(10/14/20) best practices are not best practices

Hey all,

I got very busy the past couple weeks and didn’t have time to queue up anything interesting to send you. What’ve I been up to? Well…

We drove out to Montauk for a mini-vacation, staying at this awesome renovated motel right on the beach. We spent the entire weekend pretty much eating everything in sight.

This past weekend, wifey’s brother got married. We celebrated the occasion with a small group of friends and family. I really enjoyed how intimate and familiar it all felt.

Amidst all this, I worked with KettleSpace to help a school system turn their inventory of physical spaces into reservable, on-demand, multi-purpose, sanitized, contact-traceable rooms. Pretty crazy what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short timeframe.

I want to do this story justice because it is connected to a lot of necessary adaptations the world has had to make over the past 6+ months. So I’ll have a more interesting wall of text to share with you later. But now it is time to rest and take a breath.

In the meantime, here is this week’s entry of Ammar the Curmudgeon.

What I’m Thinking About

Student: “I must see for myself … what is in my mind … in order not to mix ideas and end up confused.”

Rinpoche: “Yah—yah—yah … ’thom yor … Now you have learned a new trick. This is what you think I want to hear!”

Rinpoche stared at me with unblinking eyes for a long time before he eventually spoke.

“Your answer is not wrong – but you think in tricks like a trained monkey!” [pause] “Anyhow … to see clearly … you must sit …” [pause] “Do you sit?!”

Wisdom Eccentrics, Ngakpa Chogyam

Whenever I’m not sure of how to do something, I google “Best Practices for XYZ.” It’s a bad habit, a reflex really. I don’t learn much about best practices. I instead learn about the commandments of a new religion. Most of the search results are drab checklists and self-promotional fluff pieces.

And so I discover repeatedly that Best Practices are not best practices. Being the insufferable fool I am, I seek out Uncommon Practices instead.

Orthodoxy vs. Yogi

Best Practices are the orthodoxy. They may point to an effective approach. But more likely they point to ideas that you can acquire fairly quickly. Their popularity comes from their ease. They spread because they are easy. Best practices are useful until they become fads, which inevitably happens.

Uncommon Practices are nomadic wisdom. At their core, they are quite simple, but they are not easy. They say more about the practitioner than the method itself. Uncommon practices stick around for a long time, shape-shifting from generation to generation, windblown from place to place.

Condiment vs. Embodiment

Best Practices have really good marketing. You'll see conferences, talks, and workshops dedicated to them. They often reduce down to trademarked diagrams. They create a cottage industry of Best Practices Consultants. They become condiments, squirts of mustard or ketchup to spice up an otherwise yuck sandwich.

Uncommon Practices have little desire to convince or persuade. Just watching these practices does most of the persuasion. They often reveal themselves through careful observation and training. You'll see their lessons appearing in the works of the masters across decades and centuries.

Method vs. Technique

Best Practices tie their practitioners to a fixed methodology. This Is How We Do Things Around Here.

Uncommon Practices tie their practitioners to a long lineage of discovery. They are not tied to a single discipline, though some techniques are known to be very helpful.

Best Practices are a useful entry point when I'm trying to understand something better. Immersing myself in the prevailing zeitgeist gives me a language to learn from and communicate with others.

But once I get my feet wet, Best Practices actually become a crutch. I offload my own critical thinking skills to a fixed system. My education morphs into an attempt to achieve results as fast as possible.

The very way I think or understand things becomes constrained by the system. I confuse symbol and status acquisition for comprehension.

And at that point, it's vital to start seeking out Uncommon Practices.

This isn't reflexive contrarianism. To understand anything deeply, I have to weave in concepts that serve their purpose, push myself to my limit, and weave out of them when they stop serving their purpose. Usually, there are people hanging out in the wings and fringes trying to do the same. So I’ve found that it is very important to find these people.

It’s damn near impossible to stay true to the pursuit of Uncommon Practices in perpetuity. Our tendency for blueprints, recipes, and easy answers constantly drives us towards dogma. And that is what makes Uncommon Practices truly uncommon.

Bullet-Point Summaries

The Four Quadrants of Conformism - Paul Graham

  1. The aggressively conventional-minded ones are the tattletales. Their motto: “Crush <outgroup>!”

  2. The passively conventional-minded are the sheep. Their motto: “What will the neighbors think?”

  3. The passively independent-minded are the dreamy ones. Their motto: “To each his own.”

  4. The aggressively independent-minded are the naughty ones. Their motto: “Eppur si muove.

  5. The ones who are aggressively conventional-minded today would have been aggressively conventional-minded back then, too. In other words, that they'd not only not have fought against slavery, but that they'd have been among its staunchest defenders.

I’m shooting to get back to my normal schedule next week. Ciao!