To have love, work, and friends

Found this through Austin Kleon’s email newsletter.

Is it too greedy to want to have all three? And to have all three to a high degree? I’m not sure I agree that we have to pick two. I haven’t put much thought into it but I do have examples in my life that seems to have managed to achieve all three.

Maybe it’s more difficult to have all three than it is two. By a factor that is multiple times that of moving from one to two. And so the conclusion is easily drawn that we must pick two, but never three.  Reminds me of this saying of products and services that says of the qualities fast, good, and cheap, you can only pick two. So if a product is fast and of good quality, it will not be cheap. If it is of good quality and is cheap, then it will not be fast. If it is cheap, then you have to choose between good quality or fast service/delivery.

The anecdotes do sound convincing but what if Michelangelo wasn’t interested in parties or Homer just wasn’t into romantic relationships? Also, correlation does not equal causation.

 

How Doctor Who, the series, became a self sustaining living thing much like it’s protagonist

From JMR Higgs in the book KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money:

When the current Doctor Who writers claim that they only became writers because of Doctor Who, they usually credit the series of novels which Whitaker started and which young boys devoured during the 1970s. There is another explanation, however, which comes from the very format of the programme. In the original series, episodes built towards a climax and ended on a cliff hanger in which the Doctor or his friends appeared to be in inescapable danger. Of course, the children watching knew that the Doctor would somehow survive. He always did. The question, then was not would he escape, but how? What could possibly happen to get the Doctor out of that situation? There would be much debate about this in school playgrounds after each episode. And as the kids thought about the problem, their imaginations were being stoked. They were thinking like writers. Indeed, they were trying to write the next episode themselves. What we have here, then, is character of fiction, neither created nor ‘owned’ by any one imagination, who is actively creating the very environment – writers’ minds – that it needs to survive into the future. Not only is Doctor Who a fictitious character that acts like a living thing by constantly evolving and surviving, it is also a self-sustaining living thing that creates the one thing that it needs to survive. From an evolutionary point of view, that’s impressive.

It’s hard to think that the creators of doctor who thought this far ahead of the show they co-created. It goes to show that when you give birth to an idea that idea will live outside of yourself in the real world. It can become so much more than anything you imagine.

These things I know for sure

This list of 16 truths is said to be written by Andrea Zittel. I can’t find the original source but if you do please let me know so I can attribute.

  1. It is a human trait to organize things into categories. Inventing categories creates an illusion that there is an overriding rationale in the way that the word works.
  2.  Surfaces that are “easy to clean” also show dirt more. In reality a surface that camouflages dirt is much more practical than one that is easy to clean.
  3. Maintenance takes time and energy that can sometimes impede other forms or progress such as learning about new things.
  4. All materials ultimately deteriorate and show signs of wear. It is therefore important to create designs that will look better after years of distress.
  5. A perfect filling system can sometimes decrease efficiency. For instance, when letters and bills are filed away too quickly, it is easy to forget to respond to them.
  6. Many “progressive” designs actually hark back towards a lost idea of nature or a more “original form.”
  7. Ambiguity in visual design ultimately leads to a greater variety of functions than designs that are functionally fixed.
  8. No matter how many options there are, it is human nature to always narrow things down to two polar, yet inextricably linked choices.
  9. The creation of rules is more creative than the destruction of them. Creation demands a higher level of reasoning and draws connections between cause and effect. The best rules are never stable or permanent, but evolve, naturally according to content or need.
  10. What makes us feel liberated is not total freedom, but rather living in a set of limitations that we have created and prescribed for ourselves.
  11. Things that we think are liberating can ultimately become restrictive, and things that we initially think are controlling can sometimes give us a sense of comfort and security.
  12. Ideas seem to gestate best in a void— when that void is filled, it is more difficult to access them. In our consumption-driven society, almost all voids are filled, blocking moments of greater clarity and creativity. Things that block voids are called “avoids.”
  13. Sometimes if you can’t change a situation, you just have to change the way you think about the situation.
  14. People are most happy when they are moving towards something not quite yet attained (I also wonder if this extends as well to the sensation of physical motion in space. I believe that I am happier when I am in a plane or car because I am moving towards an identifiable and attainable goal.)
  15. What you own, owns you.
  16. Personal truths are often perceived as universal truths. For instance it is easy to imagine that a system or design works well for oneself will work for everyone else.

Mistakes were made (But not by me)

This is a meaty book but it was definitely worth the read. I would say this book at the greatest impact of all the books I’ve read so far this year (I’m now going on to the twelfth).

Mistakes were Made explains how we come to rationalize bad and often harmful decisions and maintain foolish beliefs that we would  have no difficulty recognizing as such in others. Like when you get caught speeding, you’re likely gonna have some excuse for it. Like you were late, or there was no one else on the road so it’s all good. But when you witness someone else speeding it’s the last think in your mind that they are justified in doing so. You might even say they’re a reckless sun-of-a-* .  Why we do this is because of what is called cognitive dissonance. The authors write:

Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as “Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me” and “I smoke two packs a day.”

