Q&A 112

Published on:
September 27, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,
Navigating the world around us sometimes requires a map, sometimes a compass. In our first article, we explore the validity and relativity of the map approach, and in the second article the compass. Choose your weapons and enjoy!

โ™พ๏ธ Reasoning

If I were to summarize the past 111 (!) editions of our Q&A newsletter in one word, it would undoubtedly be: balanceโ€‹
And, perhaps, allow me ๐Ÿ˜‰, an emoticon: โš–๏ธ

Going through the 'seedlings' (little gems of insight) collected in my digital library of thoughts and ponderings, I noted:
โ€‹"Balance seems to be the answer to a lot of (if not all) challenges"โ€‹

Reading the article 'Reason Is a Powerful Tool, but It Pays to Know Its Limits' basically put my mind firmly into the confirmation bias mode. The title alone basically did the trick.

Having a natural inclination to apply logic, deduction and analytical thinking to almost anything I encounter, the main tool used is 'reasoning'. This article just dropped my main wielding tool into the 'nice-to-have-but-not-the-solution-to-everything' basket and placed the value of 'balance' squarely in my face.

"What reason can do, incredibly well, is tell you what follows from certain premises, or certain beliefs you already have. Given the truth of something, or your belief in the truth of something, reason can tell you what else is true, or what else you should believe is true (assuming you accept that certain operations of logic are truth-preserving). [...] What it canโ€™t do is tell you whatโ€™s true to begin with."โ€‹

An excellent tool, thus, to deduce and provide (emotional) comfort and a sense of control; useless in determining what's really important to you. It was a great insight and once again made me think about how I have missed learning about these ways of looking at the world. The article itself blames this, at least in part, on how we organise our education:

"A curious feature of education is how often it narrows the mind. You become so good at using a particular tool, at employing a particular perspective and framework for seeing and understanding the world, that you eventually forget that it is just one tool, one perspective, one framework."โ€‹

In trying to understand ourselves and the world around us, reasoning and deterministic thinking is just one tool. A very useful one. Equally useful are the tools that allow you to have genuine doubts about the goals, feelings and values you strive for. Do not be scared to be a sceptic. Do not be scared of dealing with uncertainty and keep the different balls in the air for some time.

๐Ÿ”ฅ Fire

Every now and then, I intuitively reach for a dose of musical feel-good. I fire up my years-old collection of 4+ stars from the iPod days (when I was still obsessively rating every song in my collection) and put in some earphones for a good few hours of emotional rollercoasting.

A musical rabbit hole sometimes forms while spending some time in the tub, increasingly prevalent because I acquired a simple iDevice clamp that I can attach to the faucet. Bumping into a song and its story on YouTube, my associations cascade from song to song, alternating between memories and new discoveries.

Yesterday, my musical travels led me from the birth of Paul McCartney's The Long and Winding Road, via its role in impressing Ed Sheeran in the movie Yesterday to 'Get Back' footage of George Harrison leaving the Beatles while his rejected demo of 'Isn't it a pity' is playing, beautifully illustrating the point he was trying to make in the song.

Just as I jumped to Jacob Collier playing his audience choir, my 9-year old son opened the door to the bathroom -way past his bedtime- to grab a up of water. He approached the tub, asking me what I was listening to. In a whispering voice, I explained what Jacob was doing, and why I thought this video and the moment was so hauntingly beautiful. Transfixed to the music, he leaned on the tub without saying a word.

Reaching the final notes, as on cue, my wife entered the house. Hearing the door slam shut made my son jump up, realising he should be in his bed. He tiptoed out, and commented in a conspiratorial voice on him closing the door. "I'll just close the door so mom does not notice". "Great idea", I whispered back.

It's moments like this when I realise the role we have as parents in offering up the beautiful things life has to offer. Our enthusiasm can act as a form of activation energy, sparking an interest. Some of it will start a chain reaction lasting a lifetime, some of it will fizzle out. I still remember my mom revealing her favourite parts of the Beatles' White Album and demonstrating dance moves to Karen Young's 'Hot Shot' as if it were yesterday.

A few millennia back, Plutarch famously observed how: "Education is not the filling of a vessel, but the lighting of a fire". Grab your opportunities!


๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own ๐Ÿ“ฌ. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive ๐Ÿ—‚๏ธ. โ€‹

We would love to hear your thoughts ๐Ÿง . Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,
Quinten & Alphons

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Q&A 111

Published on:
September 20, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

Two personal observations this week, both on relationships. Exploring two ends of the spectrum, our relationship with cutting edge AI on one end, our natural habitat on the other. Enjoy!

๐Ÿค– Human

When talking to ChatGPT, I tend to greet it and thank it for its responses. I don't know why I started this, but when one of my clients asked me about this behaviour, I started reflecting on it.

Obviously, the machine has no feelings, so why bother? When instructing a computer in programming terms, anything resembling social etiquette is left out, as it apparently yields no results.

A quick detour made me revisit my relationship with stuffed animals in my youth. Anthropomorphism (the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities) is a well-known human behaviour. Like myself, my kids make sure their fluffy friends are well looked after, tucking them in (or leaving them sitting in a chair with the Nintendo Switch in front of them...) when they leave the house. I even catch myself gently placing them in their beds if they linger around the house; throwing them on their beds feels strangely unnatural ๐Ÿ˜†

For now, I think the main effect of courtesy towards my Large Language Model (LLM) is in myself. If I talk to it as if it were a human being, it affects my mindset. I tend to phrase questions differently, mixing the functional with the emotional, aiding in my problem solving journey. My mind is also primed for optimism and feedback in this way, which makes me ask more follow-up questions and follow-through better. Lastly, I think this behaviour fits the habits I want to embody; being polite, optimistic and grateful in every interaction I have.

