0270 + 0271 – Glossary of Stuff I Talk About v1.0

One of my goals for this word vomit project is to develop a more elegant, structured sense of my own mind and my own thinking. I knew that the first step was simply to write as much as I possibly could.

Along the way I realised that I needed better bookkeeping, and I ought to try and summarise and compress some of my ideas. Recently I realised that I ought to tag my vomits meticulously so that I could pay attention to the general trends and patterns in my thinking. (I’ve started that.)

In the shower earlier I realised that I ought to also have a glossary of the main ideas, of things that I tend to reference and write about.

Here they are.


courtesy of Nassim Taleb. Some things are fragile in the sense that they lose from disorder. Some things are robust to disorder– they remain the same. Other things are antifragile, meaning they BENEFIT from disorder. The future is highly unpredictable– the world is large, so unlikely things happen everyday. Rather than try to predict the future (“We had no idea that there was going to be an economic crisis this year”), we ought to systematically remove fragility from our lives– and ideally introduce antifragility.

Abitrary Configurations Of Reality:

he realisation that almost everything around us is the way it is for largely arbitrary reasons. There are some hard physical limitations (the realm of physics– even that gets revised every so often, with a better understanding of levers, hydraulics, electromagnetism, etc.), but beyond that most things are really random and don’t have any “ultimate” reason for being the way they are.

It’s easy to come up with hindsight rationalisation that explains why things are the way they are, but that’s just explaining one arbitrary configuration of reality. Everything could easily be completely different. Who you are, where you live, who your friends are, what you care about– all of these things were, in a sense, chosen for you by forces beyond your control, even beyond your perception.

Bullshit breaks down at the boundaries:

Bullshit is anything that sounds plausible but has been untested by reality. Ribbon farm has a few good definitions– “noise that has been arbitrarily tagged with truth-values to give it apparent legibility”, “data that appears to contain more information than it actually does”. Bullshit is an indulgence that we can only afford when we don’t have skin in the game.

You can bullshit your way through a lot of things if you’re in a safe environment that allows it (school, massive companies, etc). Internet forums are full of bullshit, small groups of friends are full of bullshit. Individuals who are safe and comfortable are also likely to be full of bullshit. I know I am. My beliefs about what is possible, what is not possible, what I ought to do with my life, etc– not only are these arbitrary configurations, they are likely to be hindsight-rationalised.

Bullshit gets called out and breaks down when you’re required to perform. (Even then some masters of bullshit find ways to rationalise that away– see Oglaf’s Delusionist.)

This isn’t nearly as precise as I’d like to be. I think there’s deliberate bullshit (you know that you’re being indifferent/vague) and there’s ignorant bullshit (you don’t even realize that your views are too vague to actually be useful at crunch-time.) See also– Truthiness, when something sounds and looks and feels true without necessarily actually being true.

Bundle of Neutrons:

Thoughts remixed from Lewis Thomas, Vilayanur Ramachandran and others. See also: Meatbag. The idea here is that everything I am is a function of a bundle of neurons in my body. We have mirror neurons that fire when we see other people doing things. In a sense, all of humanity is a vast network of neurons. There’s something rather calming about this realisation.


A state where a system of objects have many interrelated relationships, such that a change in one or a few elements can lead to all sorts of complications. Procrastination, for example, is mildly complex because it involves 4 moving parts (see: the procrastination equation).

Managing complexity requires more than just blunt practice– it’s unlikely that you’ll figure out how to manage 4 moving interrelated parts just by random chance. Rather, you have to really break things down into their components and understand all of the causal relationships. Trial and error helps, but it has to be systematic.

That’s for mildly complex. There are many things in the world that are so complex, it’s almost impossible to intervene and control. The global economy, for instance. It makes more sense to focus on being robust or antifragile.

Context is powerful:

The fastest way to change your behaviour is to change your context.

Deep Signalling:

If we’re being abstract we can describe the universe as patterns of information. All people are patterns, dances of space-time. Whirlpools, vortexes. Signalling is how we communicate. Through words, yes, but also through actions, emotions. Deep signalling is contrasted from superficial signalling– it’s much more expensive/costly, and so it’s also much more persuasive.

Deep signalling is what you get when you put in a lot of work into something, so that you’re able to do it with intense confidence– more than just pep-talk confidence, but a real, “I truly believe it beyond a fragment of a doubt” confidence.

Everything Is A Remix:

Idea expressed in a video series by Kirby Ferguson. This was really profound for me. It reinforced my conviction that doing word vomits is a good idea, and it catalysed my decision to unfriend everybody on social media.

If everything is a remix then a good life comes from quality input + prolific output, without too much Premature Optimisation (below.)

Freedom Requires Violence:

Also known as Creative Destruction. If you want to make an omelette, you have to crack a few eggs. I feel like this is understood very well in some domains, but barely at all in others. All progress requires some sort of destruction. You have to give up who you are right now in order to become who you want to be.


There are many different ways of talking about games. I think the main thing for me is that games are fun and interesting, and a lot of real life isn’t nearly as fun and interesting as it ought to be. This is primarily a matter of design. I’d like to redesign my life so it’s more fun and meaningful.

Oh yeah– there’s this notion that game = trivial. That’s just one class of game. The pursuit of the profound is a kind of game as well. A game is anything with an agent and some sort of objective, arguably even if the objective is no-objective. See: Arbitrary Configurations Of Reality

Insight Porn:

When we try to come up with things that sound good so we feel good. Sometimes these insights are useful and applicable, sometimes they’re bullshit. Even when useful, insight pornographers are probably defined by our tendency to make more insight porn rather than act upon it.

Keep Your Identity Small:

Courtesy of Paul Graham. It takes a lot of energy to maintain appearances– not just performing them for others on social media, but even inside your own head. Calling yourself a Republican, Democrat, etc, is limiting. Where possible, kill aspects of your identity that don’t have any utility. Question everything.

Map Is Not The Territory:

Our models of reality are not reality. They are necessarily incomplete. Overreliance on models– particularly without failsafes, without the built-in assumption that these models are wrong– lead to blowups that can be intensely damaging.

Meatbag Management:

As humans I think it’s important for us to realise that we are, before anything else, bags of chemicals. We’re a bundle of neurons that need to be supported by all the meat scaffolding.

We often underestimate how important it is to exercise, to sleep well, to eat healthily, and so on. These things usually improve our quality of life far more than any intellectual pursuit.

More is Different:

I think I first read about this in Tor Norretrander’s The User Illusion. As something increases in quantity, it begins to exhibit qualitative differences. I’m starting to feel this for myself with my word vomits.

Narrativization / Narrativistic Bullshit:

The realisation that humans are natural storytellers, story-crafting machines. We think in terms of story. Story helps us survive. The problem is that stories oversimplify.

