I miss the commute

Ridiculous as it sounds, even before the lockdowns, I missed the commute.

The gentle rocking of the bus, The camaraderie of workers returning home, and the blank stares filling the space. The commute is universally recognized as bad, right?

University of the West of England
  • It eats into your schedule, robbing you of your life
  • It starts your day off rushed and stressed, which limits your performance and happiness
  • You share the rush hour traffic with half of the known universe, all competing for the same 10cm in a bus to squeeze in.
  • You get infected with every possible ailment your fellow travelers can carry.
https://external-preview.redd.it/Z23YPAIgYeA3ts8d8PJ3Lo44RG3wANFc8MhLdDY3hvc.jpg?auto=webp&s=9060d1e6512aac55046317d3ea0bc0e0b12c51ec

And yet, a few times a year, this feeling comes back. Especially during challenging periods of focused work, I sometimes yearn for this transition period that will let me decompress between work and private engagements.

Now when we all are sheltered in place, these boundaries get blurred. We carry our stresses from work to home, because, well, both happen on the same couch!

The unexpected benefits of commuting are much more apparent now During summertime, it was quite enjoyable. I love cycling to the office and am in a fortunate position where I have 8 km of parks between the coworking spot and me.

  • On the way to the office, I get my daily fix of cardio and spent some time in nature. I identified some time ago that on the days that I see the trees, my mood goes up.
  • On the way back, I sometimes cycle quite slowly, reflecting on the day and some times maybe even sit in one of those parks.

On those exhausting days, the way home lets me decompress and maybe even put a border between times of the day.

  • The commute helps switch gears mentally
  • Me cycling to work produces mental energy

While stuck at home, you may want to reproduce the benefits of a commute:

After a challenging day, the most appealing thing is to sink into a couch and start the mindless consumption of Netflix. But if you try exercising, you will discover being more rested after the exercise than before it. Your mind will notice a transition between work and rest.

Hopefully, the lockdowns will end, because the commute can be quite OK if you choose it. With a flexible work schedule, going to the office on any given day is my decision, and I can make specific arrangements to avoid rush hour traffic.

Hopefully, I won’t have to always work from home, nor will I have to commute every day. I can choose whatever works for me, and that is the point.

402 Payment Required and why micropayments are doomed

The promise of fast, seamless micropayments (by micro I mean <$1) has been circling around the web for a while now. The original HTTP status codes, created over 30 years ago, even contain a „placeholder” for such a system, which is still reserved for future use:

The HTTP 402 Payment Required is a nonstandard client error status response code that is reserved for future use.

With the advent of Bitcoin, related arbitrage opportunities, and attention economy problems, cryptocurrency experts have renewed interest in providing micropayments solutions.

But I am not convinced this is a problem worth solving.

The administrative cost of accepting payments

Accepting payments and donations has their administrative cost. Taxes, fulfillment, answering support questions, upkeep of the payment system – most of this stuff can be automated, but you are never able to get rid of these pesky details.

Of course, the answer is easy – just make it up with higher volume!

But there is a catch-22. With more volume, there is more upkeep, more treadmill, more support, and bigger risk that you will run into a problematic customer. This constant administrative cost is a reason why every Credit Card processor charges a roughly similar rate for processing payments. They have overhead too.

2.9% + 30c of the fixed cost.

Dire reality of Paypal, Stripe and other processors

The cognitive cost of the purchase

Each payment has not only a material cost but also a cognitive cost. While you are purchasing something, you not only whip out your hard-earned cash, but you also have to make a purchase decision.

  • Is this really worth paying for?
  • From the myriad options available, is this one the best?
  • How much did I spend already this week?

All these decisions go through the customer’s head each time they are trying to buy something on the web (and IRL). That means, that each customer can only make so many purchases, regardless of their price.

While customer pays a higher price, you benefit. If they pay a high cognitive cost, everybody loses.

Subscriptions and bundles

Bundles and Subscriptions are both ways of addressing this issue.

  • The purchase decision is made only once. In case of a bundle, its spread over items and in case of a subscription – over time.
  • The administrative cost for the seller is also more manageable. It’s one customer instead of many, one fulfillment and one line item in a tax sheet.

That is why you are witnessing an explosion of subscription services – Spotify, Disney+, Netflix… Even Apple is moving to Apple TV+ because iTunes pay-for-a-single-episode model didn’t work out.

Micropayments are never taking off.

There are a million exciting technical ways of making micropayments work. Cryptocurrencies, in particular, are a favorite tool of those working on technical details.

The problem is human nature (and isn’t it always?). By putting the value of 50c on something, you are signaling that this is what it’s worth.  Higher price means higher perceived value, and as recounted by Robert Cialdini, raising prices can, surprisingly, bring more customers.

Micropayments are a favorite excuse of non-customers. If you have something worth paying for, it will be worth paying more than $1. People not willing to shell out a $5 will find an excuse not to shell out 50c either. You don’t want these people as your customers. Pricing psychology and market economics are against < $1 transactions, and maybe that is why there is not a single successful micropayment startup.

Provide real value, raise your prices, and start solving $300 problems instead of 30c problems. Better yet – start a subscription!

In the words of Patrick McKenzie:

And if you came here from Hacker News, you might like another one of my articles:

A tale of two paywalls

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of me helping the WordPress.com users earn a living.

We are building a whole suite of products and features that would unlock the economic potential of the people starting their journeys as the publishers. Our goal has just the right keywords to suggest that we are building a „paywall.” But, Paywall is not a straightforward affair. Let me explain how I think about Paywalls:

Traditional Paywall – let’s call it „big publisher paywall.”

This is the paywall we all think about and see in leading publisher sites like New York Times, Washington Post, and similar ones. Since the business model of those sites is publishing, they produce news articles. That is what they get paid for, and that is what they are meant to guard.

They are usually monetizing through the quantity of content. There are several modes of operation here:

  • “Metered Paywall” is the most popular approach of “3/ month free” articles
  • “Nagwall” is where you get progressively worse reading experience, or they would badger you to sign up, but they will not block the content outright.
  • “Hard paywall”, where you have no way of accessing the content without a subscription

That technical solution is tightly coupled with:
Producing a lot of content with a short shelf life.

If a site had 3 evergreen, amazing pieces that are bringing the majority of traffic and the rest would be meh content, then there would be no reason to pay! A quota of 3/month is enough to consume this great content, and there is no reason to sign up for more. Because there IS no more. So these sites are producing content that is enough to draw the traffic and give you a taste of future goodies, but not enough to fill you up. Additionally:

  • Since you pay for quantity, it incentivizes larger teams or news organizations
  • It’s best to have a uniform quality. If there is a breakaway hit, it is used to draw traffic and not be value in itself
  • They tend to focus on general topics (news, sports) to have the biggest possible total addressable market.
  • They have already a huge back-catalog of existing content when starting a paywall (hard to pay for quantity when there are only 20 pieces on a site)
  • The signup messages are short and minimal because it’s clear what you pay for – more of the same

Publishers using these paywalls have other, complex needs – customization, email newsletters, corporate strategy. They don’t exist in a vacuum and are usually connected to a bigger organization and budgets.

“Member features” / “Niche blogger paywall”

Now, let’s consider a case of the smaller blogger, maybe even a 3-person team running a site.

  • They have no hopes of competing with NYT or Washington Post on quantity and broad-spectrum journalism
  • They cannot put out more than one piece per day
  • They tend to be very niche, and their Unique Value Proposition lies in being practical and having a perspective not found anywhere else
  • They don’t have an institutional brand like NYT, so they have to earn trust by producing great (free) content as well
  • They have a tiny (or non-existent) back-catalog of existing content.

Because of these traits, bloggers overwhelmingly are separating free and premium content.

  • Promotional content is what made them famous. Free articles with great quality and unique perspective are bringing traffic to the site
  • Paid content usually has a very clear value proposition, based on the blogger’s expertise.