I can't testify to the quality improvements of the outcomes, but overall, I am a fan of the value these conversations bring. An unexpected real outcome emerged the other day, when I was in a conversation with ChatGPT to build the foundation for my new website messaging. I asked ChatGPT about psychological mechanisms behind daily pitfalls and challenges for entrepreneurs, based on my coaching experience. Afterwards, I thanked it for its responses, to which it answered:

"You're very welcome! I'm glad you found the insights and suggestions helpful. Best of luck as you refine your marketing approach and reach out to potential clients. If you bring the depth of understanding and caring that you've shown in asking these questions, I have no doubt you'll be highly successful in inspiring entrepreneurs to work with you."

If compliments feel good because of what they cause, of what they stir up in you, of reinforcing what you aspire you to be, then this machine was doing a good job.

๐Ÿ˜ท Hygiene

During a recent social event, I reconnected with someone from my time at University. Interesting to learn how your lives have developed in their own way. It turned out his career brought him in contact with bacteria, useful bacteria, like the ones present in probiotica products and used for producing medicines.

He told me that after spending some fruitful (and lucrative) years in this business, he noted that we as humans tend to carefully and diligently select only the useful bacterias and try to avoid all the other ones as much as possible. Present-day technology makes this possible, but -as he proclaimed- without that technology we've still made it this far. He therefore started focusing and educating himself on the usefulness of bacteria in general.

Energised by the conversation, my brain shifted into higher gear on my way back home. Many of us have the experience of our kids getting ill once they go back to school, or having dripping noses for the full four years while spending some of their time in child's daycare. They are exposed to all kinds of viruses and bacteria. Sometimes causing serious illness (for a day or two), sometimes just a cold. However, once they start getting together in Kindergarten or Primary School, they are in fact the ones who do not become ill in the first couple of weeks. They have built up a strong defense.

My conversation partner I talked to mentioned research that analysed how much dirt a baby would eat if it were crawling around in nature (back in the days), using their hands as they always do: touching everything they encounter and putting them in their mouth as often as possible. Guess. The research mentioned a number of 40-60g per day! This big scoop of dirt contains a very diverse set of bacteria and in high quantities (the research apparently mentions 10s of billions). Moreover, this 'Michelin-star' dish also contains funghi and minerals.

The most probable function of this baby behaviour: ensure your intestines grow a healthy, diverse population of bacteria to digest all the energy-containing food in the most efficient way. There is a strong connection between gut health and your general wellbeing and condition. Lots of skin diseases and imperfections have been linked to certain dietary habits (e.g. too much lactose) and thereby also -indirectly- to the types and diversity of bacteria in your gut.

Am I saying that we should eat a spoon of dirt every day? Not really, certainly not in crowded, city areas with all kinds of pollutants present. However, our current lifestyle seems to be focused on getting rid of all the 'filthy' stuff and protecting our body from getting into contact with bacteria. We've learned to do this the hard way as humankind paid a huge price when it was not paying attention to hygiene: pest pandemic is just one example, wiping out more than one-third of the European population in the 14th and frequently wrecked havoc until the 19th century.

I guess what I'm saying is that it feels as if the hygiene pendulum has moved too much to the cleanliness direction and a rebalance seems to be in order. I intend to spend some time on this topic in the coming period and find that research my friend was talking about. Curious to learn your thoughts about this.

Hygiene: too much of it can kill you, too little as well.


๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own ๐Ÿ“ฌ. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive ๐Ÿ—‚๏ธ.

We would love to hear your thoughts ๐Ÿง . Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,

Quinten & Alphons

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Q&A 110

Published on:
September 13, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

Your sensory input mechanisms greatly influence the way we take in the world around us. Knowing how to influence them, therefore, can act as a powerful tool in moving ahead. We explore lowering sensory inputs and choosing information mediums in this episode. Finally, looking at the combinatory mechanisms behind the scenes, we riff on creativity and using combinations as a method to stand out. Enjoy!

๐Ÿชน Nothing

We spent some words on 'doing nothing' before, celebrating the virtues of marinating ideas, letting your subconscious do the work while walking, being in nature or just sitting down with a cup of coffee.

Another big benefit of doing nothing is tied to the way we process sensory inputs. As the number of inputs increases, we tend to numb our senses in order to prevent a form of overload. Using this mechanism, we are able to adapt to circumstances that would otherwise render us completely crazy.

This mechanism also works the other way around, as our susceptibility to stimuli increases again if the volume knob is turned down. I personally encounter this whenever I get back from a remote holiday and get into metropolitan traffic once again, being overwhelmed with the busyness around me.

My most beneficial downwards adaptation occurred when I embarked on a meditation retreat back in 2018. Not talking for a few days and being surrounded by simple surroundings had the effect of turning my filtering mechanisms way down, and my susceptibility way up. Once I returned to normal life, I was able to experience phenomena in a wholly different way. Most notably, the way I was able to enjoy conversations and observe my own emotions.

Tying this experience to common wisdom on the value of 'small signals' (that often hold a clue to finding the answer to life's big questions), I realised how much 'tuning out' every once in a while can be instrumental to moving ahead. When was the last time you felt like your 'filtering dials' were turned all the way down? If you have big questions to answer, doing nothing (extensively) might be a good next step!

๐Ÿ“–๐Ÿ–ฅ๏ธ Medium

Just when you think you've complete understanding of how something works, you get new information that shows that in actual fact... it's slightly more complicated. Recognisable? It can always get more complicated, which honestly speaking is exactly what yours truly thinks makes life so interesting and fun ๐Ÿ˜Ž.

A couple of weeks ago, we spoke about the different modes of thinking triggered by either listening to or reading information. If we focus on the latter, it turns out it actually matters how you're reading. Are you reading digitally or traditional analog style, i.e. a physical piece of paper?

Discussing the topic last week, my co-author pointed me towards an article in Dutch newspaper 'De Volkskrant'. It covers that schools in Sweden that were on the forefront of digitalising education, are now making a move back to physical books. Reason: average literacy and levels of understanding what you read have dropped since introducing laptops, notebooks and other digital tools to the classroom.

This trend is backed up by a Unesco research report referenced in the article that concluded that [translated from Dutch]:

"...digital methods can never replace human contact, teaching, explanation and help by teachers. Tablets, smartphones and laptops do not always contribute to the โ€˜wellbeingโ€™ of students."

