Week in Review – October 8, 2017

Another stock image of a person simulating an open office environment

Readings

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Thich Nhat Hanh via Lion’s Roar

Teach tech with cartoons by Julia Evans

Why We Contradict Ourselves and Confound Each Other with Daniel Kahneman via On Being (listen)

On Overuse of Technology

Follow Cal Newport. He lead me to Jony Ive’s talk at the New Yorker Tech fest. Here’s the transcript

Jony Ive’s thoughts on Focus

I tend to be so completely preoccupied with what we’re working on at the moment. That tends to take the oxygen. Like any tool, you can see there’s wonderful use and then there’s misuse.

This isn’t a new phenomenon that we have to exercise a modicum of self-control to try and find the right balance. I do think sometimes, it’s just nice to have space. I think we fill space because we can and not because we should.

If I get to sit down for two hours with one of the world’s best silicon chip designers, I could not be happier. And what connects us is a curiosity, and also sort of sense of the authentic pursuit of excellence.

The art of focus is even if it is something you care passionately about, focus means ignoring it, putting it to the side. And often, it’s at real cost. And [Steve Jobs] was remarkable at that. And there have been a few occasions, a few periods where I felt have achieved that focus, and it’s a little eerie. You do have a sense — boundaries before impedance, before that seems insurmountable, seems trivial. And it takes so much effort and is exhausting to sustain, but all of the good things we’ve done have required that sort of focus.

If you’re going to do something new that means that the reason it has not been done before is that is there’s 55 reasons why it hasn’t been done before. And so you have to be so focused and so resolute, and in some ways almost blinkered, but you have to be so determined, but then you have to move between these two behaviors that are almost on the polar opposite.

I am confident that the mistakes weren’t born from laziness or some self-satisfied belief that it’s inevitable that they will be successful. I think we’re bunch of very anxious, worrying individuals who generally assume it’s not going to work unless we can prove otherwise.

Smartphone habits and addiction transforming into information dystopia

via The Guardian

This is classic Nir Eyal

One morning in April this year, designers, programmers and tech entrepreneurs from across the world gathered at a conference centre on the shore of the San Francisco Bay. They had each paid up to $1,700 to learn how to manipulate people into habitual use of their products, on a course curated by conference organizer Nir Eyal.

His book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products is a recipe book to shows how to game human psychology to get people addicted to your product, or as he puts it:

“Just as we shouldn’t blame the baker for making such delicious treats, we can’t blame tech makers for making their products so good we want to use them,” he said. “Of course that’s what tech companies will do. And frankly: do we want it any other way?”

But there is a line between solving a problem through satisfying a need and engineering products for more usage. Read Don Normans’ The Design of Everyday Things instead.

And push notifications, turn them off:

Brichter says he is puzzled by the longevity of the feature. In an era of push notification technology, apps can automatically update content without being nudged by the user. “It could easily retire,” he says. Instead it appears to serve a psychological function: after all, slot machines would be far less addictive if gamblers didn’t get to pull the lever themselves. Brichter prefers another comparison: that it is like the redundant “close door” button in some elevators with automatically closing doors. “People just like to push it.”

Sometimes psychology can make boring situations a little more convenient, even elevator rush hours and grocery store queues.

On the Open Office

Open offices are overrated via Vox

The idea is worth executing well because it matters too much to stop trying to fix it. By that we mean the 40 hours a week, the 8700 hours, the nearly 10 full years of your life you spend inside the four walls of one room.

The Office Gets Remade Again via NY Times

Salesforce’s new skyscraper campus in San Francisco, for example, has areas on every floor for meditation, partly inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

Create things so others can create

Getting to the Future Faster from Exponent

The conversation starts with a discussion on long term thought development via writing on a blog instead of cementing a momentary mindset in a book. In a blog, the audience can learn and grow with the author, while the author can support writing with a subscription business model. They move into universal basic income, single person businesses with an audience of 100s and Etsy as a model for unlocking creative potential of people across the world. Also, Instagram and YouTube stars are entrepreneurial in a job that did not exist five to ten years ago. How can we build technology that enables more people to create?

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Relax

Fox sleeping in a tree

Fox sleeping in a tree

Relax. Be mindful of my breathing and body positioning. Rest my muscles and let all tension melt away. Start at the top of my head and slowly scan down how I am holding each part of my body. Relax the mind and loosen the neck and shoulders, slow my heart rate, expand my stomach, stretch my legs, spread my toes, and open my mind.

