Personal Branding: Skill asset and acquisition cost

As promised, key takeaways first.

Every skill at its most basic level brings with it fundamental truths about the universe. Economics taught me about value. Physics taught me about energy and transition. Art taught me to look at generalities first while sports taught me to operate accurately within 3 dimensions. All of these fundamental truths were obtained within my first few dozen hours of study, yet each of these truths is applicable to everything I do in my life. The artist does not hire painters for her loft and the architect does not buy overpriced storage unites from home depot. Yet the architect who is also a conversant artist is able to see the shapes in his designs while his competitors are waiting for the model to render. Diversifying skills results in an exponential increase in ability to reliably and predictably asses the world at large in interesting and financially advantageous ways.

We only have so many available moments in our lives. What do we do with this time? The answer to this question is most often some spiritual platitude or vague reference to ‘The Good Life’. Family, Friends and professional accomplishment seem to top the list. What does this mean and how do I determine the best course for my life? It is only through this introspection that we can get away from the meaningless platitudes and put some real meat on the question, “What is the best possible life I can lead?” I would like to explore the relationships between time and value spent on skills and the output we receive from them in terms of capability.

Several common fears reduce our capacity to live the best possible life. We are naturally scared of so many situations. Next time you are at a busy bar, just think of how many great people are within 30 feet of you. How many of them will you talk to? I would love to know where this social aversion comes from. In fact, I have a hard time talking to random people at meetups when the sole purpose of the meetup is to get random people to talk to each other. I cycle between crying and laughing about this personal defect. I have spent my whole life learning to converse, then when the opportunity comes up, I sit at the table and pull out my phone to check Twitter or Facebook. This is such a ridiculous fact, but a truth none-the-less. Take the idea of sunk cost. Sunk cost is a fallacy. We say, “I do not want to get into cycling because what if I end up hating it”. This fallacious belief results in one of two scenarios.

  • We stick with something we do not enjoy because we have already spent so much time and/or money.
  • We do not try something that could be great fun because we do not want to spend the time required.

Occasionally I will read some author who thinks it is an amazing new truth that socialization or conversation is a skill. What annoys me about this is the fact that everything is a skill. From communicating to grabbing the best public transportation in a scenario. Some of these skills are mundane and others are much more exotic. The girl scaling Everest also has to balance her checkbook. For each skill in our skill arsenal, we neccasarily have a tier of accomplishment. Since our time is limited, we make intuitive decisions about where to spend our time. Should I work on my writing this weekend or go work on my marathon time? Should I get a start on deploying a fourth edge server or read the latest draft of 800-35 to get a jump on the new requirements. Answers to these questions often border on simple emotional platitudes. “Do what your heart wants.” These platitudes hide the fact that we are making decisions on incomplete or unidentified variables. Every time I have said, “My gut told me to do it” or it “was an intuitive decision”, I was saying nothing more than, “I was unable to figure out the variables so it just felt right to do X”. It feels great to believe that we will magically get the right answer because our gut tells us, but without identifiable variables, even if true, it is unverifiable.

So how do we drop the platitudes and emotional baggage and truly analyze our skill development decisions for their potential impact to our value to us as a person? It is a truism that we have no more than 100% of our time available. I hate the sports cliché, “Give 110 percent!” The irony is, if you could give 110 percent it simply turns into your new 100 percent.

I am not interested in the specific numbers used in the examples below, only their relationship to each other. We have an internal ‘Skill Asset List’. For each skill in this asset list, we must determine to what extent we will develop these skills. Each step we take to become more competent in a skill exponentially increases the requirements of gaining and maintaining that skill while decreasing the actual gain from that skill. An artist who is 6 months into his training is significantly better than an artist who is four months into his training. Yet in 20 years, the difference between these two artists in terms of skill will be so inconsequential it will barely be noticeable. It is all a tradeoff. For each skill you increase from tier three to tier four, you give up the value to get x number of other skills to tier two. For each skill you increase from four to five, you give up the value to get x2 number of skills to tier two. We must decide how to best utilize the value we have.

