What software should I use?: Making digital decisions with incomplete information

Innovative technologies drive the world, and the question of what software tool to use to provide digital services and products is becoming more complex than ever. A technology or multiple technologies can be built, packaged, and used as a tool, which can be defined as “a device or implement…used to carry out a particular function.” However, what cripples our decision-making abilities is the sheer number of software options available on the market.

The internet has decentralized the ability to provide value, so a one-person start-up can build a solution that fills a significant gap and becomes hugely popular. We no longer wait only on large corporate behemoths to produce tools with bigger Research & Development funding. Instead, the number of “implements used to carry out a particular function” is rising rapidly, which is enabling entrepreneurs to build solutions and go-to-market faster.

Certainly, a dabble of both ingenuity and luck would help us with our digital quandary. What principles can we learn from today’s modern world, with an overabundance of choice?

Software tools are now marketed and sold for a particular function. Our prehistoric ancestors never stared wide-eyed at rows of neatly ordered and different colored stones, lit up by bright neon lights blinking: “3 hunting tools you can’t live without!”

More choices means more anxiety, and less likelihood to choose the best tool for the job. Once many tools leveraging “X-factors” saturate the market, we lose certainty in the metrics that we rely upon to indicate which option “feels” right, such as if we recognize its name or if we read a particular article a few minutes ago. Instead, we become paralyzed.

So, here I’ve outlined logical steps to overcome “choice anxiety” and pick the best tool.

Step 1. Ideal State Analysis

Separate yourself from any specific tools themselves, and instead consider the need for a tool itself. What problem in a function are you trying to solve? What improvement in a function are you trying to make?

Outline two lines of thought: the function in its current state without the tool, and the function in an ideal state with the tool. Imagine a state in which nothing breaks, all stakeholders are on board, users learn immediately, time stands still, and costs are no issue.

Quantify the difference in results between the two functions. Generally, whichever has a greater benefit-to-cost ratio is the function you want. If the function with the tool has the bigger ratio, then continue to step 2.

Step 2. Realistic State Analysis

Conduct more concrete cost/benefit and risk analyses using probable outcomes instead of ideal outcomes. Make special note of the stakeholders involved in the decision-making, implementation, and maintenance process of the function. What’s the more likely state after the tool has been implemented, given any known hindrances and obstacles over time? Expect that certain shortcomings will arise from both user and tool in the learning process.

Surely, this outcome will be less appealing than the ideal state. But it should also bring you closer to knowing whether you can reach that state.

Quantify the realistic state and determine whether your team can reach it feasibly. If not, then you may be better of staying with the current process. However if so, continue to step 3.

Step 3. Create Ideal Criteria for Success

Write down the data points that are most likely to indicate a successful implementation, and thus lead to the winning tool. For example:

  • People (Will people buy-in? Can they use it?)
  • Implementation (Can we fit this into our function?)
  • Integration (Does the tool play well with other tools?)
  • Maintainability (Can we support the tool and function over time?)
  • Cost (Can we fit the price of the tool into our budget?)
  • Scope (Does the tool address our need?)
  • Risk (Will the tool cause risk we cannot accept?)
  • Reliability (Does the tool work consistently?)
  • Measurability (Can we track metrics for performance?)
  • Scalability (If the function expands, can the tool expand with it?)

Make these data points your vague success criteria to move forward. Whichever tool fulfills the most important success criteria in the best way will be your winner.

Then, prioritize the most important items over less important items, depending on your goals and risk aversion. Once your data points are ordered, employ Stuart Russell’s technique of rational meta-reasoning:

“Maybe you want to say [the technique is] one algorithm, but it’s an algorithm that figures out what is the value of the possible computations I could do, and then it does the most valuable one, and that’s the algorithm. That’s it.”

In other words, figure out what data points are most likely to lead to valuable conclusions, and then compare these more valuable data points in step 4.

