Five years ago, Nir Eyal wrote a book called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which helped startup tech firms understand user psychology. He discussed the research on slot machines, which use variable rewards and pleasures that come at unpredictable intervals. If you haven’t read, Addiction by Design, it is both amazing and alarming.
In response to pressure from psychologists and child development specialists, tech industry insiders have blown the whistle at Google, Facebook and WhatsApp, becoming critics of the very tools and addictive apps they spent years developing. In his latest book, Eyal admits that there will be a movement to be “post-digital” in 2020. He says, “We will start to realize that being chained to your mobile phone is a low-status behavior, similar to smoking.” But, he does not think technology is the problem. We are.
Throughout the book, Mr. Eyal challenges the idea that technology is doing all of this to us. “These are things we can do something about,” he argues, “It’s disrespectful for people who have the pathology of addiction to say we all have this disease. No, we don’t.” Eyal says technology is something people overuse, which suggests we need to do something about it ourselves, but Tristan Harris, the former Google ethicist, argues the opposite. Harris speaks around the world, leading the movement to regulate big tech firms and require that they change how they develop tools and apps, putting the onus on them to make their devices and apps less addictive.
Although I don’t expect these two narratives nor their arguments on technology and behavior to be settled anytime soon, I do think there are some valuable takeaways for your business, when faced with any challenge or opportunity:
First, never forget, regardless of the narrative in your mind, there is always a counter-narrative. Make it your job to get better at seeking out the counter-narratives in your life and in your business. Work to understand them, whether you ultimately accept them or not.
Second, ask two important questions when you face any challenge or opportunity: “Am I sloughing off personal responsibility or reclaiming it?” and “What does my understanding about this issue, opportunity or challenge tell me about me?”
Eyal equates his stance on technology and personal responsibility to a time in his life when he was obese. The myriad digital detox crash courses he attempted were just like the 30-day fad diets he tried but were unsuccessful. He finally lost weight for good when he asked himself why he was eating.
The solution he advocates and the narrative he’s accepted on technology overuse is a slow process. “People often look at their phones because they are anxious or bad at being alone,” he says, “The phone-hooked need to figure out why they are so uncomfortable waiting in line without their screen and what they fear around them.”
This mental contrasting ability to hold two narratives in your mind is extremely productive and serves as a great tool in running your business.
In every corner of life and business, you’ll find those who cling to one narrative and those who can mentally contrast, play devil’s advocate, hold strong opinions loosely and let the best idea win. One road leads to success, fulfillment and happiness. The other leads to stagnation, frustration and peril. Here’s to taking the path less-traveled. Here’s to understanding all narratives and the power they have, for good or for ill, to help you or cause you to fail.
Mark Twain wondered, “whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.“
His quote could have been written 1,000 years ago as easily as today or 1,000 years from now. This is one of many reasons I like Twain. He knew how to think accurately about human nature. He focused on things that never change.
This way of thinking is an antidote to the well-intentioned, even deeply thoughtful leaders around the world that lead our nations into pointless wars, drag our economies into and through idiotic trade negotiations, levy taxes on the core tenets of growth and prosperity and deceive themselves and, sadly, their voters.
Not because they are bad people, but because they are misinformed by scholars, ego and the status quo – promulgating nonsense.
Let’s unpack these three sources of hogwash:
Scholars have strong opinions, tightly held. We joke, cerumen deeply impacted, that the local ENT surgeon tends to be biased in the surgical outcome when the procedure is named after oneself.
Some scientists are immune to this nonsense. Many are not. Agendas are plentiful. Politics is played hard. Tenure and research grants are not taken lightly. Often, unfortunately, the science is.
Ego is perhaps the single-strongest destructive force on the planet. It blinds even the best-intentioned and most-disciplined leaders, like a dust storm blinds everything in its path. Ryan Holiday was right. Ego is the enemy.
Status Quo claims a close second place to ego in the potential to destroy truth and keep entire generations of people, scholars, leaders and industries stuck in neutral or slip-sliding in reverse.
Charlie Munger was right when he said professions and industries tend to change one funeral at a time.
What is the solution, you ask?
