Nudges have been taking the world of economics by storm. But how can they help us make better decisions?
One of my favorite shrines I had the chance to visit in Japan was the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto. The shrine grounds are uniquely picturesque—the winding pathways are scattered with miniature shrines and lined with thousands of orange torii gates. I had a hard time resisting the urge to take photos as we strolled through the mountainside.
As a result, I took roughly fifty iPhone photos of Fushimi Inari, all of which can be found in my personal photo library. But these fifty photos pale in comparison to the thousands of professional photos that are readily available with a quick google image search of “kyoto fushimi inari.” I was completely aware of the plethora of photos available on google as I made my way through the shrine, yet I chose to take my own iPhone photos.
Beyond this, nearly every one of my friends chose to take their own photos of the exact same scene. This happens everywhere—concerts, sporting events, gorgeous landscapes—you name it. With the advent of cell phones and personal cameras, it has become commonplace to see a handful of people photographing identical scenes.
There are two main reasons why someone might take a photo: (1) to share the moment, or (2) to remember the moment. A professional photo is often adequately suited, if not preferred for either purpose. With this in mind, artists like Jack White have hired professional photographers for their shows, providing concert-goers with free, high-quality photos and allowing people to devote their undivided attention to the present moment. But people still attempt to take their own photos…why?
The IKEA Effect
A possible explanation lies in what researchers have termed the IKEA effect. At it’s core, the IKEA effect posits the idea that labor leads to love. Researchers have found that consumers tend to assign a higher value to products they have self-assembled than to pre-assembled products of similar quality. In our minds, the addition of our own labor increases the value of a product.
You might value the coffee table you assembled from IKEA more than the one your friend bought pre-assembled at Target, though they are in large part identical. Yours might even be more likely to fall apart in a few months.
This example deals with the furniture in your house, but the same could be said for the photos in your camera roll.
You might like the concert photo you took with your iPhone last weekend more than the one another concertgoer took with professional equipment, though they both capture the same thing. Your photo might even be a bit blurrier and hard to make out. Still, you will most certainly show your own photo to your friends—you might even make a print of it to hang on your wall.
The Balance of Time
As technology improves our ability to take a quality photo with little technical knowledge, it reduces the need for professional equipment and skill. Anyone with a phone can and will do it—the amount of labor required is minimal, and the increase in (personal) valuation is significant.
Unfortunately, such a system incentivizes us to lose sight of the present moment and its inherent beauty. We do not want to forget what we want to remember. As a result, our efforts are aimed at preserving the option to remember the present moment at a later date—an action which prompts us to discount the present moment in favor of the future.
There must be a way to preserve the sanctity of the present moment while keeping this option for future remembrance open. I believe the answer to this dilemma lies somewhere in our ability to overcome the IKEA effect—the mechanism which prompts our increased valuation for similar goods, merely because we took the photo.
A couple of weeks ago, the 11-piece indie-folk behemoth Typhoon released their first new song in four years. It clocks in at a staggering twenty-one minutes. The song is the first of four movements, which will constitute their new album Offerings.
In a world driven by singles and digital streaming, the choice to structure an album in movements rather than individual songs presents interesting implications for the listening experience. As listening mediums evolve, listeners have been given more control over which songs they listen to and in what order. Artists can no longer resort to the use of music formats as a safeguard for preserving the sequential structure of their album.
Typhoon’s decision to offer four movements rather than twelve songs presents a creative solution to this problem. This structural design serves as a mechanism for controlling the way listeners experience so as to elicit a specific emotional response. As the options for controlling the sequential order of an album dwindles, artists must find other ways to steer listeners towards their desired progression of tracks.
From Vinyl to Digital
The evolution of listening mediums (Vinyl—CD—Digital) has redesigned the way we experience music. As we have transitioned from vinyl to streaming, the power of catering the listening experience has shifted from musicians to listeners themselves.
Though musicians control the track-list of their album, each successive medium has given listeners more power to craft their own experience.
Vinyl records provide listeners with one primary decision to alter the album’s sequence—they can choose when to play each side (A—>B or B—>A). Individual songs can be skipped, but it requires a significant amount of effort relative to other mediums.
