I fantasize about how I could have lived my past days better, been happier and gotten things done. Just enjoyed living instead of muddling through things. When I’m putting myself to sleep nowadays, I sink into the same pre-sleep dream-scape: I’m always riding a bicycle, maybe ten or eleven years old. But I’m exactly me, as I am now, that day, and I’ve been transplanted back into that Michael. I get to relive life over, with all that I know now. I’ve thought through how I’d get money (something we forget we had none of as a kid), how I’d make sure not to be identified as a genius so I could stay in the same grades and meet the same friends, and then I think of the fun things I’d do, the projects I’d work on.
I’m telling you this to make the point: I rarely ever think of how to make my present life better, how to even make it OK.
Instead, I muddle through my days because I’m in that anxious state of not knowing what to do, what to prioritize, and future FOMOing.
You need to just do things and realize that there’s so many hours, so many days, that it’s OK to loose some to this anxious nothingness, but also to just sitting with your kids and playing Minecraft, or reading a book.
There’s two contradictory things to balance there:
Stools are a rare find, especially one so small. This one must be for a child. I don’t think it could hold an adult. You might think it’s for a plant, or as told by the mildew on it, garden decoration. But then it wouldn’t really be a chair, and it wouldn’t be a garbage chair of Amsterdam. So we can eliminate that.
The Dutch love being out in the sun, and it rains so much here that plants thrive. People put gardens and chairs anywhere that the sun catches. You can imagine this sitting out in a wide, front sidewalk in a grassy area for years, even decades, providing a stool for weeding, enjoying a Heineken after secretly throwing away toys your children never play with that take up precious space in your little Amsterdam house, or just existing as a potential chair for any elves visiting from Iceland.
But, all that eventually has to come to and end, and it becomes a true Garbage Chair of Amsterdam.
From my ongoing series.
In her interview on The Long Form podcast, Naomi Klein explains one of my favorite ontological concepts: we define the system and can choose what we want it to be.
In the 80s, she says, when we were growing up, there was a huge push for neoliberalism (I still don’t know what this means, really) - constant debate and punditry about it’s validity and whether we should “do it.” That system seemed odd and new.
We needed to choose that it was a good, even “true” idea. Then we needed to choose to put that system in place.
Then that that kind of thinking was put in place, over the years, the debate lost steam: people forgot that there was ever an option to do otherwise. It’s just “how we do things around here.”
This can show up as complacency and slumber in the corporate space. This causes people to stop optimizing, but also means that disrupters who didn’t grow up with that system can more easily think of and suggest new systems. The incumbents are blind to new systems and cultures - they don’t even know there’s a system that they can choose to change. It’s like telling them that you can change gravity.
There’s all sorts of biases that explain why people behave poorly, are “dumb” in the sense that they can’t figure out the best action to accomplish their goals. The same applies for even figuring out what those goals are! This blindness is one of the most annoying: being blind to (a.) that you chose to follow the current system, and, (b.) you could just chose to follow a new one.
You can choose the system and policy you want to follow. The one you’re such a slave to was chosen the same way. It may seem immovable, but at one point, it seems crazy, or just antiquated.
That said, there’s a dichotomy here: the more you dig into history, the more realize there were always vigorous debates over the systems in place. In more recent histories of America, like Jill Lepore’s The Truths, you realize that there have been constant debates about every aspect of American law and society, in particular slavery. There wasn’t really ever an “olden days” intellectually, people always knew and debated which system they could choose.
In the business world, you have Deming boing way back suggesting and showing all the “culture” stuff of DevOps. John Willis points this out especially in Beyond The Phoenix Project.
As I read more and more, over the decades, I reach an annoying eternal return of ideas: journalists, authors, writers, intellectuals, whatever keep discovering and re-writing the same ideas. This actually isn’t so bad - as they say, every day someone new is born who hasn’t seen The Flintstones.
What’s annoying is that these authors only write-up what the idea is, not the tactics of benefiting from it or doing it.
For example, I’m always interested in manuals for everyday life. I don’t know what my deal is, but despite appearances to the otherwise, I don’t know how to, like, interface with other people. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time over the year learning how to act like I know how to be social.
I’m always interested in how you do small talk. A few years back, I found two books on the topic. The first seemed like it’d be great, but it was just a description of what small talk looks like, what the benefits are. This was a disappointment - the book was more anecdotes from the London cocktail scene, or something, and not as good as Tina Brown’s similar, excellent book, The Vanity Fair Diaries . In contrast to the small talk book, The Fine Art of Small Talk actually listed tools to use, even with literal lists of topics to start with as I recall.
“Listening” is currently on the eternal return. I’ve been listening (jokes!) to a book on that topic, You’re Not Listening. This book suffers from that just describing the end state syndrome. There’s very little tactics on how to listen - especially if, as is often my problem, the other person is boring. The answer to boring people is the middle-school English teachers solution: books aren’t boring, readers are boring.
Make time and space for yourself.
Links! See my blog for my daily collection of these links. There’s occasional additional commentary as well.