Next week Idea Surplus Disorder is on vacation as I'll be in Italy visiting my daughter, so read this one slowly!
In this edition: bad ideas, how much to fail, thin rules, hybrid work, microvalidations, smidgens, hot dogs, ancestors, and more.
- We're hiring! Filament is looking for a Senior Facilitator. You can check out the job post here.
- N.S.F.W. (New Skills For Work): This Wednesday (May 24th), we're tackling ways to think small, innovate faster, and bring experimentation into every part of your organization. RSVP here.
Ideas + Insights
To succeed, you need to fail exactly 15.87 percent of the time!
What makes the mere existence of this optimal failure rate valuable is that it does two things for you. First, it gives you an objective benchmark for optimal difficulty. If you’re failing much more than once in every five or six attempts, you’re probably failing too often; and if you almost never fail or fail rarely, you’re probably not failing often enough. Second, though, from an emotional perspective, the optimal error rate licenses you to fail. Not only is failing okay, but it’s necessary.
Speaking of failure, it's better to learn from others' first:
Observe other people’s failures. In their paper, Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach propose removing the ego from failure as much as possible by looking at other people’s failures first, before you take on a task yourself. In one of their studies, half of participants got lessons from other people’s negative results in the Facing Failure game before playing it themselves—and learned more from those failures than they did from their own. In other words, when you set out to learn out to ski, it will probably help to watch YouTube videos about common mistakes, before you hit the slopes yourself.
One of the ways I'm using AI most is to help me have lots of bad ideas quickly.
I love the distinction between "thin" rules and "thick" ones:
Thickness refers to the amount of context and judgment needed to apply a rule. [T]hin rules apply to all cases uniformly and require minimal context to provide clarity in a given situation. Thickness comes from the amount of context and judgment required to decide if the rule has been violated and assess the corresponding punishment. Perhaps counterintuitively, thick rules can be fairly short. For example, the golden rule “do unto others...” is very thick, and its context-free application is guaranteed to cause trouble. On the other hand, thin rules are often lengthy but can be applied globally with minimal context. In the ideal state, a thin rule can be applied programmatically with only a few variables supplied—think the right-hand rule in electromagnetic or an attendance rule at school.
Can physics explain business? Only if you understand it:
When you exapt a concept from one domain and use it in another—“exaptation” itself being a great example, which I borrowed from evolutionary biology—you’re subtly encouraging people to think about the things that two different systems might have in common. You’re initiating a process where, for each idea you come across, you instinctively contemplate how it might have an analog in a different domain. It’s not just a way to communicate. It’s a way to think.
But if you want to take full advantage of this way of thinking, you need to actually understand what the concepts mean in their original setting. Only then can you benefit from the metaphor. Otherwise it’s just an empty label. You only know the name of the thing, but names don’t constitute knowledge.
This is helpful advice on how to "get strategic" early in your career – even when your company's strategy is unclear (or nonexistent):
Your attitude should be: “I need to clarify our strategy so my team can make better decisions,” and not: “I should help set the company strategy.” The former gets a “how can I help?” reaction from others. The latter gets a “who do you think you are?” reaction.
If you are going to tackle this, remember that the lack of an explicit strategy doesn’t mean there is no strategy. Your first step is to synthesize and document that unspoken strategy in such a way that you create a conversation. If you ask people why they are doing what they are doing, they will have answers. If you synthesize those answers, plus the company’s vision/mission/goals, plus customer and competitive research, you can often tease out the key strategic principles underpinning the company’s actions. You can then put those strategic principles on paper as a conversation starter.
Hybrid work setups, where employees split time between the office and remote work, result in more productive workers who contribute nearly two extra weeks of work a year.
These are equally subtle but powerful actions or language that demonstrate affirmation, encouragement, and belief in a person’s potential. They can include gestures as simple as acknowledging and affirming someone’s experience of a microaggression, or giving encouraging feedback and sincere compliments.
Big words aren't better – and certainly not smarter:
Readers evaluate the intelligence of an author not only by the quality of their arguments but also by how well they understand what the author is trying to say. Using simple words and sentences makes the point clear. Big words don’t make writing sound intelligent; they make it hard to understand.
The problem, it seems, is that we—humans and autocorrect—are unwilling to change. We have the same typing habits, the same collection of words we routinely use that get mistaken, and these platforms aren’t adapting. It’s just “ducking” over and over and over again.
How much is a smidgen?
- 2 parents
- 4 grandparents
- 8 great-grandparents
- 16 second great-grandparents
- 32 third great-grandparents
- 64 fourth great-grandparents
- 128 fifth great-grandparents
- 256 sixth great-grandparents
- 512 seventh great-grandparents
- 1,024 eighth great-grandparents
- 2,048 ninth great-grandparents
I'm not sure how I missed this eight years ago, but apparently, it's official: a hot dog is not a sandwich.
Words of Wisdom
"In the measurement world, you set a goal and strive for it. In the universe of possibility, you set the context and let life unfold." — Benjamin Zander
"The most unprofitable thing ever manufactured is an excuse.” – Jay Samit
"An hour before 9 is worth two after 5." – Ali Abdaal
“An ugly baby is better than no baby at all. If you wait and wait and wait for your product to be perfect before you release it out into the world, you will often never get there." – Kathryn Minshew
"If it’s a problem that can be solved by money, you don’t have a problem." – Ryan Holiday
“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace.” — Milan Kundera
"Learn to listen. Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly." – H. Jackson Brown Jr.
“If you can’t read and write, you can’t think. Your thoughts are dispersed if you don’t know how to read and write. You’ve got to be able to look at your thoughts on paper and discover what a fool you were.” — Ray Bradbury