CDs allow listeners to cater their listening experience through the ability to (1) skip/rewind with ease and (2) re-arrange the track sequence. CDs give the listener immediate control to skip a song they dislike or switch between tracks quickly. They also allow the listener to burn their own desired sequence of the album’s songs, though it would take considerable time and effort.
While CDs gave listeners the ability to seek and re-arrange songs, digital music improved the ease and speed at which they can do so. Songs can be skipped with precision, and new playlists with the desired track-listings can be created in a matter of seconds.
As these mediums evolve, listeners have been given more ability to impact the sequential structure of an album, and thus the listening experience itself.
(Un)constrained Listener Choice
A central implication of this evolution is that listeners are no longer forced to listen to an album in the order intended by the musician.
Music, like all art forms, is beautiful because each individual has their own emotional experience with it—there is no one “right” interpretation. That being said, musicians may structure their composition to elicit a specific emotional response at a specific time. If this is the case, then the sequential order of a track-list becomes an essential component of the piece of music.
The listener’s own unique experience and interpretation is important; however, the integrity of the album’s sequential structure is often of equal importance.
As technology and music continue to evolve, it becomes more difficult to preserve the structural integrity of an album as the music is increasingly distributed through digital channels.
Typhoon’s decision to structure their new album in four movements seems to be a deliberate attempt to preserve the structural and sequential integrity of the composition in the modern age. The band has employed the use of movements in order to control the listening experience more directly, introducing an additional step in the hierarchical structure of the album.
Listeners no longer have the ability to rearrange or skip the songs of an album, but rather they are restricted to the ability to rearrange or skip the movements, which are comprised of individual songs.
Each movement presents a distinct emotional experience, and the songs within them cannot be shifted around or skipped—Typhoon is controlling the experience so as to evoke a specific mindset or emotion.
As options for ensuring that a listener will follow of sequential order of an album dwindle, artists must explore other methods of preserving their artistic intentions. Typhoon’s structural choice of movements rather than songs presents an intriguing mechanism to maintain (some) control over their intended listening experience.
The album will not be released until January 12th, but Typhoon’s choice to employ a unique approach to the sequential structure of their album injects an antiquated model into a modern world.
A few weeks ago, we played a game in my Procurement and Supply Chain class—the beer game.
Contrary to the schema that was just invoked in your mind, and unfortunately for the participants, the beer game involves no actual beer. Rather, the game simulates the challenges of distribution through multiple levels of a supply chain and illustrates the bullwhip effect.
Players occupy different levels of the chain (i.e. retail, wholesale, distributor, factory), and each each hopes to match supply and demand.
The big catch is that players cannot talk to each other; they communicate only by placing and filling orders. You can learn more about the game here, but the gist of the game is that mistakes are made and uncertainty is amplified up the supply chain at increasing levels.
The game induces a battery of emotions for participants. People experience frustration, anger, and confusion, and people often resort to blame.
Something went wrong, and assigning blame is the quickest way to a conclusion—it requires little by way of thinking and it shifts the burden from ourselves to others.
Before proposing a solution to the problem, our Professor asked us to brainstorm the emotions we felt, individually and then as a group. We shared and he said, “I want you to anchor this feeling.” He paused and let it sink in before warning us, “remember this feeling—you will feel it again.”
It’s easy to operate in a framework of problem and solution—the problem is x and the solution is y—but it’s more complicated than that.
These simulations often illustrate problems and then jump to solutions immediately, overlooking feelings experienced in the process. Problems generate strong emotional responses, which can cloud our judgement and produce poor solutions.
Glazing over the emotions creates an implicit assumption that either (a) people do not have emotional responses, or (b) the emotional response is trivial. This is simply not true—people will have emotional responses.
The important thing is that we understand how our emotions shape our decisions and how we can best account for them. We will feel frustration, anger, and confusion, and acknowledging it’s existence, validity, and importance will improve our ability to cope with it.
When sharing ideas with others, we often find ourselves hurling towards the communication barrier known as idea pride.
Idea pride is the deep pleasure we derive from our own understanding of an idea, the gist of it and the minutiae alike.
On a surface level, pride is an indication that our idea matters to us—that we care about effectively sharing our idea—but a little pride can go a long way. Pride gets in the way of itself, and we begin to care so much about the nuances of our idea that we neglect the gist.