Step 4. Research Sources and Gather Elements

Find tools and place them in a “short list” of 3-10 options. Use your success criteria to quickly eliminate non-contenders, such as those that will not integrate with other aspects in the function. Use the following methods to find the tools:

  • Google, other search engines: “what tool should I use for ____?”
  • alternativeTo: “Crowdsourced software recommendations”
  • Tech forums and magazines
  • Social media
  • Coworkers
  • Business intellectual capital and subject matter experts
  • Job postings of competition (what are they using or hoping to use?)
  • External consultants
  • New product/technology aggregators

After employing these methods, drill down further within these sources to draw out the data points from the following elements:

  • Reviews/Comparisons
  • Community support
  • Popularity
  • Technical documentation
  • Compatibility
  • Degree of trust in the source

These elements, when qualified, quantified, and compared, differentiate one tool from another and allow you to evaluate the fulfillment of your success criteria.

Consider especially the last item in this list: the degree to which you trust the source of the data. It is worth vetting sources, cross-checking data, and ensuring that each source’s opinions generally align with others.

As a rule of thumb, cross-reference as many elements that contribute to success criteria as you can. If a blogger says he had trouble adding setting up the tool using a particular configuration, search other sources for this same issue. Consider the time that issues are reported, because developers update software rapidly, meaning last month’s bug may be this month’s feature.

Step 5. Meet with Stakeholders (optional)

Meet with stakeholders involved in the function and the decision to use the tool. Those who will implement and maintain the tool will want to give input, as well as those who oversee the entire function’s operation. Offer your success criteria and gather feedback, which may come in the form of previously-unknown requirements or limitations.

You may choose to show a short list of tools in addition to the success criteria, but focus your attention on the functional need for a tool. This is because a tool itself does not make the money; rather the functional need that the tool addresses makes the money. As a corollary to this, the tool is generally more interchangeable than the functional necessity that requires it.

Step 6. Iterate Realistic Criteria for Success

Apply the information recently gleaned from stakeholder meetings and research to update success criteria.

Iterating constantly is a staple of modern development work. Apply feedback to your work as often as possible, rather than waiting until the finish. When the curtain drops and you present your final choice, you want no chance that smiles turn to frowns. Similarly, you should be updating your success criteria priority order as well.

ToolBlog20171128

The data you gather won’t be complete, but today’s leaders must make decisions with incomplete information.

Step 7. Research Tools, More Deeply

Using the updated criteria, start research again to reduce the list of feasible tools. Prioritize tools above others and trim the list to a top 3.

Use this time to take advantage of open source software or free demos of paid options. Good software should provide something like a free 30 day demo without cost. While you begin working through the setup of each option, consider the level of difficulty; if one of your success criteria involves training others to develop and maintain this tool, then the easier the setup, the better.

Step 8. Update Stakeholders with the Short List

Engage stakeholders with new criteria and results based on those more specific criteria. Draw out any additional requirements or limitations that arise after diving deeper.

Step 9. Iterate Success Criteria and Continue Testing

Continue until you reduce your list until…

Step 10. Decide

Choose the winner and use it. Sometimes a good idea on a Tuesday is better than a great idea on a Friday. Keep your success criteria in mind, because if some new information arises, you may need to reset to step 3 (readjusting your success criteria). But even if that happens, it’s much easier to start over on day 10 than on day 100.

Extra Credit: Document the reasons for your choices, so anyone revisiting the decision in the future, including you, can understand your decision-making process.

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Language, Gife-Liver

~~~

Do you remember the recent decision by the British people to leave the EU? Of course you do. Do you remember what that was called? Of course you do.

Now that some dust has settled, I examine the processes before, during, and after “Brexit” with a particular lens:

I hypothesize that language can give life to things.

