True Meritocracy

The world is a crazy place.  It’s probably always been a crazy place, but something’s different right now.  Something’s starting to boil over.

A war is being waged between how things have been done, and how they could be done.  It’s tradition versus progress.  People are afraid.  The future is uncertain.  If you have it good, change isn’t so appealing.  But most people don’t have it so good – so change is coming.

One thing we all seem to agree on though is the concept of a meritocracy.  The best person for the job should get the job..  Seems straight forward but I don’t think we really appreciate what that really looks like.  In a meritocracy, opportunities are only earned, no longer given.

 

I consider myself someone who has fought hard for almost everything he has, but I’d be foolish if I said that I had earned all my opportunities.  I went to an inner-city high school that probably had the lowest graduation rate in the city.  Most of my friends lived in the projects while my family was middle class.  When grade 12 came along, they were barely considering college.  Meanwhile, my dad kicked my ass into gear, paid for biology and math tutors, and even a guy to help walk us through the application process to universities.  That didn’t mean that I wasn’t working my ass off, but still.

And the idea of being able to afford university?  My grandparents set some money aside for that.  It didn’t cover the full ride, but it let me come out of university with barely any debt.  I know I’m intelligent, I know I’m capable, and I know I have a strong worth ethic, so perhaps I earned an opportunity at a university education – but how many other intelligent, capable and hardworking people never had that opportunity?  How many of them are working dead-end jobs because they weren’t given the same opportunities along the way that I was?

In my mind, in a meritocracy, resources and opportunities flow to those who are most deserving.  So how does one determine who is most deserving?  It’s a function of efficiency – If you’re going to do the most with the opportunity, you deserve it most.

In the case of post secondary education, it’s not a matter of payment, access, or even intelligence, it’s a function of who will do the most with that education.  How many times have we seen people end up with a bachelor’s degree only to find out that it had nothing to do with what they wanted to do with their lives?  How many times has someone who would’ve turned that degree into a bright future, been turned down?

In the case of jobs, how often have we seen friends hired over strangers?  I’ll concede that familiarity and trust are important factors to consider when hiring, but the inside track is real.  How many times have mom or dad made a call to one of their friends at the firm to get their kid set up?  How many other kids who were more qualified were turned down because of it?  And here’s the crazy thing, is the kid who got hooked up really better off?

How often do we see kids pushed into careers like accounting or law by their parents, only to discover that it’s not aligned with them at all.  Sure it comes with a decent income and some degree of job security, but if that’s not their gift to the world, they’re holding themselves back.  If they could make the effort to tap into their inner-genius and align themselves with what they were born to do, not only would they probably make a lot more money, they’d probably be a lot happier too.  And for bonus points, that would now free up a spot in their previous profession for someone who was born to do that.

And now we arrive at one of the most interesting and currently relevant oversights of a meritocracy: Inheritance wouldn’t exist.

If you googled: great leaders who come from wealthy families, you might be surprised to at what it returned.  Not much.  If you do, you’ll notice that google tries to auto-complete the query with ‘nothing’ instead of ‘wealthy families’, the second suggestion is ‘poverty’.  This query returns everything you would expect it to.  Is that a pattern worth observing?

If you’re born into a wealthy family, are you more or less likely to encounter obstacles and experience adversity?  Are you more likely to be given your opportunities or earn them?  How likely are you to experience sacrifice?  How likely are you to think of your own self-worth as an extension of your family’s success?  How likely are you to have a skewed perspective of who you are and what you can offer the world?  How likely are to you see equality between you and someone who isn’t as nearly well off?

Maybe this is why Warren Buffett, perhaps one of the most grounded billionaires of all time isn’t passing his billions along to his family.  Not because he doesn’t like them, but because he thinks it’ll do more harm than good.  Personally, I think one of the best things you can do for your children is to help them discover their own success.

Back at the banks, part of my role was to help devise estate plans for my wealthy clients.  More often than not, they were great people who had worked hard their entirely lives to build what they had.  Most were philanthropic, but almost all wanted to leave the majority of their estate to their kids while paying the least amount of tax in the process.  From their perspective, they earned the money and should be able to do as they please when they pass away – it was about freedom of choice.

