The Power and Perils of Incrementalism

Start small. When starting something new, it makes sense to cut it down into easily manageable chunks, from anywhere to 5 minutes to an hour, that can be completed with relative ease. It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to build up your exercise capacity, writing computer code, reading a textbook, learning some new skill, or whatever. Everything, in the beginning, benefits from making the task small and fun. Completing it gives you a sense of accomplishment, that you are capable of fulfilling the task that previously you did not think you could do.

And, once started, there’s momentum. In a piece of code, you may start off doing something badly, but it works. Then, you’ll see some small way to improve it. Then, another, and another. Eventually, you get to the point where it looks like you knew what you were doing all along, and the task helped you to learn your way there.

But, there is another side of this kind of incrementalism. Invariably, your learn enough that your initial ideas and effort weren’t the best place to start. Or, your goals change. Something tends to happen that makes you want to completely refactor what you have been doing into something new. You’ll want to rewrite the code or essay. You’ll decide, now that you can run, perhaps you should run a marathon, as a challenge.

Partly, incrementalism gets us to the point where we have a skill, and we want to challenge ourselves, to do something bigger than what we could have imagined before we started. This is great, when it happens.

But, another thing sometimes happens too. We get complacent. Rewriting the code is a lot of work, and incrementalism is all about work, but in small size chunks. But, getting yourself in a mental mindset to redo your incremental work is the same as when you start out trying to learn something you didn’t know before. Except, now you have a better understanding of how much work is required, and it will be harder to just want to do incremental changes. You’ll want to do more, because you have the capability to do more. However, this desire also has a tendency to cut into your enthusiasm.

Why refactor the code, when what we have is “good enough” for most of our purposes? The calculus of benefit tends to run this way. Further, the more people are involved, the more inertia will set-in. This is why revolutions always require vanguards because its at the vanguard that the enthusiasm for wholesale change is nurtured and acted upon.

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

Weekly Review

“Every Friday afternoon, I’d send my boss a short email with three categories:

* The work I had completed that week

* What I was working on, including any deadlines that may have shifted or obstacles I’d encountered

* What I was waiting on—that is, tasks that I’d completed, but require sign-off from my boss or contributions from someone else

Over the years, I refined the practice. I used a timer to ensure that the weekly update would not take longer than 15 minutes to write. I used a simple template where I could pop in information, so as to expedite the process.

-Khe Hy, “The 15-minute weekly habit that eased my work anxiety and made my boss trust me more.Quartz. April 20, 2017.

Not just a good idea for your boss either. I used to find using a template for a weekly review helpful to hold myself accountable as well.

Suggestions for Good Health

Blue Zones is a good place to start. However, if I were to give advice to my younger self, I’d focus on:

  • Sleep: Get a full night’s sleep and take a midday nap for a total of eight hours.
  • Food: Limit eating to four consecutive hours a day. Eat mostly plants. Drink powdered psyllium and water to stave off hunger feelings in the off hours.
  • Exercise: Walk/run for 16,000 steps a day or 8 miles, incorporating a full range of movement. Include some weight-bearing activity or physical training twice a week.
  • Social: Cultivate a social environment for flourishing among family, friends and your larger social circle. Be a positive, creative person and look for the same in others. Relentlessly prune relationships that are predominantly negative.
  • Being & Doing: Find something to do that leaves the world slightly better than you found it and promotes good sleeping, eating, exercise and social habits. The Buddhist idea of the Noble Eightfold Path is a useful model of how to be and what to do.

The Work vs. The Job

“Many people conflate your work with your job, but they are completely different things.

Your job is the daily tasks you are assigned to complete. Many people think checking these boxes off in a timely manner is their only responsibility…

…Work is all the tangible and intangible things that happen while people are performing their job…

[For example, managing your boss is work.] Your boss pays you to handle setbacks; she doesn’t need to know about every single setback or hiccup. Constantly bringing up negative developments makes you a Bad News Bear.

So what should you do instead?

Fix the problem. Resolve the issue. Mitigate the damage. And then, once the storm has passed, work into a conversation how a setback happened and you resolved it. This way your boss sees only sunny skies.

Also, on the flip side, all good news travels up…Everyone likes to hear good news. Especially good news that they can then give to their boss.”

—Kyle, “#RealWorkTalk: Work vs. Job, Part I.” Capital Hill Style. March 27, 2019.

Strikes me as true of everyone, not just bosses. No one wants to hear about your trials and tribulations. Handle it, and be the little ray of sunshine in everyone else’s life when you’re up for it.

Are you angry, frustrated, sad or feeling some other strong emotion other people may not like? Channel your anger into motivation. Personally, I favor running until exhaustion and sleeping. Or for downer emotions, just going straight to sleep.

No one wants to hear about your problems or listen to you complain. Everyone has enough of their own issues to deal with. Bringing them up only when you need help means you’re more likely to get the help you need.

F*ck [Fuck] you. Pay me.


I was reminded of this talk recently. Thought it was worth adding since the advice is timeless, even though it is relatively old. The only thing I don’t like is the use of the word, “fuck,” and the cutesy obscured spelling of it. Here’s an idea, if the word “fuck,” is inappropriate, don’t use the word. But, it is most definitely appropriate here. Get rid of the asterisk. [Hey, just realized that asterick is from the Greek aster, meaning star, which is also in disaster. Don’t know why I never thought of that before.]

If someone asks you whether you are willing to do something for free for the “exposure,” “experience,” or some other line of nonsense, tell them, “No.” If you want to volunteer your skills in your community, fine. But, don’t volunteer to work jobs for free. Doing so implies you do not believe what you do has value. Everyone does work of value. Get paid for it.

Oh, and Mike Monteiro has a new book out for pre-order via Amazon, the only way you can get it.

The Abolition of Work—Bob Black

“You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias.”

—Bob Black, “The Abolition of Work and Other Essays.” Port Townsend: Loompanics Unlimited, 1986.