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Day trading emotions

When the stock market is on an upward tear, day trading becomes popular. You sit in your basement, surrounded by terminals and tickers, searching for the latest bits of information, hoping to make a profit buying and selling based on what’s happening in this very instant.

It’s pretty tempting to day trade your emotions.

We’ve piped the voices of a billion people directly into our brains. The loudest, angriest, most frightened people are the ones that are amplified the most.

Everyone sharing what’s breaking. The visceral angst of this very moment, over and over.

Just as it’s almost impossible to make a profit as a day trader, it’s difficult to be happy when you day trade emotions. But there’s an alternative:

Buy and hold.

Stand for something.

Stick with it.

Long-term contributions matter. Today ends tonight and tomorrow starts again, but we only get one long-term life.

Add up the sum of our days and that’s who we are. We get what we repeat.

Calm also has a coefficient

Panic loves company.

And yet calm is our practical, efficient, rational alternative.

If you’re on a crowded plane and one person is freaking out about turbulence, the panic will eventually peter out. If, on the other hand, six people are freaking out, it’s entirely possible that it will spread and overtake the rest of the plane. Panic needs multiple nodes to spread.

The same is true with a cabin of 10-year-olds at summer camp. One homesick kid usually comes around and ends up enjoying the summer, because being surrounded by others who are okay makes us okay. But three or four homesick kids can change the entire dynamic.

While calm is a damping agent, it’s not nearly as effective at spreading itself as panic is.

The library is usually a quiet place because the dominant cultural narrative in the library is to be quiet. Because it’s dominant, the coefficient of its spread is sufficient to keep it that way. We have to expend effort to create environments of calm, because calm has a coefficient that can’t compete with panic when it comes to spreading.

And Twitter? Twitter has been engineered to maximize panic. Calm is penalized, panic is amplified. And if you are hanging out in real life with people who spend a lot of time on social media and news sites, you’ve invited all of those people into your circle as well.

We can find lots of reasons why fifty years of watching just three dominant TV networks wasn’t ideal. But the combination of oligopoly and the FCC meant that none of them spread panic. They weren’t built for it. When cable “news” showed up, they discovered that panic was a great way to make a profit. Not to make things better, simply to spread anger and fear.

If panic is helpful, of course you should bring it on. But it rarely is.

Instead:

Curate your incoming.

Stay off Twitter.

Do the work instead. Whatever needs doing most is better than panic.

Being up-to-date on the news is a trap and a scam. Five minutes a day is all you need.

More on this from Margo.

Today

We only get it once.

Why waste it?

We can spend it in fear, or we can create possibility for the next person.

We can spend it alone, or we can create digital but real connection with someone else.

It only takes a day to make change happen.

The ocean is made of drops.

Raft up!

There’s safety in numbers. (Virtual, digital connection).

Resilience, too.

Not to mention inspiration and mutual support.

Go start a group.

Find the others.

Learn together. Meet regularly.

If you start the group, you won’t get left out…


 

At Akimbo, we’ve seen the power of what happens when people connect and work together online.

Today, we’re launching a public co-working space, open for the next month. There’s no charge…it’s free. The team has worked hard pulling this together in the last week, and we’re lucky to be able to share this with you.

You can find out all the details here.

It’s not a workshop or a course, simply a place where you can work from home, together. Instead of a social network, a foundation to feel comfortable as you do your work. A place where you can see and be seen and perhaps a place that will help you organize and lead as we slog our way through this.

Together. Hope to see you there.

 

(And a related video from John Green).

The conversation

A short manifesto about the future of online interaction

[Feel free to share.]

The world is changing. Faster and more suddenly than most of us expected.

And beyond the fraught health emergencies that so many are going through, many of us are being asked to quickly move our meetings and our classes online.

Fortunately, there are powerful and inexpensive tools to do just that. Unfortunately, we’re at risk at adopting a new status quo that’s even worse than the one it replaces.

We can make it better.

You have a chance to reinvent the default, to make it better. Or we can maintain the status quo. Which way will you contribute?

Rather than doing what we’ve always done in real-life (but online, and not as well), what if we did something better instead?

Here’s what we think we get from a real-life meeting:

  • A chance for people to come together and discuss important issues.

Here’s what we actually get:

  • A chance for some people to demonstrate their status and power.
  • A chance for most people to take notes and seek to avoid responsibility.

Real-life meetings are among the most hated part of work for the typical office worker. They last too long, happen too often and bore and annoy most of the people who attend. They can mostly be replaced by a memo (if they’re about transferring information) or they could be better run (if they’re about transforming information.)

But at least you’re not in school.

The traditional school day is nothing but a meeting. Eight hours of it. In which you are almost never asked to contribute, or, if you are, it’s at great risk, both social and in terms of academic standing.

And now, because of worldwide events, local meetings and local schooling are going online.

It will lead to one of two things:

1. Just like the ones in real-life, except worse.

2. Something new and something better.

Forgive me for not being optimistic, but if what we’re seeing is any guide, we’re defaulting to the first (wrong) choice.

