Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Dick Bolles: "How to decide what you'll do in five years" | Summary

How do we figure out what we'll do five years from now?

This is probably the question I hate most during job interviews, and of late it's a question I'm asking myself a lot as well.

I found a Google talk by a guy Dick Bolles who's apparently written one of the most famous guides for job-seekers - 'What colour (color?) is your parachute.' - and here he's talking about how to think about five years into your future. I watched it and then re-watched it just now because I wanted to take notes and I'm putting them up in the hopes that it helps someone else out as well.

Generally people have one of three strategies for thinking about 5 years into their future:
  1. They ignore it
    • They rely on their Luck.
    • "I'll see where I'm at in five years and see what's happening."
    • Effectively, they hope to see the next big wave and then jump on it as it happens.
  2. "I'll know it when I see it"
    • They rely on their Intuition and on being watchful.
    • This is about pattern matching and noticing what's happening.
  3. They decide to try some forethought.
    • That's fine if you're "designing" but "planning" doesn't work.
    • You cannot plan for five years from now.
    • War, natural disasters or new technologies could completely upset your calculations.
    • You can design for the future though; Like planning for a camping trip, you take things you "might" need.
    • Design is gathering together whatever you might need to deal with the future scenarios.
Each strategy has certain conditions that need to be fulfilled if it's going to work. There's no right or wrong or "best" strategy, it's about how you operate.


  1. Whether this strategy works depends on Intersections; the more people you run into, the more likely you'll have "luck"
  2. Maximize your intersections.
  3. Pay attention to meetings, getting on social media, and meetups with people in real life.
  4. For job seekers, get on Linkedin.com, jobswithfriends.com (check for companies where friends of yours work).
  5. Note: Basically it becomes a kind of numbers game.


  1. Intuition depends on what you notice and generally you notice things in relation to some kind of benchmark.
  2. Then it becomes important to properly set your benchmark so that you're then more sensitive to deviations.
  3. Think of what kinda jobs you like best:
    • data
    • people
    • things (computers and whatever)
  4. So once you decide that, you can spend the next 5 years focusing on jobs related to that specific field.
  5. That way when something truly cool turns up, it'll be a significant deviation from the norm and you'll notice it.
  6. This is just one way to prime the brain to notice things, check out the video below.

Lifestyle Design

  1. Do an inventory of yourself.
  2. You're constantly put in boxes by situations and other people: "I'm a coder", "I'm in HR", etc and then you live in that box.
    • If you want to learn, you must first unlearn. And the biggest thing to unlearn is the limiting picture we have of ourselves.
  3. The inventory should not be "I'm this" or "I'm that".
    • Instead it can be "I am a person..." and then "I am a person who..."
  4. Again, you're gathering a set of things you think might be useful in five years... 
    • When you go camping, the most important thing is a tent.
    • For job seeking, or fulfilment, the most important thing to do is rethink who you are.
    • What you do flows from who you are!
  5. (Detailed inventory thing is in his book... some "crass commercialism" here. :p)
  6. The inventory should be a set of stories about yourself. Those stories should then boil down into a set of skills.
    • Focus on skills because the more atomic you get in your understanding of yourself, the more flexibility you have.
    • If you're good at teaching, researching and writing then you could be any number of things like a speaker, a scientist, anything.
  7. Think about how you like to use your brain, and what skills you have.
  8. Nevermind what the marketplace wants initially, you can persuade someone to pay you for your skills later. 
    • It's enthusiasm that's the real secret ingredient.
  What you're doing 5 years from now will depend on who you are right now.

Further reading 

This was a super useful talk, I'm sure it'll come in handy soon. Meanwhile here's some other thoughts about work if you're interested:
  1. Your lifestyle has already been designed | Raptitude.com
  2. 3 ways your office building hates you | Cracked.com
  3. How to be creative | GapingVoid.com
  4. Job Advice | StillDrinking.com 
  5. Makers schedule vs Manager's Schedule | Paul Graham
  6. Screw finding your passion | Mark Manson

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Owning and re-writing our mental software | Summary

I personally struggle with chronic procrastination a lot (like a lot a lot) and in reading about (beating) it you come across the words "Motivation" and "Productivity" quite often. Those two words alone are multi-million dollar industries each that sell people books and seminars and individual coaching a la people like Tony Robbins, David Allen (of 'Getting Things Done' fame) and others. Not to say that these products and services aren't helpful but there's always felt like they didn't contain the complete picture...

What I've come to realize is that these myriad books and things presume that you have a good reason to want to be more productive. In other words, "Purpose" is assumed and then from there the books help you get other road-blocks out of the way. Of course it's a lot harder to talk about purpose, and harder still to find it for oneself. But in ignoring Purpose itself, the blind pursuit of increased productivity can leave you feeling drained and fatigued. From there you then think you need to start reading the Motivation books because you're so tired all the time and you just want to curl up and binge-watch Scrubs.

To break out of this cycle the thing to do is to sit and really be honest about what you really want. And none of that beauty pageant bullshit about "World Peace" if that's not true, this isn't the time for that. Write out your desires and also your aspirations for accomplishments or experiences in the future. Mostly you might find that this list will have things that you've sort of worked on in the past but for whatever reason it then fizzled out mid-way. Most likely you then blamed yourself for being "too lazy" or "not smart enough" or "not motivated enough" or whatever.

