We live in echo chambers

I’m so right. All the time, I’m always right.

When I log onto Facebook I see it. Everyone is posting about politics, and every post berates the bad guys and glorifies us. My party. Everyone is saying the same thing: that I’m right. Those guys are bad, but we’re good. “What’s wrong with the world,” I’ll say before logging off.

Sometimes I enter into a business meeting with an agenda. Not the kind that helps to run an efficient meeting, but the kind where I intend to convince my teammates to do what I want. In these cases, I don’t bother listening, because I already know the answer coming in. And I make sure to ask the head of R&D his opinion, because I know he understands. If someone disagrees it’s because they’re wrong, so I just need to explain myself better. Eventually we go the right way. Or sometimes we don’t, but everyone makes mistakes.

In traffic, I’ve been told I’m the worst, but secretly I don’t believe it because I drive well. Some people, on the other hand, they zoom past you, then swerve into the front of the line of cars in which you’re waiting. That’s the worst. Immediately I get hot with fury, because I have somewhere to be. The selfish jerk.

I’m right at every level of my life, and every area of my life is all about me.

This morning I was late to a meeting so I had to cut into a line of traffic. Luckily there was a space between the cars so the guy behind me couldn’t have been too put out. It was unfortunate, but necessary. I waved at him..

I settled into the front of the line, and for just a moment, it seemed like something might change.

But then I quick pulled up my phone and checked Facebook, and the world looked Right again.

How to cure the grumps

Laura called me out the other day, asking me if I was grumpy.

It was second or third thing in the morning, on a weekend, and I was making breakfast per her request. I vividly remember my completely normal reaction.

The defensiveness bubbled up, immediate, visceral, hot.

I wasn’t grumpy. What the hell was she talking about? And even if I was, it was justified. I’d had to change my morning routine to deal with a sick kid, I hadn’t gotten anything done that I was supposed to, and…

This whole inner monologue took less than a second to get me worked up, but at about that point I noticed what my brain was doing. In stepping back I saw the machinery, and realized I had a choice.

“Yeah, I think I am grumpy,” I admitted. It was the hardest thing to do.

“Okay,” Laura said, giving me a side-eye and going back to what she was doing, which I noticed was juggling both of our boys so that I could cook in peace.

When I put eggs and bacon on the table, I realized that I wasn’t grumpy anymore. I couldn’t tell when the feeling had passed.

We went to the zoo that day with friends. I still remember Laura and I watching the kids getting their faces painted.

“Camp”

I think it was when I woke up to ethereal piano notes drifting across the forest and, after climbing from my sleeping bag and crunching up the bark covered path to the main field, strolled to the group of six people practicing capoeira as the dawn sunlight filtered through the redwoods.

Or maybe it was when I screamed at the top of my lungs, joining a mob of 50 or 60 people named things like Nacho Supreme and Chupa Chup in urgently imploring a person named Sunset to “let’s go,” as she brought the full weight of her army of groupies to bear in a life or death game of Rock Paper Scissors Rockstar.

It could have been when I was lying down at the end of a day, my head propped up on a pillow shared with Nacho Supreme in a tea yurt itself shared by dozens of prone people while a live band dressed somewhere between traditional Native American and traditional Hippie pranced around us singing (we were all fully clothed).

But really, the most incredible part was the rules:

Rule #1: No technology
Rule #2: No names
Rule #3: No “work talk”
Rule #4: No time

These created a structure ensuring that, whether you were competing in nose jousting, writing fiction on a typewriter overlooking a river, or doing standup for the first time on stage, whatever you were doing, you were 100% there. No expectations on who you were supposed to be, nothing to do, nowhere to go. Just here, just now, just us.

Laura (Nacho Supreme, who did standup on stage) and I (Skittles, who learned Capoeira, at least a little) call this magical place deep in the redwoods of Mendocino, California, “Camp.” Others call it Camp Grounded. We went for my 30th birthday in 2015, and had the honor of meeting its amazing founder, Fidget Wigglesworth, AKA Levi Felix, along with so many incredible people who we will only ever know as Honey Bear, or Chief.

In those 72 hours without time, I lost myself for the first time in a long time, in the pure joy of being. As Fidget said: “We’re all fucked. We’re all going to be fine. We’re all in this together.”


Laura and I were devastated to learn in the years following that Fidget was battling brain cancer, and later that he had passed away at 32 years old. I was 32 then as well. I was heartbroken that the world lost such an amazing human being, but will forever be grateful for the magic that he gifted to all of us.