We hold an intricate understanding of an idea in our heads, and we are often driven by an urge to impart every detail of our understanding to others. This tendency to focus on ensuring that the other’s perception of an idea equates to our own stems directly from our idea pride.
Bogging ideas down
When we care so much about an idea, we are prone to micro-managing another person’s understanding of the idea. This happens because we already have an understanding of the idea’s core, and our interest is focused on the applications and nuances of the idea. We overwhelm people by showing them every single angle of the idea, illustrating it’s full potential and beauty.
We do not need every nuance of a painting explained for us to appreciate it.
True thought leaders cannot let pride get in the way of effective communication. It is ok if our message is not understood completely as we perceive it in our heads—the minutiae can wait. Focus on finding and communicating the core of an idea so as to set others off on their own expedition of discovery and understanding.
The Goal of Sharing Ideas
Let them bend the idea—let them twist it in every which way. Let them cover up portions of the painting—let them add a whole new layer. The idea will only evolve and get stronger as each person adds their own unique twist.
We don’t need a million Mona Lisas; we already have one. We’d be better off with a thousand paintings that stem from the understanding and appreciation of Mona Lisa’s core message.
When communicating our ideas, we are paralyzed by the minutiae, and we overlook the importance of conveying the simple message of our idea’s core. Our pride gets in the way—we like our ideas a bit too much, and many of the trivial nuances, though interesting, should be omitted when communicating an idea. Beyond an idea’s core, we should not be overly concerned, hurt, or disappointed if the details are lost in translation.
——When you fight fire with fire you’ll only make bigger flames——
Last week, a group of middle aged men were on campus circling the plaza as they made everyone blatantly aware of their beliefs by shouting out their stances on controversial political issues. Garbed in their “Evolution is a Lie” hoodies, these men took turns rotating positions; one shouting from the vantage point of a rock, and the other two circling around the pathways fielding questions.
From what I understood, their ultimate goal was to persuade people to the way of their God. How effective they were? One can only assume they made more enemies than friends and prompted their opposition to dig their heels in further.
They were quite aggressive in their viewpoints—unafraid of, even hoping to get under the skin of every passerby. Verbal attacks put people on the defensive and escalate aggression, throwing any possibility of a civilized conversation out the window.
Most people who walk by will either ignore them or shout out a one-liner in response, hoping to point out a flaw in their reasoning. This attempt at disarmament is just as ineffective as the other’s attempt at religious conversion.
One side tosses out a fiery statement of opinion only to be met with the fury of another’s own statement of opinion. In an environment like this, each side has an understanding of what they expect to hear, and it’s likely that the only thing they hear is that very thing they expected.
Things escalate quickly because both parties are essentially spewing their own point of views at each other, with little effort to understand the other side.
Fear met with fear begets more fear, and a stalemate of ideas occurs—neither side will budge.
A well crafted question will often be more effective at disarmament than a equally well crafted statement.
A question introduces a feedback loop into mix, making it more of a conversation than a shouting match.
People often fall back on opinionated statements to best convey their point of view, but the presentation of a question can also convey a perspective effectively. The real beauty of the question in this environment is it’s ability to serve as a mechanism to call malarkey.
If someone isn’t listening to your opinions via the statements you’re projecting, it’s difficult to call them out because there are few external indicators. On the flip-side, if someone doesn’t answer your question, it’s easier to call them out because there is more of an external indication. Did they attempt to answer the question or not?
The ideal dialogue between two opposing parties would be representative of a quest for understanding rather than triumph, and questions would be an essential part of the process.
When put on the defensive, is our default to respond with a fiery statement or a well-crafted question? Which default would induce a more beneficial outcome?
Meet fiery statements with fiery statements and the flames grow higher. Meet fiery statement with questions for understanding, and at the very least, you halt the growth of the flames.
In pursuit of our goals, we’re plagued by two central struggles: making the leap into the jungle and staying there.
The jungle is unfamiliar, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s challenging, but we grow most in the jungle. Our first task is to convince ourselves to make the leap into the jungle from the comfort of the zoo. After we make the leap, our task becomes convincing ourselves to stay in the jungle.