I've been in a similar state recently and in that context I came across the latest article from 'Wait, But Why?' about Elon Musk titled "The Cook and the Chef". There have been a handful of movies and books and things that've dramatically altered the course of my life thus far and this article has that feeling already, of being something momentous.

I highly recommend reading the original article but it's a bit of a mammoth read so here's my tl;dr summary to get you started:
  • Elon Musk isn't so productive because he's especially unique, he only seems that way in comparison to everyone else; with some analysis we could all be dramatically more effective.
  • Everybody has some version of mental software running in their brains that informs how they interact with the world.
  • Your mental model is a collection of "Wants", tempered by a set of "Beliefs" about what is possible in reality. In the overlap of those two are your "Goals".
  • Be aware that your software can be inherited from your parents, from culture and from society; You could be running out-of-date software and not realize it.
  • Think like a scientist, reason each component of your mental model from "first principles" and constantly re-adjust as you learn new information.

I'm really trying not to have this post be completely just fanboy-ish but I really think it's vitally important to be aware of one's own biases and mental models and see if they're really taking you where you want to go. Maybe first write out your current wants and beliefs and goals and just look at them and see if they're really yours or if you've accepted someone else's priorities for what your life should be about.

Speaking of helpful mental models, there's also this excellent video about the purpose of doing things : Use This Chart To Achieve Happiness. If you find yourself unhappy at a job, or feeling stuck in a role or whatever, maybe take a step back and see what's gone wrong and why you started doing it in the first place... The chart might help with that. Here's the link again, I'm not in the mood to embed videos right now : Use This Chart To Achieve Happiness

If you see me somewhere, I'd love to talk about how you decide to do things; how do you think about purpose for yourself and how do you choose goals from among a bunch of things that might all really cool things to work on. Or whatever, leave me a comment or send me an email or something and we'll chat. :)

25/11/2015 : It's David Allen who wrote 'Getting things done'. Confused him with Tim Allen from 'Home Improvement'. :p

Monday, 19 October 2015

Hopefully space-faring humans will be nicer

It's truly an exciting time to be alive nowadays. That's true in lots of ways but specifically, the attitude toward space exploration seems to have shifted quite a bit recently. It reminds me of stories told of the period when America and the Soviets were racing to put the first man on the moon. The circumstances might've been war-like but the mood at the time (in American media atleast) was soaring on dreams of how the space-age was going to usher in unthinkably idyllic lifestyles. Nowadays we might giggle at the naivety of flying cars and hoverboards by 2015 but at the same time it points to a touching optimism about where our species was heading.

It's a bit weird to think about, but right now we're already in the future we dreamed about! We're like a child being asked about what we want to be when we're "all grown up" except we suddenly realize we've been adulting for a while now and we're still not sure if we're ready for what's coming next. There's not a doubt in my mind that as we start to become multi-planetary as a species, it's going to open up a whole new bunch of situations that will demand that we evolve to a new paradigm. If you need proof of that just think about how much the world changed after the moon landing. Think about how much our very conception of ourselves was shaken by the first few images of our planet taken from space...


It's hard to really think about today but everything we think of as the "Environmental Movement" kinda started out of this picture. It showed us, really for the first time, how isolated and fragile the Earth really is.  Having said that, we're living in an age when it's no longer science fiction to talk about colonizing other planets; another wave of change is coming and if the Moon was such a big deal, can you even imagine what an actual colony on Mars (or a floating city in the clouds of Venus) might spark? These innovations are knocking on our door right now, and new possibilities are closer than we think.

In any case, we don't need to worry that these realities are "too far" into the future to waste time on today. By anticipating some of the changes that could happen, we can try and answer them ahead of time and hopefully get some insight into the state of our current lives as well while we wait.

Most definitely one of the big issues will be around our collective identity. The further away you get from Earth, the less it might matter where exactly on the blue pixel you came from but what would that mean for life back on Earth? Most media shows future societies are being largely homogeneous or if there's an encounter with a group of Extraterrestrials the aliens all look kinda the same. There's probably some racist/xenophobic dynamic at play there but the point is that we think that nationalities and ethnicities will end up dissolving when a civilization becomes capable of travel between star-systems.

Yes it's definitely easier to govern a population if there's a homogeneity of religion, culture and ethnicity but just because it's easier doesn't mean we should want to homogenize our entire species. At a very high level we're all basically equal but that doesn't mean we're the same... different cultures evolve in different parts of the world in response to the state of their local environment. Architectures are different to incorporate different climate, building materials and labour and food incorporates local ingredients and needs. Different philosophies then grow out of those collection of people over time; to smooth out all that richness is to lose almost everything that got us to this point as a species. So hopefully what space travel does for us is help stop things like racism or religious conflict, but while also helping us recognize the wealth of diversity we have available to us.

This is the sort of paradox that makes dealing with these questions difficult. At one level when regular people say "Hey, we're all one people; we should treat each other the same" that usually means that you allow other people space to be themselves within their own cultural and social identity. And then you go over to their societies and learn about what makes them special. This is (mostly) what travelling is all about; going to different spaces and seeing what the people who grow there are like. So what you have is a belief in inherent commonality producing a reality of inherent diversity.

