Prototyping and Boundary Objects

I work at IDEO in London, a big part of the way we work is the idea of ‘building to think’. We specifically refer to this way of working as it’s a proven method for sharing ideas and moving towards a solution more quickly than simply talking and planning. We look for ways to prototype our emerging ideas as often and as soon as possible, this isn’t always an easy thing to convince clients to do, in fact more often than not it represents an alien way to work for them.

Lots of my colleagues have written about the importance of prototyping and building to think elsewhere. It is a central tenant of the IDEO philosophy it translates into the mantra “Stop Talking, Start Making”. Watch IDEO founding father David Kelley talking about it in the General Assembly video: http://vimeo.com/36608732

But why is building/making/prototyping better than talking when it comes to the creative process? Why shouldn’t we be able to simply talk through a problem and agree on a solution? Well, in the world of cross disciplinary teams, specialist practitioners and clients, the reality is that no two groups speak the same language. Coders speak in code, graphic designers talk in pictures, project managers, business designers and photographers all see the world in different ways. In an ideal world the best practitioners can talk across disciplines; but even then no one can talk across all disciplines. We all benefit from finding common ground and common points of reference, they help us calibrate the way we work together. And that’s where prototypes come in, a thing we can all gather around. In fact there is a sociological concept that sums up what a prototype is: A Boundary Object.

Boundary Objects

A boundary object is a ‘thing’ that is both defined enough that several communities can recognise it as the same thing, yet flexible enough that each community can use it according to their own needs. In the conceptual sense they can be abstract or concrete, but either way they exist outside of peoples’ heads. A conversation can’t be a boundary object for example as it doesn’t live beyond the people having the conversation. An annual report however, is a boundary object; it lives by itself independently of any one person. There’s more about boundary objects here from the Wikipedia Page.

The beauty of a prototype/boundary object is that you can show it to a group of people and they can all stand around and point at it, interact with it, build on it and above all see the inherent complexity. It’s also much easier to understand the trade-off and decisions that have been made – even in a very low resolution prototype. Where a conversation could take literally hours to deliver consensus, a prototype can shortcut the process.

The real power of a process like this is that it forces everyone involved to consider their area of input alongside everyone else. So it’s harder for a decisions to be made in isolation.

Better Protoyping

So if we understand the importance of prototypes as a way to facilitate communication between different groups, what can the theory of Boundary Objects tell us and help us make better prototypes? In reading around for this blog post I came across a recent paper about the subject (which also references Mr. Kelley), it goes into much more detail than I have here but they pull out some key benefits of the prototype approach:

- Prototypes are a manifestation for feedback. For clients and designers alike
- Prototypes improve the team experience, by building confidence and emotional engagement
- Prototypes converge thinking

If we focus on these three key facets it’s easy to see how out prototypes can be designed to suit each of these needs:

1. Build Prototypes that are incomplete and demand feedback.
2. Prototype for the benefit of your team and your clients
3. Make prototypes early and iterate rapidly

There’s much more to be said about the world of boundary objects and the process of prototyping, hopefully understanding some of the theory that underpins it will help convince more clients to embrace the power of the prototype.

Next Story — This is Your Life in Silicon Valley
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Silicon Valley — Photo Credit — Vadim Kurland

This is Your Life in Silicon Valley

You wake up at 6:30am after an Ambien-induced sleep. It’s Friday. Last night at The Rosewood was pretty intense — you had to check out Madera and see if there is any truth to the long running Silicon Valley rumors. You were disappointed, but at least you did get to see a few GPs from prominent VC firms at the bar. Did they notice you? Did you make eye contact? You remind yourself they are not real celebrities — only well known in a 15-mile radius to the Techcrunch-reading crowd.

Your non-English-speaking nanny shows up at 7:30am on the nose. You are paying her $24/hour and entrusting her (and Daniel the Tiger) with raising your child. You tell yourself that it’s ok for now — when he’s old enough he’ll (someday) be in public school in the Palo Alto school district.

You commit to being a better parent this weekend and spending more quality time with him as you browse through the latest headlines on Flipboard. You recently realized he may not be the next Mark Zuckerberg after all — still you send him to a music school even though he’s only 3. You swear he’s a genius because he can say a few 4-syllable words and can clap perfectly to the beat of “Call me Maybe”. He’s special. He is destined for greatness and you’ll make sure he achieves every ounce of it. After all, both of you are so smart and accomplished.

Cal Academy of Sciences — Photo Credit: Brook Peterson

You ask your nanny if she has any availability to watch your son this weekend. Bummer — you wish Cal Academy of Sciences hadn’t sold you on the annual pass 11 months ago. You figured you’d be going there every weekend, but only ended up going the one time. Not a break even proposition for you.

Your wifi enabled coffee maker downloads the perfect instructions to brew a cup of Blue Bottle — and you don’t have to do anything. The Roomba purrs in the background while you continue to read from your smartphone. You see a few articles about Trump and how crazy he is — somehow this comforts you.

You decide to share an article about Brexit from “The Atlantic”, which will somehow shed light to all your friends as to why it happened. The article is 1,000 words long — you only read half of it, but that’s good enough. It captures all the arguments you’ve been wanting to make for the past two months to your friends. Will this be the Facebook post that finally spurns your friends into action? You realize your Facebook friends all agree with your political views and social views already.

Fifteen minutes — only 3 likes — better luck next time. The Facebook Newsfeed algorithm totally fucked you — you should have shared from your browser, not your phone, and perhaps at a more optimal time.

But then you realize another friend already shared the article. You feel stupid.

Youtube office in San Bruno — photo credit Travis Wise

Your spouse hurriedly gets ready for work — you are a two income family and you have to be one for now. The spreadsheet shows that with only three more years’ savings, you can finally afford that 2 bedroom condo in San Bruno. So what if the weather is shitty 340 days out of the year? At least you’ll be homeowner in the Bay Area — and nothing says you’ve “made it” like being able to afford a down payment. Besides, San Bruno is “up and coming” — and Youtube has an office there.

Your commute to work sucks, but at least its an opportunity to catch up on Podcasts so you can have great conversations over cocktails with your friends. Should you listen to “Serial Season 2” today? Or should you listen to that amazing “Startup” podcast? So many choices, so little time. You instead decide to expand your horizons by trying a new playlist on Spotify — something about Indian-infused-jazz music. It sounds great. It makes you feel cultured.

