Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Archive for December 2008

The Big Elephant

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I swear I have never thought of this question before until my friend asked me about this recently – he asked – “How do you describe your own philosophical belief system?”

“I’m not sure”, I replied. “I guess I go freestyle when it comes to my thinking.” I hope he was not confused by my response.

Sure, I have read some books on philosophy and came across many different school of thoughts. But I never really bothered about them because I do not have the habit of discriminating knowledge and categorize things that I’d learned into groups and classes. You know, I do not have the habit like .. “oh this guy supports rationalism, let’s hear what he has to say.” “Oh that guy supports empiricism, since I support it, whatever he says must be right.” “Oh, that guy talks about absolutism, he must be an idiot.”

This is what I call as knowledge discrimination, something which I do not practice, and that’s why I was never bothered with the standpoints of various school of thoughts. I never like the idea of ‘supporting’ and ‘against’ like – Rationalism vs Empiricism. Which one do you think is better?

There are many philosophy school of thoughts around. Among them, as I know are – Rationalism, Empiricism, Absolutism, Relativism, Existentialism, Utilitarianism, Nominalism, Idealism, Pragmatism, Skepticism and many more. So, for the sake of this post, I whipped out the dictionary and checked out the definitions of every theories above … and then to check, theoretically, on which category I belong to.

Although my style of thinking actually encompasses almost all of the school of thoughts above, I believe I’m more inclined to two school of thoughts – Rationalism and Freethought. Why Rationalism? Simply because I believe the toughest philosophical and scientific questions always need to be reverse-engineered. I believe we have to reason and deduce of how certain things work first before we could find evidence for it. Case in point -Einstein discovered General Theory of Relativity using mathematics first before conducting astronomical observations to prove his theory (on how light is bent by gravity). Apparently, empiricism is the other way round – evidence first before reasoning, which is the most common method of hypothesis in the scientific world today especially in education.

Freethought is pretty much misunderstood as it is often associated with atheism. But the true definition of Freethought is “Freethought holds that individuals should neither accept nor reject ideas proposed as truth without recourse to knowledge and reason.”  This school of thought is actually much broader than what it is thought to be.

Having described my belief system, I will never go around proudly proclaiming to the world that “I’m a Rationalist!” or “I’m a Freethinker!” boasting it as if I’m in a cool category. I believe people who always proudly categorize themselves in a belief system are missing a point … a very huge point. And I will tell you why.

If you want the Truth to stand clear before you, never be ‘for’ or ‘against’. The struggle between ‘for’ and ‘against’ is mind’s worst disease. – Jianzhi Sengcan, the third patriarch of Zen Buddhism in China.

Before I begin, I want to share a metaphor, probably the strongest metaphor I’ve ever came across in my life so far – The Blind Men And An Elephant. The origin of this metaphor was actually from Buddha’s parables in some sutras illustrating that different people will have different point of views depending on the angle of perception that we use to observe the reality. So, the parable is about several blind men touching the elephant’s body and each of them is certain about the ‘truth’ on what they are touching. Hence, it creates a disagreement between the blind men on what they are experiencing.

blind men

But I think there’s a stronger message in Buddha’s words. He didn’t say it directly, but at least this what I think the deep, underlying message is – The ignorance of being obsessed with the small picture and ignoring the bigger picture. For instance, read the comic strip below from XKCD.


In the scientific world there’s a hint of ‘hierarchy’ or superiority between different branch of science, just like how the scientist describe above on how they feel about the ‘purity’ of science over one and another. But what these scientists are missing is the idea of ‘unity’ or the big picture of science. When you piece all different branches and fields together, that will give you the big picture of science. In other words, sociology is science. Biology is science. Physics is science. Psychology is science. If science is the big picture, why do the physicist & mathematician feel proud that they are at the top of the field? Why are they so obsessed with the small picture?

And this is exactly what I am talking about knowledge discrimination earlier.

Why do human separate and categorize things?

It is no secret that human’s mind is limited. Our mind was not tuned by Evolution to solve scientific mysteries or world problems rather, our mind is meant for survival. A hunter-gather kind of lifestyle. Hence, it is a rare gift for any person to see the big picture and could see all the links and connections underlying it because not all of us are born with the ability to be genius scientist.

To compensate this weakness of human being, we categorize and break down the big picture into smaller parts. For example Science is break down to physics, biology, psychology, astronomy, etc. and then small picture is broke down into even more smaller picture, eg. psychology is further break down to psychoanalysis, cognitive science, behaviorism, and etc.

