Changing Healthcare by Tying it Into the Social Fabric

My dad passed away on July 30th, 2015, at the relatively young age of 71. It’s a crushing loss, and there’s no way around that.

In 2005 he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. It is a rare thing to have that diagnosed and treated before it ruptures. And if/when they do rupture, they’re usually fatal – the body pumps all of its blood out into the body cavity before the person can even get into the OR.

So we all felt very lucky that my dad’s condition had been diagnosed and “treated.”

Reflecting on the 9 years after that have helped me to realize that “treatment” – as necessary as it was to save his life in that moment – is ultimately the thing that killed him.

Our healthcare system is episodic – it is based around the patient visiting the clinician or hospital (or the clinician visiting them), the patient being “treated,” and then being released back to their everyday lives.

The problem with that is that it ignores very fundamental and very well-understood aspects of individual behavior, and the determinants of individual behavior, many of which I’ve written about before on this blog.

The behavioral determinant that sticks out most to me is a person’s social network. “You are your five closest friends,” is the common way of putting it. Christakis and Fowler’s research made this readily apparent – that if you have a certain condition, there’s a VERY high likelihood that your three closest relations do as well, and vice versa.

In the minds of members of my family, my dad went into the hospital at various times, and then was released. And when he was released he was “better.” I think this feeling was true, to some degree, to my father as well.

And that wasn’t true only to our family – it was true to his caregivers. The healthcare system is structured in an episodic fashion. Healthcare groups will talk about “the continuum of care,” but when you drill down they say – “well, the person might come in for a checkup, or for an ER visit, or on an in-patient basis…and over the course of their life, maybe become enrolled in a long-term-care program or even hospice…”

In other words, everything is perceived as discrete, separate, “visits” or interactions with a patient, that are resolved (to some degree or other). The cycle continues.

For my dad, he had regular check-ups with his cardiologists (multiple) as well as with a GP, and a few other doctors. Of course, none of them really spoke to one another. And if my father’s health record was updated in one office, that didn’t mean that the other office received those updates automatically.

Over time, my dad’s health worsened…without his family really noticing it – at least, in a “the end is near” type of way.

You see, if someone has a major heart operation, and the cause is at least partially lifestyle-based, the lifestyle portion isn’t going to change just because they had an operation.

So my dad continued to exercise infrequently and sporadically. He continued to eat salty, fatty, non-nutrient-dense foods. And he continued to sit in a chair more and more frequently as time went by.

Writing that reminds me of the conversations he and I used to have about his health…where I would basically say “START DOING THE OPPOSITE OF THOSE THINGS.”

But I was being somewhat naive about human motivation, and very much had blinders on to the fact that my father’s health was continually degrading, bit by bit. Speaking with my family, I think we all were, to some degree. We were hypnotized by our cultural norm of healthcare – by the idea that when someone is not in a hospital they’re pretty much ok, and by the idea that it’s “normal” to go into a hospital or under care somewhat regularly (especially after a major operation). Neither of those things are true. Both need to be countered.

I think there is something that healthcare could do NOW, that could radically change all of this, and it doesn’t involve large monetary or work investments on their behalf. More than anything it involves creating some relationships, and a few new workflows. Here’s what I thought, and what I think that change would look like.

Thinking about my dad’s situation I thought – it would have been great if the surgical and post-op care team had asked my dad to list his five closest relations (“You are your five closest friends”) and then said “We would like to offer these people an opportunity to engage in your care.” I think he would have said “ok.”

The team could then have reached out to us and said “John has said that he’d like you to be part of his long-term care team. Would you like to participate, to help him after this surgery?” We all would have said “yes!”

Ideally his hospital-based care team would have gathered us in his room before he even left the hospital, to be briefed on his condition, the ramifications of that, and what we were going to do. I think it could have sounded something like this:

Due to combined genetic and lifestyle factors, John has experienced an aortic aneurysm, which has been repaired by replacing the aorta with a tube. When someone has an operation like this, barring other incidents, they can still live out a full lifespan – let’s say to 85 years of happy and healthy life. But only if John exercises moderately every day, eats a healthy diet, and engages in healthy social activity.
Take away any of those factors, and we can shave 5 years off of John’s lifespan. Not exercising OR eating right OR engaging in a healthy social life – he’ll die at 80. Combine two and that becomes 75. All three, and he’ll likely die at 70.
You five people, the extended care team (ECT) will be notified of ongoing health check-ups and events. We’ll create an ECT Facebook page, where you all can check in and share information as a group and with John, and where we, the hospital care team, can share information and recommendations with you. For instance, on a weekly basis we’ll reach out to see who wants to cook John a healthy dinner that week, or go on a long walk with him, or we might just check in to see what types of fun social engagements have been going on.
We will prescribe John with a bluetooth scale, and blood pressure cuff, so that we can track his weight and blood pressure every day, just to watch out for trouble before it happens.
John will never be 100% healthy again – it’s important to remember that – but he can still enjoy a healthy and rich life.
Finally, there are a few very specific things that John can or can’t do as result of this surgery – e.g. he should not lift anything over 25 pounds from now on…etc.

The healthcare system could easily build or buy a care coordination package that captures and analyzes information from bluetooth health devices, assigning that info to the individual’s care team.

In the end, this type of thing would close the loop between healthcare systems and their episodic care model, and social networks – creating a true continuum of true care.

Even if it wouldn’t have added any years to my father’s life, it would have brought us all a little bit closer together in his care.


What is a symbol?

Reading “The Forest of Symbols” by Victor Turner, I began to ask this question.

Turner goes into decent depth and explores other anthropological and sociological views of symbols (from his era).

Then he defines some of the symbol-cases he found in Ndembu ritual.

But throughout I was dissatisfied with the outcome.

I’m not current on academic or pedagogical views on symbols. My feeling is that Turner’s ideas are outdated.

Categorizing symbols to me seems to be (merely) a reflection of the viewer’s concepts of what symbols are and which categories are important. We can learn more about Turner from his view of symbols than we can about the Ndembu ritual. In fact, we have to sift through/past his interpretations to try to see the ritual.

So what is a symbol?

After reading and digesting a bit, it occurred to me that a good definition of a symbol could be:

The currency of representation.

I.e., within representational framework, a given symbol is a locus or nexus, a gravity-point, where representational value accumulates or “condenses.”

Chew on it.

Probiotics, metabolism, weight loss, natural method

Thanks to my good friend Tim Sinnett for sending this article along:

They Dictate What You Like, They Dictate What You Crave and They May Even Determine Whether You’re Lean or Fat: The Bacteria in the Gut – The Latest Evidence Reviewed

My response to the article is that…he almost goes far enough! But stops just short…why?

There is no part that is separate from the rest. This author gets this fact (his last sentence points it out explicitly). But what are we gaining from this information? Is it making things clearer, or more cloudy?

I’ve been interested in metabolism recently. And there seems to be confusion around the definition of the term. By definition, metabolism is the measurement of the net chemical exchanges that happen within the body. That is, metabolism is the measurement of a RESULT (or effect). Metabolism isn’t a CAUSE of anything.

It’s mistaken logic to say someone is lean because they have a “high metabolism.” Actually, metabolic rates tend to be roughly the same for human animals once you adjust for lean body mass (LBM) (

Homeostasis keeps metabolic processes within narrow limits. Human animals have very narrow windows of operation – temperature range, O2 sat, etc.

Leaner people can present higher metabolisms than the average. But you can be fat and have a high metabolism. You can be lean and have a low metabolism. They aren’t causatively linked. And intentionally altering metabolism is notoriously difficult (because all of the pathways feed into and out from one another). Doing so permanently is seen as basically impossible.

The papers I’ve read on weight-loss via metabolic influence say that Resting Metabolic Rate isn’t important. The reflection of metabolic rate on LBM is less a question of a high or low metabolic rate for an individual and more a question of metabolic flux – i.e., the size of the disparity between metabolic rates in an individual over time. People with higher metabolic flux tend to be leaner (sound similar to the HRV argument? – people with greater HRV have healthier hearts).

But what does a high metabolic flux point to? It points to someone disrupting homeostasis drastically on a recurring basis over time. It could point to someone who is very active, and then rests a lot. Who eats very little, and then who eats a lot. Or both. (BTW, along similar lines, eating itself is seen as a metabolic stress event, and people who eat a lot have higher RMR’s than people who eat very little.)

So can we get rid of the metabolism debate regarding obesity or leanness?

The gut microbiome as causative is similarly problematic, as the author’s final chart points out.