We create stories that feel and sound good, not necessarily stories that are accurate and valid (correspond to reality.)

Overview Effect:

The profound experience that astronauts have when they look upon the Earth from outer space, being forcefully made aware of the fleetingness, preciousness and the interconnectedness of all things. Something I’d really like to experience.

I wonder if there’s a distinction between the conceptual intellectual realization of this truth, and seeing it for yourself, with your own body suspended in space. I think there must be, if at least because of the way our subconscious works. (See: Deep Signalling, Subconscious Audience)

Plausible deniability:

One of the most important skills anybody needs to develop as a social creature. As far as I can remember, nobody really taught me this. My parents didn’t teach me, my teachers didn’t teach me, even my peers didn’t really clue me into this.

You learn it by noticing, and then trying, and then realizing there’s this rich world that nobody tells you about.

Premature Optimization:

What happens when we try to do something that seems great within a narrow set of circumstances, but may have adverse effects or simply be suboptimal in a broader set of circumstances. The pursuit of local optima.

Procrastination Equation:

by Steel Piers. A model for making sense of procrastination by breaking it down into Expectancy, Value, Impulsiveness, Delay.


that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. See: Bullshit breaks at the boundaries


Remixed from Robin Sharma. Also similar to  Seth Godin’s Lizard Brain, and Stephen Pressfield’s The Resistance. The saboteur-lizard-resistance-bum is my oldest friend, deep inside my head, who I’m still struggling to defeat every day.

Turns out you can’t just win overnight– the saboteur-bum is more patient than you. He is persistent. He will come back every single day.

Searching Under Streetlights:

Joke: A drunkard is on his hands and knees under a streetlight. A passer-by asks, what are you looking for? “I dropped my keys,” he answered. The passer-by helps him look for a while, before asking, “Are you sure you lost it here?” He says, “No, I lost it over there by the bushes, but there’s better lighting over here.”

While funny when framed like this, in reality it’s quite easy to fall into the same trap. Very often when we’re trapped in a problem, the solution lies outside of the space that we’re in. But we hesitate or neglect to leave it. Case in point– doing things like wasting time on the Internet trying to figure out how to stop wasting time on the Internet.

Subconscious Audience:

“You’re only cheating yourself!” “God is always watching.” I was never very persuaded by either of those ideas when expressed that way. But rephrased– “you’re conditioning your subconscious to expect things to be a certain way”, “your subconscious is always watching.” The idea here is that your subconscious is vastly more powerful than you– that 95-99% of existence is really quite subconscious.

It’s like an elephant and a rider. (Courtesy of Dan and Chip Heath.) A lot of life is about learning to work with your subconscious, about persuading and leading your subconscious. This is no mild effort– the subconscious sees through your bullshit and is very, very difficult to impress. Harder than most other people, really. See also: Deep Signalling.

Talk Is Costly:

Talk is cheap to produce, and doesn’t have very much value if it’s not attached to skin in the game. It takes up valuable time and effort to parse, process and react to. As someone once said, the amount of energy required to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than the amount needed to produce it.

Talk less. Do more. (Writing is a bit of a middle ground. It depends on who you’re writing for, why you’re writing, what you’re writing… etc.)

Vague to Precise:

Courtesy of Bertrand Russell. Everything we say or think is vague to a degree we do not realise until we attempt to make it precise, and everything precise is so remote from what we normally say or think, that we cannot for a moment suppose that what we say is what we mean. Or that we know what we mean. See also: Map is not the territory

Welcome To The Circus:

Life is absurd. We’re all clowns amusing ourselves while staring into the bleak abyss of death. We’re also delightful patterns of time and space, expressions of color and light. But mostly we’re clowns dicking around, lost and confused and unsure. The result is a lot of banging and clanging and lots of weird, crazy outcomes.


0269 – leave your comfort zone regularly (lectured to SMU students)

Yesterday evening I did something for the first time– I gave an hour-and-a-half lecture to a group of students at SMU about ecommerce marketing. I’ve always been alright-ish at presentations, maybe better than the average person but less good than the average presenter. I think I have very high standards and expect a certain excellence, and get frustrated when I fall short of that excellence. [1]

The last time I felt this sort of anxiety and nausea was when I was doing standup comedy for the first time. Boy, I was really anxious then. It turned out pretty well, I thought of something clever to say about the act before me and I made fun of the host in a pleasant way. I didn’t know how to end it well, but I had already won the crowd so they just laughed anyway. I think the same thing happened with my lecture– I started a little sloppy, won them over with my earnestness and intensity (the lecturer said I was “very animated!” and the TA said that it was nice that I spoke about my own experiences rather than just the subject matter, and that they could relate to it better). I think that’s progress. [2]

And it was sweet, sweet bliss to step outside of the venue afterwards and feel the “I did it!” feeling. I had conquered a litle fear. I had felt for myself that fear is temporary, it is imagined, and it can be overcome.

The challenge for me now is to learn to apply that knowledge and understanding across domains. That it’s really quite possible to just slam into things head on and get better at them. I keep TALKING about this. Sometimes I don’t even talk about it, which is when I’m in the fog. So the reason I keep writing is to at least stave off the fog. As long as I’m reflecting on each day, as long as I’m writing everyday, I know that I’m at least keeping some awareness in my consciousness. I will want to expand that practice, I will want to be more mindful minute by minute, day by day.

So… what’s next? Should I make more commitments? I was thinking that it felt really good to travel, and that it would be really nice to plan a trip significantly in advance. just sort of frames things, adds boundaries… I was talking about how structures and boundaries are really important, because without them I tend to fall into this endless cycle of ennui. I need to have hard deadlines that I can’t escape, that I can’t control. Yesterday I had a hard deadline– the students were going to be there and I had to have a presentation ready by the time I was in there. What I had wasn’t perfect, but I’m not sure it would even have gotten done if not for the hard deadline. In fact, it was originally supposed to be done a week earlier…. clearly I’m doing something very stupid with my life because I’m allowing all these far away things to stay invisible until it’s too late. I need to bring them all up right to my face and be accountable to someone about doing them, and then get them done.

Any further thoughts? I guess I realize that I like helping people, I like connecting with people, and now that this is over I can start focusing on my daily exercise and I can and should reach out to people and sync up with them about drinks and food and so on. And I want to remind myself that the most important thing is for me to ask questions, and to listen, because I don’t really learn anything by confirming what I already think I know. I only learn by asking questions and teasing out what OTHERS know, and then using that to challenge what I thought I knew.