Some of the ways for bloggers to monetize is to offer:

  • Drip feed, where you get access to “private blog”, with new relevant content being consistently added
  • All-In membership, where you get access to the back catalog of private content
  • Online Course
  • Online Community – where you pay for ongoing relationships with the blogger but also other people that paid for the same access (being connected to a blogger’s message enough to pay is a good filter for other people willing to do so, hence you can connect with similar-minded folks easily while skipping the internet randos that never pay.)
  • Product – (software download, excel spreadsheet for job hunting, or a physical product like a planner)
  • A Service – say coaching, private lessons, etc..
  • Hybrid – any mix of the above

The Source of this list is Membership Guys.

None of these business models are compatible with readers being able to “peek” pieces of content of their own choosing. Bloggers/site owners are making a clear distinction of what pieces of content are free and which ones are “premium” worth paying for. Sure, they tease what’s inside the „premium”, but they are explicitly choosing which parts can be accessible.

Additionally, the “free” section has to be pretty accessible as well. Before a customer trusts a blogger “out of nowhere”, she has to form a relationship based on time and trust. There is no brand like NYT to help with this decision. It will often take way more than 3 or even 30 free articles to convince a customer to pay.

If you are starting up, you are better off starting with:

  • Building up your catalog of the entirely free content that will help others discover your site
  • Once you have some free content, you should introduce „member only” section with something extra
  • Don’t concern yourself with the fancy mechanics of content blocking. You can start by sending your paid content manually via email. Don’t spend time on site features! If you are on WordPress.com, you can use the Premium Content feature we just released.

Book: On Writing by Stephen King

„Writing is a telepathy” – it’s a process that transports thought from the writers mind to the reader’s.

The biggest takeaway from this book is:

Damn, this guy knows how to write books! I know, insightful!

Part autobiography – part writing manual, „on writing” is a deep dive into Stephen King’s writing process.

An author of Carrie, The Green Mile, The Dark Tower series and countless other stories, Stephen is prolific to a point where people (including my mom) think he has ghost writers.

Now, pushed to spill his secrets, Stephen addresses his prolific career. The book is not self-congratulatory at all. It consists of two parts – one about writer and one about writing.

The writer

In the first part of the book, Stephen briefly tells his life story and it’s exactly what you would expect. He tells amusing stories about his teenage adventures, and later cocaine. All in all, I respect him more now than before reading this book. He just seems like a fun guy. Not only because of the cocaine.

He grew up poor, hardworking and fascinated with the stories. He kept writing since the age of 7 and not long after started sending his stories to journals and magazines, accruing quite a stash of rejection letters.

But he kept improving his art, kept going at it, getting better and better.

He immersed himself in storytelling – mostly pulp fiction, good writing and the kitschy movies of the 50s and 60s. He was at a drive-in cinema when his wife broke into labour.

This is not at all surprising for me. In fact, that’s precisely what Malcolm Gladwell discovered in Outliers and Walter Isaacson explained in Innovators.

Immersing yourself in your art and devoting hours of deliberate practice is key to being ’the best in the world’ in your area of expertise.

The Writing process

The second half of the book holds a few writing principles but is not in any way a curriculum.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

  1. Read, Read and read some more. You need to absorb new writing styles and writing tools, so you need to read any chance you get.
  2. Some well-behaved people will not considered it good manners to read while eating. If there is anything slowing down your progress more than not reading any chance you get, it will be listening to well-behaved people.
  3. Write a lot. A LOT.
  4. Ideal paragraph explains itself in the first sentence and in later sentences provides supporting evidence.
  5. Grammar is important. Adverbs are risky and sleazy. Especially in the dialogue. „He begged pitifully”
  6. Stories are made of:
    1. Narrative that moves the story from A to B
    2. Descriptions transferring the reality to the readers mind
    3. Dialogue
  7. Everybody is the hero of their own story. The best characters are the ones that are the heroes from their point of view
  8. “Write behind a closed door, edit in the open. The first draft belongs to you, the second – to anyone willing to read” – a concept similar to „Shitty first draft” of Anne Lamott
    Your second draft IS NOT an opportunity to add more stuff.
    Second version = First version – 10%

Benefits of daily writing practice

In the interviews I used to say that I write every day except Christmas, Fourth of July and my Birthday.
It’s a lie. In an interview you have to say something that sounds a bit funny and I didn’t want to look like a maniac.
The truth is that I write every day, including Christmas, Fourth of July and my Birthday which I try to ignore.

Stephen King

After taking the “Write of Passage” course, I finally understood why daily writing is helpful. Stephen’s reasoning is quite similar:

  • It gets the avarage ideas out of the way. You just have to flush the obvious out of your system
  • In the beginning you will use a hodge-podge of other people’s styles. There is nothing wrong with that. Only with writing you will be able to grow your own style. It needs room to develop and that room is the page.
  • Stephen says that when he is not writing daily, the characters in his mind start to ‘calcify’.
    It becomes harder and harder to make them move and it feels more like work.
    I found the same thing in regards to my blogging – when I don’t create something every day, it becomes harder and harder the next one.

”Write what you know about. If you know plumbing, the story about Space Plumbers is a good concept.”

You know what? I just very well may do that.

Book: The End is Always Near by Dan Carlin

I love Dan Carlin’s „Hardcore History” podcast. The stories of mundane concerns during wars, plagues, and other terrible events in human history are somehow deeply informative of the human spirit.

I am very grateful that Dan spares the gory details, but he keeps in the weight of the event and pulls lessons from the history books.

Thanks to Dan Carlin, I realized that history is like a TV series that really happened. And one more unpredictable than any “Game of Thrones” or „Witcher” script.

„The End is Always Near” is the first Dan’s book and a little more organized than the podcast. It has a central message that it supports very well – Humans always seem to be on the brink of extinction.

What stood out to me:

  • Through most generations in history, people were much tougher than we are. They have watched their sons and daughters die horribly, the wars and plagues were rolling constantly
  • The children were treated horribly as well. Basically everybody was traumatized, but somehow they haven’t seen it as trauma. Maybe with the constant risk of dying, psychological trauma was a less pressing concern?
  • The consequences of the Atomic bomb were enormous. Because nuclear retaliation is a tool that has to be deployed in minutes, only 1 person needs to make this call. Now, that the US president has this cross to bear, it automatically transformed the office of the president into one-man apocalypse machine
  • Cold War has introduced the tensions that turned the USA into a Police state and that is still the case.

If you want to listen more about the Cold War, here is the „Destroyer of Worlds” episode:

My highlights ( I’d love to have more, but I was not reading this on Kindle and my hardcover highlight game is not strong  )