So is freedom of choice at odds with a meritocracy?  I don’t think so.  On first glance, someone might think that my suggestion would be a 100% estate tax with the proceeds used to fund something like free post secondary education.  I don’t think it’s that simple.  It would be too easy to invest your estate into a business or other asset, and gift that asset to your heirs, only for them to sell it and receive an indirect inheritance.  Rules create loopholes.  They need to be self-motivated to do it.  We have to convince the rich that their families are better off without all the money.  It needs to be logical, and it needs to be their idea.

So why is passing your fortune through to your kids so important?  The average price of a home here is about 20x the average household income.  The cost of living is high across that board.  What that means is that the only people who can afford real estate are people who already own real estate, people who in the top 1%, and children who receive financial assistance from their parents.  Under the guise of a free market, we exist in a scenario where only the wealthy and their children are capable of buying real estate.

You can only own property if your parents owned property – that’s downright feudal.

But how are you going to convince those parents not to help their kids?  I’m sure the parents would much rather spend that money on a vacation home or their favorite charity, but they’re deeply invested in the future of their children and will gladly sacrifice some of their success to see their kids get ahead.  But what if they didn’t?

A market will go up when there are more buyers than sellers.  A market will go down when there are more sellers than buyers.  When the well-off are funding the real estate purchases of their kids, they’re creating buyers.  They’re effectively raising the market price on everyone.  If they were willing to let their kids experience the realities of an unbalanced market, you’d be helping the market find its equilibrium – where an average income could afford an average home.  But they’re scared.  They don’t trust the system, and they definitely don’t trust that the system will look out for the best interests of their kids.  So they take matters into their own hands and take care of their family at the expense of others.  Do I blame them?  No, especially because I don’t think many of them make that connection.  Caring for your offspring is one of the most powerful instinctual drives we have, including protecting them at the expense of others.  So how do we move past it then?

Government as it exists now, if they ever came around to it, would want to put rules in place.  There would be regulations, and taxes, and other nonsense that would be more likely to shift wealth to the lawyers and accountants than to the people who would make the best use of it.  The movement towards a meritocracy needs to be a movement of the people, and it may have already started.

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates spent some time over the last several years speaking with their fellow billionaires about the impact of leaving their wealth to their families.   They’ve made progress.  More than 150 billionaires have already publicly pledged to give half their fortune away, including Zuckerberg who pledged 99% of his Facebook shares.  Just about every self-made billionaire will have a keen eye for investments so what does this really look like?  How is this connected to a meritocracy?  Does it stop at the billionaires?

When you’re looking to make an investment, the first thing most people ask is how much will I make?  I would ask, “of what?”  Investing is not financial by nature, it’s much more dynamic than that.  When these billionaires are looking to invest, most aren’t simply writing a check to their local chapter of United Way, they’re looking for the best return on their investment.  So what are they getting back?  I’d guess it varies on a case by case basis, but I think above all else, they’re looking to put those resources behind those who will do the most with them.  How many women are there in the world who are capable of so much more than the opportunities afforded to them today?  How many children die from poor health care before they’re able to contribute to society?  How much of the world is still off-line and unable to see beyond their own horizon?  These kinds of investments might create a return of capital, they’ll almost definite return some warm and fuzzies, but the real genius is the return that’s created for the rest of the world.

Think of how many women there are in the world who are operating at their full potential.  Now compare it to how many women in the world who will never have the opportunity to work, let alone at something that they were born to do.  Now multiply that number by how many neurons there are in the average brain and you’ll arrive at the world’s largest untapped source of brain power.  You could say something similar about most people living in poverty.  Imagine the power of bringing those minds online.  Imagine what the world would look like if we were all afforded the opportunity to tap into that inner genius – that’s the foundation of a meritocracy.

Does it stop at the billionaires?  I hope not.  They can’t do it alone.  They need our help.  They have the money, but we have the power – we just don’t know it yet.

The Popularization of Victimhood

I grew up in a low income neighborhood where things were probably a little rougher than average.  It was mostly immigrant families who came here with very little, in search of better opportunities.  In neighborhoods like these, opportunities were scarce so you learned to fight for every opportunity and every advantage.  Sometimes that meant finding ways to sneak two lunches at school.  Sometimes it meant stealing part of the lunch from the person who got up to go to the bathroom.  Everyone was always being tested – if you left an opening, you got hit.

