Friday, January 27, 2012

The Facebook Bubble: Running the Numbers

I don't usually comment on current affairs, but the impending Facebook IPO is irresistible. I've got to predict doom and gloom while I still have the chance. Don't get me wrong: I love Facebook and use it every day. I don't expect the website itself to collapsed, but the numbers being thrown around for the company's value just don't make sense.

Supposedly, the company will be valued at somewhere between $75 and $100 BILLION when the IPO happens, which would make it one of the world's biggest companies, even though it has a vague and completely unproven profit model.

Let me do a crude financial analysis here. Facebook claims to have 800 million active users, so that means investors are essentially paying $100 for each of those users. How can the company possibly squeeze that much value out of all of its users or even a majority of them?

Those 800 million users include just about everyone in the world with a computer. They are rich and poor, but mostly poor. The vast majority are no better than casual users, logging in once a week or less. And when they do log on, they don't look at advertizing. They are concerned with their photos and comments, and they are not in the mood to buy things. Facebook has one of the WORST click-through rates of major websites. People just aren't interested in buying stuff while they are there. (In contrast, when people do Google searches, they are much more motivated to buy.)

You could argue that the user base is bound to increase, and 800 million is only the beginning, but how far can it go? Keep in mind, there are only 7 billion on the planet, 1 billon of whom live in China where Facebook is blocked. As Facebook pushes a billion users, you got to wonder whether the remaining 5 billion even have computers. At some point, the numbers have to plateau, as people dropping out of active use match those just signing up. In other words, any real growth beyond a billion seems highly unlikely.

And no one yet has evaluated the quality of those users -- that is how many truly active users there are. That will start happening as soon as the company goes public.

According to standard valuations, a company is usually worth about 10 times earnings. So if Facebook is valued at $100 per user, it has to make a profit of $10 per user per year to be considered a break-even investment. No way can this happen!

To generate $10 in profit, Facebook has to generate a lot more revenue because there are also expenses to pay, mainly the huge cost of server farms. Facebook is essentially providing each user with unlimited photo storage forever, and this costs money. (See previous blog entry.) Storage and bandwidth costs are a non-negotiable expense. The price of these things is always coming down as technology advances, but probably not as fast as people are uploading photos. So Facebook's expense are going to continuously grow over the years. To make a $10 profit, Facebook may have to sell $20 worth of advertizing to EVERY user, so it can pay its server expenses, and it may have to earn more and more every year just to keep pace with storage growth.

True, Facebook has unprecedented access to people's habits and activities, which is highly valuable to advertisers, but this value is not unlimited. At a certain point, advertiser will say, "So what? They're not buying things, so why do I need this information?"

I don't know about others, but I have used Facebook intensely for over three years, yet have clicked on ads only a couple of times, and I have NEVER bought anything through those ads. Who would pay for clicks like mine?

I fully expect the coming IPO to be a big success! That's because a lot a naive investors with poor math skills are eager to climb on board. It's just like every past Gold Rush. People hear from their friends that this is a great investment, and they don't want to miss the boat. They use Facebook every day, think it is great and want to be part of the action, but they have no skill in valuing stocks.

These dumb investors may keep the bubble inflated for a little while, but what ultimately determines stock price is profit, and in Facebook's case, the profit is trivial and may always be trivial, at least nowhere near the profit that the current valuation suggests.

I don't expect the Facebook website to cease operation. It is still a valuable asset, just nowhere near its valuation. A lot of investors are going to be badly burned when the stock price finally reaches a rational level. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Zuckerberg is forced out and replaced with more conventional profit-driven management. 

In the future, expect more intrusive ads and the introduction of fees for things that were previously free. There is no way around it. If you want an expensive service like this, you have to pay for it, and personally I would be happy to do so.

I depend on Facebook, and I hope it survives the crisis ahead.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Repent Now! - The Facebook/YouTube Crash Is Coming!

Social media is a new economy, and there are sure to be problems down the line that we can't anticipate now. It's not all endless growth; there are bound to be crashes. Here's one problem I see that could be a big problem in the not-so-distant future....

Facebook, in its new Timeline feature, has invited everyone in the world to chronicle their entire lives on the site. Many will accept this offer, uploading every photo they have from their past. But then what happens? Those photos sit on Facebook's servers forever, rarely viewed and never generating a cent of profit for Facebook.