Breaking down the big picture is perfectly fine, until when people start to become obsessed with the small picture, just as hinted in the comic strip above. And the fact is people DO get obsessed with small picture because this is how the majority of people’s mind is wired – our mind is too limited and energy-consuming to to think big. And this explains why the majority of people in the world are religious, for if they could see the big picture, they would have immediately doubt God’s existence. It is no coincidence that most modern top scientists and thinkers are atheist or agnostic for one simple reason – they could see what many ordinary people cannot see. (there’s a huge difference between the mindset of a rational-thinker atheist and militant atheist, but I will leave it to the other day)

So, back to the original topic, I believe when it comes to philosophical school of thoughts, individual categories like rationalism, empiricism, nominalism, pragmatism, idealism,etc are just basically the small picture. Calling the small picture as the ‘Truth’ is just like a blind man obsessesily clinging to a part of elephant’s body and proclaiming that he knows the ‘Truth’.

I believe when someone is curious and want to learn about the elephant, he/she got to study it without any discrimination or prejudice. Learn about the trunk … learn about the tusk .. the leg, the tail, the skin, the body. Everything. And that’s how we could effectively understand the elephant. It is a delusion to just hold the tail and proclaim that you have understood the elephant because you can feel the ‘truth’ or ‘prophecy’ in it. That’s just a subjective experience. Objectively, it tells you nothing about the elephant. If I religiously cling to Rationalism and Freethought, I would be in a delusion that I’m learning.

That’s why, whenever I hear someone enthusiastically labeling or affiliating themselves with a belief system, I always believe that they are missing the point… the big elephant.

PS: Another friend of mine asked me which philosopher influenced me the most. My answer is Buddhism. I could not imagine that my thought process is half as good as I am now if I have never read Buddhism philosophy.


Written by elan85

December 30, 2008 at 2:46 am

Posted in Philosophy

Stupid and Diligent People Is the Worst Kind?

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I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Most often two of these qualities come together. The officers who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Those who are stupid and lazy make up around 90% of every army in the world, and they can be used for routine work. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord

Apparently, this quote came from The German Art of War. Interesting.

A little read on Hammerstein-Equord’s profile says he is an ardent opponent of Adolf Hitler. Interesting.

And I was wondering if this quote has any use in designing business organizations. Interesting.

So I spent 5 minutes reflecting on this quote on why stupid and industrious people is a menace and must be removed immediately. It was pretty counter-intuitive at first, but finally I understand his point. The reasoning is simple – think about it, if this person is already stupid, but yet he still works hard and determined to implement stupid ideas and executing stupid actions, think of all the damage that could be done compared to non-action from stupid and lazy people instead. Stupid and Hardworking people are the kind of people who would most likely drain all the resources and deviate people from efficiency.

How about from societal point of view? Think of stupid organizations who are hardcore in promoting stupid beliefs .. like extreme feminist movements, saving-the-planet-Earth movements (well according to G. Carlin that is), ideology of corrupted politicians, etc. But arguably the most damaging stupid beliefs of all – Creationists who believe God created everything on Earth by magic and miracle… and believing million years old dinosaurs co-existed with human being at one point during history. And the fact that this ignorant belief is spread to hundred of millions people in the world is beyond absurdity. That’s because behind every popular stupid beliefs, there will be a group of people who are super hardcore in promoting it.  Stupid and lazy people who make up 90% of the population would be easily swayed by stupid but convincing beliefs.

Stupid ideas attract stupid minds.

Thanks, Hammerstein-Equord for the little insight.

Thanks Elizier, for pointing the quote.

Written by elan85

December 24, 2008 at 12:25 am

Posted in Philosophy

The Structure of Life

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It was 8.30 PM and while I was waiting for the bus to take me home from my workplace, I saw a huge cockroach on the wall near the bus stop. And then, I saw a lizard moved near the bug and just stared at the gigantic cockroach not doing anything as if knowing the cockroach is too huge to be taken down. Then another lizard did the same – just stared and moved around the cockroach and left. The cockroach is obviously too huge for both of the lizards.

Hence, I was wondering – Why didn’t both of the lizards cooperate and work together to take down the cockroach?