Just as the microbiome can potentially influence “production of toxins that alter mood…, changes to receptors including taste receptors, and hijacking of neurotransmission via the vagus nerve” there are many other factors that can influence those same pathways, and there are many other pathways that can impact cravings and leanness.

There’s also the time/inertial aspect of all of this…if your early childhood microbiome disruption due to antibiotics has predisposed you to obesity, and you have (literally and figuratively) “fed” into that predisposition over the last 30+ years, how do you shift all of the systems that have arranged themselves around that microbiome (let alone shift that microbiome itself – which isn’t as simple as “take good probiotics”)?

And then there’s the environment. Environmental information is as much a part of the system as any “metabolic” (energy) process internal to the system. Food, oxygen, and sunlight are major effectors that come into the system from the environment that become “endogenous” and get counted as part of “metabolism.” In human beings, visual and tactile information can have a massive effect as well (seeing pictures of trees, or looking out a window at nature can lower cortisol levels).

But what about while they’re still external to the body? They don’t count then? The microbiome is an interesting case in point in the attempt to measure human wellbeing, since it technically resides outside the body (like food, sunlight, oxygen, and visual/tactile information), but has a drastic effect on the internal metabolic reactions (by synthesizing vitamins, etc.). Is that so different from the effects of sun, oxygen, food, and visual/tactile information?

And then there’s the mind. An ancient Chinese saying goes like this – Blood follows Qi, Qi follows Yi.

The Yi is mind/intent. The mind can alter certain biochemical pathways independently of any other inputs. Those pathways alter the flow of movement (Qi), which alters the flow of blood.

What’s the process for change? Adaptation is the new set-point of homeostasis based on system-change due to reactions to repeated (or never-ending) disruptions.

Adaptiveness is the capacity for adaptation of the organism (how well it can adapt). This is a trained ability too, that I would say is related to metabolic inertia. Someone with a higher metabolic flux over time potentially has a better trained adaptiveness than someone with lower metabolic flux. They’ve taught their body how to do adaptation.

Following Fukuoka, and anyone who follows a “natural method,” the first step to change always is – take things away.

Remove as much as you can so the system can return to normal…then let it return to normal. Let homeostatis return to normal.

Remove non-local foods, remove caffeine, remove excessive exercise (or lounging), remove thought/judgement, etc.

This cultural prejudice is the hardest thing for us to overcome. We feel like something always needs to be DONE in order to “fix” things. But the first best thing is often – do nothing. (BTW, I’m not talking about life-threatening illness or injury here).

Let the system return to normal over a long period of time. Facilitate that return if necessary (and it may be necessary), using clean water, vitamins, minerals, sun-baths, cold-water exposure, massage, etc.

Observe the process and let it be the leader. Let the process control what happens next. Your mantra is “Teach Me.”

Once “normalized” (i.e., removed from non-natural influence) for long enough, seek to facilitate the natural aspects you want to encourage.

On a personal note, my long-standing relationship with Exuberant Animal has been about this process. But play became “played” for me after Exuberant Animal became a podium for (pseudo) public-health debates and paleo-diet/fitness rants, rather than simply being a way to facilitate the best aspects of human Being. I think Frank’s message became distorted by the cultural lens. People have a hard time playing, for much the same reason that they have a hard time not eating junk food.

Good “Sales” is Mature Relating

For those who don’t know, I have an extensive background in all types of sales – everything from small transactional sales, to large complex enterprise solutions selling; from face-to-face person-to-person sales, to large-group business-to-business sales. I also have a deep interest in sales, selling, and the sales process. I currently work as a “territory manager” – a sales representative responsible for growing the business of the company I work for within my defined territory (geographical area).

I went down the sales career path may years ago after reading Robert Kiyosaki’s book “Rich Dad Poor Dad.” Somewhere in that book he remarks that everyone should be a waiter at some point, and should be a sales representative (rep) at some point. His reasoning was that waiting tables teaches you to serve other people, and being a sales rep teaches you how to sell things (serving in a different way) – a skill that is critical to any and every type of business. I agree with Kiyosaki. Those experiences will enrich anyone’s appreciation of business and of life in general.

I agree completely. The sales path has brought me a much richer appreciation for life, and taught me so much about human relationships that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I’m constantly enriched on this path.