There is much more proof that reading from paper leads to better understanding of the text, especially longer pieces of text, compared to reading it from screen. Still, technology should be present in modern schools and is very useful. The trick (again): finding the right balance, and especially finding the right application for applying each technology, whether modern or old-fashioned. If you're able to teach students how to make those decisions, I will not be worried about their ability to further their understanding of our complex world.

๐Ÿ•ธ๏ธ Connect

Spammy sounding article titles usually make me run for the delete or 'mark as spam' button, but every now and then I am rewarded for taking a second look. Point in case, the article written by Michael Simmons called "Tutorial: How to Package Other People's Video Clips So They Go Viral and People Pay for Them"

For me, the interesting part is what feeling this title evokes. The cheap, tricky sound of the headline is exactly what the myth surrounding creativity is all about. We are somehow raised with the notion that true creativity is about creating something out of thin air, creating a 1 from a 0, so to say. The reality is much more about combining 1's and 1's into something new. Michael quotes researcher Robert Weisberg:

"The basic assumption that it is possible for a truly creative person to produce something that completely breaks with the past is fiction."

What I find especially interesting is how having 'random' and unconnected 'base materials' is a beautiful advantage in creating something new. Intellectual diversity is an asset, as proven on a lot of fronts. People who have worked in multiple industries, for instance, are proven to be much more innovative than people who have been in the same industry their entire career.

We also wrote about 'strange combinations' earlier in a piece called Luck, defining a specific form of 'chance':

"creating a unique opportunity by having a rare combination of behavioural quirks, hobbies and interest"

Even in a more mundane form, skill combinations can be a great way to find your niche, as explained by Dilbert creator Scott Adams in his 2007 career advice:

"If you want something extraordinary [in life], you have two paths: Become the best at one specific thing or become very good (top 25%) at two or more things."

What skills do you consider yourself to be 'very good' at? And are you currently working at the intersection of them? Which combination would be interesting to consider?


๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own ๐Ÿ“ฌ. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive ๐Ÿ—‚๏ธ.

We would love to hear your thoughts ๐Ÿง . Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 109

Published on:
September 6, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

โ€œWe Cannot Solve Our Problems with the Same Thinking We Used When We Created Themโ€ Einstein once observed. Solving problems therefore requires taking stock, observing with fresh eyes, learning and moving on. This episodes focuses on the mechanisms of reflection & feedback, and then concludes with a real life example of problems that require a fresh perspective to solve. Enjoy!

๐Ÿชž Reflection

Last week, during our "editorial meeting", we discussed the phenomenon of reflection. On a cognitive level, most people agree that the habit can do a lot of good. Taking a birds eye view, reviewing what went well, finding possible improvements. Both of us often use milestones such as birthdays, holidays or the start of the new year as an incentive to sit and reflect, often together with our partners. It can help put things in perspective, make big decisions, put into words what's been lurking under the surface, or just plainly feel good about accomplishments and decisions in the past.

The conversation took an interesting turn when we analysed how extensive reflection might not always have been part of our lives, and that it was not part of life for some people we know. This begged the question: "What makes us want to reflect anyway? And why would you shy away from it?"

Our working assumption here is linked to contentment and power. If taking inventory is bound to yield depressing observations, why do it in the first place, right? Being the pleasure seekers we are, our intuition will keep us far away from a mirror that might show us a confronting image. Secondly, our level of learned-helplessness might prevent us from seeking out a conclusion we feel powerless of changing.

Since we are not frequently visited by the ghosts of Christmas, showing us imagery against our will, having a tradition in reflection might be our best bet, preferably with an accountability-buddy. When you're skipping on a tradition, you are at least conscious of the decision.

๐Ÿ”™ Feedback

Having had a couple of odd (sometimes, simply bad) experiences with providing feedback to recent graduates, I set myself to the task of analysing how this could have happened. I'm pretty sure everyone wants to learn and feedback plays a key, yet often uncomfortable (on the receiving end) role. The way I've learned to provide positive and negative feedback (and have received it from the older generation) seems not very effective anymore.

Even with 'the gloves on', I noticed that any negative feedback became a great source of concern and insecurity for the persons I was talking to. They started doubting whether they were good enough for the job or whether they were in the right place at all. When you consistently receive negative feedback, I can understand that these thoughts may start to cross your mind. But after one session?

Discussing the issue with friends and family, some themes started to emerge. First of all, the content of the message was not the issue. The feedback itself had its merits. Secondly, the recipients seemed to be caught off-guard and not knowing what to do with the situation. As if this was the first time they encountered a somewhat difficult one-to-one. This triggered some further thinking.

Could the way we interact personally with each other be so different between the generations that it actually triggers all kinds of unintended side-effects? Current graduates use far more tools such as social media and direct-messaging apps that do not require real-life personal interactions; seeing a facial expression combined with the words makes the message completely different than just read from a computer screen (or listened to ๐Ÿ˜‰). I'm not saying this is necessarily wrong, I just observe that this may make life quite challenging. After all, older people tend to be the teachers of the younger ones.

Still, I feel there is room for some rebalance. The finesses of personal interaction play a vital role in our society and need to be practised. How often does a child actually go to somebody to ask a question, let alone make a simple phone call (still not the facial expression, but at least some tone to the words)? Practice makes perfect, but if you do not get to practice that often anymore, what happens?

I also believe this topic is connected to our earlier observation about the lack of focus on resilience - our capacity to recover swiftly from adversity (see the obvious link?).

Processing all this, I keep on coming back to the conclusion that more personal interaction is the solution. What would this interaction in today's world look like? Is it through social media after all and do I need to finally make that jump (I'm extremely reluctant to do that) or can we find alternatives? We need the intimacy, one way or the other. Or both.

๐Ÿฆˆ Bottom

One of my favourite problems is called 'race to the bottom'. Many entrepreneurs find themselves in a situation, unable to find the time & resources to get out of a long and winding downward spiral, caused by competition pressuring their offering prices, often combined with an inability to attract the right people. Like the proverbial frog being boiled slowly, this process can take many years and wreak havoc long before the diagnose is clear.