Immediately I imagined, what would lions do if there is a big fat bull standing right in front of them? The lions would have gangbanged and take down the bull together. What would chimpanzees do when they spot a threat? Either they would run away together or would attack the threat together. What would human being do when we face a global crisis? All nations would come together to create a solution for the problem. And this element of cooperation is obviously missing in lizards, and generally reptiles. Why? Why can’t lizards understand the idea of working together?

Because they are not evolved enough … eureka ~

Therefore, this brought me a realization that Evolution works by having a sort of hierarchy in Life, which the rule of thumb is – Life Evolve from Simplicity to Complexity

Origin of Life

I believe Life is a natural force, as natural as the force of gravity and electromagnetism which happens all around the universe. In other words, life is everywhere, governed by the force of Evolution, just like how gravity and light are governed by the law of physics. The degree of how complex life can be is heavily depending on how conducive the environment is. For instance, we can only find microorganism in Mars, perhaps some fishes/sea creatures in Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons (though just a hypothesis) and human being on Earth.

The more essential elements available in a planet such as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon (and others that can be found in periodic table), the more conducive the environment will be. The more conducive the environment is, the more capacity it allows life to evolve. And Earth seems like a nice little place for complex life to flourish.

All life started out being equal … first we have several microorganism around, then over a short period of time, microorganism multiply exponentially. And keep on multiply and multiply. Since resources are scarce, microorganism will thrive on evolving to gain upper hand advantage when competing with other microorganism. Therefore, Evolution is basically a natural way of the nature in maintaining a balance world where resources are scarce. Over time, some microorganism will evolve to be bigger, hence giving itself advantage over other microorganism which did not evolve and remain small. And this struggle will go on and on where microorganism will keep evolving to gain advantage over one another. When the Evolution reaches a complex stage, the microorganism will evolve to have legs. When organism have legs and could walk around, it will create an upper hand advantage over other life form which could not move. Hence, that’s what we categorize as Insect today. Basically, the hierarchy as I see it:

Microorganism –> Insect –> Fish –> Reptiles/Amphibians –> Mammal –> Humanity –> A.I. (Singularity)

To acquire certain trait, a creature need to climb the Evolution ladder, which is totally out of their control because Evolution is a game of probability. It’s a fate. It is out of the creatures hand. In other words, human being is not special. Individuals are not unique. We are all just a bunch of creatures trapped in the game of Evolution ruled by the law of probabilities. In the realm of probabilities, luck and chances play a prominent role in our life. Which means – Life is never Fair. You cannot argue how the cockroach lurking in my room, which will eventually be exterminated by my mum is born luckier than I do. You cannot argue how people born in rural Africa, a place of poverty-stricken, starvation and plagued by disease are luckier than people who are born in the western country where they get to eat hamburgers everyday. You cannot argue how a person with retarded mind living in the mental hospital all life long is luckier than Albert Einstein who is acknowledged as a genius and will be remembered forever by history for his mental ability.

I believe there is a reason why Nature allow imbalance to exist. I have not give much thought on this yet but I think perhaps it is something like the concept of man and woman – Both genders are very different from each other, yet bringing balance to the nature at the same time.

Is Imbalance important to bring balance to the nature?

Psychology of the Creatures

Let’s use back the cockroach vs. lizards as example. Let’s examine the differences between these two creatures’ psychology in the way how they react to potential danger. When I was young, I have this thought that cockroach is afraid of people because it seems that whenever I chase a cockroach, it will run away frantically just like how birds and cats do. Only recently I realized that cockroach actually do not react to human being rather, they react to movements and light. (I was sitting still on the chair and saw a cockroach moving towards me, oblivious of my existence. When I flashed a bright light, it ran away and hid at a dark spot.)

Hence, it brought me a realization that insects do not have the emotion of fear – just like a mosquito biting me without having the awareness that I have the capability to kill it by just a single move. So, it is pretty obvious that insects were evolved and programmed in the mind with simple instructions to explore the environment and survive based on their own inert function without having any emotions.

How about lizards on the other hand? I would say they have emotions because lizards react to people. They run away and hide when human is nearby. Lizards recognize human as threat.  Unlike insects, lizards (and reptiles) have bones and organs which is essential in having a higher level of mind and body. Therefore, lizards is one notch higher than insect. Yes, just one notch because apparently mammals are more complex than reptiles.

