Life Lessons Self Improvement

Everybody’s a Guru if You Know How to Listen

There is a famous Ram Dass quote that goes;

“When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru.”

He was a big believer that we can learn something from everyone that we cross in our lives.

The art of listening is something that has been touted in business and self development circles for decades. People have written countless articles about the importance of listening. Books have been written about “active listening” as a means of becoming a better communicator.

Indeed there is much that can be gleaned from these articles and books. Hearing someone is not necessarily the same as listening well. So many times we go into conversations with an agenda to get our own point across. We often have such a desire to be heard ourselves that we forget to properly listen to what the other person is communicating to us.

How often have you found yourself trying to finish the sentence of what the other person is trying to say?… Or trying to fill in the gaps of silence as quickly as possible?

We often think we understand exactly what the other is communicating; but most of the time it is much more nuanced than that.

Also, just because you are quiet and let someone else do most of the talking in the conversation, does not mean you are a good listener.

I found myself in this position many times, but was so often looking to jump in and respond based on what I wanted to say next.

From my years working in business consulting we were always taught to actively listen to clients. We were then taught to paraphrase what we had just heard and communicate it back to the client. This was all in an effort to ensure they felt heard and to clarify that we had understood them correctly.

Another tool we were taught to use was clarification questions. Questions along the lines of;

“Are you saying that _______”, and “Correct me if I am wrong but what I heard you say was ______”.

Again, these can be useful in a business context when working with clients and seeking clarity on project requirements. However, I don’t think this is the type of listening Ram Dass was talking about when he stated that “When you know how to listen, everybody is the guru.”

So what did he mean?

Whether we are aware of it or not, there is so much that can be learned from casual daily conversations. Even the most casual of conversations are layered with nuance and meaning. We have to be able to cut through the film that separates what we think is being said and what is actually being communicated to us.

Each of us has such a rich depth of unique experiences that all play into how we communicate with each other and the world around us. That depth of experience makes up our very being and is fed into the very way in which we communicate with others.

Language and words are often such a limited tool for expressing to another our experience in a certain domain. However, it is often the best tool that we have to do so.

I have found myself so often not being able to put into words the essence of a particular experience. But we must try our best. We must use the limited tool of language to try and express that which can only be experienced.

I think that is the core of what Ram Dass was alluding to. Once we know and understand that the totality of that which we experience can never be captured by words and language alone; we can then seek to truly listen to the underlying essence of what is being communicated to us by another.

What is being communicated to is always relevant to you and your experience at that point in time. It is simply a matter of listening for that essence and the rest will take care of itself.

Business & Entrepreneurship Technology

Signal In a World Full of Noise – Would You Pay for Social Media?

The world can be a noisy place. It has been interesting to watch this with the proliferation of the internet and social media over the past decade. The amount of photos, videos, articles, podcasts, tweets and more that are posted on a daily basis is unfathomable at this point. A staggering amount of data is available and at our disposal daily.

The internet and social media is great. It gives everyone a voice. It gives us reach to a global audience that we could never otherwise interact with. This also means that there is an ever growing number of people all across the world creating content for viewers, readers and listeners. The long tail of human creative output is playing out as we speak with the internet at scale.

As someone who thinks about the future a lot, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about how we use the internet; and where the next decade might lead.

It is always fun to speculate.

I have also been thinking a lot about the price we have paid to have this luxury of the internet. It has certainly brought about so much change in our world. But in an ever more ‘connected’ society, what implications has this had on us as people?

Social media algorithms are optimized for engagement. They are optimized for engagement because social media sites rely on advertisers to make money off of you and me. The longer we stay on these sites every day, the more eyeballs that scan those advertisements, the more money these platforms make. Social media sites therefore hire engineers and professionals to make their sites as addictive as possible.

The advertising model is what the internet and most social platforms have been working off of since the 1990’s. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, it’s capitalism at the end of the day. These companies have revenue and profit targets to meet; shareholders to pay. It is the nature of the game.

Optimizing algorithms for engagement has led to somewhat of a tragedy of the commons on the internet and social media. The open ecosystem of the internet has been somewhat usurped by the advertising model that exploits individual users’ data; all while giving us ‘free’ platforms to use and interact on.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch”, as they say.

The question I have tried to ask myself lately; is there a better game we can play? Is there a better way that we can interact with one another and share valuable insights on the internet.

Here is what I am seeing.

Current Trends

Many platforms are completely free. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. Others operate on a freemium model like Spotify, Youtube now has a paid subscription tier, Linkedin etc… And then some you have to pay for completely up front; Netflix, Hulu etc..

In a world where we are the ones creating the content and the data that is residing on a lot of these platforms, we are not the ones benefiting from them. Once you post something, it is essentially ‘owned’ by these platforms (Check the terms and conditions). It is then swept up into the algorithms optimized for engagement as we spoke about before.