You decide to park your car using “Luxe” today. You justify it to yourself by saying that parking garages are only $10 less expensive. And you have to spend all of that time walking back and forth. And besides — today you are meeting some friends after work for dinner and you’ll be on the other end of town. You can’t decide whether you’ll take Uber or Lyft to the dinner from your office — decisions, decisions.

You are the Director of Business Development at your startup. You aren’t even sure what that means, but the startup seems to be doing well. Your company recently raised a round and was featured in Techcrunch. You have 5,000 stock options. You aren’t exactly sure what that means, but that must be good. If you exit, maybe that will mean money toward a down payment.

Your day starts in Salesforce. You have to email a bunch of people. You briefly contemplate a business idea you have that will totally kill Salesforce and Facebook at the same time. But you need a technical co-founder. Eventually you’ll get to it — after all, you’re smart and destined for greatness yourself. And your friends all tell you how you should start something someday.

Your 27-year-old CEO calls an ad-hoc all-hands meeting and regales about company culture and how your mission is to “kill email because it’s broken”. He wants to make every enterprise company in the world switch to your product. He’s never worked for an enterprise company, or any other company at all.

The sales team got rowdy the night before. They missed their quota, but it was not their fault — it was implementation’s fault for fucking up a major deal. Also — marketing didn’t send them enough inbound leads for them to hit quota. Maybe next quarter. You trade emails with your college buddies on Gmail about how ridiculous Kevin Durant is for joining the Warriors. You come to realize email is working just fine for you. You feel depressed for a moment. Your summer intern is trying to figure out a Snapchat strategy.

Philz Coffee — photo credt: Rick.

It’s time for that afternoon coffee to keep you going through the day. You head over to Philz with some co-workers. You order a vegan donut and very clearly ask the barista for 3 Splendas. He was clearly a Splenda short, but the line is long and you want to be civil. You are above mentioning something like this to the barista — you let it pass and feel a “micro aggression” bubbling inside.

You have to decide where to go for dinner tonight. You look at Yelp for a place that’s within 1 mile and is rated at least 3.5 stars. But really you’re looking for something 4 stars plus and at least $$$. What will your friends think of you if you pick a place that’s too cheap? But you also don’t want to go $$$$ because that’s too expensive. You have good taste. This comforts you.

You realize your reservation with your spouse at the French Laundry is coming up this weekend. Your calendar app reminds you of this. You’ve been looking forward to it for months. You can’t wait to take perfectly Instagrammed photos of the meal to go along with your perfectly Instagrammed life.

#San Francisco is trending on Twitter. You realize the San Francisco journalism community is angry about something — they are full of rage at the way a homeless person is being treated. The reporters all share photos and videos of the homeless person, but no one talks to him.

It’s time for some afternoon Facebook browsing. Your friends are all doing SO well. You are secretly jealous of your friend who just bought a house in the Noe. You speculate as to how rich they must be after their exit from LinkedIn. Even though they were only employee #500 they must have done well. You briefly try to do the math in your head. Maybe that can be you at your current startup. It’s only a matter of time.

More browsing. One friend was employee #5 at a company that just sold to Twitter. They must have made so much money, you think. You like the status, but you are jealous. Another friend’s kid seems to be more advanced than your kid based on the Vine they just shared of them playing the piano. Damnit, need to be a better parent.

You go to Redfin to see how much they paid for their house.

You briefly daydream about how you once had an opportunity to work at Google pre-IPO. And that you could have joined Facebook right after IPO — and imagine that — the stock price has tripled in a short amount of time. Would that have been the big break you needed?

Your CEO grabs you in a panic and asks you to do a quick analysis for a board member. The board member was base jumping in Mexico and panicked about something related to burn rate and strategy. The CEO’s job is at risk.

Microsoft Excel — photo credit Collin Anderson.

You do the grunt work and analysis, and finish it just in time for him to breathe a sigh of relief and tell you what an “Excel Ninja” you are. Your analysis makes you realize the company maybe should have saved money on office space, and perhaps the rock climbing wall and Segways. You realize your CEO knows nothing about your business.

Your mind briefly drifts off and you think — “is this all really worth it? should I move to Seattle, Austin, or maybe even Florida?” After all there is no state tax and you could live a great quality of life there with an actual house with your beautiful family.

You browse Redfin again. Hmmm. Maybe not Austin — what about something less ambitious like Fremont, Morgan Hill or Milpitas? That wouldn’t solve your commute problems, you think. It would be more affordable though.

Delicious looking cupcakes — photo credit Frederic Bisson.

You know what? If you move to Austin you could somehow get by. After all your spouse is so amazing at baking. She could easily make a living selling her cupcakes — she has so much talent as a cook and you could afford culinary school. Worst case, she also has an amazing knack for craft jewelry. The three pieces she sold on Etsy last month are evidence of that. How talented both of you are.

And hey — if you move to Austin, you can finally build that home with a “Zen minimalist” theme you’ve been dreaming of. You go to Bluhome’s website — their design aesthetic perfectly matches yours. You just need to save the money to make it happen. You browse Pinterest and Houzz for ideas on how to decorate the interior. Is Red or Navy Blue TOO bold of a color? You don’t know. Maybe you should use an on-demand service for that.

You forgot to order groceries and the nanny needs milk for your kid ASAP. She texts you frantically in broken English. Thank goodness for Instacart — you spend $10 in delivery costs, but you need to add a bunch of items to your cart to hit the minimum threshold. You add a few squeezies, some bananas and a few artisan cheeses to hit the mark. You realize you haven’t stepped into a grocery store for months — but don’t worry — your opportunity cost of time is way too high at the moment. Especially if you factor in those stock options.

Almost time for dinner. You are having dinner tonight with the “Chief Hacking Officer” at the company and the “VP of Awesomeness”. You arrive at the restaurant, and they marvel at your taste — nice job surfing Yelp.

Your dinner conversation centers around how autonomous vehicles are going to be better in the long run than ordinary cars for a variety of reasons. And something about how Elon Musk handles meetings. You are all too busy making your own points and citing articles to really listen to each other. You order the $17 dollar Risotto and the $9 glass of Pleasanton-brewed IPA.

On your ride home you find the time to catch up on the Malcolm Gladwell podcast. What an interesting guy he is — he’s so smart and he makes you think about things.

After coming home you briefly use that “7 minute workout” app, which scientists have proven is way more effective than a one-hour cardio workout. You got your exercise in for the day — nice work.