Reptile are solitary animals who live and hunt alone. Once reptiles lay the eggs, they leave them alone. Compared that to mammals which generally take care of their youngs and live in groups. A group of zebra staying and running together to confuse the tiger. A pack of dogs using wind and body odor to hunt for prey. Birds using flocking technique to be more efficient in foraging. Monkeys living in a social lifestyle where reciprocity plays a huge role in the relationship between the ‘tribe’. Living in group or socially definitely has an upper hand over solitary lifestyle.

But above all these, we have human being, which is on top of the pyramid, taking charge of the world. This imbalance which I mentioned earlier is what creates diversity. And this diversity is what creates the ecology and food chain. True, it is so much more miserable to be born as a cockroach but it will serve the purpose from ecology point of view – get eaten by bigger animals.

By analyzing the pattern of animal’s behaviours, I hypothesized there’s a correlation between traits of animal behaviours and the level of how evolved the creature is. The more evolved the creature is, the more complex it becomes. The more complex it becomes, the more sophisticated survival techniques it will deploy. And this variety of survival techniques is what created the existing diversity of life that we can find on Earth.

Future of Humanity

At the moment, the pinnacle of Evolution would certainly be human being as we are the only species which have deep consciousness and intelligence. But if you think human being has reach the very peak, then you’re wrong – human’s mind is still rapidly evolving. I truly believe there will come a day when humanity will evolve out of our tribal instincts in the future and become more cohesive in our thoughts and ideas. Among the list:

1. Extreme thoughts such as sectarianism, fundamentalism, and racism will slowly fade away from humanity. (The acceptance of Barack Obama as president)

2. Global scale war among nations will cease. (It has been 65 years since a major war erupted). Human being is starting to value peace more.

3. Humanity will become more and more secular and will slowly disassociate ourselves with God, religion and irrational beliefs. (The rise of secular and free thinking movements)

4. This is a controversial belief of mine – Backward nations, like countries in Africa, will become more and more of a laggard because generally, the mind of the people there is slightly less evolved (in micro scale) compared to people in advanced countries. (The stagnancy of Africa countries)


By the way, I got this from my all time favourite philosophical movie – The Matrix. Pretty insightful.

I like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species (human being) and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammals on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment. But you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease. A cancer of this planet. You are a plague. And we … are the cure – Agent Smith to Morpheus.

I like the thoughts on natural equilibrium. How did human being destroy the equilibrium? Deforestation, overhunting of animals to extinction, garbage, constructions and development which pollute the world, wastage of resources, etc.

Written by elan85

December 22, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Psychological Pricing on Mass Market

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There are two group of consumers who will respond differently when it comes to pricing. One group of consumers who are super price sensitive and another group of consumers who are very willing to pay for premium price (think of consumers of branded shoes and five-star restaurants).

The rule of thumb in economics is, if you sell at a low price, many people will buy from you but the profit margin will be low. If you sell at high price, you get higher profit margin but less people will buy from you. It has always been a dilemma for marketers to set their pricing as there are plenty of factors to take into consideration to decide whether to target profit quantitatively or qualitatively. But think about it, why the marketers have to choose? Why not let the consumers to choose instead?

Therefore, the ideal strategy is always to leverage the situation by creating a pricing strategy where you can get customers from both sides of the extreme – The thrifty ones and the extravagant ones.

The leader of genius must have the ability to make different enemies appear as if they belonged to one category. – Adolf Hitler.

Consider a menu in a restaurant with this pricing:

Chicken Burger (plain burger) – $2

Special Chicken Burger (plain burger + egg) – $3

Roasted Schnitzel Chicken with Cinnamon Bread ( roasted chicken + cinnamon bread + vegetables ) – $7

Imagine yourself looking at the menu – Roasted Schnitzel Chicken with Cinnamon Bread surely sounds more ‘premium’ compared to Chicken Burger, no? There are many people out there who will be more than willing to pay extra $5 dollars to eat something deemed more luxurious than just a plain burger. But think about it, it doesn’t really cost that much to roast a piece of chicken, giving cinnamon bread and putting in some vegetables. I doubt the cost would exceed more than $1 by giving all these extras. Yet, if we to charge $5 extra, people are still willing to pay.

Hence, it gives an illusion to the consumers as if they have a choice – to eat thriftily or to eat extravagantly. It gives an impression to people that either they can be a cheap skate and eat thriftily or be generous and eat premium food. And the thing with human mind is, typically, we will always want to avoid getting the impression that we’re cheap if we could afford not to be cheap.