~~~

Consider something that is not. Impossible? Debatable, but unlikely. Language serves as a function that inputs something and gives it “realness” or “life” in our minds. That realness serves as a recipient grasped by our mental actions. For our purposes, if a vote by a nation of people to change a policy significantly affects economies, ideologies, and perceptions, then “Brexit”, and thus language, is real enough to matter.

Having the word “tree” consolidates sensory data in a way that encourages us to notice manifestations of the word in the form of patterns usually found in forests. Whereas a lack of a word may cause our attention to skip over such manifestations of patterns. Without ever noticing it, one could argue that it does not exist to us. If something has never been described in language, this does not mean that it doesn’t exist. However, certainly something having been described with language gains a considerable degree of realness.

Like electricity or getting introduced to the stage by an MC, this describing function often simply involves the connection of this piece of language to other pieces in various ways, through the connection maintaining accepted modica of usage, thus giving this piece realness. This connection serves as a platform upon which a thing is described by other (previously vetted) “real” things.

In action, consider “Brexit”: a combination of “Britain” (a country located around 55.3781° N, 3.4360° W) and “exit” (the action of taking leave). Note my explanations of the pieces themselves contain connections to other lingual pieces.

Language can give life, or degrees of realness. So, what’s the point?

 

 

~~~

Power

Understand this: That which can be more easily represented in language is more likely to be understood quicker than that which can be represented in language less easily. Repetition increases understanding. Repetition increases understanding. Repetition increases understanding. Comfort breeds understanding. Fear propels us away, into comfort.

Marketing departments exist for a reason. TV commercials cost a lot of resources. Lingual manipulation works in favor of the manipulator. Memes, fads, and slang exist from common understanding, borne from ease, repetition, and control of comfort and fear.

Language that is easy to describe, repeated, and manipulated through fear or comfort can influence the communicative dissemination and transactions of understanding.

So, I hold that “Brexit”, an easily communicable two-syllable combination of commonly known ideas, plastered on media outlets, and instilled by positivity and negativity, contributed directly and significantly to the vote in its favor. If its creation was deliberate, “Brexit’s” creators should be commended. And given a raise. “Brexit” implanted itself in many hearts and minds, at the least. One can only speculate how its sibling, “Bremain”, would’ve fared given the same attention.

In conclusion, to persuade, try inventing language. Control the ease, repetition, and level of comfort or fear associated with it. Give a description of something new that benefits you. Its foil, the non-existence of the thing, stands no chance to combat your description. Through language, we can be gods. Give life. Live gife.

 

Buy high: Get your attention’s worth

Story

I had the morning and early afternoon to explore before my flight to Dublin, so I decided to wander. While ambling through Hyde Park, London early on a late-summer day, I noticed a crowd of people gathered under some trees: extravagantly-dressed characters speaking loudly to surrounding groups of people. A few stood atop boxes. As I approached, the cacophony of monologues crept up into my ears and I entered Speaker’s Corner.

When I could finally fit a word of my own into the fray, I asked one speaker about the implications of overpopulation. Before I had finished asking my question, he snatched attention away from me and started speaking. He led us on a magical journey of speech and language, countless hecklers interrupted and argued as they pleased. The speaker wrestled for attention from many challengers.

Soon, one famous challenger arrived: a self-proclaimed fascist, dressed in military garb with a Hitler-style mustache, argued for the role of a strong state, necessity of institutions, and importance of racism. In response the first speaker wove a deep metaphor about how the challenger’s thought process could be represented as a sewage system funneling large, powerful shits.

Symbol

But this scene was more than a processing system for word-shits. It was beautiful not because of the shit in the sewer, but rather the sea into which the sewers spewed.

Here at Speaker’s Corner between strangers the right to speak is fought for and not given. Anyone can speak openly, with or without respect to those on the soap-boxes. The people constantly construct and deconstruct the social dynamics that give attention to one and take it away from another.

Social dynamics we may take for granted, but allocation of attention is less like a hierarchy and more like a swirling ocean of pure chaos. Many situations in our lives have predetermined social roles, depending on cues like status, dress, age, and confidence. Social pressure compels us to fight for attention covertly and subtly, appearing always in control. Conflicts that emerge into verbal or physical fights are deemed uncivil.

But when social dynamics are boiled down, rules fall apart and only savagery remains. The prize of these fights is dominance through attention, and the prize of attention is self-worth.

Power

In order to win attention, study how you give attention. Specifically, notice how you pay attention.

Even notice the language we use: “pay attention.” We are in control of a valuable resource that we can trade for something in return. As is the case with currency and confidence, the more you value your attention, the more others will. Those seeking your attention can provide something in return. The intelligent and successful sell their attention for highly valuable resources with developmental benefits. They sell high.

How do you get your attention’s worth?

Take an “attention pulse” throughout the day.

Keep a journal, or use a note-taking app on your phone. At certain points during the day, take note of what you were paying your attention to a moment before. For each entry, document important observations:

  • Object of attention
  • Time
  • Location
  • Context (what happened before or after this?)

And most importantly:

  • Trade-off (that which is received for your attention)

Whether it is knowledge, entertainment, social value, nourishment, relaxation, or fulfillment, this observation will reveal for what you trade your most powerful, but finite resource. Consolidate your results. Are you spending your attention wisely? If not, identify what trade-offs are most valuable to you, and budget your attention accordingly. Remember, your attention is only as good as you spend it.

