52 Things [Tom Whitwell] Learned in 2021

“4. 10% of US electricity is generated from old Russian nuclear warheads. [Geoff Brumfiel]

43. Privacy seems to be connected to productivity. An experiment in a phone factory showed that putting curtains round workers on a production line increased output by 10–15%. [Ethan Bernstein via Ethan Mollick]

52. A study of 14,000 Australians over 14 years found that neither being promoted nor being fired has any impact on either emotional wellbeing or life satisfaction. [Nathan Kettlewell & co]”

Tom Whitwell, “52 Things I Learned in 2021.” Fluxx Studio Notes. December 1, 2021.

Simulacrum for New Selves

There’s a blog post that describes Tom Bihn’s iterative design process. He talks about how he starts with an idea, but it is always with the notion that the first idea is never your best one. It has to be reality tested. He draws some sketches, does a mock-up, puts the dimensions into 2D modeling software, works on prototype halves, then he stuffs the bag with something and considers it over time. When the design is close to how he wants it, he shows it to other designers. He refines the design. After, he works on how best to consistently produce the product and the considerations that factor in beyond design. In the end, you have a great product.

Clearly, this iterative process is a good one for making products. It got me thinking would it work in other area, like in designing a life? What does it mean to design a life?

Like Tom, we have to have a vision of what makes for a good life. There’s no good answer to that question that works for everyone. As with bags, people have a wide variety of tastes. Standard aspirations tend to fall in line with either being wealthy, famous and/or powerful. In spiritual traditions, they tend to focus on how being poor, unknown and powerless can be fuel for spiritual development. But, it is also generally acknowledged that having too little of each makes it difficult to spiritually progress.

So, perhaps the good life is finding the balance, where we have enough money, recognition and ability to influence the world around us that we aren’t oppressed by our circumstances. At the same time, having too much of these things tends to be oppressive in a different way, forcing us to act counter to our interests or even of the interests of others. If you are a leader of a country, the role of leader leaves little room for anything else.

And, I think this points to something important. In order to change, we need to have the space to assume different roles, to try on different identities or practices.

To pick a trivial example, in some countries and in some historical periods, a mid-afternoon nap during the hottest part of the day or just as a cultural practice was common. However, in modern industrial society, where work is ruled by the clock, there is often no concept of a mid-day nap. You have a lunch or dinner break. You don’t have a siesta.

But, perhaps our lives would be significantly improved with a mid-day nap. Perhaps the timing of the nap, say sometime between 5 hours after we woke up from sleeping at night to sometime ending five hours before. What happens when naps are earlier or later in the cycle? How many of us have done any experimentation to figure out what works best for us?

The answer is that most of us are sleep-deprived because we prioritize other aspects of our lives over sleeping. We need to pick up the kids from school, go to school ourselves, go to two jobs with little time for anything else, or worse.

You could follow the same pattern for any activity you like: exercise, reading, cultivating our “third place“, meeting people and making friends, and on and on and on. Do we put the same kind of care into imagining our lives that Tom Nihn puts into imagining his bags? Imagine what kind of life you could live if you did.

Play Your Own Game

1. Judge less.

At least half the people doing things with money that you disagree with are playing a different game than you are. You probably look just as crazy in their eyes.

2. Figure out what game you’re playing, then play it (and only it).

So few investors do this. Maybe they have a vague idea of their game, but they haven’t clearly defined it. And when they don’t know what game they’re playing, they’re at risk of taking their cues and advice from people playing different games, which can lead to risks they didn’t intend and outcomes they didn’t imagine.

-Morgan Housel, “Play Your Own Game.” Collaborative Fund. May 13, 2021

Intrinsic Values Test

“To develop this test, we investigated what philosophers and psychologists have said about what humans fundamentally value, and then conducted two studies of our own, collecting and statistically analyzing the intrinsic values of 500 people in the U.S. Taking this test will help you:

1. Figure out your most important intrinsic values.

2. Discover what your unique intrinsic values say about you.

3. Understand why intrinsic values are so important.

An intrinsic value is something you value for its own sake.

Put another way, an intrinsic value is something you would still value even if you got absolutely nothing else from it. Sometimes intrinsic values are referred to as ‘terminal values,’ because they reflect the end points in our value system that all our other values are aiming at. Non-intrinsic values are sometimes called ‘instrumental values,’ because we only care about them as a means to achieve other ends.”

Intrinsic Values Test

My top value: I have agency and can make choices for myself. Surprising no one.

Intro to Storyboarding

“Kevin Senzaki, confirmed sound wizard and also storyboard artist for VGHS and other RocketJump projects, covers the basics of what storyboards are used for and why. He also covers who typically creates them, what formats they come in, and the different styles and elements that are most often used to create clear and informative boards. If you are totally averse to drawing of any kind, you’re in luck– Kevin also shows you some alternatives to storyboards that can help you achieve the same goals in planning out your film.”

Not So Simple: Notes from a Tech-Free Life by Mark Boyle

“I intended to begin a new life without modern technology. There would be no running water, no fossil fuels, no clock, no electricity or any of the things it powers: no washing machine, internet, phone, radio, or light bulb…

…What are we prepared to lose, and what do we want to gain, as we fumble our way through our short, precious lives?”

—Mark Boyle, “Not So Simple.” Plough. July 4, 2019.

The Three Equations for a Happy Life

  1. Subjective Well-being = Genes + Circumstances + Habits
  2. Habits = Faith + Family + Friends + Work
  3. Satisfaction = What you have ÷ What you want

“Think of these three equations as the first class in the mechanics of building a life. But there is much, much more where all that comes from.”

-Arthur C. Brooks, “The Three Equations for a Happy Life, Even During a Pandemic.” The Atlantic. April 9, 2020

It seems like a strange argument. I would think that this is a classic nature vs. nurture argument, or in the terms of these equations, Genes vs. Circumstances. Genes are what they are, but with some plasticity depending on the adaptation response. Circumstances are the environment we are born into, which would include family and material possessions and to some extent childhood friends.

Habits I would think more in terms of mental models and fields of action. You can pick your friends. You have choice in what you want. Our selection of work and how hard he work at it is largely up to us. These choices can change our circumstances, in some cases.

So, maybe: Genes / (Circumstances / (Positive Change – Negative Change))

However, I can see how this formulation lacks the aesthetics for a general audience.

See also: Authentic Happiness for other test measures.


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