Getting Constrained

Sooner or later on the journey to making things happen, we get constrained. This is the moment when we lack the time, capability, opportunity, or any other mission-critical factor for success that you can think of.

Getting constrained is inevitable. It is like Newton’s Third Law, where every force has an equal and opposite counterforce. In fact, the bigger the goal, the more serious and more numerous the constraints. Life has a way of testing those who want to bend the status quo.

Just remember that the moment you get constrained is also the moment when you have to be at your best. To push the hardest and go further outside your comfort zone than you’ve ever been before. Getting constrained is nothing less than an opportunity to push yourself beyond your limits and reach what was previously unreachable.

Getting constrained is the opportunity cost you have to pay for becoming successful. No matter how you really define success.

Automation, productivity, and wages

In an article called Delayed expectations: Automation, productivity and wages for Barclays’ Our Insights, Managing Director and Head of Macro Research Ajay Rajadhyaksha and Director and Head of FX and EM Macro Strategy, Americas, Aroop Chatterjee outline just how much our (society as a whole, economists, journalists) expectations for the impact of automation differ from reality.

While people fear that robots will take over human jobs, with a devastating impact for individuals and society, unemployment, wage growth, and productivity data paint a different picture. One that seems to be a recurring pattern throughout human history: as technology advances exponentially, we continue to overestimate its rate of adoption and overall impact on the economy.

We have a long way to go until hard automation, technology that automates 100% of an individual’s job and replaces the human worker, becomes widely available across industries. In the first decade after introduction, soft automation, where only parts of a job are automated, is achievable. In other words, robots are not capable to replace humans yet. And history shows that the introduction of cars killed horse-related jobs, but also created a plethora of new jobs in car production, operation, and maintenance.

Soft automation will continue to result in reduced wages as it eases the learning curves of professions and automates specific tasks within professions. If a profession requires less skill and less specialization, wages go down. This is the reality for truck drivers, industry workers, and even accountants. Jobs will become less specialized, competition on the market will increase (as more individuals are able to perform the functions), and wages will go down.

Productivity is not likely to dramatically increase, despite the introduction of disruptive tech like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Machine Learning (ML). Most of the great technological leaps happened in the Second and Third Industrial Revolutions. Today, we’re running on legacy infrastructure that’s permitting us from achieving major leaps in productivity.

Culture = Context

We are creatures of context. As humans, we function best when we have a clear understanding of our surroundings and receive non-ambiguous feedback from our environment as we go along.

At work, culture is our context. It is what governs our interactions with one another, what guides our expectations of our social structure, and what ensures that we take action in a predictable and cohesive manner, as individuals, teams, or entire business units.

Because culture is so important, don’t leave it unclear and undocumented. The only way to ensure continuity, cohesiveness, and improvement is to document it. Turn your expectations of why, how, and what your team should do into a written set of principles.

In his book Principles, Ray Dalio shares Bridgewater’s first principles:

  1. Put our honest thoughts out on the table,
  2. Have thoughtful disagreements in which people are willing to shift their opinions as they learn, and
  3. Have agreed-upon ways of deciding (e.g., voting, having clear authorities) if disagreements remain so that we can move beyond them without resentments.

This set of agreements between everyone in the organization helped Bridgewater turn into the best-performing investment management firm of all time.

Don’t leave your principles undocumented.


If you promise something to your customers—a product, a service, a solution—deliver it. With as few barriers to value as possible.

This is the new paradigm of customer experience in a connected and automated world. Discover the key sources of value creation for your customers and transform your entire business model to focus on them. Then shift your operations to ensure that you’re providing it 99.9% of the time.

Aircraft manufacturers have strated to see that airlines don’t really want to buy airplanes. They want to fly airplanes. It’s just that, up until recently, they had to buy an airplane to fly it. But owning an airplane is expensive.

An airline’s key source of value is an airplane that’s in flight and full of passengers. Not one that’s on the ground or in maintenance. What to do? They have started to shift their business model from selling aircraft to providing Aircraft-as-a-Service. Airlines would pay for miles flown. The manufacturer takes care of service, maintenance, and availability.

This change is happening across industries. Yours included. You’ll either shift first or be shifted later.

The Five Levels of Knowledge

Knowledge comes in five levels:

  1. Story
  2. Theory
  3. Know-how
  4. Mastery
  5. Wisdom

You achieve each level at a different stage in life. Your level is an outcome of the time spent, intensity of experience, and dept of understanding of the subject matter at hand.

Story stands for the stories we learn from our culture, family, friends, and colleagues. It’s an account of an event that happened to the storyteller or his/her immediate circle, told through their subjective (that is, human) perspective.

Theory is the type of knowledge you can gain from attending a lecture, reading a book, or listening to a podcast. Theory broadens your horizons and opens your mind to ideas that were previously unknown by or unimportant to you. But it can only get to you a point.

Know-how is the product of experience. You acquire experiential knowledge by doing. Very often, doing means having to overcome difficulties and solve problems that aren’t really addressed in theory. To develop a mobile app requires more than knowing how to write code.

Mastery comes when story, theory, and know-how intersect in years of practical experience. Mastery is when you become intuitively good at doing something. To others, what you do and the sheer way you do it seems effortless and easy. Only until they try to do it for themselves.

