A Book Review: Alive and Bold

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. —Howard Thurman

Part of what makes achieving Jailbreak difficult—mentally—is finding the necessary imagination to envision a world different than the one that we already know.  I’m not talking about John Lennon’s Imagine-style fantasizing about a universe made in our own image.  But I am talking about the ability to imagine, at the very least, that our own lives could be different than what they are.  This must always be the starting point for anyone who, as Steve Jobs liked to say, puts a “dent in the world.”  For nobody ever put a dent in the world by plodding the same well-worn paths that they have been tracing for years.  Not even Steve Jobs, whose roller-coaster life can be described as anything but stable.  (I have, incidentally, enjoyed his biography by Walter Isaacson so much that I’ve read it twice.)

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World
Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World

I am not one for business or management books.  I read a few earlier in my career, and I learned something from each; and I would highly recommend a number of them to anyone who enjoys business and management.  I enjoy some aspects of business, but not management.  I do, however, love mental jailbreak.  So when I heard about Peter Diamandis’ new book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, I figured I should give it a try.  I even paused my most recent Nobel Laureate reading to take it in.  And I am glad I did!

Bold is divided into three sections, and the first two of those sections are essential reading for those anyone who values the ability to think differently, and who is into technology.  Diamandis, after all, is a part of the Silicon Valley establishment that has been asking us all to “Think Different” for the last half-century.  But I think that the first two sections of the book will also be of great value to artists, musicians, novelists, craftsmen: anyone who needs to both be able to focus intently on accomplishing goals and to back up and set goals in a larger strategic context.  And looking at life from a large perspective—and then executing on what you see—is the essence of jailbreak.

Consider the following meta-quote (a quote of a quote), which is originally from a book called Drive by Daniel Pink:

The science shows that…typical twentieth-century carrot-and-stick motivators—things we consider somehow a “natural” part of human enterprise—can sometimes work.  But they’re effective in only a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.  The science shows that “if-then” rewards…are not only ineffective in many situations, but can also crush the high-level, creative, conceptual abilities that are central to current and future economic and social progress.  The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive (our survival needs) or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to fill our life with purpose.

Right?  Right??  Who among us has experienced the motivation that comes from getting a new job making more money than we ever have before…and then discovering that a few years down the line the money, and raises, are no longer motivating?  The vast business literature out there will attest that monetary rewards are not the best way to motivate people past a certain point.  An individual’s progress climbing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs dictates that he will desire something more after his physiological and safety needs are met—he will desire self-actualization, the ability to direct his own life, and fill it with purpose.  Pre-jailbreak, one may not be able to see how to take control of his life; or if he can see it, may not be able to walk the path to gaining control.  Perhaps it is a mental block; perhaps it is a financial or family constraint; perhaps the cultural role he is expected to fulfill won’t allow it.  But making the most out of the short life that we all share in this world requires that we figure out what it means to direct our own lives, find and fulfill our purpose, and be the best human beings we can be.  And the quote by Howard Thurman at the beginning of this post suggests a strategy for doing it.  Find what motivates you—and then LET IT MOTIVATE YOU!*

Gartner Hype Cycle Indicators
Gartner Hype Cycle Indicators

But back to Bold.  Part I is all about exponential trends in digital technology (Moore’s Law and all the disruption to industries that it has created).  This should be very interesting to all comers, because it is ultimately about the evolution of the toolset that we all use, no matter what our field of interest.  Computers, cameras, machine shops, artificial intelligence, biology and medicine, space flight—it’s all there.  Engineers will engineer faster.  Photographers will create more spectacular shots and share their work more easily than ever.  Toy makers will find new niches that let them make a living out of their passion.  And the hype cycle—which, yes, has a lot to do with the progress of technology but is a common trajectory followed by many experiences in life—is a paen to the victory of perseverance.  One does not Jailbreak in a day.

Part II contains three sequences—two practical, one inspirational—that should be very useful to the aspiring Jailbreaker.  The first is an examination of flow, the mental state in which super-productivity or super-achievement is possible.  Think of the last time you read a book, did homework, wrote something, or had a fantastic conversation and time flew by without your realizing it.  Perhaps you had been struggling with writer’s block for days, only to find that everything came out all at once in an amazing stream of awesome.  Or you’d been colliding with a persistent problem with a co-worker or friend forever, and one conversation—suddenly and unexpectedly open, honest, and intimate—brought the complication to a close.  It turns out there are identifiable creative, social, and psychological triggers that let one get into such flow states; and through practice, one can engineer the right circumstances to enable such super-productivity predictably.  Whatever it is that you need to do achieve Jailbreak—and whatever you will do when you get there—finding flow will make it happen.

The second sequence in Part II is a discussion of credibility, and the need to be credible to make any of your plans happen.  Diamandis means this in a business or social context, but I believe that credibility is equally important in personal endeavors.  First, you need self-credibility: do you really believe that what you are trying to accomplish is possible?  If you don’t, no one else will—and it won’t be possible.  So do your homework.  Is your goal financial freedom?  Do some math and convince yourself that the numbers work.  Do you want to jump careers?  Find examples of people who have done similar things, and study their successes.  Want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for months on end?  Best to start with some small overnight trips so you know what you’re getting into.  And the amazing thing is: once you convince yourself, you have most of what you need to make your goals seem credible to others—any others who might matter.  Spouse, friends, parents, bosses.  Bold has some specific suggestions for winning over skeptics: build a crowd of believers, starting with those close to you who are well-respected enough to lend weight to your arguments; take it slowly (again with perseverance); and think carefully about how you present the message.  I loved his use of the old story Stone Soup as an illustration.

And the third sequence is the recounting of the life stories of people like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and others who have changed the world for the better, starting out with little more than their own force of will.  The Steve Jobs “Reality Distortion Field” is very much in evidence.

Part III is much more focused on entrepreneurs and those trying to accomplish something very large in the business or social sphere.  It isn’t so important to those who are trying to think big in the context of their own lives, as they do when Plotting for Jailbreak.  Many of the suggestions there may be obsolete in a few years’ time. But if you do read the book, be curious and flip through it; you never know what you may be inspired to find.

Jailbreak is a bold philosophy.  It is easy to accept life the way you found it, to listen to the majority, to plod step-by-step on a path that keeps you going to you-know-not-where (the “culture”).  It is equally easy, and lazy, to assume that the opinions of the majority are always wrong, that you must rebel against your upbringing, and that most people are mindless sheep (the “counterculture”).  The truth lies between these extremes, and it is not easy to find.  Those who dare to make themselves better, who balance on the narrow way between blind faith and arrogant pride, must be bold.  And if it sounds like this book could help you develop a bold mindset, it is worth a read.

*I believe that Jailbreak is never accomplished by running away from life, abandoning responsibilities, or selfish grasping.  Those who take that route to self-actualization usually find that they have hollowed out the middle of Maslow’s Hierarchy—that is, they’ve given up on love and belonging, and on self-esteem and the esteem of others.  The driven career professional reaches his pinnacle with a divorce (or two) under his belt.  Regret catches up with the father who has abandoned his children.  And our favorite Christmas villain Scrooge (and his counterparts in reality) amass enormous wealth and have not a friend to show for it.  No, this method of trying to accomplish Jailbreak is just a prison transfer—one jail to another.  True jailbreak is accomplished by showing up for life, making the right decisions, and becoming better day after day.

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