“Avoiding Status Malfunction” by Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman

Josh Kaufman (that’s him up there), author of The Personal MBA just posted a blog entry that resonated with me on a profound level — he has given an official name to the cognitive bias I have been battling with (internally and externally) this past year. This behavior is completely out of control in Los Angeles (people will think there’s something deeply wrong with you if you’re not projecting it in every direction 24/7), so it’s great to see someone call it out.

He calls this cognitive bias “Status Malfunction” and gives advice on how to avoid it.

Avoiding Status Malfunction

So how do you go about avoiding status malfunction?

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Here are a few things that’ll help:

1.) Decide what you really want. Here’s a useful thought experiment: assume that you can have everything you want except status, attention, recognition, and fame. You’ll succeed in every way, but no one will ever know. How does that change your goals and priorities? The results will be close to your true priorities, and you’ll make more progress if you focus on those things.
2.) Understand that status, fame, and attention from external sources is fickle by nature. Even if you get them, you won’t have them for long, so it’s probably a better idea to invest in results that are longer-lasting and more within your locus of control.
3.) Learn to pause and reflect whenever you think about doing something primarily to impress other people. Is it necessary? Is it wise? Will they care, or change their actions based on your behavior? Is it in line with your other non-status priorities, or is this a temporary departure or distraction that feels good? Does this get you want you really want?
4.) Don’t envy the status-seeker. It’s a generalization, but many people who compulsively chase status are struggling with their own inner demons, mental and emotional. They often accomplish impressive things by using that struggle in a productive way, and that’s fantastic. They’re still fighting a very real battle, and given the choice, you probably wouldn’t want the demon. Be wary of comparing your inside vs. another person’s outside. If you’re free of the compulsion, be thankful you don’t have that battle to fight.
5.) Ignore opinions. Everyone has their own goals, values, and priorities, and that’s okay. You’ll always be able to find more than a handful of people who will tell you want you’re doing is wrong, suboptimal, misguided, or stupid. Do what you’re doing for your own reasons, and find people who will support your efforts.

Due to its nature as a cognitive bias, it’s not a part of us we can entirely shut down. But its something we can do our best to stay one step ahead of. Thank you, Mr. Kaufman.


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Kicking My Ass: Rolf Dobelli’s “The Art of Thinking Clearly”

Thinking Clearly

[ Disclaimer: There is evidence that Rolf Dobelli plagiarized many ideas from Nassim Taleb’s published books and unpublished manuscripts. You can read about that at Fooled by Randomness. ]

Now I know what to buy everyone I know for Christmas. Sorry to ruin the surprise.

But seriously: I read this book in two days and I have to admit I’m not intellectually competent enough to retain any of it. So I’m going to read it again. And again. I’ve promised myself to keep it around at all times until I’m less stupid.

The good news? It’s easy to read. Broken up into little pieces, well-organized. Like Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

The Art of Thinking Clearly contains 99 ways my thinking is not clear. Cognitive biases, etc. Exactly what I need. I found it at a book store in Santa Barbara (Chaucers) after asking if they had anything about “logic” and “thinking.” I want to become a better decision maker, and this is how I plan to do it.

Plenty of references inside to Charlie Munger, too. And the Cialdini book. Except this one isn’t blatantly about how to trick people.

Here it is on Amazon.

I think it’s the most valuable book I’ve read since The Outsider by Colin Wilson.


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Thoughts On Anger

Alex Jones

[ Above photo / text by unknown. I found it online somewhere. ]

I could write a whole book about my experience with anger. It’s the emotion most accessible to me, and it’s safe to bet I’ve felt it more than anything else in my life. Much of my “creative career” was motivated by it. (While a lot of my Sir Millard Mulch music seemed very “goofy” I assure you I was not in a good mood while making it. At one point I remember calling that process “Artistic Fury.”)

I’m almost 39 years old now — and even though the specific number doesn’t matter — it’s a reminder that I’ve been around for while, and that I might want to re-evaluate my behavior.

On a mechanical level it seems anger is a response to threat — a survival mechanism. With that in mind, I must feel threatened by people who darken their car windows, add custom black rims, and park backwards. (Those three elements tend to group themselves together in parking lots, if you haven’t noticed.) I’ve called it “The Holy Trinity of The Lower Class” and also “Batmanism.” I’ve spent some time giggling and collecting photographs of this phenomenon.

While the relationship between a dude and his cheap car has no direct impact on my life (the car isn’t physically attacking me), I DO feel threatened. It’s my old friend, social alienation. The feeling that “he belongs here and I don’t.” It’s a reminder that I’ve always leaned towards Autism. There are so many behaviors in other people that I just don’t “get.” And as I said, a lot of my creative process of making music was a self-administered (and sometimes) therapeutic method to express that. But often it only made me feel worse.

