In a recent Breaking Smart newsletter Venkatesh Rao said:
“The reason I’m working on this stuff and trying to use talks to work out some of the tricky bits is that I’m trying to get another book project going. Yeah yeah, I know, I already wrote a book about time (Tempo, in case you didn’t know), but I feel another one brewing in the élan vital. My spidey senses are tingling and my zeitgeist-sensing implant is telling me the kairos is right for such a book. This one’s going to be different, all about subjective time and how you can program reality to manipulate your stream of consciousness. I’m kinda excited about it because it would sort of pull together a few key current themes of Breaking Smart and Ribbonfarm, as well as further development on some of the most intriguing threads I uncovered, but did not develop, in Tempo. We’ll see how it goes.”
So, Venkatesh’s separate projects—Breaking Smart, Ribbonfarm, Tempo—are starting to converge. Why does this matter? Well. I’m a big advocate of what I call the “many paths” approach. It’s an idea I pinched from B.H. Liddell Hart’s biography of William Sherman:
“To the irresistibility of this progress Sherman’s flexibility contributed as much as his variability of direction. Moving on a wide and irregular front—with four, five or six columns, each covered by a cloud of foragers—if one was blocked, others would be pushing on.”
The above idea applied means that an individual should keep multiple enterprises on the go at once, because as Hart says, “if one was blocked, others would be pushing on.” I try to embody this in my own life—a quick survey of my projects:
– Phronetic: a daily blog about mastery, strategy, and practical philosophy.
– A novel (currently in the research and ideation phase).
– A longform essay on near-deathness.
– Freelance editorial work via Swell & Cut.
– Reading and research related and unrelated to the above.
– The upkeep of my Commons.
– Movement: strength training, cycling and practice of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
I count seven separate avenues or “projects”, which means seven different opportunities for progression. Thus, if I find myself unwilling to work on the novel, I can write some blog posts. If I don’t feel like writing blog posts, I can do editorial work or come up with strategies for lead generation and conversion. If I don’t feel like writing at all, I can go read, or review books and add ideas to the commons. If all that is too much intellectual heavy lifting, I can go and weight train, or practise some BJJ movements, or trawl Reddit, Twitter and follow breadcrumbs on the internet to find things to add to my scrapbook.
So, the passage from Venkatesh’s newsletter highlights “convergence”; the passage from Hart’s biography and the idea of the “many paths approach” could be called “divergence”. And those two labels together indicate the two main phases of a life. Specifically, life and its components are always in a state of convergence or divergence, a coming together or a breaking apart.