Chosen Tidbits 3

Part of the Chosen Tidbits series.

Why I Ignore All Studies

A p-value of 0.05 means 5% of results are wrong and the uninteresting results go unpublished so in practice it's way more (p-value fishing).

Last, I lower my confidence in studies because every individual is different. That doesn't mean that I should smoke because maybe I'm not affected by tobacco, but it does mean that if the average person needs 7 hours of sleep but my own research shows that 8 works best for me, I should probably stick to 8.

Planning to Start, Planning to Finish

Over the years I’ve realized that a different distinction, within planning, is probably much more important: between planning to start, and planning to finish.

Planning to finish is the familiar kind, where you plan all the way to the end and the terminal condition is the completed state of the activity. The finish line, the deadline, the checkered flag.

Planning to start though, is the more important kind for any creative work. The French phrase mise en place, a favorite of Hercule Poirot, gets at this. It roughly means “setting the stage”, especially with reference to cooking preparations.

When you plan to start, you get to the starting line rather than the finishing line, by setting the stage for a more creative, improvised phase. You can call it getting to the starting line, or as I prefer, by analogy to deadline, the lifeline. A condition where a zombie set of parts is assembled together in a way that makes it come alive.

The difference relates to what Scott Adams called the difference between systems and goals. When you plan to start, you undertake planned activities to end in a functioning system where habits can flow.

Another connection familiar to many of you is to James Carse’s notion of finite versus infinite games. Planning to finish is playing a finite game to win it and exit it. Planning to start is working to enter an infinite game and continue playing it.

Whatever you choose to call it, you should probably spend more time thinking about this difference than about how much planning to do, which is often a much simpler question.

Speed Matters

Part of the activation energy required to start any task comes from the picture you get in your head when you imagine doing it. It may not be that going for a run is actually costly; but if it feels costly, if the picture in your head looks like a slog, then you will need a bigger expenditure of will to lace up.

Slowness seems to make a special contribution to this picture in our heads. Time is especially valuable. So as we learn that a task is slow, an especial cost accrues to it. Whenever we think of doing the task again, we see how expensive it is, and bail.

That’s why speed matters.

Eating The Shadow

We can embrace our monstrosity while cultivating our human nobility. We can allow each to transform the other, so we become cheerful, kind, useful monsters who are also overpowering, unpredictable, and dangerous heroes.

Reduce Friction

Reduce friction.

Automation might be costly... but it removes friction — it pays for more than just the effort.

Sometimes not even automatization but making sure you can do stuff in an optimized way.

Investing In Your Ordinary Powers

The personal growth world is somewhat obsessed with strengths and weaknesses, or more generally, things that make you different from others, whether you view those things as gifts or curses.

To get past a strengths/weaknesses orientation, or more generally past your specialness orientation, you have to get in touch with the things that make you ordinary.

An early adopter is a classic example of someone investing in their ordinariness. There may be some mild strengths or weaknesses involved: maybe you are slightly better at figuring out janky UIs (a minor strength), or slightly more susceptible to distraction (a minor weakness). But mainly, being an early adopter is exactly the same as being a late adopter, except you are early.

You may attract a romantic partner through things that make you special, but most relationship maintenance skills are based on investing in the ordinary.

Peter Thiel

“Contrarians may be mostly wrong, but when they get it right, they get it really right.”

According to Thiel, monopoly is the end state of every successful business. If you want to create and capture lasting economic value, don’t compete. The more unique companies are, the more the business world can flourish.

How Much is Your Time Worth?

A post asking the question (among others): "should you buy an AC unit"?

Interesting perspective.

Mediocratopia 8

Mediocrity is not being a completist about anything. Not finishing for the sake of finishing.

Mediocrity is not lack of attention to key details, it is to mainly care about the key details and being willing to compromise on all other details. This is often rational.

After a lot of mediocre output, the result can start looking quite good. A bit like in the pottery parable - but it's not quite the point. You're not trying to cleverly solve for the "best" pot, you just have lower minimum standards for pots. You're not throwing away your mediocre pots, which are good enough.

For a mediocratist, the level of caring is a design variable, not a fixed performance parameter to be set at "maximum" by default.

Where you decide to stop caring about what you're doing reveals where you are willing to start caring about yourself. And being a completist about everything means not caring about yourself at all.