In a world of increasing specialization, it is important to remember that being well rounded requires interest in disparate skills. It is worth noting that the leaders portrayed in media are often not the people at the top tiers of skill. Odysseus, like Captain Kirk and George Clooney in the Oceans series, was not the best at anything in particular. Odysseus was not the best fighter, navigator or strategic threat the Greeks had. He was however, competent in every skill required. It was his competence across this broad spectrum that generated his value. Just like George Clooney’s character, his ability to see all angles of the situation without preconceptions was the ability that resulted in millions of dollars of income. This is a skill itself. The ability to draw connections and correlations. Connections and correlations of this nature are like free knowledge. It is knowledge and value that you have, not because you learned it by rote, but because you were able to apply existing knowledge in such a way that you did not have to bother learning it. The weekend softball outfielder who realizes that the apogee of the ball is the place that it appears to pause in the air is simply applying a little geometry to the problem. This person will rarely over run a fly ball. She did not have to spend hours on the field to learn this fact. This is what I mean by free information. It is internally self-generated and is more likely in an individual who has lower tier knowledge in multiple areas than a person who only specializes in a couple of skills.

The graph below shows this relationship. You will notice that the Value required for each step increases exponentially. In other words, the gain from tier 1 to 2 requires very little value but pays huge dividends. This jump from four to five requires a huge amount of energy with very small amount of return. The result line in red is only linear because I have adjusted for the value exponent in the requirement on the Y-axis. Otherwise, the result line would be a bell curve.

Assume that you have the energy to move from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. Assume that point ‘A’ is 20 ft from point ‘B’. Assume that each step you take will cover half the distance remaining from your current location to point ‘B’. Our table would look like this.


Distance Remaining

Total Distance Covered

Distance this Step


















This is something we all instinctively know. If we only move half way from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ at each step, then we will never reach point ‘B’. This is an infinite set. The set of all half way points between point ‘A’ and point ‘B’ is infinite. In fact, the value of this infinite set can will always be less that 20ft. Let us look at steps 15 through 20.

As you can see, the distance per step at this point gets very small.

Now for the correlation I have been building. Imagine the ‘Steps’ are ‘Level of Skill’. Let us also assume that that ‘Distance this step’ has an inverse correlation to ‘Time required in attaining this level’. Now let us throw some arbitrary requirements.* Let us assume the following:

  • Tier 3: Conversational
  • Tier 5: Amateur
  • Tier 7: Low end professional
  • Tier 10: Mid professional
  • Tier 12: Good professional
  • Tier 20: Thought leader

I do not like magic thinking, and I do not like chalking skills up to ‘natural talent’ or ‘divine providence’. It is certainly true that some of us are naturally better writers, artists, musicians or ball players; however, the contribution from biology is not sufficient to render anyone incapable of attaining a high level of skill in any endeavor. If I want to be an outstanding painter or singer 10 years from now, it is within my grasp. The only question is do I spend the ‘personal value’ to do it. I use the term ‘personal value’ here as an aggregate of Time, Money, Psychic Energy, etc.**

So let us say that I, Micah, need to be:

  • An acceptable writer to support this blog.
  • Have the ability to Illustrate and cartoon my own posts.
  • Help guide IT Policy and Procedures.

This will require:

  • Tier 5: Writing
  • Tier 5: Illustration
  • Tier 20: Governance

We all have 2000 of my made up ‘Personal Value Coefficient’ to spend per month and I would like to attain all my goals within a year. Notice that we lose a very small percentage of available times from the 1,3 and 5 tiers. Look at what happens in tiers 7 and up on IT Governance. Note the exponential increase in value requirements as the requirements increase. With my made up model, the requirements I listed are not doable within a one-year period. Yet in that same time, I could have gotten another 10 skills to Tier 5. This is what I mean by the tradeoff.



*These requirements are arbitrary. I have not researched this table. I am just putting it out there to make my point.

** These coefficients are made up for the purposes of this post. I do eventually want to try to quantify and qualify the requirements in a true model.