When I rode down a Dutch highway a few months back, I was confronted with an ultimate illustration of this phenomenon:

"There can be only be one who is cheapest!"

Being cheaper and faster is a race with very few winners. Listening to a Tim Ferriss interview with Seth Godin the other day, Seth explained the conundrum:

"...if youโ€™re trying to out-Amazon Amazon, youโ€™ve got trouble. Even Walmart canโ€™t out-Amazon Amazon. Thatโ€™s not a race you can or want to win."

He then switched gears to his view on an exciting and optimistic route forward:

"So what we see is if someone is going to build a bakery, or a wedding services business, or a physical therapy facility, they can win by racing to the top. By saying, there are people here who do work you cannot find anywhere else. But do not expect that youโ€™re also going to get that work faster and cheaper than you can get at other places, because you canโ€™t have everything."

Finding the 'human elements' in the problem you are solving for people, can hold the key to sustainable growth. Accidentally, this also solves the lack of meaning that a lot of people so dearly miss in their vocation.

Ask yourself: what problem am I solving in what I do? And what human elements might I be overlooking?


๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own ๐Ÿ“ฌ. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive ๐Ÿ—‚๏ธ.

We would love to hear your thoughts ๐Ÿง . Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 108

Published on:
August 30, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

This week we mainly contemplated learning. How to learn better using ancient and modern tools; wielding information modalities as well as cutting-edge large language models. We close with an optimistic message on using technology to minimize contrails. Contrails, you ask? Enjoy!

๐Ÿ‘‚๐Ÿ“–๐Ÿค” Modality

The intriguing insight we highlighted before that our thinking is influenced by which mode of communication we use, triggered me to learn more. Last year we quoted:

"Consequently, we propose that people think more intuitively in the spoken modality and more analytically in the written modality."

But what happens if it is the other way around. In other words, does it matter to what you think when you're on the receiving end of different modes of information? Apparently it does and much in the same way as when you're the transmitter of information.

In the article 'Do you think more clearly when reading or when listening', evidence is presented that generally speaking different brain circuits are in action depending on whether you listen to or read information. Listening tends to invoke intuitive thinking, relying on gut feelings and instincts that come (and go) without much effort. Reading information tends to trigger analytic thinking, taking time to evaluate all arguments and evidence before reaching a conclusion.

One explanation for this behaviour lies in the process how we have learned to speak and read. Generally, we learn to speak a language by listening carefully and responding in a spontaneous, trial-and-error kind of way. A very intuitive way. Learning to read is much more organised, according to a set of rules and a lot of practice. Hence, different mental processes are in play when learning to speak compared to learning to read.

"Because of their experience with learning and practising reading while growing up, people may become conditioned to thinking relatively analytically when they read and get accustomed to putting in a bit more mental effort, compared with when they listen."

I believe these insights could have significant implications. You could for instance force yourself to both listen to and read information about a topic you need to take an important decision about. Partly, we naturally tend to do this already. Being social animals and facing big decisions, we often query our friends and family and listen to their experiences and advice. Internally, we try to combine those inputs (which you would have digested intuitively, mostly) with spending hours surfing the internet, reading magazines, books and other literature.

Is the combination of the analytical and intuitive thought processes the holy grail? Or, does this depend on the subject matter? What does this tell us about the advice to listen to our gut feeling?

The trick will be figuring out when to use which modality and in what balance. That might be the ultimate trait. I'd say, back again to your intuition and gauge what feels right, when ๐Ÿ˜‰!

๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐ŸŽ“ Tutor

Following the explosion in attention for Large Language Models like ChatGPT, people all over the world are experimenting with practical uses for the newfound tool. In my own practice, I have found a lot of benefit from using it as a catalyst to get ideas flowing, generating a ton of little sparks in brainstorming or rapidly creating a structure for solving problems. Compensating for any reasoning flaws in the models, I provide it with a structured framework to adhere to, and then ask it to get crazy for a specific business case. The model acts as a thinking partner or a crazy team member, depending on the instructions you feed it.

Another nice application I recently discovered while discussing the impact of AI on learning with a French Language tutor. Inspired by the integration of the OpenAI models in the math courses at learning powerhouse Khan Academy, we experimented with just asking ChatGPT to be our French teacher.

After sharing some generic guidelines & introductory phrases, ChatGPT asked me to join in:

Even complaining about the price of the croissants did not throw the model off, leading to a conversation that -from my point of view- would pass the Turing test with flying colors.

Will this replace tutors? The answer that resonates best with me these days was phrased by professor Karim Lakhani in a recent HBR podcast:

"AI Wonโ€™t Replace Humans โ€” But Humans With AI Will Replace Humans Without AI"

โ˜๏ธ Trail

Understanding the mechanics behind climate change can sometimes lead to surprising insights. The other day I learned how a staggering 35% of global aviation impact is caused by 'contrails', the condensation trails you can sometimes see forming in the sky when planes pass by.

While clouds are both reflecting sunlight (reducing the energy reaching earth's surface) as well as trapping heat, these human made clouds unfortunately have a big net negative effect.

This insight has lead to an interesting approach to fighting their impact. Google, working with American Airlines and Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy, came up with the idea of using Machine Learning to create altitude maps where contrails are most likely to form:

โ€œItโ€™s just like a big map thatโ€™s saying, โ€˜Look, planes flying at this altitude will make a contrail. So letโ€™s not fly any planes through there.โ€™โ€

Since only a small percentage of flying is responsible for these contrails, the increased fuel usage incurred by changing course (2% increase for impacted flights, translating to 0.3% of the entire fleet) is greatly outweighed by the impact of contrail reduction.

Reading the article and seeing the enthusiasm of the team behind the effort, made me realise the power and fun of solving big puzzles with a talented team. Ideas like this just might make the difference we need.


๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own ๐Ÿ“ฌ. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive ๐Ÿ—‚๏ธ.