The mental obstacle that is presented to us while attempting to stay in the jungle is an obstacle defined by a relentless internal debate.
Should I keep challenging myself in the jungle, or should I retreat back to my comfy, steel-barred cage? Should I run another mile, or should I head back home?
When we’re in the jungle, we doubt ourselves and we question our abilities, searching for any reason to quit. This doubt and need for assurance builds the foundation of the mental debate between our ears.
The questions and doubts rarely stop, and if they do it’s only a momentary cease-fire.
Success in overcoming this type of mental obstacle is a function of the argument’s duration and diversion.
So long as you can outlast the obstacle by making a captivating argument, you will stay in the jungle. An implication of this is that you must be effective at arguing both sides of the argument—even the ones which appeal to your calculated, rational thoughts more than your irrational, impulsive ones.
Making the leap into the jungle only requires that you win the initial argument, whereas staying in the jungle requires that you make sure the argument goes on for as long as possible.
If you’re going to be mentally tough, you better be good at arguing. But of course, you must be able to engage both sides of the argument, even the ones you don’t like. The important part of the internal argument is that you can keep the debate heated and interesting long enough for you to cross the finish line.
Most Advanced Yet Acceptable
Humans are driven by the two opposing forces of neophilia and neophobia. We’re innately attracted to what’s new, but we are apprehensive when we do not understand it.
These are the underpinnings of industrial design giant Richard Loewy’s concept of MAYA. MAYA is an acronym for Most Advanced Yet Acceptable, and it has been presented as the key to selling anything.
The idea is to find the threshold where a product is innovative, yet intuitively understood. Once found, this threshold represents the ‘optimal newness’ needed for an idea or product to take hold. People want a fresh take on an old classic.
Products and ideas that merely regurgitate previous ones have little pull, but being too novel can also diminish their allure. We can graph this phenomenon, illustrating the general idea of how novelty affects our interest.
The optimal newness of an idea or product is the point at which we experience the most advanced, yet acceptable—MAYA.
In their book Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath explore why certain ideas endure and others die out. They present concreteness as an essential component of sticky ideas. Abstract ideas are difficult to grasp, nearly impossible to visualize, and provide us with little to latch onto. Concrete ideas are easily visualized and understood because they take advantage of the building blocks which already occupy our minds.
Our ideas and how we convey them will move along the concrete-abstract spectrum as the language or medium we use to explain them changes.
Your economics professor using complex economic terms to describe a demand curve leans abstract. When your professor draws the demand curve on a graph, it veers more concrete. When your professor constructs a demand curve by polling how much soda each student would buy as the price increases, it hones in on the concrete.
The Heath brothers suggest that we speak in concrete terms if we want our ideas to stick. Abstract confuses, concrete conveys. Humans can’t grasp the abstract without additional effort, and humans often avoid that which is not intuitive, as the principle of MAYA illustrates.
Reinforcing MAYA with Concrete
Our ideas can benefit a great deal from this understanding of how to sell using the Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable principle and why speaking in concrete terms is better than abstract ones.
The more novel something is, the more abstract it becomes. When sharing our ideas, we want to avoid veering too far into abstraction, but we need a certain degree of novelty to intrigue.
People are afraid of anything that’s too new, but they want something “new enough.” They want that slight jolt of excitement.
People are afraid of anything that makes them think too hard. They want simple ideas that are easily understood.
People want the Most Advanced Yet Acceptable idea, and they want it in concrete terms.
Let’s draw a picture.
It is the picture of a man purchasing a car from a car salesman. Buying a car is not easy, and the customer must decide between two types of cars: Car A and Car B.
Car A is the experimental model with copious amenities–it has USB ports, bluetooth technology, and it’s own app store. Car B is the simplistic model with no extravagant features–it comes only with necessities.
Both cars will get him where he needs to go, but Car A is obviously built for the modern era, whereas Car B emulates the long-standing tradition of cars that predate it.
The customer knows that Car A, and it’s promise of total integration, will impress his friends; however, he also knows that Car B, though lacking in flashy features, is less complicated and likely more reliable.