Sounds like a rough place, but it wasn’t without ethics.  Those with disabilities were always off limits, and often befriended by most popular kids.  If someone targeted them, they were immediately protected, and often by the toughest kids.  Others were simply known for being too nice to be picked on, and were supported for taking the high road.  The rest of us.. were fair game.

The appeal of victimhood doesn’t resonate with me and recounting through my childhood, I might I understand why.  When you grow up in an environment where just about everyone is starting at a disadvantage, working your ass off to get to the status quo is the status quo.  Drawing attention to our circumstances for the sake of sympathy or outside intervention just isn’t where we choose to put our energy.  Instead, we work hard in school, become productive members of society, and give back to the community so that we can solve this problem for future generations.  Today, our community center has the largest food security program in the city, one of the best basketball programs in the region (NBA Cares just redid our gym), and gets 75% of it’s funding through fundraising – largely from community alumni.  This is how I learned to deal with disadvantage.

The other remarkable thing that happens in this neighborhood is that we produce great people.  We’re not without our bad eggs, but generally speaking, we’re polite, kindhearted and well intentioned.  Even the friendships made there are more like family than friends now.  We were terrible to each other, but only when it didn’t matter.  When it mattered, we would fight tooth and nail for each other.  Perhaps it left me with a different perspective on when things mattered and when they didn’t.

This is why I struggle to relate to what appears to be a developing culture of victims.  Where I might see an opportunity to redeem myself, it’s as if they see an opportunity to draw attention to themselves.  It’s often under the premise of ‘raising awareness’ which seems well-intentioned but it’s a somewhat incomplete strategy on its own.  There’s a wide gap between being aware of something and understanding it.  Fortunately for all of us, awareness generates dialogue and dialogue helps to develop and circulate good ideas which ultimately help us understand what we’re actually dealing with and how to make progress.  The problem though, is that the solution is to popularize redemption.

Redemption isn’t just inspiring, it’s informative.  It says yes, you can get dealt a shitty hand and still come out on top – here’s proof.  It says look at what I just did, take what you can and apply it to your situation.  The better the story, the more viral that information becomes.  Some of the greatest stories in human history are based in redemption, but you can’t have redemption or all that fantastic personal growth that comes with it without adverse circumstances.  I can’t help but think that with the right perspective, adversity can be seen as positive.  It’s when we suffer that we learn the most about ourselves and the universe around us.  Adversity is that fuel that pushes us forward in the most meaningful of ways.  For the record, this is all from personal experience.

The problem with popularizing victimhood is that it’s encouraging the wrong behavior.  It’s like celebrating the loss rather than celebrating the win.  It’s also creating a sense of pessimism where people are spending more time looking for ways in which they’re being harmed than they are looking for ways in which they’re being loved.  And by the time we’ve all identified as a victim of something, what have we accomplished?  Do we still make a conscious effort to sympathize for a victim when everyone’s a victim?  Do we continue to use the word victim, both for someone who was killed in a mass shooting and for someone who was whistled at on the street?  Where I grew up, the word victim was often reserved for a drug overdose or a homicide, the kind of event you couldn’t overcome.  Now it’s a hashtag, part of how we identify, and indicative of social virtue.

Identity politics, where your social status and implied virtue is linked to your level of victimhood.  A racial minority? 1 point.  Female? 1 point.  Gay? 1 point.  Disabled? 1 point.  Straight white male? – 3 points.  I have to admit, there is some irony in how the popularization of victimhood has systematically marginalized straight white males.

As much hate as they get, this isn’t as much of a white guy thing as it is an old people thing.  They want control because they’re afraid of what will happen if they’re not in control.  They’re intolerant because they’re afraid they don’t know how to deal with change.  In a world of uncertainty, they’re afraid and are desperately trying to keep things the same.  In a world of change, we’re quickly taking over.

Let’s focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we’re going to create.

Escapism

Alcohol consumption has been increasing steadily for the last 10 years.  Cannabis use is at an all-time high.  Opioids have been declared a national emergency.    Entire sub-cultures of youth and young adults are finding fewer and fewer reasons to leave the house.  It’s like we’re all trying to escape from all this… sucking.

