optimal approach? Some considerations to make:

1. Flipping the Paradigm: TBAS vs TSAB Approaches

What happens if we flip this paradigm of thinking big and acting small (TBAS)? What if instead we focused on thinking small and acting big (TSAB)? How would our shape, form, and direction differ?

Thinking small may provide us with the ability to deal with manageable chunks, the ability to break down large problems into smaller intellectual divots that we fill through logic and reason. Inherently, thinking small allows us to make smaller decisions, minimize risk, and to tightly align plans with results.

On the other hand, acting big can provide great visibility, posture, control, and leadership. Sure the risks may be elevated, but so are the rewards. Despite human nature, it seems that taking a TSAB approach through life can surely provide the same foundation for success and happiness that a TBAS approach provides.

So when should we utilize a  TBAS approach and when should we utilize a TSAB approach?

2. Understanding Scope: Approaches for Individuals vs Groups

How do our approaches to thinking and acting change given the surrounding environment at any given time? Is one approach better for the professional setting? Is another better for the soccer field? How should our strategies differ when considering differing circumstances? Most importantly, does the presence of others directly influence the scope of our thinking, and if so, to what extent might this be within our control?

I find myself thinking big in the morning, thinking smaller throughout the day, then thinking big again at night. Both morning and night are when I see and am around the least amount of people, while during the day it’s a constant interaction of many different people through conversations, technology, and sense. So is the scope of my thoughts primarily dependent on the size of my immediate social environment?

My actions are tougher to characterize as the scope of them has no obvious correlation to any temporal component, physical surroundings, or social environment. So are actions less guided by our surroundings than our thoughts? How does the scope of our actions and/or the willingness to take big actions depend on the size of the acting body? Is the success rate higher for larger groups taking smaller actions, or smaller groups taking larger actions?

3. Independence: Decoupling Thoughts from Actions

The discussion of scope lends us the idea that thoughts and actions may be influenced by completely different elements, from the time of day to the size of our immediate social environment. So does it benefit us at any one time to decouple thoughts from actions, or is it in our best interest to bind the two so tightly that all our actions are driven by thought, and all our thoughts stem from actions? Is the strength of the bond unique for every individual, and again, is it within our control?

Concluding Thoughts

At the end of the day it is my belief that, given the events in our lives both within and beyond our control, we should be readied with TBAS and TSAB approaches, guided by an assumption that the strength of the bond between thoughts and actions as well as the scope of each is well within our control. Some days our best approach is to build visions and lend a hand, while other days require thoughtful prayers and leaps of faith. Realizing these differing approaches while beginning to analyze the interactions between thoughts and actions is critical to providing strategies for any situation. More importantly, it maximizes the chance for positive results and successful outcomes, for both the individual and the populations at large. Now that’s a pretty big thought.

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Focus, Balance, and Strength

One is for focus, two for balance, and three for strength. From the most basic sequence of integers we can understand critical characteristics and qualities that, in a sense, provide a backbone by which we can be happy, learn, and grow.

One is one. There is nothing to surround it, there is nothing to be bent. It’s the focal point of many, and the starting spot for all. Above one comes everything else and into one everything comes.

Our society puts a lot of focus on one. We like to see a single result and hear a single voice. We want to find our soul mate and discover the holy grail. We seek to structure our world by its basic individual units, the atoms and nodes. We break down our problems into individually digestible chunks. One is the basic unit of math, the center of gravity, the perfect result. One is the focus and concentration of everything else.

But one stands alone. Where one is one, one is only one. One would be none if no two came from one.

Two is the balance of ones, the pairs of nature, the couplets of science, the squares of math, the rhythm and meter of poetry. Two is evenness and congruence. Two is good and evil, hot and cold, yes and no, high and low, winners and losers, protons and electrons, male and female, life and death. From two we can find harmony and bliss and make connections not previously seen by focusing on one. Two is love. Love is two. Two is the threading of life and the creator of balance within the cosmos. Two is the secret order within disorder, through connections and relationships that make us more than one.

But two still lacks shape. Where two is two, there is only one view of two. Two would be one if no three came from two.

Three is the unit of strength, the shape of our space. It represents our current (most common) perception of spatial dimensions. Three is triangulation, inflection, exponentiation, and curvature. Three is the operation and its result – a combination of the whole picture. Threes provide motion and non-linearity, a dynamic quality of life. Threes make twos unique and unbounded while making stronger our threads. Three is two and one together, forging balance and focus for strength.

Three is the strongest number. Geometrically, the triangle is the only shape that cannot be deformed without changing the length of one of its sides. Spatially, three provides dimension and perception. Three is our basic unit of existence and reality, and well, most of our buildings too.

Three also represents complexity in knowledge. If two is the threads, three is the knots. Three is multiple connections – knowledge with shape. Tie two threads together and you’re building new shapes, discovering new binds, making new questions for answers worth seeking.