  • Andrew Mellon, the secretary of the treasury under President Herbert Hoover when the 1929 stock market crashed, which initi­ated more than decade of economic collapse, thought the coming hardship would be good thing. “It will purge the rottenness out of the system,” Mellon said, as reported in Hoover memoirs. “High costs of living will come down People will work harder live more moral life Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people From Mellon’ point of view maybe he got his wish. The Depression put an end to the Roaring Twenties time remembered for high living, speakeasies, jazz, flappers, the Charleston, and the advent of motion pictures What Mellon might have thought wasteful frivolity was simply fun to others. Things got lot less fun when money became more Scarce.
  • Before the modern era, the number of people who lost multiple children to illness was astonishing One wonders what effects this might have had on individuals and their society as whole The historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was one of seven children All six of his siblings died in infancy.
  • One member of the Greatest Generation offered this solution for bringing down the Soviet Union: “We should have been dropping Playboy magazines, blue Jeans, and Elvis Presley records on them, and they’ll do It themselves
  • Lloyd deMause quotes piece written by the chief of police in Paris in 1780 estimating that of the, on average, 21,000 children born in that city every year, only 700 were nursed by their biological mothers. 
  • From 410 onwards successive Western imperial regimes Just gave way or lost practical auditority over more and more of the territory of the former Empire The Western Empire delegated itself out of existence Central authority
  • Saxons apparently ignored the warning, continued to kill evangelizing clergy, and never ceased their usual small-scale raiding and banditry on the border. Charlemagne fought cam­ aign after campaign against them, and eventually succeeded in Cutting down the sacred tree they venerated as holding up the universe and allegedly beheading 4.500 of them in day at Verden in 782. And, like the Roman emperors who preceded him, Charlemagne found out that there always seemed to be more ferocious barbarians behind the ones he’d just subdued. 
  • In the end, the clergy suffered fatalities at the same rate as the rest of the population, and their deaths led to unexpected consequences For example, to replace losses in their ranks, the church lowered the ages at which people could attain positions of authority. This led often to very young, hardly prepared peopie in positions that had previously been held by much older, more august figures. Before the epidemic, members of the clergy had devoted their whole lives to the church. The people who replaced them weren’t necessarily as committed or as educated. Corruption began to creep in, especially as men attained elevated posi­ tions in the church due to money changing hands, not thanks to their lifelong commitment or qualifications. Over the course of around two centuries, the clergy reputation diminished, tarnished by abuses and excess and lack of high standards. This dissatisfaction led to the development of the many complaints that the German theologian Martin Luther
  • In 1899, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia ? called meeting that would come to be known as the Hague Convention, the first of many to be held on the establishment of international law re­ garding armaments There, representatives of more than two dozen countries took up the issue of airships, with the Russians proposing ban on all bombing from the air. The American del­ egate counterproposed that the ban last only five years, since the science might improve to allow for precision bombing which might prove humane insofar as it could shorten Wars.
  • From September until November 13, London was bombarded every night. total of 13,000 tons of high explosives and 12,000 incendiary canisters were dropped. Other cities were raided, too, and the most famous raid is the one on Coventry on 14 November 1940, when 450 bombers discharged 500 tons of high explosives and 880 incendiary canisters. Civilian losses were appalling, mainly because there were few adequate air raid shelters. The attacks failed both to stop the British raids over Ger. many and to squash morale. Indeed, the whole idea of using bombers to destroy civilian morale was flawed for several reasons. One may have been the bravery of the citizenry
  • The physicist Freeman Dyson, who worked for the raps Bomber Command, said years after the war, “I felt sickened by what knew. Many times, decided had moral obligation to run out into the streets and tell the British people what stupidi- ties were being done in their name. But I never had the courage to do it. sat in my office until the end, carefully calculating how to murder most economically another hundred thousand people It takes time to get to point of logical insanity
  • It’s hard to really know how much of the navy’s opposition was truly based on morality or how much might have been an effort to defend the necessity and relevance of its branch of the military services In the face of those looming budget cuts. (Indeed, the moral complaints would be notably muted later when navy submarines began to carry nuclear weapons The admirals’ testimony elucidated key moral question that the world still wrestles with decades later

Your product is either a commodity or hospitality.

Have you ever been to a truly great hotel? You walk in and find yourself thinking:

  • “Oh, this makes sense” when you see an extra pillow
  • “Ok, that’s nice” when you discover a lovely porcelain tea set, with all you need prepared for you,
  • “That’s beautiful” when you open the window.

Everything is just where you want it, whenever you want it, just how you want it before you even realize what it is that you want.

You feel like all your concerns are melting away, and you don’t have to deal with minutiae anymore.

These are the same thoughts I would use to describe my Apple experience. Of course, we can talk about the declining quality of the keyboards, but when interacting with Apple products or great hotels, I don’t mentally tick off the list of benefits. I enjoy the feeling ‘everything being in its rightful place.’

MacBooks and iPhones are expensive – they don’t stack up feature-to-feature or number-to-number to other offerings on the market. My more technically-inclined friends keep reminding me that a different machine has more burro-bytes or zetacycles than a $2000 Macbook.

What I usually tell them is hard to justify, so I started viewing it through a lens of how I would judge a hotel.

Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)

Such a lovely face.

– The Eagles

That hospitality is Apple’s entire business strategy. Playing in the commodity sandbox requires you to play the cutthroat game of racing to the bottom of the lowest margin.

According to Forbes, Apple’s profit share is over four times larger than Samsung, its nearest competitor. 

Despite this success, people rightly point out, that by most of the measurable parameters, devices from Cupertino are falling behind – they have slower processors, smaller pixel density and are more expensive.

And yet, this is not the game Apple plays.

The full vertical integration is the strategy that also works in luxurious resorts. They have thought deeply about every single need of their users and designed an experience to cater to them. There is rarely a need to venture outside.

‘We are programmed to receive.

You can check out any time you like,

But you can never leave!’

– The Eagles

I won’t belabor the Apple point any further, I promise.

Think of the great products you really love. Maybe it is an app for tracking your fishing expeditions or a tool you use at work.

If you feel at home while using this product, then it’s real business is hospitality. A great host knows exactly what his guests want and provides it to them before they realize it themselves.

Focusing on the user’s secret needs, of course, is simple but not easy. Your business has its own budgets and trade-offs, and you will have to make it all work. Both types of businesses have to tackle logistics, value chain, porter’s forces, and labor laws.

But the first question they ask is different.

The hospitality business is about leading with Qualitative Questions, like:

  • “How can we make this experience better.”
  • “What do our guests secretly want?”

Commodity business asks Quantitative Questions first:

  • How can we make this cheaper?
  • How can we have more feature X?

Hospitality is opinionated. To best suit your specific needs, it has to know what is the group of people that it does not want to make happy. In a truly great hotel, the other guests matter. They make you proud to be a part of the group and – in truly exceptional ones – they help you learn a thing about yourself.

There are, of course, hotels that I would consider a commodity and not hospitality. The proliferation of price comparison engines makes it easy to shop around with numbers, commoditizing the whole industry.

When searching for a hotel during my travels, I’ll use Booking.com to find something affordable. But inevitably, after an hour or two, I’ll stumble upon a photo that will make me abandon my price limits.

I’ll know if this hotel is genuinely hospitable if it has a working iPhone charger by the bed instead of some useless desk phone.

The Hospitality vs. Commodity lens helps me better understand the product-market fit for consumer businesses. B2B and enterprise markets have their specifics – like bundles and vendor relationships that make it play by different rules.

But every consumer business can learn a lot from great hotels.

Feel free to attach this post to your expense report, but don’t blame me if it gets rejected.

Still, the stay will be lovely.

“Well, we have to measure something.”, And the perils of metrics.

“What gets measured, gets managed,”

Peter Drucker famously said.

The sentiment makes sense. If we are not looking at a compass, how can we know if we are going in the right direction? How can we keep ourselves honest, and how can we course-correct?

Thanks to the culture of metrics, in 2019 Amazon has surpassed Apple as the most valuable company on the face of the planet.
Indeed, what gets measured, gets managed, but at the expense of everything else. Less famously, Drucker said

Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective. This is not capable of being measured by any of the yardsticks for manual work.

It is very human to want a put significant round number, so we can judge it’s value. We like explicit situations, and a moral gray area is always unwelcome. Your score is 73rd percentile, and eating meat on a Friday is a sin. At least that is clear.

But life is more complicated and nuanced. It is somehow tough to measure the desired outcome accurately. So we defer to measuring the closest thing that is easy to gauge. Can’t hurt, right? At least we’re in the ballpark.

Well, it can.

In 1956 V. F. Ridgway has pioneered an area called “Dysfunctional Consequences of Performance Measurements.” In the first study of such kind (and the one that gave the name to the whole genre), a systematic analysis of the quantitative measurements in the governmental sector and found multiple examples of it going terribly wrong.

(Quantitative is a fancy term for something that has a number.)

“Indiscriminate use ( of quantitative measures) may result in side effects and reactions outweighing the benefits.”

It boils down to the fact that unlike scientifical phenomena, organizations, markets, and people are really complex. By creating simplistic representations, we leave uncomfortable stuff out, ending up with a perfect model for a world that does not exist. We develop synthetic metrics to gauge “the best we can” and start to measure the progress against that number.

As phrased in “Goodhart’s law“, once you make that artificial number your target, it stops being a useful metric. Everybody in the organization will now realign their priorities in order to “bump” the number. With no regard to how that translates into the bottom line.

