Chapter 2. Personal Foresight - Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Passion vs. Mastery – Two Competing Career Drivers

Returning to the ECA cycle, we’re now ready for an interesting realization. In making our career decisions, one key question we all face is when and to what degree we should focus on our passions, the things we like, and when and to what degree on our masteries, the things we’ve been good at so far in life.

In the language of this chapter, our passions can be called our emotional skills and traits and current experiences, and our masteries our cognitive skills and traits and accumulated experience. We can think of passions and masteries as Systems 1 and 2 in the context of our life’s experiences. At different times in human history we’ve flipped back and forth between these two prime movers of our behavior.

For millennia, we usually did what we were told, and often, what our parents did. Deviations from the expected course would typically lead to privation, ostracism, or worse. Cognitive factors (what was expected of us) and historical actions (what we’ve always done) were dominant. But whenever boom times emerged, with their influx of wealth, relaxation of social mores, and new personal options, we’ve seen passions and life experiments take the front seat, at least temporarily.

In America, our Puritan religious traditions in the 17th-18th centuries were perhaps the deepest set of cultural cognitive expectations for our life choices. Narrow forms of mastery, and values like character, thrift, moral purity, and social cohesion dominated our career thinking. The rise of cities, industrialism, the opening the frontier, wars, and other social disruptions allowed some to escape cultural expectations and try out passion-driven career experiments. But for most people, until recently, such options weren’t available.

In the early to mid 20th century, the rise of the mass consumption society and the emergence of the American dream became our new set of secular cognitive expectations, idealizing the nuclear family and the organization man in a world of growing affluence. As Brink Lindsay chronicles in The Age of Abundance (2008) an unprededented transition to mass social affluence after World War II permanently changed our values and dominant politics, shifting more of us to the pursuit of passions, at least with respect to our hobbies, if not our careers, than ever before.

Passion finally became a dominant career litany for many (most?) middle class affluent youth just after the Civil Rights Movement and Counterculture Revolution of the 1960s. It looked as if we’d reached a new promised land, where we had the wealth and freedom to do what we liked. Yet at the same time a vast and predictable growth in US plutocracy began to harness that wealth, and in the decades since we’ve seen an erosion of the social contract and the career, education, and entrepreneurship options and support available to young graduates.

The passion first litany became a cultural concept with the 1970 publication of Richard Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute?, still the world’s most popular job-hunting guide. This is a playful and often insightful book, but its central premise of finding and following your passions as the surest way to success and happiness is the wrong advice for our time. It might work in an abundant, post-singularity future, but even there it would probably not be the best path for most of us. But in our current era of flat or declining individual wealth and career options due to plutocracy and technological unemployment, a competitive world where the cognitive and social costs of reinventing our careers is very high, mastery, not passion, is by far the best strategy for building our careers.

Newport (2012)

Newport (2012)

A book that elegantly makes this point is Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (2012). Newport shows that instead of pursuing our passions as a way to mastery, it is usually a better strategy to do the reverse, and build our skills, step by step, to increase our options.

When good jobs are hard to find, which is almost all the time in economic history, you want to first figure out your existing cognitive strengths and skills, whether you are presently passionate about them or not, then build your first masteries around those strengths. Once you’ve had success with those, you start building career capital, and can use that capital to make little bets on things that may get you closer to your true passions, which won’t be clear at first.

For all but a few of us, the things you find emotionally interesting in life are very likely to change as you become expert at something, and some of your interests will deepen into passions and others will fade away. Those passions that survive our high school years and remain into mature adulthood, even when we cannot yet do them as much as we like, are the ones that truly deserve our attention later. We might call the rest “prepassions”, imaginations that haven’t been tested against reality. Most of those won’t stay around for very long.

If you want a great example of how poorly we typically know and regulate our own passions, and set and keep cognitive priorities when we get a sudden increases in options, look at those who get large unexpected windfalls, including lottery winners and inheritors. Many use that money to chase things that they thought were passions, only to find that they are unfulfilling. If our passions don’t lead to masteries that provide social value, things that help others, they don’t make us happy. Many also are unable to control their own urges, or their new money. The National Endowment for Financial Education says as many as 70% of Americans who get sudden windfalls lose all their financial gain within several years afterward.

Kokcharov’s Hierarchy of Skills (2015)

Kokcharov’s Hierarchy of Skills (2015)

When we focus on skill building, it is also important to be strategic. Igor Kokcharov’s concept of a hierarchy of skills (picture right) gives us an idea of the real options that higher skills open up to us. The transition from student to craftsperson is something we all make in our lives, in various domains, or fail to make if we remain overly enamored with learning and passions and not enough with mastery, or learning applied to real problems.