People wonder why I stopped making music, and my answer is pretty much: “It made me unhappy.”

This is also why I got rid of my Facebook profile, and why I’ve stopped reading comments.

Being pissed-off might not seem like a big deal when you’re a teenager or mid-20s — and if you’re pretending to be a mysterious artist / musician you can make the excuse that it somehow helps. But anger is just not physically healthy in the long term. Stress takes its toll, and when you’re past 30 it’s a killer. (When your organs suddenly stop working, don’t be surprised.)

Anyway, alienation has always been a problem for me. In Kindergarten, when “playtime” started, I’d run to the teacher and cry: “No one wants to play with me!” Never failed. Boo-hoo. And here I am, 35-ish years later, and feeling like that every time I go out in public. It’s not that I don’t have good friends (mostly online, unfortunately) — it’s just that I look around and am overwhelmed with how much I don’t relate. The organism is threatened!

And then the fear becomes anger. But it’s not a strength, it’s just covering a weakness.

Same thing my dog does: she barks when a stranger comes in the house. She’s just afraid. Fight or Flight, eh? In my case, this mechanism is hyperactive. I can manage to turn most daily situations into some sort of inappropriate fight or flight.

I’ve only recently developed some skills for coping with this:

1.) Don’t look at / listen to stuff that makes me mad. The world is a big enough place that I can avoid most of the things that bother me if I just ignore them. I’m not talking about real problems that I can potentially address and solve. I mean, for example, the awful journalism on the CNN website. The events themselves don’t bother me (the death, the violence, the disasters) — it’s the way they’re reported. I could devote a parallel-universe-career dissecting the logical fallacies in those articles. It pushes my buttons, and I can’t resist. The problem is, I don’t think it would do any good (I probably wouldn’t defeat CNN), and I’d just be more angry. So, I try to stick to problems I CAN solve, like cleaning up after my pets.

2.) Accept that I live in a world full of people that are not only motivated primarily by emotions, but are also anti-intellectual! Hollywood (which has several good vegan restaurants), with its delusional promise of “being in the right place at the right time” is a place that attracts the irrational: those “dreamers” who don’t bother to get their shit together, and bumble through life expecting everything to work out (while someone else fixes their mistakes). According to Myers-Briggs (the third continuum) those people would be the “F” or Feeling element vs. “T” or Thinking. I am an INTJ, which basically means I shouldn’t go to lunch in Hollywood unless I want to be in a bad mood. But if I do, I can do my best to remember the T/F continuum.

As simple and obvious as these are, they’re not easy for me to put into practice. My trained reaction is to explode (I mean raising my voice and complaining and banging my hands on a horizontal surface like Alex Jones) — but that’s getting old, and it annoys my wife.

So: I will go forward and attempt to apply these two ideas. Best of luck to me!


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Seven Digits of Delusion In Los Angeles


Everyone wants people to like them, right?

Even in my most “leave me alone” mood, I’d say life would be too difficult if no one liked me. It would be too hard to get anything done, and I’d most likely end up dead. That’s the practical aspect, at least. My own livelihood depends on four or five people liking me enough to do business with me. (And of course, my wife’s got to like me.)

I don’t mind the total number being in the Single digits. Double Digits works, too. I’m OK with that.

Then there’s the level of “I want everyone I meet to like me.” I don’t tend to get along with that type. Trying too hard to have too many friends. Life of the party. Trying to sell me on how likable they are. They’re annoying, so I go the opposite direction when possible. It’s fine, as long as they stay over there and do their thing. Extroverted salesmen, et cetera. That’s for the Triple Digits. When you’re selling cars and real estate, the more “friends” you have, the better. At least they’re still sane?

Then there are those who want MILLIONS of people to like them. (That’s the Seven Digits of Delusion at this point.) These are people who honestly believe everyone on earth should consider them special. “People should crave to hear my opinion. Things should be named after me. I should have a book, a show, an album, a perfume.” In this perverse parallel universe called Los Angeles (a.k.a. The Imaginary City), it’s absurd how many accept this as a simple premise and go about their day.

I was certainly one of them, and it’s how I ended up here instead of Florida. I think I’ve been here seven or eight years, and Los Angeles has had a profound influence on me: it SLOWLY forced me decide what I truly value, which is Reality.

For fun, I’m going to define Reality as the opposite of Hyperreality. As it was written by Wikipedia:

Hyperreality is a term used in semiotics and postmodern philosophy to describe an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality[…] Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins.