I’ve chosen to largely stay silent about Lee Kuan Yew, even though a year or so ago I was hoping to write some really good stuff about him and his legacy and the implications and all of that. But looking at what people are saying now, I realize that it’s not necessary. People have that stuff covered. There are a lot of smart, articulate people who are figuring out what needs to be said, and they’re saying it. There’s correspondingly a bunch of people who are kinda silly and odd, and they’re saying things that don’t make any sense, that aren’t grounded in any sort of reality… and I allow myself to get frustrated with them. Really, IF I were to be frustrated with anybody I ought to be frustrated with myself. But then it becomes clear that frustration is not a sustainable strategy. Rather, I should approach things with love and understanding and try to figure out what’s stopping me. It might be inertia. We’ll shower and have lunch and then figure it out.


[1] Although to be fair, I enjoy not-so-polished speeches by people who are really good with their subject matter– Elon Musk, for example, isn’t a master of Public Speaking, but he’s very engaging and entertaining despite his ums and ahs– even arguably BECAUSE of his ums and ahs. It’s endearing. You have to be a little suspicious of people who might be excessively polished. Or maybe that’s just my self-defensive insecurities talking.

[2] I also gave a couple of other talks before about content marketing– one was received really well even though it was messy. For the other, I had a skeptical heckler type in the audience– and apparently he was that way with everyone else, so I don’t know what was up with that guy. Either way, each public performance like this helps me feel less and less like a fraud. I find myself responding to queries with anecdotes and examples that I’ve collected over the years, so I’m not entirely grasping at straws…. though I am more aware now of all the things that I am not so aware of.


0268 – see through the circus and focus on the fundamentals

Before I get to work I just wanted to write a quick reminder (heh, 1000 words as quickly as possible– starting time, 11:38am) to myself about dealing with the circus. That is, the media circus, the identity performance circus, the place where everything is happening all the time, all at once, and everything is crazy, dystopian, absurd, unfulfilling, messy. All at once. It’s good and bad, upside down and inside out, all at once. And it often makes me queasy. Sometimes I get to enjoy the upside, and I don’t appreciate or remember those moments as often as I should, as much as I should. It’s kind of like when you go to the the bus stop or the train station, and the bus or train pulls in right as you got there. I don’t remember the wait that you didn’t have. Instead I start worrying about the next thing– what’s going on at work, what am I having for lunch, what will I do when I get home, how am I going to cope with everything, how am I going to distract myself, all of those things.

So some quick reminders–

1– Be grateful and remember the good times. I just had a really nice holiday, and I was just swimming with whale sharks 3-4 days ago! Those big wonderful creatures. I got to see lovely beaches, enjoy refreshing highland winds. And today I was blessed with an empty train, which allowed me to write the vomit that I wrote earlier.

2– When I encounter bad times, things that frustrate and annoy me, I should make art out of it. (Thanks, Gaiman.) I should write. When I see things that frustrate and annoy me, I should write– and not write angry comments on social media, directly assaulting someone else for having their opinion. That’s sad and small, and everybody’s worse off for it. And that’s not who I want to be. Rather, I ought to come here– come to my writing and write for myself. That’s what Ray Bradbury did, and I think he had a good life. He turned out okay. If I get to be a little bit like Ray Bradbury, I think I’ll be alright.

As long as I’m writing everyday, as long as I have this output, I get to enjoy my life as I’m in it. I get to keep going. I get to keep smiling. Just as the body needs some exercise and exhaustion in order to feel satisfied– some sweat, some elevated heartbeat, some endorphins– it feels like my mind needs some strenuous exertion. Acute, not chronic. One quick, sharp execution. Lots of data pouring out all at once. And then I can take a short break and catch my breath. And I can start over.

Ultimately the intent is to be happy IN my life, not just WITH it. And to do that I need to have gotten stuff done. I need to cut ropes, break things open, and really feel like I’m breathing deeply into the good stuff. Once I do that, I don’t have to be annoyed or frustrated with other people’s nonsense. I know that it may or may not be nonsense, and one of the things that bothers me about my frustration is that I don’t even know if it’s justified. There’s always a chance that I could be entirely wrong, that I’m missing things, that I’m the alien in the world that makes sense. But I think there have been quite a lot of smart, hardworking people who’ve discerned that the world is pretty freaking crazy.

So I need to know how to operate in a crazy world. This is what this vomit is about. How do I figure out how to operate in a crazy world? I will not be able to protect myself against crazy, and I’d like to occasionally enjoy good crazy so I can’t entirely be cloistered. I know that I don’t need a perfect one-size-fits-all solution that works for the rest of my life, for all possible things. That’s kind of ridiculous. But there are first principles that make sense, that allow us to think about what to do. And I’m sure all of this is stuff that wise folks have been figuring out for thousands of years. Benjamin Franklin clearly understood it. Seneca clearly understood it. I’ve done quite a bit of that reading, I think, and I accept the validity of their statements– I nod my head as I read them. But I haven’t yet figured out how to put them into practice.

Ah, implementation. Wrote about this with the adoption of Esperanto. Knowing the name of a thing, and accepting the validity of the idea of a thing, is a whole other beast from figuring out how to make it work, how to get yourself to actually go ahead with it. The lady who draws Hyperbole and a Half is really smart, and she wasn’t able to do it. Tim Urban is clearly really smart too, and he also talks about how he struggles to do it. Clearly, doing is a sort of intelligence that is quite substantially different from knowing. Know-how is different from know-what.

Okay. So this bird needs to learn how to fly instead of trying to learn how to lecture on aerodynamics. The first steps are always to pay attention to actual flight. What is flight for me, and what is the aerodynamics lecture? And how do I focus on the flight? And how do I measure the flight? And what does the flight tell me? For me I suppose it’s writing– for my personal life. And for work… it seems like I still haven’t entirely fleshed that stuff out. I’ve been procrastinating the whole time. And I will probably continue to procrastinate, as painful and suboptimal as that sounds. The point is to make progress. Each thing published is progress. I just need to do debriefs and lessons learned. I didn’t do a debrief last night. So I’ll quickly do that now, in my notebook. And then it’s lunch, and work.


0267 – humility in the face of environments

It’s humbling to discover how easy it is for me to fall back into old patterns and old routines. I enjoyed 5 days of minimal social media and Internet-ing in Cebu. Even then I spent more time on Reddit and Imgur than I would’ve liked, but it felt like I was more disengaged than usual– almost as if the fact that I was on a holiday kept me from taking anything too seriously.

I landed two nights ago, and since then I’ve been trying to pay attention to my actions, behavior, feelings. I was planning to sleep as early as possible, but somehow that didn’t seem like a huge priority. Well– at the very least, I’m out of home and on the train by 10am, which is somewhat earlier than usual. And I feel somewhat well-rested, though that might be more because of the holiday than because of the last couple of nights of sleep. Either way I think it’s become very quickly clear that I’m not nearly in as much control of myself as I like to think I am. Even when I think I’m in control– ESPECIALLY when I think I’m in control– I’m probably not. And this should scare and trouble me, because it’ll stop me from living a fulfilling life, one with presence. As Tim Urban said about procrastinators who manage to survive– we might be happy with our lives, but we’re rarely happy IN our lives. I feel that a lot. Our instant-gratification monkeys dominate us, and yet they know that they’re ultimately not in control.