Long story short, the majority of thrifty people will always choose a plain chicken burger because most probably they just want something which fills up their stomach while people who are willing to pay will always associate themselves with luxurious food. Through this strategy, organization will be able to target customers from both side of the world.

The example I gave above is quite distinctive. In the real world, the pricing is much more subtle than this. Consider Starbuck’s menu (I got this from the Undercover Economist book)

Cappuccino – $1.85

Hot Chocolate – $1.89

Caffe Mocha -$2.05

White Chocolate Mocha – $2.49

Venti White Chocolate Mocha – $3.09

The cost of making all the drinks above is almost the same. Perhaps the more expensive one will have slightly bigger portion with a little extra chocolate powder and some added whipped cream. But what Starbucks could achieve is to target customers from the entire spectrum.

I will share a personal story to illustrate another example:

I was considering to get myself a 1TB external hard disk a while ago and Western Digital’s MyBook look to be a fine choice. So I came across 2 models – WD MyBook Essential which is RM450 and WD MyBook Studio which is RM600+. From the first impression, I was thinking of getting WD MyBook Studio as i thought it must have some pretty uber cool features which make the hundred bucks difference. But surprise surprise … the extra features was merely :

1. Several bundled software like automatic back-up software (which can easily be downloaded off the net for free)

2. Fire-wire (which is not really necessary for myself)

3. A little bar on the cover of the hard disk which indicate the space capacity left. (which is pretty cool but also not necessary)

4. Supports MAC (which I don’t have)

It’s quite astonishing that all these minor add-on and extras actually cost 150+ bucks difference. I almost fell into the trap of psychological pricing. With that in mind, I became a cheap skate and chose the cheapest model.

PS: I glanced on my draft list and realized I still haven’t complete my post Knowledge Worker’s Motivation Hierarchy yet. Oops.

Written by elan85

December 11, 2008 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Neuromarketing

Penang Jazz Festival and A Journey to Complication

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Penang Jazz Festival

I went to Penang (320 kilometers away from Kuala Lumpur) during the weekend for a Jazz Festival. Overall, it was a good Jazz Festival. I’ve told myself that if this festival is 70% as good as Kenny G’s concert I attended last April, then I will be satisfied. Well, I would say it pretty much hit the mark. Kenny G’s performance is still the best live Jazz performance I’ve watched to date, so it’s normal I would want to benchmark against it every time I go to a Jazz concert/festival.

Out of 12 performers, I was really impressed with 3 groups – Jaume Vilaseca Quartet (Spain), Jeon Young Se Trio (Korea) and Ray Harris with Fusion Experience (UK).

I bought Jeon Young Se Trio’s CD and managed to get their autograph! Woo Waa! But the best performance over the 2 days was from Ray Harris. It blew me off .. totally. However, their music weren’t consistently great. Only 2 out of 5 was brilliant. Jeon Young Se Trio on the other hand, is consistently great throughout.

I will certainly want to attend the festival again if they are going to hold it next year.

A Journey to Complication

When it comes to food, my friends dislike going to popular tourist areas to eat (eg. Gurney Drive) because those hawkers often overcharge the prices. (But hey! We ARE tourists too! =P ) Hence, we often search for authentic local food places to eat every time. Well, being a guy who has no opinion when it comes to food, I let my friends to decide all the time.

On the second day, we’d decided to visit a really famous place in Penang for lunch, well known as the best ‘Asam Laksa’ in the country. However, we weren’t sure of the directions to the place, so we just relied on the signboards to guide us. We went around on and on, stuck in the traffic jam, took the wrong turn, then stuck in more traffic jam again. After 2 hours of searching, I mildly suggested – “Should we give up the plan and eat somewhere else since we are in the town anyway?”

But my friends insisted to go on. Naturally, I asked myself why? To me, that’s a really strange decision to spend more time searching for the place considering we have wasted 2 hours. (I wasn’t angry nor agitated, just curious.)

Right away, it reminded me the behaviour of a typical gambler in the casino. We can safely assume that every gambler goes in to the casino with an unshakable belief that he will win, or else why would he wanna go there in the first place? So, imagine the gambler has $10,000 in his hands. He plays roulette and keep betting on the number 18 every round. After losing 10 rounds or so, he is left with $5,000. Some rare gambler may think – “I think I have no luck today, so I better get off now before I lose everything!”  But for hardcore gamblers, they usually think the other way round – “I believe I will eventually win, all I have to do is to keep trying”. Well, unless the gambler is lucky on that day or else, usually this is the typical mindset of gamblers who will lose all their money to the casino.

