The Hardest Part About the Problem isn’t Figuring Out the Solution

Rather, the hardest is often defining what the actual problem is that you are trying to find the solution for.

Take for instance a VBA problem, or a college Econ problem set: 90% of “solution” is setting up the problem correctly. Computers solve for the solution. Thank God for that or else I would’ve flunked out during my college first semester.

And while definite solutions to problems exist in college homework, it’s not the same for real-life problems. Try to estimate a market size, calculate GDP, etc.; sure there is one “right” solution (as in there is a number, accurate down to the penny) of what the GDP or a market size of something is — but it’s probably not worth the time. The actual problem then becomes where to optimally stop the search for the real number and settle for an “estimate” with error – an argument for strategic quitting. In a simplified graph, it would look like a diminishing returns graph from an Intro to Econ course. In a world with complex problems, finite estimations trump infinite explorations. Resources may be better allocated somewhere else.

So don’t get stuck at this definition stage, get overwhelmed, and head down the wrong path or give up entirely. If the practical validity of the solution is paramount, then obsess instead over the integrity of definition, data collection methods, and analysis – instead of the actual solution.

Some Nights, I Stay Up

“Oh Lord, I’m still not sure, what I stand for.”

It’s all about thinking big and building castles.
But at night, the dreams sometimes come back to you.

You think about what you really stand for.
You ponder if being different is actually a good thing.
You wonder if the sacrifices are worth it.

Because standing for something,
Committing to something,
Can be a roller coaster.

Sometimes you cash in.
Sometimes you just take it in.
Sometimes work twice as hard at what you love.
But feel twice as less understood.

It’s a lonely thing to stand for something.
Because it means so much to you.
And you feel that others might not share that feeling.

And even when others share the same feeling.
You ask whether it’s the right feeling.
Because you see others’ hearts broken and dreams shattered.
As they stood for something.

And that’s why you always question what you stand for.
It’s a normal thing.

So stand for big dreams.
Stand for love.
Stand for something,
You’d stand for.
And fight for.

Because in the end,
The worst that happens,
Is something beautiful and profound.

Crazy

Crazy is familiar to me.

My friends think I’m crazy
My siblings think I’m nuts.
My mom thinks I’m insane.

But crazy is a relative term.
Not asking the right questions.
That’s crazy.
Never ignoring the rules.
That’s crazy.
Regarding the whys, never-been-dones, and hows.
That’s crazy.

What’s not crazy is conviction.
Ambition.
Big, hairy, audacious goals.
The want to change the world.
The way things are fundamentally done.
For the better.

But then again, some people consider that crazy.
I guess it’s my job to look those people in the eye.
And tell them it’s okay.
We’re all crazy in our own little ways.
And my crazy makes me happy.

The Secret to Making Friends

One secret to making friends should be no secret at all. It’s empathy. It’s knowing where somebody is coming from and understanding their thoughts and feelings.

That is the first thing you should try to pinpoint whenever you have a conversation with anyone. It’s not necessary what they say, but why they say it.

Once you’ve figured that out, it makes that awkward transition from stranger to friend that much easier (and faster too).

And the great thing about it? It makes it easier to deal with people. The notion of someone having an agenda disappears once you establish a level of respect and trust through empathizing.

Even if the other party is not “friend material,” at least they know you recognize who they are and what’s important to them. It’s where both parties acknowledge they are human beings.

What Do I Want to be Remembered For?

One of the greatest questions that we can and should ask ourselves everyday goes along the logic of, “What do I want to be remembered for?” “What is my legacy?”

Such a question forces us to see ourselves from a different perspective — forces us to see ourselves as a different person. It’s not a question of what we’ve done in the past, or are doing in the present, but rather one of who we want to become.

In doing so, we also open up our eyes. It’s like a refresher of sorts that prompts us to become better people and gives us a glimpse at the great potential that we were meant for.

The Types of Discipline

There are two types of discipline, short-term and long-term.

Some are hell-bent on perfecting the art of short-term discipline where working 16 hour days and 100 hour work weeks are the norm. They look at the practical tasks at hand, and knock them down, one by one.

One of the side-effects of such a strict and stoic regimen is a fast burnout rate. Our body is physically and mentally pushed to its limits. It often does not leave time for us to evaluate the long-term objectives – the goals – of said work.

In this zone, time passes by much quicker, and we figure out that we’ve gotten to the other side — without a relative comparison of where the “other side” lies in our spectrum. And of course when we do finally get that breather, we tend to splurge on the “fun,” because we view it as fleeting — only to regret it later.