For this reason, Car A comes at a premium–a premium for technology which may very well become obsolete during the car’s lifespan. What’s to say that USB ports and app stores won’t be replaced by some new technology next year? Car B seems old fashioned; it’s been stripped down to only the technology deemed necessary.
The customer would love the latest and greatest, but its promise comes laced with uncertainty. When the option of the old standby exists, the uncertainty is amplified, and it becomes harder to make a choice.
Ideas, just like car models, are constantly evolving, and we’re faced with the same clash of old and the new as the customer shopping for a car.
New and Old
What’s ‘new’ is often attractive, captivating, and incredibly relevant to the times. It’s easier than ever to publish content, which means it’s easier than ever to share ideas–generally a benefit to society. But, a potential downfall of this is the increased difficulty in valuing the new and the old.
Many of the ideas, products, and media that we encounter fall into one of two broad categories:
- Hyper-relevant: ideas incredibly important in the modern context. Social media. Diets. Trends. The new.
- Tried-and-true: ideas from a previous era that maintain their relevance in the modern context. Stoicism. Dale Carnegie. Lasting. The old.
Both categories are scattered, and often intertwined, throughout our world.
How are we to know when it is best to engage with ideas of the hyper-relevant nature, the new, and when to favor the tried-and-true variety, the old.
Ideally, we would consume information built on a foundation of the tried-and-true, and presented in a hyper-relevant way.
Ryan Holiday does this well in The Obstacle is the Way. Stoic teachings that have lasted for hundreds of years are presented with examples and applications relevant in our modern era. The old is blended with the new, and we’re left with an enduring idea.
Unfortunately, our intake is rarely comprised of this ideal blend, and we’re often left with this question: this very moment, is the old or the new more valuable to me?
The Difficulty of Valuation
The age of an idea is not particularly important; it really only acts as a measuring stick to see if an idea holds water.
The words of any book still standing long after publication are likely to have some merit. If a book is still held in high regard 75 years after its initial release, it is likely more than just a fad. Their ideas have stood the test of time and are thus tried-and-true.
The same measuring stick provides little indication of worth for a recently published book. It’s difficult to know how a book’s ideas will hold up over time when it’s only been available for a year. New books are written to address new phenomenons and introduce new ideas or perspectives; their content is often hyper-relevant to our modern times.
This makes intuitive sense; we wouldn’t want all of our books to address old phenomenons and ideas. If social media blows up, people want to know about how to master it, and people will write and buy books about the topic. A book about Instagram or Facebook might be incredibly valuable right now, but in five years the two platforms may be completely different, or even non-existent.
How To Approach The Feud
Acknowledging this volatility, should I focus on the intake of new, hyper-relevant information or old, tried-and-true information?
As with most, this is a question which does not have a definite answer. The value of the question arises from the thought it prompts, rather than the answer it may lead to.
Think of a small business owner who wants to learn about marketing. Should they target their efforts towards social media marketing skills, or should they aim to study more traditional marketing thought? Social media’s power is unparalleled right now, but this could change in the next few years.
A hyper-relevant book might lead to incredible returns with relative ease during the social media boom, but the skills might not directly transfer over to future platforms. A tried-and-true book might lack modern context and application might seem more difficult initially, but the foundation might allow for easier transitions to future platforms.
Both types of ideas, hyper-relevant and tried-and-true, are important; neither should be wholly neglected. Tried-and-true ideas are more versatile and can be applied more creatively. Hyper-relevant ideas are more precise and help in the execution of a more specific problem. Both are useful components of a toolbox, and having an understanding of them will improve how effective you are in using them.
Constraints have an image problem.
All too often, the word “constraints” conjures up images of frustration. A quick google image search of the word “constraints” results in pages of figures chained down and locked up.
Our culture easily perpetuates the idea that constraints are something to be viewed negatively. We are led to desire endless variety and superfluous choice; a culture very much at odds with constraints.
An idea that is seldom shared is this: constraints can actually improve our lives. We’re bombarded with excessive stimuli at every corner, making it tricky to navigate the relentless onslaught of options we encounter on a daily basis. We’re often stuck with too broad a spotlight, and we need to narrow our focus if we want any chance of making a decision or starting a project.
Deliberate and carefully placed constraints can be effective tool to help guide our creative and our professional endeavors.
Quotes have become commonplace in our everyday lives.