I imagine he’d be smiling now, underneath that great big bushy non-ironic mustache, to learn that Camp Grounded has been rebooted.

Maybe I’ll see some of you there. Although neither of us will know it.

A love letter to Reboot, by Jerry Colonna

I’m not the type to read business books past the third chapter. I’ve found that pretty much all business books get to their point pretty quickly, and then repeat that point, approaching it from infinite angles, for the next 200 pages. It’s exhausting.

There are exceptions, however. And one business book changed my life.

Reboot, by Jerry Colonna, was released in 2019. I picked up the book because Jerry was hailed as “the CEO whisperer”, and one of the top Executive Coaches in the country, which I figured was right up my alley. But then the entire book was the opposite of what I expected in the best possible way.

Through an examination of his life story, interspersed with multidisciplinary perspectives from some of the best thinkers, both contemporary and throughout history, Jerry hits directly at the human side of starting and running a business, which to that point in my life was still pretty well unexamined. He addresses the toll that the specific set of circumstances in which founders put themselves takes on them as human beings. He does this in a way that hit me hard–his perpetual chasing of “lemon drops” as a proxy for feeling whole, for example, which is a feeling to which my entire soul can relate (although lemon drops themselves are meh).

Jerry also cites his sources in many cases, from Jung to Plotkin to Buddha, all experts with various perspectives on the human condition (all “different fingers pointing at the same moon”). I cannot express my gratitude for this choice enough, as it enabled me to go on a months-long, on-and-offline google-deep-dive into the ancient wisdom of how to be a human being, a dive that continues to this day and is responsible for my budding faith (if you can call it that, I’ve been an athiest most of my life so I’m still not sure that’s the right word).

The core hypothesis driving all this–which to be fair he stated in the first three chapters so I could have stopped there, but I’m so glad I didn’t–was that better humans make better leaders. The book, therefore, along with his coaching company of the same name, is intended to help leaders become whole in their humanity, thereby enabling them to lead other humans to become better versions of themselves. It’s a brave approach amongst so many books offering ways to push your humanity ever deeper in the quest for ultimate achievement. I believe it’s also a necessary approach, as there’s no way I would have picked up a book about ancient wisdom and feelings unless it was smuggled in under the guise of productivity, such was my blindness. Jerry Miyagi’d me.

In the guise of a business book, Jerry penned a letter on how to live a life, written specifically for those of us who have already made the decision to prioritize our business over ourselves. It’s full of necessary information for founders which is hard to find elsewhere. Wrapped in a package of productivity, Jerry smuggled in one of the three most profound transformations of my life.

Wax on, my friend.

Sales teams are more than that

I heard a story once that stuck with me, about the nature of experience.

A small girl walks through a garden for the first time. In the garden are green things of all kinds, which she has never seen before. She is overwhelmed by the scents, the colors, the sheer magnitude of the experience. She spins, feeling the sensations in her outstretched arms as they brush against the various plants. She has not felt more alive than at that moment.

She runs back into the house to tell her mom about her experience. Her mom says “I saw you running about in the flowers. Those are pretty, aren’t they?”

She goes back into the garden the next day, and smiles at the “pretty flowers.”

We label things with concepts and words out of necessity–it’d be impossible to navigate the world if we didn’t know the concept of food or shelter–but the labeling creates a distance between us and the garden, such that we don’t see the garden in its entire complexity and majesty any longer, instead seeing it as simply “garden.” The label strips away the nuance and flattens something that is inherently three-dimensional and five-sensual to a mental concept. It turns the profound experience of Life into an idea that can be filed away along with millions of others. Nothing special.

I see myself doing the same thing in business. With a simple label, a complex group of wonderful and mysterious people, with tremendous, multifaceted value to add to the organization, become simply a “sales team”, or an “engineering team.” And thusly, I limit their contribution to merely that.

It’s not wrong to abstract the world this way. Again, it’s necessary. But every once in a while I’ll find myself in the woods or on top of a cliff and experience that rush of Existence once more, and in those moments I’m reminded that that’s our default state. That wordless, free place is reality, not the endless list of concepts we shuffle and categorize to make sense of things. The words “cliff” and “forest” and “engineering team” are useful, but they’re an inadequate substitute for the real thing.

I am doing my utmost to remember this, both in business and in life.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in business

I never went to business school. My business education was a startup accelerator called Momentum.

Patterned after TechStars, Momentum gave entrepreneurs a $20,000 investment and placed them in a 12-week bootcamp, which was intended as a crash course in everything needed to start a tech business and raise venture capital. As a part of that bootcamp, every Thursday night all the entrepreneurs would gather around for a “fireside chat”, where we would have the opportunity to listen to a business leader tell their story. Out of 12 of those chats, one moment sticks with me to this day.