It’s worse because you can check your phone, your email and your fridge. It’s worse because you can more clearly see the faces of people who are bored right in front of you who can’t realize you can see them.

[Did you know that there’s a ‘focus’ button in Zoom and other tools that shows the organizer when people in the room have put Chrome or something else in front and are only sort-of paying attention? It’s there to ensure compliance and it’s there because we’re figuring out how to not pay attention.]

The compliance of the mandatory Zoom meeting is not nearly as firm as it is in real life. It’s like an episode of the Office, except it’s happening millions of times a day.

And then when we try to move classes online! First we coerced students to pay attention with grades, withholding what they want and need (a certificate, a diploma, an A) in exchange for them giving up their agency and freedom and youth.

Then, because we weren’t getting enough compliance, we invented the clicker.

It’s a pernicious digital device that probably had good intent behind it, but like so many things that are industrialized, it’s now more of a weapon than a tool.

How the clicker works: Every student at a large university is required to buy one. Yes, you need to spend more of your own money to be controlled. It has built-in ID (it knows who you are) and wifi and GPS. Inside the lecture hall, you need to click. Click to prove you’re there. Click to prove you’re awake. Click to prove you can repeat what the professor just said.

Sure, it’s possible to use clickers to produce powerful and engaging discussion. My quick research seems to indicate that this almost never happens. It’s easier to have the student simply pay for compliance in exchange for the certificate.

So, we have a few problems:

1. The in-person regime of meetings and school is riddled with problems around status, wasted time, compliance, boredom and inefficient information flow.

2. Moving to online gives up the satisfaction of the status quo, diminishes the ego satisfaction for those seeking status, and creates even more challenges with compliance, boredom and the rest.

But…

There’s a solution. A straightforward and non-obvious choice.

Let’s have a conversation instead.

A conversation involves listening and talking. A conversation involves a perception of openness and access and humanity on both sides.

People hate meetings but they don’t hate conversations.

People might dislike education, but everyone likes learning.

If you’re trapped in a room of fifty people and the organizer says, “let’s go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves,” you know you’re in for an hour of unhappiness. That’s because no one is listening and everyone is nervously waiting for their turn to talk.

But if you’re in a conversation, you have to listen to the other person. Because if you don’t, you won’t know what to say when it’s your turn to talk.

Conversations reset the power and compliance dynamic, because conversations enable us to be heard.

Conversations generate their own interest, because after you speak your piece, you’re probably very focused on what someone is going to say in response.

You don’t have to have a conversation, but if you choose to have one, go all in and actually have one.

And here’s the punchline:

The digital world enables a new kind of conversation, one that scales, one that cannot possibly be replicated in the real world.

There’s even a special button for it in Zoom, and if you have enrollment and the passion to engage with it, you can use it to create magic.

We know, because we’ve done it at Akimbo. We’ve created important and useful conversations for a group of 700 people at a time. More than 97% of the people who joined our online meeting were in it at the end. With no coercion, no diploma, no grades and no clickers.

If we want to, we can use Zoom to create conversations, not a rehash of tired power dynamics. We can create peer to peer environments where conversations happen.

Here’s how it works:

0. The most important: Only have a real-time meeting if it deserves to be a meeting. If you need people to read a memo, send a memo. If you need students to do a set of problems, send the problems. If you want people to watch a speech or talk, then record it and email it to them. Meetings and real-time engagements that are worthy of conversations are rare and magical. Use them wisely.

1. People come to the meeting ready to have a conversation. If they’re coerced to be there, everything else gets more difficult.

2. Part of being engaged means being prepared. Consider this simple 9 point checklist.

3. Organize a conversation. That can’t work at any scale more than five. How then, to do an event with hundreds of people? The breakout.

A standard zoom room permits you to have 250 people in it. You, the organizer, can speak for two minutes or ten minutes to establish the agenda and the mutual understanding, and then press a button. That button in Zoom will automatically send people to up to 50 different breakout rooms.

If there are 120 people in the room and you set the breakout number to be 40, the group will instantly be distributed into 40 groups of 3.

They can have a conversation with one another about the topic at hand. Not wasted small talk, but detailed, guided, focused interaction based on the prompt you just gave them.

8 minutes later, the organizer can press a button and summon everyone back together.

Get feedback via chat (again, something that’s impossible in a real-life meeting). Talk for six more minutes. Press another button and send them out for another conversation.

This is thrilling. It puts people on the spot, but in a way that they’re comfortable with.

If you’re a teacher and you want to actually have conversations in sync, then this is the most effective way to do that. Teach a concept. Have a breakout conversation. Have the breakouts bring back insights or thoughtful questions. Repeat.

A colleague tried this technique at his community center meeting on Sunday and it was a transformative moment for the 40 people who participated.

If you want to do a lecture, do a lecture, but that’s prize-based education, not real learning. If people simply wanted to learn what you were teaching, they wouldn’t have had to wait for your lecture (or pay for it). They could have looked it up online.

But if you want to create transformative online learning, then allow people to learn together with each other.

Connect them.

Create conversations.