Dissonance produces mental discomfort that ranges from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don’t rest easy until they find a way to reduce it. In this example, the most direct way for a smoker to reduce dissonance is by quitting. But if she has tried to quit and failed, now she must reduce dissonance by convincing herself that smoking isn’t really so harmful, that smoking is worth the risk because it helps her relax or prevents her from gaining weight (after all, obesity is a health risk too), and so on. Most smokers manage to reduce dissonance in many such ingenious, if self-deluding, ways.

The authors also go on to show how a person with a strong moral compass can find herself taking actions that are far removed from what they would consider “the right thing to do”. As illustrated in the story told by a doctor who got caught in the pockets of Big Pharma:

It’s kind of like you’re a woman at a party, and your boss says to you, “Look, do me a favor: be nice to this guy over there.” And you see the guy is not bad-looking, and you’re unattached, so you say, “Why not? I can be nice.” Soon you find yourself on the way to a Bangkok brothel in the cargo hold of an unmarked plane. And you say, “Whoa, this is not what I agreed to.” But then you have to ask yourself: “When did the prostitution actually start? Wasn’t it at that party?”

How these decisions happen and how we find ourselves in these situations is just one part of the story. There is also the element of false memories that we create without knowing. Think on this:

We do not remember everything that happens to us; we select only highlights. (If we didn’t forget, our minds could not work efficiently, because they would be cluttered with mental junk—the temperature last Wednesday, a boring conversation on the bus, every phone number we ever dialed.) Moreover, recovering a memory is not at all like retrieving a file or playing a tape; it is like watching a few unconnected frames of a film and then figuring out what the rest of the scene must have been like. We may reproduce poetry, jokes, and other kinds of information by rote, but when we remember complex information, we shape it to fit it into a story line. Because memory is reconstructive, it is subject to confabulation—confusing an event that happened to someone else with one that happened to you, or coming to believe that you remember something that never happened. In reconstructing a memory, people draw on many sources.

Though a lot of the book covers the effects of self-justification on one’s self it also touches on more serious things like the criminal justice system. It shows how with a lack of training against self-justification there are cops and prosecutors that have made mistakes at great cost to regular civilians. The authors show that even in the face of overwhelming evidence law enforcement will stick to what is objectively the wrong verdict as a means to combat cognitive dissonance. That’s how powerful this part of our psyche is. Have a look at the cases of the central park five or the Thomas Lee Goldstean investigation (also in the  book). Anyone from the outside could see how wrong the investigators were. But once they started down the road of prosecuting these innocent individuals they couldn’t bring themselves to see the error. Admitting they made a mistake would mean admitting they could have in the past.  And that would be at odds with the view that they are ‘good’ people. So the solution was one of self justification — It’s the evidence that is wrong.

There is hope

The authors do give some pointers on how to guard against self-justification. The main one is being aware of dissonance and how it works. So reading this book is a great start. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Not just for those interested in a bit of psychology.  You can check out some of my notes and highlights here.

Thanks for following along.

Cheers,
Bill

Jeff Bezos on Developing High Standards

Perfect Handstands

A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.

In his usual manner Jeff Bezos’s letter to Amazon shareholders takes the form of sharing a part of the company’s philosophy. This year he decided to focus on the topic of high standards. Are they intrinsic or are they teachable? He believes they are teachable.  Are high standards universal or domain specific? They are domain specific. In the highlihted paragraph above he shows how necessary it is to have realistic expectations if we want to achieve high standards.

Although in a different format part of what Jeff speaks about is similar to what is covered in The Compound Effect (I gave this book a 2.5 out of 5 rating because it contains way too much fluff.)  If you want to achieve anything great take small steps that compound. Trying to bite off too much at a time makes the likelihood of you quitting that much higher.

Another important thing not to miss is that you don’t need to be highly skilled in an area to achieve high standards of output. Developing the ability to recognize high standards is often sufficient. We can get help from others to achieve high standard outcomes.

The football coach doesn’t need to be able to throw, and a film director doesn’t need to be able to act. But they both do need to recognize high standards for those things and teach realistic expectations on scope.

I suggest you take a read of the letter here.  If you have the time check out this podcast by freakonomics radio on the topic as well.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers,
Bill

Exercise Pills, Fire Alarms and Not Doing What You Love.

Week #2. Rough week with work but managed to squeeze these few articles. This week is two long reads and a short one. And also a podcast episode that came to mind when I was reading about The Excercise Pill. Enjoy! and If you’re new here remember to subscribe.

