What is the difference between skill and talent?

I was just reading my Myers-Briggs profile. I am convinced that I was born without whatever innate social skills most people are born with, my parents aren’t the most popular people, I am an only child – and was a sickly one and so had to be at home a lot. What a constellation. The house pet we had was a cat, so that was of no help (except understanding that being cute leads to cuddles). However, I pursue social skills – watch people who are charismatic and have gravitas, read about it, think about it and pay attention. Fundamentally, I think social skills are about paying attention to the people you are with.

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I think Johnny Depp is one of the most charismatic people on the planet. There are plenty of people who are even better looking that Mr Depp. In fact, he looks sort of niche, sort of ethnic, even though he’s not. Why do men, women and children swoon after him? I think it’s down to the way he acts – make sure that everyone around him feels good. Perpetually self-depricating and vulnerable. I believe that this too is an act – after all, he is a phenomenal actor. Having watched a huge number of interviews with him, I’ve noticed a few hints at the value he puts on being liked. So, he’s not just a genuine guy with a beautiful face – he’s a genius psychologist. Tip: if you want to see an interview with someone, check if Larry King interviewed that person – he is exceptional at getting people to open up.

Back to Myers-Briggs. As an ENTP, I cannot handle repetitive tasks and routine. If there are no decisions to be made, no alternative routes to be explored – I get bored. Then I thought of the cliche – repetition is the mother of skill. So… does this mean I am going to be useless? I think not. Ray Dalio is a well-known ENTP who is particularly outspoken about what he believes. He says that you can always get other people to do the *doing*, but you have to the one doing the *thinking*. Is thinking a skill? Am I good at it because I do it so much? Thinking, done right, certainly does not feel repetitive. Is it a talent?

Talent is something you are born with. Skill is something you acquire. I don’t think anybody ever taught me to or encouraged me tho think, yet it happens anyway. So maybe, skill is something we don’t inherently want to do. Entropy is always going against skill. Skill benefits from volatility and change, for sure, but within pretty narrow limits. Talent, I think, is far more antifragile, gaining new incarnations as the world around us changes.

The love of certainty: best lists and coloured ribbon

I have a lot of respect for Seth Godin, Nassim Taleb and Richard Feynman for one reason: they seem to detest best lists. Feynman accepted his Nobel prize but was reluctant at first – he spoke about how it is just a form of “epaulettes”: oftentimes overvalued markers of authority that give people certainty where there is none.

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The New York Times bestseller list can be gamed, this seems to be widespread knowledge. Seth Godin even said it was a scam. Maybe that’s too much, but it seems to give authority to The New York Times as much as it does to the books. It is a kind of marketing operation – like the Oscars. I mean how did it take what seems like 1000 years to give Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar – and Johnny Depp still doesn’t have one, as of 2016!?

The worst thing about authority is how blindly people follow it. People are often told to not doubt themselves – but it seems to instrumental to doubt yourself on certain things. People have an aversion to questioning things and are naturally terribly uncomfortable with uncertainty. This is probably the reason why most people choose to be in employment rather than take a leap into the unknown by pursuing what they love. I think the blatant truth is that there is no certainty – and politicians have forever been selling the dream of certainty to gullible voters who seem to be gotten by it every single time.

Napoleon let the cat out of the bag when he said: “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon.” This same logic is used by schools who condition people to be delighted with a star on their homework and subsequently by corporations who offer the dream of personal development and professional progress – because promotions can get too expensive. What a play on people’s yearning for validation. Could this apply to the reader?

It is terrifying that science has become a new religion. In the wake of disillusionment with organised religion, people choose to fulfil their need for certainty with science. The whole premise of science is to take nothing for granted, to always look for holes in an argument, to not shut down devil’s advocates – but to engage with them in an open-minded fashion in a communal effort to chisel away at data until we get to our best attempt at describing reality.

Even the distinguished gentlemen listed above aren’t the uncontested angels of great opinions. I quote people and tend to work off their opinions because they give me inspiration – not because I take them for granted. The celebrated Mr Feynman is more or less the guy behind the Manhattan project – which stills my blood. He had a turbulent relationship with alcohol. This doesn’t diminish Richard Feynman’s opinions and contribution to science and society in any way, shape of form. It is just a reminder that the halo effect wreaks havoc with our brain for the same reason – the need for certainty. This brings me back to the one quote that I really love: “I know one thing: that I know nothing.” I never thought that this was a paradox. I mean the words seem to imply it is one, but really, it makes perfect sense.

