Productivity Thoughts

On being a Jack of All Trades

Stumbling upon an article from Tim Ferris on being a Jack of All Trades, reminded me about my decision to become a generalist a few years back.

I can’t quite recall whether it was after reading a Robert Kiyosaki book, or the 4-hour Work Week, or something else, but I did make the decision, and looking back, I’m glad I did.

There were definitely some downsides, but I think it’s worth it. One downside that I’m always encountering is that coming from a technology background, it’s still incredibly frustrating when I don’t understand something tech related and need to ask for help. It’s even worse when I don’t understand the explanation. Depending on the situation, I could either pay someone to solve the issue for me, or spend more time to better understand the situation and work on a solution.

Is the CEO a better accountant than the CFO or CPA? Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness. As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals” are called such.

The upside of all this is I understand a lot more things now across a different categories and can piece the experiences together, giving me a better or broader view of things. Being a generalist also required me to be nimble, catching up and learning different trades quickly to make up for lost time against others who have been practising it for years.

Not that I’m against mastery of any field. However I do feel that once you pass a certain point, there are diminishing returns for your time spent on it, and unless you’re absolutely certain that it’s your one true passion, your time might be better spelt elsewhere.

Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre?

Not at all. Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.”

It’s important to note that being a generalist isn’t for everyone, and I’m glad that there are specialists in this world. It’s great that the world is filled with different types of people, and my choice is to be a generalist.

The jack of all trades maximizes his number of peak experiences in life and learns to enjoy the pursuit of excellence unrelated to material gain, all while finding the few things he is truly uniquely suited to dominate.

I also happen to think that it’s more fun this way, so there is also that.


On migrant workers

When Phadendra Kumar Shrestha heard about the cupboardful of abandoned passports, he knew he was in trouble. The 27-year-old migrant worker from Sindhuli district, Nepal, had travelled to Malaysia on the promise of a salary more than double what he could ever hope to earn at home, but the contents of the cupboard made him afraid.

Shortly after his arrival in Kuala Lumpur in October, his employer confiscated his passport and those of the 36 young men who had travelled with him. Without his documents, the only way Shrestha could leave his employer was to run away. And so the pile of abandoned passports indicated that several workers had fled, leaving their documents behind.

Via The Guardian

I’ve always taken my hat off to those who actually take the step of leaving their home to venture into another country, whether it’s to escape political prosecution, or to find their fortune.

Leaving home is never easy. It takes guts, sacrifice, and determination. Often you’re leaving behind family, everything you’ve worked for until that point, and you might never come back. It’s even scarier for migrant workers as they’re often going to work at construction sites or similar jobs, and not corporate jobs where they might be treated better or afforded better protection.

It’s sad to see many of these workers be abused along the way, often with no way out. It also reminds me of an article I read not too long ago titled “Why are white people expats when the rest of us are immigrants?” The Wall Street Journal also had a similar article on the topic.

Not all migrant workers (or expats?) are good, but that applies to any group in society. There are bad people from every country, race, gender etc. There are some happy stories of course, and the one about some workers in Singapore saving a baby was widely circulated recently.

In the end, one can hope that society will eventually progress to the point where we’re evaluated and treated based on our abilities and achievements, rather than the country that we’re born in.

Minimalism Thoughts

The story of the Mexican fisherman

The mexican fisherman

This is a story that I read in a book somewhere. I can’t recall which book it was, but it’s a story that has stuck with me, and understanding it just makes me want to scream in frustration even more in this jail cell of modern society.

I managed to find a version of it at Be More With Less, which I’ve reposted below.

The story of the Mexican fisherman

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”


Our mobile addiction

Simpsons mobile lifestyle

via ParisLemon

Unfortunately this is how most modern families are nowadays.

We need to learn to disconnect ourselves from our gadgets and distractions.


DIY GoRuck style zippers

Goruck style zippers 1

A good friend gave me his Targus sling bag a while ago. The bag was in perfect condition, except that the plastic on zipper pulls were breaking, most likely due to age or a design defect.

I didn’t bother too much about it for a long time, but after a while the lack of something to grab and pull when working the zippers began to irritate me.

Interestingly enough, while researching the GoRuck GR Echo, I realised that I could copy their zipper pull design and fix the zipper pulls myself with some para cord and shrink tubing.

I found a useful guide on the process and it didn’t take me too long to fix up the zippers. The bag now feels as good as new. I’m pretty happy with the result if I may say so myself.

Goruck style zippers 2