~~~

The conversations at the Speaker’s Corner are passionate, radical, eloquent, and challenging: true Sophists at work. I most enjoyed the pure awe I felt at the skilled rhetoric of an individual vying for attention. Such social dynamics were incredibly entertaining to witness, and revealed a raw truth about the power of attention.

 

“Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed.” -Daniel Kahneman

Restatement: Say nothing to say something

This post was inspired by the Ordinary Language Philosophy episode of BBC’s In Our Time, which I recommend highly.

~~~

I tried to write a novel once. I failed before I had even tried. Many of us feel that underlying beckoning to express our deeper meaning into a tome for all to revere, even if “all” is our mom. What makes writing a book difficult?

This question appears to be a heuristic, or substitute, of another question: What makes producing art difficult? In order for us starving artists to answer this, let’s deconstruct the language.

what makes producing art difficult?

Let’s assume, for the sake of this exercise, that there is a “what” we are looking for in the first place. That will force us to actually look for it, as opposed to losing progress to doubt (“Well, maybe it’s not there after all…”). This potentially false belief will get us to step two.

what makes producing art difficult?

Let’s assume, for the sake of this exercise, that this Schroedinger’s cat of a reason that might exist does more than exist: it does something. Specifically, this action involves creating or altering, among other things. “Making” itself as a verb infinitive bears ambiguity and does not carry substantial understanding on its own, as opposed to verbs such as “typing,” “swimming,” or “time-traveling.” The word “making” seems to show up in more idioms, so we will need more context to determine if our “what” “makes it,” or “makes up,” or “makes out,” etc.

what makes producing art difficult?

Such a vast, beauteous word this is. Typically, I think appreciation follows those with more interpretations. In art, pieces with mutually exclusive yet valid interpretations give a sense of godliness to the artist, as if s/he was able to connect foreign concepts together beforehand. Usually, such interpretations emerge after the piece is “produced” for public consumption, so the smart artist wouldn’t say “I saw a can of soup and painted it.” Rather, others would say: “This artist made such a raw, definitive commentary on the juxtaposition of material and social consciousness bringing forward the simplicity of object recognition symbolizing the industry of knowledge-peddling that henceforth empowers liberal utilization of anti-anti-establishment capitalist compartmentalization in a minimalist style.” Yes, yes of course that was my intent, the artist smirks.

Back to producing. Turning backward at our words in tow, we see that the reason we seek has created or altered the action of producing. Forward, we make out on the horizon a noun and an adjective. We are still treading water in a sea of uncertainty, but we have hope. It is possible that the following word is an the object being produced, rather than a way of directly describing the act of producing (“producing quickly”) or an interjection (“producing-HEY THAT’S MY CAR!”).

Note here that producing differs slightly from production, again open to interpretation. I think producing necessitates further explanation, while production more firmly stands alone. Consider the following duality:

A: “Production is down 50% from last quarter.”

vs.

B: “Producing is down 50% from last quarter.”

For sentence A, no further explanation of what is being produced is needed (unless the talkative intern wasn’t CCed on the memo). For sentence B, one is led to ask what is being produced, and validly so. “Production” and “producing” have formed into slightly different spheres of usage in the English language. And we have been given “producing.”

what makes producing art difficult?

Here, things get a bit more complicated. Experts, novices, and everyone in between could give you a different answer about the word “art.” More complexity emerges about reference, meaning, or usage of art. In this time of stunned unknowing, some of us look to history or etymology. Based on one thread of research, our linguistic ancestors couldn’t clearly classify “art” into one meaningful box.

