The 18 degree swim

A few years ago, I swam when the temperature outside was 18 degrees Celsius / 64 degree Fahrenheit. For someone who’d spent most of my life in temperatures above 30 degrees C / 86 degree F, this was a huge deal. The water in warm places is nice and warm.

I’ve been living in cooler temperatures since and I generally need to summon a good bit of resolve to dive in to cooler waters.

Here’s the funny thing – just before I jump into water that feels cool, I tell myself – “I swam when it was 18 degrees once. I’ll be fine.”

While I’m not sure I would consciously wish adversity or extreme experiences on anyone, this experience is a reminder that surviving extreme experiences (even less extreme ones like swimming in slightly cooler water :)) comes to define us in ways we can’t imagine when we’re going through them.

So, if you’re going through a tough experience right now, take heart. You’ll likely stretch your abilities to persevere while you’re at it. And, once you’re done, you’ll realize that your new found strength to persevere will actually make many other experiences in life easier to handle.

Lessons learnt from buying the Quartz book

The excellent Quartz newsletter turned 5 years old a few days ago. As part of their 5 year anniversary celebration, they announced they’re selling a book – “The Objects that Power the Global Economy.” They described it as a book that is “equal parts art and journalism.”

I bought it immediately. I didn’t bother reading the rest of the page with more details about the book.

I read the Quartz newsletter every Monday-Saturday and have been doing so for 2 years. It is my go to for news and it always delivers great content while also being easy to read. Buying the book was just a natural next step.

I took away two lessons from watching myself take action on this book.

First, our reputation often precedes us. Quartz has a stellar reputation in my world. And, I expect the book to be no different. This expectation comes without having read a single page.

Second, there are many ways to build a great reputation. But, one of the most reliable ways is to show up every day and do good work.

Calm

Calm, as a quality, is one I’ve been attracted to for the longest time. We tend to be attracted to qualities we don’t possess ourselves. And, calm is no exception in my case.

Looking back at the past 3 years, however, I’ve observed growth in my ability to be calm. Even if I have a long way to go before it shows up in every aspects of my life, I found myself reflecting on what drove this growth.

I think learning of any kind typically comes from 3 sources – from reflecting on your own experiences, from books / synthesized information that you read and from people you meet. And, I think this growth in my ability to summon calm has come from each of these three. But, I think there have been 2 important drivers that have reinforced each other.

The first is confidence. Confidence has been an important overarching theme over the years on this blog. I started writing here because I believed I was becoming too insecure for my own good. My hypothesis was that writing everyday and sharing my failures would help me put things in perspective. And, it undoubtedly did. Confidence, I’ve come to realize, is about consistently acting from wholeness and not from our wounds. Practicing it requires acceptance of your insecurities, self awareness and thoughtfulness. It doesn’t come easy. In my case, for example, I needed to disengage from a relationship that seemed to only serve one function – reminding me of my insecurities.

The second driver is perspective. If confidence is about consistently acting from wholeness, perspective makes it easier for us to get in touch with that wholeness. I’d attribute most of the perspective I’ve acquired in the past 3 years as a compound effect of writing every day for nearly a decade. I’ve written through challenging times and good times over the years. And, I’ve finally begun to understand that “you never know if a good day is a good day.” Things have a way of working out, or not. Trying to second guess how life will turn out is a waste of our time. We’re better off plugging away.

I’ve shared a note from Seth’s “The Icarus Deception” in the past.

“One of the things the professional artist gives up is the thrill of the manic high. I used to be manic, about twenty years ago, when there was a sliver of something working. Things were really brutal at work, with rejections and near-business-death experiences coming daily, and I grabbed hold of any positive feedback really tightly.

Now, I’m delighted to say. not so much. Which means the highs aren’t as high. The successes are about the privilege of doing more work, not about winning. When my Kickstarter project for this book met its funding goal in less than three hours. I didn’t do the line-kicking dance reserved for TV celebrations. Instead. I took out my laptop and got to work. That is the greatest privilege I can imagine.”

I vividly remember reading this note on a flight 5 years ago and wondering – “Wow, what must that feel like?”

I have a better idea now. I’ve not read too much stoic philosophy but have read enough to understand that this is what it is about. And, from my limited experience of this in the recent past, I can attest to the fact that it feels great.

We spend most of our lives in the process of doing stuff. Success is when we enjoy that process. Wins and losses just exist tell us if our process is right. They are signal – nothing more, nothing less. Confidence involves being our best self and acting from wholeness whether we’re on an up or a down. It comes from understanding that even this will pass. Perspective involves reminding ourselves that we never know if a good day is a good day. The combination of the two helps us keep a level head, roll up our sleeves and get back to work on building a life we consider worth living.