Mindfulness Economy

Imagine our economy without advertisements. What would it look like? Facebook would not exist, Google would be a fragment of its current self, and for that matter, most tech companies propped up by VC money would be gone. Sports would only be seen in stadiums and played by athletes making minimal salaries. Media reliant on CPM would be no more. And that’s just the start.

We accept advertising as a way to subsidize the products we enjoy.

We sanction almost all aspects of our life to the effect of the attention economy. “Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging”.

How vastly different would the world be if we had to pay for things with our money rather than our attentions? We would be mindful of what we consume and wouldn’t by junk that looks nice online. Products may be more expensive, but imagine how improved they would be. The best products would survive by our recommendations to others. Real, in person recommendations. Not purchased reviews.

With our minds free from the barrage of stimulation, we could explore and share stories of our experiences. Maybe go see the world instead of getting the latest gadget. New ideas would spread by word of mouth and mindfulness would flourish as we place focus on our thoughts and emotions. We would become a more empathic people.

Businesses making products to better human kind would survive. Space exploration, solar, and entertainment would return to its roots with movie theaters, bookstores, live music, and Broadway shows. Writers will ensure the most important relationship is with the reader, not the advertiser.
And basic necessities like food and clothes would still be required, but stripped of their grandeur (stoicism) to their essential qualities: nutrition and function (with a bit of expression). Life would be more real and less inflated.

So how do we get there and how can it stick? Products should focus on real innovation and organic growth. We should not make something to get people addicted and hooked, but build a product to get people excited. Excited about life, growth, and being human.

Journal

One year and three months ago I wrote this in my journal:

“I want to start writing more for my blog. I am going to start by making an effort to sit down for five minutes (at least) and note what I am thinking about. Time seems to fly by lately. It would be enlightening to have a journal of past events to look back and remember what was going on in my life.”

In that time, I’ve amassed quite the collection of musings. I thought journaling would naturally overflow into blogging, and while it hasn’t yet turned out that way, the practice allows me to focus and make sense of things. Today I began reading what I wrote. We’ll see what comes of it, but I’m already happily surprised and excited to continue.

If you want to connect thoughts in your head, remember events in your life, or track growth over time, take a snapshot. Write it down. Make the nebulous, physical. As time passes, you can go back and reflect.

A Riddle

"Do not pretend, if you live in LA or in New York, that just because you live in a diverse city that you are now protected. In fact, you may be worse off because you see things every day. Your brain has to notice [biases]."

Thoughts from On Being – The Mind is a Difference-Seeking Machine (Transcript)

In her talk with Krista Tippett, Dr. Mahzarin Banaji presents many hidden biases within our culture and ourselves. From how we view people differently on Airbnb based on the the spellings of their names to analyzing political events in terms of the human condition, Dr. Banaji wants us to learn from others’ perspectives.

With some context, during in the conversation Dr. Banaji presents a riddle:

“The riddle goes like this: a father and his son were in a car accident. The father dies at the scene. The boy, badly injured, is rushed to a local hospital. In the hospital, the operating surgeon looks at the boy and says, ‘I can’t operate on this boy. He’s my son.’ How can this be if the father just died?”

Think about it for a moment.

 

80 percent today of people who read this riddle do not know the right answer.

 

Got it?

 

Leaving it to Dr. Banaji, “the surgeon is the boy’s mother … Duh”

Think it was the boy’s stepfather? At first, Dr. Banaji did as well. Unconscious bias is everywhere, the trick is learning to recognizing it.

The 4-Hour Workweek for the 9 to 5 Type

Tim Ferriss, author of “books with titles that sound like infomercials”, touts tremendous productivity techniques which can result in 10x’ing your hourly output (thus the 4-hour workweek, 10×4=40). He is slightly controversial in regards to a few of his approaches (who outsources email?), but many are applicable to just about everyone. The questions is, how do people who work 9 to 5 fit these techniques into their lives? Sure someone like Ferriss who only works four hours a week (slight exaggeration) has time to read 2-3 books a week and meditate twice a day, but how can people who spend a large portion of their time at their job work these teachings into their lives? It takes a bit of effort, but it can be done.

Start by retooling your morning. What do you do? Get up after hitting snooze on the alarm one too many times. Check your phone for email and social media updates. Skip breakfast because you need to get out the door.

Even if you are not a morning person, tweaking your morning schedule slightly can be easy and have tremendous benefits. Start by waking up 20 minutes earlier than you would normally (come on, it’s not that bad). The iPhone alarm snoozes for 9 minutes. Say you hit it twice every morning. If you wake up with the first alarm you’re pretty much already there.

