Neil deGrasse Tyson Wants You To Ask Questions - #93

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a scientist and he just wants us to ask really good questions. 

I had the pleasure of hearing the astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium speak at my office the other day and he was nothing short of electric. We were told he only had a half-hour to come and speak (because of his busy schedule) but it was clear if we kept raising our hands, he would keep answering our questions. He is a conduit for the advancement of science; it is, no doubt, his passion.

The beauty of his message is its purity. Tyson admits his accidental fame is nothing more than that, an accident. And it will never distract him from the true work of his existence. He just so happens to be famous for delivering soundbites for media outlets and hosting a popular podcast called StarTalk to celebrate science with A-List celebrities. The value of his work is rooted in the questions he asks of the Universe and the path he sets out to discover the answers.

On the flip-side, Tyson entertained a question about the meaning of life and the philosophy of something rather than nothing in this Universe. I was blown away by the scientific method of his answer. Tyson warned us not to burn brain cells thinking about philosophical questions that cannot be answered. What is the sound of one hand clapping, he asked, when we've already defined clapping as two hands hitting each other? We first need to ask the right question and then we can seek out an answer, meanwhile, Tyson said he'll be in the lab discovering new particles.

When someone in this world has such a clear drive, it's intoxicating. We're scared of the friends who dare to become famous worldwide  for their art. We're confused by the bridge-burners, quitting jobs with no thought of consequence and just the knowledge that they need out. 

Re-reading Seth Godin's The Icarus Deception, I found this quote particularly useful to describe this reflection of the world: "This is a lousy time to be an industrialist, a lousy time to hope for reliable, predictable demand. A lousy time to expect to extract unreasonable profits by making average stuff for average people. A lousy time, especially, to be a well-paid middle manager who does what he's told in exchange for a safe job."

We need to find the passion for it all to exist. Somewhere deep down it's inside us and we can't be afraid to release it. It's not going to be easy and it's not always going to be fun, but the big question becomes "When will you risk it?"

Until next time...
I explode into space.


How to Die Working - #78

So many Japanese people are dropping dead from their jobs, they have a name for it: karoshi. Literally, karoshi breaks down to the characters for "exceed" + "work, labor" + "death". Overtime without pay has become the norm with some posting 80-hour (!) weeks, off the books to circumvent the the rules put in place to officially curb it. Competition has red-lined in the small country and the new workforce, in their late 20's, are dying from heart attacks and strokes. 

Halfway around the world, I'm sitting here dumbstruck. What's going on? We have something as amazing as the Internet existing in this world, and people are still dying just to find a job and people are dying on the job. Technology was supposed to be Our Savior, instead it has made it the new normal to work harder and longer, and normal has become anything but that. We need change and it's not just more jobs, it's more important jobs.

The Model T job is done. Retirement is long gone and benefits become the new gamble. Giving your life to a company is no longer enough because there is no stability in an ever-swirling world. The big question ends up being what can we do?

My mind was racing over all of this, Japanese karoshi and American unemployment, in 7-11 yesterday. As I put together the materials for my coffee, I spied on the Optimum representative pitching his plan to the manager on duty. He was playing the Buddy card, as good salesmen think they should do, and explaining how Optimum could match Verizon on service and beat them on price. They shook hands without a deal, and the Optimum guy walked behind me as I was bringing my coffee to the counter. I was so distracted by how ugly and shallow the conversation was that I walked right out the door, coffee in hand, without paying! I noticed the moment I stepped out into the open and went back in to pay, befuddled and embarrassed.

While Daniel Pink would tell you to sell is human (in his new book To Sell is Human), the new era of communication is showing us that sales can't be slimy anymore. The 7-11 manager doesn't care to be persuaded about Optimum, he can find the prices and service right online. Transparency has freed us from shady or slimy deals. And without the sincerity to truly believe in what you're selling, more and more jobs are becoming hollow shells of what the world needs. What we do need is passion, we need Life, not people playing roles about one service or another, dropping dead just to keep up with the Joneses.