This gives rise to another interesting question. Seemingly, I am an ENTP. The stuff I preach is the stuff that the likes of Socrates and Feynman stand behind. They are, psychologists profess, also ENTPs. This is about to get a little meta… Why is it that I am so drawn to identify with their opinions? I guess I am drawn to the certainty that somebody sees the world in the same way that I do. Is this just the variety of certainty that I am hooked on? Being certain that certainty doesn’t exist is a form of hiding of a nihilistic variety and I don’t want to fall down that rabbit hole. I guess certainty does exist, but it is really conditional on a lot of things and there has to be a balance between practicality and over-simplification.

The rise and fall of social media

It seems that Twitter isn’t feeling so well. Last week, The Financial Times spoke about Twitter’s revenue – dwarfed by that of Facebook – and a few courting attempts by Salesforce et al that ultimately didn’t result in an offer. Gary V described the lack of engagement that he gets on Twitter – and an explosion of attention on Snapchat. Finally, Justin Kan who spoke at an event in the Computer Museum in Mountain View today put up a little tombstone for Twitter – anticipating a death in 2017. What is the death going to look like? Why is this happening? Of note, I saw all of these pieces (FT, Gary and Justin) as videos – on Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat). Hmm…

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Twitter isn’t growing, but it sure is useful, even for people who joined late. A huge portion of traffic to my various websites comes from Twitter. It would never occur to me to advertise of Twitter. I think the reason people don’t like it is that it is full of bots and censorship. Gab.ai is evolving to take care of the censorship part. I wonder if it will fall on deaf ears if it is built to resemble Twitter and come out in 2017. Justin Kan suggested that it is down to the fact the Twitter didn’t have a “second act”: Facebook went from profiles to newsfeed, Snapchat added video, whereas Twitter didn’t. I am not sure I can 100% relate to that logic: I think the problem may even be that Twitter went in too many directions and didn’t really stand for any one single thing. Facebook can probably be accused of a lot of this kind of thing too. So yeah, I think it is down to the inauthenticity – the bots and the spam that is so prevalent on Twitter. You cannot go anywhere without getting followed by 10 social media marketing experts.

It is like a biological system. A new species evolves – with a new DNA. It takes time for the viruses to evolve to hack into that DNA – the viruses being the likes of bots and other spammy entities (including marketers!). There are fewer of them on Facebook – due to the nature of Facebook, and I think that’s why it has done better. Twitter has a particularly vulnerable DNA.

Millennials and generation Z have a special place in their hearts for authenticity. We don’t seem to respond as well to traditional advertising – or anything that spams our attention, anything that we didn’t seek out ourselves – and thus we *perceive* it as being manipulative. Of course, all it means is that we prefer to be manipulated in more elegant ways.

I think that in the last 10 years we’ve come really yearn for authenticity. Instead of accepting interruptions with TV ads, we’ve come to realise that we can curate our own content. From that point, advertising that interrupts and pushes things has become unacceptable and rude.

Let’s take 2 extremes. Snapchat seems more authentic compared to a TV ad. Why? There is a perception that if something is snapped live – it is less likely to be contrived and edited. It is different every time – and we all love variety. Let’s compare it to Instagram. It is more informational – a video says 1000^2 words. IG stories are catching up, but they seem to be an auxiliary feature. Having said all this, Snapchat’s revenue is still pretty small compared to the established behemoths. There will come a day when we are mourning Snapchat too. Snapchat has a vulnerable DNA, but it is far more niche than Twitter and hence has a more loyal crowd that are likely to stick with it. Perhaps people have a natural affinity for video – especially if we can get it in VR – that will happen in the next 10 years I assume. Snapchat is the new TV. For how long? It went books-radio-TV-blogging-YouTube-social. I hope the next step is something other than being plugged into the matrix. Promethean fears aside, the productivity of receiving information is constrained not just by the delivery method, but by our means of receiving it. **Elon Musk spoke about how he hopes to be able to expand the bandwidth of the human ability to perceive information.** Like, that’s genuine Matrix territory. Video seems to be winning in the social media game because how efficient it is as delivering information (entertainment, whatever it might be). VR is the natural upgrade from that. Justin Kan says that the big break in VR is going to be a computer game. They already exist of course. They aren’t as much fun as they should be because they constantly break immersion.