But then at another level a corporation (or institution of some kind) might say something like "We cherish all our customers and believe in the value of every single unique individual" which might lead you to think that their mission is to cater their products to the people they serve. What ends up happening though is that the products get produced en-masse up front and then demand is shaped via marketing and education. (*cough* iPhone *cough*) So what you get is a stated "belief" in uniqueness that ends up producing these societal-scale waves of group-think. It gets difficult to push back because the stated belief is a seemingly good idea; who doesn't value individual-agency! But then the reality that these companies create are light-years removed from that promise and we're all left unsure of how to respond.

Essentially there's already a version of this homogenization going on right now. In an ideal Capitalist (with a capital 'C') society, the best thing is for Globalization to go across the world and basically smoothen out all the rough edges so that any company can do business anywhere! Ideally everyone speaks the same language, everyone dresses the same way, everyone walks talks and eats the same way and eventually worships the same gods and has identical architecture and art and psychology as well. At this point you'd then be able to sell the same shitty fast-food burger to anyone, anywhere because everyone's values have already been adjusted to roughly the same (highly controlled) range of preferences.

What we need is a cultural identity that allows us to maintain our uniqueness while also allowing us to play well with other people. To that degree what we have as international business practices and international courts are a fabulous innovation but we shouldn’t lose sight of the value in our local communities. For example think of five of the most beautiful cities in the world, and then also consider how vastly different they are from each other:

Ultimately it's not societies who shape us, it's us who shapes society. And in a lot of ways it's not the law that protects us, but also we who protect the law and choose to co-operate with each other. This is something we need to keep in mind as we walk into the future together: everything you see around you today started off as an idea.

And if you want a glimpse of what the future might (hopefully) feel like there's a photograph, 'The Pale Blue Dot', which is the most distant self-portrait we have of the Earth. It was taken from approximately 6.4 billion kilometres away by the Voyager space probe.

Keep that picture in mind (or have it open in front of you) and take a listen to the letter Carl Sagan wrote about what that picture brought to mind for him. I challenge you to not just be reduced to tears while you listen...

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Games that make you think about life (and games)

This is a bit of a collection of collections... happened to see these lists  a few years ago and played through quite a number of the games and they've all had quite an impact on my life.

Almost all of them are indie titles, all lovingly crafted to speak about messages that resonate with me even now years after playing them.

thanks grandma...

Hope you enjoy some of these games... I've mentioned my favorites from each list next to each. Each game might only take an hour or so and some of them are maybe 15 minute experiences tops.

  1. 20 Games that make you think about life
    • Elude: A game about depression, this let's you experience what it might be like to be bipolar and to really feel the hopelessness that can come about when you're on a downswing. Don't worry, the game won't depress you... it'll just show you the sort of shape of the feeling.
    • Covetous: A game about coveting, as told by a lone cancer cell... Deeply intriguing game, one that gives me chills even now thinking about it and it's been several years since I've played it.
    • Air Pressure: A game that has you interact with your kinda clingy girlfriend... one possible interpretation is that she's a personification of a substance abuse problem, but there's lots of ways to read all the various stories and outcomes.
    • Aether: Lovely, relaxing little game, made by the creator of Super Meat Boy, it has you explore planets and try and help the creatures on each one deal with something that's bothering them.
    • UTE: Definitely NSFW, this is a game where you play as a nympho woman trying to have sex as much as possible before she's caught and made to marry the guy she was last caught with. Make of that what you will. (RockPaperShotgun did an entire column on this game and it's themes : S.EXE : Ute by Lea Schönfelder)
  2. 10 Games that make you think about life
    • Loved: Absolutely beautiful, beautiful game exploring the nature of authority and obedience. It plays like a standard platformer but as you play there's a voice directing you to take certain paths, play a certain way and sometimes even jump to your death on some spikes. And as you play you also need to figure out how much your own self-worth really means to you.
    • The Company Of Myself: Another platformer, but you play as a solitary man who's reminiscing about his lost love as he tries to move through the world. Very trippy, deep game and very interesting twist ending of sorts. Psychology enthusiasts will really like this one.
    • I Can Hold Me Breath Forever: A touching story about friendship and loss. I still have to finish this one but the little I played was really interesting.
  3. 10 More Games that make you think about life:
    • American Dream: Another kinda NSFW game, this has you work as an investment banker during the week so you can pimp out your house and have crazy drug fueled orgies over the weekend. The parties stop if your house doesn't have the latest stuff though so your investments had better keep giving you the monies. 
    • Spent: Think you can survive for a month living at the poverty line? Get a job, keep healthy and try and keep your kids happy for only 30 days and see how things go... 
    • One Chance: Oh my god, this game!! No resets, no takebacksies, you literally get only one chance to play to try and save the world when your cure for cancer ends up going awry and killing all living cells. Haven't agonized over any decision in a game as much as in this one...
  4. 5 Games that make you think about life
    • Haven't played very many from this list, but Gray was a really interesting take on the way in which ideas spread, and the nature of being an outsider. You start as the only person who's not rioting when everyone else is going nuts and you're trying to talk to people and convert them all the your way of thinking.
    • I want to play Passage and The Game sometime but I've been a little scared thus far. :p
  5. 15 games that make you think differently about Games:
    • This is a collection of games commissioned by various government or NGO agencies to try and raise awareness or understanding of various issues.
    • Elude and Spent are on this list so I'm guessing the rest will probably be pretty stellar... I plan to play and check 'em out soon.
So yea, this list is comparatively quite old and there've been a lot of really good games that've come out since then that explore various interesting themes and perspectives. Maybe I'll make a future post to collect those. 

