Boundless #44: Happy or Satisfied?
Can Billionaire's quit? What Is Happening To Education?
March 23rd, 2019: Greeting from Taipei!
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#1 Reimagine Work (& Podcast Covers)
Shoutout to reader Martha Balaile from South Africa who designed a new graphic for my podcast. I came across her work last year after she e-mailed me and shared her reflection on perfectionism. Her artwork left an impression on me that I couldn’t really capture in words and I decided I wanted to have a little fun with the podcast, thinking beyond the default solid color covers with the host’s name that most people seem to have. I’ll be interviewing her in a couple weeks on the podcast about her journey, but check out her page if you get a chance!
As you can tell I also renamed the podcast from Boundless: Human Side of Work to Reimagine Work. After more than a year of conversation, I’ve realized that the central theme of the show is really about our imagination and how we conceive of our lives, work, creativity and what matters. I’ve written about how I designed the podcast to be something that could evolve and change over time rather than something that needs to succeed on traditional metrics.
I recorded a short episode highlighting seven things I’ve learned and seven things I’m thinking about as I continue with the show in 2019 including:
How our modern work abstracts us from ends of our actions
Companies pretending to care about learning or motivation
How focus on company culture undermines itself
Why our conception of work as full-time paid work shapes our thinking
Individual freedom vs. the hierarchy of an organization
Meeting basic needs and the lifestyle creep of conspicuous consumption
#2 🙃 Happiness Or Satisfaction?
Daniel Kahneman, nobel laureate and one of the smartest people I’ve learned from, explains why he gave up on researching happiness:
“I gradually became convinced that people don’t want to be happy,”
“They want to be satisfied with their life.”
He goes on:
“People don’t want to be happy the way I’ve defined the term – what I experience here and now. In my view, it’s much more important for them to be satisfied, to experience life satisfaction, from the perspective of ‘What I remember,’ of the story they tell about their lives. I furthered the development of tools for understanding and advancing an asset that I think is important but most people aren’t interested in.
This means the narrative we have about our life matters more than our day to day happiness and/or suffering. Another way to look at this is that many people are stuck in the comparison trap and focusing how their story compares to others rather than focusing on the day to day joy one may be experiencing (or even embracing the day to day suffering).
When I think about labeling my own happiness or satisfaction, my brain freezes up a bit in a sort of circular reference that seems hard to explain. I’ve always claimed to be happy even through some pretty rough stretches and that trick - telling myself I’m happy - seems to actually work. I’ve grown so convinced of the idea that things will always work out that it does seem to have a mysteriously magical impact on what actually happens.
However, I am also not sure I have any part in this process. My reaction to the average day has always been one of “I’m pretty good!” regardless of what happens and as far back as I can remember. Twin studies have shown that “that about 33% of the variation in life satisfaction is explained by genetic variation” meaning this “ability” of mine may have been one gifted at birth.
Do you prioritize happiness, satisfaction or something else? Do you focus more of you energy on pursuing pleasure or avoiding pain? Send me thoughts to share in next week’s issue
#3 If A Billionaire Reflects On The Craziness Of Tech
This interview with billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya was interesting mostly because of the raw pain he was willing to share:
I had been exploring why, after the accumulation of all of these things: more companies invested in, more funds raised, more notoriety, more television appearances, more this, more that, more everything.
Why am I not more happy? In fact, I’m less happy. And in fact, I think that I’ve actually really bastardized some core relationships in my life where I’ve created hyper-transactional relationships in many areas of my life.
However what I found most intriguing was how Kara Swisher pushed back at him for walking away. She never really articulated her point (which I think was that others rely on him for their livelihood) but Chamath pushed back with the point that anyone should be able to walk away.
It’s not easy emotionally. It’s not easy psychologically. I acknowledge all of that. My point is, it’s a right and we all have the right to do it. You could also say no employee should have the right to quit a company because you’re leaving all your fellow employees in the lurch. Guess what? People do.
I’m not why people are still so shocked when people walk away, even when he is clearly sharing his pain. You could say he has a different duty as a billionaire, but I think that misses the point - we are not economic units. We are human. He reflects at the end on how he is re-building his emotional connection to others and finding motivation from his kids:
The best thing that ever happened to me through all of this is my kids looked at me and they said, “Dad, you are so much nicer.” If you had talked to my friends, they would have said, “You know, he can be crazy from time to time, but he really shows up as a dad.” So, I always thought that I was really doing a good job not being my dad to my kids. But even when my kids saw the delta in the last 18 months, I was like, “Okay, I’m doing the hard work. Nobody else gives a fuck, but they care.” And that’s all that matters.
The whole podcast is fascinating - do let me know what you think.
#4 🎶 Seven Seconds To Reduce Stress?
A friend mentioned to me this week “have you ever noticed that everything makes music here? the track truck, the subway, the rice cooker?"
Given the Japanese influence in Taiwan, perhaps this article analyzing Japanese subway melodies offers a clue:
Also known as departure or train melodies, hassha tunes are brief, calming and distinct; their aim is to notify commuters of a train’s imminent departure without inducing anxiety. To that end, most melodies are composed to an optimal length of 7 seconds, owing to research showing that shorter-duration melodies work best at reducing passenger stress and rushing incidents, as well as taking into account the time needed for a train to arrive and depart.
Although I’m quite a relaxed person, I definitely feel even calmer when in Taiwan.
#5 “What The Hell Is Going On?” - David Perell on politics, media & education
David Perrell wrote a fascinating essay titled “What the hell is going on?” showing how the trends in politics, media and education are all really changing due to some of the same factors.
On the former value of the big company:
"The overwhelming feeling was that a big company was a best place to go work, because it was the place where the opportunity in front of you was highest, and where you could personally have the most positive impact on the world… 'Small business is small because of nepotism and the roll-top desk outlook, the argument goes; big business, by contrast, has borrowed the tools of science and made them pay off. It has its great laboratories, its market-research departments, and the time and patience to use them. The odds, then, favor the man who joins big business.”
…and how college was reinvented as a high-priced training pipeline for companies:
To ease the recruiting process, universities built intimate relationships with employers. They justified exorbitant tuition costs by funneling graduates to respected, well-paying companies, such as big banks and consulting firms. Universities invested in relationships with successful alumni and career development departments, so they could boast about the jobs their graduates accepted. Knowing this, aspiring students and their parents fought tooth and nail for coveted spots at Ivy League universities.
The system wasn’t always so crazy. Historically, there was a strong correlation between the reputation of the university and the quality of its education. Limited by the reach of their words, before the internet, top-tier professors could only teach hundreds of students at a time.
Through conversations with people and my own experience navigating this whole new world, many of the institutions I looked to for approval, access and credibility only ten years ago seem so outdated and out of touch today. If you want to succeed in the business world, going to business school used to be the obvious choice. Now, it is still a good option, but there are 50 other options as well, many of which people who are a little more comfortable with risk are pursuing without looking back.
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