This Week’s Reads

  1.  There’s No Fire Alarm for Artificial General Intelligence – “Fire alarms aren’t useful because they tell you there’s fire. They’re useful because they tell you it’s socially acceptable to react.”There is a risk associated with AI. How we’re responding to this risk is like how we respond to smoke coming from under a door. The opening paragraph about the psychology behind our reactions to fire alarms is pretty fascinating.
    In the classic experiment by Latane and Darley in 1968, eight groups of three students each were asked to fill out a questionnaire in a room that shortly after began filling up with smoke. Five out of the eight groups didn’t react or report the smoke, even as it became dense enough to make them start coughing. Subsequent manipulations showed that a lone student will respond 75% of the time; while a student accompanied by two actors told to feign apathy will respond only 10% of the time. This and other experiments seemed to pin down that what’s happening is pluralistic ignorance. We don’t want to look panicky by being afraid of what isn’t an emergency, so we try to look calm while glancing out of the corners of our eyes to see how others are reacting, but of course they are also trying to look calm.
    …the fire alarm tells us that it’s socially okay to react to the fire. It promises us with certainty that we won’t be embarrassed if we now proceed to exit in an orderly fashion.

    And in the meat of the topic this article about are some nuggets of wisdom to think about like

    History shows that for the general public, and even for scientists not in a key inner circle, and even for scientists in that key circle, it is very often the case that key technological developments still seem decades away, five years before they show up.
    …reading history books that neatly lay out lines of progress and their visible signs that we all know now were important and evidential…

    This makes me think also about climate change. The fact that we can see the signs, in the present, does that mean we’re past the point where shit will now get super bad. Because if as a whole we are bad at seeing signs, and we are seeing signs, how bad is it gonna get?

    And last but not least this bit

    ..like many cheap and easy solaces, saying the word “later” is addictive; and that this luxury is available to the rich as well as the poor.

    Note to self: Don’t learn the mental habit of just always saying ‘later’.
    See Article here [Eliezer Yudkowsky for MIRI]

  2. A pill to Make Excercise Obsolete – I knew of steroids, but this is new to me. From studies, taking this pill would have you be ” like a Fun-Run jogger waking up with the body of Mo Farah”. This pill called 516 when first tested on mice back in the 90s gave some seemingly great results:
    …after just four weeks on the drug, they had increased their endurance—how far they could run, and for how long—by as much as seventy-five per cent.

    The big flaw here is that no scientist can yet say exactly how exercise does what it does to our bodies, so I’m sure attempting to replicate it without understanding it is recipe for disaster. No to mention “The F.D.A. doesn’t currently recognize metabolic syndrome, let alone lack of exercise, as a disease.” So in order to bring it to market they’ll do trials as treatment for disease which only affects 1 in 5000 males. If it’s not apparently clear the dangers of this method of trialing have a listen this episode of Freakonics radio where the go indepth into how bad medicine make it to market.See article here [Nicola Twilley for The New Yorker]

  3. Dont Do What You Love – My opinions here are still in development but so far I do think one should include something they love in their life even if you can’t include it in your work.

     if you say getting the money is the most important thing, you will be spending your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living — that is, to go on doing things you don’t like doing. Which is stupid. Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.
    Allan Watts

    Have a read and remember “Don’t do something you hate for a living”.

    See article here [Rachel Nabors]

If you are up for podcasts definitely check out Freakonomics radio. Check out the three part series on bad medicine from their archives.

Cheers,
Bill

The Attention Economy, Weinstein and Living a Baddass Life

This is my first week of publishing my “what I’m reading” articles list.  I can’t promise the topics will be in the same field each week as my interests are broad, but you might find a slight skew to tech, science and the outdoors.  If you enjoy these articles share them, share this page and  if you come across something you think I should read drop it in the comments. Thanks.