  • As pictured by sketchplanations above, as a nail-making company, you want to make a lot of customers happy with your nails (a noble cause indeed). But if you are sloppy with your metric-choosing, you can get the opposite effect,
  • Let’s imagine you are trying to measure the output of support employees. If you make them answer the most support tickets, they will try to hit that number at the expense of actually helping the customer, or even worse – making the customer come back a few times with the same problem.
  • If you’re a private doctor trying to avoid lawsuits (like in the USA), you will order unnecessary expensive tests to ensure legal defense. Conversely, when incentivized to curb spending (like in Poland), you will try to guess the diagnosis to avoid costly tests.

Jerry Muller, the author of “The Tyranny of Metrics,” coined the term Metrics Fixation, which is where you replace judgment with numeric indicators.

The most characteristic feature of metric fixation is the aspiration to replace judgment based on experience with standardized measurement.

Jerry Muller

In a frantic search for performance metrics, we often grab the number that is easiest to gauge, ignoring that “Not everything that matters is measurable and not everything that’s measurable matters” (Jerry Muller).

Metrics fixation not only punishes the organization by delivering unexpected outcomes and lower performance. I would argue that it is one of the most significant risks the modern world faces today.

Broad societal problems with metrics.

1. The educational system.

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

Public Education is, of course, a lofty goal and a massive achievement of our civilization. It is intended to teach young people a habit of life-long learning, open their minds, and realize their full potential. But the education system has a metric: grades.

The entire school experience is designed to be measurable, controlled, and spoon-fed. You cannot take a long time getting to know algebra because it would be unfair to your fellow test-takers. You cannot skip ahead because the class is not moving at your pace. And in effect, children learn one lesson the most: Learning is not fun.

When students cheat on exams, it’s because our school system values grades more than Students value learning.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

2. Economy and finance.

Photo by M. B. M. on Unsplash

Shockingly, economists and investors are not judged by the performance of their models in real markets! They are not eager to wait decades to validate a model, so they pick metrics easier to measure – testing the hypothesis on synthetic data, ending up with a perfect model for an ideal world.

If you are a passenger on a plane and the pilot tells you he has a faulty map, you get off the plane; you don’t stay and say “well, there is nothing better.” But in economics, particularly finance, they keep teaching these models on grounds that “there is nothing better,” causing harmful risk-taking. Why? Because the professors don’t bear the harm of the models.

Colorful Nassim Taleb, best-selling author of Incerto, on Economy.

3. Artificial intelligence

Photo by Arseny Togulev on Unsplash

Unintended consequences of metrics is the core reason why Elon Musk thinks artificial intelligence is the biggest threat to the human race.

The biggest problem with AI is not that it will become wary of us giving it orders and decides to wipe us out on a whim. This is exemplified in the canonical thought experiment called the paperclip maximizer. Nick Bostrom shows us that artificial general intelligence, presented by a single metric ( number of paper clips produced ), designed competently and without malice, could ultimately destroy humanity.

OK, I GET IT! But what else can we do? Should we fly blind?

Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash

Of course not!

Measuring is still the best way to keep you honest and on track. If you measure against real, tangible goals like revenue – it will help you achieve them.

But it’s hard to find those goals in other areas. If your goal is to “be healthy,” should you aim for lower weight? Body Fat percentage? VO2Max (the amount of oxygen you can consume in the unit of time)? Your maximum bench press weight?

Every single one of those numbers represents an opinionated model, and those models are in odds with each other. If you go to 10 different doctors, you will probably get 11 different answers. And each one will not be focused on you but their pet model of the world.

But you know what a great model of reality is? Real-world. It is not entirely measurable, it’s not an exact number, but it’s real. If you want to feel great, then you can use what “Qualitative” measuring is – your answer to the question “do I feel great”

  • If your goal is to learn a foreign language, then ask yourself the question, “did I just have a meaningful conversation in a foreign language.”
  • If you want to hire a great employee, don’t judge them by the diploma. Give them a trial project and see how they work, interact with colleagues, and further the real goals of your organization.

People have a natural drive to do a good job and demonstrate autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It has been proven over and over again that intrinsic is the only motivation that makes sense long-term It has also been proved, that when you introduce extrinsic one (this one big metric, higher salary, more pocket money for doing house chores), the intrinsic motivation will vanish, and your employees will stop trying to further your agenda under the singular guidance of the all-important metric.

The more a quantitative metric is visible and used to make crucial decisions, the more it will be gamed—which will distort and corrupt the exact processes it was meant to monitor.

An adaption of Campbell’s Law

Instead of putting a round number on the wall, create an organization where you can trust your people to do the right thing. At least until the advent of Artificial Intelligence.

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Book: Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

“ELON MUSK IS A BODY THAT REMAINS VERY MUCH IN MOTION.”

Elon Musk needs no introductions. His biography is not only an analysis of his way of thinking but also a treasure trove of exciting Silicon Valley history and current trivia. While investigating the life of Elon, we learn about PayPal, Tesla, Solar City, and SpaceX. He took on every heavily-regulated, bureaucratic behemoth and ultimately came up on top.

Elon’s approach has cemented my long-held belief that there is a lot of lore and gossip about what “can’t be done.” And people tend to work very hard under that assumption, suffering the grueling reality of terrible workarounds.

But when you challenge the thing that “can’t be done” based on first principles, very often you can prevail, because you are the person who decided to care.

Why is Elon Musk so successful?

Because he decided to care.

“When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity.”

The go-to answer usually states, “because he is a genius,” but that is not very helpful. It also is not true. There are plenty of “tortured geniuses” who never achieve much of anything. Ideas are cheap, and execution is everything.

I believe Elon is successful because of:

  1. Relentless focus
  2. Capacity to suffer more personal cost than others
  3. Extraordinary intelligence

Intelligence is the easiest one to find. There are plenty of extraordinarily, intelligent people. But rarely you can find somebody who will be so focused and determined to challenge the industry incumbents on so many fronts and survive the pressures he did.

Thinking from the first principles

Elon is not a genius innovator constructing batteries in his garage. But he is always eager to work from first principles – the laws of physics or economics to calculate what would be possible. It takes serious brainpower to do that for rocket science, but the breakthrough is not in being smarter, but in doing things both differently and correct.

“We’re thinking, Fucking nerd. What can he be doing now?” At which point, Musk wheeled around and flashed a spreadsheet he’d created. “Hey, guys,” he said, “I think we can build this rocket ourselves.”

I am convinced that working with reality as it is is a rare superpower. 

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool,” said Richard Feynman. We are not keen on taking in the full consequence of our mistakes or recognizing the hard work and steep path ahead when our egos are on the line. “Embrace Reality and Deal with It” is the #1 principle of Ray Dalio (most successful hedge fund manager in history).

My wife says that it’s not true that we only use ten percent of our brains. We use the full 100%, but usually, 40% is busy fighting the other 50%, not leaving much to deal with issues at hand. Well, Elon uses every single neuron to further the advent of electric cars and make humanity an interplanetary species.

