E equals M C squared

The famous equation of Albert Einstein has a simple elegance to it. I knew of it when I was young, but it didn’t mean anything to me. It probably warms the hearts of scholars of physics though.

The magic happens when I read about something that Robert Kiyosaki (author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”) said. In his book, he mentions that money is an idea. This prompted me to think of our earlier human ancestors, where barter trade was the norm. If you have herds of good cattle, you are considered rich. If your sheep produces fabulously soft wool, you are considered rich. In our modern times, if you have tons of those paper notes that your country’s mints are producing, you are considered rich.

What I realised is that, being rich has little to do with money itself. You are rich, because other people consider you to be rich. Having herds of cattle makes you rich because other people need the meat they can get from you. Since they don’t have it, they consider you to be richer than them. If you have a huge bank account, then other people consider you rich because they believe in the numbers they see and in the integrity of the bank.

Money is an idea.

Going back to the equation, I understand it as dividing our universe into two parts, energy and matter (or mass). If money is an idea, then it’s an energy form. And wealth is the material manifestation of this energy. If I want wealth, then I’ll have to materialise it from its energy form. Let’s look at the equation again:

Energy = Matter(mass) x Speed of light x Speed of light

The speed of light is 300000000 metres per second squared. That’s a 3 followed by 8 zeros. I realised that my energy level for wealth has to be extremely high in order to materialise anything.

This explains why many of the millionaires I’ve seen, heard and read about, are passionate, lively, animated and energetic. They create wealth from their ideas! To do this, they have to match their energy levels with that of wealth.

I now look at this equation under a different light.

The “2nd best” theory – Overbalancing

You might want to read part one and two first.

There is this almost obsessive need to “work on your weaknesses” pervading our lives. As a child, when I submit my report book to my dad, he would look it over, and point at some line on a page, and say something like, “How come you got a [insert low grade] for [insert some subject]?”.

After I graduated from university, I came to the “real” world. At my work reviews, my manager would go over my achievements, point at some line on his report, and say something like, “You are very good at [insert strong point], but I want you to improve on [insert weak point].”

Unless the weak point is critically hampering your progress, strengthening the weak point is a colossal waste of time!

Why is this so? Because you have little interest in it. If you had even a passing interest in it, it wouldn’t have been a weak point. You’d want to find out more more about it, even if it’s not one of your natural strengths. You have no feeling for it.

An example of a weak point worth correcting is the ability (or lack thereof) to communicate and work with fellow team members. You do want to work well with others right? Then you’d have an interest in making your relationship with them work.

This is where overbalancing comes in. In this context, it refers to improving every single skill you have, whether or not they create the most value for you. You might have heard of the 80/20 rule. 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your results. It’s hard enough finding out what your strengths are. Using the productive 20% effort on improving your weaknesses is commendable, but impractical.

Use a large part of the 80% effort on improving your complementary skills (to your strengths). The rest of the 80%? Go ahead with improving your weaknesses to do as little damage to your success as possible.

The “2nd best” theory – Finding balance

You might want to read part one first.

If you’ve played a role playing game before, then the following picture will look familiar. Skip forward a couple of paragraphs if you have no idea what I’m talking about…RPG statistics

What it means is your game character has high strength and vitality, but low reflexes and intelligence (you know the type right?) You can train the character to even greater strength to deal more damage.

The question is, how much more? How much more do you get if the strength is maxed out?

Now suppose you train a complementary skill, say the character’s reflexes. With faster reaction times, the character will be harder to catch and be able to strike more times. Hitting the opponent for tons of damage means nothing if the character gets pounded too. Being quicker on the feet makes the character much more dangerous.

I agree that the world needs exceptional people. If you’ve found what you’re great at, and you’re doing it now, congratulations! If not, but you’re pretty good at lots of stuff, then the 2nd best theory states that you are exceptional too! Because you are exceptional at balancing many things, and the world needs people like you too.

This works particularly in a team. For example, I am great at computer programming. I can write programs that are easy to understand (by the users and my fellow colleagues). But I suck at understanding the business logic driving these programs. There’s too many of them, with tons of documentation. My team leader on the other hand, can tell you how and why this system works with that system, but will have difficulty writing out program code. Together with my colleagues’ complimentary skills, the team can handle any software project.

Or look at any team sports. You may find star players, but you still need other players with different or balanced skills to complement them. This is what makes teams strong; people complement each other with their varied talents.

Carrying out this balancing act to the extreme will make you miserable though. Do your 2nd best for all your complementary skills. Focusing on improving your weak spot is useless, unless that weak spot is critical. Marcus Buckingham, who wrote “First, break all the rules”, says we should focus on our strengths. I’d like to add that we consider our skills that complement our strengths too, which usually make our strengths, uh, stronger.

The “2nd best” theory

Throughout my life, I’ve always struggled with expectations. I was not the most

  • intelligent (those straight A students get on my nerves sometimes)
  • popular (I wasn’t even with the geek crowd)
  • athletic (I still remember missing the rugby ball on my first kick)

amongst other things (let’s leave it at that, shall we?). I was doing well enough, but I was failing miserably at trying to be the best. Then it hit me.

You don’t have to be the best. You just have to be the 2nd best at everything!

Have you heard of the bell curve? It looks something like this:

Bell curve

Statistically, most people are in the middle (yellow zone), getting average results. The people with above average results are one zone to the right (green), and the high flyers are to the extreme right (blue zone).

To reach the “above average” green zone, it just takes a little bit more effort than average. Then, and this is the important part, unless you’re naturally good at it, it will take significantly more effort than average to be a high flyer.

“But this is common sense!”, you cry out.

I hear you, and well, sometimes I’m lazy, and the significantly more effort part is giving me problems. Significantly more effort means I spend more time honing just one skill. What if I can use this time and effort to bring up the level of my other complementary skills?

So I strive to be above average in everything I do. The goal? To be at the top of “above average”. To be hovering between above average and high flying at everything I do. While I’m doing this, I will inch towards high flying results.

I do what I can about things I know little about (be average) and ask for help. I focus on needed skills (be above average) and excel at my natural strengths (be high flying).

Tomorrow, I will share with you how this “2nd best” theory can make you a happier and well balanced individual.