In which Wolf tells the story of how he almost lost his acres of diamonds.
In which Wolf tells the story of how he almost lost his acres of diamonds.
Released April 6, 2021
Listen to Episode
I am a maker. I use technology to make things. I love making things and I'm good at it. People pay me good money to make things for them. All that's true, but thinking this way almost lost me the greatest business opportunity of my life.
Prejudice, ideology, bias, distortion, mindlessness: bad thinking is everywhere. The world needs heroes to lead the way to better, higher, more valuable ways of thinking. These ways are timeless, and never more needed than right now. Some claim that these timeless ways of thinking are now dangerous. To them I reply: BEWARE OF WOLF.
I have always believed that I could be good at whatever I wanted. I could have been an actor, a musician, an artist, or a scientist. I was fortunate to have found a career path I loved when I was only eleven years old: writing software. When you're intelligent, creative, and gifted with a lot of raw talent, a life lesson you quickly learn is that you can have anything you want-- but! You can't have everything you want. So for over 40 years I've happily written software, and made a good living at it. I've dabbled in a few other pursuits, but I've stuck with technology all these years and been rewarded for it in many ways. I've even had some super interesting side-gigs, like helping launch the creative toy PixelBlocks, and then there was the time I was asked to be a technical consultant on an episode of the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
Over my career, my favorite projects have been where someone comes to me with an unsolved problem, a pain point, an unfulfilled need or desire, and asks me to use my unique skill stack to create something that addresses their problem in a creative and innovative way. In the early 2000's I was approached by a large company and asked to envision new approaches to military course of action analysis. This was a new domain for me, but as I studied it I realized that the sorts of thinking required to think strategically about military actions were very similar to another set of strategic thinking techniques I had previously studied called the Theory of Constraints, which is a process of continuous improvement used in businesses around the world. I asked my client whether they would be interested in having me write some software that would be useful for their tasks as well as other thinking tasks like the Theory of Constraints. They said yes, and for the next year or so I wrote the first proof of concept, which at that stage was called Decision Builder. I've always been a huge Apple fanboy, and at that time I wrote most of my software on the Mac. My client, being part of the military-industrial complex, almost exclusively used Windows. But they didn't care that my software only ran on the Mac because all they really wanted was for me to prove my concepts.
But then, a surprising thing happened: once my software was developed enough to start giving regular demonstrations of its capabilities, my client's employees asked to start using it themselves! They were eager to use it, to the point of requisitioning Macs for their office, just so they could run my software.
My client came to me and asked whether I could rewrite my software for Windows. Being the Apple snob that I am, I really didn't want to learn Windows programming. But I considered their request and came back to them with a proposal: the Java programming language runs on Windows and Mac, so how about I rewrite it in Java? I then spent the next couple years creating the second generation of my software.
By the time that was ready they were very happy with the results. They sent me on a tour around the country to show off the new Decision Builder. I was invited to give numerous talks on the software and the sort of thinking it promoted and supported, including a presentation at the Pentagon. I received a lot of thanks and congratulations: Decision Builder was one of the few projects to "graduate" from their Futures Lab initiative. But what did this mean? What was to happen next?
As I learned, not much. Obviously my client could do whatever they wanted with the software. But they weren't a software publisher. They might repurpose parts of it internally or draw inspiration from it for other projects. None of the work I had done was classified. I had been showing it publicly at their request. And I could see that everywhere I had demonstrated my software, no-one had seen anything like it, and they wanted it. But if I didn't take action, the software was likely to simply disappear into the internals of a giant company never to be heard from again.
So I approached my client and offered to publish the software myself. I'd maintain and improve it, and they'd automatically gain the benefits of all my improvements. Over the few next months we settled on and signed our agreement. I felt the software needed to be launched with a more memorable name, so I brainstormed up a short list and ran them by Lisa Scheinkopf, the author of Thinking for a Change: Putting the TOC Thinking Processes to Use which was the book that had originally inspired me to create the software. She picked the one she liked the best, and Flying Logic was born.
In the next few years I made one particularly good decision, and one very bad one. The good one was to ask my colleague Joe to become my business partner. Another thing I had learned about myself, or rather thought I had learned about myself: I liked starting projects, but I didn't like to maintain them over the long-term. I was a "starter": I was really good at turning nothing but ideas into really amazing working code, but got bored when it came to the workaday software maintenance, because I was always full of ideas and wanted to start the next new thing. Joe, on the other hand is a "finisher": In the 90's we'd been partners in a video game company, and decades later he still maintains and publishes many of the games we worked on back then. Once upon a time those games only ran on MS-DOS. Now they ran on Mac, Windows, Linux, iPhone, Android, you name it. Thanks to Joe, Flying Logic runs and continues to run not only on Windows and Mac, but Linux as well. Over the years we've made steady improvements to Flying Logic with me in charge of our overall roadmap, but thanks mostly to Joe's tireless work.