I’ve been trained in and used multiple sales methodologies. Some of them have been incredibly complex, others very simple. Interestingly, the “simplest” methods have had the longest training durations (one was 2 weeks long), and some of the most complex methodologies have had trainings consisting of literally one day.

I realized a few weeks back that business processes are similar to any other type of relationship process. The thought struck me while watching one of Eben Pagan’s videos.

Pagan started out as a dating coach (David DeAngelo), and his product’s tagline was “Attraction Is Not A Choice.” Pagan meant by this that attraction is a complex reaction to multiple cues all happening on subconscious levels. Attempting to attract a particular individual who isn’t already interested in you on some level is relatively futile. Their gut-level feeling about you is made up well before you even say a word to them. We reference this same basic truth whenever we talk about “first impressions.”

Watching one of Pagan’s online videos I realized that, in the same sense, ideally, “Buying Is Not A Choice.” His point in the particular video was that a business should ideally create a product and message that are simply irresistible to the customer – that give the customer what they already want.

Why? For most people, buying things is also largely a reflex-reaction. Even for people who say they have very good “reasons” for buying something – those “reasons” (like most) are usually made up after they’d already decided to buy, or actually already purchased the item.

I had the opportunity to watch quite a few of Pagan’s dating materials back in the day, and his philosophy of relationships culminates in a simple message – become who you are.


Because you will only ever attract people (reflexively) who are already attracted to you – how you look now, how you act now. And because you can never escape who you really are at your core, regardless of how many tricks you can use to get dates, or talk to potential romantic partners. The only way you’ll ultimately be happy is by becoming/being an authentic individual.

In my graduate research I studied human motor, emotional, social, and evolutionary development extensively.

The crux of being a living organism is the process of relating. Hence Aristotle’s saying – “Man is by nature a social animal.” Whether we admit it or not, we relate constantly with everything around us.

The development of that relating is relatively fixed in certain ways. We have developmental milestones for certain motor capacities, and for certain relational capacities too.

As infants, we relate in a reflexive way, with little sense of the separation between ourselves and the outside world (in the womb, we are very barely separate from the “outside” world).

As we grow, we begin to define our “selves” more and more, based on our natural predispositions (“nature”), and our interactions with/in the environment (“nurture”).

Ideally we mature into adults who recognize their own unique “self” and the existence of other “selves” to which we relate. And all of that happens within our environment – physical, social, and cultural.

The step of mature adulthood isn’t necessary. People can continue their entire lives with a relatively adolescent view of themselves and their relation to other things.

Fulfilled adults creatively relate with external “objects” in order to expand their sense (sensation) of themselves. Relationships become deep and meaningful as the adult is able to relate from an increasingly solid, and yet flexible, base of personal identity.

Mature adults who regularly act from the base of their personal values, through boundaries built on those values, are said to have “integrity.”

Self-Secure, But Immature
It’s important to understand that someone can have strong values and strong personal boundaries, and still not respect other people and their values, boundaries, and process.

This type of person is “self-secure, but immature.” These folks usually only listen to and talk about (or talk to) what they’re interested in. If they display interest in the other person, it’s only to find ways to assert their own agenda more fully.

Before I translate how all of this applies to sales, let’s define what “sales” is.

Most of the books on sales offer “tricks” to help a rep to sell more. Most of them identify sales as a series of techniques or activities that one does daily – prospect, qualify, present, close.

But I don’t think those are what “sales” is. At it’s most basic:

Sales is the act (or trans-action) of trading one thing of value for something perceived to be of the same (or greater) value.

That is the act of a “sale.”

So the “sales process” is everything leading up to that moment…to the actual sale-act – also called the “close,” when the relationship-dynamic achieves closure.

Looking at it this way, everything a company does is part of the “sales process.” The sales person is the one who completes that final transaction.

In some corporate cultures, this type of understanding results in a very negative view of salespeople and their role in the company. The sales rep is seen as a mere middle-man who gets a lot of glory for closing a “simple” transaction.

In other cultures, the sales rep respected and is seen as the orchestrator of corporate communication with the customer, and as the culminating link in the chain – a critical member in the relationship with the customer.

(Similarly, sales reps can see themselves either as the most important piece of the company, or as mere order-takers.)

Most of the perception of the sales rep in any given company will have to do with the way the company is structured, and the way the CEO or executive leadership view the role of the salesperson.