Also, it's not that I've played all the games on these lists... these are just my favourites out of the ones I've played. Lemme know if there are any other gems buried in there. :)

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Songs About Real(er) Love

So a couple of weeks ago I did a guest post for my friends Tanisha and Sudhir's lovely music blog Monday Mephobics and while researching songs I found a bunch of... "alternative" love songs.

Pop music is just waaaay to saturated with a certain kind of drippy, Disney version of love and it can get a little frustrating that most of our lived experiences of it have very little in common. This of course to say nothing of the complexities of marriage or long term relationships or (big scary voice) Child Raising.

So take a listen to these three songs and lemme know what you think. And don't worry, these aren't some misanthropic ballads; just keep an open mind. :)

'Adult female : A Song' by Hank Green

This first one just really struck me right from the opener:

This song is for a girl
No wait, I changed my mind
This song is for an adult female

And from there on just goes on to talk about a more measured, reasonable experience of what love is like. Which seems pretty cool especially in comparison to songs like 'Grenade' (Bruno Mars) which just sound stressful.

'If I Didn't Have You' by Tim Minchin

This song is probably my absolute favourite in this set. I think the notion of "Soulmates", perpetuated by countless hours of all forms of popular media is probably one of the most destructive ideas that have ever happened.

Not destructive with the spectacular visibility of a nuclear bomb perhaps but definitely in a more quiet, insidious kind of way. Think about it, if there were truly only one perfect person out there, then the stakes are unbelievably high! It would justify any sort of shitty behaviour on your part if, say, your soulmate were already in a relationship or a marriage. Even if they had children. Even if they were leaving town to go across the country for a new job. Even if they said they didn't love you back... (let that one sink in for a minute)

On top of that it probably doesn't help marriages because at the first sign of any discomfort you'd be confronted with the thought that it wasn't supposed to be this way if your partner is your soul mate. And that's ridiculous because I shouldn't be the one to tell you that any kind of commitment is arduous and tedious at times, and the idea of finding your soulmate puts such immense pressure on everyone feeling happy all the time.

So for me it was really refreshing to have someone say:

Your love is one in a million
You couldn’t buy it at any price.
But of the 9.999 hundred thousand other loves,
Statistically, some of them would be equally nice.

Take a listen, the song is the first 5 minutes or so and then he talks about his family and his wife in-case anyone gets butthurt.

Btw, check out We've All Been Raised on Evil Love Stories if you're also a recovering Disney-love-aholic. Also Soulmates by Xkcd's 'What If?' for a more mathematical break-down of why this idea doesn't work.

'I'm Not Edward Cullen' by Hank Green

This one I thought was really cute, and it's another one by Hank Green where:

"...Hank and Katherine Sing about how hard it is to live up to the example of a perfectly beautiful, perpetually-seventeen, bodily-functionless, millionaire vampire (who owns a freaking Aston Martin for crap's sake!)"
All I know is that I felt quite similarly during school when the girls would friggin' go out with dudes from the upper grades. It's like "Bro... not cool!". :p

[Bonus] 'The Science Love Song' by ASAPScience

One more song for all you lovely people. This one doesn't any point or anything, it's just cute and (super) nerdy and is more of a classic love song with a bit of a spin.

That's all from me... lemme know if you've come across any good songs in the comments.

[Update] Extended Honourable Mentions

1. She Called Me Bhaiyya : https://youtu.be/u2-cCLAvMCo
A song about a guy being rakhi-zoned (Indian friend-zoned) by a girl he likes. I don't think the song is specifically taking sides but whether you take it as a personal anthem or a wake-up call or whatever is entirely representative of your personal state IMHO.


Thursday, 9 April 2015

Less Ambition-Porn, Less Stress

Something is happening in the cultural Zeitgeist at the moment, or maybe I'm only just noticing it, but there seems like everywhere the heat is being turned up and at a faster and faster rate - like a boiling pot with the lid already bouncing off from the bubbles. In the world we inhabit it's not enough that you run faster tomorrow than you did today, your rate of increase of speed (your acceleration) also needs to keep going up.

Of course this is an insane thing to ask people to do indefinitely (because of pesky notions like physics, and logic) and is practically a recipe for creating a stressful situation. To make it more palatable it's instead dressed up as a sort of cultural fetishization of the tireless workholic, desperately working to bring dreams to life. Case in point, check out this advertisement I saw for Ronnie Screwvala's new book "Dream with your Eyes Open".

It could've been marketed in any which way, but notice the refrain that keeps getting repeated: "Don't sleep...". The implication being that sleep is for losers, something for people who've nothing better to do.

Don't sleep / Because the voice in your head won't let you / till you beat your next challenge
Overly obsessive voices in the head leading to persistent insomnia? Sounds more like a clinical condition than something to be encouraged... How could they possibly be actually trying to sell people on accepting increasing levels of stress in their life?!

The problem for me though is that there's some truth to the immortal words of Dr. Kelso when he said...

