Issue #25

In this edition: the fallacy of meeting pre-work, limiting humility, expanding work, the psychology of rock-paper-scissors, varnish, onions, sausages, and more.

Issue #25

‌Welcome to another edition of Idea Surplus Disorder.  I’m Matt Homann, the founder of Filament, and I’m glad you’re here!

In this edition: the fallacy of meeting pre-work, limiting humility, expanding work, the psychology of rock-paper-scissors, varnish, onions, sausages, and more.

Thinksgiving Business Partners Needed:

We've had over 100 nonprofits apply to participate in Thinksgiving this year, and we need to find more business partners to support them.  Check out this video and drop us a line if you're interested in getting your business involved in an amazing experience.

More From Filament:

Bookstorming:  Our business book club has a new name:  Bookstorming!  We're focusing this month on creativity, and have books by Austin Kleon, Twyla Tharp, Rick Rubin, and more.  Our next discussion session is August 2nd, and you can still sign up here.

Ideas + Insights

If you're building something that requires others' attention, read Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think:

“Don’t make me think!” For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling people that this is my first law of usability. It’s the overriding principle—the ultimate tiebreaker when deciding whether a design works or it doesn’t.
The point is that every question mark adds to our cognitive workload, distracting our attention from the task at hand. The distractions may be slight but they add up, especially if it’s something we do all the time like deciding what to click on.  
Here’s the rule: If you can’t make something self-evident, you at least need to make it self-explanatory.

There are lots of reasons outdated, legacy processes stick around long past their usefulness, but one might be because they're the Onion in the Varnish:

Primo Levi tells a story that happened when he was working in a varnish factory. He was a chemist, and he was fascinated by the fact that the varnish recipe included a raw onion. What could it be for? No one knew; it was just part of the recipe. So he investigated, and eventually discovered that they had started throwing the onion in years ago to test the temperature of the varnish: if it was hot enough, the onion would fry.
We have been thinking about vestigial onion slices – the secret recipes, the superstition, and the myths embedded in what we call “innovation.” Sometimes the onion can be removed. Other times a recipe evolves in the presence of an unnecessary onion slice, and omitting the onion destroys the balance. Or maybe the mythos of the onion makes for a valuable story, a boon for the varnish sellers. Either way, you can’t unbundle history without making a mess.

Speaking of varnished onions, here's a similar food-related story about sausage:

When Chicago’s Vienna Sausage Company moved from its original premises which were “put together in a Rube Goldberg kind of arrangement” to a brand new state-of-the-art facility, the sausages didn’t taste as good. For a year and a half, the company tried to work out the problem to no avail. One day, workers were reminiscing about an ex-employee, Irving, who didn’t come to work at the new factory due to the long commute required. Irving’s job was to move the sausages from the filling room to the smokehouse, taking them on a half-hour journey through a maze of rooms where other products were getting produced. After noting this absence, it clicked that Irving’s daily trip was the secret ingredient – on his journey the sausages were getting pre-cooked and infused with flavor. The company was eventually able to recreate the sausages’ original taste, building a brand new room onto the factory which emulated the properties of Irving’s trip.

You're doing too much "pre-work" before your strategy discussions:

Resist the siren call of prework. Doing prework isn’t being thorough. It is outsourcing your strategy logic to people to whom it dangerous to outsource. Rather than start with piles of data that someone has collected based on their own often hidden logic, start with the logic of your own choices and how that logic and those choices have interacted with the world to produce outcomes.

This is such a great question:

If you were the main character in a movie of your life, what would the audience be screaming at you to do right now?

Stop worrying that AI will be the end of work because work has always expanded to fill the technology available:

New technology generally makes it cheaper and easier to do something, but that might mean you do the same with fewer people, or you might do much more with the same people. It also tends to mean that you change what you do. To begin with, we make the new tool fit the old way of working, but over time, we change how we work to fit the tool.

Maybe humility is not always a virtue:

In fact, humility is likely keeping you small…but that’s not something people like to talk about. People are afraid of being seen as “overly confident,” but it’s important to remember that there’s a MASSIVE difference between arrogance and confidence.  So what does this look like in practice?
Instead of downplaying your accomplishments, own them. Do big things and take credit for them — just don’t be a jerk about it. Even if you go to the extreme, even if that confidence ends up being “inflated,” it’s important to remember that overconfidence is far less destructive than self-doubt.

Here's a great Why Do You Want to Call a Meeting? flow chart.

The psychological depths of rock-paper-scissors.

One heuristic of experienced players is “Losers lead with Rock.” This is demonstrably true; naïve players will lead with Rock more often than one-third of the time. Your hand begins in the form of a rock, and it is easiest to keep it that way. The name of the game begins with “Rock,” and if you are mentally sorting through the options, it is the first one that will occur to you. And the word “rock” itself has connotations of strength and immovability. These factors lead players to choose Rock on their first go more often than chance would dictate. An experienced player can take advantage of this. Against a player you know to be naïve, you play Paper.
Similarly, players rarely choose the same symbol three times in a row, and almost never four times; it feels wrong to human psychology. An extended streak feels nonrandom and unlikely, even though in a purely random game, each new throw is stochastic, not dependent on the outcomes of previous throws. Thus in a truly random game, no matter how many times “Paper” has come up in a row before, there is a 1 in 3 chance of it coming up again. Given the nature of human psychology, if Paper has come up twice, there is far less than a 1 in 3 chance that the player will choose it again.

This is timely advice for all who are on the fence about applying for something (school, a job, a promotion, etc.).  Apply, but don't sweat the result, because it's not your decision to make:

We constantly limit our options by deciding for others. All I had to do was apply, and it then became the university’s job to accept my application or not.
You probably have seen this pattern countless times in yourself and others. It’s far easier not to fail when you haven’t tried. It’s far easier to not be wrong when you’re not putting yourself out there. But it’s also much harder to grow as a human being when we avoid getting out of our comfort zone.

Fun Finds

Just 13% of classic video games are currently available for commercial purchase. This percentage is even lower than that of U.S. silent films.

Talk to strangers!

Simple Wikipedia gives you shorter answers in plain English.

The Public Domain Review features fascinating images, articles, and more discovered in the public domain.

The 25 things scientist Robert Boyle wanted science to solve 300 years ago.  Spoiler alert:  we've solved several already!

Words of Wisdom

"The main thing you need to know about instructions is that no one is going to read them." – Steve Krug
"Stop trying to be liked by everybody. You don't even like everybody." – David Hiaett
"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible'!" — Audrey Hepburn
Those who are readily prepared to tell you what is right for you are not your friends. – James Hollis
"If you feel safe in the area that you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting." – David Bowie
"I’ve never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think that the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again." – Mason Currey
"The question is not: will today be a good day?  Every day is a good day.  The question is: how much good will you get out of today?" – James Clear

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