We would love to hear your thoughts ๐Ÿง . Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 107

Published on:
August 23, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

As the summer recess comes to an end, we have once more taken up the pen. Reflecting on our summer experiences, we share our thoughts on contagious behaviour and its deeper mechanics. On the note of positive change, we finish with a reframing of automated responses and its impact on relationships. Enjoy!

๐Ÿ˜Š Contagious

In our family we like to say that coincidences do not exist. Seconds after we asked our guide, who led us through his beautiful country on our holiday trip, whether we could stop for a short 'bio-break', he pulled into a parking lot where we were greeted by the biggest and most generous smile on earth. Whatever was worrying our minds (including the pressing need to visit a bathroom) vanished.

We were greeted by Mr. Welipenna Vithanage Sugathapala or the very person who was awarded the title 'World's happiest man' by several sources, including Mike Worsman of 'TheHappiest.com', who gave him his title, and the NY Times. This YouTube video gives you an impression. Mr. Sugathapala is a security guard at a local bakery in Beruwala on the South-West coast of Sri Lanka. He's not just standing near the front door. Instead, he's actively luring visitors to the bakery by smiling, whistling and making big welcoming gestures.

His energy is contagious and we felt its impact once we continued our journey. His story is, however, not full of happiness and laughter; he has troubles making ends meet on a daily basis and feed his family. Still, he entrenched himself in his happy, positive style. I had a nice chat with him and he shared a leaflet detailing his 'message to the world'.

In short, his main advice is simple and obvious; be happy with what you have, be patient, compassionate and honest. Do not spend energy on what troubles your mind and be an inspiration to others. We touched on the subject of happiness before and we noted:

"Intuitively, this ["Whatever makes you happy, do that."] makes absolute sense. When you're happy, you at least sense you have more energy. You spend your time more effectively and most probably you have far more meaningful conversations. The smile on your face induces the people you interact with to be more positive and willing to cooperate as well."

However, studies and experiments suggest that our brain is not 'wired' to be happy.

"The theory is our brains evolved this way in order to protect us; early humans had a lot more to gain from focusing on what might harm them than from what was pleasant"

Still, a smile is contagious, as is happiness. And the best thing of all: we can control this ourselves. Why not actively try to smile in the vicinity of other people at least once a day and see what happens. For instance at the start of a meeting. I'm pretty sure we can change our 'wiring' over time. We live in a beautiful world ๐Ÿ˜Š.

๐Ÿงถ Wired

Upon reading 'Contagious' (my co-author finished writing before I even started), I immediately thought of a passage I read yesterday in 'A Gentleman in Moscow', not accidentally referred to me by my co-author as well ๐Ÿ˜.

Receiving advice from a friend on how to spend time with a young child, our protagonist gets told:

"If you are ever in doubt, just remember that unlike adults, children want to be happy. So they still have the ability to take the greatest pleasure in the simplest things.โ€

In 'Why Buddhism is True', this adult wiring is even pinpointed as the cause of most of our suffering:

"Natural selection doesnโ€™t โ€œwantโ€ us to be happy, after all; it just โ€œwantsโ€ us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting."

This very much resonates with a theme I've been pondering much this past year; circumstances bringing out the best and worst in people. History is littered with examples of decent people regressing to indecent behaviour, given the circumstances. As long as self-preservation and survival are a theme, the higher order functioning breaks down. My working hypothesis here is that we need to structurally 'raise the floor' so our primordial tendencies atrophy.

As creativity, diversity and cooperation are increasingly important in solving the challenges of the day, playfulness and psychological safety become ever critical. Since our physique immediately influences our emotions, a smile can go a long way.

๐Ÿ’— Better

In the 'I have so much more to learn'-department, a tweet by Tim Urban (waitbutwhy) confronted me with something I am admittedly terrible at:

"Relationship tip: when your partner makes an awful but innocent mistake (leaves their phone in the cab, forgets their passport when heading to the airport for an international flight, drops and shatters a beloved item, gets in a fender bender, etc.), don't get mad at them. It makes no sense (it was accidental) and it accomplishes nothing except supplementing an already bad situation with an unnecessary fight."

As a self-labelled 'risk assessor', I'm usually the person to move glasses away from the table edge, warn kids about pointy thingies in their play-space and instruct them on how to best load a knife with jelly to minimize the chances of an early-morning-wardrobe-change.

This unfortunately means that the line between 'accidental' and 'preventable' is a bit blurry in my book. Accepting that my family's wiring might be different, does not come easy one me. Tim makes the case for swallowing your initial reaction:

"This turns those moments from relationship-damaging to relationship-building. And of course, what goes around comes aroundโ€”you do dumb things too, and you'd much rather your partner be a laughing teammate than an angry parent in those situations."

The reframing Tim does, did shine a new light on my behaviour and its consequences. I'll try to be better.


๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own ๐Ÿ“ฌ. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive ๐Ÿ—‚๏ธ.

โ€‹We would love to hear your thoughts ๐Ÿง . Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

โ€‹With love,

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 106

Published on:
July 5, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

Smooth sailing, the only way is up, these sayings reveal the image we have of what our lives should be. Stagnation, decline, being stuck and adversity, however, can contain seeds of something even better. The obstacle can indeed be the way.

We will see you all after our summer recess. Enjoy!

โ›ฐ๏ธ Better

Writer Chris Guillebeau recently wrote a post called "If You're Not Getting Better, You're Getting worse". He explores skills and knowledge that atrophy when you're not actively using them, like public speaking or writing.

I find the term 'atrophy' especially interesting, as the comparison with muscle tissue is appealing. Use it or lose it, so the saying goes. This would imply that anything you're not actively using is broken down, possibly for the sake of energy optimisation. If you're not using certain skills, their usefulness is questionable, right?

Q and A recently recalled the type of mathematical equations we used to be able to solve when in university. Bumping into some study books recently, I was amazed by the level of complexity younger me was apparently able to solve.

This confrontation with evidently atrophied skills made me realise something else: I did not consider it a loss, for at least two reasons: the fact that I had been able to do it made me (questionably) confident of my ability to do it again when needed, and -more importantly- I know the intuitions I formed from practicing the skills are still present. And these intuitions are exactly the building blocks I use on a regular basis to try and make sense of the world around me.