Nothing in this world that's worth having comes easy
(Side Note: That's from Scrubs Season4 Episode20 "My Boss's Free Haircut" by the way, great episode)

The problem is that for any endeavour that's even minutely creative or outside the "normal" scope of things there's an element of risk which means that there's bound to be an element of stress. Forget the distinction between Eustress (Good Stress) vs Distress (Bad Stress) for the moment, I'm talking about all the stories of entrepreneurs who've invariably faced a moment of just absolute, crushing despair when it looks like things aren't going to work out. Even SpaceX and Tesla Motors that are thought of today as inevitable success stories had moments when they almost went bankrupt.

The key thing then is to anticipate that creative endeavours are basically an emotional rollercoaster and the higher the stakes, the faster you'll go from the higher highs to the lowest lows.

The graphic above is taken from "Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic Depression" and hopefully an understanding of the effects of each stage will help you plan for it better.

All of this is much more complex and nuanced that this rosy, romanticized picture the media gives you of the creative mission. A martydom built around enough "not sleeping" does not automatically buy you success, it's just a prescription for devolving into a steaming hot mess.

You're so stressed out you forget to eat; you have no appetite, you're skipping meals... Just ask yourself: 'am I taking care of myself?'
If you continue to work and work incessantly because you've been convinced that this deadline is desperately important then you necessarily let other stuff drop and soon you're up to your neck in laundry and you're just drained and unable to do even the work that was once fun for you. That sucks, that state is to be avoided if at all possible and it's referred to as 'Ego Depletion'.

Of course, this is all fairly common sense stuff. And if the culture perpetuates workaholism then there will also naturally emerge something to soothe those aches. And this is where things get really sinister for me, because there's this advertisement on TV right now for some "Weekend Binge Time" on StarWorld.

This particular ad just bugs me on so many levels, but we'll just look at a couple of the themes that struck me. Here's most of the script, intercut with commentary:
Meet me, Binge Baba
Don't seek, don't search, just relax... On your sofa.
Binge Baba introduces himself, and innocuously invites you to just relax on your sofa to take a well deserved break. Remember that if you've been slogging through the week it most likely wasn't on something creative or rewarding for yourself, you were just struggling to keep afloat as your boss piles more and more on top of you as his boss shovels more crap onto him!

So on the weekends when you finally get some time to yourself, your TV whispers, "Don't seek, don't search, don't bother looking for a better situation; that kind of thinking is disruptive... also isn't this couch just so much more comfortable! Relax, you've earned it!"
The real question is not whether life exists after death,
It is how you spend your weekends when you're alive.
To me this is about as dark and insidious as it gets. Don't worry about death, don't worry about whether your life has meaning? Also notice that he doesn't say you should spend your "Time" well, you are encouraged to spend your "Weekends" well. That subtle omission means that it's assumed that your Weekdays are already spoken for, like it's the most obvious thing that five out of seven days are pre-destined to be spent in a cubicle.
So get comfortable and watch your favorite shows, All At Once.
And there it is. The great tragedy of it all is that all this incessant prodding to work harder produces a mass of people who're just too tired for anything. But even in that exhaustion, the genius of capitalism finds a way to squeeze some profit out of them as well by plopping them in front of a screen and feeding them more ads.

Society could be exhausting people by encouraging them to step out of their creative comfort zones more often but as we know, such steps are necessarily painful experiences. The fear of rejection especially is probably one of the most pervasive feelings across anyone I've ever met. So of course, unconsciously and collectively, we attempt to protect one another from these feelings by bringing each other to paths that are considered "safe". Typically this has us encouraging each other in steady, salaried jobs even though we individually might feel that something may be missing... and the wheels just keep on turning.

Bleak as this all sounds though, I think there's still hope yet and personally I think it starts with rejecting the notion that "Happiness" is something worthwhile. Or atleast, that pursuing Happyness for it's own sake is the ultimate objective. For one thing, achieving a state of happiness by actively chasing it might not even be possible because of the way our biology works à la the Hedonistic Treadmill. The problem with the pursuit of happiness is that it leaves us vulnerable to manipulation by institutions that would place the proverbial carrot always just beyond reach.

Moreover, and this is where it's really interesting, maybe what we really want is not happiness but (paradoxically) to lose ourselves in something (anything) that completely captivates our attention.

When you are caught in a creative endevour... happiness doesn't enter it; you are ready to suffer! ~Slavoj Žižek
Supposedly there were scientists in the time of of the discovery of radiation who considered the possibility that there was something dangerous about the work they were doing and continued regardless. Of course, Marie Curie eventually succumbed to Radium poisoning but her life and her legacy resonate even to this day.

It might be impudent to say, but the ultimate question might really be:
"What would I do, if money were no concern?".

This flies right in the face of conventional wisdom that teaches us to both fear poverty and crave affluence but maybe just clear away the concern with materialism for a moment and find whatever it is that really drives you. Just as you cannot command a flower to bloom or insist that a person love you, a job that doesn't align internally can be one of the most cruel punishments we inflict on ourselves.

So search for your Radium, and do what you have to till then... and in the meantime try and take care of yourself so that when the time comes and you need to stay up for three days straight your body and mind are strong enough to carry you.

As for me, I'm going to go to bed once I finish putting this up. Good night.

