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!

⛰️ 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?

🥋 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.

🛞 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!

🗞️ 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 105

Published on:
June 28, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

This week we bring you a short episode with no clear theme 😀 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!

💿 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.

♾️ 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 ís your greatest contribution to it and will do its grand work.

🗞️ 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 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!

➿ 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 😉). 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?

📣 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.

🪄 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?

🏹 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?

Dall·e: A procrastinator standing victorious on top of a pile of tasks, digital art

💬 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 Stoïcism?

🩼 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

Q&A 102

Published on:
June 7, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

Today is about curiosity as a driver for change. Curiosity for the small clues hiding in our daydreaming, the stories behind the obvious and the emotions holding us back accepting change. Enjoy!

💭 Dream big (no, small)!

"We tend to think of major personal transformations as big, loud and sudden. We imagine an explosion of fireworks or, conversely, an earthquake that brings everything crashing down. But personal transformations don’t always follow a ‘bang’. Sometimes they build from a whisper."

It's a thought that resonated with me, luring me deeper into the article that featured it. For me, it connects with the idea that we all have a unique set of capabilities and talents. We 'just' need to find them.

We're, however, not taught how. Being social animals that tend to prefer structure over chaos and mingling in the crowd over standing on the sideline, we experience a lot of pressure to conform. Conform to whatever our surroundings have defined as 'normal'. Furthermore, we remember well the big and profound life-changing events, tricking us into believing that thát is something to strive for.

I personally believe the big events are often just a catalyst or a culmination of many, smaller steps. We can create and cultivate a lifestyle and processes that make it easier to take those small steps. Almost like a habit.

The mentioned article provided some interesting signals to look for, teaching us where to find those 'whispers' and how to actively listen to them. It appears that our dreams and day-wanderings (which apparently are a form of dream) provide clues to who we really are, what we aspire to and how we can actively (and subtly) change course.

"When our minds wander, we step back from ongoing events, reassess what has just happened, and imagine alternative possibilities for what we might do next."

The trick is, more often than not, your dream is ... just a dream, a random concatenation of different experiences and made-up events. The article explains that you can however actively induce dreaming and by creating more of it, chances are you'll get more inspiration out of it. It boils down to what is called 'freedom from immediacy' and 'freedom from repetition'. In other words, try to reduce reacting to immediate needs and actively look for variation, different activities and experiences. It'll enrich your imagination and thereby your toolkit for transformation.

For an experiment, plan a 1-hour 'daydreaming' appointment in your schedule, or come up with a way to change a routine. Wether it's your workout, your walk or your meeting format, switch it up for the sake of variety.

🦖 Beast

Practicing non-judgement has been one of the key techniques bringing me joy these past years, while also being the terrain where I feel there is still tons of progress possible. Both in personal endeavours as well as business environments, passing on your immediate judgement has brought me wonderful outcomes.

Earlier, we shared how Bill Clinton and Celeste Headlee always assume there is a big story behind every person they meet. I think this might be the best possible mindset to practice non-judgement. It's not about forcefully squashing the thoughts that come to mind, it's about adopting a conviction that there is a story that explains why people behave like they do; we just haven't found it.

A few weeks ago, the mighty YouTube algorithm decided to serve me a video called '$1 vs $1,000,000 Hotel Room!'

I had heard of MrBeast, the video's creator before, and his other videos ("I spent 50 hours buried alive", "I ate a $70,000 golden pizza") bypassed any non-judgement-y reflex I might have developed over the past period. Clickbait, flashy bullshit for teenagers on a doomscroll. Period. Right?

Two videos down a potential rabbit-hole (the engineer in me could not resist an experiment with concrete walls as a gentle stopping mechanism for freight trains..) 'The Origin and Rise of MrBeast', a documentary on his life so far, turned up in my feed, revealing a different side of the story. Obsessed with making videos since his childhood, he gave away the first $5,000 he ever received in sponsorship to a homeless guy down the road, simply to see his reaction. Helping thousands of people with cheap, but life-changing eye surgeries and hearing aids was another of his projects.

While his business empire is valued north of a billion dollars, he still lives in what can best be described as a dorm room. Should the fairytale end, his lifestyle wouldn't suffer much, his reasoning goes. He just likes to spend his time doing what he enjoys most: doing fun and helpful projects with his friends.

Evidence + 1, more proof supporting a growing conviction. For the next person you meet who triggers a judgement, consider starting with a question and see where this gets you.