Thus, decide for yourself what art refers to, means to you or the world, and how art is used. Here we see a possible explanation as to why I asked myself about producing a book rather than producing art; I can hold a book and simply understand it as a knowable object, but I can only hold an example of art in my hands, not art in itself. Try holding number 10 in your hands. No, those are your fingers.

what makes producing art difficult?

There is a reason that creates or alters the act of producing art (whatever that is), and as a corollary we are told that producing art is now difficult, due to a reason making it so.

what makes producing art difficult?

We can’t overlook the importance of punctuation here. We need to amend our purpose: “…”, due to a reason making it so, which may or may not exist but that we are assuming exists.

For whatever reason, we are trained to think that to produce means to create something new. However, if our goal in producing something is to create anew, we will be disappointed, because “there is no such thing as a new idea…We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” -Mark Twain.

Ignore the feeling that an idea isn’t original enough, because it will never be. When faced with writer’s block, whether staring at a blank page, a blank canvas, or blank screen, try a different approach. Consider something you know. This is your kernel. Now, deconstruct the kernel, instead of building upon it. It will break apart into several different pieces or concepts. In essence, restate the obvious but in more detail.

Power

The power of linguistic restatement lies in its ability to change faces. Creative geniuses are not creative. Creativity is a myth concocted to slap a label onto an unrepeatable pattern of thought in the mind of a someone with luck, resources, and energy.

So, when faced with any kind of problem try the following exercise:

  1. Write the problem down or explain it to someone. Use words.
  2. Deconstruct the language you use to describe the problem.
  3. Restate the problem with deconstructed pieces.
  4. Pay attention to every passing thought, even distractions. Even the smallest minutiae bear importance.

For example, I was struggling to create a blog post. So, I classified my problem into worlds, deconstructed, and documented. Now I have a blog post.

But have I really said anything?

Why do we distrust patient people?

exmachina

Story

Awkwardness. Everyone acquaints themselves with it, as a passenger to a driver. There are many causes, but one overarching effect: discomfort.

One of the first times I used an Uber, I was a few drinks deep in Boston. As an antsy group of eight, we split into subsections, and I hopped into the front of the first Uber car. After a brief discussion regarding the best way to navigate narrow, one-way streets, a deafening silence settled into the car’s interior. After a moment, I casually turned to the driver and said: “So, what do you do?” The”ooo” reverberated over the drone of the engines for tooo long.

The driver dryly stated, “I am an Uber driver.”

“Right, right,” as I retracted into that half-smile, half-grimace that often emerges to encourage the effort but scold the performance. I had put on my glasses to find my glasses. I had put the cookies in the oven without turning it on. I had strolled into the office on Saturday morning while musing “what word rhymes with bird?” Any chance of interpersonal connection was as good as lost after a short string of sounds was formed aloud. The wall, that strange energy field that firmly forces its hand over my mouth, was raised. Why?

Symbol

Imagine that a conversation is a work of theater. In comparing my life to external symbols for increased understanding, I am quick to compare conversations to movies, novels, and plays.

Most conversations seem to revolve around a script of practiced questions and answers. There is no time for awkwardness or silence, for these break the magic. Like leaping from a diving board, soaring with limbs outreached, and smashing into sharp, chilling water, excitement withdraws into suppressed desperation. When I enter into a conversation, my inner dialogue turns its direction externally. The curtain raises, revealing and engaging attentions. We portion our lives into sections (four minutes until the bus, six-feet tall, a three-hour performance at the Folger Theatre). So, after the spell is broken, we think that the show has ended.