Also f*@# Binge Baba!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Design Or Be Designed

There are three ideas I want to leave you with in this piece...
  1. Firstly, everyone is a designer and is constantly designing whether they're aware of it or not.
  2. We are designed by the things which we have designed; the things we create turn around and return the favour.
  3. Lastly, design apply not only to "things" but also (perhaps more importantly) to ideas.
To start with...

Everyone is always designing!

At it's core, "Design" is just a process of making aesthetic and functional choices. Yes some people go on to specialize, and we call them Designers, but the principles they employ are available to everyone; All you have to do is be sensitive to the way different kinds of people interact with things. Moreover even if someone else has designed your phone (for example), the fact that you ultimately chose to buy it is also a kind of design decision.

In other words, design isn't just about creating products but about shaping your lived experience of the world around you. Even the choice between using one chair or another represents all the possible interactions you might have with one; a chair for work will be very different from one to play video games from.

If nothing else you're designing the parameters of your own life, which you then get to live. What I think this means is that we need to be more aware of the way in which design affects not only us, but the people around us as well.

Being designed by our designs

"Just as you grow into the world, the world grows into you. Not only do you occupy a certain place, but that place in turn occupies you..." - Costica Bradatan [1]
There are innumerable examples of how the things we create end up then changing how we act. Storing people's birthdays in a calendar means you stop needing to remember them. Having a camera built into your phone means you take more pictures. And who can say they don't have atleast one friend who's woken up at 4 AM to water their Farmville crops.

It also goes much much further than that into our architecture and the spaces we design: you become quiet when you enter a religious space and you become louder when you enter a pub; the language you learn as a child ends up shaping your personality, which then continues to reinforce itself as you continue to read and speak. Our tools literally change the way we think about the world which then lead us to create new tools to facilitate that new understanding. We're perpetually in this dance with our creations, around and around forever.

In a way this makes sense because of the way our brains are made. Our brains are probably the most remarkable aspects of our species anyway and one of it's main features is it's Neuroplasticity - basically our brain can rewire itself to remap the environment as it changes. As much as we like to think we're masters of our surroundings, the truth is that we're inseparably connected to the universe and our brains respond as such. 

The key is to recognize that this is happening all the time and be aware of it. If the things we surround ourselves with ultimately end-up shaping who we are then that's a huge motivation to be more conscious of the design decisions we make everyday. There's an entire design philosophy built around this idea and it's called Ontological Design [2] and it will probably become a guiding framework for a whole generation of designers.

What this also introduces is the idea that we can change ourselves by manipulating our surroundings and our tools. If you want to end a habit, change your environment to make it a little harder to do. If you want to be more productive, try getting a standing desk if you think it will help. The possibilities are endless, and with a little bit of introspection there's so many things to experiment with to try and level-up as human beings.

Ideas can be designed too.

We've discussed the effect that design has on us as individuals and the people around us. But in a way, design affects those who come after as well and thinking about future generations is where things get really trippy.

All things have a life-cycle where they are created, mature into prominence and then fade into obscurity. What's amazing is that our ability to create things that different time scales from the ones we occupy. To create a meal is to build something that will last for a few moments. Things like cars or planes or phones live over a few years. Buildings and architecture maintain relevance over a few generations.

Among the things that last the longest though, perhaps our most robust creations are our Ideas. Ideas can survive vast stretches of time, even going beyond their original intent and usefulness and morphing to adapt to the times. But most definitively they have a life-cycle as well. Think about how our notions of the traditional education system are being shaken by the introduction of online education. Think of how traditional models of marriage and family are being challenged by the recognition of the rights of gay people. And on and on, Ideas constantly rise and fall as they battle for our attention.

More long term then, how do our Ideas shape us and what can we do about it? Taking the Education example again, does it make sense that we batch people by their dates of birth and put them through school; is the most important measure of a human really its "production date"? One would think schools were factories that took in children and manufactured employees.

Or take Capitalism, arguably the most all-encompassing Idea we live with. Almost all of economic theory is founded on the notion of people being Rational actors, who act to maximize their self-interest i.e. who are selfish and self-serving. Is it any surprise then to find that the system rewards those who are selfish and self-serving? Several studies show that there are a higher than average number of psychopaths present amongst the CEOs of companies (1 in 25, according to one study). The ideas we create constantly act back on us - casting people into selfish moulds means that over time that's the sort of human being that gets preferentially produced.

Think of the way we think about Sex Education as another example. Traditionally we think that the "right" way to teach children about sex is to emphasize that it's about love and sacrifice. But might that encourage children to not think of themselves when making a choice about whether to engage in sexual activity? After all, sex has been presented as something sacrificial all along. An excellent exploration of this topic can be found here - Because it feels good : Talking to kids about sex. 

There are so many examples of this but the scary thing is that we aren't really aware of how fluid things really are; societal norms are presented to us as being these unshakable traditions. And it makes sense in a way because the people who run the show are pretty much aware of how the game works. In a very real way, our lifestyles have been designed for us from the time we enter school till we exit the Rat Race and retire. If we are to regain any sense of agency we must first realize that we have immeasurably more power than we are led to believe.