You and your spouse get ready for bed. What’s in your Netflix queue? Well, you have to catch up on “Making a Murderer” since it’s been all over the news lately. And let’s not get too far behind on “Mr. Robot” since it’s so critically acclaimed. For lighter fare, and if you have time, you can always try “Last Week Tonight” — John Oliver always says exactly what you’re thinking in your head — just funnier than you would have said it.

You quietly shuffle to bed, tired from the long, hard day. You check your email, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat one last time before bedtime. You don’t think you’ll have enough energy to check LinkedIn today — and besides — their mobile UI is not very good. Maybe you can start a company that will disrupt LinkedIn? They did just sell for a bunch of money after all.

Your last thought before bed — should you switch to the Android ecosystem? You are on the “S” iPhone replacement cycle and you are getting impatient. But then you realize you are so heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem that it may not make sense.

Vipassana Retreat — photo credit kinnla.

You briefly use mobile Safari to browse for Vipassana retreats — you hear a 10 day retreat in Soquel may be the ticket to shake things up. You realize it’s not going to be possible. You download a meditation app. You turn it off. You don’t have time.

You briefly recall your ride home on the 280 tonight. The sun was setting. It was beautiful. You realize you live in paradise.

Next Story — Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology
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Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology

“The strongest force propelling human progress has been the swift advance and wide diffusion of technology.” — The Economist

In the year 1820, a person could expect to live less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less that 20% of the population was literate. Today, human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty, and over 80% of people are literate. These improvements are due mainly to advances in technology, beginning in the industrial age and continuing today in the information age.

There are many exciting new technologies that will continue to transform the world and improve human welfare. Here are eleven of them.

1. Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars exist today that are safer than human-driven cars in most driving conditions. Over the next 3–5 years they‘ll get even safer, and will begin to go mainstream.

The World Health Organization estimates that 1.25 million people die from car-related injuries per year. Half of the deaths are pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists hit by cars. Cars are the leading cause of death for people ages 15–29 years old.

Just as cars reshaped the world in the 20th century, so will self-driving cars in the 21st century. In most cities, between 20–30% of usable space is taken up by parking spaces, and most cars are parked about 95% of the time. Self-driving cars will be in almost continuous use (most likely hailed from a smartphone app), thereby dramatically reducing the need for parking. Cars will communicate with one another to avoid accidents and traffic jams, and riders will be able to spend commuting time on other activities like work, education, and socializing.

Source: Tech Insider

2. Clean Energy

Attempts to fight climate change by reducing the demand for energy haven’t worked. Fortunately, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs have been working hard on the supply side to make clean energy convenient and cost-effective.

Due to steady technological and manufacturing advances, the price of solar cells has dropped 99.5% since 1977. Solar will soon be more cost efficient than fossil fuels. The cost of wind energy has also dropped to an all-time low, and in the last decade represented about a third of newly installed US energy capacity.

Forward thinking organizations are taking advantage of this. For example, in India there is an initiative to convert airports to self-sustaining clean energy.

Airport in Kochi, India (source: Clean Technica)

Tesla is making high-performance, affordable electric cars, and installing electric charging stations worldwide.

Tesla Model 3 and US supercharger locations

There are hopeful signs that clean energy could soon be reaching a tipping point. For example, in Japan, there are now more electric charging stations than gas stations.

Source: The Guardian

And Germany produces so much renewable energy, it sometimes produces even more than it can use.

Source: Time Magazine

3. Virtual and Augmented Reality

Computer processors only recently became fast enough to power comfortable and convincing virtual and augmented reality experiences. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars to make VR and AR more immersive, comfortable, and affordable.

Toybox demo from Oculus

People sometimes think VR and AR will be used only for gaming, but over time they will be used for all sorts of activities. For example, we’ll use them to manipulate 3-D objects:

Augmented reality computer interface (from Iron Man)

To meet with friends and colleagues from around the world:

Augmented reality teleconference (from The Kingsman)

And even for medical applications, like treating phobias or helping rehabilitate paralysis victims:

Source: New Scientist

VR and AR have been dreamed about by science fiction fans for decades. In the next few years, they’ll finally become a mainstream reality.

4. Drones and Flying Cars

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need… roads.” — Dr. Emmet Brown

GPS started out as a military technology but is now used to hail taxis, get mapping directions, and hunt Pokémon. Likewise, drones started out as a military technology, but are increasingly being used for a wide range of consumer and commercial applications.

For example, drones are being used to inspect critical infrastructure like bridges and power lines, to survey areas struck by natural disasters, and many other creative uses like fighting animal poaching.

Source: NBC News

Amazon and Google are building drones to deliver household items.

Amazon delivery drone

The startup Zipline uses drones to deliver medical supplies to remote villages that can’t be accessed by roads.

Source: The Verge

There is also a new wave of startups working on flying cars (including two funded by the cofounder of Google, Larry Page).

The Terrafugia TF-X flying car (source)

Flying cars use the same advanced technology used in drones but are large enough to carry people. Due to advances in materials, batteries, and software, flying cars will be significantly more affordable and convenient than today’s planes and helicopters.

5. Artificial Intelligence

‘’It may be a hundred years before a computer beats humans at Go — maybe even longer.” — New York Times, 1997
“Master of Go Board Game Is Walloped by Google Computer Program” — New York Times, 2016

Artificial intelligence has made rapid advances in the last decade, due to new algorithms and massive increases in data collection and computing power.

AI can be applied to almost any field. For example, in photography an AI technique called artistic style transfer transforms photographs into the style of a given painter:

Source

Google built an AI system that controls its datacenter power systems, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs.

Source: Bloomberg

The broad promise of AI is to liberate people from repetitive mental tasks the same way the industrial revolution liberated people from repetitive physical tasks.

“If AI can help humans become better chess players, it stands to reason that it can help us become better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.” — Kevin Kelly

Some people worry that AI will destroy jobs. History has shown that while new technology does indeed eliminate jobs, it also creates new and better jobs to replace them. For example, with advent of the personal computer, the number of typographer jobs dropped, but the increase in graphic designer jobs more than made up for it.

Source: Harvard Business Review

It is much easier to imagine jobs that will go away than new jobs that will be created. Today millions of people work as app developers, ride-sharing drivers, drone operators, and social media marketers— jobs that didn’t exist and would have been difficult to even imagine ten years ago.

6. Pocket Supercomputers for Everyone

By 2020, 80% of adults on earth will have an internet-connected smartphone. An iPhone 6 has about 2 billion transistors, roughly 625 times more transistors than a 1995 Intel Pentium computer. Today’s smartphones are what used to be considered supercomputers.

