Friday, April 30, 2010

Because it was good.

Liking things is a tricky business.

Please note: the above has nothing to do with "liking" in the facebook sense of the word.

What I mean is that the mental activity of having likes and dislikes is far more nebulous than you'd expect. If I asked you to explain why you liked a particular movie, you could probably produce a lot of reasons: "The acting was good," "The story was interesting and well written," "The scenery was beautiful."

But if we were to ask a director, a person in the business of making movies that people will like, were to tell me why you liked a movie, I'd almost certainly get a different sort of reasons: "He liked it because there were regular action beats to get his attention," "She liked it because there was a female character she could identify with," "They liked it because there were family themes that resonate with their demographic."

You might disagree, even be uncomfortable with the director's perspective. It's eerie to think that someone could "program" a message for us to like, that we don't understand the reasons we "like" a movie, a restaurant, or a computer interface.

But if you're trying to increase your appreciation of one of those things, I think you must acknowledge that "liking" is a "gut" reaction. No matter how many rationals you come up with after the fact, you formed your opinion without fully understanding why.*

And with your biases laid bare, the magic is (somewhat) broken. You can, with time, achieve a "critic" understanding, where you do understand exactly why you did or didn't "like" what you experienced.

*The troubling part, though, is how much of our society is grounded in focus testing.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My stone

When a realistic view of the world ceases to be useful, when it prevents you from making the world a better place or from pursuing happiness, then the only sane decision is to reject it. What sanity can lie in giving up? It is the only sure failure.

So then, when the sound mind is outmatched, outnumbered, and hopeless, it must cling to the fantasy of a world where the odds are better.

Some would call this pathetic naiveté. A childish desire to see the darkness as sunshine and rainbows. "It's easy to believe the best," they say, "but the hard truth is that the world is very dark."

False. There is nothing easy about being positive.

Hopelessness is, in fact, the champion of the lazy. The defeated don't have much work ahead of them, and no expectations for their performance. It is easy to believe the worst. When there's nothing to be done, there's nothing that needs doing.

But for those who see everything as a problem to be solved, those who proceed forward as though the world is the way it should be, much work is in store. Slings must be checked for wear. Small stones must be gathered, hefted, and carefully selected.

And we could use a hand.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Submitted for your critique, the hypothesis that has dominated my thoughts of late:

"If you want to make a thing happen, do not put your efforts toward doing that thing, but toward finding or creating an environment in which that thing can happen."

Example: If you want to start a fire, you don't begin by lighting matches. You find material that will burn. You construct it in such a way that the smoke can escape, that fresh air can get in. You clear the area around it so that nothing else catches fire. Only when the environment is right do you introduce actual fire.

Seems logical enough, doesn't it? The right environment is the important part, so that the thing happens largely on it's own. No wonder, then, that the most successful managers I've known were, first and foremost, good hirers. By knowing a good employee when you see one, you've done most of the work up front.

So why is it that this statement seems so strange?

"If you want to lose weight, start by getting more sleep."

To me it makes perfect sense.
-A person who is tired doesn't feel like working out.
-A person who is tired has less will power.
-A person who is tired is grumpy and negative, more likely to give up on ever losing weight.

Thus, if you're trying to work out more and eat right without getting enough sleep at night, you're just lighting matches.*

But often we don't see it that way, because we forget that even our physical minds and bodies are part of our environment. It's an important idea.

Think of all the people who beat up on themselves when they fail, blaming everything on their own character faults, when actually the culprit was their environment.*

*Here defined as: physical health, self esteem, emotional support, social network, professional satisfaction, comfortable shoes, sanitary living conditions, not living next door to a donut shop, forgiving people that wronged you, blocking out most of high school, and reading outside with your cell phone off once in a while.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Blame it on the

The term "dry drunk" refers to an alcoholic who, although he has stopped drinking, hasn't been treated for the underlying psychological issues. These "cold turkey" people are at a higher risk of relapse, because they've only put out the fire, they haven't doused the coals.

Realizing that addiction was so complex, not just a matter of self control or strength of character, was an eye-opening concept for me. For the alcoholic, booze is psychiatric medication (a bad one, of course, but it serves the same purpose.) The angry person thinks he's drinking because he enjoys it, when actually he enjoys having his dark thoughts muted for a while. The person with sever anxiety says that he drinks to be more social, when really he drinks to not feel awkward for once.

Antidepressant drug trials have been known to provide an unusual side effect: Some of the test subjects found that they didn't need to smoke anymore.

It's such a powerful concept that I'm surprised weight loss isn't approached the same way as AA (and maybe some programs do, but not enough.) Surely there are a lot of people who, like the alcoholic, are simply using food as medication-a temporary escape from crippling psychological issues.

And I think it goes much further.* When I see someone who invests himself completely into his job, who constantly obsesses over his appearance, who spends all his time on a particular hobby or interest (even the healthy, productive ones) I think to myself "What deeper need is this filling for you? What are you medicating?"

*Which is why I don't put any stake in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the mark of the most prolific creators isn't comfort, it's damage.

Friday, April 2, 2010

In that old-timey radio voice

Good morning, gentlemen! Thank you for coming to the board meeting. Of course I don't know why I'm thanking you, it wasn't your choice, everyone knows that either you come to the meeting or you're fired! Speaking of which, you're all fired!

But now you're all rehired, with the exception of Johnson! Johnson get out.

*door slam*

You hear that door slam, gentlemen? That's the door slam of a man with moxy! Ruth, make a note for me to rehire Johnson!

Now then, down to brass tax! Congress just passed a new tax on brass that's killing our profits! What are we going to do about it? Gladwell!

*Gladwell opens his mouth to speak*

Too slow, Gladwell, you're fired!

*Ruth whispers something in the boss' ear*

And if you see Johnson on the way out, rehire him for me! Good job Ruth, you're promoted to Gladwell!

Smith, get a senator on the phone! No, I was talking to Dan Smith, not Gary Smith! Why do I have two people named Smith in the same meeting! That's inefficiency gentlemen! I can't fire Gary, he's got a baby on the way! And I can't fire Dan, he's calling that senator! Compromise! Gary, your last name is now Smithson!

Welcome back Johnson! I just promoted my secretary to Gladwell, so you'll be taking over her position! Go call accounting, get the forms we need to change Gary's last name!

*Smith hands over the phone*

Hello, senator! This is the boss! What are you doing about this new tax on brass? How is my company supposed to make money manufacturing brass tacks when you fat cats are passing a new brass tax every fortnight! Do you have any idea how many people I've had to fire over this thing?

What? You can't take me into account unless I modernize? My company is stuck in the last century? My executives repeat what they hear on the phone as though relaying it to an audience? That's ridiculous, Senator, we're very progressive! Why I've even got a woman in this board meeting! Who? Gladwell of course. No, the new Gladwell! Oh never mind!

*hangs up*

Gentlemen, it appears we have to get with the times to be taken seriously! In the time it took me to finish this sentence I've thought of a three point plan!

One, we'll stop shipping brass tacks by iron horse! Now we'll fly them in a Spruce Goose!

Two, we'll monetize backward overflow! Gladwell, find out what that means and implement it immediately. Call James and Donaghy, put them on the project!

Three, new product! We'll make a laptop with no keyboard, and run it on a phone OS for no reason, thereby crippling its functionality!

Meeting adjourned!*

*Johnson, these meeting notes are terrible! Why is there a gap after I fired you and promoted Ruth?