Closing thoughts

The problem is that it can all get a little overwhelming, especially the sheer "vertigo of freedom" that presents itself if you choose to go down the rabbit hole. To that I say that changing reality is really the simplest thing because you need only worry about yourself. Ultimately it is our linguistic and thought choices that decisively shape our realities!

Even the Bible says (John 1:1) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In the beginning was the word - in the beginning was Information. Imagine God having a thought, speaking a word and then watching everything come into being.

And Science bears this reality out as well. We think of Life as being something magical but really even the Human Body is a collection of things that are kind of not really alive. It's ultimately just a collection of proteins and chemical reactions that are all just following chemical and psychical laws. But then at the heart of all that non-life is DNA; it's essentially code, it's software that then proceeds to create it's own hardware. Check out The World is made of Language for more on this, or watch the video below.

What this means then is that the act of changing something is quite simply just an honest, whole-hearted choice. We could change our realities in an instant if we really wanted to, it would unfold on it's own pretty much just by the fact that you're still alive and breathing.


Further Reading and References

  • [1] Shots of Awe - What is ontological design : http://youtu.be/aigR2UU4R20
  • [2] http://www.academia.edu/888457/Ontological_designing 
  • Shots of Awe - How our creations change us : http://youtu.be/hHCo9U4jxzE
  • http://hauntedgeographies.typepad.com/hauntedgeographies/2010/12/ontological-design.html
  • https://mehulsangham.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/ontological-design-part-1-cognitive-plasticity

Friday, 13 February 2015

What Women Really Want

As a member of the male variant of our species, I can safely say that after a certain age there's a certain question that comes to haunt most (if not all) of us:

"What do women want?"
It's an innocuous enough little question but it's frustrating enough that the '?' eventually becomes more of a '!' over time. After a while though, the question becomes so bewildering that it starts to become a little ridiculous. The structure of the question itself is a little broken and the cracks reveal the heart of what we've imbibed since we were boys.

Mainly it comes down to the sentiment expressed by the title of "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus." Screw that stupid book by the way; possibly no other phrase shuts down conversations about gender dynamics as quickly as that f&!@#ng title! And it's not always clear that they've read the book either, it's often just a stand-in for "...but you just don't get it!".

My problem with that sentiment is that it paints Women (with a capital 'W') as this separate species that have different motivations from us Martians Men. Worse still, this perpetuates the image of women as social masterminds who hold hapless men in their sway using the power of their magical lady bits. In a way it casts Women as having a specific Agenda and if we could only decipher it then all would be blissful.

Btw, if these women were having secret meetings to decide the Agenda, I'd like to think Helen Mirren would chair them. :D

Seriously though, the more I think about it the more it seems like the big secret about what women want is that they don't really have much clue! And I mean that inasmuch as basically no-one (man or woman) has any clue. I might even go so far as to say that if you took a man's "soul" (however you imagine it) and put it in a woman's body, he/she/it would eventually be behaviourally indistinguishable from the average woman.

I know a lot of women are probably rolling their eyes at me right now but I think this stuff bears being said. It's one thing to just intellectually know something and quite another for it to actually be a meaningful meme in society. In the 'nature' vs 'nurture' argument, claiming that "women are from Venus" completely denies the possibility that there's any role that society plays in shaping the way women behave on a day to day basis.

Another big issue I have is that these myths are perpetuated and then capitalized on to get us to buy crap to try and barter our way into women's pants hearts. Chief among these insults to reason is the multi-billion dollar diamond industry. I'd rather not go into all of it but suffice it to say that the evidence shows that diamonds (of any shape, size, cut, clarity or heritage) are literally worthless. You could read further here : Diamonds are Bullshit, or you could watch the video below.

So yes, this is my big epiphany for you this Valentine's day. Should make a great topic for awkward conversation if you're on a first date tomorrow. ;)

And if you prefer your revelations in pithy one-liner form, well:
Women are just like men... plus the magic bits.
Imagine that on a t-shirt; Dare I say it, we could change the world!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Writing Resolutions is SO last year

Every year is kind of the same story for me regarding New Year's Resolutions. They get ignored just as easily as they get made and worse, resolution lists start converging to the same three or four staples: Eat healthier, exercise more, be more productive, yadda yadda yadda...

I think we all spend a lot of time thinking about the fact that we've failed at these lists and wondering what our problem is. We also spend a lot of time promising ourselves that "...this year will be different". All I know is that last year I received a video titled "How To Unleash Your Greatness in 2014" that I'm still getting around to watching.

After years of trying to "Be more motivated" with my resolutions, I've started to wonder about the practise itself; Maybe it's not all it's hyped up to be in terms of actually helping us grow as human beings.

Towards the end of 2014 though, I believe I've come across something that might be a bit more productive. But before I get to that, I'd like to talk about Browser Tabs for a minute.

Open tabs are the bane of my existence

At any given point, I might have anywhere from nine to thirty browser tabs open while I'm on my laptop. Also, if you use Firefox, you might be familiar with a function that shows you your previous pages if your browser crashes. What you might not know is that the feature itself allows nesting as well so at one point I probably had close to a hundred tabs open!

In addition to this being generally insane, what you might not get is that tabs are my own special kind of hell. In a way, each one represents some kind of unfinished business; Whether it's an opinion piece or buzzfeed list, the possibility exists that it could lead to something profound or useful. But this also means that now each tab is something that can't be lost lest all that potential greatness be un-unleashed (Leashed?).