They’re on our billboards. They’re on our tee shirts and phone cases. They’re in the final lines of our emails. Ask anyone for their favorite quote and they will surely rattle off a line or two.
But given their ubiquitous nature, quotes are oft-forgotten as an art form, even though they occupy a unique space in the world of artistic mediums.
As an art form, the quote is distinguishable from other mediums through it’s derivational nature, it’s contextual freedom, and it’s portability. These inherent qualities create a high density platform for expression of the shared human experience.
Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the final post in a series examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the five variables affecting coffee extraction: temperature, brew ratios, agitation, time, and grind size. The manipulation of these variables allows us to control the brewing process.
Parallels between these variables and the variables that impact our everyday lives can easily be drawn:
While the exact comparison may differ from person to person, the point is this: there are variables in our lives that we have control over, and the interaction of those variables determines the end result of our work.
Focus may be hard to conceptualize. Balance may seem difficult in practice. Curiosity may seem arbitrary or random. Whether or not these specific variables resonate with every individual is not important.
What’s important is the process of thinking about the variables we can control in our lives and how they interact with each other. Think of a set of intensity sliders that allow us to increase or decrease each variable.Too much or too little intensity can produce undesirable results; brewing at the extremes can lead to over-extraction or under-extraction. Working to find the optimal balance will leave us better than before.
Metaphors provide tremendous insight into our lives, and they’re beautiful because they bend. A metaphor is not an exact definition; it’s a pliable framework.
Finding metaphors that allow us to improve our understanding of ourselves and the world around us helps us lead better lives. Coffee extraction is one that resonates with me, but it certainly does not have to resonate with you.
There is no “one” perfect brew recipe, there is no “one” perfect metaphor for life, and there is certainly no “one” way to live a fulfilling life. Which metaphors work for you?
Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the fifth in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.
Grind size—the resulting particle size of coffee beans after grinding.
A coarse grind creates few, but large chunks of a coffee bean. There is less total surface area and more time is required for the water to penetrate and dissolve flavor compounds. A fine grind creates many, but small chunks of a coffee bean. There is more total surface area and less time is required for the water to penetrate and dissolve flavor compounds.
Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the fourth in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.
•We can alter the temperature of our water by applying more heat or allowing it to cool.
•We can alter the ratio of coffee to water by adding more or less coffee.
•We can alter the amount of agitation by increasing or decreasing the frequency of our pouring and stirring.
•We can alter the surface area of our coffee by changing our grind size.
The very nature of each of these variables allows them to be altered. The fact that these variables can be easily manipulated is what differentiates them from time.
Time itself cannot be altered; time will pass regardless of what we do. We can only alter what we do with our time. Read More
Last week, we discussed Bayes’s Theorem briefly. We used a simple example of walking into a classroom and observe three people wearing different shirts.
This week, we are going to utilize this same example, but we will examine the mechanics of what’s happening through the lens of Bayes’s Theorem.
To do this, we will take a quick look at Bayes’s Theorem and then use its predictive insights to shed some light on our previous example and provide additional understanding of our own intuition.
Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the third in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.
Agitation—the introduction of turbulence to coffee grounds, usually through stirring or pouring.
Increase the agitation to improve the circulation of coffee grounds and water. As circulation improves, coffee’s flavor compounds are more quickly and easily dissolved as each particle’s total surface area is constantly exposed to circulating water.
The extraction rate increases.
Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the second in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.
A brew ratio—the amount of coffee used in relation to the amount of water used.
Increase the ratio of coffee to water, and there are more water molecules than coffee particles. As the number of water molecules increases, they can now dissolve more flavor compounds from the coffee. This increases extraction because the water dissolves all of the flavor compounds, even the undesirable ones. Read More
Making coffee is a relatively simple process; coffee’s flavor compounds are extracted using water as a solvent. But, we can affect the extraction rate of a coffee through five variables: temperature, agitation, time, ratio, and grind size. This is the first in a series of six posts examining the factors affecting extraction in coffee and what they can teach us about the daily pursuits we engage in.
Temperature—the intensity of heat present in a substance.
Heat water up and its particles begin to move much more rapidly. This increase in movement speeds up the rate at which coffee’s flavor compounds are dissolved into water.
