Mysteries and Puzzles

Often during the process of making something (be it your new start-up or slow project) there comes a point where you bump into problems. Often, this problem is actually a gap in your knowledge; you don’t know enough about something to NOT make it a problem. And it needs to be solved.  But why do we define these things as problems, when what we’re actually experiencing is either a puzzel or a mystery?


Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fantastic article titled Open Secrets about the collapse of Enron, and the veracity of our belief that Jeffrey Skilling (the CEO at the time) was guilty. He goes on to discuss that actually, whereas puzzels often stem from a deliberate disequilibirum of information, a mystery actually involves ‘open secrets’ – where all the evidence is in plain sight to see. Gladwell intones that whilst you can find someone guilty for withholding information to the detriment of others, we should not have been able to convict Skilling, because Enron actually met their legal obligations to disclose all of their company information. The Enron collapse was a mystery, not a puzzle.

Recently in the Huffington Post, David Fiderer wrote an article about Goldman Sachs avoiding punishment from the S.E.C…but again, this is a similar example as Enron. As Fiderer explains…

“If you actually reviewed the performance of mortgage backed securities held by the CDO and understood how cash flow waterfalls and delinquency triggers worked, then you could see that subordinate tranches being insured for the benefit of Goldman were already worthless”

Financial collapse and boom-bust cycles will continue to occur, because we continue to believe that financial management is a ‘due’ process and that due diligence is infallible. Even Fiderer, the author of this artcile, whilst picking out that the due dilligence was a sham…still espouses checking just another metric (the mortgage backed securities held by the CDO) and making that a part of the system. Metrics are important, but it takes experience and a human who is exceptionally experienced in finance and deals to intuitively asses these sorts of deals.

Keep this in mind the next time you hear a report of ‘Corporate greed or incompetence. It’s not the corporations that are guilty, save for their instinct to consistantly push an opportunity to it’s breaking point. It’s our own fault for thinking the system is infallible. It’s time we realized the efficiency of intuition and various information sources being collaborativly pooled, so that these complex mysteries may be solved.

Our personal projects are no different. Don’t confuse the problem you’re facing as a puzzle – sometimes it’s a mystery that you won’t just be able to just crash your way through. Trust your gut and search for the intuitive answers.

Finding magic.

We all like meeting people who are doing amazing things. The excitement that comes from finding a kindred spirit, who is working hard on their own slow project in their spare time, is one of lifes joys. But how do you find people that are doing these things? How do you go about locating them? If you had to find someone, doing something awesome tomorrow – how would you start? Here are a few of my thoughts.

1) Behind great people, is a great community.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Behind every great man, is a great woman.” The same applies to people doing great stuff. Behind every magic person is a magic community. People are not awesome by themselves, they often become so because they are supported by an able cadre of other inspiring people. If you want to find magic people, start looking for the community they spend the most time with.

One example is the #samehuman community, who meet once monthly in Melbourne for dinner. If you’re doing something socially progressive and geared towards making a positive difference in the world, you should dine with the #samehuman clan each month. Another is the #leanstartup movement in Sydney, which has a monthly meet-up to discuss their ventures with each other. Or, spend a day co-working at Inspire9.

2) Magic people are doing magic things.

You can find awesome people by looking for awesome projects. People are doing amazings things every day now, and you can often find those amazing people by looking for their amazing projects. Zach Klein, as an example, gets asked for magic every day.


Sites like Kickstarter and Fund Break in Australia, are now a platform for people who are doing really good work, on their own time and money. People like Jeffery Yoo Warren, who successfuly kickstarted his project “Grassroots mapping the Gulf oil spill with balloons and kites. If I were looking for someone to recommend for a geomattic engineer position then I wouldn’t hesitate to send them Jeffery’s way purely based on the fact he’s doing what he is doing in the Gulf.

3) Don’t ask how you’ll find them. Ask how magic people will find you.

Do people like Zach know you? People are now coming to him so often, asking for magic, that he has decided to create; a site specifically for sharing the different positions which people in his community are looking to fill. Often, you won’t find people doing good stuff – they will find you. Trust that you’re doing good stuff and trust that these people will find you. Magic happens all the time.

Natural decision points

Last month, we had a planning meeting for Trampoline, which was kindly facilitated for us by Jan Stewart. At this session, we focused on allowing ourselves to come to natural decision points about the different choices and options ahead for the event.

I think everyone, when asked about where they make the best decisions, would probably say something like “the shower” or in some mode where their brain was not immediately focused on the task at hand. These solutions are often the best, and most suitably account for all the ‘little’ things that intuitively you know need to be part of the puzzle to solve the problem. The thing is, we often force ourselves to make decisions in environments that are not the places where those solutions crop up.

Jan’s session was excellent because she didn’t facilitate ‘us’ the participants but the environment that we used to evolve our discussions. We had cordoned off an afternoon just to be together and discuss Trampoline, and we moved from different places to keep our energy and discussions naturally flowing. We started with grabbing some take-away coffee at a cafe, then a chat on a rug in Flagstaff Gardens, then lunch at the serene Captains Of Industry.


Photo by superciliousness

Through doing that, over the course of the afternoon, we naturally came to a number of decision points which we suddenly had natural answers for. So natural, they didn’t feel like decisions at all…only validation of shared consensus. It’s my belief that we can come to these natural decision points often, over most complex problems, by just giving ourselves time to come to them. And now that we have made those decisions, the benefit of that shared understanding is evident in all of our planning meetings we have had since.

If you’re facing a complex problem, which appears to be fraught with complex decisions to make, then I suggest just giving yourself the time and environment to make them naturally. Jan is interested in facilitating more sessions like these in the future, so if you’re interested then you should consider sending her an email at or follow her on twitter.

Use @kickstarter to find awesome projects

Whilst I was away in London recently I was really chuffed to check into my email briefly and notice that Trade School, a project I had backed on Kickstarter, had reached it’s funding goal of $9000. I thought that was fantastic, and can’t wait to see another term happen.

I love the idea of Trade School, because it acts as a conduit for awesome people within their communities to come out of the woodwork and teach others how they do their ‘stuff.’ You can see a list of people and classes that took place at Trade School last time around by visiting their website; classes like How to throw an arts festival for 1-3 days or Scrabble strategy for beginners. Trade School seems to straddle well the divide between learning things that are either work-based, or fun-based. The photo below comes from a class hosted by Ellie Irons called Drawing for Pleasure. Trade School is the sort of thing I imagine working really well at Donkey Wheel House, in Melbourne. Perhaps Kinfolk Cafe will adopt the idea? (wink wink).


But the real reason I loved seeing that Trade School got funded was because I am really falling in love with the global platform that Kickstarter is becoming. It is becoming a great way to find excellent slow projects that people are working on. Sometimes, finding interesting people doing funky, out-there, awesome projects can be tough. Now, Kickstarter has 10 of them every week! I’ll be backing more projects in the future and intend on posting those projects I back on this blog. In the meantime, if you’re looking for people doing awesome projects, start your search on Kickstarter