The Company
A corporation is technically defined as an individual. Strangely, we don’t apply what we know about individuals to corporations, except to call them psycho- or socio-pathic, which isn’t fair, since many corporations are neither of those things.

What does a company do? It creates a product that fills a (perceived) need in the world, and communicates that product to people so they know that it is available and that it best meets their need.

In commercial capitalism, companies compete with one another for market share. They compete based on things like quality, price, etc. “Marketing” is the process of communicating those differentiating factors in a way that attracts more customers to your product or company.

What is the first most important aspect of a company?

Know (And Respect) Thyself
Though some people would say the first most important thing is to know your market, your product, or your customer, I would disagree. While you have to fill a need in order to be a company, how you fill that need is what will distinguish you from every other company in your market.

What are your values? What is your mission? What need is the company helping to solve?

The last sentence above is the most accurate statement about a company. This is where companies and individuals diverge somewhat (at least in my opinion). I do not see human beings as things that need to be “useful” in any particular way, or that fill some “need” necessarily. That is a human metaphysical definition of the meaning of existence.

But companies are human constructs, and only exist within the human-construct-world. So for a company, there is a definite need that it fulfills in that world.

What is it? Without that base level knowledge, you are lost.

I would add that the first question is equally as important to an individual. Who are you? What are your values?

The creation of this results in personal boundaries – the places you will or will not go based on your values.

The definition of values (even if they aren’t articulated) and the creation of strong personal boundaries is what defines mature adulthood, and what enables mature relating, as mentioned above.

Know (And Respect) The Other
Mature relating means understanding that other individuals have their own subjective experience that is as meaningful to them as your subjective experience is to you. Communication happens from this fundamental understanding, and a respect for the other person’s views and process.

In business, the better you know your customer, the better you’ll be able to serve their needs.

Pagan takes this a step further, suggesting that a company should understand the aspects of the customer’s need that the customer themselves can’t articulate. That would represent a very very deep understanding of the customer. Pagan calls this “creating value” for the customer.

Hopefully, that would occur within an ongoing relationship – a process of relating.

The “marketing” process, then, is one of relating to and with your customer.

“Sales” is the act of bringing some aspect of that relationship to closure. It can mean that the relationship is essentially terminated (barring some product defect or customer service need). But it can also mean that just one piece of the relationship achieves closure, and the relationship continues on another level from that point forward.

The Sales Process
So the sales process is the entire chain of events that leads to the final transaction (the sale).

Within that, every piece of the company is focused on the customer and their needs, as they relate to/with the boundaries of the company.

Sound like a relationship?

Mature processes result in long-term relationships that grow over time. Immature processes result in feelings getting hurt.

Companies that just focus on one aspect of the customer are like people who focus on just one thing from a prospective romantic partner.

As long as its out in the open, and both people are looking for the same thing, that can definitely be mature relating. Boundaries are clear, and are being clearly communicated.

But more often, one person doesn’t necessarily have clear boundaries, and the other person does. And/or one or another person doesn’t clearly communicate their boundaries around the relating process. Feelings get hurt.

This also goes to the way that one identifies prospective customers (“prospects”).

There are three ways that make “prospecting” easier. 1. Find people who have a common goal to yours (or your company’s) or who are in alignment with you (or your company). 2. Find people who desire to have your products…really, who desire to have what your products offer (that is, it may not be the product in itself that the person is really interested in, it may be what they get from/by having that product). 3. Find people who already have your products and like them, and ask them to help you create relationships with other people like them (“referrals”).

But again, all of those activities come from a deep knowledge of yourself/company and what precisely you are offering and how that fills a need they might have.

Sales Tricks
A lot of this discussion comes from reflecting on various sales tricks that I was taught over the years, and from reflecting on human social-evolutionary psychology as it relates to marketing, advertising, and propaganda.

Many of the tricks are psychological warfare, that will result in a sale, but may not result in the best long-term relationship, and definitely don’t reflect well on the values of the salesperson.

What I realized is that many of these “tricks” are simply examples of mature relating, that have been taken out of the context of maturity, and turned into selling tools.

That is, at base, most “sales tricks” are examples of what happens when the salesperson has solid personal boundaries. “The Takeaway” is an example.

The takeaway happens at the end of a sale when a customer is being slow to be decisive and purchase the product. The salesperson removes the offer from the table, saying “I’m gathering that you aren’t ready to make a decision. We will have to start from scratch some other time.”