Micah Norman



Skill Development in Pictures


Those of you who are regular readers of this blog are aware with my interest in the processes involved in Skill Development. When I decided to start blogging, I created a list of skills that I needed to develop. I know that my introduction stated that I was only doing this for myself. While this is still fundamentally true, I would be lying if I said that the people reading this were not looking forward to new posts. The problem is that usually, skill development is amorphous. We have a sense for how our skill(s) are developing but rarely do we have a chance to sit down and look at the results in relation to our increase in skill.

In my post on ‘Personal Logos‘, I mentioned that Art and Illustration were giant holes in my ‘Skill Asset List’. I went out and purchased several books on Drawing and Cartooning/Sketching. I then signed up for the Adobe Creative Cloud and got books on Illustrator and Photoshop CS6. I created a schedule that requires study on these skills every night for the next 2 months. I am happy to say that I am quite ahead of where I expected to be.

My ego and pride usually get in the way of publicizing unskilled work for public consumption. Well, this blog is part of my attempt to break out of my own self-limiting habits. Below, in pictures, will be my attempt to climb the Drawing/Illustration/Cartooning ladder. I am only 3 weeks in so my work is very poor. I intend to update this post from week to week. My hope is that eventually I will see a very significant difference. For those of you who are artists, use this series to remind yourself how much better you are than I am. J

I am able to look at my sketches and able to easily separate three skill groups. I am excited about this process. Just by looking at the difference between the three groups, I may be doing decent enough work to illustrate my blog around Skill Level 5.

*Updated 5/30*

I think I am starting to see a Skill level 4 come of my drawings.

Skill level 4: 5 weeks to?




Skill level 1: 0 to 5 days

Just beginning. No skill at the outset.

This is a devil head. I have an idea for a blog post that

will take advantage of this.


I was playing with shading. Went

to far.





Skill level 2: 5 days to 1 month.

I’m starting to get a sense of how the faces layout. It is still too much copying of other peoples work. Still nothing original.







Skill level 3: 10 days to 1 month.

Skill actually appears to drop a bit. I think this is due to me trying to do my own work and not copy others.

I was having issues with hair. I did this while listening to a YouTube videa on drawing hair. I did quite poorly in this, however the quality of hair does start to increase.

Someone said, “Draw a character based on the letter ‘A’.

This is what happened.

On of my firs tattempots to create something on my own with no input.

The admin at my company. First drawing I did that looks anything like what I intended.

Just a fun girl from a book.

My first attempt to draw Tre. Source is below.


This is the image I am most proud of at the moment. This is based on a picture from the central girls wedding. The source for this is below.



The drawing is not good, but I only did this so I could play with the compressed chalk that came in the drawing kit.






Micah Norman

Personal Branding: Viewing the world

The last six days have been incredibly busy.  I tried three times to put up a quick blog post but each time, the word count got away from me.  I have resolved to do several additional things on this blog.

  1. I have turned on the passive voice grammar checker in word.  I will endeavor to eliminate as many passive form statements as I can.
  2. I will break up some of these long-winded posts into more consumable chunks.  At the end of a series, I will use a summary post to bring it together without a seven or eight page commitment.
  3. My summary statements will be at the top of the post.  This is a form of writing called, by at least one blogger, inverse pyramid.  It imparts knowledge without the creation process or assumptions getting in the way.  My assumptions and process will still be in the post, but further down.  It allows for a quick read and filter of the knowledge.  I am going to accomplish this by writing the post and then summarizing the points at the top.

There is another five pages easily here so I am going to split this up into at least a two parter.  As always, any feedback is certainly welcome.


Human beings are unable to consume the vast amount of what occurs around us.  In response to this deficiency, our brains have developed a deep understanding of what is and is not important in many situations.  This understanding is our ‘View’.  The ‘View’ has a hierarchical nature.  It flows down from the most abstract concept of ‘Me’, to our  primary roles in life, then down to individual activities we partake in.  ‘Views’ change and adapt as our skill level changes.  The more skilled we are in something, the less minutia our brain processes.

‘Views’ relate our experiences and expectation.   Our views are described by our skill in that particular view.

