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These Five Principles Will Help You Navigate the Chaotic Future
I gave a live talk today and condensed an awful lot into five minutes. Watch that first, I’m on for about the last ten minutes.
Now, allow me to expand a little on the principles I covered in the talk, and give you some useful references. This is targeted mainly at youngsters, like the kid I was, the chippy, sarcastic, flippant kid, who if he’d had the right guidance, might have made fewer mistakes and enjoyed my life even more than I have.
In 1982, I started bunking off from school, taught myself to code and released my first game. I've been bunking off ever since.
I've worked for companies large and small, as well as my own and had a lot of ups and a few downs too. I'm a programmer, producer, coach, musician, podcaster, writer and speaker, but simply, I make games and help games get made.
After 38 years in the video games industry, I think I know what works and what doesn't. So rather than tell you how to get into the industry, I'm going to cover the five principles I think you will all need to navigate a chaotic future
There's no formula for success, so run a mile from anyone who tells you there is, but there is a lot you can learn about avoiding the most common mistakes and having a more fulfilling life and career. So here are five principles that you can use as maps. Like any map, make your own marks, and remember, the map is not the territory, and that’s a good thing.
Principle 1: Commit to life-long learning
We are encouraged to be ourselves, but often, we end up like everyone else. How do we learn except through imitation? To be yourself, first you must become yourself and to do that, you need to learn. Learn a lot. A lot.
Drink deeply of life, as much as you can manage. Art, culture, science, philosophy and the rest. Watch the classic movies. Read the classic books. Study architecture, or the history of craft, or, well, whatever attracts you. Just take it all in.
What about purpose? Purpose will emerge from love. As Elie Wiesel said, the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference, so it stands to reason that love is deep concern. Passion arises from deep interest, deep study, deep appreciation, deep discernment. Just as with your other half, you know how they eat an ice cream, how they smile when your joke is not as funny as you think it is, how they speak to you when they’re trying to tell you something important, just as that is love, so it is love when you are fully absorbed in material so that you start to understand it in relation to other material, so that you develop discernment. It takes time, but the time is going to pass anyway, so pass it consciously, with attention, with care, with love.
There’s so much to learn, so don’t learn stuff just in case you might need to learn it, unless you love it. If you love it, continue. Otherwise, learn just in time. Learn what you need to learn, as close as possible to the point where it’s useful. I will listen to a whole audiobook before a coaching session and during the session, the contents will have hooked into the rest of my knowledge and I am able to extract something new and meaningful that is immediately beneficial to the client. Learn just-in-time, not just-in-case. Apply the same methodology to your purchases, to your networking, to your job interviews.
There is more content produced in a day than you can ever absorb in your life, so use a system for organising your knowledge so that you can extract meaningful ideas almost automatically. Try learning about Zettelkasten. You can use index cards, the traditional way, or a computer-based equivalent, like Roam Research, Notion or Obsidian. I’ll cover these in more detail in a future post.
Principle 2: Become emotionally intelligent
We are in an era of tremendous flux, where soft and transferable skills are key to survival. To adapt successfully, we need to navigate the human landscape, even at a time of unprecedented isolation. A good attitude is a tremendous asset.
An incredibly useful skill for teamwork, is improv!
A good book for this is Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson.
Some of my favourite books on Emotional Intelligence include:
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters
Principle 3. Develop Discipline
As my regular readers know, I wake early, 4:30am these days, and I take cold showers. I also practice intermittent fasting from time to time, and despite being a Type 1 diabetic, this year was able to keep all the fasts of Ramadan, alhamdulillah. How? Well the methods have been covered in earlier posts. The why is what matters. It matters because every victory over your physiology makes you stronger when you face other, more mundane battles. If you can master hunger, and cold, and an escape from a warm bed an hour before dawn, well, the rest of the day is not going to be nearly as hard. You don’t have to go to such extremes though, because discipline is actually really straightforward. Not easy, but straightforward.
Discipline is simply to do what you need to do, when you don't feel like doing it. How? Don't imagine the work you have to do, imagine how you'll feel when it's done. I learned this lesson from the brilliant marketer Jim Connolly, who I am privileged to count amongst my friends.
As Somerset Maugham quipped, “I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp.”
For discipline, I recommend the following books:
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Atomic Habits by James Clear
One of the most important disciplines in our age of distraction is focus. It’s a superpower. Can you learn focus? Sure. Mindfulness practice is essentially focus practice. If it’s books you want, I’ve got you covered:
Deep Work by Cal Newport
Focus by Daniel Goleman
Make Time by Knapp and Zeratsky
Principle 4: Become resilient
There’s an old saying: “To finish first, first you have to finish”, which basically means put your oxygen mask on before helping others. But it also means you have to be able to take knocks and bounce back. In fact, if you can use knocks to bounce back stronger, it’s official, you are now cooking with gas. What can you do to improve your resilience?
Be healthy! Mentally, physically, spiritually, financially, in any dimension of life, practice good “hygiene”. Improve your health first and foremost. Your body has to take you through your whole life. Treat yourself the way you’d treat a good friend.
As for books on resilience, yes, we have those too.
Man's Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl
Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Grit by Angela Ducwkorth
Principle 5: Solve problems
A good rule of thumb is that you tend to be rewarded in proportion to the scale of the problems you solve. Problems are opportunities. If you can solve them, you will become indispensable. This is a huge subject. I will cover it in greater detail in a future post, but previous posts have touched upon this too.
Books I’ve found useful in this regard:
Problem Solving 101 by Ken Watanabe
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
Algorithms to Live By, by Christian and Griffiths
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