Often this trick is used at the end of a lengthy discussion where a lot of evidence has been offered about the effectiveness of the solution. The promise from the people who profess this trick is that the customer will react and choose to purchase immediately.

It works sometimes. But why does it work?

We can look at it from a very manipulative standpoint – that you’re leveraging fear and scarcity reactions in the person to get them to make a sudden decision.

But a mature salesperson does this process for a very different reason. They will do “the takeaway” for two reasons. First because they feel that the other person truly isn’t ready to make a decision at that point in time (for whatever reason). And second, they’ll do it because they need to respect their own personal boundaries – their own effort and time. As a sales person, they have to make sales transactions. Spending an inordinate amount of time on a sale with someone who can’t make up their mind is not productive. It is also out of respect for the time of the customer. Taking up more of their time is non-productive form them as well.

There can be multiple reasons, too, why a customer will buy at this point in the discussion. There may be some people who react to fear and scarcity, or rejection – people who have a reflex response to the deal being removed. Some may respond because they’ve spent so much time on the deal up to this point, and don’t want to lose that time or effort. Others may respond because they were testing the sales person, and respect the salesperson’s strong personal boundaries – their respect both for the customer and for themselves.

In any regard, this behavior likely was observed in sales reps who had very high sales. They probably were people with very strong personal values and boundaries, who had very clear ideas about their company’s mission and how they serve their customers.

These “tactics” were then isolated from the activities of these mature individuals, and turned into sales tools or tricks.

But minus the mature relating capacity, these tricks usually don’t work well (for either party), nor do their effects last very long.

Sales Activities
As I mentioned above, sales reps are also usually expected to have certain levels of activity in certain areas. Most companies and/or sales methodologies will suggest daily minimums for activity like:
20 outbound calls.
2 in-person visits.
X number of new contacts.
Update CRM and forecasting software.

And general guidelines like:
Always ask for referrals
Collaborate with internal resources, and channel/other partners.
Check internal systems for order holds.

Sales reps will also be tasked with managing their sales opportunities (pipeline) in certain ways, such as:
Pipeline = X% above quota.
Opportunity name format.
Linking opportunities to campaigns.
Listing top 5 deals and their status (% to close).
Presenting territory overview and plan on a regular basis to upper management.

Nice, But Not Enough
These activities are nice, as they can be tracked and managed to. In the same way, sales methodologies are nice because they offer a solid framework that the rep can work from, giving them a chance to test their activity against the framework and adjust as needed.

But, just as with the sales tricks, the data points for Sales Activities seem like they were derived from companies or research groups looking at successful sales reps, extracting what looked to be the “key activities” that were making them successful or leading to their successes, and codifying them.

What gets lost is what drove those activities to begin with – that those salespeople were mature adults, relating deeply with their customers from a solid base of personal and company values (that often were felt to be deeply aligned).

Those individuals were responsible for their lives. They owned responsibility for the things they engaged in and with. For them, you couldn’t do business if you didn’t know your customer deeply. You couldn’t be responsible if you didn’t understand how many deals were in your pipeline and how much money that represented relative to your goal. You wouldn’t sell a product if you weren’t aligned with the company on a fundamental level (and vice versa).

What Changed?
After this realization comes the question – what happened?

This process looks like so many others in our culture in the past century. We as a technological society have gone down the path further and further of extracting data points from larger processes in order to find the “essence” of things – to improve efficiency or effectiveness.

In all of these instances, the underlying cause is lost. In the 1940’s and ’50’s, researchers started to try to solve this problem by creating the field of “systems thinking.” Systems approaches attempted to view the individual pieces of processes in a larger context. Some of these are somewhat successful, and some fail just as miserably as the isolated perspectives they attempted to enrich.

It’s interesting to note how this affected companies and their sales teams. I’ve read several accounts of how companies, up until the late 1970’s, would invest a lot of money in the training and development of their sales reps. They would attend several trainings per year, on different aspects of business and sales, all sponsored by the company.

Corporate allegiance to employees (and vice versa) has waned over the years, and so has investment in the education of the employee. Some companies are starting programs to remedy this situation, but the “free agent” model is pretty much the status quo nowadays in all areas of our culture. It’s hard to invest in something that might up and leave you any minute.