As I said, I also made one very bad decision. While I truly believed Flying Logic was unique and had tremendous potential to support and improve how people think, I myopically believed that it was so unique that it would "sell itself." I believed that since I had built it, "they would come." So I created some great supporting material like my book Thinking with Flying Logic, put up the web site, did a press release, went to a few conferences, and then waited.
Meanwhile I started other professional projects. In 2009 I went through a divorce, and a lot of my energy in the next years was spent on discovering who I really was and what I really wanted in a life partner. During this time I wrote the iPhone app for the matchmaking service eHarmony, and worked for several other high-tech startups, none of which hit it big. Flying Logic continued coasting. Joe and I always made sure that Flying Logic ran on the latest operating systems, and we actually gave it a couple major upgrades during this time, but for me personally it was in the back of my mind: something that would either sink or swim on its own.
In 2016 I met, and two years later I married the love of my life. It turns out this beautiful lady also had a degree in marketing, and had been a successful web developer for many years. Our conversations often turned to the amazing potential we had as professionals, and why we hadn't yet realized the level of success that some of our other professional acquaintances had. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I had accomplished, and what I still wanted. I was casting about for my Next Big Thing, and several ideas were on the table: new businesses, writing a video game or a productivity app, or maybe teaching online courses.
Many years ago I wrote a small book of aphorisms: a collection of wise sayings. Most of them were my own re-phrasings of wisdom I had collected from various places. A few of them were things I knew to be true and wise, even though I hadn't heard them put forth elsewhere. When you make such a list, at some point you have to decide which one will come first, because it sets the tone for everything that follows. After a lot of consideration, the one I chose was one of my own: "You will benefit more from practicing the wisdom you already know, than you will from learning more wisdom." For someone who has studied personal development as much as I have, reading a self-improvement book is often (at best) an exercise in reminding myself of what I already know. At worst, the time spent doing this is actually a form of procrastination: I simply be should be practicing what I already know.
This aphorism kept coming back to my mind. I already have the keys: they've worked for so many people. I just need to practice what I already know. What do I already know that will help me?
And then another piece of wisdom came to mind: a parable made famous by Earl Nightingale called "Acres of Diamonds." The story concerns an African farmer who sells his farm to go prospecting for diamonds, fruitlessly searching for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the man who bought that property eventually learns that his farm is literally covered in acres of rough diamonds. As Nightingale wrote: "The moral is clear: If the first farmer had only taken the time to study and prepare himself to learn what diamonds looked like in their rough state, and to thoroughly explore the property he had before looking elsewhere, all of his wildest dreams would have come true."
So I did something I hadn't really done before: I fired up my user database and really started analyzing who had been buying Flying Logic all the years that I had been neglecting it. And what I discovered amazed me: more than 5% of the Fortune 500 owned one or more licenses. Some of them owned dozens. Universities around the world owned licenses. U.S. government organizations like the FAA, NASA, the CDC, and Sandia Labs owned licenses. Flying Logic had been quietly selling itself all those years with most of my traffic coming from organic searches: people specifically looking for a product that did what Flying Logic does. I asked myself: if 5% of the Fortune 500 has found productive uses for Flying Logic, why not 100%? Why not every company? I sent out a survey to my user base and got an extremely high rate of response: I learned that most people who use Flying Logic don't just like it, they're passionate about it.
The answer was right in front of me: Flying Logic was the best software that nobody had heard of. It was my "acres of diamonds", and I had almost let it die from neglect due to my own self-limiting belief that I was just a maker of things, and not a great seller of the things I made. And what's more, my personality and temperament actually made me the perfect person to show the world how my software can improve their lives and businesses.
Since coming to this realization I've made it my mission to raise the bar on the level of thinking that is normal and expected throughout the world. Flying Logic is one part of that. It's got a new marketing plan. Our new web site is almost ready to launch. We've got a new user forum as well as live chat, and a system to make sure support requests get handled in a timely and efficient way. I know! There's nothing special about these things: they're normal and expected. But until recently, we didn't have them. But now we do, and a lot more is coming.
Flying Logic isn't for everyone, and it's not a panacea; it certainly won't do your thinking for you. Throughout the episodes of this show I'm going to be talking about the ways of thinking Flying Logic is designed to support, which in short is simply good thinking.
More importantly, I've come to a deeper understanding that becoming successful demands you grow into and adapt to the demands of each new level. No matter how good you are at what you do, if you want to get to the next level you can't afford to become complacent and assume that what you have done in the past is what will work for you in the future: if you don't choose to level up then you're done.
And if you're listening to this and you're anything like me, you probably already have the keys to your higher success within you right now. Make the effort to remember them, dust them off, and put them to use.
Learn more about the world's premier critical thinking tool Flying Logic at FlyingLogic.com. Help spread the word by rating and reviewing this show on your favorite podcast platform. Discuss this episode at BewareOfWolf.com. And keep raising the bar, whether the world likes it or not.