👀 Partner

A few years back, author Yuval Noah Harari teased our worldview by stating that AI would bring us a world where our smart fridge would be better at reading our mood than our life partner. As the current developments have squashed any lurking normalcy bias, I can only assume that a lot of us consider this scenario feasible in the near future.

The interesting part of this shifting imagination for me, is how it affects us on an emotional level. Inspecting my own feelings, I discovered a small sense of fear, of inadequacy. Being a male hasn't put me in the highest scoring category for reading feelings anyway, but a household appliance potentially outdoing me on this front feels threatening. It might make me a lesser kind of husband, right?

A recent plug-in application for Zoom made the mood-reading tech even more clear and present. Automatic transcription is nothing new, summarization neither. But having 'mood scores', highlighting engagement and even links to the topic at hand is a whole new game. I haven't seen the technology in action yet, but its mere presence in the Zoom app store is an indication of how close we are getting.

Seeing this tech reframed my anxiety a bit as well, as it also provides a good examples of the 'augmentation' that AI can bring. The same kind of technology is being used in Customer Service centers, where voice analysis provides cues to the agents on possible routes in the script and warning signs, should they be missed by the agent itself.

If I'm ok with my EV gently nudging me when I accidentally leave my lane, why can't AI make me a better husband? I feel no less for writing down our Anniversary in my diary, right? So, forms of technology are supporting me already. I might be able to appreciate a small nudge when I'm overly focused on myself. Even from my fridge.

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 101

Published on:
May 31, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

We're back! Our Spring break turned into a 3-month retreat, contemplating and experimenting with the questions we posed in our 100th edition. In our first piece, we share how this break resulted in a return to our dear audience. We would love to hear your thoughts and musings caused by our little write-ups, do not hesitate to click the 'reply' button and share your response. Enjoy!

🎬 Restart

"Notes aren’t just static records of our thinking. Rather, we think with our notes"

This Richard Feynman quote -discussed earlier- turned up immediately upon us deliberating re-starting the newsletter. Both of us missed the habit of writing those 500 words each week on a deadline, forcing us to boil down our musings into condensed prose, leaving us enriched from the mini-conversation between ourselves and our digital artefact.

We also missed the act of creativity, hitting the 'send' button every week. We did not experience withdrawal symptoms as severe as Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk who describes how friends ask him "You're not writing right now, are you?" as he tries to pick fights with them while on the phone in the middle of the night.

No, stopping our 100-episode streak just made us realise how much we missed it, and the 'coming home' feeling is filling me as I'm writing these first words. We considered alternative forms of writing over these past months, but after a few failed experiments, the most obvious path felt like the right one.

Earlier, we shared a tweet stating "no habit is a real habit unless you failed at your streak and re-started it at least once". In my view, this echoes the fine balance between the powerful force of habits and the damning curse of habits. Continuity for its own sake can inhibit growth and change.

This re-start does come with some additional goals in mind. We would love to grow our audience for the sake of more interactivity, more feedback, more follow-up ideas. As with a lot of creative endeavours, the artefact can become a serendipity vehicle which is the cherry on top of our already delicious cake.

🛂 Borders

Continually fascinated by the big challenges facing us, I tend to read many articles and reports. While reading a 2050 Outlook on the Dutch energy system by the independent 'Expertteam Energysystem', a thought matured that had been looming for quite some time: most of these reports focus on country-specific solutions and hardly pay any attention to the simple fact that energy, human species and nature are continuous and completely ignore the artificial borders that we've drawn on a map. You'd expect this report to be full of transnational interdependencies and solving the energy transition together; surprisingly, it was mentioned only once in the 154-pages report that the Dutch policies should be aligned with EU policies.

Borders have fascinated me since I was a child observing the countryside passing by on our way to our Summer destination. A sense of anxiety ánd expectation would pop up approaching border control only to disappear as quickly once the landscape continued unchanged.

It is generally accepted that exactly 375 years ago, in 1648, the Peace of Westphalia -covering the two separate events in that same year of the Treaty of Munster and the Treaty of Osnabrück ending the 80-years war and 30-years war, respectively- essentially created the modern 'Nation-states'. Spain, the Netherlands, France, Sweden and some other nations came officially into existence and this required the definition of borders; where does one state end and the other begin. Existing frontlines and natural lines of separation (rivers, lakes, seas, etc.) were the obvious choices. Later, when many nation-states started to conquer and subject the rest of the world, they often simply reverted to drawing straight lines in seemingly 'no-mansland'.