Visitors to the pope (source: Business Insider)

Internet-connected smartphones give ordinary people abilities that, just a short time ago, were only available to an elite few:

“Right now, a Masai warrior on a mobile phone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communications than the president did 25 years ago. If he’s on a smart phone using Google, he has access to more information than the U.S. president did just 15 years ago.” — Peter Diamandis

7. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains

“If you asked people in 1989 what they needed to make their life better, it was unlikely that they would have said a decentralized network of information nodes that are linked using hypertext.” — Farmer & Farmer

Protocols are the plumbing of the internet. Most of the protocols we use today were developed decades ago by academia and government. Since then, protocol development mostly stopped as energy shifted to developing proprietary systems like social networks and messaging apps.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are changing this by providing a new business model for internet protocols. This year alone, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for a broad range of innovative blockchain-based protocols.

Protocols based on blockchains also have capabilities that previous protocols didn’t. For example, Ethereum is a new blockchain-based protocol that can be used to create smart contracts and trusted databases that are immune to corruption and censorship.

8. High-Quality Online Education

While college tuition skyrockets, anyone with a smartphone can study almost any topic online, accessing educational content that is mostly free and increasingly high-quality.

Encyclopedia Britannica used to cost $1,400. Now anyone with a smartphone can instantly access Wikipedia. You used to have to go to school or buy programming books to learn computer programming. Now you can learn from a community of over 40 million programmers at Stack Overflow. YouTube has millions of hours of free tutorials and lectures, many of which are produced by top professors and universities.

UC Berkeley Physics on Youtube

The quality of online education is getting better all the time. For the last 15 years, MIT has been recording lectures and compiling materials that cover over 2000 courses.

“The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.” — Dick K.P. Yue, Professor, MIT School of Engineering

As perhaps the greatest research university in the world, MIT has always been ahead of the trends. Over the next decade, expect many other schools to follow MIT’s lead.

Source: Futurism

9. Better Food through Science

Source: National Geographic

Earth is running out of farmable land and fresh water. This is partly because our food production systems are incredibly inefficient. It takes an astounding 1799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef.

Fortunately, a variety of new technologies are being developed to improve our food system.

For example, entrepreneurs are developing new food products that are tasty and nutritious substitutes for traditional foods but far more environmentally friendly. The startup Impossible Foods invented meat products that look and taste like the real thing but are actually made of plants.

Impossible Food’s plant-based burger (source: Tech Insider)

Their burger uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and produces 87% less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional burgers. Other startups are creating plant-based replacements for milk, eggs, and other common foods. Soylent is a healthy, inexpensive meal replacement that uses advanced engineered ingredients that are much friendlier to the environment than traditional ingredients.

Some of these products are developed using genetic modification, a powerful scientific technique that has been widely mischaracterized as dangerous. According to a study by the Pew Organization, 88% of scientists think genetically modified foods are safe.

Another exciting development in food production is automated indoor farming. Due to advances in solar energy, sensors, lighting, robotics, and artificial intelligence, indoor farms have become viable alternatives to traditional outdoor farms.

Aerofarms indoor farm (Source: New York Times)

Compared to traditional farms, automated indoor farms use roughly 10 times less water and land. Crops are harvested many more times per year, there is no dependency on weather, and no need to use pesticides.

10. Computerized Medicine

Until recently, computers have only been at the periphery of medicine, used primarily for research and record keeping. Today, the combination of computer science and medicine is leading to a variety of breakthroughs.

For example, just fifteen years ago, it cost $3B to sequence a human genome. Today, the cost is about a thousand dollars and continues to drop. Genetic sequencing will soon be a routine part of medicine.

Genetic sequencing generates massive amounts of data that can be analyzed using powerful data analysis software. One application is analyzing blood samples for early detection of cancer. Further genetic analysis can help determine the best course of treatment.

Another application of computers to medicine is in prosthetic limbs. Here a young girl is using prosthetic hands she controls using her upper-arm muscles:

Source: Open Bionics

Soon we’ll have the technology to control prothetic limbs with just our thoughts using brain-to-machine interfaces.

Computers are also becoming increasingly effective at diagnosing diseases. An artificial intelligence system recently diagnosed a rare disease that human doctors failed to diagnose by finding hidden patterns in 20 million cancer records.

Source: International Business Times

11. A New Space Age

Since the beginning of the space age in the 1950s, the vast majority of space funding has come from governments. But that funding has been in decline: for example, NASA’s budget dropped from about 4.5% of the federal budget in the 1960s to about 0.5% of the federal budget today.

Source: Fortune

The good news is that private space companies have started filling the void. These companies provide a wide range of products and services, including rocket launches, scientific research, communications and imaging satellites, and emerging speculative business models like asteroid mining.

The most famous private space company is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which successfully sent rockets into space that can return home to be reused.

SpaceX Falcon 9 landing

Perhaps the most intriguing private space company is Planetary Resources, which is trying to pioneer a new industry: mining minerals from asteroids.

Asteroid mining

If successful, asteroid mining could lead to a new gold rush in outer space. Like previous gold rushes, this could lead to speculative excess, but also dramatically increased funding for new technologies and infrastructure.


These are just a few of the amazing technologies we’ll see developed in the coming decades. 2016 is just the beginning of a new age of wonders. As futurist Kevin Kelly says:

If we could climb into a time machine, journey 30 years into the future, and from that vantage look back to today, we’d realize that most of the greatest products running the lives of citizens in 2050 were not invented until after 2016. People in the future will look at their holodecks and wearable virtual reality contact lenses and downloadable avatars and AI interfaces and say, “Oh, you didn’t really have the internet” — or whatever they’ll call it — “back then.”
So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up. There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/ risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is the moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!”
Next Story — This 100-Year-Old To-Do List Hack Still Works Like A Charm
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This 100-Year-Old To-Do List Hack Still Works Like A Charm

The “Ivy Lee Method” is stupidly simple — and that’s partly why it’s so effective.

[Photo: Flickr user Billy Millard]

By James Clear, who writes about self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research at JamesClear.com, where this article first appeared. It is adapted with permission.

By 1918, Charles M. Schwab was one of the richest men in the world.

Schwab (oddly enough, no relation to Charles R. Schwab, founder of the Charles Schwab Corporation) was the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in the U.S. at the time. The famous inventor Thomas Edison once referred to Schwab as the “master hustler.” He was constantly seeking an edge over the competition.

