Waiting versus Idleness

We spend a lot of our lives doing nothing. Doing nothing is usually viewed as wasting time, and there are two ways it can be done. When you waste your own time, it’s called idleness. When others waste your time, it’s called waiting. I enjoy idleness.  I don’t like waiting.

Wasted time is not empty time. Empty time is meditation. You could argue that meditation is about subjective time standing still. Your productive potential, in theory, is either preserved or enhanced through empty do-nothing.  Wasted time is also not the same as recovery, relaxation or recharge time. That’s about using this minute to make another minute more potent.

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The Gollum Effect

Throughout the last year, I’ve been increasingly troubled by a set of vague thoughts centered on the word addiction.  Addiction as a concept has expanded for me, over the last few months, beyond its normal connotations, to encompass the entire consumer economy. Disturbing shows like Hoarders have contributed to my growing sense that conventional critiques of consumerism are either missing or marginalizing something central, and that addiction has something to do with it. These vague, troubling thoughts coalesced into a concrete idea a few weeks ago, when I watched this video of a hand supermodel talking about her work, in a way that I can only describe as creepy.

The concrete idea is something I call the Gollum effect.  It is a process by which regular humans are Gollumized: transformed into hollow shells of their former selves, defined almost entirely by their patterns of consumption.

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How Leveraged are Your Resolutions?

It just struck me that the Ben Franklin quote, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” implies a great principle of leverage to apply to your resolutions. The easiest way to visualize this is using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Modifying behaviors at lower levels automatically improves behaviors at higher levels. So your resolutions should be as highly-leveraged as possible. Call the layers of the pyramid P, S, L, E and A. Compute your leverage as follows:

  • A: 1 point
  • E: 2 points
  • L: 4 points
  • S: 8 points
  • P: 16 points

Your leverage is your total points divided by the number of resolutions. So the example above has a leverage of (1+2+4+8+16)/5=31/5=6.2. Do the math. If your resolutions aren’t sufficiently leveraged, reframe them to move them to lower levels.

A word to the wise, I hope, is sufficient. I am sure you can work out the benefits of leveraged resolutions for yourself.

Regular scheduled programming of 1000+ word posts will resume shortly. Happy New Year!

What Does it Mean to Work Hard?

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I tried, and failed, to relax. I am sure I am not alone, and that many of you had the same experience. But I failed in a very revealing way, that led me a very interesting definition of work.

What happened was this:

I was reading a book to relax (Robert D. Kaplan’s excellent Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the future of American power). It was pure relaxation in the sense that the subject has nothing to do with either my work or subjects I normally blog about (my other “job”). But a few chapters in, something very interesting happened: I suddenly decided I might want to blog about the book. And just as suddenly, a relaxing experience turned into “work,” and within a half-hour, I felt I needed a “relaxation break.”  So what happened?

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The Gervais Principle IV: Wonderful Human Beings

Each of them – and they constitute 80% of humanity – is born the most beautiful baby in the world. Each is an above-average child; in fact the entire 80% is in the top 20% of human beings (it’s crowded up there). Each grows up knowing that he or she is deeply special in some way, and destined for a unique life that he or she is “meant” to live.

Series Home | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | ebook


In their troubled twenties, each seeks the one true love that they know is out there, waiting for them, and their real calling in life. Each time they fail at life or love, their friends console them: “You are a smart, funny, beautiful and incredibly talented person, and the love of your life and your true calling are out there somewhere. I just know that.” The friends are right of course: each marries the most beautiful man/woman in the world, discovers his/her calling, and becomes the proud parent of the most beautiful baby in the world. Eventually, each of them retires, earns a gold watch, and somebody makes a speech declaring him or her to be a Wonderful Human Being.

You and I know them as Losers. Welcome to Part IV of the Gervais Principle series. Read Parts I, II and III first, otherwise you will misunderstand (and possibly be deeply offended by) this post.