When the skill level is low, the ‘complexity of view’ or ‘maturity of view’ is low.  This results in:

  • Lots of information handed to brain for processing.
  • Easy to incorporate new information into the view.
  • Easy to incorporate wrong information into the view.
  • At this level of skill, the view is ‘High Maintenance’.
  • I use ‘High maintenance’ because the view requires greater amount of energy as it is constantly changing and adapting to new information.
  • I use ‘High maintenance’ because it is easy for faulty information to get incorporated into this view.
  • Hard to sink into selection and confirmation biases at this level.  The view is not yet mature enough to seek confirmation or select agreeable points intentionally.

When the skill level is high, the ‘complexity of view’ or ‘maturity of view’ is also high.  This results in:

  • Inputs easily filtered.  You know what you are expecting.
  • ‘Low maintenance’ as little energy is required to maintain views at this level.
  • Incorrect data is less likely to be entered as valid because of your ability to correlate at this level.
  • Very difficult to change this view.  You have seen it a thousand time.
  • Easy to sink into confirmation and selection biases at this level.



This is why driving is such a forgetful experience.  We are so skilled at driving that we rarely remember what happens on our drive unless something contradicts our accepted ‘View’. When we are poorly skilled at something, our ‘Views’ do not know what is important and therefore feed us all data.

The top-level view is a view that contains little more than the basis for our personality.  Our sense of fairness, tolerance to cause pain, etc. all exist inside of the default top-level view. For example, when I rode a horse for the first time, this default top-level ‘View’ knew not to randomly hurt the horse.  This view did not know how to make the horse go up the hill without stopping for food.  My memories of this experience, even though they are 6 months old, still are seared into my brain.  However, the last 15 times I walked to work, not much of anything in memory, and it happened over the course of the last 3 weeks.


This is my ‘View’ of my ‘Views’.

  • Micah Default View (Skill level 0) – Many aggregations, lots of excess data to interpret, lots of data loss due to misunderstanding, poor interpretation and data loss events due to aggregation and abstraction.  This is the view assumed when entering an unknown situation.  This is the basis or ‘root’ of all other views.
    • Micah Work Views – This is the basis or ‘root’ of all other work views.
      • Micah at work creating policies (Skill level 5) – Somewhat competent.  Small amounts of excess data processed.  I know what is and is not important.  Easily incorporate unexpected information into model.
      • Micah at work deploying exchange server (Skill level 10) – Extremely competent.  Little to no excess data processed.  Expectations rarely deviate from reality.  Difficulty incorporating new information into model.
  • Micah Non-Work Views – This is the basis or ‘root’ of all other non-work views.
    • Micah Illustrating (Skill level 2) – Just learning.  Many excess data to interpret.  Competing instructions without ability to filter.  Very easy to incorporate new information into model.  Very easy to incorporate wrong information into model.  Continuously analyze model to define best practices.

You will note that the pictures of the more developed views have darker lenses.  I believe this is true because they filter a greater amount of the junk out.  The view controls what we find important in any situation.  It controls the data that our brain inputs for processing, how it processes that data, and what to do with the results.  This process is important to understand for many reasons.

  • Why we notice certain things and not others.  Are some of those things we are not noticing important?
  • How we develop and master new skills.
  • ‘Views’ can be used to ensure that we are living up to our vision of ourselves.  Each view is a step down the chain from our strategic selves all the way to our operational actions.  To utilize this, first we must understand our views.
  • Highly developed ‘Views’ can make us unresponsive to change.  We all know someone who refuses to do X+1 because they are amazing at X.  It brings to mind people who refuse to embrace digital photography because they are amazing in the dark room.

You are late for work again.  The stupid light at Lakeshore and Belmont just went yellow.  It is going to cost you 5 minutes to wait for this light.  So you do what I would do and punch the gas.  You get through the light and off to work you go.  But what happened after you left?

Hitting the gas caused your car to convert additional chemical energy into kinetic energy.  The road absorbed some of that energy as heat and movement.  That transfer caused a slight vibration.  That vibration knocked a leaf loose from a nearby tree.  That leaf fell into a pedestrian’s eye.  The pedestrian paused for 3 seconds to clear the leaf before moving on with his commute.  He was not in the crosswalk when a distracted drive blew the light thus narrowly missing being killed.  I assume we all recognize the ‘Butterfly effect’ at play.