But there is no show. There was never a show. A meaningful conversation does not have a script, nor a time limit, nor a stage.

The questions “What do you do?”, and “Where are you from?” stand only as mere placeholders of our hopes, fears, and spontaneous thoughts. The past and present are usually boring.

“I’m a ___.”

“Oh, cool. My cousin is a ___.”

More valuable meaning lies in wait, hidden from immediate view. Ask yourself: would you rather be known by what you were, what you are, or what you could be?

Power

My answer: what I could be. The problem is, I know what I was (or, I think I do), and I know what I am (or, I think I do). So, these are important to acknowledge. But, I do not know what I could be. Don’t worry; that doesn’t matter, and I’ll explain why.

Establish a mission that’s your ace in the hole, your main squeeze, your talking point alpha. This is the thing that you think about when you’re not thinking. This is the thing that seems so obvious to you that you only realize you were moving towards after the fact. It’s the thing you can talk about best.

If you can’t think of something genuine, then make it up. Have fun with it. Even if you change your mind in a year, a week, or an hour, the importance of having a mission now is greater than the imagined integrity you’ll feel if you miraculously manage to stick to a plan without ever changing it. Acting as an unmoving rock clinging to a bank in a flood is foolish and inefficient. Adapt to survive, or fall by means of faulty belief in the law of induction and ignorance. Good luck when you wear shorts today because you’ve been comfortable the past three days…even if it’s snowing today. No, yeah, of course. You’re wearing them on purpose, to prove something. Right. Go freeze.

The point is, you’re never going to stick to this plan. So, go crazy making something up! I’m going to be a robot beauty stylist. I’m reading the Bible, backwards, to gain a deeper understanding of the influence of the direction of a narrative on my personal ethical system. I’m currently training for my next competition, in which we run three miles while typing a fan-fiction screenplay of a Star Wars blooper reel. Have fun with it! Just be sure to have it.

What this allows you to do is to be more than a name. We remember “Peter the Great,” more likely than “Peter.” The “name + differentiator” combination encourages others to define you, and give you a small sphere of unique power. The differentiator makes all the difference. No longer Grant, I am “Grant, the robot beauty stylist.” That increases my uniqueness factor from 1 / ~60,000 to 1 / (hopefully less than 60,000).

Of course, the goal should be to reach that uniqueness factor of 1 / 1 without the necessity of a differentiator. Although, if the CEO of the hottest new British company selling drink containers, catered to diabetics, that automatically assess the amount of sugar in the fluid and, after a hand grips it, takes a blood sugar reading and calls aloud whether the holder should or shouldn’t drink the drink is named “Kant,” then this person should absolutely defer the uniqueness to Immanuel in favor of the motto “Kant Kan”.

Barring any spectacular circumstances, focus on means to ends. The mission causes feelings of passion in conversation, which, if returned, resonate into more positive emotions. Good feelings bias us into thinking that the person we are talking to is better, that we are better, and that the whole conversation was better. Use this to your advantage by having more meaningful, future-oriented conversations.

And yet, I have not determined why I distrust patient people. The distrust is probably in myself. It’s probably because their patient eagerness fizzles away unsatisfied as I respond “Well, right now I am…” instead of “Oh boy, let me tell you about this new light-adaptive, auto-adhesive chrome eye-liner!”

 

Picture: http://anthem-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/exmachina.jpg

Welcome!…