Do well in school.  Work hard.  Be nice to others.  Pretty common advice for most of us growing up.  We were supposed to do well in school so that we could learn the skills necessary to earn a good income.  We were to work hard because the more effort we put in, the greater the reward.  We should be nice to others because it’s important that we all get along.

So what happens when you do well in school but struggle to find a job when you graduate?  And what about those who had to take out student loans?  What happens when you realize that you’re not the one being rewarded for your hard work?  And what happens when you start to feel like the world has genuinely given up on getting along with one another?

You escape.

We all hallucinate our own reality and it is by that mechanism that we can choose to exist in a reality where we don’t feel the weight of these issues.  Some escape to a digital reality, some to an altered state, but the objective is still the same – being there is better than being here.

Why not just step your game up and go take what the world owes you?  Just make sure you out-perform your peers and you’ll get that top 1% lifestyle that you’ve always wanted.  And once you get there, you’ll know that you’ve made it and that you’re truly different than the other 99%.  That’s what a younger me would’ve said.  To the victor go the spoils, so just make sure you win.  Modern-day cannibalism at its finest.

The problem with the ‘try harder’ approach is that it only works in a zero-sum scenario.  If a few people put in more effort while everyone else is doing the same as they were, those who are putting in more effort are likely to receive more rewards.  If everyone puts in more effort, relatively speaking, the effort levels all remain the same.  Effectively, if we all try hard, we all stay exactly where we are.

So being a grown-up is nothing like what we were told.  Effort is no longer the difference between being rich and poor.   Jobs are disappearing to automation at an increasing rate.  The cost of living is climbing faster than income.  Debt has replaced savings.  Home ownership and a family are now an irresponsible financial decision for most.  And when we look to our leaders and our policy makers in the hopes of change, we see one of the most embarrassing breakdowns of governance in the modern age.

We can’t seem to get to where we want to go.  The advice we were given did not hold up.  We’re being told it’s because we’re lazy.  We’re being told that we’re the problem.  It just doesn’t make sense…

Depression.

Escape.

But we rise.

Our hope that the human condition will prevail remains in tact.  While you look to divide, we look to connect.  Where you seek control, we seek freedom.  Where you look to horde, we look to share.  Where you look to keep secrets, we look to expose the truth.  While you’ve looked to maintain the status quo, we look to challenge it.  And where you fear the future, we embrace it.

We’re just trying to be patient, waiting for our turn.  We see you trying to drag this out though.  I recommend against it.  It’s not a fight you’ll win.

 

Uninhibited Humanity

What does it look like?  If we had no considerations for what other people thought, no fears of being judged, no consequences for non-conformity, how would you behave?  How would we behave?

How common would pedophilia be? How common would rape be?  If we allowed ourselves to be uninhibited, would how would it manifest?  Would irrational behavior correct?  Is it our judgement or actions which are irrational?  I’d guess both.

There’s a pattern I’m seeing.  Pedophilia and sexual slavery rings with connections to some of the world’s most powerful circles.  Eccentric celebrities getting caught messing around with kids.  Powerful individuals testing their sexual boundaries.

If you can reach a stage in your life in which you have more resources than you can use, more admiration than you can return, and more power than you can wield, your perspective of the world may change dramatically.  Rather than being focused on survival, one can be focused on exploration.  That might explain the eccentric personalities of the rich and famous, uninhibited interests.

So if inhibition decreases as freedom increases, and wealth can expand personal freedoms, maybe all this behavior should be looked at with a different lens.  Maybe we’re not all as normal as we thought we were.  Maybe this is what human nature looks like when we’re given the freedom and power to explore our humanity.  I’m not saying that some of this behavior isn’t irrational or counter-productive for the individuals involved, but that’s how the hive-mind works.  We push boundaries, we make mistakes, we learn from those mistakes and we make progress.

If we don’t recognize these individuals as members of humanity that are exploring our collective psyche and pushing our collective boundaries then we wont understand the situation for what it is.  These people aren’t demons.  They’re mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, best friends and god parents, and in many cases, extraordinary contributors to society.  When I think of great artists of our time, I’m seeing at least a few ‘disturbed’ minds. When I think of the great business minds of our time, I’m seeing at least a few sex dungeons.  When I think of the great athletes of our time, I’m seeing at least a few OCD sex addicts.