Let us go even further.  1.4 billion years ago, the sun fused four hydrogen atoms into one helium atom.  That process released a little packet of energy called a photon.  That photon spent a billion years working its way out from the center of the sun to the surface.* It then spent 8 minutes traversing the distance from sun to the earth.  It bounced around the atmosphere being absorbed and reemitted.  Eventually, a newly formed fern in a Paleozoic swamp absorbed it. ** That fern used this energy through photosynthesis to create material for its growth.  Eventually the fern dropped the leaf, which absorbed the photon to the bottom of the swamp.  400 million years of compression and chemical change later, a drill from a BP Oil derrick brings a gallon of oil to the surface, which contains some of the atoms, which were in that leaf.  Three months later, you pump the gas resulting from this oil into your car.  The spark plug triggers an explosive expansion event in a piston because you punched the gas to get through a light at Lakeshore and Belmont…

All around us, every second of every day, an untold number of reactions and interactions are occurring.  The vast majority of these specific events are below our notice.  We cannot possibly watch all of this.  Wind blowing, trees swaying, water moving is all nothing more than a transition of energy state and input/output system.  Do not quote me on this, because I have lost the source (I believe the source was an NPR podcast episode on multitasking), I heard that the average human male’s brain has the capacity to process 3 related bits of data at a time.  The average human Female outstrips us simple males by being able to process 7 related bits of data at a time.***  That is 3 and 7 individual datum’s at a time.  That is appallingly low.  Since we cannot consume all of these interactions, nature has provided our brain with an automatic modeling, abstraction and aggregation capacity.  These are our ‘Views’.

This controls more than how we see the world.  It colors all of our interactions.  Language and pattern recognition.  Love, hate and everything in between are derived from these views.  Nothing is outside of their purview.****

Even though the IPO (Input, Processing, and Output) diagram has lost some favor in the business community, I still like it for analysis purposes.  So let me use an IPO diagram to give my perspective of ‘Views’.


This is the basic IPO chart.  It has an input item, a processing item and an output item.  Interpret these terms as broadly as possible.

To my point, imagine the input item saying, “A round hard object nearly a foot in circumference is moving towards me at 40 to 90 feet per second.”  What does processing do here?  Without a view to apply this to, we have no idea what models or aggregates to apply and our output requires processing to function.  So in essence, the processing portion of the IPO chart looks to the ‘View’ for a definition of appropriate abstraction models and aggregations.  So let us do a couple.  (Because I see views as the way we perceive the world, I drew a set of sunglasses to help illustrate my point. I am in the process of learning to Illustrate and cartoon so please be understanding for the next few weeks.  The quality will increase over time.)



The overall point in these images is that the exact same input can result in completely different output based on the Model Lookup, which the view provides to the processing function.  I am going to add one piece to the basic IPO Chart.


*Not sure if this number is right.  I think I heard this somewhere but regardless it takes an enormous amount of time to get out of the sun to the earth.

** Some of these ages may be inaccurate.  400 million years ago was the Paleozoic era, and I believe ferns were around back then, but I have not sited any sources for this.  The exactness is not important for the point.  Just think long ass time!

*** As I said, I have lost the source and do not want to delay this post trying to track it down.  The point is not the exact number, which is certainly debatable, but that our ability to process is severely limited, which is not debatable.

**** I have heard that some cytotropic drugs limit the ability of the brain to filter.  I have no idea if this is true or not.  I have not researched this at all.  Purely hearsay and anecdotal.  Statement not to be derived as evidence.


