Chapter 2 - A Better War Machine
Success Strategies for Life, The Power of Focusing your Mind
Preliminary Mission Briefing
Key Ideas and Terminology
We must focus our attentions towards specific areas of our lives. Total immersion into a particular discipline will yield intense results. By maximally asserting oneself, the person can fully realize the incredible power of human potential. History overflows with examples of great human triumph through specialization. I always believed that anyone can excel above and beyond other people in any topic, provided he or she spent their entire lives devoted to the pursuit of that one task. In this book, we will learn how to take advantage of this total isolation and focussing of energies, to boost us to new heights of achievement.
Yet we must also remember that any single endeavour is but one aspect of our many-faceted lives. If we spend too much time on any one thing, we run the risk of losing the forest for the trees. The world is too wonderful, and life too precious, for a person to neglect exploration into a variety of experiences. In living, I have always preferred a principle of inclusion, rather than exclusion: Trying as many things as reasonably possible, and making as many friends as possible.
Therefore, while true that if we dedicated our entire lives to a single task then we would most certainly be very successful in it, that way of life is only for a select few. The majority of people would rather have a more colourful existence. I am no exception. When I am not working hard at school or my jobs, I backpack in the wilderness, go alpine skiing, read science fiction, write computer programs, travel the world, or simply party till dawn with my friends at the latest Karaoke bar. But as we look at the general populace on this planet, we realise that many people sacrifice individual task excellence, for variety. Many are skeptical that people are capable of doing well in seemingly opposing subjects, such as mathematics and fine art, or computer science and humanities. I am reminded of the proverbial jack of all trades, and master or none. It seems that we must choose between either variety, or success. That is a terrible misconception. I know many people who excel in both the classroom, and the barroom. The perpetuation of the myth that people must specialize, gives everyone a powerful excuse to not do certain things. They may, for instance, say that they are not a “math person.” While individual idiosyncrasies and talents can come into play, I do not believe that schools today offer any courses of instruction that are so specialized and demanding that they are above and beyond what the average human can tackle. To argue that the power of specialization is mutually exclusive with the possibility of variety, is akin to saying that one must either be a good cook and a bad driver, or a bad cook and good driver. It is this kind of mentality that leads to the stereotyping of men, women, and nationalities. With Cyborg 101 I hope to destroy this ridiculous Gordian knot of cyclic myth.
Having said all of the above, I must now inform the reader that the very delicate balance between a life of breadth, and a life of individual successes, is not easily reached. The key to this power lies in one’s ability to exclude the demands and influences on our resources because of our involvement with other tasks, while allowing us to concentrate on a job at hand. In later sections, we will learn the importance of focussing our energies, and methods to manage our exposure to stimuli. We will be able to selectively choose between events, people and thoughts depending on whether they will help or hinder our performance at current tasks. In effect, we will be able to live out component lives dedicated to specific tasks, while still able to integrate all these separate personalities into a total person.
A reconnaissance satellite view
Before we enter into the main techniques for invincibility and peak performance, it is necessary that we look at an overview of the adventure upon which we are about to embark. The format I will be using is structured around a basic premise: The best method is one that unifies all other methods. This arrangement will maximize the benefits of “synergy” - as discussed below - and offer a comprehensive approach towards all objectives.
I have formed the framework of our plan around military strategy because I feel that an overall strategic organization is necessary. Performance tools (such as memory and reading skills) offer short-term tactical advantages, but they are ineffective without long-term strategic guidance. We will also investigate the terrain, the actual environment in which we seek our challenges. Finally, the supreme requirement for a successful execution of our master plan depends on the ammunition and firepower, and that will be derived from your personal energy, both mentally and physically.
What we are about to discuss applies to all situations. They are relevant to business, schooling, relationships, sports and other areas of life. School, however, is so important (as you will see) that I have used it for many examples in this book.
There is a more fundamental reason why I chose the school as a focus. Learning, as a process, is with us everywhere. We learn all the time. It defines what life is about. Whether it is a new way of putting the ball into the basket, or dealing with a new client, people cannot avoid education. It is inevitable. The important point to understand is that we can be active learners, or passive learners.