Until now, the internet has not had an inherent value protocol built into it. I guess this is the reason why the advertising model has triumphed so much. The companies that became the best at teasing data out of users are the ones that built the biggest foothold on the internet.

Interestingly, as information has become so ubiquitous, so too have we become smarter and more tech savvy. Creators on social platforms are becoming ever more aware of how our data is being used and sold to the highest bidder.

Censorship is another hot topic. Many social platforms are now putting in place checks and balances for creators to maneuver around.

It has also been interesting to see content creators — particularly those who care about the relationship with their audience — move towards using platforms like Patreon. If you are not familiar with Patreon, it is a platform that allows content creators to receive support directly from subscribers. They brand themselves as the “best way for artists and creators to get sustainable income”. They facilitate a more direct line from creator to consumer. Consumers pay a monthly subscription to receive exclusive content from their favourite artists and creators.

I think this ties in nicely to the earlier point of how the long tail of human creative output is being played out on the internet as we speak. It has never been easier to create a direct line from creator to consumer.

I think this means we will become much more conscious and picky with regard to the content we consume online. With such information overload at times, we will move towards wanting to refine and curate exactly what we are consuming. Does that mean we will pay for social media? Many of us already pay for the aforementioned platforms like Netflix, Spotify and Medium in exchange for quality content.

At what point does it become feasible for us to do this with social media?

Until now, there has never been a simplistic protocol for exchanging value on a peer to peer basis over the internet. Enter Bitcoin and Blockchain technology — We now have a means of facilitating micro transactions at scale.

What does it mean when we can facilitate transactions of a thousandth of a cent? When the barrier between creator and consumer is lowered further, what does the landscape look like? What does it mean when we are incentivised to create value, and can also be rewarded in the process.

The ability to transact with anyone across the world in near real time, with digital assets that can be divided by a thousandth of a cent opens us up to a whole new world of interaction online.

How will this all work you might ask?

Wealready have some examples of applications and platforms being built atop decentralized infrastructure. When it comes to blockchain technology, one should seek out the utility that the blockchain is providing.

Twetch is one such application being built atop the Bitcoin SV (BSV) blockchain. Twetch is similar to twitter in its current iteration and allows users to write transactions on the BSV blockchain by creating posts and interacting with other users. In this way it acts as an interface to the Bitcoin SV blockchain. With Twetch however, users pay microtransactions to post and follow other people. Users also receive payments when they are followed by others and when people like and interact with their posts.

Another example of how microtransactions are being facilitated on Bitcoin SV is StreamanityStreamanity is a video hosting site akin to Youtube that allows users to view and post video content. Content creators are paid directly per view. The potential for earnings that go directly to the content creator are astounding when compared to the advertising model currently in use by Youtube. User also only pay for every second that they watch. If they close out of a video halfway through, they only pay for the portion of the video that they watched.

Ethereum’s DeFi Ecosystem is also leveraging decentralized networks to transform old financial products into trustless and transparent protocols that run without intermediaries. There is now over 200 DeFi projects built on Ethereum.

In Conclusion

There certainly seems to be a trend towards bridging the gap between content creators and consumers as we outlined with Patreon. This is becoming ever more popular with creators who want to have a more interactive relationship with their audiences. It also benefits both parties and consumers know that contributions they make are going directly to the content creator.

As digital assets and currencies powered by blockchains reach scale, the ease by which microtransactions can be facilitated between content creators and consumers grows. Attribution of content can be logged on chain and creators can be compensated each time their content is watched, listened to or shared.

Will we reach a tipping point where it makes it necessary for us to curate the information we consume so much that we will pay for it. Will we reach a tipping point when we realize the price we are paying for giving up all of our data to be inundated with advertisements online? There is certainly some time before this all plays out. It will be interesting to see how Web 3.0 develops and to what extent micro payments for interacting with others will be implemented.


How To Cultivate Your Own Creativity

We’ve all been there. Sitting down to write and staring at the blank screen. The words just won’t come. The endless distractions around the room. The boundless expanse of the world wide web to explore. But you just can’t find the nugget of an article you want to write.

The same can be said for most creative processes.

Don’t get me wrong, the creative process is by no means easy. Especially in a world of short attention spans and endless distractions. There are however, a few key things that come in handy when you want to get your creative juices flowing.

Ideas, especially for writing, can really come from anywhere.

1. Set aside time to think

We often spend so much time in action and reaction mode that we seldom take time to think.

“Setting aside time to think? — I cannot afford such luxuries”

But taking the time to think about ourselves, our place in the world and how we want to strategically move forward is a much too overlooked virtue.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln

When we rush into things, not only is it detrimental on a strategic level, it takes from us the ability to think and formulate our ideas and actions thoroughly. By continuously reacting to our environment throughout the day, we give little in the way of thought as to how we can proactively shape ideas that would otherwise never get prioritized.

