Everybody and nobody, everywhere and nowhere

When you try to please everyone, very often, you end up doing and producing things that would make nobody happy. When you try to be everywhere, as I’ve seen some of my college coursemates who tried to attend multiple parties and networking sessions on the same evening, they end up nowhere.

Fearing that you miss out inevitably means you miss out on everything because you’re not even at where you’re physically present, which is just about the only joy you really can have.

We are not capable of pleasing everyone, nor designed to be everyone, or to be everywhere. Let us enjoy these things that constrain us rather than putting our emotional selves intensely at odds with them.

Time is an ingredient

We envision an end point and we want to be there already. We think of time as a barrier. The fact that parts of the steps take time annoys us. We rather it takes less time as though it is better when it is faster.

And then on the other hand, we acknowledge that timing is everything, when to strike a ball, jump to defend one, meet your potential spouse, ask for a promotion and all. Time is an input, not just the passage of time but point along time.

So let us reconcile our views on time. Where things are taking time, let us recognise it is an ingredient that enriches and enables the outcome we are trying to move towards.

Beyond the edge of your circle

There are areas of our ignorance we are aware of, but there are also vast spaces of our ignorance we are unaware of. This area is perhaps where we would exhibit the Dunning–Kruger effect. It is really important for us to know and understand our circle of competence, and to create boundaries and rules for ourselves to navigate within, and beyond this circle.

Think of it as comparing a person who lives in a town for many years and know his way around it by his senses and strong local knowledge, against an out-of-towner who had got hold of a map and managed to navigate successfully to a few places of interest. The guy who is new in town tend to overestimate his understanding of the place and might make overly risky decisions or commitments as a result (eg. showing friends around, or bragging loudly about his knowledge of the best local foods).

One of the critical skills that we need to acquire especially as we are new to a space, and trying to grow ourselves, is to be able to develop not only the self-awareness but the toolkit to navigate a new space when one runs the risk of getting into the Dunning-Kruger effect. In fact, even as kids, we should already be conscious about what is happening and how we can deal with such struggles.

When you don’t know something

When you don’t know something, what is your response? It depends very much on whether you expected yourself to know it. As it turns out, when you don’t expect yourself to know it, you’d happily confess not knowing. But when you expect yourself to know it, then you’d often times get angry. It is usually at yourself, but then you’ll soon direct that at the questioner. How dare he or she question you on that?

Or, even if you confess you don’t know, you’d question the intention of the question. Or express surprise, thinking that should be something the questioner don’t ask, or would have to figure out themselves.

So when you’re new at work and you don’t know a tonne of stuff, do you lash at people when you’re embarrassed about things you don’t know and feel so vulnerable? Do you confess you don’t know and encourage others to help you?

How you respond when you don’t know something critically affects your ability to grow. The more you cover up what you don’t know and try to learn on the side, the more you have to be defensive, impatient, angry and resentful. And the more you’re able to cover up and pick things up on your own, the more isolated, alienated and resentful. So you have to choose how you want to grow when you don’t know – to be alone and proud of yourself; or to be surrounded by helpful souls and lifelong friends?

Downward counterfactual thinking

Counterfactual thinking is a concept in psychology that involves the human tendency to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred. I’ve no doubt this is a sign of intelligence and it is a residue in our ability to project forward into the future. After all, if you can imagine the different possible futures, you could also imagine different possible pasts.

The question is whether the content of your counterfactual thinking is upward or downward. In other words, do you think the reality could have been better or do you think things could have been worse? People could be more positive when they consider that something worse could have happened rather than the actual outcome. In that sense, downward counterfactual thinking is actually a habit or strong mental re-frame that helps improve our well-being.

Nevertheless, the mind tends towards negativity because it sticks more than the positive. What I think is interesting is that different positions we are in can cause us to have inclination towards upwards or downwards counterfactual. It is interesting how being in second place encourages upward counterfactual thinking more than being in third place – just because you only have one person in front of you. So there are some kind of defaults that our counterfactual thinking drifts towards.

That’s not to say you can’t change your defaults. Part of my coaching practice especially around mindset shifts is exactly about that.

What are prices for? II

Can prices make the world better? Perhaps one could argue that it already did! Yet for the first in history, putting a price on something free could very well allow us to step into a future that’s remarkably better than the status quo. And that’s the price on carbon.

For the longest time; perhaps for far too long, emitting carbon dioxide is free. To be fair, when we breath out, we emit carbon dioxide. But that is through the food, grown during our lifetimes. One may argue of course that cows belching and the dairy industry creates a lot more greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane as well.

Brushing food industry aside, let’s ask ourselves how a carbon price makes the difference. By charging industries for burning fossil fuel and emitting carbon dioxide through whatever industrial processes, we are saying that the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when it should rightly be stored in minerals and in the ground as oil, gas and coal is harmful to the world. We are saying that people ought to pay a price for releasing the carbon dioxide in the air and causing climate change.

The issue is that we all live in a single atmosphere but the carbon price is different everywhere and we allow people in their own countries to somehow set this price or a regime to manage this price. And then we call it a carbon tax. Or in other places, we put a trading system around it and the traded price becomes the carbon price. There are times when prices work better when they are different in different places. But perhaps not this time. The fact carbon is free or much less costly in one place but not another is just going to encourage more gaming of the system.