Wisdom comes last. And very few of us reach it. Often, it we do so for a wider category of subject matters, i.e. natural science, or information technology, or marketing and advertising. Wisdom is when knowledge and experience meet good judgement. It is knowledge that isn’t limited by time.

Wherever you are, don’t stop learning. It takes wisdom to understand just how little one knows indeed.

The 90,000-Hour Challenge

You will spend, give or take, 90,000 hours working in a lifetime. This is about 1/3 of your life.

Look at your professional life this way and you suddenly start to see it from an entirely new perspective.

Do you want to spend this time—your time—doing work that drains you, with people you don’t get along with, for an organization that doesn’t seem to care about you?

Or would you prefer if you did work you loved, with people who inspire you, for an institution, company, or non-profit whose mission you genuinely want to help make happen?

This is The 90,000-Hour Challenge. Take it or leave it, but remember that you don’t get to play twice.

Let Your Crew Become Captains

When things go wrong in your company, who do people turn to? If everyone turns to you and you’re the founder, you have some serious delegating and coaching to do.

Every company needs at least one Captain: that person who takes ownership when problems arise—and does whatever is required to work with others and solve them.

At first, you’re the captain. Then, you have to become the fleet manager. Then, you have to transition to being a stakeholder. At any point of that transition, what got you to step one won’t get you to the next.

It’s you who has to change with your company’s growth.

Like it or not, your goal is to go higher and let the talented people, the ones that you hired in the first place, be captains. Then help them grow into fleet managers. Then Directors, Vice Presidents, and Presidents, etc.

The only way to let your company grow is for you to stop being the bottleneck. Let your crew become captains. You’ll be surprised just how well they can sail the ship.

The Art & Craft of Spotting Circumstances

We underestimate the role of luck in our lives. Luck as in ending up in a situation with just the right circumstances, most of which are not under our direct control.

It’s easy to take credit when everything goes well. It’s the food our egos feed on. It’s just as tempting to take the blame when it goes all wrong. After all, the ego also dwells on failure.

Whatever it is, now is a great time to stop. Life is a game of actions, consequences, and circumstances. The sooner we admit the importance of the latter, the sooner we can begin to get out of our heads and look around.

When you don’t feel like you’re the sole creator of your destiny, you suddenly develop this desire to observe the environment that you’re in and to spot the events that occur inside it. Opportunity happens with or without your knowledge. You must learn how to look for, spot it, and take it.

Olympic Hurdles, Barbed Wire, and Newton’s Third Law

When you go out into the world to make things happen, the world seems to challenge you back. The bigger the goal, the harder the obstacles.

This phenomenon can also be observed in classical mechanics. Newton’s Third Law says that each force has an equal and opposite counterforce. That is, you cannot expect to change the status quo without it resisting you back.

Seth Godin calls it The Dip. When you first go down a path, you get lots of reward. After a while, the reward vs. the effort is reduced. Welcome to the dip. Push through it and you will eventually get highly rewarded.

The question is, when is it worth it to push through the resistance and climb out of the dip?If I had the answer for every situation, I would probably be building electric cars and sending people to Mars while running the top ten Fortune 500 companies.

(Un)fortunately, I don’t. But here’s something I’ve learned through much trial and just as many errors:

There are hurdles and there’s barbed wire. One is a challenge, meant to be overcome through passion and perseverance. The other is a roadblock, meant to keep you away at the cost of your life.

In a world of possibilities and limitations, it’s a good idea to be picky about the paths you choose to embark on. Jumping hurdles, you may just end up an olympic champion. Jump through too much barbed wire, and you might just end up dead.

Education vs. Learning

Education used to be a milestone. Study hard enough until your late twenties and you would become educated. Prepared for the challenges to come in your job as an accountant, banker, doctor, economist, engineer, or lawyer. Educate yourself right, and you could hang your diploma on the wall and use whatever knowledge you gained to earn a living all the way until retirement.

Approach education in the same way today and, after four-five years of study, you will probably be left jobless and irrelevant as your work gets automated by machines and software. In the 21st century, education is no longer a milestone that, once achieved, gives you a map for success and prosperity.

Today, there are no maps. Technology is transforming each and every industry. Professions are becoming increasingly complicated and automated. We have yet to see the full impact of this transition when it truly takes place. Until then, the best that we can do is to adapt and prepare for a new kind of future.

In a society that changes as fast and as unpredictably as ours, education is replaced by learning. And we, as individuals, companies, and institutions, must adapt.

  • Education is a milestone. Learning is a process.
  • Education is mandatory. Learning is open and participative.
  • Education is defined by industry and standardized by institutions. Learning is individual and tailored to the priorities of the learner.
  • Education is designed to give you generic skills for a career. Through learning, you gain in-demand knowledge and skills for a job.

The shift from education to learning is already happening. Master’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, professional certificates, and specialization certificates are now available on Coursera. MicroMasters, professional certificate, and XSeries certificate programs taught by Ivy League schools are now available on edX.

Accredited degrees and diplomas for the digital age are springing up from institutions like Digital Skills Academy. And companies like Google are creating their own education programs like Squared Online and the Google IT Support Professional Certificate.

Alternative education programs, like Seth Godin’s altMBA, are gaining more and more popularity. All of them are designed to take your professional mindset and skill set to the next level in no more than a month.

Continuous, lifetime, and remote learning is the new reality. Academic, full-time, four-year education is gradually turning into a thing of the past. And it’s completely up to you how you’re going to make us of and contribute to this transition.