The fantastic adventures of Elon Musk

If you want to read more about these outlandish goals, I highly encourage the Wait But Why series:

In 2015, I got a call from Elon Musk. Not something you expect to happen. What ensued was a six-month deep dive into the world of Elon and his companies and four long articles about what I found. Here they are:

Tim Urban – “Wait but Why”

My highlights from the book

  • Like many an engineer or physicist, Musk will pause while fishing around for exact phrasing, and he’ll often go rumbling down an esoteric, scientific rabbit hole without providing any helping hands or simplified explanations along the way.
  • “I think there are probably too many smart people pursuing Internet stuff, finance, and law,” Musk said on the way. “That is part of the reason why we haven’t seen as much innovation.” MUSK
  • On his thirtieth birthday, Musk rented out a castle in England for about twenty people. From 2 A.M. until 6 A.M., they played a variation of hide-and-seek called sardines in which one person runs off and hides and everyone else looks for him.
  • The family gained some measure of notoriety as people heard about Haldeman and his wife packing their kids into the back of the single-engine craft and heading off on excursions all around North America.
  • “We were left with the impression that we were capable of anything. You just have to make a decision and do it. In that sense, my father would be very proud of Elon.”
  • Over time, Musk has ended up thinking that his brain has the equivalent of a graphics chip. It allows him to see things out in the world, replicate them in his mind, and imagine how they might change or behave when interacting with other objects.
  • Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
  • “When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people. That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity.”
  • “Really smart people sometimes don’t understand that not everyone can keep up with them or go as fast,”
  • All the bankers did was copy what everyone else did. If everyone else ran off a bloody cliff, they’d run right off a cliff with them. If there was a giant pile of gold sitting in the middle of the room and nobody was picking it up, they wouldn’t pick it up, either.”
  • “We’re thinking, Fucking nerd. What can he be doing now?” At which point Musk wheeled around and flashed a spreadsheet he’d created. “Hey, guys,” he said, “I think we can build this rocket ourselves.”
  • Someone taped twenty of the batteries together, put a heating strip wire into the bundle, and set it off. “It went up like a cluster of bottle rockets,” Lyons said. Instead of twenty batteries, the Roadster would have close to 7,000, and the thought of what an explosion at that scale would be like horrified the engineers.
  • After Iron Man came out, Favreau began talking up Musk’s role as the inspiration for Downey’s interpretation of Tony Stark. It was a stretch on many levels.
  • Musk told Riley, a virgin, that he wanted to show her his rockets. “I was skeptical, but he did actually show me rocket videos,” she said.
  •  “I hadn’t had an opportunity to buy a Christmas present for Talulah or anything,” he said. “I went running down the fucking street in Boulder, and the only place that was open sold these shitty trinkets, and they were about to close. The best thing I could find were these plastic monkeys with coconuts—those ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ monkeys.”
  • Hotshot college graduates have historically been forced to pick between a variety of slow-moving military contractors and interesting but ineffectual start-ups.
  • They would hand out blank envelopes that contained invitations to meet at a specific time and place, usually a bar or restaurant near the event, for an initial interview.
  • They’re asked to write an essay for Musk about why they want to work at SpaceX.
  • Musk, though, wanted his engineers to watch what was going on with the machines at all times and to make sure they had to walk through the factory and talk to the technicians on the way to their desks.
  • Just by streamlining a radio, for instance, SpaceX’s engineers have found that they can reduce the weight of the device by about 20 percent.
  • SpaceX will sometimes load a rocket with both the standard equipment and prototypes of its own design for testing during flight. Engineers then compare the performance characteristics of the devices.
  • company created an e-mail filter to detect messages with “blue” and “origin” to block the poaching.
  • He would quiz you until he learned ninety percent of what you know.”
  • SpaceX’s top managers work together to, in essence, create fake schedules that they know will please Musk but that are basically impossible to achieve.
  • One person putting in a sixteen-hour day ends up being much more effective than two people working eight-hour days together.
  • “The mantra was that one great engineer will replace three medium ones,” Lloyd said.
  • Since Musk never writes anything down, he held all the alterations in his head and would run down the checklist week by week to see what the engineers had fixed.
  • “We have to decide what is the best sun visor in the world and then do better,”
  • He’s very visual and can store things that others have deemed to look good away in his brain for recall at any time. This process has helped Musk develop a good eye, which he’s combined with his own sensibilities, while also refining his ability to put what he wants into words.
  • To the extent that the world still doubts Elon, I think it’s a reflection on the insanity of the world and not on the supposed insanity of Elon.”
  • Musk paid $1 million for the Lotus Esprit that Roger Moore drove underwater in The Spy Who Loved Me and wants to prove that such a vehicle can be done. “Maybe we’ll make two or three, but it wouldn’t be more than that,” Musk told the Independent newspaper. “I think the market for submarine cars is quite small.” At
  • As Page puts it, “Good ideas are always crazy until they’re not.”
  • “I’ve learned that your intuition about things you don’t know that much about isn’t very good,” Page said.
  • “It’s kind of our recreation, I guess,” said Page.23 “It’s fun for the three of us to talk about kind of crazy things, and we find stuff that eventually turns out to be real.
  • He’s willing to suffer some personal cost, and I think that makes his odds actually pretty good.
  • “I don’t think we’re doing a good job as a society deciding what things are really important to do,” Page said.
  • “Elon came to the conclusion early in his career that life is short,” Straubel said. “If you really embrace this, it leaves you with the obvious conclusion that you should be working as hard as you can.”
  • “There’s this point that Mike Judge makes in Idiocracy, which is like smart people, you know, should at least sustain their numbers,” Musk said.
  • “I would like to die on Mars,” he said. “Just not on impact. Ideally I’d like to go for a visit, come back for a while, and then go there when I’m like seventy or something and then just stay there.
  • If my wife and I have a bunch of kids, she would probably stay with them on Earth.”
  • ELON MUSK IS A BODY THAT REMAINS VERY MUCH IN MOTION.
  • He seems to feel for the human species as a whole without always wanting to consider the wants and needs of individuals. And it may well be the case that this is exactly the type of person it takes to make a freaking space Internet real.
  • it was a little difficult because like the Linux system Max had created was called Max Code. So Max has had quite a strong affinity for Max Code. This was a bunch of libraries that Max and his friends had done. But it just made it quite hard to develop new features. And if you look at PayPal today, I mean, part of the reason they haven’t developed any new features is because it’s quite difficult to maintain the old system.
  • “Square is doing the wrong version of PayPal.
  • “I mean, it’s so ridiculous that PayPal today is worse than PayPal circa end of 2001. That’s insane.
  • “None of these start-ups understand the objective. The objective should be—what delivers fundamental value.

Book: The Clock Of The Long Now: Time and Responsibility

“How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare?”

Long Now Foundation is a group of people focused on long-term thinking. “The clock of the long now,” an origin story of the 10000-year-old clock, being built in the Nevada desert.

I had the opportunity to hear about the 10000-year-old clock for the first time at our Automattic Grand meet up. Alexander Rose (Director of Long Now foundation ) has described the mechanism and importance of thinking in the long-term. That is him in the cover photo.

Why the clock?

The clock is a symbol of the time scale, an endeavor focused on the long term.

“Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.”

It will also be a heck of an Indiana-Jones-esque artifact after 10 000 years.

What is up with this long term thinking you keep mentioning?

We have something called the recency bias – urgent, fresh information tends to outweigh the timeless and essential. That is why the news is called “News” and not “Importants”.

“The difference between fast news and slow nonnews is what makes gambling addictive. Winning is an event that we notice and base our behavior on, while the relentless losing, losing, losing is a nonevent, inspiring no particular behavior,”

Long time ago, this made some sense. The pace at which information disseminated was much slower. “News” could have been week-old important information worth getting.

But the Internet changed all that. “News” is often a TV interview about a tweet reacting to another tweet about an article.

The flywheel of “fresh news” has been spinning so fast that nobody tends to look at decade-long projects anymore. It’s all about here and now and the last 30 seconds.

I thought Social Media is the culprit. It is very refreshing to read a book from the 2000’s describing this problem and using fashion, with its season-based cycle as the example of a pace that is way too fast.

As a sidetone, I think this is what has been appealing to me in my use of Quora. There is no timeline and no race to dominate the current “news cycle”. Just thoughtful answers and time put into quality and not immediacy.

Keep it up, old man!

One could make an argument, that “this is just the world now. It’s fast, and you have to keep up”.

But that thinking leads to a dangerous assumption:

Living in the now incentivizes cannibalising your long – term investments for short term returns. If everything we care about is the next 3 hours, let’s burn the forests to pay for convenience and deal with consequences later.

“If you make decisions that remove decision-making process from future generations, you are doing it wrong”

But some consequences are impossible to deal with later. On the other hand, the long-term perspective will incentivize “good” behavior, even for selfish reasons.

“In the long run saving yourself requires saving the whole world.”

My favorite nerdy quote from the book is:

“We’ll know the shift has happened when programmers begin to anticipate the Year 10,000 problem and assign five digits instead of four to year dates. “02002,” they’ll write, at first frivolously, then seriously.”