Should the behavior be addressed?  Probably.  Things like rape and violence are rarely, if ever productive.  But they need to be addressed with intelligence and compassion, not just compassion.  There are solutions that create more solutions and solutions that create more problems.  Understanding the situation for what it is, is always the first step in a real solution.

Solutions that Create More Solutions

I was reading a Harvard Business Review article a while back and it was talking about the dynamic of a self-perpetuating business.  An easy example is the classic ‘customer first’ strategy:

If you always put the customer first, the customer is always happy and if the customer is always happy, then they’ll keep coming back and every once in a while, they’ll come back with a friend.  As more friends become shoppers, the business grows and more locations can be opened to serve more friends.  As more locations are opened and the business scales, it can reinvest in itself, ultimately leading to better customer service.  And the cycle continues.

Good customer service is a solution to the problem of bad customer service, but it’s also a solution that creates more solutions.  There are other solutions that create more problems.  Cost cutting can be an example:

Revenues are down so you look to cut costs  to maintain profitability.  You realize you can fire your top performing employees who are being paid the most, and replace them with new talent who will work for half as much.  Next year’s forecasts are now back in line with corporate targets.  Solution?

Probably not.  Firing your top performing employees is a quick way to decimate your organizational culture and that leads to lower levels of acquisition, retention, and production.  It was a solution in that it was able to achieve reduced costs, but it also created a problem by way of significantly reduced revenues over the long-term.

This isn’t a business concept.  It’s a universal concept.  It persists in the laws of physics as well as in the truths of philosophy, and it’s one which the world desperately needs to understand.

You have the compassionate crowd who actively fight racism with racism, and actively fight against free speech to protect free speech.  It won’t work.

You have the intelligent crowd who spend most of their time picking apart bad solutions, and then defer to whatever benefits them personally, lacking the understanding that this is all a collective effort.  That won’t work either.

I’m still trying to understand why intelligence and compassion are at odds with one another, because they also share a very significant connection:

The most intelligence decision you can make is a compassionate one, and the most compassionate decision you can make is an intelligent one.

This isn’t neutral territory between the left and the right, this is the guiding star that we should all be following.  Compassion is the compass, intelligence is the map.

 

Me Too?

I appreciate the perspective that I have on sexual harassment, not because I understand it, but because I am making progress in understanding it.

Back when I was working at the banks, we had a training program that they would send us out to Toronto for. By the third trip, our cohort had gotten to know each other and one night we were on the hotel rooftop having drinks. A bunch of us were standing in a circle and one of the ladies decided she would show some interest. She walked over to me, started whispering things in my ear, then started rubbing my chest, then her hand went in the shirt, then down the pants.. all while I kept up a conversation with the others in that circle. I was obviously getting a lot of looks, but I kept pulling her hand out my clothes, politely told her to settle down, and laughed it off. It took about 20 minutes, but she eventually moved on and took someone else back to her room.

This was 5 years ago and I want to share what I’ve learned. It was only recently that my experience occurred to me as an example of sexual assault because it didn’t feel like it.. and I think I know why.

Part of it is that I’m quicker to compassion than I am to fear or hurt. She had a husband and kids at home, but she was on a work trip, drunk, tying to bed a guy half her age in front of a small crowd of coworkers.. I knew she was probably going through a rough patch so I tried to handle the situation with dignity. I wanted her to be better off than when we met.

I genuinely think we could all use a little more compassion in our lives, but it’s important to understand that it was easy for me to arrive at compassion because I never lost power or control of that situation. I was twice her size. Even if she were twice my size, I wouldn’t be concerned that she could force herself on me. In my mind, I was safe from what she was trying to do, and it let me act with compassion.

Most women aren’t twice the size of the men in question. All that safety that I felt likely wouldn’t exist for a woman in that same situation. For many, I’d wager that safety becomes fear. As we continue to discover/understand what gender equality really means… physical stature and the physical safety that comes with it is still a very real inequality.

