Category Archives: Personal

Curiosity

In an earlier post, I wrote about how our son’s curiosity for and resulting fascination with everything in life reminds me that each new moment is a miracle.

In that post, the reason I gave for why we often default to living as though nothing is a miracle is that we’ve experienced many things before.

However, there’s also a second reason why we often default to this approach. And that is that most of what we’re guided to do, especially as a child, is to complete tasks in predetermined subject areas. Rather than ask the questions that interest us and follow the paths that result from our attempts to answer these questions, we’re guided to complete predetermined tasks without asking questions. In other words, we’re guided to set aside our own curiosity for what society believes we should be curious about, to the extent that society believes we should be curious about it.

Fortunately, our own curiosity does not go away. It sits there, beneath layers of externally constructed interests.

Just like our son, and just like when you were a child, you just have to have the courage to let your curiosity surface.

Meaning, uncertainty, and worry

When you do things that you know the outcome of, there’s no reason to worry. You already know that you’ll achieve the outcome.

Worry sets in when you pursue something with an uncertain outcome. The greater the uncertainty of the outcome, the greater the worry.

Looking at things this way, doing things with relatively certain outcomes is an easy way to avoid worry.

However, those things with relatively certain outcomes also tend to be less meaningful. Those things that are worth doing tend to have uncertain outcomes.

So the choice is between doing meaningful things with uncertain outcomes and hence worry, and less meaningful things with relatively certain outcomes and low worry.

There’s room for both. However, most of us naturally gravitate towards the latter in order to minimize worry. Reminding ourselves that the former produce worry for a good reason helps us do more of these things.

Creativity and performing predefined tasks

Work can be broken down into two different activities. The first is deciding what to do and the second is doing it.

The former requires creativity while the latter requires putting in the time to perform an activity with relatively less brain power.

Since the latter requires less brain power, it’s possible to spend extended periods of time, which I define as more than 12 hours a day, doing it.

Creativity, on the other hand, comes in short bursts. You can’t be creative for 12 hours a day. My creative periods last for 4 to 5 hours a day at best.

As a result, creative roles spend less time working than roles focused on carrying out a predefined task. However, this does not mean that creative roles produce less output as correct decision making is a higher leverage activity than task execution.

In roles that require both creativity and performing predefined tasks, it’s useful to set your daily schedule to allow enough time for your high value creative bursts to occur in the environments and the times of the day when they’re most likely to surface, while spending the remaining time on performing predefined tasks.

Dubai

The first time I visited Dubai was back in 2011. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was impressed by two things.

The first is how diverse the city is. Dubai is home to not only local Emiratis but also large groups of people from other Middle Eastern countries, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Far East, Europe, and North America. And these aren’t just tourists. Most live in Dubai.

In fact, with 83% of its residents born outside of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is the world’s most international city. During a period of time when many societies across the world are becoming increasingly polarized and isolated, Dubai remains a testament to the ability of diverse humans to live and work together in harmony.

The second thing which struck me is how majestic everything is. From the airport to the highways to the malls to the towers, everything in Dubai is imposingly beautiful.

As I traveled from Dubai to Istanbul yesterday, I realized that neither of these facts have changed. As evidence of the latter fact, here’s a picture of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai.

Doing important things on a relatively empty stomach

After you eat, your body works to digest what you’ve eaten. Since your body’s energy is directed towards your stomach, this leaves less energy for other organs, including your brain.

This is why your thoughts are less clear after a meal than before one. The heavier the meal, the lower the quality of your post-meal thinking.

As a result, if you have something important to do, it’s best to do it on an empty stomach.

There is, however, a limit to this approach. Specifically, this doesn’t mean that you should starve yourself. If your stomach is too empty, this also prevents you from thinking well because you don’t have any energy for your body to direct towards your brain.

The solution is to keep a relatively empty stomach so long as you’re doing important things. And if you enjoy larger meals, reserve them for times when you don’t have something important to do.

Work, experience, and output

In order to become a professional in a given field, you need to start off by working very hard. The reason is that there’s a lot to learn and you’re competing with other people who are further along the learning curve than you are.

However, the more you learn in a field, the less there is left to learn in that specific field. Although learning never ends even in a specific field, the pace of learning declines.

In addition, many people who were further along the learning curve when you started off in the field drop out, and you surpass many others as a result of your hard work.

When this happens, somewhat paradoxically, you work less hard as you gain more experience.

However, this doesn’t mean that your output declines. To the contrary, since you’ve learned which activities contribute to what you’re doing and which don’t, you don’t chase after everything as you used to when you first started off.

So you get to work less hard, but more smartly, while continuing to see increases in your output.

This continues to be the case unless you decide to enter a new field. If you do so, you get to experience the challenge but also the joy of once again learning something new.

The turtle and the rabbit

You’ve likely heard the story of the turtle and the rabbit racing each other. Although the rabbit is faster, he stops to look around in the middle of the race, and this lets the slower turtle win the race.

The moral of the story is that, in many settings, a steady and persistent approach outperforms a series of bursts and declines in effort.

Although I believe in the moral of the story, I didn’t believe that a turtle could actually win a race against a rabbit. It turns out that it can happen.

System dynamics

When a cause is introduced into a system, there’s an immediate and often obvious effect.

However, if we’re dealing with a complex system, the cause often has multiple less obvious effects, and many of these effects have follow-on effects which are challenging to predict. As a result, the final outcome, if there is such a thing, can be very different than what the immediate and obvious effect would suggest.

System dynamics is the study of such complex systems where causes produce multiple effects with follow-on effects.

As a complex system, nature produces many great examples of observations which can be analyzed from the lens of system dynamics. Here’s an example of what happened after wolves were introduced to Yellowstone National Park.

Comfort with conversational silence

It’s tempting to fill in the natural silences that emerge in a conversation. The reason is that you don’t know the reason for the silence. Specifically, you don’t know whether it’s because the other person isn’t interested in the conversation, or is simply reflecting on what has been said to guide the rest of the conversation in a more informed way.

Since you don’t know which is the case, it’s tempting to play it safe and fill in the silence with the hope of reigniting interest in the conversation.

However, more often than not, it isn’t that your partner isn’t interested in the conversation, but that they were simply reflecting in order to provide a more informed reply. Since we can speak faster than we can think, we often need to allow time for our thoughts to catch up on and internalize what was said before responding.

So, most of the time, the right response to a natural silence is no response. The right response is to simply be comfortable with the silence by acknowleding that it’s a necessary part of enhancing the future quality of the conversation.

Flying through a hurricane

This was a fascinating article on what it’s like to fly an airplane through a hurricane with the goal of collecting sensor data to inform public evacuation decisions. It also includes a video of an airplane doing just that, which I unfortunately couldn’t embed into this post.

Based on the airplane’s mission and the data that it collects, drones will likely be able to perform the same tasks in the near future. As a result, we will no longer need to risk the lives of human pilots and data collection personnel in the middle of a hurricane.

However, until then, we need to risk a few lives in order to potentially save thousands.