Micah Norman

My Personal Branding Story: Introduction and Why

A book I am the process of reading called “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi makes the assertion that “People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives” and “as long as we respond predictably to what feels good and what feels bad, it is easy for others to exploit our preferences for their own ends.”  I find both of these statements if true to be truly transformative.  Recently, a friend of mine posted to twitter her realization that she had become so comfortable with the drive to work that she barely even noticed it any more.  I have noticed the same effect in my life so I began researching the causes of this.  What happens to us when we ‘Space Out’?  I have always assumed that when a task becomes automated we are able to spend our cognitive energies on other things.  In the book ‘Incognito: The Secret Lives of our Brain” the author David Eagleman states, “awareness of your surroundings occurs only when sensory inputs violate expectations”.  I have read other books that seem to indicate that our conscious does not start to ‘spend our cognitive energies on other things’ but in fact goes below the surface until some else requires its input.  I found this quite scary.  My belief that our consciousnesses has 80 some odd years worth of value and then blinks out of existence could not be resolved with the realization that the majority of that time would be spent below the surface waiting for something requiring its intervention.  Since reading “Incognito” I have set alarms and invented triggers to force self awareness on things that in the past I would consider beneath notice.  Specific shades of red, certain words and an absolutely annoying application that pop’s up an alarm randomly on my work computer became triggers for forced initiation of self awareness.

All of this is leading somewhere, I promise.  With these fears in mind and my haphazard attempt at resolution I began asking myself “Why am I the person that I am?”  Why do I enjoy boxing when most people react negatively to being hit in the face?  People exaggerate how much it hurts, but that does not mean its not still somewhat painful.  Why do I love long conversations with knowledgeable people on the concepts of Quantum Physics?  I am not a Physicist.  Therefore it is quite likely that I could spend the rest of my life with zero knowledge on the subject of Solar Fusion and not have the slightest negative impact.  Yet I expend what is a biologically and cognitively a huge amount of energy on stuff that doesn’t matter in my life.  Now certainly every once in a while something pops up in my extracurriculars that becomes applicable.  The concept of ‘Opportunity Cost’ in Economics for instance.  Yet when I began my Economics class from Wharton via Coursera, I had no expectation that this would occur and only knew that it was going to cost me up to 12 hours per week.  So I asked a simple, “Why?”  After a good deal of soul searching, I realized that I had no means to answer this question, but I figured out who did;  Western Capitalism!

Businesses in many cases integrate thousands of people across disparate fields of study.  They do an amazing job at aligning and enabling every individual in the organization to move towards the same goal.  How do they do this?  It seems logical to assume that Finance wants to get costs as low as possible, Executives want to control messages, Marketing wants free reign to push the business, IT wants all the cash in the world to experiment with toys after the business needs have been answered.  How is it that these organizations do not Spaghettify*  under the constant pressures pulling them in multiple different directions at the same time.  These were the same questions I was trying to answer for myself.  It seems that business has the answer.  ‘Policy Documents’, ‘Mission Statements’, ‘Vision Statements’ and a host of other control mechanisms.  These items tell everyone in the organization how to answer questions at different levels of abstraction and specification.   The ‘Procedure Document‘ might tell you how to tag a file for backup, but why back it up?  This is answered in the ‘Guidelines Document‘.  The ‘Guidelines Document’ determines its requirements from a ‘Standards Document‘ and our ‘Standards Document’ is an outgrowth the ‘Policy Document‘.  None of these things matter without a good ‘Mission Statement‘ to give us the details and measures the company cares about.  Without a ‘Vision Statement‘, outlining the reason for the company’s existence, how can you know anything?

I think this holds some answers for me.  I have decided to go through the process of working these items out for my life.  While it is possible that I will go through this process and realize in the end that it is pointless, I seriously doubt I will be less complex** for having done it. I will be blogging the process.  As i said in my Inaugural Post, this is mainly so I can keep my thoughts in order through the process.  It however is possible that like the ‘Opportunity Cost’ knowledge from my Economics class, I will stumble upon something important and useful for my life and others lives.

In the original posting I forgot to mention that as part of this process I am going to learn enough about logo theory and science to design one of my own.  I am totally going to have capes made!

This word Spaghettify comes from the best possible end of life scenario.  If you are interested in Black Holes, check this article out.  Also check out ‘Death by Black Hole and other Cosmic Quandaries  by Neil deGrasse Tyson  I promise it is worth it

** I use the term complex as it is a primary point made in the book ‘Flow’.  The author claims that Complexity should be a primary goal in our lives.  Two quotes he makes on the subject, “Complexity requires investing psychic energy in goals that are new, that are relatively challenging.” and “more complex because it involves greater challenges, and demands greater skills”.



Micah Norman

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