The fat hypothesis – Part I – The 200 words project

In 1955, US President Dwight Eisenhower suffered a heart attack. Eisenhower insisted on making details of his illness public instead of pretending it didn’t happen. So, the next day, his chief physician, Dr Paul Dudley White, gave a press conference at which he instructed Americans on how to avoid heart disease – stop smoking and cut down on fat and cholesterol. In a follow-up article, White cited the research of a nutritionist at the University of Minnesota, Ancel Keys.

Keys’ “diet-heart hypothesis” (or “fat hypothesis”) stated that excess saturated fats in the diet – from red meat, cheese, butter, and eggs – raises cholesterol, which congeals on the inside of coronary arteries, causing them to harden and narrow, until the flow of blood is staunched and the heart seizes up.

Keys was brilliant, charismatic, and combative. When faced with opposition, he used a 5,000 subject study he had conducted in 7 countries that proved his hypothesis. With support from the President and his physician, he destroyed any opposition to his hypothesis. His work was central in the 1980 dietary guidelines issued by the US government that made fat the enemy.

There was just one problem – Ancel Keys was wrong.

Keys was the original big data guy – a contemporary remarked: “Every time you question this man Keys, he says, ‘I’ve got 5,000 cases. How many do you have? – Ian Leslie, The Guardian

fat hypothesisThanks to source and health.gov for the image


Source and thanks to: The Sugar Conspiracy by Ian Leslie in the Guardian – a fantastic piece of journalism that inspired this 4 part series.

2 questions for better conversations

We’ve all been in conversations where all we seem to be doing is discussing stuff that doesn’t really matter. Even sharing what happened to us is only fun for a while. These conversations often feel devoid of emotion. Here are 2 questions I’ve found to help with better conversations –

1. What have been among your biggest learnings since we last caught up? (of course I’d say that)
2. What are the decisions you are struggling with/mulling about and how can I help?

2 questionsThanks to source for the image

The second question is a recent learning from a conversation with a much wiser friend. I was amazed at how quickly it cut through the noise into a discussion of what actually mattered.

I’ve noticed a marked difference in conversations that involve discussions with one or both questions. The good news is that we don’t always have to be the person asking the questions – we could just weave this in to the end of our updates when we catch up with our friends to make them deeper and more meaningful.

Better questions -> better conversations.

Characteristics of great advice

Great advice typically has 3 characteristics –

1. It begins by exploring questions that are deeper than the question asked. If, for example, the question asked is “what advice would you have for me to be successful here?,” the deeper question is “how will you measure success?” The first step, as a result, is to take a step back. If you don’t find a deeper question, that’s okay. The key is just to be willing to dig deeper.

2. Next, the principles/governing assumptions are called out. Continuing the thread on advice to be successful, the principles could be self-awareness (understand yourself), intention (figure out what you want) and a learning mindset (keep focused on the journey and getting better). Getting to principles or governing assumptions requires a bit of thought.

3. Finally, it deals with tactics. For a long time, I scorned tactics as I felt they hurt more than they helped. Most bad advice tends to just be a list of tactics. If the principles are stated, then we ought to be able to figure out the tactics ourselves – or so I thought.
I’ve come to realize that tactics often serve a different purpose – by boiling difficult things down to a set of concrete ideas, they help inspire those listening to take the all important first step. It is an important component of great advice.

That’s my advice on the matter in any case. 🙂

Thanks to source for the image

Machines take away horrible jobs

Quartz had a feature a few days back about the struggles of young women working in tea gardens in North East India. Tough conditions, bad wages and inhuman treatment are features of horrible jobs. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is likely machines will replace those women within the decade. That should be celebrated because machines take away horrible jobs.

But, it will likely result in political propaganda with politicians promising to bring those jobs back.

Politicians in countries who promise to bring back jobs to their respective countries omit two truths. First, it is that those jobs are not really coming back. A piece of manufacturing that required 1,000 workers is likely best done now with 20 engineers and a collection of robots. Second, when those jobs were around, workers constantly complained of inhuman conditions.

The jobs our politicians want to bring back are never the ones we wake up wanting to do.

In our desire to avoid conversations that matter, it is easy to blame machines. So much easier to do that than to discuss the real issues on the table and so much easier to postpone the inevitable socio-economic disasters that are in the making if we continue to avoid the flip side of technology innovation.