Multiply this by millions of users, and you have endless terrabytes of dead storage that Facebook must pay for but is gaining little economic benefit from.

True, storage is always getting cheaper, but will the technology keep pace with the added burdens? And storage will always cost money, while photos that are never viewed generate no revenue.

Facebook can plausibly generate revenue on new photo albums that people actually look at, since they can sell advertising on the margins. They gain no revenue when active interest in those photos expires, as usually happens in a couple of weeks. Then the photos are merely a money-sink for Facebook, since it has to pay for storage. And this dead storage is constantly growing at an ever-quickening pace.

This has to end badly sometime in the future. Facebook simply can't store everything for everybody forever. There has to be a breaking point.

YouTube also faces the same problem. People are uploading videos every day. Each of those videos have an active life when they can generate revenue, and after that they become dead storage that never goes away. And video files are HUGE, dwarfing still photos.

I have often recorded videos for only one person. I upload the video -- as big as one gigabyte -- the target audience views it, then the video is never viewed again. It sits in storage until the end of time.

The Google search engine doesn't face this problem as much. It doesn't have to store or index the whole web, only as much as it wants to. As the web grows exponentially, Google doesn't have to keep up.

Not so for Facebook. With its Timeline feature, it is implicitly promising to keep everything you upload forever. Imagine the outcry if Facebook ever said, "We're going to delete some of your old photos."

Facebook's economic base is still unproven. It can make money selling advertizing and by selling all the data it is collecting on people's behavior, but it is doubtful this revenue stream can increase at the same exponential rate as Facebook's new commitments to users.

This is beginning to take the same form as every conventional economic crash in the past: A belief in magical infinite growth that will go on forever. In the midst of the boom, people believe in anti-gravity, but real gravity always wins in the end.

So don't upload your photos to Facebook or videos to YouTube thinking they'll be there forever (as, unfortunately, I have). Regardless of revenue, there will come a time when no amount of cheap storage can keep up with the demands being made.

One way or another, gravity will eventually win.

[Also see next entry: The Facebook Bubble: Running the Numbers]

My Social Media Policy

Below is a road map of how all my various social media accounts fit together. (See our website for a more recent statement of these policies.)


Facebook is my photo diary, the place I upload all my photos as I take them and where I record most of my other work as it is released (videos, blog entries, etc.). It is also my place to communicate with actual non-virtual friends. Most of my Facebook page is public and anyone can subscribe, but I friend only people I know or who I have an obvious connection with. (You can always try to friend me, but I'll run you through some filters before I accept.)

Facebook is linked to everyone I know—family, friends, casual acquaintances—so my postings there are designed not to offend. It is an ideal forum for pretty pictures, links to travel videos and other things that are unlikely to upset anyone's apple cart.

My photos on Facebook are usually edited, and they may be posted hours or days after they are taken. I have HUNDREDS of photo albums on FB from all over the world, indexed on my photo page.


I use Twitter when I want to speak my mind, without worrying much about discretion. Although I don't try to keep my Twitter account secret, very few of my Facebook friends follow me on Twitter. Twitter is simply too much work and takes too much initiative for most, so there is a de facto firewall between the two (at least in one direction). This allows me to be more spontaneous and truthful, making uncomfortable observations without fear of offending my conventional friends and acquaintances.

Here are my Best Tweets of All Time as judged by my followers, and here is what they like right now.

Twitter plays a special role in my social media strategy because it is not just a real-time feed. My tweets are permanently archived in a system of my own creation: This provides a sort of personal diary of where I went, what I did, what I was reading, what I was thinking and what I stumbled upon in life—as much for my own record as anyone else's. (I am frequently looking back at the archive to find old links and where I was on a particular date.)

Twitter is also my main forum for words of wisdom. I spew aphorisms like you wouldn't believe! (The timeless ones are reposted on @BadLamaWisdom.) Whenever I tweet something, I want it to have permanent relevance, fifty years from now as much as today, so I try not to clutter my timeline with many here-and-now tweets or too much conversation with others. (I generally prefer DM's for personal exchanges.)

My photos on Twitter are usually posted "as they happen", directly from my iPhone without editing. However, I may also post some of my best edited photos after I have uploaded them to FB.