The question that stuck with me is:

“What can I build now that will last?”

My highlights

  • How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare?
  • What we propose is both a mechanism and a myth.
  • Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.
  • Manifestations of the overall project could range from fortune cookies to theme parks.
  • “The greatest good for the greatest number” means the longest good, because the majority of people affected is always yet to come.
  • The worst of destructive selfishness is not Me! but Me! Right now!
  • Braking time must match awareness time.
  • Kairos is the time of cleverness, chronos the time of wisdom.
  • According to a rule of thumb among engineers, any tenfold quantitative change is a qualitative change, a fundamentally new situation rather than a simple extrapolation.
  • “What people mean by the word technology,” says computer designer Alan Kay, “is anything invented since they were born.”
  • Later doublings in an exponential sequence, we come to realize, are absolutely ferocious. The changes no longer feel quantitative or qualitative but cataclysmic;
  • Among some enthusiasts there is even a consensus date for what they call the techno-rapture—2035 C.E., give or take a few years.
  • The word freefall is a pretty good descriptor for our times. It conveys the thrill of danger, the speeded-up rush, the glorious freedom, and the fall.
  • “More and more I find I want to be living in a Big Here and a Long Now.”
  • The shortest now is performed in a poem by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska: “When I pronounce the word Future, the first syllable already belongs to the past.”
  • When it returns in 4377 C.E., will anyone mention the name “Hale-Bopp”?
  • Note: Is it possible to send a time capsule or a signal to return to earth?
  • it would be awesome to talk to future foklk
  • time activated message
  • The trick is learning how to treat the last ten thousand years as if it were last week, and the next ten thousand as if it were next week. Such tricks confer advantage.
  • Fashion/art • Commerce • Infrastructure • Governance • Culture • Nature
  • In the Soviet Union government tried to ignore the constraints of culture and nature while forcing a Five-Year-Plan infrastructure pace on commerce and art. Thus cutting itself off from both support and innovation, the USSR was doomed.
  • The job of fashion and art is to be froth: quick, irrelevant, engaging, self-preoccupied, and cruel. Try this! No, no, try this!
  • Note: Oh god, its even worse now that we have social media
  • the occasional good idea or practice that sifts down to improve deeper levels, such as governance becoming responsive to opinion polls, or culture gradually accepting multiculturalism as structure instead of grist for entertainment.
  • Education is intellectual infrastructure; so is science. Very high yield, but delayed payback.
  • “In some sense, we’ve run out of our story, which was the story of taking power over nature. It’s not that we’ve finished that, but we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves, and we don’t know what the next story is after that.”
  • After an encounter with the Clock a visitor should be able to declare with feeling, “Whew. Time! And me in it.”
  • Clock/Library could provide, for a fee, time-mail service across generations forward.
  • Shinto complex in Japan known as the Ise Shrine.
  • “We don’t do eternity.”
  • To make the energy flow only one way he devised Grimthorpe’s double three-legged gravity escapement (Denison was later Lord Grimthorpe).
  • He would use an unreliable but accurate timer (solar alignment) to adjust an inaccurate but reliable timer (pendulum), creating a phase-locked loop.
  • Starting anew with a clean slate has been one of the most harmful ideas in history. It treats previous knowledge as an impediment and imagines that only present knowledge deployed in theoretical purity can make real the wondrous new vision.
  • Here’s the real fear. Thanks to proliferating optical-fiber land lines worldwide and the arrival of low-Earth-orbit data satellite systems such as Teledesic, we are in the process of building one vast global computer. (“The network is the computer,” proclaims Sun Microsystems.) This world computer could easily become the Legacy System from Hell that holds civilization hostage:
  • Digital storage is easy; digital preservation is hard. Preservation means keeping the stored information catalogued, accessible, and usable on current media, which requires constant effort and expense.
  • “The default condition of paper is persistence, if not interrupted; the default condition of electronic signals is interruption, if not periodically renewed.”
  • Lanier recommends employing artificial intelligences to keep the artifacts exercised through decades and centuries of forced contemporaneity,
  • We’ll know the shift has happened when programmers begin to anticipate the Year 10,000 problem and assign five digits instead of four to year dates. “02002,” they’ll write, at first frivolously, then seriously.
  • old underground limestone quarry at Les Baux, France, now a tourist attraction.
  • Time capsules, by the way, are a splendid and common future-oriented practice—hundreds of thousands have been buried—yet some 70 percent are completely lost track of almost immediately.
  • I am convinced that people behave better when they think they have free will. They take responsibility more and they think about their choices more. So I believe in free will,” said Herman Kahn.
  • suppose I could defend myself with Arthur Herman’s wonderful book, The Idea of Decline in Western History. He says that in Europe high-minded cultural pessimism began with the failure of the French Revolution and culminated in Nazi Germany. It was tremendously destructive. It still is.
  • In the long run saving yourself requires saving the whole world.
  • To produce the benefits of more cooperation in the world, Axelrod proves, all you need to do is lengthen the shadow of the future—that is, ensure more durable relationships. Thus marriage is common to every society, because trusting partners have an advantage over lone wolves.
  • The difference between fast news and slow nonnews is what makes gambling addictive. Winning is an event that we notice and base our behavior on, while the relentless losing, losing, losing is a nonevent, inspiring no particular behavior,
  • You need the space of continuity to have the confidence not to be afraid of revolutions.

Book: Brain Rules by John Medina

„The brain appears to be designed to (1) solve problems (2) related to surviving (3) in an unstable outdoor environment, and (4) to do so in nearly constant motion. I call this the brain’s performance envelope.”

We tend to perceive the human brain as a magical box that does its own thing regardless of the physical limitation. In some sense it is just that – It’s power is amazing and wonderful, but its also a part of our body.

Amazon Link

When we came down from the trees to the savannah, we did not say to ourselves, “Good Lord, give me a book and a lecture and a board of directors so that I can spend 10 years learning how to survive in this place.”

We often forget that It has needs and physical limitations drawing from the fact that it’s an organ like any other. John Medina is a molecular biologist that studied how the brain has developed and how it works. He came to the conclusion, that there are 12 rules. On how the brain operates:

  1. The human brain evolved, too.
  2. Exercise boosts brain power.
  3. Sleep well, think well.
  4. Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
  5. Every brain is wired differently.
  6. We don’t pay attention to boring things.
  7. Repeat to remember.
  8. Stimulate more of the senses.
  9. Vision trumps all other senses.
  10. Study or listen to boost cognition.
  11. Male and female brains are different.
  12. We are powerful and natural explorers.

Education system

„Taken together, what do the studies in this book show? Mostly this: If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom.”

It is just mind-boggling how every aspect of the school system is NOT designed to help kids learn. An almost every single one of these brain rules is violated.
What could we do to make it a little better?

  • Give space to move
  • Design to hold attention in 10-minute increments.
    • Start with key ideas to outline what you are explaining and then dive into details
    • „I decided that every lecture I’d ever give would be organized in segments and that each segment would last only 10 minutes. Each segment would cover a single core concept—always large, always general, and always explainable in one minute.”
  • Design for spaced repetition
  • Stimulate multiple senses at the same time, with relevant information. „Funny” illustrations don’t count. What you are complimenting, has to be relevant or it distracts.

There is an argument to be made for same-sex classes. Girls and Boys learn in a different way and Boys competitiveness may get in the way of Girls collaborative approach to learning math&science and vice versa for human sciences.