Yep, that’s it. Hyperreality is the Operating System of this place. I meet so many people who believe their own press (whether they’re actually famous or not). I happen to be someone who is not able to do that. (Understatement!)

Since shifting my focus, I’m back to Double Digits, and it feels correct.

Recommended Reading:
Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism)
The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (Vintage)
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business


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35-Year-Old Man Held Hostage In Pre-School

There was a comedian at the Tomorrow Show — name was Kyle Kinane — who said something like, “When I get into a debate with someone with a lip piercing, I figure… well, if you made that mistake, why should I listen to anything you say?”

Along those lines, if you haven’t solved something important… like the problem of mankind’s corporeal mortality, or that we have to play the mundane and illusory socio-economic game that is modern survival, or that we are required to reduce an entire planet of happy little life forms to food and afterwards shit them out… it pretty much invalidates whatever philosophy you preach.

Over a Hundred Billion Humans have been created and will probably be destroyed. And most of them never realize they are only cells in a larger Organism that they can’t see or understand. After a short time, they reproduce, try their best to pass on their knowledge, and die.

It’s fun to point at the other cells and believe “that guy is the conspiracy, not me.” But from outer space, we’re not all that different from each other. (So don’t get too excited about how enlightened you are, because the aliens might not even be able to distinguish Joel Bauer from The Chosen One. I know I can’t.)

Maybe we really are just silly Sneetches.

To the universe, the earth might be a concrete, steel, plastic, sodium, and carbon monoxide factory, getting ready to ship its product. And maybe all we’re doing is arguing over the fastest way to get there.

Can we learn to enjoy our ride through space, while working in this factory? Is that the point of it all? Should we narrow our focus to the context of gossip, entertainment, and sports to distract us from The Question? Give up and take some medication? Pretend we don’t know this is all a joke? Pretend we think the Monopoly money is real?

Or should we keep searching for something bigger than our imagination?

Because we know it’s there.


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Don’t Watch The Projector!

Here’s a theory.

We all have an internal movie screen. Projected on it are abstract and mystical sensations — something beyond us. It’s like a sensor that only detects the secret, underlying messages in art. It filters out the crisp details, the literal meanings of words, and what we’re left with is a strange and compelling dream viewed by a child-like caveman. Maybe we can never understand the contents of that movie with the conscious, rational, analytical mind.

Is that OK? I think it is.

Plato believed in something called The Theory of Forms. That everything we see in the real world is only a “shadow” of reality — they are only archetypes or abstract representations.

Whether you agree, it’s an idea worth exploring. Instead of claiming one mode of experiencing the world (and yourself) is morally superior, maybe you can learn to switch between them voluntarily. Maybe they are both meant to be used together for a holistic experience.

I’ve found that as I learn the science behind things like music, screenwriting, and cinematography, it’s easy to forget about what’s playing on that internal movie screen. Instead of suspending my disbelief during a film, I see acts, camera angles, and exposition.

The problem is that this can be fascinating, at least at first.

Over time, technique develops into its own language. Is that the language you want to translate all art into for the rest of your life? Maybe disassembling the machine kills it.

Here’s an exercise: when you experience music, try not to listen to the notes, scales, chords, or instruments.

Don’t watch the projector.

This is my public blog. You can also Join My Cult!

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Space Itself Was Created In The Big Bang

According to Janna Levin, a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University: “The Big Bang is often misunderstood as an explosion in Space, as though Time and Space existed. But Space itself is created in the Big Bang.”

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Cooking With Werner Herzog

“I don’t usually do television. I believe television is killing us. So we must declare a war. A holy war against talk shows, commercials, and Bonanza.”

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Dr. Zoltan In 2600 (The Hacker Quarterly)

If you walk into any Barnes & Noble or Borders, you should be able to locate a magazine in the Computers section called 2600 (The Hacker Quarterly)

Earlier this year, Dr. Zoltan wrote an article called “Hacking Music” and it has been published in the Autumn issue:


Dr. Zoltan could scan and upload the article, but he would not want to ruin the magical experience of reading the printed magazine in your local bookstore. 

It is an honor to be in print for the first time in nearly 3 years.

Dr. Zoltan Øbelisk
Hollywood’s Most Innovative Entertainer Since Carrot Top

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Dr. Zoltan on getFreshMinds!

Katie Konrath at getFreshMinds has written a blog about Dr. Zoltan’s 81 Ideas On Creative Career

Her site was recently named one of the top Innovation Blogs by Guy Kawasaki’s site, AllTop

Subscribe to getFreshMinds in your favorite RSS Reader!

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