Accounts differ as to the date, but according to historian Scott M. Cutlip, it was one day in 1918 that Schwab — in his quest to increase the efficiency of his team and discover better ways to get things done — arranged a meeting with a highly respected productivity consultant named Ivy Lee.

Lee was a successful businessman in his own right and is widely remembered as a pioneer in the field of public relations. As the story goes, Schwab brought Lee into his office and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”

“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.

“How much will it cost me?” Schwab asked.

“Nothing,” Lee said. “Unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”



THE IVY LEE METHOD

During his 15 minutes with each executive, Lee explained his simple method for achieving peak productivity:

  1. At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
  2. Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

The strategy sounded simple, but Schwab and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel gave it a try. After three months, Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made that he called Lee into his office and wrote him a check for $25,000.

A $25,000 check written in 1918 is the equivalent of a $400,000 check in 2015.

The Ivy Lee Method of prioritizing your to-do list seems stupidly simple. How could something this simple be worth so much?

What makes it so effective?

ON MANAGING PRIORITIES WELL

Ivy Lee’s productivity method utilizes many of the concepts I have written about previously.

Here’s what makes it so effective:

It’s simple enough to actually work. The primary critique of methods like this one is that they are too basic. They don’t account for all of the complexities and nuances of life. What happens if an emergency pops up? What about using the latest technology to our fullest advantage? In my experience, complexity is often a weakness because it makes it harder to get back on track. Yes, emergencies and unexpected distractions will arise. Ignore them as much as possible, deal with them when you must, and get back to your prioritized to-do list as soon as possible. Use simple rules to guide complex behavior.

It forces you to make tough decisions. I don’t believe there is anything magical about Lee’s number of six important tasks per day. It could just as easily be five tasks per day. However, I do think there is something magical about imposing limits upon yourself. I find that the single best thing to do when you have too many ideas (or when you’re overwhelmed by everything you need to get done) is to prune your ideas and trim away everything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Constraints can make you better. Lee’s method is similar to Warren Buffet’s 25–5 Rule, which requires you to focus on just five critical tasks and ignore everything else. Basically,if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.

It removes the friction of starting. The biggest hurdle to finishing most tasks is starting them. (Getting off the couch can be tough, but once you actually start running, it is much easier to finish your workout.) Lee’s method forces you to decide on your first task the night before you go to work. This strategy has been incredibly useful for me: As a writer, I can waste three or four hours debating what I should write about on a given day. If I decide the night before, however, I can wake up and start writing immediately. It’s simple, but it works. In the beginning, getting started is just as important as succeeding at all.

It requires you to single-task. Modern society loves multitasking. The myth of multitasking is that being busy is synonymous with being better. The exact opposite is true. Having fewer priorities leads to better work. Study world-class experts in nearly any field — athletes, artists, scientists, teachers, CEOs — and you’ll discover one characteristic that runs through all of them: focus. The reason is simple. You can’t be great at one task if you’re constantly dividing your time 10 different ways. Mastery requires focus and consistency.

The bottom line? Do the most important thing first each day. It’s the only productivity trick you need.

Read this story at Fast Company.

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How To Legally Own Another Person

Even the church had its hippies –Coase does not need math –Avoid lawyers during Oktoberfest –The expat life ends one day –People who have been employees are signaling domestication — You win elections by not caring about wining elections

The Calumny of Appelles

In its early phase, as the church was starting to get established in Europe, there was a group of itinerant people called the gyrovagues. They were gyrating and roaming monks without any affiliation to any institution. Theirs was a free-lance (and ambulatory) variety of monasticism, and their order was sustainable as the members lived off begging and from the good graces of townsmen who took interest in them. It is a weak form of sustainability, as one can hardly call sustainable a group of a people with vows of celibacy: they cannot grow organically and would need continuous enrolment. But their members managed to survive thanks to help from the population, which provided them with food and temporary shelter.

Sometimes around the fifth century, they started disappearing –there are now extinct. The gyrovagues were unpopular with the church, banned by the council of Chalcedon in the Fifth Century, then again by the second council of Nicaea about three hundred years later. In the West, Saint Benedict of Nurcia, their greatest detractor, favored a more institutional brand of monasticism and ended up prevailing with his rules that codified the activity, with a hierarchy and strong supervision by an abbot. For instance, Benedict’s rules[i], put together in a sort of instruction manual, stipulate that a monk’s possessions should be in the hands of the abbot (Rule 33) and Rule 70 bans angry monks from hitting other monks.

Why were they banned? They were, simply, totally free. They were financially free, and secure, not because of their means but because of their wants. Ironically by being beggars, they had the equivalent of f*** you money, the one we can more easily get by being at the lowest rung than by joining the income dependent class.

Complete freedom is the last thing you would want if you have an organized religion to run. Total freedom is also a very, very bad thing for you if you have a firm to run, so this chapter is about the question of employees and the nature of the firm and other institutions.[1]

Benedict’s instruction manual aims explicitly at removing any hint of freedom in the monks under the principles of: stabilitate sua et conversatione morum suorum et oboedientia — “stability, conversion of manners, and obedience”. And of course monks are put through a probation period of one year to see if they are effectively obedient.

In short, every organization wants a certain number of people associated with it to be deprived of a certain share of their freedom. How do you own these people? First, by conditioning and psychological manipulation; second by tweaking them to have some skin in the game, forcing them to have something significant to lose if they were to disobey authority –something hard to do with gyrovague beggars who flouted they scorn of material possessions. In the orders of the mafia, things are simple: made men (that is, ordained) can be wacked if the capo suspects lack of allegiance, with a transitory stay in the trunk of a car –and a guaranteed presence of the boss at their funerals. For others professions, skin in the game come in more subtle form.

Ironically, you could do better having an employee than a slave –and this held even in ancient times when slavery was present.

To Own a Pilot

Let us say that you own a small airline company. You are a very modern person, having attended many conferences and spoken to consultants, you believe the company is a thing of the past: everything can be organized through a web of contractors. It is more efficient to do so, you are certain.

Bob is a pilot with whom you have entered a specific contract, in a well defined drawn-out legal agreement, for precise flights, commitments made long time in advance, which includes a penalty for non-performance. Bob supplies the copilot and an alternative pilot in case someone is sick. Tomorrow evening you will be operating a scheduled flight to Munich as part of an Oktoberfest special and Bob is the contracted pilot. The flight is full; with motivated budget passengers –some of whom went on a preparatory diet; they have been waiting a whole year for this Gargantuan episode of beer, pretzels, and sausage in laughter-filled hangars.

