Monthly Archives: June 2014

Making Friends

Some people say we make friends because we learn vital life skills through them.

Some people say we make friends because talking to yourself is strange.

Some people say we make friends because no one wants to be alone in a time of need.

But at the end of the day, we do it because at some point, if you’re lucky, you get to spend the rest of your life with your best friend.

In search of better tools

Tools are supposed to make our lives better, easier, more connected.  The oldest tools came about because humans needed to overcome certain barriers.  The first caveman who invented the first stone knife was probably very popular – all these other guys are still tearing leather and meat by brute force probably all wanted one because it made their lives far easier.

At some point we started inventing – and wanting – tools that precede our needs, tools that we want before we need them.  Maybe this is a good thing.  If done correctly, this means we will never be left wanting for better functionality again: the invention always anticipates future demands.  Every once in a while, a game-changer comes into the market that makes this true.  More commonly, we are left with the promises of a better future, new dreams, which the new tool fails to deliver, which has the effect of creating new demands that now go unfulfilled. (And of course, the occasional invention that neither makes promises nor delivers results simply get forgotten.)

It follows, then, that in a world of a litany of mediocre new inventions, there is a high likelihood that we end up creating new needs rather than satiate them – I see an ad for X, I realize I have a need Y which X promises to do, I buy X to realize that it doesn’t do Y very well, but now I can’t un-realize / un-want Y.

Thus, the irony if our information age may be that sometimes consolidating our tools and admitting that “no, I do not need this functionality” might make us more content, or perhaps even more productive.

Breaking up routine

Continuously practicing is how we become better at something – at school, at work, at sports, at a hobby.  The converging destination at the end of countless hours of practice is usually routine.  The task becomes routine.  This is what we want.  Finding the toughest questions on the problem set routine and banal is how you realize you are ready for the calculus final.  Having managed myriad complications and knows what to do for each combination of things-gone-wrong is how you would want to pick a surgeon.  Routine is good.  Routine means no surprises.  Routine is how you know you’ve gotten there, surpassing the threshold of difficulty and now looking down at the remains of the world.

Surprises can sometimes be bad, but so can routines.  As we learn to become experts we take on the thought patterns of other experts.  Experts make the mistakes of experts, and, surrounded by other experts, become blind to these cognitive errors.  Sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see just how far off center we have gone.

Slow down and take a breather.  Then look around and see if things look a little different.   Of course things are not actually different.   Your tasks remain the same, the calculus problem is still there, and the surgery will not perform itself.  No, what was different in those 10 seconds was you.  Deliberately doing something a little differently, even something immaterial,  breaks up the routine and monotony, bringing back new perspective to the old problem.

The Irony of Complexity

Anyone who has worked on a complex problem knows that simplicity is the result of many, many hours of hard work. 

  • Colin Dunno, Designer at Dropbox, in response to the question, “What is the need for all the world class designers at Dropbox, for a product that seemingly has zero complexity?”

Like a figure skater on ice, to score you have to do hard moves but make it look easy.  If the product of your complex work looks complex, then there’s room for improvement.

Healthcare has plenty of room to improve.

When all is said and done

You leave the world with the relationships you’ve formed over the course of your time.  This is why people like having a drink with friends, watching movie with someone, or eat lunch with an associate, even though the acts of drinking, watching, and dining do not technically require an accomplice.

This is also why vowing to spend the rest of our lives together makes us so happy.