Business itself has changed as well. Many companies are competing in a sea of similar businesses, with similar products. Differentiation is harder and harder, and trying to reach customers is as well. Everyone has their message everywhere. In this way, business has appeared to become more transactional over the past 50 years. In reality, the same processes have been happening all the time. The pathways are (or appear to be) slightly different, but the processes are the same.

In addition to all of those factors, the individual has changed. People now seem to be less interested in owning responsibility for their lives (including their relatives, their communities, their nation) than people their age were 50 or 100 years ago. And work has become “just work” – just a way to pay the bills. As little as people are connected to their values and boundaries, they are similarly disconnected from aligning those values with their work. I know some readers will balk at this statement. It is hard because our culture has drifted away from creating self- and other-responsible citizens. But it isn’t impossible, and it is the best thing you can do. Read any self-help book…”Follow your bliss.”

First Principles
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think of all this, and share with your friends.

I have to end this post with a practice. It’s something I did naturally (reflexively) for a long time, but didn’t do it all the time, and didn’t do it with any sort of structure until recently.

Internal-development wise (i.e., without speaking about relationships, etc.), beyond constantly working on the process of becoming a mature adult, this is the practice that has most enriched my life in the past few years. I call it “First Principles.”

The First Principles practice can be summed up in one question:

“What is the root of this thing that I am engaging with?”

Don’t be satisfied with the first answer you come to. Instead, keep asking – “Is this the root?” This practice will eventually lead you to causes, rather than symptoms. Or it will lead you to an acceptance of what you can’t know. Admit when you can’t know.

Yes, creepy. But extremely insightful. Observe how Lecter refuses to be satisfied with superficial (though very important) details of the personality of “Buffalo Bill.”

Elon Musk (of Tesla Motors) has his own version (which I just found, looking for the above clip!):

Ask other people to help you to answer the question. Interact with them on that level. In general – seek out the source of your experience of life.

And of course – always work on the process of being a mature adult, relating with others on their terms, from the basis of your own well-defined values and personal boundaries. Be flexible and creative in your approach to yourself and your interaction with the outside world. Be responsible for yourself and your world. Own your life and the things you engage in. Dig deep.

Then “magic” will happen all on its own…

How to Present Your (self, business, etc.)

I had a great conversation with a good friend of mine today about his business planning. After he told me I was flying in the face of all conventional wisdom, I figured I should post this information.

He’s going into business for himself in an expertise-driven market that is somewhat saturated (particularly in his geographical area). He’s listened to all of the business and marketing gurus – Seth Godin, Marie Forleio, etc.

Today I told him why I feel like some of those gurus miss the boat sometimes – their messages frequently are both too general and too specific.

Where Will Your Brand Be on the Value-Line?
My friend drew an axis on a piece of paper with money on X and Easy/Hard on Y and said, if you were going into my industry, where would you place your product on this graph?

My first response was – that’s not enough information.

First of all, there is another line on that graph, a Z-axis, that I’d label “Perceived Quality,” that would be Low-to-High.

Secondly, in any market there is the larger market ecology to consider. Where do you locate or position yourself within the WHOLE marketplace for your industry or offering? That has a lot to do with your offering as well.

As a for-instance – within the commercial jet market, I can be a passenger-jet manufacturer, or I can be a private-jet manufacturer. The markets are still “passenger jets,” and are linked through similar market factors, but the decisions within each are drastically different.

My first question to my friend was – Where does value reside?

Can you figure it out?

Looking at the graph we’d drawn, he was a little trapped by the graph. But he’s a smart guy, and answered outside of that paradigm. His answer was still slightly misplaced.

Where does value reside? I’ll tell you.

It resides in the head of the customer.

There are so many examples of this it’s redundant to state one, but I’ll give one.

A friend of mine bought a Breitling watch for himself. They generally start around the $1500 mark – a hefty investment for a wristwatch.

A couple of weeks after he got it, I noticed he wasn’t wearing it. “Where’s the Breitling,” I asked? “The second-hand fell off,” he said, “it’s in the shop.”

A few weeks later he had it back on, but then a month after that it was gone again. “Stopped working. They’re going to try to fix it. If they can’t they’ll give me a new one.”

For him, the value of the Breitling name on his wrist was worth the hassle. But that value wasn’t in the “quality,” of the watch. And it wasn’t in the price (very expensive). It was in his head.

Let Go Of The Desire For Control
Much of “niche” marketing seeks to control who your customer will be, or who your product will appeal to.