I really, really need to reconcile my beliefs about parenting, education, etc with my own personal life. I was quite awed by a loved one’s ability to be hyper-aware of problems outside of herself while being simultaneously overwhelmed by her own circumstances. I must be going through the exact same thing. I am aware of all of these things outside of myself (or I think I’m aware, because I have all these explanations and theories– often adjusted after-the-fact to fit things in a comfortable narrative, as always)– and yet I don’t seem to be aware of the things that matter, while they matter. Only later on, much later on.

So maybe that should be my primary focus– apart from constantly talking about my intent to make things better for myself, to live more fully, to learn to better manage my meatball, I should be simply paying attention to myself as though I were something beyond myself, something out there to be explored and navigated. Because I am, as everyone is.

I think the holiday and the return, and the ebb and flow of my mental states and emotions, makes it really clear that environment is a huge determinant of how I feel at any point in time. It’s also the thing that I tend to manipulate the least. I know that going on a holiday makes me feel better, and there is something about a messy, dirty house that I find exhausting. There is something about my bedroom, maybe, that keeps me from waking up and jumping out in the morning. Maybe it’s the prospect of dishes in the sink. So I should do my dishes every night. That much is pretty clear.

I’ve talked about doing a sort of motivation/inspiration wall. I know that reading passages from the Power of Now tend to put me in this nice, meditative state. So I should totally just rip out the pages and plaster them on the wall (figuratively speaking). I need cues and structure and boundaries, just as much as I believe that kids need cues and structures and boundaries in order to learn and grow properly. Maybe I should rewatch Colin Powell’s talk about how kids need structure.

But I can also just reason from first principles. There’s something about the meeting room at work that makes me work harder, so I should totally work in there more often. I’ve set aside a study for myself, I should use it better.

Basically I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about identity, which is nice, and I’ve been trying to will myself into certain behaviours… I should use environments and cues and stuff more. What’s the first thing I should do? I should do an X effect for early sleeps. Early wakes. I told myself I’ll message somebody I trust. I wonder if there’s an accountability buddy I should use, in particular.

I’m scattering my thoughts a little too far now. It should be simpler than this. I need to get more work done at work, which means timeboxing, and I need to timebox with different environments. I’ve said this for months and months, but I’ve never gotten around to doing it. Why? Do I think it’s silly? A little bit, but nobody will care if it means I get more work done. Also people seem to have their own little patterns and habits. I can do the same. I should. I’ll do that today.

Now I’m at work. I have an hour before lunch. I should get one decent thing done before I have lunch. I need to break my day up more. This is a real chance, a real opportunity, and it’s the only one I get right now. There is no guarantee that tomorrow will happen, and I have a long history of data points that reveal to me that I should take each day as it comes, each minute as it comes.

I have a hundred words to go. Let’s attempt to summarize… a change in environment (and then a reversion to the previous environment!) reveals to me that my behavior is far more affected by environment than I dare to admit. So I should change my environment frequently. Concrete steps? I’m going to work in the meeting room after lunch, because I can. Or at the desks at the end. Whatever it is… my main task for today is to change my environment. Let’s go.


0266 – beware the dark playground

(some repetition)

Let’s zoom back out– the point of this vomit was to think and talk about games that allow me to have a better sense of how to spend my time and money. How am I currently spending my time and money? More randomly than I’d like, less deliberately than I’d like. Like a child playing Grand Theft Auto just by mashing the buttons. (Oh god, we’re all button-mashing through life.) The goal is to figure out for myself how to frame my life in a way that allows me to do better, live better.

I feel like I’m starting to get warmer. I frame it as an energy maximization problem, pleasure maximization problem. (Regret minimization problem, says Jeff Bezos. Climb out of your current box, says Tobias Lutke. Be Less Suboptimal, says Dinesh Raju.) I want to be happier. I want to make more people happy. I want my wife to be happy. I want to enjoy more good moments out of time. To afford those things I need to be more focused and razorsharp in the work that I do. I need to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and do first things first. So that motivation I think is pretty clear. Life is short and it ought to be pleasant. Sitting on my ass is not pleasant unless I’ve first done some good work. So I need to do good work to enjoy sitting on my ass, and I need to enjoy sitting on my ass so I can do good work.

What are the next steps? I feel like that’s solved the problem of motivation, I just need to write that down now and paste it everywhere. At home, at work, on my desk, in my wallet. I want to have a good time, damnit, and I know now that it’s impossible to have a sustainably good time in the dark playground. So I need to come into the light, painful and scary as that might initially be.

Okay, once I do that, now what? How do I stay here, and keep getting stuff done effectively, instead of sneaking back into the dark and then crawling out into the light and making all of these nice sounds and then repeating the cycle over and over again? People are going to lose patience with me eventually, and perhaps more importantly this cycle is just boring and painful and sad and I should break from it.

Okay, but how? I’m thinking it starts with sleep, and yes okay I will sleep early and take the cold shower and meditate and be-proactive and end-in-mind and first-things-first, okay, okay, awrite awrite awrite awrite awrite awrite awrite… then? Then for now I just stick to it. It’s literally the single most important thing and I just need to stick to it. Stick to it for 30 days. Let’s start with 10 days. Let’s make it a habit. Wake up early in the morning and drink some tea. And write down what I’m going to do the next day. Let’s make this literally the highest priority in my life, because once I change this I have an amazing bedrock to start changing more things. I’ve talked about this several times already.

What will stop me? If I’m inefficient at work and feel like I need to work late, and I’m not clear with my wife about how serious I am about this. Both of these things are entirely my fault, and entirely within my control. The first thing is to make sure that I be efficient at work so that I get the requisite things done. To do that I need to plan my day and chunk things very clearly. I need to figure out the single most important thing of the day and do it. I’ve been saying that a lot for two years, but I’ve been procrastinating on that because it never quite feels like I have no choice– as in, it always feels like I have a choice. It always feels like I might be able to start with something smaller, something less daunting. I’m starting to see this now as clearly bullshit. I have to start with the smallest chunk of the single most important thing and get that out of the way. It’s slightly counter-intuitive for me, I like to break the little things down first. I like to kill the little guys first. But in this case I need to understand that there will always be the little guys, there’s an endless stream of little guys. And I’m not judged by my ability to clear little guys, I’m judged by my ability to break down the big ones into manageable chunks so that I don’t get choked up and overwhelmed– which is what happens to me, which is what has been happening to me a lot.