Great question. First, acknowledge and understand you already have everything you need to make a difference in your life, so that everyone around you thrives. The good news is that it has never been easier to take advantage of advanced economies and technology to build a great business, learn new strategies, impact change and control the sails.
The bad news: there are more distractions (more noise, more wind) tugging at your sails. There’s more out of your control and you’re more aware of it than ever before, so it seems like chaos at all time, if you allow it.
Imagine listening to 24 hours news for 30 days and then measuring your anxiety level, confusion and frustration at the “imbeciles” Twain references. Then, imaging extracting the news from your life and asking what changes. The answer: nothing, except you would have your sanity back.
Get into the habit of assessing each day before you go to bed. Review the day in your mind.
Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Marcus Aurelius, Munger, Buffett – any many other deep thinkers, have contributed tremendously to society because they were not ignorant to misinformation.
Smart minds know a lot of misinformation comes from “scholars” who have never tested their theories in the trenches of life and business. Smart minds know the destruction that comes from unchecked ego and make it their modus operandi to buck the status quo.
The next time you see something on the news that you think will impact you or your business, give it some time to breathe. Often, it will resolve itself, die from lack of attention, like a fish out of water, or self-destruct like a moth to a flame.
If it’s outside your control, let it do what it will. Pay it no attention.
If you feel it falls within your purview, ask what the experts and the status quo can tell you, seek how your ego might impact your decision and then ask what never changes.
Twain knew his assessment of the average leader could stand the test of time. Rank your most-recent handful of important business decisions. Can they stand the test of time?
Now rank your most-important and successful decisions in the last 10-20 years. What key components can you identify inside the decision-making process for those excellent decisions and what never changes, what scholars might have done, where your ego was at the time and what the majority would have done at the time.
This is how you become a better thinker – which is exactly what I’m tasked with doing here – helping you be the best at getting better, nudging you to continue growing. It’s an opportunity the average business owner wouldn’t fully appreciated, and so it’s the highest honor to work with you here each week.
Onward and upward!
“Silence is the presence of time undisturbed.”
In a world savaged by noise, distraction and heedless entertainment, it has become more and more difficult to locate and protect our ability to be silent.
It’s fascinating to consider the amount of creativity produced during a day in which one is silent.
Taking long walks in nature, spending time near the water, carving out a reading nook or reflective space in one’s home – these are common strategies amongst my most successful and happiest clients and friends.
Some practical tips:
Kill the digital brain stimulation before bed. Most Americans watch television or scroll through the social feeds on their smartphones and then hop into bed. Your brain is too active to sleep restfully. Instead, turn all your digital devices off a few hours before bedtime. Lull yourself into a great night’s sleep by reading a book, praying or meditating after stretching and thinking about what you learned today, what you want to do tomorrow, etc. You’ll discover that you’ll wake up easier too. I haven’t used an alarm clock for over a decade. This was impossible until I faithfully adopted the strategy of easing myself into bed, not flying feet-first after a full-day of digital stimulation.
Kill the television. You are unlikely to achieve all of your goals in life if you watch 38 hours of television per week, like the average American. Instead, get outside. Take up gardening, golf, hiking or sailing. Put your brain to more constructive use during times of leisure and it will be better-prepared to serve you when you really need it in the business and throughout the rest of your life.
Do not wake up with the morning news or your smartphone. Waking to someone else’s agenda is a perfect way to derail your best-laid plans and intentions. I recommend you avoid email, texting, news or social media of any kind until after lunch, when you’ve had at least 4-5 hours of solid work invested in your own agenda for the day, not someone else’s.
It is said that Senator Ben Sassee buys his interns old-fashioned alarm clocks.
He doesn’t want them staying up at all hours of the night, checking in on their smartphones to any of the thousands of news outlets throughout the world that pump them full of distraction and sap their ability to rest and recharge their bodies and brains. “
You’re going to need them both in the morning, after all,” he reminds his team.
Learning to be silent, in order to produce the most creative ideas for your life and your business, is a skill that you can learn. No one is born knowing how to live in “undisturbed time,” but if you pay attention to the happiest and most-successful people on the planet, you’ll observe their uncanny ability to be silent in a world savaged by noise.