And triplets are an optimization of our minds. Remember two things and you could have remembered a third. Try to remember four things and you are likely to leave one out. Triplets are an innate unit of the human mind, something by which we are all naturally bound.

Focus, balance, and strength. With three we find strength, and from three we derive balance and focus. Three qualities that make us better individuals, partners, and citizens. Three qualities that, if we learn to utilize and optimize through our life, will surely better our professional, personal, and spiritual lives.

And at the end of the day, numbers are an underlying language of life. We can look to numbers to represent many aspects of life – both physical and philosophical – to help understand how we interact, how we grow, and how to succeed. Looking at a simple sequence of numbers can provide insights that are easier to understand in a world of infinite space and color. Numbers help provide shape to our thoughts and can thread our understanding across cultures and generations. Now did somebody say math is boring? 🙂

The Ultimate Personal Dashboard

With some great technological advancements in the past decade, why am I still organizing my life in bookmarks and spreadsheets?

The next great technology needs to get more personal. We need to drop the rectangular web browser and think in higher dimensions. Let’s say iGoogle meets Macbook Dashboard meets a much better version of the new Yahoo! homepage meets the iPhone application platform. I’m talking about a secure, personal, customizable dashboard/portal through which one can live. It’s where I’ll track my information, both from the web and my mind to better organize and optimize my life. It’s where I’ll see and interact with my personal data in a comprehensively insightful yet very organized environment.

Right now, how do I track my information? Some is on the web, some is on my hard drive, and some is on paper. I have over 200 username and password combinations I use to login to various sites. I’ve got at least 250 bookmarks in 15 top-level categories. I’ve got spreadsheets that summarize my finances and visuals I’ve created to try and learn about them. For now, when I need to know something, I find the appropriate link, look up my account credentials (if not stored), and then investigate. But for those in a similar place in life, are my personal needs really that different?

If I list out all the things I do online, all the things I read online, all the information I organize on my computer, all the personal resources I access online, and all the questions I might have about myself, can I begin to minimize some clutter? Can I get Google Reader, Macbook Dashboard, iGoogle widgets, social network widgets, and personal spreadsheets in a secure, organized interface? Please?

Base

  • Accounts – Search logins by account, email, username, password, notes, date added, date updated
  • Address Book – Contact Info, birthdays, anniversaries
  • Links – Yahoo!, Google, GMail, CNN, Wolfram|Alpha
  • System Stats – Files/Folders, latest backup, storage space
  • Weather – Today’s weather, 7-day forecast, full interactive radar/satellite map

Financial

  • Bills – Due dates, billing cycles, average costs due
  • Energy Monitor – Monitor your home utilities, set “green” goals
  • Finances Monitor – Monitor stocks, IRAs, retirement, savings, checking, credit card
  • PayPal – Request/receive payments, see pending invoices
  • Subscription Management – Expected issues, renewal dates,

News/Events

  • Coming Soon – Movie releases, Tickets on sale, Upcoming concerts (Thrillist, Ticketmaster, Fandango)
  • Google Reader Tracker – Total unread, shared items, etc.
  • Local – Weekend Events (Going Out Guide, Eventful, etc.), Breaking News
  • News – CNN News Pulse
  • Sports – Scores/News

Social Media/Networking

  • Brand Monitor – See sentiment for desired keywords/terms
  • Discussion Board Monitor – Track your posts and comments, desired forums
  • Hot Topics – See trend topics and most searched items
  • Notifications – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
  • Social Timeline – LinkedIn Updates, Twitter Lists, Status Updates
  • Web Analytics – Twitter Stats, Google Analytics

Entertainment

  • Movies – Times, upcoming releases, IMDB search, RottonTomatoes rankings
  • Music – Playlists, connect with Grooveshark albums, iTunes Radio, etc.
  • Photos – Flickr/Picasa portlet
  • Sports – Fantasy team tracker, favorites scoreboard, breaking news
  • TV – Guide, schedule of favorites, DVR control

Health

Lists

  • Map – Where I’ve Been, Where I want to go
  • Reading List – What I’ve Read, What I’m Reading, Connect to Amazon
  • Recipes – Saved links, suggested items, BigOven link
  • Shopping – Grocery (connect with PeaPod), Retail deals/coupons
  • Tasks / To-Do
  • Watch Lists – eBay Auction, StubHub
  • Wish List – Amazon, iTunes, Retail Stores

Utilities

  • Calculator
  • Currency Conversion
  • Dictionary/Thesaurus (Wordnik)
  • Flight Tracker
  • Job Tracker – Monster, USAJobs, search agents
  • Maps – My placemarks, directions, search locations
  • Shipment Tracker – UPS, USPS, FedEx, etc.
  • Translator

This is just a list of things I do, need, have, and want. Obviously there are a lot more to be added. It’s important to note that all of these widgets/portlets have a similar foundation that parallel the major dimensions (in light blue) I spoke about in my earlier post on the boundaries of the human condition:

Accounts – List of all companies/organizations. Information is tagged by the company and all info can be found with regards to that account, when needed.
Dates/Time – Many things are calendar-based and should be aggregated to a personal, customizable calendar view
People – Address Book is a foundational database. People can be searched throughout for linkages and notes.
Places – With the current technological trend, many needs are location-based (including news and tweets). Personal organization dashboards should leverage geo-tagging for contextualization of information to the user.