In an earlier deliberation on learning processes in kids and adults, we also touched on this theme. Could constantly rolling up the hill, getting 'better' at any one thing, be like chasing fools' gold when done for too long? Could using it as a 'stepping stone' be a better strategy, enabling a staggered progression? Think about the things you are getting better at. Would you want to get better infinitely? And how would you handle stagnation or even a decline?

๐Ÿฅ‹ Resilience

In the past couple of days, I was lucky enough to take a step back and enjoy nature. A few hours into winding down, the first interesting reflections and observations started to emerge. One particularly stood out; many of my discussions with other people seem to center around what the best preconditions are to achieve more, grow faster or finish school with high grades. Looking at external factors rather than internal ones. I often felt uncomfortable in those discussions and it dawned on me why.

While society seems to fixate more and more on intelligence, creativity, and other cornerstones of achievement, we're overlooking an essential quality: resilience - our capacity to recover swiftly from adversity. Though pivotal to enduring life's challenges, it remains, in my humble opinion, an unsung hero in our education system, daily life, and workplaces. This is a tribute to that virtue, which I personally believe should have more attention.

In life, resilience is akin to an ever-reliable safety net, letting us bounce back from setbacks and withstand the rigours of daily challenges. From disputes with friends to unexpected expenses, life continuously tests our alertness. It's resilience that allows us to retain balance in the face of adversity and prevent these daily challenges from escalating into significant distress. Even better, it may turn the 'negative' energy in the opposite direction and let you reach higher than before.

Yet, our education system, primarily focused on academic prowess, seems not very interested in cultivating this critical skill. Students are ill-prepared to manage academic stress or failure, leading to anxiety and dampened motivation. In the professional sphere, resilience remains an under-appreciated commodity. In an era defined by change and uncertainty, resilient employees contribute to a more dynamic, yet stable organisation.

Admittedly, there will always be a group of people in society for which (Government) support is required to survive in our system. I'm all for providing such support to those that really need it. Yet, this safety net should perhaps not always be that visible or easily acccesible. Some form of (temporary) discomfort and (here it is again) uncertainty could just trigger the unfolding of your own safety net before it is supplied to you. It's about finding the right balance and targeting the right group of people in real need of external support.

It's time to bring resilience out from the shadows, giving it the prominence it deserves in our society's narrative. It starts in our homes, extends to our schools, and permeates our workplaces. Resilience can be learned through mindfulness, physical activity, social connections, and effective stress management. I especially believe you can train resilience by getting to know oneself much better. Practice self-reflection and once you have some observations, the journey really starts: be self-critical and honest.

Build up your discipline. It's like allowing yourself to be bored and see what happens next. Just like how I got to this subject in the first place. By reorienting our focus and investing in self-consciousness, we can craft a society that thrives, fortify our collective capacity to deal with setbacks, enhancing mental health and societal well-being, irrespective of the challenges that come our way.

๐Ÿ›ž Momentum

In 'streak' we explored the links between habit forming and momentum, overcoming the friction that comes with standing still. Whenever we feel stuck, the same formulas seem to apply. Professor Adam Alter of NYU's Stern School of Business discusses feeling stuck in a recent podcast. One strategy he suggests:

"One approach is to take small bursts of action, even if they don't directly produce usable results, as the act of acting itself can help overcome stuckness."

Simply doing something, no matter how small or imperfect, can help overcome stuckness and keep the momentum going.

"Atomic Habits" writer James Clear shared a speech by General William McRaven, in which he underscored the role of meticulously making your bed each morning, something all Navy Seals do:

"If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can't do the little things right, you will never do the big things right."

The chainsmoking as Austin Kleon calls it, seems to work across disciplines. If you feel stuck in any area, start generating some momentum in another!


๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own ๐Ÿ“ฌ. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive ๐Ÿ—‚๏ธ.

We would love to hear your thoughts ๐Ÿง . Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 105

Published on:
June 28, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

This week we bring you a short episode with no clear theme ๐Ÿ˜€ We just cover two fundamental subjects that regularly occupy our thoughts. Writing about these subjects immediately helped us gain new understanding of the matter at hand, so we can heartwarmingly suggest taking up the pen or keyboard on the questions that keep you busy. Try it!

๐Ÿ’ฟ Record

Not just looking at the functional aspects of products and services, but looking at the emotional (how does it make me feel?) and social (how does it make me look?) factors as well, has got to be my favourite business tool to date. As more and more research proves how much of our decision-making is guided by our subconscious, looking beyond the functional aspects is a key skill to finding and growing your customer base. Beware, this goes way beyond the marketing and sales trickery of adding the right atmosphere and association, like for instance Coca Cola has been doing successfully for decades on end. No, this is all about baking these elements right into the entire customer experience.

A compelling example is the rise in vinyl record sales that has been going on for the past 10+ years. If you look at the functional aspects of playing music, vinyl records lose to streaming services by a mile. They scratch, are hard to take with you, hold typically only 22 minutes of music per side and never auto-play to a next song when done. Spotify holds almost all music you can imagine, mix-tapes (playlists) are created with one click, you can take them anywhere on your phone and sound quality is generally quite good. Easy choice, right?

The other day, friends explained how they got back into vinyl records, growing their collection, loving the intentionality of taking out a record and making the time to play it. Like a Japanese Tea ceremony, it's not about being thirsty. It's a ritual, a habit that you tie into taking time for yourself and appreciating art.

I once had a wonderful conversation with a dear friend on another role of book- and record collections. If you're old enough, you will remember how peeking at someones record collection or book shelves made you instantly aware of the owners interests and tastes. A joint interest for an artist, a specific record or a book, immediately sparked conversation, an easy gateway into getting to know one another.