Matt Mullenweg, who developed WordPress at a time when there were already multiple blogging platforms, is a hero of the early naughties that is mentioned less often than Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, but may well end up a bigger deal. He says that VR is at stage of the hype cycle where the expectations are way out of proportion. The next few years of VR are going to be boring. My intuition is that we will see VR go mainstream, I mean Facebook-of-2007 kind of mainstream no earlier than 2020. Perhaps, VR is going to grow B2B rather than B2C at first.

Psychopathy vs control of emotion

I recently learnt that I have the val-val variety of the COMT gene. This piece of information means I respond to stress pretty well – the weight I attribute to it is tiny, but it is also characteristic of the ENTP personality type, so I will roll with it.

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Looking at other women freaks me out sometimes – they are so emotional. Everything seems to matter. I feel like I have the full range of emotion, but being around these super intense women sometimes makes me feel like either a man – or a psychopath. I just can’t relate – and it makes me feel isolated. Furthermore, I never thought of myself as being super-empathetic (though I still cannot watch A Christmas Carol even without crying.) So I don’t know what to make of it and am starting to wonder if I am a tad psychopathic.

Controlling emotion, being aware of emotion and using it rather than allowing it to use you is fundamental to getting anything done. I struggle sometimes to understand the difference between controlling emotion, suppressing emotion and being a psychopath. In the words of Robert Frost, the only way out is always through, but sometimes it seems that the drama just passes me by.

So let’s say someone hurls an insult your way.

A number of things can happen:

A. You feel that the only thing you can do is react. [Stupidly reactive]

B. You are in tune with your emotions, you will feel the anger as a response within you. Having this awareness will allow you to then decide: ok, there has been an insult, now I feel angry, but what am I actually going to do? [Zen master]

C. You know that this person’s opinion isn’t everything, so you don’t care, so you don’t get angry. You respond is an entirely calculated way. [? Psychopath]

D. You feel the anger, feel offended, but you are the bigger person, so you delay the response – and think of a way to respond while feeling vulnerable and under attack. [Suppressing emotions]

B and C seem like good options. The problem with C is that most people would regard it as psychopathy. But what if you control your emotions from a cognitive perspective? If you develop a belief that a person’s opinion isn’t important – that’s not psychopathic. And the fact that it diminishes your emotional response to the point of not existing – is also understandable. As a baby you could be afraid of the loud noise that the hoover makes, but when you get a little older – you understand that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and so the fear that had previously made you cry – goes away. Similarly, not every person is entitled to an opinion on every subject. **A conscious decision to not care with good reason is different to being someone who is unable to care, i.e. a psychopath.**

Do we really need women role models?

I have never bought in to the radical feminism that is all around us. However, today, for the first time, I realised something: we do actually specifically need women role models – for a particular reason.

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The way we learn seems to come from our ability to mimic. From Aristotle to Kurt Vonnegut, to the modern self-help industry, they all agree that we learn by modelling people. I think that toddlers learn to walk at least in part because they want to be like everyone else abound them. So it doesn’t matter to them how many times they fell on their a*s. Same thing with language. Monkey see – monkey do. That’s what learning is about. That’s why doctors in training shadow more experienced doctors. However, as is the case with toddlers, we learn just by being close to something – without necessarily having chosen to do so. It’s like walking into a room full of people who are laughing at something – it is hard to stop yourself from smiling, even though you have no reason to laugh and feel really awkward now! That’s why we become the average of the five people around us.

The clincher is in the fact that it is much easier to learn from someone who you can relate to more easily. When I heard Arianna Huffington speak about her career, it just made so much more sense to me than when I heard countless other men. It’s not that I didn’t learning anything from men – far from it. However, seeing women in business is life-affirming and whatever it is that my brain saw in this woman that I am not even aware of – I feel that it really made a difference. It added certainty. It’s not that I don’t get inspired by male role models, but there was this added “if she can do it – I can do it too.”