Long-term discipline of course is an aggregate of short-term discipline infused with intent, direction, and balance.

Intent is the level of intensity and commitment to a specific cause or objective. Intent gives tasks a purpose, a reason for existing. It makes them meaningful instead of allow them to exist as silly and busy errands.

Direction is the arrow that guides short-term discipline. In every single task, we have to ask ourselves whether it is contributing to the long-term goal. For some of us, it’s completing a project, for others it’s self-improvement. Whatever the nature, the key is to constantly hack things with the end goal in mind.

And of course balance is crucial. We often get so caught up in ourselves to a point where we think we’re alone in our pursuits of goals. Balance helps us see that we’re not, and gives us room for evaluation. Sometimes that means taking a step back, thinking about our intent and direction. Other times, it means asking others for help and advice. It balance allows us to ultimately stay sane and on par because it prompts a recalibration that otherwise would not have existed.

Elegant Solutions to Complex Problems

When you shop at a convenience store, you often find yourself short a penny or so (the item is $3.01 for example). So the nice clerk takes a penny from a tray sitting next to the register, saving you from the shame of carrying 99 cents in change.

This is what I would call a beautiful social solution to the problem of inequity. The unwritten rule of course, is that if you can spare a penny (when your item is $2.99), then you should leave one in the tray.

And of course to any social solution, the is a blatant free-riding problem. There are some of us who will always keep our spare penny instead of contributing. But the notion of trying to game the system is pretty riculous. This is a case where gamifcation actually yields negative returns – you actually have to buy something priced at a minimum $1.01 to experience gains. Even then you maybe at a loss, as your loss to benefit to loss ratio is 1:100. (The true ratio may be lower, depending on your assumptions).

In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful and elegant solutions to the 99-cents-in-my-pocket problem.

I Got Tricked By A Cute Starbucks Barista

When I dropped by Starbucks today to get a coffee fix, the cute barista at the counter asked me if I wanted to try their “Starbucks VIA Brew” instant coffee. I always say yes to cute baristas.

Then like a typical salesperson at the end of pitch, she asked me if I would like to buy it. I asked how much, to which she repiled, “It’s only 4.95 (pause) for 10 servings of coffee. That’s less than 50 cents a pop.”

She got me at 50 cents. After all, I just finished paying 3 bucks for the cup of coffee. Why wouldn’t I buy it? I’d actually be stupid not to.

She actually made me feel good about buying a thing of instant coffee to take home at 200% the markup of regular coffee, just simply because the darn place itself sells coffee with cute baristas at 1000% markup.

Lesson learned: if shit #1 you are selling is expensive, offer something else (shit #2) that’s even more expensive. That makes shit #1 look cheaper in price, making people even more prone to buy shit #1.

The Velvet Rope

I’ve grew very fond of this story that I was told by a mentor of mine, and it goes something akin to this:

Wherever you go in life, there will be velvet ropes, meant to stop people at their tracks. And different types of people react to the velvet rope in different ways.

The first is the type who observe the unwritten rules of the velvet rope. They see the velvet rope as it was meant to be – a roadblock and a barrier. They obey. They take their assumptions as a given and unmoving. They listen to the words in their head and 1984 themselves up.

The second type sees the velvet rope and they immediately know that they want to cross it. As a result, they weigh the pros and cons of certain actions. Often, they come to a particular conclusion that the best way is to find the person in charge of the velvet rope. Unlike the first, the second type understands that the rope is not a barrier. Yet they are moderate in their protest. They ask for permission to protest.

The third type sees the velvet rope and immediately realize that it’s just a piece of red rope hanging on two poles. They immediately deduce that the rope is only symbolic in its context… only if one subscribes to such silly symbolic meanings.They then put one feet over the rope, then the other, in order to get to the other side. The conclusion is that the rope is insignifant and irrelevant in their decision to get to the other side.

Creative People are Liars

They tell you stuff you already know. They just know how to bring about a shock of recognition in people. They tell you stuff that you probably already half knew. Creative solutions are like Michaelangelos. People know what statues look like and how to carve them, and the darn statue is already inside the stone. It just takes a special someone to have the balls to carve out something that beautiful… and naked.

The innovators are the honest ones. They come up with stuff that did not exist before hand. Whereas creativity is successfully marketing the sale of bottled water, innovation is light bulb or a cure to cancer. There’s a fine line between creativity and innovation however. While all innovators are creative, not all creatives are innovators.

the chats, rants, and plants of Jimmy Aung Chen