To be honest, I largely ignored these non-functional aspects of owning, playing and exposing your music. I jumped on the digital and streaming bandwagon as soon as it gained real world usability. But now that I'm fully converted for almost two decades, I can appreciate the appeal. A mix of "you don't know what you got 'till it's gone" and basic economic theory (the law of diminishing returns, scarcity increasing the value of some non-functional aspects) is probably a driving force behind the re-discovery that is going on.

Spotting 'Spotify walls' on Pinterest is another clue of the gap that is clearly there. A quick search immediately finds tons of products that tie the digital realm to the physical. I love how a flurry of entrepreneural minds spotted the non-functional needs beyond the nostalgia and started building stuff. Every know and then, progress is taking a step back.

โ™พ๏ธ Never-ending

Thank you very much for all your reactions to our last newsletter. Paradoxes definitely did its job in resonating with our crowd and triggering responses. In searching for answers to 'Why would you position yourself as, well, basically not yourself?', we mostly focused on behaviourial aspects.

This subject clearly warrants additional words to be spent. We noted there could be many more reasons and you supplied us with your thoughts on this as well. One of the most mentioned reasons essentially entails:

"The more you know, the more you realise what you don't know."

It's a well-known statement made by scientists but it is true for having years of experience or "grey hairs" as well. You start to realise that the unknown world is bigger than you can comprehend; you learn to accept it and deal with it. This makes uncertainty part of your toolkit.

Looking at the flip-side, we observe that persons who have not (yet) gained extensive knowledge or experience tend to look for 'extreme' certainty in details to grasp the bigger picture. If you're not able to oversee or comprehend the total picture, the preferred strategy is to focus on a particular detail, understand it and hold on to it dearly (and thus defend it with strong words, spoken with certainty). It gives a 'false' sense of belief, but probably preferable above having nothing to hold on to.

Thus, education, experiences and experimentation play a crucial role in creating humble persons. Persons that understand that their surroundings are too complex to control and influence, but being in it and playing your own role รญs your greatest contribution to it and will do its grand work.


๐Ÿ—ž๏ธ That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own ๐Ÿ“ฌ. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive ๐Ÿ—‚๏ธ.

We would love to hear your thoughts ๐Ÿง . Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 104

Published on:
June 21, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

This week, we explore paradoxes and balances in communication. Certainty and doubt revealing inner processes, positive and negative feedback and its effects. Finally, we touch on the magic that unpreparedness can bring. Enjoy!

โžฟ Paradoxes

While in a coaching session with a client, we discussed and observed behaviours of his team. After several attempts to deduct analytically what his ideal approach should be to each of them, we switched the engineering brain off. We observed the following paradox:

"People who are not certain about something, bring their knowledge with a great sense of certainty; people who know something for certain bring the message with uncertainty, i.e. caveats, perhaps..., maybe..."

Immediately switching the engineering brain back on, we applied this lemma to various people and our theory seemed to hold (observe the uncertainty in this sentence ๐Ÿ˜‰). There may be an inverse proportional relationship between level of certainty with which persons present their case and how (un)certain that person is.

After the session, my brain could not let go of the issue. Why would you position yourself as, well, basically not yourself? Why make yourself bigger or smaller than you really are?

Could this be a defense mechanism? Is it a result of the competitive nature of our society? Are we compensating for characteristics that we do not possess? Might there be a difference between sexes? In other words, are there intrinsic biological elements in play? Or, are we just actively mean reverting in order to not fall out of the 'safety' of the crowd?

It's probably 'all of the above' (and a little more). We are social animals and prone to the pressures of socially accepted behaviour. We're trying to figure the norms and values of our counterparts and adjust our behaviour accordingly. Your behaviour thus often depends on the situation you're in. Only those persons who we tend to call 'authentic' seem to largely ignore the surroundings.

I find it interesting to observe how many of our internal processes are geared towards complying with the norm. At the same time, we also know that staying close to your own norms and values, being you, pursuing what you want and not what the group wants, seems to make you happier than if you comply to another's rule set. Moreover, as we noted before: "uncertainty often precedes stages of growth and development".

Paradoxes. Life seems to be full of them. Solving them, or rather, dealing with them seems to be the ultimate task in life. Which side of the coin do you choose? Or, will you deal with the uncertainty and choose in the moment, as you see fit?

๐Ÿ“ฃ Feedback

Feedback is omnipresent. As a euphemism for criticism or a heartfelt compliment, more often than not as an outlet for the one providing the feedback. When used well, it can be a source for growth, as it provides outside perspective. Like running into a wall, a type of feedback in itself, the outside view can help you get your coordinates, a different perspective and momentum to correct course. The positive kind of feedback can help you keep momentum, and progress in the direction you are already moving in.

Early in my career, I was in a work environment where positive feedback was scarce. Negative performances were readily pointed out, but I think I did not receive a pat on my shoulder for a few years. I once pointed this out to my manager, but he explained how most people were already quite pleased with themselves, so positive feedback was not that useful according to him. Looking back, a Calvinistic mindset was clearly part of the company's culture.

The effects of this culture creeped up on me, like a frog in water being boiled. Only after switching jobs did I realise what happened. Becoming part of a team that complimented each other and celebrated successes felt like coming up for a breath of fresh air. My self-confidence and performance got boosted like it had not been in years. After observing this, I also noticed how I was able to keep this confidence for quite some weeks and months without additional reinforcement.

Knowing you're doing a good job, self confidence, can be a tricky system to master. You can sustain it for quite some time, but it needs outside energy as well. If you are in a position to give a compliment, go for it. You never know what it can mean for the receiver.

๐Ÿช„ Magic

Increase what you want, decrease what you don't want. That's the formula we discussed a couple of months back. Taking a cue from plants, who add mass where the light is, growing to where the energy can be found. Finding the activities that give you energy can be tricky though, as it requires the ability to notice.

I really like 'behind the scenes' footage of acts of creativity, as they hold clues to pinpointing where the magic happens. It's why I had no problem spending 9 hours watching The Beatles creating 'Get Back' while having fun and playing around with all the inspiration that surrounded them.

A short interview with Vulfpeck guitarist Cory Wong reveals how the band never rehearses before shows. Even guest players join the stage unaware of what's going to happen and get told where to plug their instruments on the spot.