This type of thinking is very “forward” in the niche-marketing industry, but it is completely backward in terms of actual behavior.

A business can be likened to a person.

A person has something called “personal values,” that create “personal boundaries.” Those boundaries interact with other people’s boundaries.

Strong personal boundaries come from a practice of acting based on your values. That is called “integrity” – a solid structure that cannot easily be compromised.

People with similar personal values (and similar boundaries) will naturally be drawn to one another. They’ll resonate very highly. The individuals are “aligned” well with one another.

Individuals with different values and boundaries will not interact as well with one another. The visual I have is similar to the proteins on a cell-wall. Complementary proteins interact with one another. Proteins that don’t fit, reject the other.

A company is similar. A company is built upon a set of values. Simon Sinek calls it the company’s “Why.” The company executes those values through their own “How.”

How well a company executes on its values can be called its integrity.

Individuals or companies who are aligned with that company’s values will “click” with it. In many ways, the better a company can express its “why,” the more a customer will be “sold” before they even encounter the company.

In personal-relations terms, that means the place where your personal boundaries are so strong (your personal integrity is so good) that you aren’t worried about expressing your deepest personal values.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you go around telling everyone what those are all the time. It just means that you have let go of attempting to control what others think of you or how they see you. You simply act from the basis of your personal values.

That place is very SIMPLE to act from, but not at all EASY. It isn’t easy because most people want to be liked by everyone. So they’ll fake their boundary in order to look good to the people around them.

Let Your Customer Decide If They Want You
Traditional marketing says that you should tell your customer all that you’re about. Full-disclosure. Tell them about your product and your values. Give them all of this front-loaded information.

How does that work in interpersonal relationships? Ever tried it? Ever gone on a first date and barfed your personal history all over the other person?

Just imagine someone doing it to you? How would it feel?

You might feel a little awkward…a little overwhelmed. You might feel embarrassed. You might feel disgusted. You might wonder why they’re telling you all of this so soon.

You might also wonder why the person wouldn’t just let their personal values show through their actions. If they really are their values, why do they have to explicitly state them?

In any case, the barf-er will come across as trying to overwhelm and/or control the other person (passively or not).

A better way is called “progressive disclosure” – let things come out as they do, naturally. Let things develop naturally.

Present yourself or your brand as it is, as fully as possible, in every venue where it is appropriate. Speak from your personal/company values. And if you do, the people/customers in alignment with you will connect and want more of what you are offering.

Two Ears, One Mouth
This is a common phrase in the sales-world – You were born with two ears and one mouth.

In other words, spend twice as much time listening as you do talking…at least.

I’m not sure why this practice isn’t more common, but I’ll talk about possible reasons in the last section.


Shut up and listen.

What’s important to them? What do they want/like/do? Why?

Listen not to gain some weird controlling-insight into their nature, but simply to understand them better so you know what you and they have in common. So you know what you can offer or how you can help (“add value” to) one another.

In the final analysis, do this so you can RELATE with them better.

Relating is what it’s all about.

Let Go of Things
It seems like a natural human tendency constantly to want to add things – complexity, data, systems, elements, whatever.

I’m not sure why that is, but I will tell you this – if you can reverse that tendency in yourself (not just stop it, but actually reverse it) you will be way better off than before.

And I will suggest this – if you can INVERT that process in yourself, you will be exponentially better off.

I got good advice at one point, that I continue to practice very year, which helps to concretely exemplify this point. The advice was – “Get rid of 80% of your belongings.”

Yes, it seems excessive, and after years of following this practice, the number of things I have to get rid of is extremely low. But it has freed up my thinking, and given me an interesting perspective on things (literally and figuratively).

The same applies for all of those other “things” – the intangible ones – control, thinking/thoughts, ideas, systems, data, etc. Get rid of 80%.

The other piece of advice that came with that is a piece that I don’t entirely follow all the time – that among that 80% should be THE ONE THING YOU VALUE THE MOST.

Hard to do…

Many people want to “change the world,” but they usually end up doing so within the same paradigms that created that world to begin with. Their “change” ends up being relatively superficial, surface-bound.

Things that are completely new or uncommon are usually rejected, but with persistence and effective relating over time, they become the things that are “mainstream” 10, 20, or 50 years later.

Focus your perspective here…

I look forward to meeting you!