Dear reader,

A caveat.

Everything posted here is worth thinking about. On the other hand, the ideas and opinions put forth may not be right.

Curated and annotated by Timoni West.

Posts about psychology
April 16th, 2014

…In the decades that followed, Maltz’s work influenced nearly every major “self-help” professional from Zig Ziglar to Brian Tracy to Tony Robbins. And as more people recited Maltz’s story…people began to forget that he said “a minimum of about 21 days” and shortened it to, “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”

…On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

(51) How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit, by James Clear

Good thing to keep in mind if you’re actively trying to change your behavior right now, and feel frustrated.

April 7th, 2014
If you feel defensive when talking about race with a woman of color or reading about race in a piece written by a woman of color, assume the other person is saying something especially true. That is: use your defensiveness as a Bat Signal, alerting you to your own biases. Sure, yes, of course, the other person may have said something insensitive or unreasonable. But if you want to change the dynamics of the world (reminder: you’re a feminist, so you do), assume your discomfort is telling you something about you, not about the other person. Then use those moments to listen more carefully.

Five Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism, by Sarah Milstein

Lovely piece full of practical advice. What Milstein’s talking about here is the confirmation bias, something that everyone has. The more aware you are that it exists, the easier it is to combat.

March 13th, 2014
I was just noticing that a professional acquaintance of mine just changed jobs for the third time in two years—going from startup to startup to startup without, ostensibly, accomplishing much at any of the companies. They certainly didn’t become huge successes. Yet, for some reason, everybody seems to think he’s really good at what he does. Why?

- - Who’s any good?

I think the answer to this question is: ‘he is really good at what he does, and his job does not directly involve making the company profitable.’ Either that, or he/she is great to work with—which, for most higher-level positions, is the same as being good at their job.

That being said, there is a certain bias assuming that one’s work can be judged by the companies they worked at. While it’s certainly not a bad indication, it’s always best to check out the portfolio —and go with your gut.

Peter maintains that telling lies is the No. 1 reason entrepreneurs fail. Not because telling lies makes you a bad person but because the act of lying plucks you from the present, preventing you from facing what is really going on in your world. Every time you overreport a metric, underreport a cost, are less than honest with a client or a member of your team, you create a false reality and you start living in it.

The Surprisingly Large Cost of Telling Small Lies

I post this because, particularly early on my career, I noticed a lot of number fudging on company presentations. I never saw the point of it: if things are bad, it’s time to consider change one’s focus or direction, not change the graph axis.

March 2nd, 2014
There’s 14 billion people in the world; how amazing would it be to get to know all of them, and to empathize with them so deeply that you could see the entire world the way they all see the world? Instead of our one subjective view of how we see reality, I could have 14 billion subjective views, and through that triangulation, really have almost a true objective view of reality.

Toughest Scene I Wrote: Spike Jonze on Her, in The Vulture.

The quote above is an earlier version of a line from Her, said by Samantha. It was cut: ‘too complicated’.

January 28th, 2014
I’ve often discussed with my partner, Erik, how interesting it is that I assume a personal baseline of insufficiency whereas he assumes a baseline of greatness. In each of our cases, there are deviations—there are days he feels less excellent, and there are days I feel more excellent. But our resting states are radically different. I wonder if my disposition is, by this point, simply too deeply embedded; I don’t know what “action steps” there are toward greater self-confidence.

Diana Kimball

This quote illustrates a variable that isn’t often discussed when people talk about meritocracy in the workplace, or (more importantly) address when product decisions are being made. When those people who have excellent ideas are naturally self-effacing, how does one make sure that their ideas get special attention? It’s easy to confuse a good idea with a good argument.

January 27th, 2014
Skimming fluffy articles and social timelines all day is like eating junk food all day. Eventually, you feel horrible, burn out, and just want something real.

Long-Form –

I see quotes like this a lot. They sound right, but aren’t based on data, just gut reaction, or perhaps personal experience.

Only in the previous century has humanity had large populations with significant literacy rates. When it comes to reading, analyzing, and thinking about written material, it’s fair to say that we’ve moved into uncharted territory.

We simply do not know if humans will be better off they read less fluffy articles and social timelines. We do know the following:

  • Historically, fluffy articles and social timelines are similar to the oral updates humans would have heard throughout the day: gossip from people they know, and news about the area.
  • TVs and movies now occupy a space similar to the oral storytelling traditions of yore.
  • There has almost always been something of a small literate population. They have had long-form materials throughout history, though popular fiction only happened after the improvements of mass publishing tools, and with a few exceptions, popular non-fiction came even later.

I like the idea that humans are bettered by reading and absorbing large abstract ideas, ideas that allow them a greater understanding of the human experience without having to live it. But I’m not entirely sold on the idea that consuming small bits of shallow data must then be harmful.

