We're too lazy to do anything about anything

Take 5 minutes to read this article, then come back here for a quick rant. (or just read my short summary below)

The Gist? A journalist and some friends released a very poorly run study incorrectly claiming that chocolate accelerates weight loss. They then got a few news outlets to cover their “science discovery”. Result? They were surprised by how fast and how far it spread across the world — with close to zero due diligence by the news outlets.

An epidemic of misinformation. And laziness.

This should give you a good idea of how poor quality control is in traditional media when covering science. (and I wouldn’t be surprised if this applies to other topics as well). Think back to articles you read that got you excited about this new discovery or that new quick fix: the research may be incomplete, conclusions exaggerated, or even made up. And that’s one of the reasons why, every week, you can read about new miracle cures and quick fixes that solve all your problems.

That’s not my point, though. My rant circles back to all of us. We are as much to blame for this epidemic of misinformation as the media. More specifically, our laziness is to blame. We’re always on the lookout for shortcuts to our goals, whether consciously or not. And the media will happily serve us such shortcuts, regardless of their effectiveness. They’ll reveal the “secrets” to instant weight loss, happy relationships, fulfilling careers, and many more. They will pack all that wisdom in a single 500-word post you can read while having breakfast. It’s that easy.

Or rather, we fool ourselves into believing it’s that easy. After all, isn’t it much more appealing to believe that the two awesome articles we read are enough to achieve our goals, instead of believing we’ll have to spend the next year exploring, learning, trying, and failing many times before reaching our goals?

Why go for the effective when I can have the quick?

Nevertheless, the media should certainly be responsible for the quality of the content they deliver. But, as with any decent business, they’re also eager to deliver what we (their customers) ask for. And we just keep on asking for quick fixes over and above effective fixes. Therefore, I don’t expect this trend to reverse itself unless we start demanding something different: quality research, proven solutions, etc.

And “we” refers to the majority. The media cares little about the three misfits, on the sidelines, opposing conventional wisdom. The media craves the attention of the masses. As long as most of us are turned on by the latest fad, click that link, send some $$ to media companies, we’re just reinforcing this behaviour, and should expect to get more of the same. They’re in the business of making money, and will do more of what they get paid for.

When it comes to thinking (about how to achieve our goals) and acting (on these thoughts) we’re often lazy, leaning towards the quick rather than the effective approach.

And, while I’m at it, don’t follow your passion!

This, conveniently, leads me to a similar bias; a bias for laziness in a different field. I started reading about it recently in the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport. In short, this book dismisses the “follow your passion” advice (I’ll use FYP in this post). A simple phrase that runs wild in our culture and literature. The author claims (and I agree) that not only is it useless advice (with respect to acting on it) but it is, in fact, harmful advice and is a source of the growing dissatisfaction “our generation” faces.

It is harmful because, among other reasons, just like in the above case, it fuels our laziness: “if you follow your passion you will inevitably be fulfilled at work”, and then no mention of the laborious thousands of hours spent to get there.

It fuels our desire to get simple solutions to difficult problems i.e., a simple path to career fulfillment, when in fact, getting to any form of satisfaction will require long, painful, and unsexy work. In the majority of cases, passion doesn’t just appear at your doorstep and call on you to let everything go and follow it blindly. Passion is something that develops over years of sweat at mastering a craft.

But don’t listen to me, here’s what Steve Jobs has to say (?)

Steve Jobs, the poster child of FYP, famously shared this advice in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech. It turns out, he didn’t actually follow it earlier in his career. In his twenties, Jobs was a barefoot-walking, western history and dance student, fascinated by eastern mysticism and training seriously at the Los Altos Zen Center. He had no special interest in business or technology. He just happened to be friends with Steve Wozniak, a true electronics whiz, who, at the time, needed some help handling the business side of an engineering contract he was working on. Jobs took this opportunity to make some quick cash, gradually taking on bigger goals, until they eventually built the empire that is Apple.

As Cal Newport writes:

“If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice to only pursue work he loved, he would have probably become a popular teacher at the Los Altos Zen Center…”

This is all you need to know overcome the laziness bias

I hope you caught the irony in the title before reading on... And if not, you now know what to be on the lookout for.

I finished reading the book. And as expected, there are no silver bullets. There are no 3 Easy Steps to Career Fulfilment, just as there are no 3 Foods to Get a 6-pack In A Week! Whether we’re talking about dieting or work, the moral of the story, that most of us don’t want to hear, is that getting it right is hard work. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a long and painful road, it’s confusing, … but it’s worthwhile.

You don’t get to achieve anything worthwhile without perseverance in hard work. In fact, hard work is a key ingredient in worthwhileness.

This is my first foray into writing on Medium. So far, I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Let me know what you think. You can find more (including some of my experiments) at David.Achkar.com.