The extraction rate increases.
We make assumptions hundreds of times a day. We make them when we enter a coffee shop. We make them when our paths cross. We make them when we receive an open-ended text from a friend.
The assumptions we make drive the decisions we make. Whether or not we choose to interact with someone is often based on the assumptions that we’ve made of them.
Flawed assumptions wreck our chances of meaningful connection, but accurate assumptions have the ability to help us wade through the seemingly endless number of choices we encounter.
We’re going to make assumptions, and understanding the role that assumptions play in our lives while working to improve the accuracy of those assumptions will lead us to more meaningful connections.
My parents have been unbelievably influential in my life, but I often take their influence for granted. More and more, I find myself repeating their aphorisms and maxims as reminders to myself in times of stress and hardship.
My subconscious seems to be deeply rooted in these aphorisms used by my parents. Whenever I’m frustrated or upset I’ll hear one of my parents’ advice echoing in between my ears, without any deliberate attempt of my own to recall it. Most often, these phrases are linked with memories of an activity or an event in which I heard them.
Mountain biking with my Dad is an activity that has reinforced many of these aphorisms within my mind.
I’ve learned countless things from my Dad, but a lesson that has stuck with me stems from his reminder that “anything is better than walking.”
Kendrick Lamar is a phenomenal storyteller.
He understands that human emotions are complex, but he also understands how to elicit those emotions from his listeners. Kendrick’s song FEAR. is the epitome of his ability to employ his own story in an effort to help the listener better understand their own.
While the manifestations of our fears may differ, Kendrick illustrates three elements of fear that affect all of us, regardless of circumstance.
These elements bond the emotions that stem from our experiences; they illustrate the similarities in the human experience rather than the differences.
A closer look at the elements of fear presented by Kendrick can help us better understand each other and help one another embrace love rather than fear.
Timing has a profound impact on our lives.
Viktor Frankl has a notion of the human ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. When describing this power, Frankl explains that we control how we react to any situation, and our responses determine “whether or not you would become a plaything of circumstance.”
A plaything of circumstance: a being moved through life at the will of the circumstances they encounter. A reactive, rather than a proactive being.
An innate ability to choose our response is empowering; however, this belief has a tendency to incite negative connotations towards circumstance. The decision to submit yourself to circumstance can be just as empowering as the notion that we possess the ability to choose our attitude.
Frankl declares the power of refusing to become a plaything of circumstance, but there is also importance in our power to allow circumstance to play its role in our life.
The catcher does not try to launch a 98 MPH fastball in response to the pitcher’s 95 MPH fastball. The catcher simply focuses on catching and framing the pitch before tossing the ball back; the catcher does not attempt to one-up the pitcher.
The active listener follows in the catcher’s footsteps, focusing on understanding the content rather than thinking about how they can one-up the speaker.
There’s an implicit system for a favorable outcome in a game of catch and in a conversation. The system hinges on a mutual understanding of the roles in the process.
By the time the Titanic’s First Officer ordered the ship to divert course and avoid the obstacle, it was too late. The unsinkable suffered from the unthinkable. The Titanic’s right side had struck an iceberg, piercing five of its watertight compartments. As water filled the now faulty compartments, the ship sank slowly. Over a thousand passengers perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.
90% of an iceberg lies beneath the surface. Read More
The suspension of disbelief is the linchpin of a fictional narrative’s success; without it, a great deal of film and literature would be unrelatable and thus ineffective. The essential idea is that the audience must temporarily accept fiction as reality to connect with the art.
Though the concept is most frequently discussed in terms of film and literature, we actively engage in suspending our disbelief when listening to music. In doing so, we are able to heighten our experience and truly engage with an artist’s work.
The application of suspended disbelief to music enables us to expand our perspective and further connect with the music, providing us with the opportunity to improve our worldly understanding.
Humans are complex and unbelievably difficult to understand. Fundamental truths about human nature can be conveyed through nearly anything, but fiction proves to be an ideal medium for the illustration of truths, as the writer occupies the role of a master of destiny. If desired, a writer can amplify the effects, feelings, and ideas in hopes of conveying some truth. As readers, we must suspend our disbelief to engage in the alternate world, and we can learn a great deal by doing so.