We're racing to make ourselves act like technology. You cannot be as cheap and as quick as our Robot Future. Seth Godin (below) calls it The Race to the Bottom. You don't want to be. You want to be irreplaceable, undeniable, alive. 

Yes, it's much worse for the Japanese dying in the streets than the gross transaction I witnessed at 7-11, but I think the bigger picture is important here. We need some new thinking about work. It is no longer a spot to fill to feed your family or your video game addiction, it is not a moving, working piece of the machine. Just like our technology, our world has become a cloud, flowing and ever-morphing. Work has to be something of true value, there is no more timeclock punch-card. As Jason Silva puts it, "Maybe we need to look at new narratives for how to live our lives in our search to become cosmic heroes." (Silva talks here.) There is no alternative, it's the new American Horror Story. When they take away the shit jobs with fast food robots and automated call centers, what do you do? Start moving people. Fix their troubles. Lift the world up.

We shouldn't be dying for our work, we should be coming alive with it. Find it for yourself and enjoy what Alan Watts called the "real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play."

Until next time...
I explode into space.


Explode into Space #58 - How The Future is in You

Dear Readers,

Man, wouldn't we all love to work for ourselves? Like a Boss, said Andy Samberg.

The idea of self-reliance has stitched this newsletter together and kicked me out of bed to be something more than nothing for the past year. The writer in me says to do it, much like how the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Lewis Stevenson found inspiration in his lucid dreams

And, as the landscape of our economy changes and the dim dream of it recovering to the pastel beauty of the Fifties fades, we have to start to realize that the Future is here. As freedom creeps into our daily lives more and more, security seems a less likely option. No longer can you clock your time in like some kind of lazy robot and expect anyone to just take care of your needs. We have to wake up and hunt.

My ears were perked and my eyes buzzed when I stumbled on the Harvard Business Review's recent article, The Future of You. It reinforced what I've been seeing the steps to for quite a while: the world is changing. Work is no longer a corporate set of handcuffs. You have to be flexible and calculated. That's good for some, bad for others. Essentially, the Harvard Business Review broke future economic success down to three tenets: self-branding, entrepreneurship, and hyper-connectivity.

If it sounds familiar, it is because it is exactly what Seth Godin was saying to me and I was saying to you when I was nose-first in The Icarus Deception. Without the obstacles of reaching an audience or gathering start-up money, what is slowly becoming most important is how to make a meaningful connection with people just like you. We're realizing the great potential of the tribe again.

The most difficult part is that in a world of instant change, making your dreams come true is not always done in lightspeed. You are not ready to win the lottery. You are not ready to be Justin Bieber. People crack under the pressure they didn't train to expect or earn. It would be the equivalent of Peter Parker trying out for the New York Giants. No chance.

I'm not prescribing back-breaking work; I'm suggesting thought. And sometimes, honestly, that's hard stuff. With work piling up for me lately, I found myself slowly zoning into the static of hours of television to wind down and anxiety in my half-asleep dreams to help people with their websites. What we all need is a beacon, a North Star, a dream, something that reminds us that when we have a free moment, we should and would and will work on it. Because sometimes freedom is not the most freeing thing. Henry David Thoreau probably said it better way back when: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” What are you willing to sacrifice?

Know your route and believe in yourself. I started reading Kevin Smith's autobiography Tough Shit and early on he hawks this gem: "There's a trick to being whatever you want to be in life. It starts with a simple belief that you are what or who you say you are. It starts, like all faiths, with a belief - a belief predicated more on whimsy than reality. And you've gotta believe for everybody else, too - until you can show them proof."

To be anything in this world, you have to be yourself first. When connections become more important than anything, you'll have to rely on yourself first. No one finds buried treasure without digging. Writing for me is about the sources it is born from. In this newsletter you can see that clearly. It is a regular reminder to kick myself in the ass and dig up some stuff. And then I stumble on a quote like this and I'm forced to rub my chin and scratch my head and pat my tummy and keep moving on:

“To be perfectly original one should think much and read little, and this is impossible, for one must have read before one has learnt to think.” - Lord Bryon

Until next time...

I explode into space.