As we get older, our challenges multiply, compound and get more complex. Decisions become increasingly difficult and the stakes get higher. In those critical moments, I realize that knowing what to do (principles) is not always immediately intuitive. 

Instead, knowing what not to do can help prevent harm and hold rash decisions at bay until more information is available. I like to think of “what not to do” as anti-principles. Without these anti-principles, I would have made a lot of mistakes. Let’s get straight to it. 

More building, less talking

How do we progress? By talking more, or building more? Talk has become increasingly cheap, shallow and reductionist. Perhaps there was a time where talk was valuable, but those times have passed if they had ever existed. Execution remains expensive and rightfully valuable. Talk has become especially fixated on untested ideas, speculative events and high-profile people. And to what end?

Politicians have made careers from telling us what they will do to eventually not do it. Journalists penning clickbait headlines to drive page views for the benefit of ad revenue. A tweet from a celebrity can occupy a disproportionate amount of mindshare. And are we better for it?

On the flip side, scientists developed a vaccine in an extremely short amount of time saving millions of lives. Technologists have created products that millions use to work, play, communicate and make a living. And without healthcare providers and teachers, our lives and the momentum of progress would come to a screeching halt. I like to think of these folks as operators: people in the field, in the trenches, getting things done. Building something. Rather than blabbering with a megaphone about what they would do - they go ahead and do it.

The greater delta of change increasingly resides in what we build, not in what we say. Ironically, what we talk about is often about what we build. The tangibles: institutions, products, services. The proof is in the pudding. Building is the most perfect expression of communication. An embodiment of intent and a vehicle for action. It prompts introspection, usage and feedback and most of all: changes our shared reality. The greatest beauty about building: we can build anything: not simply products and services, but futures, experiences and new realities.

Reason, not emotion

Decisions made with emotions often cause regret. Healthy decisions should be tethered to a stable and sensible rationale. There is a time and place for emotions including but not limited to improvisation, intimate moments and relationships.

Principles, no exceptions
Exceptions are symptomatic of a deeper problem. With too many exceptions, the overall integrity of that system can be in question. This sounds obvious, but not always intuitive in practice.

Pragmatism, not complaining

Complaining is sometimes a by-product of entitlement, often operating from a deficit of gratitude. Those that have seen and experienced the alternatives are often less likely to complain. For example, I may complain that my lightbulb is too bright or I may dislike the hue of light. On the other hand, my father will be grateful for light no matter the brightness or hue because he grew up studying under street lights in Zanzibar.

Complaining stakes a claim, and then biases towards following up with no action - which detracts from the validity of the claim as a second-order effect. If the claim is true, why not do something about it?

In contrast, pragmatism acknowledges a problem and follows up with action to remedy the pain.

Optimism, not pessimism

I found that being optimistic has generally created more positive outcomes rather than being pessimistic. Pessimism breeds self-fulfilling fallacies and feeds into determinism. Confucius said “The man who says he can and the man who says he can not… Are both correct”

More epistemology, less Ideology

As of recent, I’ve observed that how we think is much more interesting than what we think. How you think is often not obvious and requires an exceptional amount of “internal auditing”. The results are often surprising. Changing how you think seems to be just as important (if not more) as changing what you think.

Mindful, not negative parenting

Unfortunately, our generation has an exaggerated image of parenting: difficult, expensive and burdensome. While there is a degree of general difficulty and expense, it is by no means a defining feature of parenting. What parenting does require are alignment, patience and improvisation. Holding a distorted view of parenting not only unfairly impacts future parents, but also affects children. If a parent has a fundamentally negative perspective, will that not trickle down to the child? I don’t imagine the effects to be positive, not only for the child but also for the parent. There is much more benefit to be found from holding a healthy balanced view, rather than a fundamentally negative view.

Indifference, not distraction
Frankly - I don’t care deeply about what anyone else is doing. I keep to myself and mind my own business. Focus on my limited spheres of influence. I often regret and disdain involving myself in the affairs of others. I’ve experienced more peace this way and have been able to get more done this way.

Winning Together, not alone

Winning doesn’t have to be an individual endeavour. It can be very much a team sport. By affirming that only a few can win, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy. By behaving otherwise, we can break this recursive chain.