…To my blog. Hold on to your steering wheels, and control your excitement. Because at this URL will my heart pour out into a soup of virtual pixels for our senses to coalesce, for our brains to grasp, and for our selves to embody. My writing adventures will serve as personal development, and my hope is you will do the same.

“Writers live twice.” —Natalie Goldberg

Everyone has their wolf

wolf_eyes___detail_by_haloghost-d49p4ee

Who is your favorite fictional character?

Story

When I was 14 years old, as I do now, I loved to read fantasy and science fiction books. Within an epic series lived a character whom I idolized. My eyes scanned Robert Jordan’s words outlining the stout, stubborn, and humble Perrin Aybara’s quirks. But in these words I imagined myself, and my inner heroism now had a medium with which to express itself.

As Perrin Aybara delved into adventures, he began to discover a deep, powerful energy: his inner wolf. He grew a thick beard, became intimate with his senses, and noticed his eyes change into a golden hue. He could even communicate with wolves themselves.

I was born with blue eyes. After a few years, these changed to green. At 14 years old, my eye color was changing from green to an earthy, golden hazel. My canine teeth grew longer and sharper than the rest of my teeth. It couldn’t be a coincidence.

Symbol

The characteristics, thoughts, and actions of an external symbol catalyzed the development of my own characteristics, thoughts, and actions. I could metaphorically conceptualize my life through the mind of a wolf: my ideal self. So, I did. I could see the humans for the animals they are. School lunches became a crowded crossroads at a watering hole. A morning run became a hunt for survival.

Wolves are pack animals: the adaptive team member. There is the “lone wolf”: the independent explorer. There is the “alpha” of the pack: the confident leader. I appropriated every positive attribute of the “wolf” to my own identity. Am I working with others on a project? Wolves sacrifice for the good of the pack. Am I feeling lost? Go out and experience something new: look at art; climb a mountain; ask questions. Am I yearning for a mission? Establish a vision, gather help, and build something.

Power

For many years, I only lived as an animal. But recently, I began to understand the reasons why I did so. When I felt pressure, I found a way free from my longing to be a comfortable recluse, curled up in a fetal position of artificial security. When faced with a difficult interview question, for example, heat would rise into my cheeks and my neck hairs would stand on end. But now, I have trained my mind to leap for a split-second into wolf-mode. For that brief instance of silence between question and answer, time waning into slow motion, I bear my canines and flick my ears, drawing upon ages of feral spirit to reassure myself. With a brief smile, I can confidently re-focus my attention toward the task at hand.

We should not restrict our oases of inspiration to those most like us. Yes, I have my human idols: orators, visionaries, warriors. But, I learn more from noticing and grasping at similarities between things that, at first glance, appear mutually exclusive. If we don’t sense connections between things, it does not follow that these the connections don’t exist. Rather, a foreign feeling propagates because I have not conceptualized and understood the similarities, yet. That which appears furthest from me only appears as such because I am ignorant and biased. Once I open my mind to the possibility, embody it, and test it, I can hold myself to such a restricting dichotomy as “right” or “wrong.” What can we learn from ants?: About emergence theory and feedback loops. What can we learn from Watson?: About human nature. What can we learn from the moon?: About ambition. Symbols are teachers of our world.

As I walk down the crowded streets, I see lions and pumas, falcons and hawks, beetles and bears, gorillas and celery. Consider whatever animal (or thing) I smell in you a compliment. Such acts comprise my fundamental survival guide with which I consult when necessary to interact in a crazy, un-symbolized world.

“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” -Rudyard Kipling

 

Image by HaloGhost @ http://haloghost.deviantart.com/art/Wolf-Eyes-Detail-258153350