The world needs to set a price, and really align on it. There is nowhere in the world where it is cheaper to emit carbon in terms of the environmental and climate costs.

What are prices for?

The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing

Oscar Wilde

I don’t think this is the first time I’m putting up this quote. But I’m just wondering today. What are prices for? Why are there prices for things? What does a price mean? If anything at all?

Prices are signals from the perspective of economics. The level that clears the market; where demand matches supply. A high price or low price doesn’t really mean much. It’s unclear if the prices reflects costs of production because there can be market power driving margins. Besides, when storage costs are expensive, a producer might be keen to sell excess supply at lower than production costs.

But prices drives behaviours; they create some kind of incentive to produce, to trade, to buy, and sell. It is some kind of benchmark against which we evaluate our preferences. Because we’d try to figure out if something was ‘worth the price’. And so the market moves; and people try to justify prices with attributes, features, emotional storytelling. And prices in turn drives those stories, emotional expression and comparisons.

Bad memory, good understanding

I had a bad memory and in school I was never quite able to cram for examinations. I found memorisation a complete chore and whenever I had to remember something, it was important that I found something already in my memory to associate it with so as to bond the materials better to my mind.

It turned out that this exercise from young did two things for me. One is that it caused me to develop an interest for learning and genuine understanding when confronted with something new. Since I wasn’t able to retain much in my mind, what I did, I kept them for much longer than everyone else. And I had to develop my own reasons and purpose for wanting to put something into my memory since they were usually stored longer term. And the other was that it gave me a method that allowed my memory capacity to accelerate as I learnt more.

The second point requires a bit more explanation. When I recall things by associating the new information with something already in my mind, I’m actually causing the web of my knowledge to be denser. When a piece of information stands alone, it is easily forgotten. But when you connect it with other information, it suddenly becomes more memorable.

Take for example you meet a guy and he tells you he is 23 years old, then says nothing further. Your memory of him is reinforced by how he sounded, his clothes, hairstyle and perhaps handshake. But if he also tells you that his Mum is a widow, and he had gone to college in Boston, you might actually take all these pieces of information, form even more associations and once you meet him, you’d be able to recall him better than if he had not shared the additional information.

If you’re good at quick wins, you might miss out the opportunity and the grounding to get the harder wins. So when the quick wins are exhausted, you find yourself poorly positioned to make any further wins.

Random Issues

Scrooge
The father of Humbug...

In this holiday season, The Economist discusses Joel Waldfogel’s Scroogenomics with a little humour. Of course, the signalling effect of gifts is once again ignored.

Emily Yoffe writes about sibling’s “rivalry” on Slate.com. The article explores the love-hate cycles that siblings undergo through the lifetime and considers the influence of parents. In general, the article’s inclinations is that having siblings is generally better than not having any; children benefits from unintended ‘guidance’ from older siblings especially through even the mildest verbal bullying. It helps to have someone close to your age beside you most of the time when you’re young because it prepares you for social interaction and also helps you understand the mind of another. Perhaps most importantly, having a sibling makes an ego that blooms out of a single child less possible.

The small number of psychologists who study sibling relationships say that their intensity in childhood helps prepare us for the adult social world we will someday need to navigate. After, all every day siblings teach the necessary, if painful, early lesson that you are not the world’s most important person.

Pop-Science seem to be poking fun at Avatar; suggesting that the film is made possible by technologies and science that would be impossible in a world that is implicitly advocated in the film. It is interesting to note that several of the film’s actors have signed on for potential sequels and as my sister rightly points out: these actors, like Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldaña are not exactly going to appear in the future films since they’re all Na’vi anyways and merely helping to generate the computer graphics if not offering their dubbing services as well.

The Value of Pessimism

Smile Frown
To smile or frown?

I felt a bit vindicated to read in the Lexington column in The Economist‘s Christmas edition that two writers have decided to tackle ‘the American tendency towards mindless optimism’. Being a habitual pessimist it does feel good occasionally to read about people who are pessimists and stand up for their views instead of let themselves be bashed by optimists.

The two writers mock the optimists for being too positive and too dependant on positive thinking to help them in their lives, from defeating cancer to not gaining weight. I like that the example of the banking crisis was used to justify when one should listen to ‘the killjoys’ and stop letting the bubble inflate. Optimism apparently blinds sometimes, and this is where pessimism comes in. I like how one of the writers allude pessimism to ‘foul weather’ like thunderstorms: it might be dampening and depressing, but to some it refreshes and energises them. It can wake people up from their daydreams and their eternal sunshine (even though many people love thunderstorms because they can sleep comfortably through the cool weather).

But of course, there needs to be some optimism. Ultimately, Lexington argues that pessimism should be taken like a pinch of salt, just a pinch / ounce and not too much. For instance, one of the writers (a conservative) argues that mass immigration will not benefit America, but ultimately ‘America was built on the mass immigration of optimists’. I guess there needs to be a balanced dose of both sides.

On a side-note, reading The Economist makes me feel more and more pessimistic about the world… is it because of the coverage, or are world affairs really that gloomy and glum?