I’m going to be giving a lecture the day after tomorrow. I’m going to prepare for it thoroughly tomorrow, so that I give a good one. I’m going to be early for it, and I’m going to look through everything the students need.

Before that– I have a meeting with my boss tomorrow. I’m going to prepare for it. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that I go for meetings without adequate preparation. I’m still improvising my way through life. Why the fuck am I doing that? Because I secretly think it’s fun. Because I secretly think it’s exciting. And then I meet folks for meetings and I say what I need to say to elicit sympathetic noises. And then I feel somewhat thankful, that nobody exposed me as a fraud.

But the question is why the fuck am I still being a fraud, then? I’m a fraud to myself, like it or not. There’s a part of me that judges me as a fraud. That judgement may or may not be valid. The trick to defeat it is to present it with clear, incontrovertible information that it’s wrong. Like how Chris Hadfield talked about reprogramming one’s fear of spiders by walking consciously into spider webs over and over again until it becomes familiar.

So I need to do that.

What are the other steps? We know that procrastination has 4 parts– expectancy, value, delay, impulsiveness. We can solve expectancy by breaking things down into littler tasks and writing down what’s hard about it. We can solve value by writing down my mission and purpose in life and how things fit into it. We can solve delay by having daily reviews, ideally with other people involved as well. We solve impulsiveness by having very clear demarcations between work and play. By getting a chunk of work done before anything else. I have this ugly saboteur thought that I have so much work to do that I’ll never be able to have any fun, so I better get my fun ahead of time while I still can.

This is very anxiety-inducing, setting sun sort of dark playground deal that I have learnt is not very useful. You don’t even really enjoy yourself, you just distract yourself from the fact that you haven’t done your work. (Which reminds me of “*browses Imgur stressfully*”).

So… I need to get little chunks of work done, and see them as great victories. Seriously, great fucking victories. They’re things I’ve been putting off forever and I’m sick and tired of being scared of them. I have nothing to goddamn fear. I have punished myself more than enough, I have died a thousand deaths already and I don’t have the time or energy to go through that internal bullshit drama anymore. I will rub up against reality with the best of what I’ve got.

Next steps- I’m going to go home, shower and sleep early. Then I’m going to wake up in the morning and plan for my meeting, and plan my tasks for the day.


0265 – games that help with time and money

Games and projects that really give you a sense of life, in terms of $$ / time? (0093)

Mass Effect. Dragon Age. (I suppose this means I should play more BioWare?) I appreciate Megaman X for the narrative. I enjoyed Simcity’s progression, the idea of building a city from scratch still has a certain allure about it for me. I never quite got around to building an amazingly beautiful City in SimCity 3000– or did I? I would get tired after a certain amount of progression. [1]

Poker is supposed to do this to some degree, and I appreciate that intellectually, but it feels like the amount of effort I’d have to put into learning it is so vast that I ought to build a more ‘leveragable’ skill set instead. That sounds a little bullshitty. I think the short answer is– I’ve read about people who got really good at poker, and while I appreciate the benefits, I can’t imagine making that sort of commitment. And I’m not very interested in being halfway good at that. I’d rather become a doubly good writer than be a decent poker player. I can just avoid games where I can’t afford to lose my buy-in, and play purely for social reasons. Or not at all.

What other games? I suppose we could talk about sports. I think I enjoyed basketball when I used to play it. I used to watch Slam Dunk on Anime, and I’d even try to practice a few drills at home… and I’d sometimes go out to the court and shoot a few hoops. I was never as methodical as I would’ve liked to have had been. I never did the strength training I would’ve had liked to have had done– though I do remember Googling a lot about it, reading a lot about it. Watching videos about it. I found the idea of it entertaining, but maybe it didn’t sing to my soul the way writing does. (All of this is very affected by hindsight bias. Maybe if I had more athlete friends, if I had better eating habits, nutrition, etc, who knows. I’ve since sorta burnt out a lot of of the other maybe-plausible narratives that I started out with. I’ll find them intact in old notebooks.)

The question involves money and time, which I haven’t addressed yet. I suppose I wanted to talk about learning to allocate resources better by playing around with variables and seeing what the outcome is. (Or, in less stodgy terms, learning how to manage your money by playing starcraft and realizing that you don’t have enough mineral, you have insufficient vespene gas.)

Which makes me think– pricing pages should be interactive, as my wife once suggested to me in conversation. Interactive sliders are the best thing ever, because by playing around with the variables yourself, you develop an understanding of the relationships betwen things. It’s a lot easier to learn things when you can see the outcome of your decisions clearly.

Oh my god, there ought to be a website that very simply allows you to input your installment plan and see what the interest is like, what the compound interest is like, what the late payment is like, etc. We ought to be able to see things things in very clear visual terms, because we’re visual creatures. (99% sounds like it’s almost perfect, but 99% safety on plane flights mean over 250 plane crashes a day!!)

I wish I had been able to compute what would’ve happened if I saved my NS money better, if I had saved money in JC better… I doubt I’d have done it, but it would be very powerful just to help people visualize these things. “What is your allowance?” “What do you spend money on?”, etc etc. I’m guessing that there are people who have tried to make elaborate games and stuff that teach kids about these things, but really, people ought to be able to simply input their own real-life situations. That’s what people really care about. Not abstractions. Real life problems. [2]

Let’s zoom back out– the point of this vomit was to think and talk about games that allow me to have a better sense of how to spend my time and money. How am I currently spending my time and money? More randomly than I’d like, less deliberately than I’d like. Like a child playing Grand Theft Auto just by mashing the buttons. (Oh god, we’re all button-mashing through life.) The goal is to figure out for myself how to frame my life in a way that allows me to do better, live better.

I feel like I’m starting to get warmer. I frame it as an energy maximization problem, pleasure maximization problem. (Regret minimization problem, says Jeff Bezos. Climb out of your current box, says Tobias Lutke. Be Less Suboptimal, says Dinesh Raju.) I want to be happier. I want to make more people happy. I want my wife to be happy. I want to enjoy more good moments out of time. To afford those things I need to be more focused and razorsharp in the work that I do. I need to be proactive, begin with the end in mind, and do first things first. So that motivation I think is pretty clear. Life is short and it ought to be pleasant. Sitting on my ass is not pleasant unless I’ve first done some good work. So I need to do good work to enjoy sitting on my ass, and I need to enjoy sitting on my ass so I can do good work.

What are the next steps? (next post)

[1] Which I think I was feeling guilty about for a while– it’s like I pick up all these video games, start getting semi-good at them, and then I stop there. I never MASTER any of them. I could probably master Metal Slug X if I wanted to, but the final nuances are the most difficult and the prospect of it somehow just doesn’t satisfy me. As I get older I think I should trust my nose on this more. I went through a phase where I felt like I ought to complete every single thing I started, otherwise I must still be a failure. I’m realizing now that that was kinda flagellating. I was punishing myself to the extreme– why? I must have inherited these ideas from somewhere– maybe family, maybe school, maybe religion, pop culture, who knows.