"You get raw instincts, there's nothing but magic", Cory explains, "I don't know what's going to happen, and then that makes for something really fun, but it's not for everybody. Some people would get extreme anxiety over that. I live for those moments"

These high-risk, high-rewards setups only work when you leave the comfort zone, knowing that you can likely handle what's coming. Most of their musical guests are world-class, so their creative confidence is strong.

Cory's explanation made me identify my own unrehearsed highlights. I love being confronted with new business challenges, being part of a team that starts structuring, coming up with new ideas and dreaming big on the spot. The initial 'stage fright' that is always present, quickly turns into energy that fuels the creativity.

Linking back to the theme of this piece, I can only say: more of this, please! What are the moments you feel most alive? What are the moments you 'live for', as Cory put it? And how would you be able to make more of them?


That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 103

Published on:
June 14, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

This edition turned out to be an hommage to systems thinking about our human reactions and thoughts. How can we observe and investigate our own reactions to the outside world, and are we able to shape those for our benefit?

๐Ÿน Release

Procrastination remains an intriguing phenomenon. Most of the thoughts spent on it are aimed at beating it, using a broad array of techniques to overcome this dreaded enemy of an empty to-do list and feelings of accomplishment.

We touched on a possible mechanism behind it, explaining how fear of failure might be a driving force to put things off. To balance things out, we even contemplated the intrinsic value of delay, using your unconscious problem-solving mechanisms to get better outcomes.

Another angle struck me while in the shower the other day. I noticed how I tended to pile a large number of small action items over a number of days, with a growing anxiety over not progressing. At some point, the anxiety-dam burst and I started the Herculean effort of chopping down the list and making progress at breakneck speeds. At the end of the day, I felt euphoric, having cleared most of the list in record time.

This made me think; how much of this process is just self-inflicted drama? Building up tension for the sake of a momentous release? Like a symphony, building intricate melody lines that build tension, feeling a bit off, before gloriously closing with the sound chords that feel like coming home.

Can procrastination be a form of 'deadline addiction', seeing what you are able to pull off? Is it actually increasing the value of the work? Or could the bigger release be a distraction from tasks less urgent, but more important? What's your relationship to procrastination?

Dallยทe: A procrastinator standing victorious on top of a pile of tasks, digital art

๐Ÿ’ฌ Convictions

The great thing about gathering your thoughts, writing about it and sharing it with the outside world, is that you're forced to deeply think about it. Moreover, the thinking doesn't stop once published. The thinking is nestled in a warm place somewhere in your brain to pop up every so often, like a new-born asking for attention when needed. At least, that's how it works for me.

Something triggered me to rethink my earlier piece on opinions and trying to be opinion-less. Thinking through the issue once more, I came to a different conclusion. Could it be that it is simply impossible to be without opinions? Like a Buddhist monk trying to be without a thought for some time, you may be able to train yourself to become opinionless over many, many years, but at what cost?

You may try to keep opinions for yourself and oblige yourself to look at issues from multiple angles, creating multiple opinions; the one somewhat stronger than the other. There was a hint to this deliberation already in the earlier article:

"Rather, focus your energy on the (small) things you can influence or being a neutral judge. Every little wind of change has the potential to grow into a hurricane."

Keywords are 'neutral judge'. You'll notice you're judging already most of the time when observing, analysing and thinking. You seem to be hardwired to do so; from a biological perspective, this judgment allows you to react fast. When a predator is coming your way, there is no use in looking at it from different angles, you should just run or hide.

When you have the opportunity to take some time, my suggestion would be to use it. Use it to take a breath and ask clarifying questions. Try to avoid reaching conclusions. To have an opinion voiced to the outside world means you've reached a conclusion. Rather than becoming opinion-less, it's probably more about being 'conclusion-less'.

Even though you can wait for that baby to start crying, there are ways to actively revisit your convictions. After meetings or events, take some downtime and ask yourself questions. Like:

"Ok, during that conversation I really tried to make that point, but my counterpart just didn't buy it. I still believe that norm/value is important for me, but how do I actually implement it or deal with it? Is it still that important to me?"

Asking yourself such questions will trigger more nuanced, more colourful pictures of the world surrounding you. As is often the case with nuances, their impact may be big. It requires some energy and discipline to get this functioning consistently. My personal experience is that it's worth the effort as social interactions become much smoother whilst not taking away the discomfort that allows for growth and development.

Did I just reinvent Stoรฏcism?

๐Ÿฉผ Depend

Last week, we spent some thoughts on AI technology that might augment your capabilities to read other people's feelings, and how this technology might make you feel. Once you conquer the stage of feeling threatened and accept the new tools, you may become dependent on it and ruin your own intuition. Use it or lose it, right?

In a lecture I attended a few weeks back, AI specialist Phanish Puranam shared an intriguing example of the pitfalls that might be lurking. In large law firms, multiple junior lawyers perform most of the prep work for the senior lawyers. They dig through stacks of documents to summarize facts, find clues and form suggestions for approaching the case. Large Language Models like GPT-4 promise case analysis at high speeds and low costs, potentially reducing the reliance on juniors. If you go down this road, however, you are destroying your talent pipeline. Building your senior lawyer experience and intuition -our own Machine Learning model- requires grinding away at case material for a number of years. As Einstein once said:

"Intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience"

Since the junior work needed to be done in any case, the learning almost came as a by-product. Now, the learning must become intentional, and the process re-considered as an investment. New equations will come with new optimal solutions, all part of the impact we can't even envision yet.

An interesting part of the puzzles before us, is the level of dependence we are comfortable with. As investigated before, we are already dependent for much of our lives, which is apparently fine for most of us. On the other hand, if my car's navigation is sending me in a direction I feel uncomfortable with, I am glad I have a sense of direction and basic geographical knowledge.

It's up to us to define the fine line between using technology as a bicycle for the mind and leaning on it like a crutch. Interesting times.


That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own. You can find everything else we shared in our wonderful, searchable archive.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

With love,

Quinten & Alphons