In “Jonathan Livingstone Corporation”, Venkatesh Rao lays out one of the most important questions an individual or an organisation can ask themselves: What are you solving for? He says the worst answer is “Money” and the best answer is “Aliveness”, which comes in three primary forms—scale, technology or people. Cue Venkat:
“…Three better-than-money motivators for solving business problems are: technology, people, and scale. When you focus on one of these, it’s not that you don’t want to make gobs of money, but that it’s a secondary consideration. You’d rather go bust than make it the primary consideration.
24 / Technology: when technology is the driving motivation for solving a business problem, the renewable payoff loop comes from satisfaction of borderline absurd curiosities. Will it waffle? mindset driven by hunches and raw curiosity about whether something can work. The thrill of watching a new kind of machine come alive.
25/ People: Can people (both as employees and customers) be made to come alive/thrive instead of slouching through life like dispirited zombies? There is something addictive about figuring out problems in ways where you solve for “people aliveness”. Beneath anoydyne buzzwords like “customer delight” or “employee engagement” there is this real thing you can solve for.
26/ Finally, scale in a general sense. Can something be made bigger, smaller, cheaper, more centralized, more decentralized, more/less automated? The payoff here is activating/deactivating a constraint, and rewriting patterns of abundance/scarcity by turning a knob to some extreme limit.
27/ When you have all three going on — solving for technology, people, and scale — the business seems to come explosively alive and burst with vigor. As a side-effect, it tends to also throw off cash like crazy. Like a seabird colony, but breeding wealth rather than babies.”
This question—What are you solving for?—and its answer—aliveness—are future facing. What you choose to solve for in the present determines the makeup of the future that will wash over you. But another variant of that question is, I find, just as important—What are you censoring for?
We all have a past and they are all messy. Abandoned trails, completed projects, prolonged relationships, one-off but life-changing interactions, terrible tragedies and experiences of great joy. But only you as a person have the fullest grasp of that past, and even the grasp is not that full.
Imagine each and every moment of your life is plotted on a graph in chronological order, and that each and every moment is allocated a value somewhere between minus-one and one (indicating negative and positive). The points of that graph you choose to highlight to others are what you are censoring for. And usually, the thing we censor for is what we consider to be the best version of ourselves—even the weaknesses we divulge are meant to strengthen our position in some way.
Of course, there is a personal dimension to this—I highlighted it with the idea of narrative selection. But the question, What are you censoring for?, concerns mostly how you appear to others. It is, in a way, akin to positioning. You have a large amount of aspects of your self and your story to highlight and only a small space with which to communicate the most important information. That which you censor—that which you leave out—indicates that which you are aiming for. It is, in essence, a question of determining how you want your reality to appear to others.