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Improving the World by Staying Silent

With attention the signal to rule them all, everyone has something to say.

It’s too much talk. Too many opinions. Too many thoughts and feelings. It’s time we shut up. And not just to listen, either. It’s time to remain silent so that we can let possibility have a chance. To have action speak louder than words. To refrain from letting our words define us — or define how we see others.

In this moment when news and social media and politics and opinions are all we can think about, perhaps we should embrace quiet, instead. Because it’s in the silence that we are open and undefined. Be quiet and let the truth unfold. Let it emerge.

Maybe we can make the world a better place when we stop trying to define it — and everyone with words.

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reading

Control Theory by William Glasser

Updated, April 2020. Over 11 years have passed since I first read this book (Originally published Feb. 18, 2009), yet I still reflect on the ideas Glasser set forth in it, applying those ideas in my own life and sharing them with others.

Control Theory by William Glasser

This review covers many components of William Glasser’s 1985 book Control Theory, “A New Explanation of How We Control Our Lives.”

Control Theory details a framework for understanding how humans choose behaviors to assert control over the world. Emphasis on framework. Glasser doesn’t delve into the science of the brain. Rather, he offers a way to model why people do what they do—and how behavior maps to the desire to control the environment.

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articles

Why Folks Do What They Do: Jobs to be Done

This following post originally written for the FullStory blog in March 2017. Updated in April 2020.


Clayton Christensen, the late author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and former Harvard Business School professor, made the case that to understand what motivates people to act, you first must understand what it is they to need to get done.

You need to know the why behind the what.

Christensen first articulated this outcome-driven innovation in a 2005 paper for the Harvard Business Review titled The Cause and the Cure of Marketing Malpractice, writing:

When people find themselves needing to get a job done, they essentially hire products to do that job for them …

If a [businessperson] can understand the job, design a product and associated experiences in purchase and use to do that job, and deliver it in a way that reinforces its intended use, then when customers find themselves needing to get that job done they will hire that product.

Christensen’s theory is known as the “Jobs” or “Jobs to Be Done” theory (“JTBD”) because it’s built around a central question: what is the job a person is hiring a product to do? What is the job to be done?

If you can solve the mystery of Jobs to Be Done, you can build the kind of products people love … like milkshakes for breakfast.

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articles

Learn by Doing, Then by Thinking

Note: There’s a bit of thinking here. But it’s thinking after doing.

The late Seth Roberts once wrote about his graduate school days, and how he got into self-experimentation. It was by way of the idea that, “The best way to learn is to do:”

And then I was in the library and I came across an article about teaching mathematics and the article began, “The best way to learn is to do.” And I thought “Huh well that makes a lot of sense.” And I realized you know that it was a funny thing that that’s what I wasn’t doing: I was thinking. And I also thought to myself well I want to learn how to do experiments. And if the best way to learn is to do then I should just do as many experiments as possible as opposed to trying to think of which ones to do. And that was really a vast breakthrough in my graduate training and everything changed after that.

Quoted from a 10 minute presentation by Seth Roberts (link long since lost to github, apparently)

Roberts practiced “learning by doing” throughout his life, always carrying out various experiments to see what he could discover.

It’s a simple, intriguing idea: you can learn more by doing first than you can by thinking first.

Why might this be the case?

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meta

Frontier, Stagnation, Cycle

The Frontier and Freedom

There’s a wonderful thing about the frontier. It’s a place where the rules don’t exist. Anything is possible … so long as it sustains existence on the frontier.

America was a frontier—”The New World”—a place where humanity was able to experiment with new ways to exist as a society—ways forbidden by the prevailing powers in the Old World. Perhaps more than anything, frontiers lack structure and reigning institutions, regulations, and norms. It’s within this vacuum that novelty has a chance.

The Internet, too, has been a frontier. A digital plane where new business models, new ways to engage and communicate, and more could all be tried.

Freedom is found on the frontier.

The Tyranny of the Status Quo

And what’s the opposite of the frontier but the rules, norms, and prevailing powers of the status quo? Ruling states, businesses, wealth, and more exert monopolistic constraints that choke out the possibility of alternatives. The chance for novel ideas.