Bob calls you at 5 P.M. to let you know that he and the copilot, well, they love you… but, you know, they will not fly the plane tomorrow. You know, they had an offer from a Saudi Arabia Sheikh, a devout man who wants to take a special party to Las Vegas, and needs Bob and his team to run the flight. The Sheikh and his retinue fell in love with Bob’s manners, the fact that Bob never had a drop of alcohol in his life, and told him that money was no object. The offer is so generous that it covers whatever penalty there is for a breach of a competing contract by Bob.

You kick yourself. There are plenty of lawyers on these Oktoberfest flights, and, worse, retired lawyers without hobbies who love to sue as a way to kill time, regardless of outcome. Consider the chain reaction: if your plane doesn’t take off, you will not have the equipment to bring the beer-fattened passengers back from Munich –and you will most certainly miss many round trips. Rerouting passengers is costly and not guaranteed.

You make a few phone calls and it turns out that it is easier to find an academic economist with common sense and ability to understand what’s going on than find another pilot, that is, an event of probability zero. You have all this equity in a firm that is now under severe financial threat. You are certain that you will go bust.

You start thinking: well, you know, if Bob were a slave, someone you own, you know, these kind of things would not be possible. Slave? But wait… what Bob just did isn’t something that employees who are in the business of being employees do! People who are employees for a living don’t have such opportunistic behavior. Contractors are too free; they fear only the law. But employees have a reputation to protect. And they can be fired. People who like employment like it for a reason. They like the paycheck!

People you find in employment love the regularity of the payroll, with the special envelop on their desk the last day of the month, and without which they would act as a baby deprived of mother’s milk. Then you realize that had Bob been an employee rather than what appeared to be cheaper, that contractor thing, then you wouldn’t be having so much trouble.

But employees are expensive… You got to pay them even when you’ve got nothing to do for them. You lose your flexibility. Talent for talent, they cost a lot more. Lovers of paychecks are lazy … but they would never let you down at times like these.

So employees exist because they have significant skin in the game –and the risk is shared with them, enough risk for it to be a deterrent and a penalty for acts of undependability, such as failing to show up on time. You are buying dependability.

And dependability is a driver behind many transactions. People of some means have a country house, which is inefficient compared to hotels or rentals, because they want to make sure it is available if they decide they wanted to use it at a whim. There is an expression “never buy when you can rent the three “Fs”: what you Float, what you Fly, and what you …that something else”. Yet many people own boats, planes, and end up with that something else.

True, a contractor has downside, a financial penalty that can be built-into the contract, in addition to reputational costs. But consider that an employee will always have more risk. And conditional on someone being an employee such a person will be risk averse. By having been employees they signal a certain type of domestication.

Someone who has been employed for a while is giving you the evidence of submission

Evidence of submission is displayed by having gone through years of the ritual of depriving himself of his personal freedom for nine hours every day, punctual arrival at an office, denying himself his own schedule, and not having beaten up anyone. You have an obedient, housebroken dog.

Employees are more risk averse, they fear being fired more than contractors do being sued.

Even when the employees ceases to be an employee, they will remain diligent. The longer the person stays with a company, the more emotional investment they will have in staying and, when leaving, are guaranteed in doing an “honorable exit”.

From The Company Man to The Companies Person

So if employees lower your tail risk, so do you lower theirs as well. Or at least, that’s what they think you do.

At the time of writing, firms stay in the top league by size (the so-called SP500) only about between ten and fifteen years. Companies exit the SP500 through mergers or by shrinking their business, both conditions leading to layoffs. Throughout the twentieth Century, however, expected duration was more than sixty years. Longevity for large firms was greater; people stayed with a large firm for their entire life. There was such a thing as a company man (restricting the gender here is appropriate as company men were almost all men).

The company man –which dominated the twentieth Century –is best defined as someone whose identity is impregnated with the stamp the firm wants to give him. He dresses the part, even uses the language the company expects him to have. His social life is so invested in the company that leaving it inflicts a huge penalty, like banishment from Athens under the Ostrakon. Saturday nights, he goes out with other company men and spouses sharing company jokes. In return, the firm has a pact to keep him on the books as long as feasible, that is, until mandatory retirement after which he would go play golf with a comfortable pension, with as partners former co-workers. The system worked when large corporations survived a long time and were perceived to be longer lasting than nation-states.

About in the 1990s, people suddenly realized that working as a company man was safe… provided the company stayed around. But the technological revolution that took place in Silicon valley put traditional companies under financial threat. For instance, after the rise of Microsoft and the personal computer, IBM which was the main farm for company men, had to lay off a proportion of its “lifers” who then realized that the low-risk profile of the position wasn’t so much low risk. These people couldn’t find a job elsewhere; they were of no use to anyone outside IBM. Even their sense of humor failed outside of the corporate culture.

Up until that period, IBM required its employees to wear white shirts –not light blue, not with discreet stripes, but plain white. And a dark blue suit. Nothing was allowed to be fancy, or invested with the tiniest amount of idiosyncratic attribute. You were a part of IBM.

Our definition:

A company man is someone who feels that he has something huge to lose if he doesn’t behave as a company manthat is, he has skin in the game

If the company man is, sort of, gone, he has been replaced by the companies person, thanks to both an expansion of the gender and a generalization of the function. For the person is no longer owned by a company but by something worse: the idea that he needs to be employable.

A companies person is someone who feels that he has something huge to lose if he loses his employabilitythat is, he or she have skin in the game

The employable person is embedded in an industry, with fear of upsetting not just their employer, but other potential employers. [2]

An employee is –by design– more valuable inside a firm than outside of it, that is more valuable to the employer than the market.

Perhaps by definition an employable person is the one that you will never find in a history book because these people are designed to never leave their mark on the course of events. They are, by design, uninteresting to historians.

Coase’s Theory of the Firm

Ronald Coase is a remarkable modern economist in the sense that he is independent thinking, rigorous, creative, with ideas that are applicable and explain the world around us –in other words, the real thing. His style is so rigorous that he is known for the Coase Theorem, an idea that he posited without a single word of mathematics but that is as fundamental as many things written in mathematics.

Aside from his “theorem”, Coase was the first to shed lights on why firms exist. For him contracts can be too costly to negotiate, they entail some amount of transaction costs, so you incorporate your business and hire employees with clear job description because you don’t feel like running legal and organizational bills every transaction. A free market is a place where forces act to determine specialization and information travels via price point; but within a firm these market forces are lifted because they cost more to run than the benefits they bring. So the firm will be at the optimal ratio of employees and outside contractors, where having a certain number of employees, even when directly inefficient, is better than having to spend much resources negotiating contracts.