I tweet many times a day! Hardly a waking hour goes by when I don't spew something. For my full Twitter policies, see


My Google+ is is not nearly as active Facebook and Twitter. I use it to repost important things that might be lost on my other dense feeds. My rule for G+ is "only the best!". I used to post a lot more photos there until I upgraded to Timeline on Facebook. Now I might post once a day at most, and only my very best stuff.


YouTube is my video archive. I don't participate much in the social media aspects of YouTube. I just post my own original videos there. (Since YouTube is the standard video forum, I see no reason use other video sites like Facebook, TwitVid or Vimeo.)

Only about half of my YouTube videos are "public" and directly shown on my YouTube page. The rest are "unlisted" and can be viewed only if you have the link. These video usually are not secret; I just don't want them to clutter up my YouTube channel and distract from my better work. My video page is intended to index ALL of my videos, including the unlisted ones. I will also announce most of my videos on Facebook and Twitter as they are uploaded. My travel videos are also cross-referenced on my photo page by location (currently incomplete).


Yup, I still use it! I have a dozen valid addresses, but most of them channel into BadDalaiLama (at), which is the fastest way to reach me.

Inactive and Low-Activity Accounts

I use FourSquare only as an easy way to update both Twitter and Facebook with my location. Unlike some 4SQ users, I'm not going to tell you everywhere I go. I'll only report interesting locations or places I have something to say about. Most of my 4SQ posts appear on Twitter and Facebook, so there isn't much need to follow me on 4SQ.

I am on LinkedIn, but I am not an active user. (Since I have no marketable skills, LinkedIn isn't much use to me.)

In 2010, I maintained a Tumblr Blog of my best videos, but that has been replaced by Google+. You can still browse it for some nice photos from that era.

I have experimented with many other forums, including TwitPic, TwitVid and Facebook Video. Ultimately, I gave them up, but they still have some interesting archive material.

My first Twitter account was @KilroyCafe. This was my 18 months of training before @BadDalaiLama. A lot of great forgotten tweets, with a home-built archive system to access them.


Kilroy Cafe is my main forum for philosophical essays, songs and other verbal work. If my message is too long to fit into a tweet, I'll probably post it here. Active since 2008!

Homeless by Choice is my forum for extreme budget travel, although I rarely update it anymore.

Area 51 Loose Ends is where I post random things about the secret Groom Lake military base in Nevada. I am no longer an active researcher in this field, there may still be a story or two I want to publish.

Things You Don't Need has been inactive since 2009, but I reserve the right to post there in the future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Problem with Multitasking

Back when personal computers first appeared in the early 1980s, you could do only one thing at a time. You could run a word processing program or a spreadsheet but not both at once. If you wanted to switch between them you had to save your work, completely exit the application, then start up another one.

Then in the mid 80s, something called "time-slicing" came along. A computer would hold several applications in memory and the CPU would divide up its time between them. It worked on one task then switched periodically to another, but it did it so quickly that it seemed like the programs were running simultaneously.

Multitasking was born.

Today, we take it for granted that we can open multiple applications, keep them running simultaneously and switch between them with a single click. You can now get multiple inputs at the same time: one window plays music while another shows you the latest news and you do your main work in a third.

People are also multitasking in their personal lives, assuming they can do things the same way computers do. There are more sources of stimulation than ever before, and people feel they need to do them all simultaneously or in rapid succession: computers, TVs, cellphones, iPods — not to mention all the endlessly replicating real-world tasks we find ourselves obligated to. Before personal computers, it was fashionable to say that humans used only 10% of their brain capacity. Now they are using 110%! That doesn't mean, however, that people are more productive or happier. The cost of quantity is quality.

The problem with multitasking on computers is that your PC can eventually become so cluttered with active tasks that it slows down and becomes unusable. This is true no matter how much processing power you have. Computers today have 1000s of times the CPU speed of computers in the 1980s, but when you crank up your word processor it may run so... incredibly... slow... that you almost wish for a nice simple one-task computer from the old days.

The really disturbing thing is that most of those processes slowing down your computer are junk tasks you don't really need and may not even be aware of. It could be a virus slowing down your computer or some unused application you installed long ago and forgot about. Personal computers today are a mess! In spite of any "optimizing" you may do, they are always compromised by irrelevent processes.