It is the established order of things—the status quo—that makes it hard to think differently. So what do you do?

All is Not Lost

Thankfully, the status quo is stagnant … systems wound up like a mechanical watch that can only work in a very calculated way. Rigid.

Over time, systems start opposing their proper purpose. They grow so large—or even so specialized—as to be inefficient, brittle, and unable to adapt to changing conditions.

This stagnation results in opportunity because the status quo can’t adapt to changing conditions. And it’s innate inefficiency means some are under-served. Before long, there emerges a possibility of new frontiers.

This is a Cycle

It’s this ebb and flow between the frontier and the status quo that we cycle back-and-forth, iterating and evolving over time. It’s the way of evolution. It’s the way of systems. It’s the way of life. And it’s been this way for millions of years.

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meta

Creativity and Constraints

You probably remember a handful people in your elementary, middle, and high school who were known as the “artists.” They were the ones who turned in the beautiful drawings, won the contests, got tapped for t-shirt designs, etc.

I was one of them. With the reputation of an artist came two common refrains. The first? “You’re so talented.” And the second: “You’re so creative.”

But both statements aren’t quite accurate.

Talent? My proficiency as an artist came from paying attention to detail and being a perfectionist. It wasn’t talent; it was focused practice.

And I’ve never felt creative. In my mind, to be creative is to be able to imagine new things from nothing, which has never been easy for me.

Only, after awhile, I realized something. I am creative so long as I have constraints. Constraints create a problem to be solved. And by attempting to solve intractable problems I could be creative.

This realization made sense of it.

For me, constraints strip away possibility and introduce challenges to overcome: The creative person—the artist, the inventor, the entrepreneur—finds a novel way.

Sometimes we’re stuck because we’re not stuck enough.

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meta

The Age of Too Much

Have you noticed you have an attention problem?

There are only so many TV shows we can binge watch on Netflix, photos we can scroll, books we can read, games we can play, and on and on.

Our attention problem is due to an exponential growth in things to do, content to consume, and things to distract ourselves with. On YouTube alone, some 300 minutes of new video content are uploaded every minute.

That’s one type of content on one platform.

Outside of content like video, news, opinions, and social media, there are millions of apps, each promising to do some job better, provide an ever more delightful distraction, whatever.

It’s on this infinite supply of distractions that we spend our attention. But it’s never enough. So we busy ourselves in our boredom.

Active boredom.

And we have no choice but to limit what content we consume, directing our attention to whatever’s most satisfying or worse, what’s most engagingly distracting—ignoring all else.

Welcome to the Age of Too Much.

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meta

How Normal People Are Turned Into True Believers

Could You Join a Cult?

You’ve likely never worried about inadvertently joining a cult. “Only whack-o’s join cults,” and, “I could never be like that …”

Of course, to be sure, who could be like that? The notion you might abandon your sense of self, adopt a doctrine of unquestionable beliefs, and in the course, cut ties with friends and family to become a card-carrying, kool-aid drinking cultist … It makes no sense. Cults are for crazy people.

Except that doesn’t seem quite right—the math doesn’t check out. So what’s going on?

What if cults take normal people—that is, as normal as any of us are—and upend how we understand the world. What if they do it slowly, methodically—and without any magic, voodoo, or overt conspiracy? And in so doing, they change how individuals process reality, ultimately converting well-adjusted individuals into glossy-eyed true believers.

Maybe this could happen to you.

And maybe this is what makes cults so terrifying.

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meta

To Exist is to Aggress

Is it even possible to be pacifist?

Pacifism is defined by Google as the belief that any violence, including war, is unjustifiable under any circumstances, and that all disputes should be settled by peaceful means.

What does that mean in practice?

To start, violence is to be avoided if at all possible. Here’s the problem: How do you avoid violence? How do you prevent it? How do you stop it?

And ultimately, can you have peace without violence?

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articles

The Church of Man: Primitive Technology

I was on Reddit about three years ago when I stumbled on a popular link. Something to the effect of “Man in woods makes tiled hut from mud.”

Click.

Hmm 🤔 … “Primitive Technology.”

What is this?