The Lens of Rationality: Why Bounded Rationality Matters

note: This post is the script for a short video I just released. The video can be found on at the end of this post and on the Intermittent Diversion YouTube channel.


 

Alright, let’s imagine I’m trying to catch a fly ball–how do I decide how to best position myself to catch that ball?

The obvious answer is to calculate the ball’s arc and trajectory using this formula and then find the exact place I should stand to catch the ball

And I’m going to do this because I’m rational…right?

Probably not.

I might be rational, but there’s no way I could calculate the ball’s trajectory and find the best place to position myself before it lands.

The point that I’m teasing out here is that we humans have what’s called “bounded rationality.”

And this just means that, when we make decisions, we have limits. We only have access to so much brain power and knowledge and we only have so much time to make a decision.

As a result, we’re going to rely upon our intuition and we ’re going to use mental shortcuts to make quick decisions.

This is why–when that fly ball is coming towards me, I’m going to keep my eye on it and stay under the ball–I’m going to use my intuition to figure out how to catch the ball, I’m not going to calculate its path.

Now, bounded rationality says that there are limits on our rationality, but it doesn’t mean that we are irrational. It’s more of an acknowledgement that we are part rational and part irrational in our actions.

We don’t operate in binary–we operate on more of a spectrum. Where we sit on this spectrum changes based on our environment and the resources available to us.

Rational decision making models are great–they give us useful ways of looking at the world, but they often fall short in the sense that humans don’t actually use them.

Reality isn’t characterized by simple environments and limitless resources.

This is why we use mental shortcuts instead–they help us navigate complex environments.

This is important because: how we understand rationality influences the way we look at the world. And to create a more realistic view of the world, we need to remember that:

  1. Our environment is complex and our resources are limited
  2. We are part rational and part irrational in our actions

When we view the world through the lens of rationality, we set ourselves up for failure. We expect too much of ourselves, we make poor predictions, and we’re left unhappy.

But, we don’t have to do this. Once we recognize the limits of our rationality, we can start to understand how we deal with the world we live in. We can paint a more realistic picture of human beings. We can accept our nature and work with it rather than against it.

“Human behavior is intendedly rational, but only limitedly so”

–Herbert Simon

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The Ritual: Meaning amidst the Mundane

Speed is relative.

You don’t really know how fat you’re going until you slow down.

It’s easier than ever to lose sight of this. Peripheries blurred, pasts deserted, our distorted worldviews are given little chance to recoup.

Enter–the Ritual.

The ritual is a safeguard for sanity–A meditation on the present moment.

It offers a compelling argument for you to slow down–to pause and consider how fast you’re going.

In a world where feigned substance competes for our attention, a ritual is a necessary part of the equation that keeps us from tearing at the seams.

It’s produce: a still moment–carved out of the chaos of life. It staves off external distraction just long enough to let the elusive current of consciousness flow.

This current is where that which lurks beneath the surface begins to rise. It’s where thoughts–incoherent streams of hopes, dreams, doubts, and fears–swirl.

The point is not to resist.

The point is not to exhaust.

The point is to notice–to pay attention and observe.

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Hone your ritual.

How the Brazilian government used psychology to market a new currency

What is a government to do when rampant inflation cripples a currency and the public’s faith in it’s ability to hold value?

Brazilian policymakers faced this very question nearly thirty years ago. In a bold move, they chose to answer this question by creating and marketing a new currency–the Unit of Real Value–which existed in name only. No coins or bills of the Unit of Real Value would be issued. This is the story of Brazilian hyperinflation, and at its epicenter is a story about changing a culture using basic psychology principles.

After the energy crisis of the 70s, Brazil experienced a decade and a half long battle with hyper-inflation.

Prices rose so rapidly that stores were forced to change sticker prices multiple times a day. As the prices of goods like milk and eggs skyrocketed, the ten dollars you had today was only worth a fraction of that come next week.

As Brazilians experienced price increases day after day, they began to expect further price increases–a self fulfilling prophecy which shattered public confidence and furthered the economy’s downward spiral.