Last time, we left one of the unfortunate Clueless, Andy Bernard, staring with deep frustration and anger at the world of the Wonderful Human Beings, pining to join, but rejected and humiliated.

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The Greasy, Fix-It ‘Web of Intent’ Vision

The Web of Intent is a term that’s starting to get tossed around a lot, and I’ve gone from being wary about it to believing strongly in it. I was introduced to the term by Nova Spivack about a year ago and was initially skeptical. Could Web ADD be reversed? Can technology give us a true knob to allow us to tune our engagement anywhere from ‘distracted’ to ‘laser focused’? From knee-jerk reactive to coolly deliberate? Actually that’s how I think of the concept: a technology model that gives users this control knob to manage their online experiences:

The evidence is slowly starting to roll in. This conceptual knob can be created through a generation of “Intent” technologies. What’s more, this knob is what will likely save the publishing and media industries.  It will also save our brains from getting fried, and create a new dynamic in the ongoing disruption of all types of information work.

As I thought more about some of the core ideas (see Nova’s posts What’s After the Real-Time Web? and The Birth of the Scheduled Web), I started to understand the power of the model.

This is where I am placing my bets. Not the 3D Web, not the “Mobile/Touch Web”, not the “Internet of Things” and not the “Semantic Web.” Those are important, but secondary. I am going all-in on the “Web of Intent” as the next main act that will reshape the Internet. As I’ll explain later, it is a gritty, greasy, roll-up-sleeves, fix-it vision, that is emerging in response to actual problems, as opposed to a vision born out of new possibilities (combined with the smoking of illegal substances).

So here you go: my primer on what the Web of Intent actually is, in terms of user experience (UX), concepts and technology. We’ll need to start by reframing what Web 2.0 actually is.

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How to Take a Walk

It was cool and mildly breezy around 8 PM today. So I went for a walk, and I noticed something. Though I passed a couple of hundred people, nobody else was taking a walk. There were people returning from work, people going places with purpose-laden bags, people running, people going to the store, people sipping slurpies.  But nobody taking a walk. Young women working their phones, but not taking a walk. People walking their dogs, or pushing a stroller, with the virtuous air of one performing a chore for the benefit of another, but not themselves taking a walk. I was the only one taking a walk. The closest activity to “taking a walk” that I encountered was two people walking together and forgetting, for a moment, to talk to each other. The moment passed. One of them said something and they slipped back into talking rather than taking a walk.

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The Gervais Principle III: The Curse of Development

In the first two parts of this series, we talked about the archetypes that inhabit organizations (Sociopaths, Losers, Clueless), what they do (the Gervais Principle) and how (the four languages). In this part, we’ll use a somewhat unorthodox take on the idea of arrested development to explain why the three groups behave as they do, and use that to predict the outcomes of individual interpersonal interactions.

Series Home | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | ebook


For those who came in late: read Part I and Part II first, to avoid serious misunderstandings.

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The Turpentine Effect

Picasso once noted that “when art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” When you practice a craft you become skilled and knowledgeable in two areas: the stuff the craft produces, and the processes used to create it. And the second kind of expertise accumulates much faster. I call this the turpentine effect. Under normal circumstances, the turpentine effect only has minor consequences. At best, you become a more thoughtful practitioner of your craft, and at worst, you procrastinate a little, shopping for turpentine rather than painting. But there are trades where tool-making and tool-use involve exactly the same skills, which has interesting consequences. Programming, teaching, writing and mechanical engineering are all such trades.

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Linchpin by Seth Godin, and 8 Other Short Book Reviews

There are two kinds of books that I find valuable, but don’t review. Books about which I have too little to say and books about which I have too much to say. One reason I don’t review them is that with with the first kind of book, I often extract value and dump the book halfway. With the second kind, I read each book so closely and carefully, and over such a long period of time, that by the time I am done, it is too entangled with my own thinking to write about objectively. Still, I thought it would be interesting to attempt a round-up of recent reading in these two categories. These won’t be getting full-length reviews.

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