Likewise, people are undoubtedly busier than ever before, but most of those processes are junk tasks that don't really move your life forward. Of course there is the obvious cerebral junk food like video games and trash TV that soak up hours in a heartbeat, but junk can also come in appealing packages that don't seem like junk on the surface. It is hard to resist a five-star movie or an exciting vacation or a party with a lot of nice, interesting friends, but even this good stuff can be junk if there is too much of it.

Truth is, there is limit to how many apps your brain can run without the whole system getting fried.

CPUs in computers have their hardware limits. There is a maximum number of simple transactions you can force through them in a second, and once this limit is reached, you're going to have a systemic slowdown. People don't realize that human consciousness also has its hard limits. These parameters are much more difficult to define and measure, so it is easy to assume ones brainpower is unlimited, but there is a definite maximum-thoughts-per-minute and we find ourselves bumping up against it all the time.

We are all familiar with the problem of driving and cellphones. Studies show that drivers talking on phones are every bit as dangerous as drunk drivers. Governments respond by banning hand-held cellphone use, but speakerphones are almost as dangerous. The problem is not holding the phone but subdividing ones consciousness. A phone call, even a trivial one, is a high-priority brain task which pushes driving into the background. People run red lights and cut off others without even knowing it.

Whatever consciousness may be, it employs a form of time-slicing. It focuses on one task for a certain amount of time, then switches to another. The slice given to each task is measurable and significant, more in the range of seconds than milliseconds. Sometimes the switch between tasks is internally prompted—daydream thoughts that segue naturally from one idea to another—and sometimes it is triggered by an outside event. If you are driving on a straight road, your thoughts can wander for some time until something happens in front of you that snaps your attention back to the road. (That is, unless another more involving task gets in the way. )

It is no mystery that the more you slice up a pie, the less of it each person gets. If conscious thought is a limited commodity and you divide it among twenty tasks, each task will get, on average, one-twentieth of the attention. Inevitably, there are some tasks that monopolize more than their fair share of attention, and these aren't necessarily the most important ones. A trivial phone call while driving will kill you just as surely as an important one, because all calls take priority in consciousness.

Simple math says that the more you divide up quality thought, the less quality gets allocated to each task. "Quality" means devoting sufficient processing power to a task to do it well. When driving, quality is obvious, if you miss a red light and drive right through it or if you miss some other clue on the road like slick ice ahead, then the quality of processing is low, and you could die for it.

The same applies on the macro level. If you go from one hour-long activity to another and another with no gaps in-between, then you may have been focused fully on each task but you have had no time for any higher-level processing of the experience. You don't have time to regurgitate and reprocess, which is an essential part of learning. If you engage in an hour-long learning task, it is better to have a free hour to think about it afterwards. Then you have time to integrate and process what you have learned and you will probably do it better the next time than if you had no intervening thinking time.

In the modern world, it seems to be taken as a badge of honor to have a busy life full of involving activities from dawn to dusk, but what this often means is a trite and superficial life that isn't nearly as productive as it seems to be. The main goal in life is not to do a LOT of things but to do the RIGHT things, and this is where heavily multitasked people usually miss the boat. They have no time to think about what they doing, no time to ruminate on whether this is really the best path, so they can easy go off on unproductive tangents for years at a time.

Another thing you notice about overprogrammed people is that they are very passive. In other words, they will will respond to events around them but they rarely initiate them. Initiative takes time, thought and effort that these people just don't have. This makes the vulnerable to whatever stock solution someone else hands them, whether or not it it really right. In an unexpected crisis, multitask addicts may try to buy their way out of it instead of stopped to analyze the situation, which they don't have time for.

Overprogrammed people may be full of surface life, but don't expect a lot of deep interaction from them. They will respond to your questions but may not give much attention or care to their response. They may smile, but their mind is only half there. They may be full of promises but weak on follow-up. They are always racing to the next item on the agenda. If an unexpected issue, crisis or opportunity comes up, they can only devote to it the few available seconds between other activities.

Heavily multitasked people miss some of the best things in life because those events are not on their prepared agenda. When unexpected things happen, they just can't process them, let alone take advantage of them. Multitasked people aren't very curious about the world around them because they don't have time to be. Aliens could land on the front lawn, but they'd just shrug it off because they don't have time to investigate.