This is why actually scheduling time to think can be so important. It can be as simple as sitting on your porch with a cup of coffee. You can take it to the next level by grabbing a pen and paper and doing some journaling of your thoughts. If you have some big ideas, you can even do a whole mind mapping session and create a list of action steps that you can take away and start working on. The intricacies of how you set it up are up to you. The important thing is that you set aside the time for it.

2. Observe, observe, observe

There are so many things that happen in the symphony that is our every day life. So much of it goes completely unnoticed by us. Think about all the conversations happening in a busy cafe, all of the characters you see on your commute to work, all of the food you eat in a day and where it originated from, heck, even that leaf blowing in the wind has a vast story behind its blossom and decay.

“The most dangerous person is the one who listens, thinks and observes.” — Bruce Lee

The point is that there is always so much going on in our immediate environment, that sometimes, we just need to stop and observe it all for a moment. You would be surprised with how many ideas can come to you from simply observing the goings around you. There really is a story in everything. You just need to tease it out a little.

3. What was the last thing someone asked for your help on?

Often times we don’t realise that the things that come most natural to us are our strengths and we take it for granted that everyone is not built the same.

Think about the last time someone asked you for help with something. Or the last time someone asked for your opinion on a certain topic. Why did they ask you and what was your response? Were you able to help them and what was the outcome. Was it because of your expertise in a certain field? Or was it simply that they just needed a hand… either way, thinking about what others seek you out for can be a great way to hone in on your own strengths and get your creative juices flowing.

4. Go for a walk

This is one of my favourite — and it is especially true if you have been cooped up inside for a few hours and have not gotten outside at all. Going out for a walk — or even a run if you are adventurous — is a great way to break the cycle of mental block.

There is so much that can be gleaned from nature and the people in the world around us that helps to ignite the creative flame. It can be as simple as a beautiful sunset or a walk in the hills that reminds us of life’s simple pleasures and draws out from us a yearning to create something ourselves.

5. Listen to some of your favourite music

There is something I have noticed lately when it comes to listening to my favourite music and artists. The more I listen to them, the more I resonate with their story and the creation process they have gone through in creating their music. I can feel the passion that has gone into putting a track or record together. I can pick up on the nuances of their own story and see how so much of that applies to my own life, and indeed the lives of us all.

While we are all so different and so unique, yet we all share the common story of our humanity. Music captures this so well and emulates the creative spirit in us all.


What does it take to be a writer? - Goals for 2020

What does it take to be a writer? This is the first in a new experiment of writing every day on Medium. I am not exactly sure where I intend this experiment to go, but I guess that is the beauty of it also.

I spent countless hours over this past weekend researching Medium writers, different topics, ‘how to’ guides and every other piece of knowledge that one should arm themselves with when setting out on a task like this.

One piece of advice stood out more than all else though.

Just Write — And hit Publish as often as possible.

I have written in the past; and I have even gotten into good writing habits before too, publishing on a semi regular basis. That writing was much more focused on a specific niche within the world of technology and did not lend itself to a wide audience. The goal of my writing in the past was in an effort to monetise the reader base as soon as possible around that particular niche. It was also at a point when I was between jobs and it was a good activity to keep me occupied and my mind focused on creating something on a daily basis.

Alas, this experiment is different, or so I’d like to think. I do intend to build up an audience over time, but consistency is the thing I want to stick to most. Putting pen to paper — finger to keyboard — each day and consistently hitting that ‘Publish’ button is what I want to get in the habit of doing.

To set up the experiment properly, I want to outline a few goals that I can refer back to at various stages throughout the year. My plan is to write and update every 90 days or so and refer back to my goals here for accountability.

1. Gain 5,000 followers on Medium by the end of 2020

This will be a challenge and will definitely require me to publish quality content on a regular basis. However, based on my research, it is definitely possible. I wanted to give myself a goal that is achievable, yet will require a great degree of effort.

2. Gain 5,000 followers on Twitter

I have become increasingly interested in Twitter in the past year and how it can be used to build a niche audience. I have seen many solopreneurs and writers leverage Twitter to amass followings of people who readily engage in their content and converse on the platform.

3. Build an email list of at least 2,000 subscribers

Building an email list is one of the tried and true means of capturing an audience that will stay with you for the long run. Aside from social media followings and audiences across various other platforms, your email list if your direct line to another human who can engage with you directly. The importance of a solid email list seems to be one of the foundational pillars for many solopreneurs, especially given the ever changing nature of social platform algorithms and reach on apps and sites.

4. Have 5,000 website visitors per month

This may not seem like a huge number but it works out to about 166 people per day visiting my website. Once again, consistency is the key. To get 5,000 people consistently visiting my site each month is the goal. This will require consistently publishing content in order to keep subscribers coming back for more.

As with so many other habits in life, momentum is the key. Getting into the routine of hitting that publish button on a daily basis is what I need to get in the flow of doing.


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