My Kindle Highlights

  • Exercise boosts brain power.
  • Sleep well, think well.
  • The brain appears to be designed to (1) solve problems (2) related to surviving (3) in an unstable outdoor environment, and (4) to do so in nearly constant motion. I call this the brain’s performance envelope.
  • Taken together, what do the studies in this book show? Mostly this: If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom.
  • Then World War I happened. It was the first major conflict where medical advances allowed large numbers of combatants to survive shrapnel injuries.
  • The solution? Give birth while the baby’s head is small enough to fit through the birth canal. The problem? You create childhood.
  • One of the greatest predictors of successful aging, they found, is the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Put simply, if you are a couch potato, you are more likely to age like Jim, if you make it to your 80s at all. If you have an active lifestyle, you are more likely to age like Frank Lloyd Wright—and much more likely to make it to your 90s.
  • A lifetime of exercise results in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary.
  • In the laboratory, the gold standard appears to be aerobic exercise, 30 minutes at a clip, two or three times a week. Add a strengthening regimen and you get even more cognitive benefit.
  • https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/08/how-steve-jobs-odd-habit-can-help-you-brainstorm-ideas.html
  • The main function of oxygen is to act like an efficient electron-absorbing sponge.
  • Physical activity is cognitive candy. Civilization, while giving us such seemingly forward advances as modern medicine and spatulas, also has had a nasty side effect. It gives us more opportunities to sit on our butts.
  • Our brains were built for walking—12 miles a day!
  • To improve your thinking skills, move.
  • Exercise gets blood to your brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.
  • If you are a public speaker, you already know it is darn near fatal to give a talk in the midafternoon.
  • One NASA study showed that a 26-minute nap reduced a flight crew’s lapses in awareness by 34 percent, compared to a control group who didn’t nap.
  • Mendeleyev says he came up with the idea in his sleep. Contemplating the nature of the universe while playing solitaire one evening, he nodded off. When he awoke, he knew how all of the atoms in the universe were organized, and he promptly created his famous table. Interestingly, he organized the atoms in repeating groups of seven, just the way you play solitaire.
  • A business of the future takes sleep schedules seriously.
  • •   Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.
  • As long as there is enough BDNF around, stress hormones cannot do their damage.
  • One of the greatest predictors of performance in school turns out to be the emotional stability of the home.
  • The perfect storm of occupational stress appears to be a combination of two factors: (1) a great deal is expected of you, and (2) you have no control over whether you will perform well.
  • Gottman and fellow researcher Alyson Shapiro an idea. What if he deployed his proven marital intervention strategies to married couples while the wife was pregnant?
  • Individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problem—you are helpless.
  • The brains of wild animals were 15 to 30 percent larger than those of their tame, domestic counterparts.
  • The surface of your skin, for example—all nine pounds of it—literally is deceased.
  • It is accurate to say that nearly every inch of your outer physical presentation to the world is dead.
  • Neurons go through a growth spurt and pruning project during the terrible twos and teen years.
  • “typically, attention increases from the beginning of the lecture to 10 minutes into the lecture and decreases after that point.”
  • Find a way to get and hold somebody’s attention for 10 minutes, then do it again.
  • What we can say for sure is that when your brain detects an emotionally charged event, your amygdala (a part of your brain that helps create and maintain emotions) releases the chemical dopamine into your system. Dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing.
  • If you want people to be able to pay attention, don’t start with details. Start with the key ideas and, in a hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions. Meaning before details. The
  • Step 1: Shift alert
  • Step 2: Rule activation for task #1
  • Step 3: Disengagement
  • Step 4: Rule activation for task #2
  • I decided that every lecture I’d ever give would be organized in segments, and that each segment would last only 10 minutes. Each segment would cover a single core concept—always large, always general, and always explainable in one minute.
  • Give the general idea first, before diving into details, and you will see a 40 percent improvement in understanding.
  • 1) The hook has to trigger an emotion.
  • 2) The hook has to be relevant.
  • 3) The hook has to go between segments.
  • Audiences check out after 10 minutes, but you can keep grabbing them back by telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion.
  • One does not recall how to ride a bike in the same way one recalls nine numbers in a certain order.
  • People usually forget 90 percent of what they learn in a class within 30 days. And the majority of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class.
  • It is called the “binding problem,” from the idea that certain thoughts are bound together in the brain to provide continuity.
  • The more closely we replicate the conditions at the moment of learning, the easier the remembering.
  • The more a learner focuses on the meaning of information being presented, the more elaborately he or she will process the information.
  • professional chess world’s first real rock star: Miguel Najdorf.
  • The typical human brain can hold about seven pieces of new information for less than 30 seconds!
  • Repetitions must be spaced out, not crammed in
  • System consolidation, the process of transforming a short-term memory into a long-term one, can take years to complete.
  • such a positive effect on learning that it forms the heart of Brain Rule #8: Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.
  • The Americans—steeped in the traditions of nothing—used guerrilla tactics:
  • Every sensory system must send a signal to the thalamus asking permission to connect to the higher levels of the brain where perception occurs—except for smell.
  • No matter how many times they did this, the visual portion of the brain always lighted up the strongest when the tactile response was paired with it. They could literally get a 30 percent boost in the visual system by introducing touch. This effect is called multimodal reinforcement.
  • The experimental group takes the test in a room smelling of popcorn. The second group blows away the first group in terms of number of events recalled, accuracy of events recalled, specific details, and so on. In some cases, they can accurately retrieve twice as many memories as the controls.
  • It works if you’re emotionally aroused—usually, that means mildly stressed—before the experiment begins. For some reason, showing a film of young Australian aboriginal males being circumcised is a favorite way to do this.
  • Multimedia principle: Students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. Temporal contiguity principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively. Spatial contiguity principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near to each other rather than far from each other on the page or screen. Coherence principle: Students learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included. Modality principle: Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.
  • Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.
  • This means you can damage the region of the brain in charge of, say, motion, and get an extraordinary deficit. You’d be able to see and identify objects quite clearly, but not tell whether the objects are stationary or moving. This happened to a patient known to scientists as L.M. It’s called cerebral akinetopsia, or motion blindness. L.M. perceives a moving object as a progressive series of still snapshots—like looking at an animator’s drawings one page at a time. This can be quite hazardous. When L.M. crosses the street, for example, she can see a car, but she does not know if it is actually coming at her.
  • As the complexity of objects in our world increases, we are capable of remembering fewer objects over our lifetimes.
  • Pictorial information may be initially more attractive to consumers, in part because it takes less effort to comprehend.
  • Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources.
  • Music training improves something useful for academics, right? Yes: spatiotemporal reasoning.
  • biochemical. It is a surprisingly well-established fact that music can induce hormonal changes. These changes result in alterations of mood.
  • He and his colleagues have found that when people hear their very favorite music (I mean spine-tingling, awe-inspiring, fly-me-to-the-moon music), their bodies dump dopamine into a specific part of their brain.
  • music that gives you goose bumps (called “musical frisson”),
  • During World War I, hospitals in the UK employed musicians to play for wounded soldiers in convalescence.
  • Formal musical training improves intellectual skills in several cognitive domains. Music boosts spatiotemporal skills, vocabulary, picking out sounds in a noisy environment, working memory, and sensory-motor skills.
  • This means that cells in the female embryo are a complex mosaic of both active and inactive mom-and-pop X genes.
  • Exercise boosts brain power.
  • Sleep well, think well.
  • The brain appears to be designed to (1) solve problems (2) related to surviving (3) in an unstable outdoor environment, and (4) to do so in nearly constant motion. I call this the brain’s performance envelope.
  • Taken together, what do the studies in this book show? Mostly this: If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom.
  • Then World War I happened. It was the first major conflict where medical advances allowed large numbers of combatants to survive shrapnel injuries.
  • The solution? Give birth while the baby’s head is small enough to fit through the birth canal. The problem? You create childhood.
  • One of the greatest predictors of successful aging, they found, is the presence or absence of a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Put simply, if you are a couch potato, you are more likely to age like Jim, if you make it to your 80s at all. If you have an active lifestyle, you are more likely to age like Frank Lloyd Wright—and much more likely to make it to your 90s.
  • A lifetime of exercise results in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary.