Public health

[For members of the public, staying at home and sheltering in place isn’t selfish, it’s generous. Social distancing helps keep the virus from infecting others at the same time that it flattens the curve of the spread of the pandemic, giving health facilities a chance to provide care over time.]

Public health is efficient, a culture changer and a commitment. It’s not simply a more expensive version of private health.

When the water supply is reliable, the air is clean and the public health system is working well, we hardly notice it. Nutrition, access to healthcare and the safety of transport are easy to take for granted. When we hire the government to be responsible for public health, we give up small amounts of independence and money. But it creates enormous benefits, worth far more than they cost.

First, it’s cheaper and more reliable for a few trained engineers to test and maintain the water etc. than it is for each person who consumes it to do so.

Second, health, like the weather, is something that people bring up in conversation but rarely do anything about. By centralizing action, we make it more likely that something actually gets done.

Third, individual humans are bad at long-term thinking. Patient systems often outperform individual actions when it comes to public health.

Often, it’s only coordinated action that can help the entire community. And coordinated action rarely happens without intentional coordination. Don’t do it because you finally got around to it. Don’t do it because it is in your short-term interest. Do it because we all need it done.

It’s difficult to overinvest in building and running competent public health systems and management. And sometimes we don’t realize how important the system is until we see how unprepared we are. [Which is why, alas, today is a good day to stay home].

Thank you to every public health worker and medical professional who is on the front lines right now. We’re grateful for a lifetime of sacrifices and commitment.

The ‘should’ Olympics

“This is worthy and important and right so I should do it…” sounds like what we say just before we do something.

It rarely is.

There are an endless number of worthy shoulds in our lives.

But these shoulds rarely cause action.

We’re moved out of our status-quo stasis by the tension of being left behind, by group dynamics, by the urgency of risk and greed.

We’re attracted to novelty and to short-term wins (and even more so, the avoidance of short-term pain).

The secret to doing the right thing is to make it feel, at least right now, like the urgent thing instead.

React, respond or initiate?

That’s pretty much all that’s on offer.

What will you do next?

The first gives us visceral satisfaction and emotional release, and it almost always leads to bad outcomes.

Responding is smarter. It requires each of us to think hard about the action and emotion we seek to create after something is put on our desk.

And the third? Initiating is ever easier and leveraged than ever before, which, surprisingly, also makes it more difficult to move up on our agenda.

In normal times, it’s easy to get into a rhythm of simply responding. Someone else setting the agenda.

When things are uncertain, it’s easy to react.

But now, right now, is the single best time to initiate. We’re in for a slog, but there will be an end to it.

Make things better by making better things.

Homemade science

Homemade art is essential. It’s the only kind that resonates. A human, doing something that might not work. Something generous.

Homemade cuisine is the basis of all the food we eat. A chef, a terroir, a culture, coming together to make something memorable, real and delicious.

And homemade solace, the human to human connection of one person to another is at the heart of who we are.

But homemade science and homemade engineering are obsolete.

That’s because science and engineering are about rigor. Show your work. Do the math. Prove it.

Darwin and Newton and Galileo began as homemade scientists, but then they shifted gears and put in the effort to show their work and test their work. That’s the difference between alchemy and calculus.

The other elements of our lives depend on feelings and opinion and point of view. But a bridge doesn’t care about whether you’re sure it will hold up a truck. It either holds up a truck or it doesn’t.

Your backyard photo of a UFO is insufficient. Putting a stock photo of a doctor on a book of debunked folk myths is insufficient as well. Your conspiracy theories are a waste.

Silver beads aren’t going to protect us from a virus, regardless of how much the person selling them wants us to believe that they will.

Just because someone has a microphone doesn’t mean that we should listen to them. The obligation to those that would speak up is simple: don’t sort-of do science. Either do it or don’t.

If you want to do science and engineering, please do. We need innovation and forward motion. And it often comes from outsiders, from the less-credentialed, from people with a point of view. But be prepared to bring rigor, not just bluster. Show your work. Actively engage in the iterative work to make things better.

Professor Lisa Randall said, “The misleading thing about science is that people have epiphanies, those aha moments, all the time. But then someone says, ‘You’re probably wrong,’ and someone else says, ‘You’re probably right.’ Sometimes you do have big insights, and that’s very exciting, but in research, you must balance these moments with a more sober approach. What are we missing? Why has this not been recognized before?”

Human beings are complicated creatures. Our beliefs, our culture, our actions–they’re not easily predicted or changed. That’s why marketing is so fascinating. But science? Science is a subset of human activity, reserved for people committed to a method based on the rigorous testing of hypotheses and outcomes.

More homemade pseudoscience doesn’t often lead to better results. It’s worth ignoring.

“Say yes to everything”

This is a scary strategy. Because it’s no strategy at all. It hands your future over to the inbox, randomizing your path and absolving you of possibility.

Perhaps it would be more effective to say, “Work overtime to make sure that the things you are offered are the things you’d like to do.”

Then say yes to them.

 

PS new episode of my Akimbo podcast on meetings… Find them all at akimbo.link

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