It’s clear to me now that I really just ought to quickly run through my interests and focus on whatever excites me the most, within the frames that I’ve developed for understanding what’s practical and what’s not. I do still think that it’s worth doing a reading of LKY’s memoirs, but is it the single most important thing I should be doing with my time right now?


[2] Speaking of real life problems, I’m reminded of how tickled I was when keywordtool.io pointed out the vast number of ailments people Google for when searching “What is the cause of …” or “How does …” or “how to cure …”. You look at the world around you and it LOOKS like people have their shit together, but it’s all an illusion. We’re almost all nervous and anxious and scared. Almost everybody you see needs to poop and pee, and was the consequence of an ejaculation. I feel like we don’t talk about that enough.


0264 – cultivate different perspectives (by moving yourself)

I left a prompt for myself titled “cultivating a different perspective”. I suppose I wanted to remind myself that it’s important to cultivate different perspectives, and I wanted to walk through my own thoughts about how one ought to do it. I also remember specifically writing a visakanv.com/marketing post– it was about how people with different native tongues write english differently, in ways that taste and smell incredibly distinct.

I wanted to write about how important it is that different perspectives be allowed to flourish, because that’s almost definitely what we’re going to need before we can solve a lot of the intractable problems that trouble us today.

I was also thinking about all of this with the context of the travelling that I was doing– just a short simple flight from Singapore to Cebu, where I stayed in a hotel for 5 days. We ate good food, drank lots of cheap beer, stayed up chatting about life, about Lee Kuan Yew’s death (RIP), swam with whale sharks, enjoyed a magnificently pristine beach and lots of great sea views, a great steak, a great burger, good pasta, fluffy pancakes, all that good stuff. Wonderful moments out of time that I will definitely remember, that will keep me going.

I already think I ought to plan the next one so that I have something to look forward to, something to wrap things up for. I owe my wife a huge debt for getting me to think about this. A saw needs sharpening, the mind needs so be allowed to settle.

Right. Why is it important to cultivate different perspectives? There are two parts to this.

The first is that life is simply much more beautiful when you have multiple perspectives. Each new perspective, I find, doesn’t just add value in a linear fashion. Every new perspective plays and dances with every preexisting perspective, which creates this wonderful runaway spiraling effect. 1 perspective is dull. 2 perspectives can argue with each other (but unless somewhat enlightened, will quickly become us vs. them and get entrenched), 3 perspectives and we have a party– you agree with some of this one, disagree with some of that one. Add more and things get even more intricate, and you start seeing patterns– several points of view fall within some particular style, some particular system… you see how something is simultaneously wonderful and terrible. It makes reality a lot more rich and beautiful.

The second part, for the practical minded, is that different perspectives help you solve different problems. A lot of intractable problems in the world today are only seemingly intractable– there is nothing in the realm of physical reality, nothing in the molecules that makes it destined that these problems have to persist. The problem is usually that we get caught up with approaching the solution to a problem in one particular way, and when it doesn’t work, we maybe try harder along the same dimension, or we give up and switch to the opposite perspective (handing things over to “The Opposition”). The problem is that this sort of binary thinking is itself inherently limited. Sometimes problems need much more creative solutions. They need to be framed in different ways. They need to be looked at differently. While some people are inherently more gifted (or more often than not, I think, more highly practised– though it’s worth asking why they practiced so much in the first place) at changing their frames, nobody is capable of seeing all things in all ways.

Thankfully, we have a broad range of peoples. Many languages. Many perspectives. Derek Sivers pointed out that in the West, streets have names, and buildings are merely spaces between the streets– while in Japan, buildings have names, and streets are merely the spaces between buildings. Both ways are valid ways of seeing and thinking. People only exposed to one way of thinking are less likely to thing the other way– and yet it’s entirely possible that some problems that the people in one situation have… might be easily solved if they only were able to see things like the people from the other tribe. Those folks might not even see it as an issue.

I’m reminded now of Alan Watts talking about how different cultures view reincarnation and death differently, and how there are people for whom the notion of being afraid of death is silly. Doesn’t that seem somewhat lovely? It might seem absurd or naive to some people, but that’s a conclusion that emerged and developed from their particular belief system.

Which reminds me again of how almost every group of people must seem absurd and silly to some other group of people. And we’re going to have to accept that, and learn to live with that– learn to smile and laugh and not take it so seriously, not kill each other over it– because we’re all going to fucking die anyway. Which is glorious in one sense (Absolute freedom, liberty! No more thinking necessary. No more pain, no more bills to pay, no more obligations to fulfill, no more emails to reply…) but also quite a bit of a shame in other sense (there will be so much that we won’t get to see, witness… just when things are getting so exciting.) I might change my view about this as life goes on. In fact I will be rather disappointed if I don’t. A lifetime feels like a ridiculously long amount of time to spend shackled to a particular belief system. We should appreciate and learn from as many things as we can, follow our bliss, yadda yadda.

So anyway– I think cultivating perspectives is Important with a capital I. The earlier we do it the better. We ought to argue more, but forgive each other more too, and be quick to say sorry, and be quick to say that we’re hurt (rather than retaliate), so that we can learn faster, move faster and get more joy out of life.

Of course, we don’t have to RUSH about it. I believe there’s a way to do things well, with solid intensity– without being an anxious, terrified bitch about it. There must be!


0263 – Stop searching under streetlights

It’s a familiar joke and visual that I’ve thought about several times– the idea of a drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight– not because he lost them there, he had actually lost them in the bushes in the dark– but he was looking under the streetlight because it was easier to search there.

It’s funny when framed that way, but I’m totally guilty of doing the same thing in other less obvious circumstances. For example, at work, whenever I have a spare moment I tend to default to tinkering with our social media profiles, replying to people and studying the people we’re following. Why? Because I’m good at it, because I’m familiar with it. But it’s not necessarily the most important thing I could be doing with my time. I could try to argue that I can’t always be rigidly prioritizing the most important thing I need to be doing [1], because I won’t have the energy. Sometimes I will be weary, tired, sometimes I won’t have a lot of time or energy on my hands, and it makes sense to default to something mindless and simple.

That is simultaneously a little true and untrue. It’s the most annoying class of dilemmas I’ve encountered so far– one where you’re technically right within a particular frame, but you’re more broadly wrong because you chose the wrong frame to begin with– or rather, you made decisions earlier that left you in a suboptimal frame.

Does that sound a little too abstract? Let’s run through the layers of possible scenarios.