We can think of Kokcharov’s pyramid as the edge of our T-shaped (or Star-shaped) personalities. The higher we go up the pyramid, the sharper our cutting blade becomes, and the more useful and in-demand our skills. The sooner we are craftspeople, the sooner we are creating the highest social value we can with our knowledge, building social and entrepreneurship capital. Newport also discusses the importance of deliberate, intense practice, with quick expert feedback as the fastest way to climb the hierarchy of skills. We also need to think very seriously about the “adjacent possible”, what skills make most sense for us to acquire next, at every point of our climb up the pyramid.

Once you’re a master of something, paid a reasonable wage (not necessarily rich) at what you do, you’ll be in the best place, financially and experientially, to ask which of your passions are still not being met by your current job, and then figuring out how to meet those passions by paying for experiences, picking up hobbies, becoming a manager/delegator in your current work, gaining mastery in a new skill, or if necessary, changing your job or life goals.

Along the way you will need to continually resist the trap of being given more of the kind of work you don’t want, and instead, trade in some of your career capital for more freedom to do the kind of work you think you will love, even when it pays less. After some successes with that, you can then begin to ask what your life’s mission, your greatest passion and legacy might be. That might be a time to make some bold moves, but only once you’ve got a lot of capital, fallbacks, and a safety net in case your exciting venture doesn’t pan out.

If instead you plunge into your career passion first, or even worse, drop out of a well-paying high skills job to pursue a “passion” you have no serious mastery in, you won’t be able to do anything “remarkable enough to be sharable,” and won’t to get paid well or appreciated widely for what you do. You may look up ten years later and realize you’ve wasted your prime years on the wrong strategy. So while the current media litany remains “follow your passions”, the experienced reality, after fifty years of decaying social contract and growing plutocracy is “be happy you have a job, for tomorrow it may be gone.” The pendulum will eventually swing back to boom times again, as technical productivity continues to accelerate, but for now, the cost of reinventing yourself two or three times mid-career is often quite high, and the passion litany has become one of our most public traps.

To recap, if we are lucky enough to have an early passion that turns into a career mastery and real wealth, or enough personal wealth and discipline to restart our careers as passion dictates, we can afford to think passion first. But for the great majority of us, even in boom times, mastery should come first, and it is usually the best way to find our truest passions as well. We should strive to keep our emotions in service to our skills, experience, and goals. We also should resist the temptation, when we get sudden freedoms and windfalls, to revert to chasing ill-considered passions, rather than executing well-considered strategies to take our current masteries to new levels in the “adjacent possible.”

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Table of Contents


Chapter 2. Personal Foresight – Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 2: Personal Foresight

Becoming an Effective Self-Leader

Chapter 4. Models – Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 4: Models

Foundations for Organizational Foresight

Chapter 7. Acceleration – Guiding Our Extraordinary Future

Chapter 7: Acceleration

Guiding Our Extraordinary Future (In Process)

II. Global Progress: 5 Goals, 10 Values, Many Trends

Innovation: Our Abundant Future
Intelligence: Our Augmented Future
Interdependence: Our Civil Future
Immunity: Our Protected Future
Sustainability: Our Rebalanced Future

III. Universal Accelerating Change

Great Race to Inner Space: Our Surprising Future
Entropy&Information: We’re Running Down & Up
The Puzzle of Meaning: We Have No Einstein Yet
Trees, Funnels & Landscapes: Intro to Evo Devo
Big Picture Change: Five Scales of Accelerating ED
Transcension Hypothesis: Where Acceleratn Ends?
IDABDAK: Social Response to Accel & Developmnt
We’re On a Runaway Train: Being Accelaware

IV. Evo Devo and Exponential Foresight

Seeing It All: Accel., Diverg, Adapt, Convrg, Decel.
Natural (I4S) Innovation: The Evolutionary Drive
Natural (I4S) Intelligence: The Human-AI Partnership
Natural (I4S) Morality: Why Empathy and Ethics Rule
Natural (I4S) Security: Strength from Disruption
Natural (I4S) Sustainability: The Developmental Drive
S-Curves: Managing the Four Constituencies
Pain to Gain: Traversing the Three Kuznets Phases
Hype to Reality: Beyond Hype Cycles to Reality Checks
Exponentials Database: Measuring Accelerations
TINA Trends: Societal Evolutionary Development
Managing Change: STEEPCOP Events, Probs, Ideas
A Great Shift: A Survival to a Sentient Economy