Computer technology has certainly come a long way since the 1980s, but it's not clear that our lives have gotten better for it. In the old days, you could still switch tasks—from word processor to spreadsheet—but there was a high cost of doing so, so you didn't do it very often. Now, it is a too easy to switch. Your time is sliced into ever-tinier bits, without much quality devoted to each. On the macro level, people are leading busy, superficial lives, blessed with a stunning variety of sensory input and no time to digest it.

You CAN get back to the 80s—back to the mythical age when people supposedly had time to think—but only through deliberate effort. You have to aggressively cut down your inputs and slough off obligations faster than you take them on. A 100% activity level isn't healthy for anyone. You have to be doing a lot less with your body before your mind can catch up and give meaning to what you do.

The thing most tragically lost in multitasking is the opportunity to think things through. You want to be taking MEANINGFUL actions in your life, not just busy ones.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Santa Claus and the Aliens: Charities That Don't Work

A friend referred me to the website of the HEARTbeats Foundation, a 501(c) charity that intends to improve the lives of impoverished children around the world through music.
Based in Los Angeles, the HEARTbeats Foundation strives to help children in need harness the power of music to better cope with, and recover from, the extreme challenges of poverty and conflict, in hope of creating a more peaceful, sustainable world for generations to come.
In essence, this is a group of American musicians who travel around the world giving concerts to poor children, thereby improving their lives and "making a difference". Their first 6-day journey to Nepal was a great success. The photos show they brought great joy to many children.

Mind you, they are not doing anything concrete to improve the lives of impoverished children, they are just helping them "cope" with their poverty though the power of music. The 9-person team includes a 3-person film crew so they can record themselves bringing joy to others and making a difference.

So as I understand it, these musicians are improving the lives of desperate children by entertaining them. Sure, all children love entertainment, but this is very expensive entertainment, imported from America. These are concert violinists and cellists from prestigious American symphonies. Certainly impoverished children in Nepal will appreciate that!

This is an example of what I call a "Santa Claus" charity. They parachute in, give people some nice presents, and leave. Without a doubt, they bring joy to the people they give the presents to, but the joy doesn't last any longer than the gifts do. In spite of the short-term satisfaction of both the gifters and giftees, these charities can cause a great deal of long-term damage by disrupting local ecologies and giving people false hope.

To illustrate, here is a little parable I wrote for my friend...

Alien Contact

After years of speculation, the truth is revealed: Alien life exists!

A flying saucer comes out of the clouds and finally lands on the White House lawn. The whole world is mesmerized. All other television programming is suspended as every channel covers this one stupendous event.

The saucer opens and six strange grey aliens get out. They set up their instruments and start playing a concert of curious alien music. They dance and sing in a strange language. Then they get back in their spaceship and fly away.

Without a doubt, it's a joyful, amazing event! It is perhaps the most impressive occurrence in the memories of millions of Earthlings, especially the young people.

But then what happens?

The aliens don't come back.

People are left wondering, "Where did they go? Why did they leave?"

Yes, we now know that alien life exists, but they're not communicating with us anymore. They just abandoned us. Did we do something to offend them?

Can you imagine the trauma this would cause on Earth? Aliens come down from the heavens, show us joy, then leave, taking the joy with them.

Some of the young people on Earth are curious about the weird instruments the aliens are playing. They would like to play those instruments, too, but they don't exist on Earth. We don't have that
advanced alien technology, and aliens didn't leave anything behind to help us obtain it.

People also wonder: We've got some serious problems on Earth -- global warming, war, overpopulation, poverty, hunger. These aliens are very powerful. Why can't they help us with these things?

People who were starving before the aliens came are still starving after they leave.

Oh, I forgot to mention something: The aliens brought a film crew with them. The purpose of the film crew was to record the six aliens bringing joy to Planet Earth. The joy is real and the film crew captures it! Without a doubt, the whole Earth is filled with wonder as the aliens perform on the White House lawn, and the film crew, pointing their camera out at the audience, accurately record that wonder.

But the film crew leaves with the aliens. It does not hang around to record whatever confusion or trauma takes place after the aliens are gone. As far as the aliens are concerned, the concert is over, but as far as the Earthlings are concerned, the questions and soul-searching have just begun.

You got to question the motives of the aliens when they bring a film crew with them. Are they really here to bring joy and hope to Planet Earth, or are they here to record themselves bringing joy and hope to Planet Earth?