1– there’s something clearly right to be doing (“doing work”) and something clearly wrong (“not doing work” – spending the workday on Facebook.) In this case, if you’re even slightly clear-headed, it’s clear that you should do the right thing. This is a non-problem. (AKA DONT BE USELESS. If I’m being useless, it’s probably symptomatic of some problem that needs addressing. Or, ideally, it’s because I just accomplished something so incredibly amazing that I needed to rest afterwards. This is currently very rare.)

2– suppose you learn to eliminate the bad habits like wasting all day on Facebook, which might have been a logical thing to do when stuck in NS with silly, pointless responsibilities that help nobody, that have no outcome, no benefit for anyone, etc. Okay, great. Now you can spend all your time doing work. (NO LONGER USELESS… BUT NOT VERY USEFUL EITHER.)

3- Even in the realm of “doing work”, there is urgent/important, important, urgent/unimportant, distracting busywork. I tend to spend most of my time shifting between urgent/unimportant and distracting busywork. Even after getting rid of most of my distractions, I’m not doing the important and urgent/important work that I ought to be doing. (FIRST THINGS FIRST.)

4- At a meta level, there is managing my own psychology and mental state. (SHARPEN THE SAW.) Important work and urgent/important work is usually also difficult work, and difficult work requires focus, clarity of mind. If I don’t have clarity of mind, I almost definitely default to doing useless busywork, or even outright distractions. I’m likelier to go on Reddit, Facebook, etc. Which is the worst thing of all.

How does one manage psychology, mental state, executive function? I’m reminded of Dr. Barker talking about ADHD, I should link to that video, revisit it, rewatch it. Things like exercise are critical. Accomplishing tasks– important ones, especially– also help. I cannot allow my executive functioning to drop below a certain level, because then all is lost. I should take immediate corrective measures– take a walk, eat something, watch a motivational video, sit and meditate for a few minutes and reorient myself. It might make sense to even go home and sleep. Whatever it is, staying online is almost always a bad idea.

I ought to really have this shit figured out super clearly. I ought to leave stickers for myself with very clear instructions, so that I can save myself. Come to think of it, I’m kind of like a diabetic or an asthmatic, only my weird condition of just giving up on everything is on the inside. Hopefully I haven’t given up too badly on anything recently, I haven’t damaged my own life and my relationships with other people too much. I need to teach myself how to medicate myself, and I should teach people close to me how to talk to me, what to tell me so that I can take care of myself and get more out of life.

I’m writing this while I’m on a plane, in the freaking atmosphere– and I’m just returning from 5 days in Cebu. I really needed the break. I should definitely take a lot more breaks in the future, because they refresh and rejuvenate me substantially. There are a few little things I could’ve done to improve my “rest hygiene”, like be more precise about my sleep, and maybe get a few more little niggling chores out of the way, but fuck it– I did what I could, and worrying about what I didn’t do then is a mere distraction from what I have ahead of me. I have significantly cleared some of the fluff and fuzz that was in my head. I will meditate. I will rehydrate. I will sleep early, and I will attack my biggest problems and concerns with as much ferocity as I can muster.

[1] Though… if you think about it, that’s one of the Habits of Highly Effective People. First Things First. Along with “be proactive” and “begin with the end in mind”. My boss would probably say that he tries his best to prioritize the most important thing at any given time, all the time. Shucks, I can’t even imagine what that’s like yet, but I imagine it involves far less anxiety than I currently live with.

I don’t always begin my vomits with the end in mind. I suppose I just keep going however I feel like going, and if at some point I feel like I really ought to start doing very desired-end-state writing, then I can start doing that. I suppose it would just quietly seep into my subconscious thinking. I don’t want to be too deliberate about these vomits. We’ll see.


0262 – Megaman X and how we teach ourselves

There’s this video that I’ve watched several times on now on YouTube– it’s by this series called Sequelitis, and it talks about how Megaman X is basically the best sequel to a video game ever, and describes how it does an amazing job of teaching gamers how to play. I’ve played Megaman X and X3 (I’m not so sure about X2… I think I’ve tried it, but never got around to completing it. I don’t think I completed Megaman X, either… or rather, I think I completed it by exploiting Save States, which is kinda cheating.)

I’ve shared this video with multiple people on multiple occasions now, and each time I share it I tend to watch it again, and it tends to make me think again about many things. In this case, the basic idea of communication. (It’s tempting to try and write a vomit that structurally, conceptually communicates the idea I’m trying to talk about, but I know that that will be an endless rabbithole. Maybe I’ll do that after I write this first.)

What Megaman and Super Mario and other amazing video games understand that a lot of the rest of us don’t is this– people learn in little chunks. We start by putting together a sort of vague framework for thinking about problems. We look at what we have, we mash things together, we try different options, click around. We see what we have. Then we rub against the walls.

There’s a comic that somebody shared on Twitter about what it’s like to watch your customers try your product for the first time– it shows a person trying to drink water from a cup by licking at the base, pouring it over themselves, and so on. The point is that it’s obvious to any creator what the purpose of a thing is, but it’s never obvious to new users. The challenge is to design things in such a way that people can simply bump their way towards understanding. They should never have to digest and dissect something complex and/or complicated to make sense of it.

How Megaman X does this is really quite amazing. Your character is used as a cursor on the start menu, and when you select the “Start Game” option, your character fires a powerful bolt of energy across the screen– informing you that your character has the ability to shoot. When the game starts, you land at the left of the screen. If you press the buttons on your cursor, you’ll find that your immediate options are “go left, go right, jump, shoot”. If you try to go left, you run into a wall. So clearly you should move right. (For the rest of the game, you’ll be primarily moving right to progress forward.) You encounter one enemy at a time– the first ones you can kill by shooting right at them. After a while you encounter some enemies that can only be killed by shooting at sweet spots– for example, a tall enemy might need you to jump and shoot.

The game progressively teaches you new skills by putting you in circumstances where you can observe what the optimal case is. You can afford to make mistakes, you can try again, and it’s made incredibly easy for you to infer what you ought to do in a given encounter. If you feel like it’s too easy, the difficulty ramps up almost immediately afterwards, after you get it.

I highly recommend watching the video, I’ll probably be referencing it and quoting it a lot. The simple idea at the heart of it is– you teach people very simple basic skills that you can then build upon, build onto, over and over again into ultimately very complex behaviors. For example I remember in Megaman X you’ll be able to dash, and control your slide down walls. And then you’ll learn the ability to air dash, so after a while you combine these skills and you start doing amazing things like jumping over an enemy, air-dashing across to the wall, wall jumping more, so on and so forth.