V. Evo Devo and Exponential Activism

Building Protopias: Five Goals of Social Progress
Normative Foresight: Ten Values of Society
Top & STEEPCOP Acceleratns: Positive & Negative
Dystopias, Risks, and Failure States
Three Levels of Activism: People, Tech & Universe
A Great Opportunity: Exponential Empowerment


Chapter 8. Your Digital Self – The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

Chapter 8: Your Digital Self

The Human Face of the Coming Singularity (In Process)

I. Your Personal AI (PAI): Your Digital Self

Digital Society: Data, Mediation, and Agents
Personal AIs: Advancing the Five Goals
PAI Innovation: Abundance and Diversity
PAI Intelligence: Bio-Inspired AI
PAI Morality: Selection and Groupnets
PAI Security: Safe Learning Agents
PAI Sustainability: Science and Balance
The Human Face of the Coming Singularity

II. PAI Protopias & Dystopias in 8 Domains

1. Personal Agents: News, Ent., Education
2. Social Agents: Relat. and Social Justice
3. Political Agents :  Activism & Represent.
4. Economic Agents:  Retail, Finance, Entrep
5. Builder Agents :  Work, Innov. & Science
6. Environ. Agents : Pop. and Sustainability
7. Health Agents :  Health, Wellness, Death
8. Security Agents :  Def., Crime, Corrections

III. PAI Activism & Exponential Empowerment

Next Government: PAIs, Groupnets, Democ.
Next Economy: Creat. Destr. & Basic Income
Next Society: PAI Ent., Mortality & Uploading
What Will Your PAI Contribution Be?

Chapter 10. Startup Ideas – Great Product & Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs

Chapter 10: Startup Ideas

Great Product and Service Challenges for Entrepreneurs (In Process)

I. 4U’s Idea Hub: Building Better Futures

Air Deliveries and Air Taxis: Finally Solving Urban Gridlock
Ballistic Shields and Gun Control: Protecting Us All from Lone Shooters
Bioinspiration Wiki: Biomimetics and Bio-Inspired Design
Brain Preservation Services: Memory and Mortality Redefined
Carcams: Document Thieves, Bad Driving, and Bad Behavior
Competition in Govt Services: Less Corruption, More Innovation
Computer Adaptive Education (CAE): Better Learning and Training
Conversational Deep Learning Devsuites: Millions of AI Coders
Digital Tables: Telepresence, Games, Entertainment & Education
Dynaships: Sustainable Low-Speed Cargo Shipping
Electromagnetic Suspension: Nausea-Free Working & Reading in Cars
Epigenetic Health Tests: Cellular Aging, Bad Diet, Body Abuse Feedback
Fireline Explosives and Ember Drones: Next-Gen Fire Control
Global English: Empowering the Next Generation of Global Youth
Greenbots: Drone Seeders and Robotic Waterers for Mass Regreening
High-Density Housing and Zoning: Making Our Cities Affordable Again
Highway Enclosures and Trail Networks: Green and Quiet Urban Space
Inflatable Packaging: Faster and Greener Shipping and Returns
Internet of Families: Connecting People Over Things
Kidcams: Next-Gen Security for Child Safety and Empowerment
Kidpods: Indoor & Outdoor Parent-Assistive Toyboxes
Microdesalination: Democratizing Sustainable Fresh Water Production
Noise Monitors: Documenting and Reducing Noise Pollution
Oceanside Baths: Sustainable Year Round Beach Enjoyment
Open Blood Scanners: DIY Citizen Health Care Sensor Tech
Open Streaming Radio: User-Centered Audio Creation and Rating
Open Streaming Video: User-Centered Video Creation and Rating
Open Values Filters: Social Rankers, Arg. Mappers, and Consensus Finders
Personal AIs: Your Private Advisor, Activist, and Interface to the World
Pet Empowerment: Next-Gen Rights and Abilities for Our Domestic Animals
Safe Closets: Fire-, Earthquake-, and Intruder-Proof Retreat Spaces
Safe Cars: Reducing Our Insane 1.3M Annual Auto Deaths Today
Safe Motorcycles: Lane Splitting in Gridlock Without Risk of Death
Shared Value Insurance: User-Centered Risk Reduction Services
Sleeperbuses and Microhotels: Demonetized Intercity Travel
Space-Based Solar Power: Stratellite Powering and Weather Management
Stratellites: Next-Gen Urban Broadband, Transparency, and Security
Touch DNA: Next-Gen Home Security and Crime Deterrence
View Towers: Improving Urban Walkability, Inspiration, and Community

Chapter 11. Evo Devo Foresight – Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Chapter 11: Evo Devo Foresight

Unpredictable and Predictable Futures

Appendix 1. Peer Advice – Building a Successful Foresight Practice