Here’s an aggregate morning routine from a few of the guests on the Tim Ferriss show (Ryan Holiday, The Glitch Mob, Alexis Ohanian, Peter Diamandis, Robert Rodriguez, plus Ferriss on Freakonomics):

  • Wake up without hitting snooze (Ryan Holiday and Marcus Aurelius)
  • DO NOT CHECK YOUR PHONE (Pretty much everyone on the show)
  • Silent meditation for 5-20 minutes (Glitch mob, Ryan Holiday, Tim Ferriss)
  • Light exercise and/or stretching to invoke deep breathing and blood flow (Glitch Mob, Diamandis)
  • The following are common, but the order is often different:
    • Breakfast: eggs (Glitch mob) waffles (Ohanian) sardines!? (Ferriss)
    • Journaling (Holiday, Ferriss, Diamandis, Rodriguez)
    • Reading (Holiday, Glitch Mob)
  • Finally, plug in and get on with your day.

This may seem like quite a bit to accomplish in the morning, but if thought of as part of your daily routine, rather than things which need to get done, you will probably find it all rather easy. Meditate for 5 minutes, do 100 jumping jacks, and write down your thoughts. If you are efficient, you can fit all of this into the time you spend snoozing that alarm. Try it out, tweak the times, and find a schedule that works best for you.

If you take public transit (and can get a seat), the time spent commuting can be used mindfully to accomplish parts of the routine. Instead of sleeping or listening to music, you can write in a journal or read a book. If you drive as part of your morning commute, listen to a podcast which sets your mind in the right place for the rest of the day (it is not condoned to read while driving to work…).

The rest of the day:
Keep the baseline that while you are at work, you are working (and doing so at 10x your usual rate). But what about lunch? If you have an hour for a lunch break, take 10 minutes of that time to meditate and 10 minutes to journal. You still have 40 minutes left for your meal.

Night:
On the way back from work, try the morning routine in reverse. Read and journal on public transit, listen to podcasts in the car, meditate upon arriving home to decompress and take count of the days events. Let your work-mind settle and move your thoughts into goals for your personal life. And don’t forget to relax. Even Elon Musk plays video games sometimes.

Weekends:
Carry this schedule into your days off as well. Sure you can sleep in a bit later, but don’t deviate just because it’s a lazy Saturday. Start your day of productively and you will set the tone for the day to align your actions with what you want to achieve.

There are over 150 episodes of the Tim Ferriss Show, so there is bound to be variations to these routines. Everyone is different and you will find some techniques employed by certain people will work better for you than others. As Ryan Holiday mentions, find a person or character you relate to, see what you like about yourself in them, and use it to bring out more of those qualities. Also, see what you don’t like about yourself in them and use it as a cautionary tale to stay away from those qualities. In this regard, find a routine that works for you and fits in with your life goals. Pull from others’ successes, continually tweak your daily regiment, and strive to keep improving.

P.S.
Tim, how about you interview someone with a 9 to 5? Not everyone has a 4-hour workweek, but we are all trying to become the best versions of ourselves.

Routine

Routine is not something you do once a week. Routine is daily. Routine is a part of you expressed every day. Keep uploading, keep writing, keep pushing yourself. Do not take a day off. Make routine your constant and deviation your off day. Find a schedule which works for your and make it a constant. Want to improve? Accomplish a goal? Make a legacy? Work hard, put yourself out there, change for the better, and keep going.

Be Mindful While You Read

Every day we spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through apps and posts on the web. How much of the content we consume do we internalize and remember? From sending tweets, to browsing Facebook, to reading news, there is something to discover all the time, and content only seconds old is pushed aside as we move on to the next new thing. But what do we take from these experiences? Are we mindful of how we spend our time online?

Here’s an experiment. Take a moment and think back to everything you remember from the last few days. Try to name two articles you read online. If you are struggling for a headlines, how about the topic?

If we cannot remember what we do online, what are we gaining from the experience? The apps we cannot live without are built to keep us in the moment and websites rely on posting new content at a break-neck pace. Snapchat saves content for the day, but then its gone and we cannot even remember the experience because we were too busy looking through a screen. We are distracted by the endless amount of information for us to consume that we simply cannot remember everything we see, yet we keep looking.

One more challenge. Next time you go online to read the news or browse Facebook, be mindful of the content you are consuming. Reflect on articles before quickly liking it and moving onto the next thing. Slow down and consider the value added to your day from each new post you see. Maybe even look up from your phone every once in a while.