And then one day... one fateful day... they were all gone! The restore function dropped every single one of almost a HUNDRED tabs!

Picking up the pieces

Now this kind of thing has happened before but never to this extent. I was absolutely mortified and even went through the five stages of grief:
  • Denial
    • "There must be some way to recover them, they must be stored somewhere"
  • Anger
    • "Stupid Firefox, can't even store some freaking tabs"
  • Bargaining
    • "I swear I won't let so many tabs accumulate next time..."
  • Depression
    • "Myyy taaabbbss... Whaaiii!"
  • Acceptance
    • Here's where things got interesting...

For one thing, I realized that nothing really important had been forgotten (and how would I have known even if it did). Additionally, one of the comments put me on to this Browser extension called OneTab which converts all your open tabs into a list and keeps them from getting lost. (Never Again!)

Weirdly though, I initially thought OneTab would just be a more robust version of the Firefox restore function but oddly enough, my productivity started to go waay up after just a few days!

Over the next few weeks, I've come to believe that OneTab offers a completely different way to think about dealing with "Resets" (of which New Year's day is probably the most significant).

Embracing a Fresh Start

While New Years and Birthdays are common resets we don't recognize the amount of people that have to deal with a forced reset like a natural disaster or some other tragedy.

I think the trick is to take lessons from the Forced resets and use them to enrich the naturally occurring resets. My experience with my browser crashing might have completely eliminated my backlog but I wasn't too happy about it. Where OneTab comes in is by dealing with everything super quickly, but in a way that still feels like everything is handled. If I ever need to work, I can just get to it without the open tabs eating at my (very) limited mindspace.

What I've been thinking about for a while now is how to extend the scope of the OneTab approach.  It's a common experience to be unable to focus on any one thing because of all the other stuff crowding in your mind. If there was a way to tangibly clear things away and make a little space, that could potentially be very empowering in a way that writing Resolutions simply don't provide.


Dare I say it, you only live once. And it's too tragic to constantly be thrashing just to keep from drowning.

More radical (and braver) people than I talk about something called declaring Task Bankruptcy or ToDo Bankruptcy. Basically the steps are:
  1. File everything under 'Pending'.
  2. Setup some kind of system to handle new tasks.
  3. Follow it in a way that doesn't let you get overwhelmed again, and
  4. Make a dent in the 'Pending' folder whenever possible.
    If you're able to make do with just that then great, but I've been going years without any kind of cleanup so this sort of radical cleanse is a little intimidating. For me, I'd like to expand on the first step a little more.

    To-Do : Wipe the Slate Clean

    This is a list of some things I currently think would be a full reset of my life right now. Lemme know if any other items come to you:
    1. First off, slow down you crazy child. You're no use to anyone if you're stressed out.
      • Accept that your productivity is going to dip in the short term while this list gets done. 
      • See if you can give yourself the time you need, or else get it done in the time you have.
    2. Get every idea and pending project out of your head and written down somewhere.
      • Personally I highly recommend using Evernote in combination with the GTD system.
      • Btw, sign up here if you don't have Evernote yet pretty please? Evernote Referral.
    3. Save all passwords somewhere safe and password-protected.
      • (I'm still looking for a trustworthy solution, let me know if you find something useful)
    4. Setup Gmail Inactive Account Manager so you can designate nominees for your mail account.
      • This is super important because your email account is a pretty important part of your Estate.
      • If you're incapacitated for any reason it should be available for someone to handle.
      • I know it's a morbid thought but yea, it's just one of those things.
    5. Get a Last Will & Testament made.
      • Apparently as soon as you get your first job you should get a will made up.
    6. Make sure that the master passwords are included wherever someone will find them.
      Once these things are done, enjoy the peace of mind it brings you for as long as possible. That feeling of open space might trigger some new ideas of their own, but those should be filed back right away into step 2; now's not the time to dive back in.

      Rinse-n-Repeat step 2 until you're completely dry of pending tasks and half-formed ideas and mostly everything is written down. The mind is made for thinking, it isn't so great at the storage and retrieval bit.

      Some thoughts on getting back into the groove

      After putting in all this effort to extricate yourself from your commitments, it'd be madness to find yourself right back in the thick of things. Unfortunately old habits die hard and your brain was rather comfortable with the way things were till you decided to shake things up.

      This is the crucial point, you will need some kind of strategy to deal with the new things that are bound to come up. The easiest thing would be to handle new tasks as they arrive or dip into your archives to search for the really important stuff.

      One key thing to keep in mind is that "How" you work is not nearly as crucial as "What" you choose to work on.
      • Choose your tasks for maximum impact, 
      • Don't let the urgent crowd out the important, and
      • Remember to have fun with it.
      Eventually though, once you've gotten a sense of your priorities, a good system can help improve efficiency. One system I would recommend is the "Agile Results" system - Getting Started with Agile Results.
      • For the next day, week, month, year (whatever timescales you want to use), pick three things you want to accomplish.
      • Every Monday sit and review your tasks for the week, and 
      • Every Friday review your learning from the week.
      And if there's one thing I would impose onto your daily schedule, make a little time everyday for meditation. Your mind needs time to de-stress just as much as your body does and sadly, getting drunk doesn't count.