  • In the laboratory, the gold standard appears to be aerobic exercise, 30 minutes at a clip, two or three times a week. Add a strengthening regimen and you get even more cognitive benefit.
  • Your lifetime risk for general dementia is literally cut in half if you participate in physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise reduces your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent. How
  • The main function of oxygen is to act like an efficient electron-absorbing sponge.
  • Physical activity is cognitive candy. Civilization, while giving us such seemingly forward advances as modern medicine and spatulas, also has had a nasty side effect. It gives us more opportunities to sit on our butts.
  • Our brains were built for walking—12 miles a day!
  • To improve your thinking skills, move.
  • Exercise gets blood to your brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.
  • If you are a public speaker, you already know it is darn near fatal to give a talk in the midafternoon.
  • One NASA study showed that a 26-minute nap reduced a flight crew’s lapses in awareness by 34 percent, compared to a control group who didn’t nap.
  • Mendeleyev says he came up with the idea in his sleep. Contemplating the nature of the universe while playing solitaire one evening, he nodded off. When he awoke, he knew how all of the atoms in the universe were organized, and he promptly created his famous table. Interestingly, he organized the atoms in repeating groups of seven, just the way you play solitaire.
  • A business of the future takes sleep schedules seriously.
  • Given the data about a good night’s rest, organizations might tackle their most intractable problems by having the entire “solving team” go on a mini-retreat. Once arrived, employees would be presented with the problem and asked to think about solutions. But they would not start coming to conclusions, or even begin sharing ideas with each other, before they had slept about eight hours. When they awoke, would the same increase in problem-solving rates available in the lab also be available to that team? It’s worth finding out.
  • •   Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.
  • As long as there is enough BDNF around, stress hormones cannot do their damage.
  • One of the greatest predictors of performance in school turns out to be the emotional stability of the home.
  • The perfect storm of occupational stress appears to be a combination of two factors: (1) a great deal is expected of you, and (2) you have no control over whether you will perform well.
  • Gottman and fellow researcher Alyson Shapiro an idea. What if he deployed his proven marital intervention strategies to married couples while the wife was pregnant?
  • Individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problem—you are helpless.
  • The brains of wild animals were 15 to 30 percent larger than those of their tame, domestic counterparts.
  • The surface of your skin, for example—all nine pounds of it—literally is deceased.
  • It is accurate to say that nearly every inch of your outer physical presentation to the world is dead.
  • Neurons go through a growth spurt and pruning project during the terrible twos and teen years.
  • “typically, attention increases from the beginning of the lecture to 10 minutes into the lecture and decreases after that point.”
  • Find a way to get and hold somebody’s attention for 10 minutes, then do it again.
  • What we can say for sure is that when your brain detects an emotionally charged event, your amygdala (a part of your brain that helps create and maintain emotions) releases the chemical dopamine into your system. Dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing.
  • If you want people to be able to pay attention, don’t start with details. Start with the key ideas and, in a hierarchical fashion, form the details around these larger notions. Meaning before details. The
  • Step 1: Shift alert
  • Step 2: Rule activation for task #1
  • Step 3: Disengagement
  • Step 4: Rule activation for task #2
  • I decided that every lecture I’d ever give would be organized in segments, and that each segment would last only 10 minutes. Each segment would cover a single core concept—always large, always general, and always explainable in one minute.
  • Give the general idea first, before diving into details, and you will see a 40 percent improvement in understanding.
  • 1) The hook has to trigger an emotion.
  • 2) The hook has to be relevant.
  • 3) The hook has to go between segments.
  • Audiences check out after 10 minutes, but you can keep grabbing them back by telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion.
  • One does not recall how to ride a bike in the same way one recalls nine numbers in a certain order.
  • People usually forget 90 percent of what they learn in a class within 30 days. And the majority of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class.
  • It is called the “binding problem,” from the idea that certain thoughts are bound together in the brain to provide continuity.
  • The more closely we replicate the conditions at the moment of learning, the easier the remembering.
  • The more a learner focuses on the meaning of information being presented, the more elaborately he or she will process the information.
  • professional chess world’s first real rock star: Miguel Najdorf.
  • The typical human brain can hold about seven pieces of new information for less than 30 seconds!
  • Repetitions must be spaced out, not crammed in
  • System consolidation, the process of transforming a short-term memory into a long-term one, can take years to complete.
  • such a positive effect on learning that it forms the heart of Brain Rule #8: Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.
  • The Americans—steeped in the traditions of nothing—used guerrilla tactics:
  • Every sensory system must send a signal to the thalamus asking permission to connect to the higher levels of the brain where perception occurs—except for smell.
  • No matter how many times they did this, the visual portion of the brain always lighted up the strongest when the tactile response was paired with it. They could literally get a 30 percent boost in the visual system by introducing touch. This effect is called multimodal reinforcement.
  • The experimental group takes the test in a room smelling of popcorn. The second group blows away the first group in terms of number of events recalled, accuracy of events recalled, specific details, and so on. In some cases, they can accurately retrieve twice as many memories as the controls.
  • It works if you’re emotionally aroused—usually, that means mildly stressed—before the experiment begins. For some reason, showing a film of young Australian aboriginal males being circumcised is a favorite way to do this.
  • Multimedia principle: Students learn better from words and pictures than from words alone. Temporal contiguity principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively. Spatial contiguity principle: Students learn better when corresponding words and pictures are presented near to each other rather than far from each other on the page or screen. Coherence principle: Students learn better when extraneous material is excluded rather than included. Modality principle: Students learn better from animation and narration than from animation and on-screen text.
  • Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.
  • This means you can damage the region of the brain in charge of, say, motion, and get an extraordinary deficit. You’d be able to see and identify objects quite clearly, but not tell whether the objects are stationary or moving. This happened to a patient known to scientists as L.M. It’s called cerebral akinetopsia, or motion blindness. L.M. perceives a moving object as a progressive series of still snapshots—like looking at an animator’s drawings one page at a time. This can be quite hazardous. When L.M. crosses the street, for example, she can see a car, but she does not know if it is actually coming at her.
  • As the complexity of objects in our world increases, we are capable of remembering fewer objects over our lifetimes.
  • Pictorial information may be initially more attractive to consumers, in part because it takes less effort to comprehend.
  • Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources.
  • Music training improves something useful for academics, right? Yes: spatiotemporal reasoning.
  • biochemical. It is a surprisingly well-established fact that music can induce hormonal changes. These changes result in alterations of mood.
  • He and his colleagues have found that when people hear their very favorite music (I mean spine-tingling, awe-inspiring, fly-me-to-the-moon music), their bodies dump dopamine into a specific part of their brain.
  • music that gives you goose bumps (called “musical frisson”),
  • During World War I, hospitals in the UK employed musicians to play for wounded soldiers in convalescence.
  • Formal musical training improves intellectual skills in several cognitive domains. Music boosts spatiotemporal skills, vocabulary, picking out sounds in a noisy environment, working memory, and sensory-motor skills.
  • This means that cells in the female embryo are a complex mosaic of both active and inactive mom-and-pop X genes.
  • commotion seems to be the central currency of a little boy’s social economy.
  • Doing things physically together is the glue that cements their relationships.
  • Boys might say, “Do this.” Girls would say, “Let’s do this.” Styles
  • 1) Emotions are useful. They make the brain pay attention. 2) Men and women process certain emotions differently. 3) The differences are a product of complex interactions between nature and nurture.
  • Previously a strong advocate for mixed-sex classes, the teacher wondered aloud if that made any sense. Yet if the girls started losing the math-and-science battle in the third grade, the teacher reasoned, they were not likely to excel in the coming years. She obliged. It took only two weeks to close the performance gap.
  • Men and women respond differently to acute stress: Women activate the left hemisphere’s amygdala and remember the emotional details. Men activate the right hemisphere’s amygdala and get the gist.
  • Babies are born with a deep desire to understand the world around them and an incessant curiosity that compels them to aggressively explore it.
  • When we came down from the trees to the savannah, we did not say to ourselves, “Good Lord, give me a book and a lecture and a board of directors so that I can spend 10 years learning how to survive in this place.”
  • Extraordinarily, my mother was waiting. Just as quickly as my whim changed, the house
  • I firmly believe that if children are allowed to remain curious, they will continue to deploy their natural tendencies to discover and explore until they are 101.