Haruki Murakami’s writing is a quintessential example this; Murakami’s books are extraordinary journeys through the bizarre, in which he illustrates deeper truths of human nature through his manipulation of reality.
In his book Kafka on the Shore, Murakami offers a beautiful explanation of memories. In stereotypical Murakami fashion, the plotline is a tour de force of intertwined character development and otherworldly treks. An interaction between two central characters, Miss Saeki and Mr. Nakata, allows Murakami to illustrate his understanding of memories. An anguished older woman, Miss Saeki, attempts to explain memories to Mr. Nakata, an admittedly mentally weak and sweet older man who has no concept of what memories are. Murakami offers a simple and elegant description of memories:
“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”
Wow. That’s powerful.
Relativity of Time
Between the ages of ten and twenty years old, I doubled the length of my existence. My repository of memories and experiences multiplied, and my potential reference points expanded. Five minutes now appear more fleeting than they did ten years ago. As I increased the amount of time I lived through, I experienced an effect on my perception of the length of time.
Each additional day that we live, the moments that constitute our days become relatively more transient.
This is not merely a subjective feeling; it can be quantified. At the age of ten, I had lived for around 3,652 total days, meaning that one day constituted roughly .027% of my life. At the age of twenty, I had lived for around 7,305 total days, meaning that one day constituted roughly .013% of my life. Thus, the relative value of a day in my life had decreased doubly between the ages of ten and twenty.
It’s important to note that the relative values apply to each day of our lives. Not only is the current day valued at .013% of my life, but each preceding day (at any point in my life) is also equivalently valued at .013% of my life. Hence, the relativity of time should be approached with a present-oriented mindset. As each day passes, the value of each day diminishes; however, only the present day exists within our circle of influence. We cannot change the events of an earlier day, and thus the consideration of the diminished value of past days is irrelevant.
It is only useful to focus on the relative value of a day in terms of the present day, as that is the only day for which we have influence over.
A playground for coffee lovers
The enormous doors swing outward, and I’m thrust into the 15,000-square foot Starbucks Reserve Roastery. This building is massive. While a glance to the right reveals a whole bean scooping table and an eclectic gift shop, my attention is drawn ahead to the copper varnished Probat roaster, situated within footsteps of the lively café bar. The sheer size of the building is reminiscent of an old train depot, yet Starbucks maintains its defining ambiance and familiarity.
A queue wraps around the bar, and upon approaching the register a Barista greets me with an attentive smile. This Starbucks location churns out plenty of pour-overs and single-origin brews, but it’s certainly no stranger to those customers yearning for an extra pump of syrup or this month’s seasonal, sugary treat. There’s an implicit atmosphere of acceptance created—Feel free to order what you want, be it an 8oz Clover brewed Ethiopian or a Smoked Butterscotch Latté.
The waiting area at the end of the bar provides a few moments to observe the building from another angle. After a short wait, a barista calls my name and carefully delivers my beverage on an elegant wooden server. As I make my way down the concrete steps to the seating area, I notice that everyone around me appears to be equally as enthusiastic for that first sip. I gravitate towards the back corner and settle upon a couch; the perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee leisurely while gazing upon the copper plated contraptions and wooden furnishings throughout the massive building.
The coffee is quite good, but it’s not the best cup I enjoyed during my recent trip to Seattle.
So why am I still consumed by my visit to Starbucks Reserve? Read More
An Idiosyncratic Hook
My sister sent me this message out of the blue the other day:
While she was merely pointing out an idiosyncrasy within the English language, I immediately thought that she was referencing Formation, Beyoncé’s controversial banger from last year. My sister is absolutely infatuated with Beyoncé, so it was a more than reasonable assumption.
Formation was the first single from Beyoncé’s superb album Lemonade, and Khalif Brown (Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd) is given writing credits for the hook:
Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ’cause I slay
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ’cause I slay
After receiving my sister’s text, I couldn’t get this hook out of my head, and I was drawn to the potential connection between this idiosyncrasy and the lyrics. The song’s theme is centered around the notion that women and minorities must unite to secure their place in the fight for social justice, rights, and liberation—a subject that lends itself to the application of this literary quirk quite well. Read More