Isn't that the REAL purpose of the mission? Now the aliens can go back to their home planet, show the film to all their friends and say, "We made a difference!"

But did they really make a difference? Did they really improve life on Planet Earth or just confuse the hell out of people? In the long run of five or ten years, did this concert help or hurt our planet? It's really hard to say. It is an alien event with a million different interpretations. In fact, most people can't process it at all. It's just this weird thing that happened.

The only clear thing is that any joy the aliens brought to our planet left as soon as they did.

The End.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Taoism vs. the Western Way

[This post is a modified version of a letter to a friend.]

There was once a girl I liked who gave me a book, The Tao of Pooh, I don't know if you've read it: Taoism explained in terms of Winnie the Pooh. Pooh is the most Taoist of all characters. He doesn't try to impose his will on the world; he just lets the world flow through him.

I loved the book! I wished I could write a nice simple book like that. But at the same time I recognized the flaws of Taoism, how it is really a corrupt philosophy if taken by itself.

Taoism taught me to take advantage of the winds as they are, not expecting them to blow where they're not. But if you take this philosophy to the extreme, you're just casting yourself adrift, subject to the storms and winds of the sea, and you'll get nowhere.

Taoism is poisonous when it encourages people not to take an active position in their own lives, which I think was the aim of the girl who gave me the book. The dark side of Taoism is passivity and fatalism. Taoism may account for the fact that the Chinese had gunpowder but never thought of guns, had sailing ships but never bothered to explore. Taoism = no initiative but to wake up in the morning and accept the world as it is.

In real life, people like Pooh get abused and eaten alive. Life doesn't give you a pleasant, protected Hundred-Acre Woods to live in. In real life, you have to take initiative just to protect yourself. If you just let life pass through you, you're going to be victimized. You're also going to be a mindless, boring twit with no curiosity or initiative.

The Western materialistic way is to impose your will on everything, which is equally corrupt. You barge ahead regardless of the winds. You cut all fish into uniform square bricks and sell them as Filet o' Fish sandwiches. The Western way is to try to force the world into a system that you design, which has all sorts of collateral damage. If you cut all your fish into square bricks, wiping out their individual quirks, you'll be wasting a lot of fish as well as depleting the local fisheries and exploiting the people involved in production. The Western way denies nature and wastes a lot of resources, but it had taken over the world because it is reproducible on a massive scale.

A middle ground is life aboard a sailing ship. In the age of sail, you had to listen to the winds and move with them. At the same time, people had places to go. They had goals to achieve, which Taoism really can't account for. Non-Taoist sailors actually went out and explored the world, whereas the Taoist would never leave port. Often the goals of the explorers were deluded -- searching for Eldorado -- but at least they were motivated by SOMETHING.

My own modified Western-Taoist position is that I'll listen to the winds, but I'm also driven to get someplace. I don't have specific goals, like Eldorado, I have "meta goals" -- certain creative directions I want to go in when given the opportunity. It is the difference between drifting aimlessly in the Caribbean and choosing to at least go East or West.

Taoism is popular these days because it helps justify people's passivity -- not taking action in one's own life. Passivity is often a result of being overprogrammed and deluged with stimuli, so you just don't have time for thoughtful decision making. The average TV viewer is very passive and Taoist. He just lets the TV schedule flow through him and is never motivated to leave his couch.

The Taoist is poor at thinking ahead. He isn't trying proactively to head of crises before they happen. Because he is living in the "now", he is not a very good chess player, where you have to think many moves ahead. Because of this, the Taoist is often abused and exploited, like Pooh would be in the real world or how millions of Chinese now are in the slave labor camps of the Walmart corporation.

I've never been a passive type, but the crises of my adulthood really turned me into the master of my own ship. I'm not going to deny the winds, but I sure as hell am going to take the rudder! Even when I chose NOT do something, I don't do it passively. It means I have thought through the implications and have made a conscious decision that doing nothing is my best alternative in this instance.

Life is a series of forks in the road. At each of them you make a decision. You listen to what nature wants, but it is still your responsibility to actively decide your path, using all the resources at your disposal to try to foretell the future. Sometimes you choose wisely, and sometimes poorly, but you always learn something from it to apply to the next decision.

You can't just "go with the flow" as a Taoist would. You must actively decide what stream to follow then actively steer your ship upon it.