Skill and Business

There is a mystery in charging people to use your skill for them.

On the one hand you have the skill, the actual work you do. On the other hand you have the business, the way you make money with the skill. Two different things.

There are two parts that are mysterious to me:

  1. How to keep business and skill in balance (if “balance” is even the right way of thinking about it).
  2. Whether focusing on one pollutes the other.

Artists aren’t typically renown for business savvy, and the image that comes to mind of a great businessperson is typically nothing like an artist.

I don’t know what to do with the mystery, but it’s there.


It’s frustrating when people interrupt us. Infuriating when it happens often. It makes us feel that what we were saying wasn’t important enough to be heard. We were in the middle of something, and now we have to stop against our will, divert our attention, make room for something else, and try to find our train of thought again if we want to finish what we were saying. It’s rude.

It’s aggravating when someone cuts us off in traffic and causes us to wait at a red light. It’s an unwanted delay to our timeline. It’s rude.

But we aren’t perturbed in the least—we actually feel a little ping of pleasure and an eagerness to hear the interruption—when it comes from our phone.

What It Takes to Live

Someone was recently talking about young people graduating high school and how, in the years following, their mind changes as they start learning “what it takes to live.”

What it takes to live.

The phrase jumped out at me. The words are so simple, but I noticed them because I thought they were a great summary of what we’re all doing from the time we’re born until we die. It’s the toil that drives all human behavior. 

When we’re getting an education, making friends, seeking employment, and dreaming of what to make of ourselves, we’re simply figuring out what it takes to live.

And what does it take to live, exactly? I don’t know, and thankfully I don’t have to answer it. I thought the phrase was great on its own. But if I had to take a stab at answering it, I’d probably look to some psychological model.

I know almost nothing about psychology, but you might have heard of the model that ranks human needs called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

User: Factoryjoe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

(I would probably place morality lower on the chart. It seems more foundational. Worship has not only been all-important for the vast majority of all humans in history, but some have argued pretty convincingly that everyone worships. Everyone ascribes ultimate value to something—looks to something to make them okay and to make life worth living—even if that works out differently from person to person and even if it’s not directed towards a god at all.)

What I just learned about the Hierarchy from this article is that the first 4 tiers of needs are considered “Deficiency Needs” and the top tier is considered a “Growth Need.” 

The motivation for meeting the deficiency needs decreases as the needs are met, whereas motivation for the growth need increases as the need is met.

The longer you go without food, water, shelter, clothing, security, safety, friends, the feeling of accomplishment, the more intense your motivation is to get them. Once you get them, your motivation and pursuit of them drops. 

Yet the more you engage in creative activities, the more you want them. This explains why some authors are so prolific or why some city builders never stop planning and dreaming. The more they engage in the creative process the more they want it and the more their motivation increases.

Whatever use you choose to make of this is up to you. I just find the model a helpful and accurate way of seeing human needs.

A Reflection on American Building

The city used to amaze me. Maybe it’s because I’m from the part of the world where the plains reach out farther than you can see, so the sight of a 30-story building, or even a naked parking garage, is almost a spectacle. It gives you the feeling of being elsewhere—not here, not home, not out in pasture with the wind and the sun, but in the city where everyone is busy with important things.

A charm for the city still lingers in my imagination. And yet, it’s changing. 

I used to look at skylines and feel the pulsating energy drawing me in and pushing me away at the same time like the snobby cool kid at school. I wanted in, wanted to feel like I belonged there, wanted to find an inlet to the mainstream, whatever that is.

Now I’m not so sure. 

I recently visited a city, and in a neighborhood where humble houses once stood there is now a mammoth hole hewn deep into the crust—a squared foundation for a skyscraper. As I looked through the chain link barrier I was reminded of the meteor crater in Arizona I saw when I was 5. When you look down from that ledge you can feel the leftover violence that bowled out the earth so long ago, and a similar brutality looked back through the chain link fence of job site. Laborers ascend the hole on makeshift stairs at the end of their shift and think of the leftovers they’ll have when they get home.

Enterprise does this. It takes a wooded hill and fells every tree and flattens the dirt and puts its mind on nothing but the job to finish and the profit to realize. It installs a manmade plain where for centuries a riverbank stood—where wolves once watched the moonbeams warble on the river currents, where Native Americans likely sat seeking solace for sufferings they couldn’t understand.

And now? Now there’s skid loaders and I-beams, robotic arms with hoses that spray concrete, white lights filling every corner of the site and a polluted reflection dimming the stars. “There’ll be a shopping center at the bottom with stores our predicted tenants will be sure to enjoy.”

I stand on the street and look down into the cavern of industry, seeing how we pummel the earth and blast the rock and spew down cement that will be there forever and I wonder: “Is this okay?” Is it right for us to do this? We stamp and plod and stab into the earth with ever newer ever better machines that multiply our efficiency and force, and the hill that once stood here is nothing but a memory in the minds of the dead, which is to say a memory that exists nowhere.

I don’t know. One could argue that in that building human lives will find their home—that mothers will rear their young, that professionals will rest from anxious toil, that Christmas parties will be hosted and love will be shared. 

We can build whatever we desire—it happens every American second—but should we? Will the universe hold us accountable for the way we kick down earth’s door and smash hills and chip trees and blast bedrock to build a steel and glass profit box? With what presumption do we stomp froward and justify our every action provided the bottom line is black? I don’t know. 

I look up and see the crane forty stories above the surface frowning down at me like an offended conscience. One thing I know is I’m not in control. 

We are a loud species, dead set that our will be done and our kingdom come.

On Authority

Some author, I can’t remember who, once pointed out that the vast majority of everything we know has come to us through an authority we trust. Very little has come through our direct experiences.

Think of how little science we have tested for ourselves, how little history we have investigated, how few places we’ve seen with our own eyes. If a mechanic tells us we need a new alternator and it will cost us $400 dollars, we call our spouse and lay out the truth for her like we had seen it with our own eyes. We might go on to diagnose a friend’s faulty alternator at a later date based on what the mechanic said. We trust his authority without testing for ourselves.

We can read something in a book and tout it as fact for the rest of our lives if we trust the author.

Anywhere from 99-100% of everything most people know about the political system in the US—the way the government works, the history of any given political figure, and even the meaning of “democracy” and why it’s superior to socialism, marxism, communism, or any other ism—they know through listening to an authority they trust. They have not been a senator and learned the culture and ethos of that job. They’ve never been in the Oval Office. They’ve never sat in a cabinet meeting. Yet the trust is so deep they will separate from friends who see issues another way.

When two people argue about an idea with heads full of information—information which they did not learn first hand—what’s really happening is a contest between the sources who influenced them.

Why do some people argue against vaccinations, for example? Is it because they are doctors and have given vaccinations to thousands of patients on their own and proven that they don’t work, or is it because they read someone who said they didn’t work and, for some reason, found them to be a more trustworthy authority?

The most important question becomes: How do we determine who the authority is?

I don’t know, but it’s a worthwhile question.