Pre-Emptive Strike - Activity / Passivity
Get Them Before They Get You
The difference between active learners and passive ones is that active learners take the initiative. An active student will go to class, get the assignment instructions, do the work, and hand in the paper. The passive student will sit at home, hear about the assignment through friends, procrastinate, and then get into a real fix trying to make the deadline. Another example: You just bought a new microwave oven. If you read the instruction book first, and then use the oven, you’ll probably be successful the first time, and make that malnutritious TV dinner you were eyeing all day at the supermarket. On the other hand, if you skipped the directions on either the microwave oven or the TV dinner, you might end up with a fried gunk of charcoal, or a short-circuited appliance. Passive learners learn through trial and error. Active learners avoid that trap. By reading this book, you are already well on your way to securing the situation, and pre-empting the enemy attack, rather than becoming a sitting duck for problems and complications. We will discuss pre-emptive strategy again in a later section.
Let me now share with you some powerful theory and terminology.
The Art Of War - Taking Command
Sun Tzu In Psychology 101
Sitting in the bathtub again one day - this time eating strawberry mousse cake - I discovered a very interesting thing: Military strategy could be applied to non-military situations, and specifically towards school. This was no revolutionary “Eureka!” Business management is constantly being taught how to use the same strategies to win their own corporate wars. But nobody had seriously thought about applying the military arts towards school. Perhaps they felt that school was so trivial compared to the big and important things that happened in the real world of corporations and financial institutions, that one surely did not need to take the great pains of applying military skills to it. Or was it really that trivial?
Let us follow the logical train of thought: Your performance in school determines your grades; your grades determine which courses you are eligible to take; your courses determine your career direction; finally, your job will more likely than not be determined by the grades you obtained and the programme you graduated from. Therefore, school is of utmost importance in ultimate success in “the real world.” It provides not only the specific grades and classroom instruction, but also the training to work towards objectives, and with other people. Think of it as boot camp.
But, if school was so important, why aren’t all these incredibly powerful tools being applied to it? How come most of the time the only way we, as students, learn about this and other powerful material is outside of school? Why aren’t there classes on the topic? Nobody talks about the subject, and it is more the rule than the exception that the general implicit consensus is that application of military and business management skills towards school was overkill.
Maximum Overkill - MaxOKÂ®
Objectives At Any Price
Overkill, as an everyday concept, denotes a waste of resources. As a military term, it defines an excessive use of power to destroy a target. Surprisingly though, it is my personal belief that the use of overkill has astonishing merits all its own.
The major complaint against overkilling is wastage of resources. In certain situations this is an important point to take note of. For example, if you have a limited number of bullets, you don’t want to use all of them on just one opponent, and have no bullets left for defense against other enemies. However, I have discovered that in non-military situations (and sometimes military situations too) most of the time there is no real need to be so exacting in defining precisely how much effort, how much ammunition, is to be used to achieve an objective in the most economical manner possible. Economic resource management is, granted, a vital survival trait. Any species which continually wasted its energies on over-exertion of itself would soon become endangered, and then extinct. Prevention of overkill is an innate survivalistic reflex action in our minds.
But let us consider something else. Which do you think is more wasteful: Using up a certain amount of energy to achieve something, and failing; or using up much more than what you think is necessary to achieve the goal, and succeeding? Most people tend to focus on conservation of resources rather than objective achievement. In our quest for efficiency, effectiveness is compromised.
The fact is, in most situations, the store of energy and resources - the amount of “ammunition” that is available to a person - far exceeds the minimum requirements of the objectives. We have, at our disposal, such a tremendous arsenal of power, that there is really no need to worry so much about wasting any of it. Conservation of resources as a higher priority than the achievement of objectives is a strategic fallacy. The achievement of goals is of utmost importance. It is like saving millions of dollars in the bank, but not really knowing what to use it all for - the mentality of a miserly old man too caught up in acquisition of wealth to realise that the point of money is to spend it wisely. The accumulation of energy and resources should be a means to ends, and not an end in itself. Too many people spend far too much time and far too much mental effort in trying to lower the cost/benefit ratio. In doing so, they tend to achieve much less than the whole objective. They might destroy part of the target, but fail to annihilate the whole thing. That is the difference between mediocre performance, and peak performance - the difference between a B or a C, and an A. Better to carefully choose worthwhile targets to destroy, rather than be caught up with saving energy in preparation of failure.