As we can see, Coase stopped one or two inches short of the notion of skin in the game. He never thought in risk terms to realize that an employee is a risk management strategy.

Had economists, Coase and Shmoase, had any interest in the ancients, they would have discovered the risk management strategy relied upon by Roman families who customarily had a slave for treasurer, the person responsible for the finances of the household and the estate. Why? Because you can inflict a much higher punishment on a slave than a free person or a freedman –and you do not need to rely on the mechanism of the law for that. You can be bankrupted by an irresponsible or dishonest steward who can divert your estate’s funds to Bithynia. A slave has more downside, and you run a lower financial risk by having the steward function fulfilled by a slave.[3]

Complexity

Now, enters complexity and the modern world. In a world in which products are increasingly made by subcontractors with increasing degrees of specialization, employees are even more needed than before for special tasks. If you miss on a step in a process, often the entire business shuts down –which explains why today, in a supposedly more efficient world with lower inventories and more subcontractors, things appear to run smoothly and efficiently, but errors are costlier and delays are considerably longer than in the past. One single delay in the chain can stop the entire process.

A Curious Form of Slave Ownership

Slave ownership by companies has traditionally taken very curious forms. The best slave is someone you overpay and who know it, terrified of losing his status. Multinational companies created the expat category, a sort of diplomat with a higher standard of living representing the firm far away and running its business there. A bank in New York sends a married employee with his family to a foreign location, say a tropical county with cheap labor, with perks and privileges such as country club membership, a driver, a nice company villa with a gardener, a yearly trip back home with the family in first class, and keep him there for a few years, enough to be addicted. He earns much more than the “locals”, in a hierarchy reminiscent of colonial days. He builds a social life with other expats. He progressively wants to stay in the location much longer but he is far from headquarters and has no idea of his minute-to-minute standing in the firm except through signals. Eventually, like a diplomat, he begs for another location when time comes for a reshuffle. Returning to the home office means loss of perks, having to revert to the unchanged base salary, and the person is now a total slave –a return to lower middle class life in the suburbs of New York City taking the commuter train, perhaps, god forbid, a bus, and eating a sandwich for lunch! The person is terrified when the big boss snubs him. Ninety five percent of the employee’s mind will be on company politics… which is exactly what the company wants. The big boss in the board room will have a supporter in the event of some intrigue.

All large corporations had employees with expat status and, in spite of its costs, it was an extremely effective strategy. Why? Because the further from headquarters an employee is located, the more autonomous his unit, the more you want him to be a slave so he does nothing strange on his own.

Nonslave Employees

There is a category of employees who aren’t slaves, but these represent a very small proportion of the pool. You can identify them at the following: they don’t give a f*** about their reputation, at least not their corporate reputation.

After business school, I spent a year in a banking training program –by some accident as the bank was confused about my background and aims and wanted me to become an international banker. There, I was surrounded with the corporate highly employable persons (my most unpleasant experience in life), until I switched to trading (with another firm) and discovered that there was some people in a company who weren’t slaves.

One type is the salesperson whose resignation would cause the loss of business, and, what’s worse, he can benefit a competitor by take some of the firm’s client there. Salespeople had a tension with the firm as the firm tried to dissociate accounts from them by depersonalizing the relationship with the clients, usually unsuccessfully: people like people and they drop the business when they get some generic and polite person trying to get on the phone in place of the warm and often exuberant salesperson-friend. The other one was the trader about whom only one thing mattered: the profits and losses, or P/L. Firms had a love-hate with these two types as they were unruly –traders and salespeople were only manageable when they were unprofitable, in which case they weren’t wanted.

Traders who made money, I realized, could get so disruptive that they needed to be kept away from the rest of the employees. That’s the price you pay by associating people to a specific P/L, turning individuals into profit centers, meaning no other criterion mattered. I recall once threatening a trader who was abusing the terrified accountant with impunity, telling him such things as “I am busy earning money to pay your salary” (intimating that the accounting did not add to the bottom line of the firm). But no problem; the people you meet when riding high are also those you meet when riding low and I saw the fellow getting some (more subtle) abuse from the same accountant before he got fired, as he eventually ran out of luck. You are free — but only as good as your last trade. I said earlier that I switched firms away from the proto-company man and I was explicitly told that my employment would terminate the minute I ceased to meet the P/L target. I had my back to the wall, but I took the gamble which forced me to engage in “arbitrage”, low risk transactions with small downside that were possible at the time because the sophistication of operators in the financial markets was very low.

I recall being asked why I didn’t wear a tie, which at the time was the equivalent of walking down Fifth avenue naked. “One part arrogance, one part aesthetics, one part convenience” was my usual answer. If you were profitable you could give managers all the crap you wanted and they ate it because they were afraid of losing their jobs.

Risk takers can be socially unpredictable people. Freedom is always associated with risk taking, whether it led to it or came from it. You take risks, you feel part of history. And risk takers take risks because it is in their nature to be wild animals.

Note the linguistic dimension –and why, in addition to sartorial considerations, traders needed to be put away from the rest of nonfree, nonrisktaking people. My days, nobody cursed in public except for gang members and those who wanted to signal that they were not slaves: traders cursed like sailors and I have kept the habit of strategic foul language, used only outside of my writings and family life.[4] Those who use foul language on social networks (such as Twitter) are sending an expensive signal that they are free –and, ironically, competent. You don’t signal competence if you don’t take risks for it –there are few such low risk strategies. So cursing today is a status symbol, just as oligarchs in Moscow wear blue jeans at special events to signal their power. Even in banks, traders were shown to customers on tours of the firm as you would with animals in a zoo and the site of a trader cursing on a phone while in a shouting match with a broker is something that was part of the scenery.

So while cursing and bad language can be a sign of dog-like status and total ignorance –the “canaille” which etymologically relates these people to dogs; ironically the highest status, that of free-man, is usually indicated by voluntarily adopting the mores of the lowest class[5]. Consider that the English “manners” isn’t something that applies to the aristocracy; it is a middle class thing and the entire manners of the English are meant for the domestication of those who need to be domesticated.

Loss Aversion

Take for now the following:

What matters isn’t what a person has or doesn’t have; it is what he or she are afraid of losing

So those who have more to lose are more fragile. Ironically, in my debates, I’ve seen numerous winners of the so-called Nobel in Economics (the Riksbank Prize in Honor of Alfred Nobel) concerned about losing an argument. I noticed years ago that four of them were actually concerned when me, a nonperson and trader, called them publicly a fraud. Why did they care? Well, the higher you go in that business, the more insecure you get as losing an argument to a lesser person exposes you more than other people.