It’s also important to note that most people want information in 3 forms: a quick preview, an expanded summary, and an interactive tool. This follows closely with a recent social trend – high variability in the speed with which we move. Sometimes we want a snapshot of our current personal information because that’s all that we have – a few seconds of time. At other times, we may have a few minutes of free time, most likely coupled with a defined question or purpose:

“How much do I have in my checking account?”
“What will the weather be like this weekend?”
“Need to transfer rent money to roommate.”
“Did my package arrive safely?”
“Who has a birthday in the next month?”
“What are the hot news items of the day?”
“I want to buy a book from my Amazon wish list.”
“To which country should I travel next summer?”

And finally, this cannot be overwhelming. It needs to be there when you need it but not short circuit your mood if you don’t check it for three weeks. All charts and graphics need to be simple and interactive and customizable, but also intelligent in design to attract the most novice of digital users.

So what will the next decade bring us? Will personal desktop technology be able to fully leverage the vast amounts of data we have online, on our computers, and in our heads? Will the world become more stat-conscious, and learn to take insight from the graphical display of life data? Will the desire for a less-click lifestyle drive better personal dashboards for secure, centralized organization? I hope so.

life optimization through estimation

The ability to accurately estimate a target value is an asset to any brain. Learn to hone this ability, embrace it, and use it to optimize your life.

Our lives are surrounded by invisible data – most of it in units of time, energy, space, and money. Essentially, our brains are huge folded databases that store this data, and use it to make decisions, plan ahead, and live each day. But as with many types of data, there exists some uncertainty about that data. Unknowns about how long, how big, how much, from where, until when, should i, almost enough, maybe tomorrow… well you get the picture. Our life data is filled with unknowns.

That’s why estimation is essential. Without it we’d get lost, fall behind, and lose our sense of security and awareness. Whether we know it or not, our brains constantly work to estimate and approximate values, given set of life data at that moment in time. And whether we know it or not, our brains run predictive models to assess hypothetical scenarios, basically using present life data to predict future life outcomes.

These are important realizations, and strong connections of human nature to an innate mathematical realm. Estimation is both an art and a science, as it takes creativity and thought supported by various numerical methods. Having the mathematical ability to estimate proves useful in most situations, but without the artistic component, you lose the ability to understand and contextualize your estimation.

The main point here is that estimation should be embraced as part of human nature, supported by numerical methods. This is how we can optimize our life – by recognizing the units with which our lives are measured each day, and reducing as much uncertainty in those values as humanly possible. It will not make you completely successful and happy and secure, but it will get you close.

Examples

Here are some random examples of estimation from my life. The methods of estimation vary, but the fundamental questions being asked all have outcomes of an unknown nature.

1. Shopping: Budgeting $150 for a dinner party, break budget down to categories of purchases then allocate funds accordingly. Estimate totals and percent of total budget category to make decisions on necessity.
Outcome: Go bigger on the dinner and ask a couple guests to bring desserts.

2. Sports: Ten minutes left in the game, down by 2 goals. Have two full lines of players so will sub soon and again with 4 min left. Need at least 1 goal every 4 minutes leaving a 2 min buffer to protect the tie and go for a win, should allocate 60% of strategy to offense and 40% to defense for next 8 minutes. If I’m in for 6 min and need 60% offensive mindset, how inclined should I be to make a run towards the goal, leaving my defensive position?
Outcome: Win

3. Personal Finance: How much to take out at the ATM? Need to estimate expenses for the week – lunch, happy hour, gas, dinner, cab to meeting, etc. How often will I use my credit card? Am I more inclined to spend if I have cash? Will I be near another ATM this week if I need more cash? How conservative should I be in my spending given the holiday season is arriving?
Outcome: Take out $60 and bring lunch.

4. Daily Planning: Got a hour-long meeting at 3:30pm, soccer game at 6:30pm. Assuming there will be traffic, it will take me 35 minutes to get home then 5 minutes to change, 10 to heat up leftovers, 10 to eat, and 15 to switch and fold laundry. Need 25 minutes to get to field and 15 min to warm up. Will I have enough time if my 3:30pm meeting goes long or do I need to put off the laundry and/or dinner?
Outcome: Always put off laundry, but never dinner 😉

Links

Estimating how much gold there is in the entire world
Estimating how much money there is in the entire world
Estimating the height of anything using geometry
A bit about estimation in statistics