I realized that when individuals invested a huge amount of resources (money, time, effort, etc) into something deemed important, they will naturally see it as an ‘investment’. For many people, to give up half way the journey is a taboo because it is equivalent of pointlessly throwing all the investment into the sea – There will be a sense of unsatisfactory or a mini-grudge inside us, an unwillingness to give up all the things we have put in to accomplish the journey. I feel this refuse-to-give-up-investment can be applied to a wide range of area especially to our belief system (superstitious belief, ideologies, mindset, etc.), hence, explaining why many people always resist to changes and also resist to contradicting beliefs.

“We have already spent 2 hours looking for the place, why not keep looking for it, so that the 2 hours spent is justified at the end?”. I can feel that’s the voices in my friends’ head.

After another hour, we finally found the place. But the place was packed like hell. We have to wait another 30 minutes before we got a place to sit. And another 15 minutes before the food arrived, 15 minutes of eating and another 30 minutes to get out of the area once we were done. Total damage – 4 hours and 30 minutes spent for several bowl of noodles … and several cups of sugar cane drink.

I was thinking, looking from economics point of view, was the decision efficient? Did the resources spent (cost) justified the benefit we got at the end? I guess for most people, psychologically, it’s hugely rewarding to spend large amount of resources to attain huge satisfaction, just like a guy who will get a huge satisfaction after spending huge amount of resources to chase a girl. But again, was the decision to keep going on after 2 hours really efficiently justifiable? I don’t know, I’m not a person who live to eat, so it’s not fair for me to judge the value of good food.

Again, I wasn’t agitated with the whole scenario. I just find it curiously interesting on how our mind works…

All in all, it was a really fun experience, we had some really really funny moments in the hotel where we laughed till our tummy hurts. I always enjoy all these humorous experience.

Trivia Conversation

A friend of mine shared a very interesting story with me. There was a species of baboon (or was it monkey? I forgot) which already thought be extinct since the early 90s due to overhunting by human being. But recently, it was actually discovered that there are many of them left in one forest. So how did these baboons evaded human radar and stayed in stealth from human eyes all these years?

First they recognized that human was a super threat, so unlike other primates which will make loud noises to alert their tribe of danger, these baboons will remain silent instead. They ‘know’ making loud noise is futile to escape from human (as we use guns). Secondly, they are using a very primitive form of sign language to communicate with their tribe whenever they encounter a human to plan an escape.

Natural selection and Evolution has forced these primates’ psychology to up one notch. I’ve long envisioned that there will come a day when human being may enslave chimpanzees and primates to do labour work for us once these primates intelligence reach certain level.

Written by elan85

December 9, 2008 at 12:22 am

Posted in Personal, Philosophy

Knowledge Worker’s Motivation Hierarchy (partially complete)

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 The Theory

Let’s get the fact straight – most people dislike working. Unless driven by high passion and ambition, most of us will never want to waste our energy working for someone else. But, working is also the only means of making a living and to survive, hence people do not have a choice. It’s a form of societal pressure, where each of us are expected to work hard for money, contribute to the society and work harder again … a vicious cycle.

Since working is inevitable for most people, the only thing left to choose from is the mindset of perceiving the role of work in our life – people either treat work as an Obligation (to earn money) or to be Passionate about it and take it as a lifelong Learning Experience.

Based on the analysis above, I’ve designed a framework of how worker’s motivation will scale according to the level of self-driven and passion in each of us.


Obligation/Learning Experience.

As mentioned, there are two kind of workers in the industry.

1. Work for the sake of obligation, which makes up the majority and ..

2. A learner who are motivated to succeed far.

When a worker work for the sake of working, he/she basically responding only to tasks. The worker view tasks as an obligation and his/her goal is to complete the tasks given each time. The main motivational driver for this category of people is always money … and perhaps some artificial recognition. (Yes, lavish more praises to boost their morale!)

Everyone can learn and gain knowledge from experience of doing tasks but not everyone will incorporate what they have learned into their thinking.  And this is basically what separates typical worker and highly-driven worker.

Case in point:

Some people see the glass as half-empty while some people see it as half-full. Similarly, when you give interesting insights to a worker, the worker will either choose to put a full stop to the insight or to carry the insight further.  