We’ll call the business leader Bob, although that’s not his real name. Bob was the type of guy who flies a helicopter to work, and so obviously had a different perspective on life and business than I had. Bob was incredibly successful, but also went out of his way to be accessible in that conversation, which I really appreciated.

Someone asked him: “If there was one lesson you’d hope that these entrepreneurs would learn in starting their businesses, what would it be?”

Bob thought about it for a moment. He took a beat longer than normal as, we had learned that evening, was his way.

“I’ve worked with companies all over the spectrum,” he said at last. “From Fortune 100 companies to pro sports teams to two-person startups. And across all those companies, there’s only one thing that all of them have in common.

“Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing,” he said.

“The difference between successful companies and unsuccessful companies, is that with the successful companies you can’t tell.”

Do you give when asked?

If a person asks you for money, do you give?

My friend asked me this question, and had to admit that normally I don’t. I thought that was normal, so only felt a little guilty in my response.

Sometimes, however, I’ll give generously. I explained to my friend that sometimes I’m asked for change, and I’ll give $20 or $50 at a time.

It makes me feel good every time I do it.

The conversation ended there, but my behavior stuck with me.

I’m not sure that’s what I should be aiming for when interacting with someone less fortunate than myself. In that situation, why is my feeling good a measure of success?

My mechanical thinking machine

When I’m paying attention these days, I can sometimes see the causal chain of my thoughts.

I’ll think or say something, and in real time can trace back to the specific experience, conversation, book or whatever was the original source of that thought, as well as watch the various other ideas and worldviews that influenced that thought on its way to finally occurring in my head.

It’s most apparent in conversation. For example, I’ll be talking with a friend or colleague about a business idea and I’ll find myself paraphrasing a passage from a book I read on a similar topic, only it’ll be slightly tweaked and I can see how my bias toward assertiveness or my desire to produce an outcome in the conversation has modified the original statement. The statement looks like the result of that passage having passed through a big algorithm of conditional statements.

It’s a mechanical process that works like this.

  1. Inputs come in to my mind. These are experiences; conversations, books, movies, everything external.
  2. Those inputs are processed through a series of ingrained biases, beliefs, traditions and opinions, whether learned or innate. The noteworthy part here is that all this processing is, for the most part, focused on the input’s relevance to me. Apparently I can be a bit self absorbed.
  3. The input multiplied by the biases results in an output; either a thought pops in my head, or I say or do something.

I used to think I was in control over all this, my thoughts, my actions. But when put under a microscope, turns out, nope.

Most of us haven’t looked at this process, and so are easily “lost in thought”, which I would suggest is an intentional phrasing. Having spent most of my life there, as well as much of the present, I empathize. Thoughts are chaotic and usually not pleasant.

But I’ve found it’s possible to see this process for what it is, if you look closely, and thereby demystify your thoughts and short circuit their ability to control you.

It’s possible to gain a freedom from their relentless pull, neuter your inner-critic, and maybe become a bit less self-centered in the process.


If this all sounds a bit far fetched, and it still seems like you have control over everything, I invite you to ask yourself: did you decide to think of that pink elephant?

Which type of team are you? Football or basketball?

A football team consists of 54 specialists, each with a finely tuned set of skills and an equally specific role, ready to be called upon to perform their function to the most specific degree possible. It is coached from above, with detailed schematics and complicated formations, and the best players are determined by who can perform their role with the most exactitude. Quarterbacks execute a decision tree of reads, wide receivers run precise routes, kickers kick. It enables a large group of people to coordinate with precision, and when executed well (Patriots’ “Do Your Job” mantra) it enables a level of complication and replicability in strategy that can be very effective.

A basketball team consists of 12 generalists with complementary sets of skills. Each player has a specific role (most of the time, although trending less so), but is expected to make good decisions based on analyzing a rapidly changing and complex set of circumstances in the moment, and best applying their skills to the situation. It is coached through a combination of general skill development and strategic philosophy, the latter of which creates a default framework within which players can either execute or deviate at their discretion. So point guards run the offense, mostly, except when it’s advantageous for a forward to initiate. And centers rebound, except when the guard is closest to the ball, in which case he does. The best players are the ones who deliver results, regardless of their adherence to the offense, but the best teams are those who work as a single unit, supporting one another’s weaknesses as needed.

Leading teams in business can be done either way, but it’s really important to distinguish which approach you’re going for.

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