But, for those of us who are willing to see things as they are – machines are going to take away large portions of what we do. Anything we consider repetitive is going to be done by a machine. Anything that requires functions we’re not very good at (searching vast amounts of information, statistical analysis) will be done by machines. We will be freed to do other, better stuff. In the post industrial world, machines in industries freed us to create job titles like ballerinas, violinists and zumba investors. This time will be no different. In having machines replace large parts of what we do, we will go back to answering that all important question – “What should we do with our time?”

The conversations we should be having are all around the question – how do we bring about changes to an economic system that was built on the foundations of an industrial world?

The machines are here to stay. They will continue to take away horrible jobs and, then, horrible pieces of our jobs. Let’s focus on what we need to do to support the many workers who are and will continue to be displaced by the shift.


Audi car factory in Germany – thanks to the Telegraph for the image

HT: The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly

The energy management question

If you are feeling energetic, you don’t need much time to get what you want done. But, give yourself in a lethargic state large amounts of time and you will likely not get much done. Hence, it follows that energy management is way more important than time management. A key first step in good self energy management is – what activity best recharges your batteries?

For most people, the answer to this question is one of sleep, food, exercise, listening to music, interesting work, social time or a hobby. The answer does change according to context. But, it is very likely every one of us have a stack ranked list. Knowing the list is helpful because you have a clear action when you’re feeling low energy. If you’re feeling low energy in the middle of a work day for example, you just work through your list and rule out what’s not possible. If taking a nap is not possible and if you just finished lunch, perhaps you could take a quick walk or give a friend a call? And, if it is closer to the end of the day and you aren’t feeling the best, maybe the best thing to do is wrap everything up and go to bed.

So, how do you figure out the list? You might have a hypothesis intuitively. But, there’s few better ways to understand this than to test it over a period of time. Observe your energy during the day and get good at understanding what works best when you feel low energy. Try out different solutions during bouts of low energy and make your list over time. A likely side effect of doing this is also understanding what causes bouts of low energy. For example, there might be certain kinds of food that may not be helping. Or, you might find that going two days without exercise has very negative effects on your energy.

Our productivity is a direct function of our energy management. And, understanding how to do that well requires us to keep asking ourselves that question – what activity best recharges our batteries?

energy managementThanks to Lifehacker for the image

The gratitude loop

Small things go wrong all the time. Things break down, people act in unexpected ways, and minor plans fail. The “ideal” you shoot for hardly ever works out as per plan because of small nits. When these things happen, we tend to have a choice between two paths – the victim loop or the gratitude loop.

The principle involved is similar to the idea that we choose between judger questions or learner questions at any given point of time (HT Marilee Adams for the wonderful choice map that I’ve shared many a time). It just extends the concept a bit.

the gratitude loop

When we’re dealing with small annoyances, the smallest reaction of anger can lead us down the victim loop. It begins with some level of denial, then some irritation, then some more irritation, anger and general unhappiness. This loop involves heavy doses of playing victim and, thus, not taking responsibility for something that happens to us. The obvious flaw in our thinking is that we point to the fact that it is somebody or something else’s doing. But, if it is affecting us, it really is our responsibility. In every case.

The gratitude loop does something different – it treats what is going on as a non-issue and gives thanks for the fact that nothing worse happened. Faced a flat tire? Thankfully it wasn’t the engine. Sprained your angle? A fracture would have been long lot worse. You get the idea.

The beauty about the gratitude loop is that it tends to take us down a path of increasing gratitude. For every small annoyance we face, there are literally a hundred worse things that could have happened. And, since nothing monumentally bad took place, all is really fine. We just have to learn to see it that way.

How we deal with small annoyances is a measure of the strength and size of our character. If we react to every annoyance and make mountains out of mole hill, then we really are small people. To be able to transcend that and focus on bigger and more important things, we have to learn to get over the small stuff.

In the long run, how we deal with the small things are the big things.

The next game

Reputations are useful till you enter the field to play the next game.

But, they don’t count for much once you begin playing that next game. The moment you choose to play, you choose to do the hard work of continuing to to do the hard work of building your own character and, thus, managing and building that reputation.

When you are in the game, there is no such thing as resting on past laurels. Yes, it helps if you’ve had a great run in the last few – but, only up to a point. You are only as good as your next game.

And, what got you here won’t get you there.

the next gameImage Source