The app and service are really, really ugly. The user interface and design looks like the cross between a weird Japanese animation and a 1980s sitcom. As a result, I feel as if the pictures I take or the messages I send can be ugly, too.

Why I Use Snapchat: It’s Fast, Ugly and Ephemeral -

I quoted this because it roughly supports an idea I’ve been kicking around lately: that there is an uncanny-valley-like problem for apps and sites that display user-generated content. If content is too high-quality, it seems wasted on an ugly interface, regardless of audience. If the content is low quality, it’s not worthy of posting on a well-designed interface, again, almost regardless of audience.

There is a sliding scale of what is high or low quality, of course, that goes beyond pretty pictures: what the content says, how original it is, what it captures, and who made it. But the dichotomy appears to persist, subconsciously, across user bases, and the promise of ephemerality seems to have the same qualities as an ugly interface.

January 21st, 2014

Narrator: One interesting thing Seth says he learned from studying leaders leader is that a lot of them…are not textbook leader material. They’re not charismatic, or inspiring, at least not at first.

Seth Godin: There’s a nonsense belief that leaders have this glib George Clooney-like, or even Adolph Hitler like, effect to them…and that you need to have that in order to lead—that charisma leads to leadership. In fact, in all of my research, the opposite is true. Charisma doesn’t come from being a leader; being a leader makes you charismatic. And when we look at someone like Nathan [Winograd, of SPCA], who’s quite shy, he doesn’t seem like someone who could take a Jimmy Stewart role in a movie.

Guy Raz: Or Bill Gates!

Seth Godin: Right. Bill has a lot of trouble making eye contact. Bill has a lot of trouble getting a room of strangers to come around to his point of view.

Guy Raz: Yeah, he’s kind of an awkward guy.

Seth Godin: Yeah. But now, because of the kind of impact his foundation has had, with he and Melinda, he gets charisma. People feel differently around him.

Seth Godin on Ted Radio Hour: Disruptive Leadership

This is something I’ve noticed before and part of the reason I advocate for affirmative action. Often people are assigned respect due to their role, and will then naturally grow to deserve that respect.

For those forced into unlovable work, it’s a different story. Under the [do what you love] credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love—which is, in fact, most labor—is erased. As in Jobs’ Stanford speech, unlovable but socially necessary work is banished from our consciousness.
January 20th, 2014
…the real project of computing has not been the creation of independently intelligent entities (HAL, for example) but, instead, augmenting our brains where they are weak. The most successful, and the most lucrative, products are those that help us with tasks which we would otherwise be unable to complete. Our limited working memory means we’re bad at arithmetic, and so no one does long division anymore. Our memories are unreliable, so we have supplemented them with electronic storage. The human brain, compared with a computer, is bad at networking with other brains, so we have invented tools, like Wikipedia and Google search, that aid that kind of interfacing.
January 15th, 2014
Curriculum began as an experiment last year that applied the “Quantified Self” philosophy to online habits: Jer and I made a browser extension (called “Semex,” for “Semantic extractor”) that presents your web history as a series of sessions and topics rather than URLs and timestamps. For example, one session might be a fifteen minute period this morning where I was researching the topic “humidity sensors.” Semex was useful when it helped me remember where I was in a problem that I hadn’t worked on in awhile: seeing the sequence of topics I browsed made much more sense than a list of page titles. At the same time, Semex felt anticlimactic in the way that a lot of Quantified Self projects do: there was a sense of OK, we recorded all this; now what? Then, an idea: if Semex was most useful to me as a way to record my cognitive context, the state in which I left a problem, maybe I could share that state with other people who might need to know it. Sharing topics from my browsing history with a close group of colleagues can afford us insight into one another’s processes, yet is abstracted enough (and constrained to a trusted group) to not feel too invasive.
January 9th, 2014

Allison said that in the top areas within Apple, there were no politics. Which sounded strange, even artificial. But then she proceeded. She said that company politics are based on people’s aspiration to advance themselves in the organization and replace others. But at Apple, no one could imagine replacing Johnny Ive. Or replacing Scott Fortsall. Or replacing her.

And that struck me. A truly “top” person is someone who no one can imagine replacing. If you’re an entrepreneur or run a company, you can probably look around you at each of your peers and ask yourself this question. “Can anyone in my company imagine himself replacing that guy/gal?”. Your management team needs to include people for whom the answer is “No”.

January 8th, 2014
Psychologically, the repercussions of open offices are relatively straightforward. Physical barriers have been closely linked to psychological privacy, and a sense of privacy boosts job performance. Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness. In a 2005 study that looked at organizations ranging from a Midwest auto supplier to a Southwest telecom firm, researchers found that the ability to control the environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction. When workers couldn’t change the way that things looked, adjust the lighting and temperature, or choose how to conduct meetings, spirits plummeted.

The Open-Office Trap : The New Yorker

While I prefer working from home, and don’t love open offices, I am genuinely surprised at this article’s conclusions.

December 11th, 2013