Some students fail to perform at overkill levels, or even at reasonable levels, because they may think that they are too smart to need to work so hard - as I had thought before - while other students think that they don’t have what it takes to get an A, and so try for a B or a C. These are fallacies in thinking. First of all, being smart and knowing the material in the textbook are two different things. If you don’t read the book, you won’t know the material. Smarts come in handy when you have to use the material, but regardless of smarts you can get a very decent grade without having to dazzle the teacher. Secondly, schools don’t require you to be an Einstein to get through. If they did, we wouldn’t be so awed at Einstein and other geniuses in the world. Haven’t you ever thought to yourself, gosh, even so-and-so got an A on that test. Well, if so-and-so could, likewise can you.
This goes for businesses and relationships too. One reason why people slack off, or fail in certain things, is because they think they’re too good to have to work at it. They get arrogant, over-confident, and then they get lazy. Remember the clichÃ©d story about the hare and the tortoise? Remember how the hare took a nap, and then the stupid tortoise won the race? Well, when people think they’re too good for the competition, they get complacent, and then they screw up. When the manager starts playing more and more golf, and neglecting the business, problems arise. When the lovers think that their relationship is on solid footing, and start having “harmless” flings, that’s when the marriage counsellor or the “best friend” comes into the picture, to try to clean up the mess they’ve made.
The message is: Don’t underestimate the enemy. You must be constantly on the guard and you must sharpen you weapons, and you must use them. Don’t wait for a really bad situation to happen before you start using your resources. Prevent problems from arising, by being active, being humble in the face of the enemy, and then giving it all you’ve got - and that means using maximum overkill, or MaxOKÂ®.
Throughout this book, you will encounter this concept. MaxOKÂ® is my term to denote not only the traditional sense of the phrase, but to stress that objectives must be achieved at any price. In other words, once you’re committed to doing something, you do whatever it takes to achieve it - short of being a jerk to other people - and you must do whatever it takes to maintain it. Achieving an objective and then not maintaining it is the failed marriage, the bankrupted business, the big trough in your achievement curve. If you fail to maintain your success, it is because resources have not been continued to be allocated. There are exceptions, however. Certain objectives, usually short-term ones, don’t need to be maintained. Examples include one A+ grade for an essay or exam, making the deadline for a client’s project, scoring a win in today’s baseball game. But most of the time, what really counts are the long-term goals. You don’t want just an A+ for one exam: You want to graduate with distinction. You don’t want just one job for one client: You want to be the best in the industry. You don’t want to win just one baseball game: You want to win the entire series, and then the league, and then the World Championship. To be successful in the long-term, you must keep at it, and maintain your performance level even if you score big in the short-term goals.
Remember, MaxOKÂ® means no compromise in your attempts. MaxOKÂ® means no pulling punches, no quarter given or taken, no easing up of the trigger, no cease-fire until the target has been totally destroyed. You cannot be hurt, you cannot be stopped. Once the target has been acquired, you are relentless. MaxOKÂ® demands that you become a cyborg - MaxOKÂ® demands that you become a Terminator.
Synergy and Focus for Accomplishing Your Goals
Synergy - Multiple Weaponry
Increasing Your Power Exponentially
In nature, there is a concept called “synergy.” In fact, MaxOKÂ® itself is based on the advantages of synergy. When two or more different things combine together towards a common goal, the resultant effectiveness is more than simply the arithmetic addition of the individual items. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
To illustrate, a lot of people take TylenolÂ® for pain. The active ingredient in TylenolÂ® is acetaminophen. On the other hand, sometimes doctors prescribe codeine, which also works as a pain suppressant. But if you combine acetaminophen with codeine, you get a pain suppressant which is much more effective than if you simply increased dosage for either acetaminophen or codeine individually. In other words, component small amounts of acetaminophen plus codeine are more effective than a single large dosage of either acetaminophen or codeine. In fact, the resultant product is so effective, that it is called Tylenol-3Â® and is prescribed by doctors for serious pain.