Higher up in life only works under some conditions. You would think that the head of the CIA would be the most powerful person in America, but it turned out that he was more vulnerable than a truck driver… The fellow couldn’t even have an extramarital relationship. You can risk people’s lives but you remain a slave. The entire structure of the civil service is organized that way.

Waiting for Constantinople

The exact obverse of the public-hotshot as slave is provided by the autocrat.

As I am writing these lines, we are witnessing a nascent confrontation between several parties, which includes the current “heads” of state members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (modern states don’t quite have heads, just people who talk big) and the Russian Vladimir Putin. Clearly, except for Putin, all the others need to calibrate every single statement to how it could be misinterpreted the least by the press. I have been exposed to such an insecurity first hand. On the other hand, Putin has the equivalent of f***you money, projecting a visible “I don’t care”, which in turn brings more followers and more support among the constituents. In such a confrontation Putin looks and acts as a free citizen confronting slaves who need committees, approval, and of course feel like they have to fit their decisions to an immediate rating.

The effect of such an attitude as that of Putin is mesmerizing on his followers, particularly the Christians in Lebanon –especially those Orthodox Christians who lost the active protection of the Russian Czar in 1917 (against the Ottoman usurper of Constantinople) and now are hoping that Byzantium is coming back about hundred years later, though the reincarnation is a bit further north. It is much easier to do business with the owner of the business than some employee who is likely to lose his job next year; likewise it is easier to trust the word an autocrat than a fragile elected official.

Watching Putin against others made me realize that domesticated (and sterilized) animals don’t stand a chance against a wild predator. Not a single one. Fughedabout military capabilities: it is the trigger that counts.

Universal suffrage did not change the story by much: until recently, the pool of elected people in so-called democracies was limited to a club of upper class people who cared much, much less about the press. But with more social mobility, ironically, more people could access the pool of politicians–and lose their job. And progressively, as with corporations, you start gathering people with minimal courage –and selected because they don’t have courage, as with a regular corporation.

Perversely, the autocrat is both freer and –as in the special case of traditional monarchs in small principalities — in some cases has skin in the game in improving the place, more so than an elected official whose objective function is to show paper gains. This is not the case in modern times, as dictators knowing their time might be limited, indulge in pillaging the place and transferring assets to their Swiss bank account –as in the case of the Saudi Royal family.

Do not Rock Bureaucristan

More generally:

People whose survival depends on qualitative “job assessments” by someone of higher rank in an organization cannot be trusted for critical decisions.

Although employees are reliable by design, it remains that they cannot be trusted in making decisions, hard decisions, anything that entails serious tradeoffs. Nor can they face emergencies unless they are in the emergency business, say firefighters. As we [saw/will see] with the payoff function, the employee has a very simple objective function: fulfill the tasks that his or her supervisor deems necessary. If the employee when coming to work in the morning discovers the potential for huge opportunities, say selling anti-diabetes products to prediabetic Saudi Arabian visitors, he cannot stop and start exploiting it if he is in the light fixtures business selling chandeliers.

So although an employee is here to prevent an emergency, should there be a change of plan in anything, the employee is stuck. While this paralysis can stem because of the distribution of responsibilities causes a serious dilution, there is another problem of scale.

We saw the effect with the Vietnam War. Then most (sort of) believed that certain courses of action were absurd, but it was easier to continue the course than to stop –particularly that one can always spin a story explaining why continuing is better than stopping (the backfitting story of sour grapes now known as cognitive dissonance).

We are also witnessing the same problem with the U.S. attitude towards Saudi Arabia. It is clear since the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11 2001 (in which almost all the attackers were Saudi citizens) that someone in that nonpartying kingdom had a hand –somehow –with the matter. But no bureaucrat, fearful of oil disruptions, made the right decision –instead the worst one of invading Iraq was endorsed because it appeared to be simpler.

Since 2001 the policy for fighting Islamic terrorists has been, to put it politely, missing the elephant in the room, sort of like treating symptoms and completely missing the disease. Policymakers and slow-thinking bureaucrats stupidly let terrorism grow by ignoring the roots –because it was not a course that was optimal for their job, even if optimal for the country. So we lost a generation: someone who went to grammar school in Saudi Arabia (our “ally”) after September 11 is now an adult, indoctrinated into believing and supporting Salafi violence, hence encouraged to finance it –while we got distracted by the use of complicated weapons and machinery. Even worse, the Wahabis have accelerated their brainwashing of East and West Asians with their madrassas, thanks to high oil revenues. So instead of invading Iraq, blowing up “Jihadi John” and other individual terrorists, thus causing a multiplication of these agents, it would have been be easier to focus on the source of all problems: the Wahabi/Salafi education and the promotion of intolerance by which a Shiite or a Yazidi or a Christian are deviant people. But, to repeat, it is not a decision that can be made by a collection of bureaucrats with a job description.

The same thing happened in 2009 with the banks….

Now compare these policies with ones in which decision makers have skin in the game as a substitute for their annual “job assessment”, and you would picture a different world.

Indeed, quite a different world as we can see in the next chapter.

[1] John Mast-Finn.

[2] In some countries, executives and mid-level managers are given perks such as a car (in the disguise of a tax subsidy), which are things on which the employee would not spend his money had he been given cash (odds are he may save the funds); they make the employee even more dependent.

[3] Stanislav Yurin. Ancient dilemma, see Ahiqar, the root of Aesop-La Fontaine:

Où vous voulez ? — Pas toujours ; mais qu’importe ?

- Il importe si bien, que de tous vos repas

Je ne veux en aucune sorte,

Et ne voudrais pas même à ce prix un trésor. “

Cela dit, maître Loup s’enfuit, et court encor.

[4] I can’t resist this story. I once received a letter from someone with a request: “Dear Mr Taleb, I am a close follower of your work, but I feel compelled to give you a piece of advice. An intellectual like you would greatly gain in influence if he avoided using foul language.” My answer was very short: “f*** off.”

[5] My friend Rory Sutherland (the same Rory) explained that some more intelligent company people had the strategy of cursing while talking to journalists in a way to signal that they were conveying the truth, not reciting some company mantra”.

[i] http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/benedict.html

Note the Silver Rule Quod tibi non vis fieri, alio ne feceris.

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