There is really no greater privilege than that.

Food and technology

We’ve made a lot of progress in meeting the world’s food needs.

We’ve done this by using more technology to increase the yield of our lands.

While the benefits have not been as evenly spread as we’d have liked, things are getting better.

But, we’ve done a poor job in some areas – especially in our treatment of animals.

I think we’re going to see tremendous progress in food in the coming decades. We’re going to see more Soylent inspired alternatives to unhealthy food. Drones and artificial intelligence are going to help us further improve land yield. But, I’m most excited about two other innovations.

The first is large scale vertical farming that start ups like Plenty and InFarm are working hard on. Vertical farming can greatly improve yield, can be done indoors and uses sensors to optimize the growth of plants.

And, the second is lab grown meats from the likes of Memphis Meats. Once we figure out how to produce this on a large scale, it won’t just be a more humane method of meat production. It will also be significantly better for the environment. Studies show that clean meat could potentially be produced with 96 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, 45 percent less energy, 99 percent less land use and 96 percent less water use than meat made through animal agriculture.

In a remarkably prescient note, Winston Churchill had predicted this 80+ years ago.

It has taken us a while. But, I’m optimistic we’ll get there soon.

(A longer, more detailed version of this note is on Medium or LinkedIn as part of “The Notes by Ada” project)

Mesh Wi-Fi systems

Traditional Wi-Fi set ups don’t scale well with multiple devices. You lose a lot of speed for each step you take away from the router and have to install extenders if your home happens to be longer than it is wide.

And, let’s face it – extenders really suck. You need to create a new Wi-Fi network and only get pitiful speeds even after doing so. You’re likely reminded of this every day – especially if you live far away from family and use video calls to stay in touch.

Mesh Wi-Fi technology gets rid of all these traditional set up limitations by replacing the hub and spoke router model with a mesh that blankets your home with the high speeds that you’d get using a LAN cable.

This video does a great job explaining why mesh Wi-Fi is great.

We live in times when having good internet access is way more important than having cellular access. And, a mesh Wi-Fi system is a game changer. We pay for a 100 MBPS connection and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a 110 MBPS speed outside our home (!) – where we’d never have been able to connect to our extender even.

A real game changer. I couldn’t recommend it strongly enough.

Things we can count on to always be present

There are a few things we can count on to always be present in our workplace –

  • Obstacles – Unexpected obstacles that throw our well laid plans off
  • Feedback – Room for improvement in how we do things
  • Admin – Admin work we’d rather not do
  • Politics – People issues or politicking (as long as there are more than 2 people working on something)

Despite their ever present nature, we still regularly react to obstacles, feedback, admin and politics with annoyance. We often act surprised, astonished even and let these things get us down.

Perhaps we should save the surprise for things that are actually surprising. These are ever present in our lives and make things interesting (up to a point).

So, we might as well love them for what they teach us and get on with it.

Length of a feedback survey – 2 principles

When you create a feedback survey, you make an important decision on its length. The length decision is a trade off between survey completions and useful information. 

If the survey is too long, customers won’t complete it. If it is too short (e.g. 1 question), you may not get the information you need.

I’d suggest 2 principles as you think of the length of a survey –

  1. The length should be proportional to the time spent with the experience
  2. The length should always be a few questions shorter than what you think you need

A simple example to illustrate these points. I had an email exchange with the support team of the company that manages US embassy appointments to change the location of my appointment in their system. It took me a minute to write the email. They sent me a response and asked for feedback. However, the moment I clicked the survey, I decided to close it. That’s because I saw what felt like 30 radio buttons. If I spent 2 minutes (at most) on an exchange, I’d like the survey to be a simple “Happy” or “Not happy” with an optional text box. I’d be more inclined to spend 5 minutes on a survey if it was for a 1 day boot camp that I attended.

As a general rule, we tend to over complicate surveys. My sense is that most feedback surveys would be far better if they just stuck to 3 questions –

  1. How likely is it that you’d recommend our ___ to your friends?
  2. What did we do well?
  3. What could we do better?

All of this is subject to what you are trying to achieve of course. But, I would hazard a guess that some feedback is better than none. Uber, for example, does a great job with this trade off by leading with the rating. You can add comments if you want to but you don’t have to. They’ve taken these principles to heart.

And, their results (a thriving feedback community) follow what is an excellent process.