Brazil found itself in constant flux, with new administrations taking their own shots at hyperinflation. They tried freezing prices, slashing zeros, and they even changed their currency five times in one decade. Nothing seemed to solve Brazil’s hyper-inflationary woes.

The program which would ultimately pull Brazil out of the gutter was the Real Plan.

It was drafted by a group of Brazilian economists and it sought to do two main things:

1. Slow down the creation of money
2. Restore the people’s faith in Brazilian currency.

The importance of the first task–slowing down the creation of money–cannot be ignored, and much of the plan’s success is owed to the monetary and exchange rate policies that targeted the root causes of the crisis. That being said, we’re going to focus on the second task–restoring the public’s faith.

Once 1993 hit, the Brazilian Cruzeiro was no longer a viable way to store value—whatever cash you had lost value by the hour. As a result, Brazil experienced a bizarre culture which favored the here and now over the future–any planning for the future was foolish as time sucked the value out of your money.

Officials needed to break this inflationary mindset of Brazilians and convince them that Brazilian currency was stable.

To do this, they created a ‘virtual’ currency called a Unit of Real Value—a URV. It was virtual in the sense that it did not exist in bills or coins. The sole purpose of this currency was to act as a unit of account. You would go to the store and prices would be listed in URVs, but you would still pay in Cruzeiro. URVs remained stable in the midst of hyperinflation. This provided Brazilians with a stable anchoring point for purchasing goods. URVs didn’t fluctuate much, but Cruzeiros were still devaluing rapidly.

You would go to the store and buy Milk for 1 URV. 1 URV might equal 10 Cruzeiros. When you went back to the store next week, Milk would still be 1 URV. But now, 1 URV might equal 20 Cruzeiros.

Nobody really understood what a URV was, but it was simple to use, and over time it became easier to just think in terms of URV and then do the Cruzeiro conversion at the counter.

The purpose of the URV was to provide people with a stable anchor point and gradually get them to expect those prices to remain constant. After only a few months of the URV system, officials felt that the public no longer feared future price increases and they introduced the Brazilian Real. The Real would replace the Cruzeiro and its value would be equal to one URV. All wages and prices in Brazil would now be listed and paid in Real.

The Brazilian government had essentially created a new currency and marketed it in a way that communicated stability and credibility to the Brazilian people.

They did so using an anchoring mechanism to reprogram the minds of Brazilians, getting them to believe that currency could hold its value.

More importantly, a people regained control over their lives. In a BBC article, Clemens Nunes explains, “Brazilians suddenly became capable of making plans for the future, instead of having to live in the here and now”

When you read about the URV maneuver, many people describe it as if the Brazilian government ‘tricked’ their people into thinking their money would hold its value. On some level this is true; however, the real plan was characterized by transparency. There were no surprises or shocks–officials simply took a bet on their understanding of their people’s psychology…and it worked.

Distraction is powerful and bi-directional

A recent video I made touches on the prevalence of distraction in our lives and the importance of our awareness of it. The video might paint distraction in a negative light, just as many productivity nerds might do, but distraction is not always a negative thing.

When used with careful intent, distraction can be a useful tool.

If your attention is a train, then distraction is a likely culprit for derailment; however, distraction can also act as a sort of guide rail when used properly.

train

For the sake of illustration, let’s call these two types of distraction negative and positive distraction. Negative distraction is that which derails your attention; Positive distraction is that which enables you to maintain your focus.

When you sit down to do serious work and you’re bombarded with meaningless notifications, you’re experiencing negative distraction. The source of negative distraction is often external.

When you go for a run and you feel like quitting, but you find a way to shift your attention towards something other than that feeling, you’re experiencing positive distraction. It’s that feeling when the little voice inside of you says “quit—stop running” but you overpower the voice by distracting your attention away from it. Maybe you listen to your breath or look at a tree—you might even think about the sign that’s 15 yards in front of you—whatever it is, you have distracted yourself from that negative inner voice which was trying to get you to quit. The source of positive distraction is often internal.battery

One might argue that this is not distraction at all—it’s merely controlling your focus. Ideally, it is just focus, but we cannot always rely upon ourselves to command this sort of power over our focus. The ability to distract ourselves from that which hinders our focus is the next best thing. In a sense, the ability to distract yourself can end up helping you focus.