As you may probably have concluded, the reason why combining these two chemicals together produces such a dramatic result, is because of synergy. This is a very powerful principle, and it works in all areas of life, regardless of whether you’re mixing drugs together, or cross-training. By allocating your resources towards a common goal, you will increase their effectiveness exponentially, and will often need to use less of each resource to achieve the same result. Therefore, you can increase your MaxOKÂ® level, and perhaps have more resources remaining after the achievement of the objective. The use of synergy does not mean that you can put MaxOKÂ® aside for a while. Until you are without a shadow of a doubt certain that your objectives will be achieved or have already been achieved, you cannot afford to reduce allocation of resources towards that goal. Remember, unless you achieve the objective, all resources allocated to it will have been totally wasted. The real value of synergy is that the objective would probably be achieved in less time, energy and money.
Concentration Of Power - Advantages of Focus
Cracking an Egg and Other Such Things
The concept of “concentration of power” is intricately related to the above two concepts. It is easier to describe this concept by the example of cracking an egg open. If you had to make a sunny-side-up - salmonella poisoning notwithstanding - you take the egg, and hit it sharply against an edge, and pour the contents into the frying pan. But did you know that you are applying the concept of “concentration of power?” If you were to apply the same pressure you did while hitting the egg against the edge, but spread that pressure all over the egg, you would fail in your attempt. The egg is constructed by nature to be so strong, that it can withstand the force of even a jet-plane wheel if the pressure is spread evenly throughout its surface. In fact, this has been done as a dramatic demonstration of the geometric advantages of the dome-shape for use in architecture.
One further example can be found right under the sun. If you put a piece of paper in the sunlight, it will just get hot. But if you take a magnifying glass and concentrate all that sunlight into one spot, you will succeed in burning a hole in the paper and even creating fire - and all from the same amount of sunlight. The critical difference is focus - concentration of power.
You can apply this concept to your goal achievements. Don’t spread your resources so thinly that you don’t get anything done. By focusing your forces, a swift and powerful attack can be executed, resulting in more rapid and effective objective achievement - compared to diffused set of attacks against multiple targets. With multiple targets, you have to spread your energy around. This is somewhat similar to the non-use of MaxOKÂ®, when you are trying to do something with minimum effort. The key problem is, you may not succeed. By concentrating your forces, you stand a much better chance of victory. Concentration of power is intricately related to MaxOKÂ®.
Some people may think, “but what about the phrase ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket?’” Well, that phrase has its own wisdom, but what it really says is that one shouldn’t be so oblivious to other options, that if the present task fails, there is no backup - no contingency plan. When applying for a job, you don’t just go to one employer and see if he hires you. You go to several employers. But at any given time, when you decide that a certain employer deserves your attempts to get hired by him, then you apply MaxOKÂ®, and put the other objectives on the back burner.
The use of MaxOKÂ® and concentration of power depends on good judgment. I have no immutable rule that you can follow to determine what to MaxOKÂ® and what not to. Only a fool would MaxOKÂ® a totally useless objective. The general who commands his troops to destroy a target which is not strategically important would probably lose the war when the enemy doesn’t even care that you annihilated that useless target. The smart general would have in effect a contingency plan to provide defensive capability even if the target turned out to be a useless one. The smart student would have other choices to take if he or she decides to discontinue a certain assignment, or drop a certain course. But while doing the assignment, he or she doesn’t spend resources on the other ones. It is only when the primary objective fails - that is, does not deserve any further time or effort - that the student resorts to choosing among the remaining options. And that is what not putting all your eggs in one basket means.
The wisdom of this proverb and the concept of MaxOKÂ® are not mutually exclusive.
Time Warp - Failures and Regrets in Life
What mistakes really mean and why they are valuable
Presently, I would like to draw attention to the term sunk cost, and lead into a discussion regarding mistakes and regrets. In the jargon of economic theory, sunk costs are expenses that are “sunk” or lost. They are “written off” and forgotten. Sunk costs are projects that failed, research that goes nowhere, marketing plans that sold nothing. By halting further resource input into the sunk projects, companies avoid wasting even further money, than what they have already wasted. The analogy is “folding” your hand during a poker game, not to maximize your winnings, but to minimize your losses.
Sometimes, people ask me whether or not the existence of sunk costs is an implicit argument against MaxOKÂ®. Their reasoning is that the continued allocation of resources towards a failed plan would be similar to the gambler who has been losing badly, and yet continues to gamble until he has lost everything. In this manner, the reference to sunk costs may seem to undermine our concept of MaxOKÂ®.