That doesn’t mean that we should feel bad for being men, but it is a reminder that as men, we need to step up.  If you have the power to harm, you probably also have the power to protect.  Imagine if instead of hearing about a high profile sexual harassment case once a week, we heard about how the men around that person stepped up and shut it down?  That’s a future I’m willing to help create.

I Think I Just Figured Out Flat Earth

So a good friend of mine, who most would assume is an otherwise intelligent individual, brought up the flat earth thing to me a few weeks ago.  It’s not that I was unaware of it, it’s just that I didn’t expect it coming from a friend.  After a bit of teasing, I humored him and asked him why he thinks the world is flat.

As it turns out, he didn’t necessarily think that the world was flat, it was simply a fun exercise in challenging the widely held belief that the world is round.

He asked me how I knew the world is round.  I told him that nobody falling off the edge was a good start.  He said that if they had fallen off, they weren’t exactly in a position to tell everyone about it.  Then I suggested using spatial reasoning to understand how someone could travel due east in a plane and end up at where they started.  So he asked how I knew a compass would take me due east.  I said by tracking the magnetic poles and letting you know where due north is.  He suggested that with a flat earth, the north pole would be a center point and where we think we would be moving in a 3 dimension circle around the planet’s equator, we would be moving in a 2 dimensional circle around the north pole.  Ok, but that would mean that someone couldn’t circle the globe by flying due south.  Has anyone?

I don’t know any off the top of my head but that seems like something that someone would’ve done.  He said that from what he’s read, apparently nobody does.  Huh.

I was tempted to start digging for sources to see if that was true but we were at a dinner with others so I tried a different angle.  What about satellites?   He said he didn’t know enough about satellites to know either way.  What about pictures from space?  You can CGI just about anything these days.  Huh.

So l asked us both to try and wrap our heads around how many people from all around the world would have to be in on this for evidence to have not leaked.  Astronauts, government officials, physicists, pilots, military, Redbull, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking… and the list goes on.  Now consider how the scientific community has laughed this off while the flat earth community is absent of anyone with a PhD in physics.  I told him that it all seemed very unlikely.  He replied, “But it’s possible”.  I agreed, and then asked, “have you ever thought that we might be in the matrix?”

I think poker should be taught in school simply for the purpose of teaching probability.

I had to concede that we might actually be on a flat earth, not because I thought we were, but because I didn’t have all the necessary information to confirm otherwise.  What I did have though, was a strong enough understanding of other related factors which created a very strong case for a round earth.  The probability of a flat earth being kept secret from the general public for decades, if not centuries, is an extremely unlikely scenario.  If we hold the flat earth to be true, it literally undoes the laws of physics that we’ve come to understand.

I suppose that’s the beauty of it all though, it doesn’t matter how much you know, you can never truly confirm or deny anything.  Even if you have all the evidence you think is necessary, you still have to concede that none of this may be real.  Huh.

So if you can’t confirm or deny anything, if nothing is concrete, if everything is on a spectrum and nothing is entirely real, how do you proceed?  Probability.  Is the world round?  Probably.  Take one step forward.

What that conversation also highlighted for me was that most people probably believe the earth is round for the same reason that people used to believe the world was flat – because that’s what they were told and they assumed it to be true.  If it’s in our nature to challenge our beliefs, why are we so surprised that we’re challenging the belief of a round earth?

From my research on the flat earth theory, there seem to be two camps.  There’s the camp of people who genuinely believe that the earth is flat and aren’t interested in seeing evidence to the contrary.  Then there’s the camp who are saying that things don’t add up, and are looking for alternative explanations.  That’s legit.  There are plenty of things that don’t add up in this world and history would suggest that governments aren’t always the most accurate sources of information.  Alternative theories to explain events like 9/11, JFK or the moon landing are a healthy measure to keep people accountable to what they tell us.  If we just blindly accepted what people told us, we’d all still believe the world was flat, or round, or in a VR simulation operated by advanced aliens.

I just wish that for the sake of conversation, we could reach a point where we could speak a little more honestly about this stuff.  Is the earth flat?  Probably not, but did you know that Antarctica is bigger than Canada and barely anyone flies over it?  I wonder what kinda cool stuff has yet to be discovered there… wouldn’t that be the perfect location for a secret Hydra base?!