This Week’s Reads

  1.  The Attention Economy Is Screwing Us – The people who made our smartphones so addictive are now grown ups and more of them are questioning their creations. Among the less than surprising facts, is the great lengths that some of these persons go to to protect themselves and their kids from their own creation. What does that leave for the rest of us  that don’t realize what is happening?The negative effects of these tech inventions are broad. Concerns includes techs contribution to limiting peoples ability to focus and even lowering IQ. Then there is  the “psychologically manipulative advertising” which causes one to question how soon technology, through it’s ability to manipulate, will undermine democracy. Or it might already have.
    If the attention economy erodes our ability to remember, to reason, to make decisions for ourselves – faculties that are essential to self-governance – what hope is there for democracy itself?
    Side note I saw this study mentioned in the article a while ago that shows the effects that the mere presence of a smart phone does to your cognitive capacity. Even when the phone is turned off. I’ve since gone most nights to bed leaving my phone in another room and I can say I’ve noticed the difference in how well I sleep.
    See Article here [Paul Lewis for The Guardian]
  2. Harvey Weinstein and the Economics of Consent – A woman who has the financial means, or weather the lack of income, is more likely to come forward against the very man that could put her in “economic exile”. This explains why Weinstein got away for so long being a sleazeball. The author says it best:
    Because consent is a function of power. You have to have a modicum of power to give it. In many cases women do not have that power because their livelihood is in jeopardy and because they are the gender that is oppressed by a daily, invisible war waged against all that is feminine—women and humans who behave or dress or think or feel or look feminine.
    See article here [Brit Marlin for The Atlantic]
  3. The key to a badass life was learning to listen to a different voice –  Kimi Werner is a spearfisher, freediver, shark whisperer, chef, artist, and entrepreneur. That’s quite a bit of stuff for one person. There’s so much good in this profile but here are some of my favorites: 
    the real risk is in becoming a “zombie who doesn’t ever think about where their food comes from,” helpless in the absence of a Safeway. “Our world is so based on efficiency and convenience,” she says. “I think something in your life is really missing if you decide to just shut off your brain and consume.” About 80 percent of everything Werner eats, or cooks for others, comes from hunting, growing, foraging, or trading.
    “I hate it when they say ‘man and the ecosystem,’ ” Werner says. “Because we’re part of the ecosystem.” And, she adds, “we’re not necessarily at the top of the food chain.” 
    As always, people had plenty of advice: Get a real job or you’re headed for failure. You’re not getting any younger, you know. No one can make a living this way. Werner recalls the stricken face of one woman who’d asked about her career plans: “It was such a look of concern and confusion. And I just started laughing, because I didn’t know what else to do.”
    See article here [Susan Casey for Outside Magazine]

That’s it for my first week. A short list but it was a busy week so there’s that. Thanks for following along.

Cheers,
Bill

My Weekly What I’m Reading List

I want to use this space/blog/site to share with you the same things I share when I’m with close friends. We share stories, experiences, our going ons and oftentimes what we’re reading.  I’ll post once a week here. If I can more of then than that I will. I’ll post when I can. If you want to recommend something you can always leave it in the comments or send me an email.

Thanks for sparing the time to check out my site.

Cheers,
Bill

Putting yourself out there is how you get noticed

I chose this book as my first review since it helped push me to creating this site as well as getting my  further in the public domain.

Creatives often find trouble creating while at the same time getting their work seen. Or worse balancing the idea of sellout vs just creating what they feel like. What Austin Kleon attempts in Show Your Work is to teach a way of making your work discoverable while you focus on getting really good at what you do.

Though I work online, I’ve always had some discomfort with sharing too much online. This is a book for people like me. The author says “it’s for people who hate the idea of self promotion”.  Also for people who haven’t realized that most of us are amateurs. And there’s nothing wrong with being reveled as one:

We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs, but in fact, today it is the amateur – the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love (in French, the word means ‘lover’), regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career – who often has the advantage over the professional. Because they have so little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims. Sometimes, in the process of doing things in an unprofessional way, they make new discoveries. “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities,” said Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. “In the expert’s mind, there are a few.”
In every chapter there are examples of instances where geniuses we thought became successful solely on the merits of their work, were actually helped along by “showing their work” in one way or another. They also became good at what they do by actually doing it. In the same way if you are to find your voice, you need to use it. Rings true with the saying “If you wait until you’re ready, it’s almost certainly too late.”

start of a chapter from Show Your Work
It sounds extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. We all have the opportunity to use our voices, to have our say, but so many of us are wasting it. If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.
And if you are scared to be embarrassed, or to make a mistake:

Steve Jobs on how looming death allowed him to do what is important.

Another great chapter touches on taking people behind the scenes of your work. Because we don’t want to be seen as tacky or inept we shy away from showing the process. And that is one of the reasons why myths like the overnight success exist.

A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome.
Michael Jackson

I like how Michael Jackson put it. Most portfolios show outcome of work and not the work itself. the work is what goes into achieving the outcome.  Showing the process also allow the audience to connect with the outcome. As per Brené Brown:

In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen really seen.
Brené Brown

And then there’s the chapter Share Your Trade Secrets.

The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
Annie Dillard

The funny thing about sharing your trade secrets is that doing so is akin to teaching. And with teaching the more you teach the more you learn. The more you let people in on your work the more interest people will have in your work.

Other than sharing, he touches on the subject of guarding your mental space so you can create. He calls this the vampire test:

If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire. Of course, the vampire test works on many things in our lives,
not just people — you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.
Against being a ‘sellout’

Show Your Work is a great book to read, especially if you have a shitty resume like myself. There’s nothing shameful about self-promotion. Finding ways to do what you love, share it, and make a living from it is in my opinion what life is about.

Thanks for following along. Hit me up in the comments let me know what you think.

Cheers,
Bill