This sort of positive distraction is often valuable in scenarios requiring patience and perseverance—two things which depend upon the passage and endurance of time. Such scenarios are often characterized by a strong desire to quit and a lack of willpower when playing the waiting game.

Positive distraction can help look past the desire to quit and pass time while enduring.

This is not a justification for avoidance or systematic escapism. A physical or emotional feeling should not be neglected without acknowledging its potential importance, and we shouldn’t binge watch all six seasons of Lost just because it’s difficult for us to wait patiently. Rather, this is a suggestion that distraction is not always a negative thing.

Think of it this way: once we begin to recognize distraction and become mindful of it’s effect on us, we gain the power to use distraction to our advantage. When we approach the things that easily distract us (Netflix, social media, etc) with mindfulness, we gain to two valuable insights:

  1. We can learn how to better avoid negative distractions
  2. We learn how to better distract ourselves

The mindfulness is key here: watching Netflix mindlessly does not help, but something can be learned from noticing how it feels when we encounter distractions.

Distraction is powerful and bi-directional—it can hurt us and help us. This encompassing view of distraction prompts learning and allows us to approach trying times with a more dynamic toolbox.

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Kahneman and Tversky: Judgment under Uncertainty

A classic paper from Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky examines the role that heuristics play in our decisions, predictions, and assessments in situations characterized by uncertainty.

This video attempts to illustrate the ideas presented by Kahneman and Tversky in their 1974 paper, Judgment under Uncertainty, which was originally published in Science. The paper looks at three heuristics which are commonly employed: representativeness, availability, and anchoring.

The original paper can be found here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1738360?

The IKEA Effect: Why everyone around you is photographing the same scene

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.

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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?

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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.

box

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.

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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.

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Balancing the Individual and Intended Musical-Emotional Experience in the Modern Digital World

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.

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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.seek

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.

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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.

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Emotional responses should not be overlooked: lessons from the beer game

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.
bullwhip

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.

blame

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.
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What to focus on when sharing ideas

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.

IDEA_equate

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.

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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.

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Disarmament by careful questioning

——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.

Rocks

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.Stalemate

A well crafted question will often be more effective at disarmament than a equally well crafted statement. Feedback

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.

Infinite_Loop

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.

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Perseverance: How to outlast mental obstacles with internal argument

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?

cage 2

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.

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Favoring abstraction and ignoring human nature: why they won’t listen to your ideas

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.

Optimal_Newness

The optimal newness of an idea or product is the point at which we experience the most advanced, yet acceptable—MAYA.

Concreteness

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.

Concrete_Abstract

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.

Combine_MAYA_C

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.

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The Clash of New and Old

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.

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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.Blend

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.Ruler

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?

Question

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.scannable-document-on-jan-27-2017-9_54_21-pm

 

The Advantage of Constraints

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.

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An Overlooked Art Form: The Quotation

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.
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Extraction Part VI: Conclusion—Metaphors

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.

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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:Scannable Document on Jul 3, 2017, 10_31_50 PM

Connections

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.Scannable Document on Jul 3, 2017, 10_26_37 PMToo 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

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?

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Extraction Part V: Grind Size and Deconstruction

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.

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Extraction Part IV: Time

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.

Temperature, agitation, brew ratios, and grind size are variables which we can directly affect, though we often need tools and technology to do so.

•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

Baye’s Theorem and Intuition

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.

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Extraction Part III: Agitation and Curiosity

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.

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Extraction Part II: Ratios and Balance

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

Extraction Part I: Temperature and Focus

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.

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What’s the use of assumptions?

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.

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Anything is better than walking

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.”

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Kendrick Lamar and the ability to unite the human experience

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.

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Will you become a plaything of circumstance?

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.

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How Effective Listening Relates to Baseball

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.

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Icebergs

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.New 2 Read More

Music and the Suspension of Disbelief

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.
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Memories

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.

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Perceived Relativity of Time

 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.

time

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.

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Starbucks and the Means to an Experience

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

Beyoncé and the Auditory Double Entendre

An Idiosyncratic Hook

My sister sent me this message out of the blue the other day:

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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