On hindsight, this must have been a huge part of why I loved so many video games so much. Part of it was the narrative. Part of it was the promise of getting stronger, getting better. And part of it was the wonderful combination of all those skills. I enjoyed earning the stars in Bare Knuckle that would allow me to do more powerful attacks. I enjoyed successfully completing a stage in Metal Slug without losing any lives, getting all the bonus points at the end. I enjoyed developing combinable skills and getting more powerful weapons in Diablo 2 and other RPGs– DarkStone. The prospect of growing stronger and eventually destroying things much more powerful than you are– in a video game, that’s laid out for you in a very awesome way. I enjoyed winning people’s affection and loyalty as Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2.

Of course, reality is a lot more complex than video games. Part of that is simply the way nature is. Life is complex, crazy, chaotic, open, random, arbitrary, cruel, messy. But part of it is human design. Perception. If we can design video games (closed systems– some of which open up into remarkably open systems, like World of Warcraft– a very addictive game that builds real human relationships, teamwork, skills, and orgasmic cries of joy when people successfully defeat a huge boss)– we can design a lot of things around us to be better. By better, I mean we can teach ourselves to live better the way Megaman X teaches us to play the game, and to get good at it.

We ought to automatically get very clear readouts of our sleep quality, our diet, our blood sugar levels, exhaustion levels, mental states, all of those things. If we can see these things regularly (I fantasize about being able to see it in real time– some day this will be a reality), and we can see how our actions affect them, then I think we’ll very naturally learn to masterfully manage our own meatbags.

I’ve definitely written about this many, many times– how I’d like to measure everything. Well hey, I’m wearing a Mi Fit tracker thingy now. I’ve been writing in a notebook for quite a few days. I’ve had a lot of practice at doing this thing, I just need to keep up with it. Keep going. And I need to recover faster. None of this is new, I’ve repeated myself a hundred times.

Why do I fail? I get tired and I lose the clarity of mind? Why do I get tired? I sleep late. WHy do I sleep late? I get distracted, I get scared, I lose focus, I try to rush things at the end. I should never sleep late ever again. Even if things are fucking up, I should probably just sleep early. I should meditate regularly. Every day. And I should write about it. I should experiment with my notebooks.

I suppose ultimately this is just one of many many reminders of the same thing. It feels like a regular tempo and a tie-in with other humans is part of what will make this successful.


0261 – Solve For Adoption (Consider Esperanto)

I just wanted to remind myself that getting something adopted– getting something implemented– is every bit as hard as coming up with something worth implementing. A better mousetrap is worth little if everybody is incredibly happy with their existing mousetrap, and isn’t interested in changing their mousetrap experience.

This is a marketing problem. Marketing is about the customer, not the product.

The customer is a novel and stable pattern of human behavior. If the pattern of human behavior is incredibly satisfied, trying to win it over with a marginally better offering is a bit of a losing game.

We can get into some nuance about commodities vs products– the crux of which is this– a marginally better offering is NOT a better product. A better product finds a better way to solve the problem, optimizing for some dimension that was previously unoptimized for. The first thing that comes to mind for me right now is the vertical monitor that I use at work. A monitor that can be swivelled to be vertical is functionally, qualitatively different from a monitor that has slightly better resolution, slightly better clarity than another monitor. It solves a different problem. It satisfies a different customer.

The cool thing is– when you solve a problem with this new dimension, you don’t actually need to be as good as the other offerings on the other dimensions. The iPhone doesn’t have to have the best possible phone service– people use it for the apps, for the Internet, to access Facebook, to Whatsapp their friends. Similarly, the first iPod didn’t have to have amazing audio clarity– it’s selling point was that you could carry your entire music library in your pocket. The audio quality could come afterwards if necessary. (I can’t remember the details– they might have sold on it too, which makes the decision-making much, much easier for the consumers. But Apple is a massive company. If you’re doing this as a solo individual or as a small team, you’re going to have to prioritize. That means focusing on what makes you special to the customers who would want your still-scrappy product.)

I was thinking about all of this this when my wife showed me this potential startup that wanted to build a sort of holistic end-to-end solution for businesses, with a whole list of tools.

The problem with that is– even if you build the perfect multi-purpose tool (which is really quite impossible), you need to get people to start using it, to keep using it, to pay for it. And that involves a whole bunch of decisions from a whole bunch of people who have existing patterns of behavior, all of which are suboptimal in some way or another. It’s really, really hard to get people to adopt your stuff, even if it’s good. Think about the most basic things, like sleeping and eating well. There are loads of people who acknowledge that it’s important to sleep and eat well, and who say that they would like to sleep and eat well, but simply don’t get around to doing it because change is difficult– even when it’s good for you. It’s doubly hard when it’s a product or service of some kind, which requires substantial investments of time, money, goodwill, effort, etc etc.

I found myself thinking of Esperanto– a language that was specifically designed and constructed to be as “perfect” as possible. Specifically, it was crafted to be an “easy-to-learn, politically neutral language that would transcend nationality and foster peace and international understanding between people with different languages.” Noble aims, and something that’s definitely sorely needed in the world. (If you want to strive for SOME sort of perfection, it will almost definitely have to be along some narrow constraint. It will be have to be perfect at solving a very specific problem in a very specific context for a very specific customer. If you do that stupendously well, you might earn the privilege of expanding into other contexts, maybe other customers, maybe other problems. Usually related ones.)

Yet despite being around for over 100 years, less than 0.02% of the world speaks Esperanto– even though it’s reportedly easier to learn than English, and that learning it makes it much easier for people to learn any other language subsequently! Almost a rounding error. Why? The simplest reason is that not many people speak it, and people aren’t typically interested in learning a language that hardly anybody else speaks. Yes, it’s a chicken-and-egg problem, and it’s very hard to solve. The same thing applies when you’re trying to sell a product– people don’t want to use a product that’s been untested, unless it’s incredibly good at solving a problem that they urgently need solved– so urgent that they’re willing to try an untested version made by people they don’t know.

If everybody learned Esperanto, the world would be better off for it. But people don’t care about they world. We care about ourselves. And none of us really has a “I need to learn Esperanto” problem.

So you can’t just design the perfect language, the perfect product, the perfect fitness routine, even. It’s worth almost nothing by itself– it’s just a sort of academic, intellectual exercise. It can be interesting to contemplate or study, but it might even turn out to be a huge distraction– it might mislead you from figuring out adoption patterns. It’s startlingly easy to get attached to a theoretically-perfect model of how things should be, and then defer to that theoretical-perfection instead of the needs and wants, the behavior of of imperfect people. We live in the real world.

Solve for adoption. Solve for real customers who are messy, tired, busy, have a ton of problems as it is, aren’t interested in sitting around and comparing your product to other people’s products (though you better make damn sure you facilitate this for those who want to do it– because they’re so close to buying!).

This is hard to remember when you’re making stuff. You’re never just making stuff. You’re also making a customer– helping people modify their behavior. Behavioral change is Very. Fucking Hard.

Working on it.