For instance, if you tell the worker “Marketing is actually very psychological!”. A typical worker will go “Oh, OK, that’s interesting’”. Full stop. That’s it. Perhaps the next time he has a conversation with someone else, he will just parrot out the statement and repeat it again to another person. And that doesn’t show any deep understanding at all. This category of worker will always remain at the bottom or middle of the pyramid.

However, a learner will always take the new things he just learned few steps further. “Wow, I never thought psychology has such important role in Marketing. What if I apply Freud’s Ego Theory inside marketing? What if I apply Jung’s Personality Types searching for talented people? What if … What about …”.

To activate this inquisitive mode of a Learner-worker, organization need to put him in the right place and the right position. Inquisitive needs Passion and Passion needs Interest. If the organization places a worker who love Marketing in the Information Technology department, his potential will never be realized.

Learner-workers are the ones who have the most talent and potential to do well in the organization in the future and could also bring the organization to the next level. A raw talent. And that brings us to the next level, Discernment.


The duration of the worker’s learning curve is heavily depending on individual talent and ability. The really talented people may take only a month while a good worker may take up to a year to learn. Once a worker reaches the optimum level of Learning, naturally the worker will want to ascend beyond his current level. We could easily see this in science where there are two distinctive disciplines – The Discovery and The Art of Mastery. Human nature have the inherent tendency to control things around once we’ve done discovering it. For instance, the discovery of Electromagnetism forces, which eventually manipulated by human being to create electricity.

As we often hear in Julius Caesar’s famous mantra – Veni Vedi Vinci, this discover-and-control mechanism is firmly implanted in our mind. Thus, Discernment is the worker’s initial stage towards Control/Mastery.

In the Discernment stage, workers will shift their priority and emphasize more on Thinking rather than Learning. The worker’s framework of thinking is well developed and could see the bigger picture, better than most typical workers in the organization. Worker could manipulate their knowledge skillfully in order to create solutions and spot opportunities.

Workers at this stage are basically people who would bring innovation to the organization. These are the workers who have the vision and passion to drive the organization forward. Again, depending on individual, some are more driven to improve organization processes and achieving goals and some are still driven by the fat paycheck.


The highest level of order in every organization are the leaders who Command – The people who make the crucial decisions based on their great understanding of business.

Leaders who do not have strong foundation of Learning and Discernment, will never be good enough to take the organization to a high level.


Learning and The Diminishing Factor

The truth is nobody can ever finish learning everything around them. Even if you get to learn everything about the business world, chances are you will most probably forget 90% about it. That’s the weakness of human. Hence, it’s not about ‘How Much You Know’,  rather, it’s about ‘How Effective You Can Think”. It’s not the Knowledge that matter most, but rather your mindset – The framework in your head which analyze the knowledge.

So, how do worker know when they have already learned enough and should move on to discernment stage? There’s no surefire method to teach people about this. We have to feel the optimum level inside our head – the point of curve which begin to even out. I will give you an analogy:

dimiImagine adding a road or two in the busy New York city – what differences will it make to the metropolitan area? Perhaps easing up some traffic and that’s it. But if we are to build two roads for a rural village and connect them to urban areas, then it will create a whole new commerce opportunities for both sides and revolutionize the village along the way. 2 roads in two different scenarios but such contrast of outcomes.

Same goes for learning and mastering certain skills, the element of diminishing factor will always play a role in our life. In another words, we need to know where the line is drawn between Resources Spent (time, money) VS. Benefits from Learning.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it is useless that we keep learning even after we passed the optimum level, just that in the long run, the Resources Spent vs  Benefit of Learning is not justifiable as we spend huge amount of resources just to create a tiny improvisation. Hence, organization need to allocate an amount of time and know when worker have reached the optimum level and move to the next step to maximize resources utility.

Due to time constraint, I will continue writing this essay in a few days time … Any updated content will be written in blue font.

Irrelevant Rhetoric Thoughts

While I was writing this essay, a thought crossed my mind – if everyone in this world aspire to become  entrepreneur, then who will be the janitor and washes the toilets?

I say, maybe we can invent robots to wash the toilet. But who will do the dirty work and assemble these robots? Do we then invent robots to create robots? Somebody has to do the dirty work in the first place. In other words, there are always roles within the society.

It looks to me some people are destined to be toilet cleaners.

Written by elan85

December 1, 2008 at 11:51 pm