Now, contrary to the above line of thinking, I refresh you memory again that the use of MaxOKÂ® requires good judgment. When one realises that a certain method of achieving an objective can be classified as a sunk cost, and should be abandoned, that does not mean that the whole project is abandoned. In other words, the term “sunk cost” is only applicable to the individual component “mistakes” that are inevitable along the path of success. In other words, each “sunk cost” should not be abandoned and forgotten.
The rationale here requires some faith in the universe, and in yourself, for it is my belief that sunk costs are not really worthless, or true failures. Sunk costs are, in effect, very expensive lessons. The reason why I say that is because even though in certain instances you may feel that you need not have “paid” so dearly for such a lesson, if only you did this or that, or taken so-and-so’s advice, the reality is that you did pay dearly, and you did learn the lesson in such manner. In fact, what other people experience is, for the most part, inconsequential to you because you are the only person in this world who can live your own life. In other words, perhaps those “mistakes” were the only way you would have learned the lessons, and not otherwise.
If in fact you were able to travel back in time - not unlike the Terminator - would you have been able to change your future? Not likely. The caveat of time-travelling is that your memories would be erased (most science fiction stories have it wrong). Without knowledge of the future, at any given moment, people are making the best decisions to their ability. Again, this is an inborn survival trait. Your mind wants to, and does, make the best decisions it can. Sometimes it may not seem that way, but deep down inside your mind, there has to be a good reason - or so your mind perceives - for everything that you do, and all the choices you make. We will return to this topic of figuring out why your mind tells you to do certain things, but for the time being my point is that people should not regret their actions. Sunk costs are “losses” viewed from a pessimistic perspective, when in fact they are “investments” in lessons that would not have been otherwise learned. For every mistake you make, know that you have eliminated yet another possibility, and are that much closer to the correct method, and success.
Thomas Edison failed in his perfection of the lightbulb some one thousand times, before he arrived at the correct method. He did not regard any failure as a “mistake” but said that every time things didn’t work out, he had discovered yet another way not to make a lightbulb. In such manner, he put forth all his energies towards the ultimate goal - he used MaxOKÂ® - while realising that failures were merely temporary obstacles towards success. Therefore, when you realise that a particular avenue of action is not working out, stand back, and assess the situation. Don’t stop the whole project. In all achievements, there has to be more than one way of winning. If one method doesn’t work, try another. Don’t abandon the entire project. Like the wise general, use your “contingency plans.” Edison rejected the individual mistakes, but did not “write-off” the entire project as a complete “sunk cost.” If he had called a full stop and dumped the entire project because he had “one too many” mistakes, then his mistakes would really be sunk costs in the full economic meaning of the term. Everything he had done would have been truly wasted - and his mistakes doubly so - because the final goal of making a lightbulb would not have been achieved. Since he did not do that, and continued experimentation, the end result was the successful realization of his vision, and the lightbulb came to be.
Perhaps someone other than Edison would have solved the problem in less time with less mistakes, or perhaps would have taken more time, and run into more problems. These conjecture are of no value. The fact is, Edison was the only person who struggled with his problems and ultimately succeeded. In like manner, only you can challenge your own problems, and only you command your energies towards their solution. Learning from other people’s achievements and losses is only part of the process. In this vast universe, regardless of what you have and have not learned from other people, after all’s been said and done, when it comes down to making choices, the final and ultimate act of decision still rests upon you, and you alone.
MaxOKÂ® - Recap
Reviewing the concept of MaxOKÂ®
To wind up our discussion, let me emphasize an aspect of MaxOKÂ®: I created the term to denote more than the simple nifty contraction of “maximum overkill.” MaxOKÂ® encompasses all of the ideas we discussed in this chapter, but the main point I wish to draw attention to is that MaxOKÂ® stresses intelligence and good judgment. The power of MaxOKÂ® is a combination of the value of careful judgment, and the effectiveness of supreme firepower. In the contest between brain and brawn, MaxOKÂ® is the best synthesis of both worlds. Remember, you, of all people on this planet, know your own situations better than anyone else. Deciding when to abandon a particular action and choose another is a judgment call and requires some courage on your part, but be brave. As Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” Or, to paraphrase Eddie Rickenbacker - an American aviator - there can be no courage if there is first no fear. Now, it’s time to improve your brain with a…