Borders have advantages. They provide clarity to what is yours and a sense of control, it allows some sort of rule-based governing system, and it gives a sense of belonging. The very act of drawing a border, means we create neighbours, where, as the saying goes, things are always better and the grass is greener. Natural competition occurs, which can be advantageous and at the same time fosters a 'us vs. them' attitude rather than a we're in this together.

Back to my initial observation and generalizing it somewhat. It seems to me that many big challenges are often boxed in first before they're analysed and potential solutions conceived. Confining the solutions space and optimizing locally will most likely not reach a global optimum (to use a mathematical expression). Some challenges simply need room and as many different viewpoints to tackle them. They are global, trans-cultural, -social, -national and -legal.

I'll be the first to admit that I may be a bit skewed in my opinion in this potential debate. I do not feel as belonging to a certain country or region. I just feel human and there is no 'Human-country' as a kind of overriding, borderless regime.

Rather than trying to rearrange existing borders and get to new ones, we may try something entirely different. Let's agree that regarding some topics, borders are irrelevant. This is the time for passing borders, reaching over them and admitting we cannot solve certain things on our own.

It's like taking the tables away in a meeting room. The entire atmosphere changes; a new level of energy enters the room. Yes, you lose a bit of comfort and sense of safety but it'll provide you with new experiences, connections and insight.

Let's not be scared to try such avenues and have faith in our collective abilities.

❓ Prompt

Asking the right question has always been the key to finding a solution:

"If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution." - NOT Albert Einstein

Even though this quote is actually not Einstein's, the fact that it got attributed so many times allures to the power of the method. Sharpening your problem statement, making sure you are raising the right question, increases the odds of finding a truly useful answer.

This knowledge resurfaced while I listened to a podcast on generative AI, featuring Harvard Business School professor Andy Wu. He spent some thoughts on the dawn of the 'Prompt Engineer' profession, apparently one of the fastest growing titles on LinkedIn. In a surprising turn of the conversation, he likened the Prompt Engineer to Middle Managers in business:

"...people who specialize in interacting with the AI, what are they doing? They’re asking good questions. They’re giving detailed instructions. What does a middle manager do? They’re a prompter of humans. And so in that sense, the skillset of a middle manager, I think, is actually more and more important."

This wonderfully aligns with one of my favourite views on AI, as a team member instead of a silicon overlord. If I wanted to take a shot at the human skills that will remain after the AI dust has settled, asking the right questions would definitely be one 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 100

Published on:
February 22, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

Our 100th edition marks a milestone and a possible turning point. We share our thoughts on some of our favourite problems, laying the groundwork for more contemplation. Finally, we explore the phenomenon of deadlines and milestones; how it affects us and what it means for our experiment. For now, we'll take a spring break, gather our feelings and thoughts. Enjoy!

🤔 Revisit

Certain topics and challenges remain top of mind. Sometimes intended as one of your favourite problems, sometimes subconsciously and automatically as you're intrinsically interested. My mind, for example, seems to be constantly interested in everything to do with equality, new economic models, taking care for our earth.

It is therefore that I present the Global GPI and GDP per capita graph again. In addition, some topics simply deserve to be repeated. Repetition is one of the best teachers, but in this case I'm sharing some further thoughts after revisiting the data presented.

Reviewing the graph once more, I could not resist thinking that the deviation between GDP and GPI development started more or less right after the moment President Nixon ratified the end of the Bretton-Woods system in 1973. This system was installed after the Second World War and ensured there was a fixed rate between the US dollar and gold. In addition, all international currencies were coupled to the US dollar. This feels as a rather artificial system, keeping each other's (financial) relationships firmly fixed. It does make sense that this could not hold until eternity, but the advantage of the system was that any money created by central banks had physical collateral.

Decoupling of the gold-standard meant the start of the era of money-creation out of thin air. Today, for every new dollar (or euro) a promisory note is issued by the government stating that it will be paid back in the future (i.e. by you, through taxation). Today's system almost entirely banks on next (and next-next) generation's income streams. In the past 50 years, we've pulled forward a lot of future earnings and used it to increase consumption (GDP...).

I'm not necessarily a proponent of going back to a gold-standard, but unrestrained lending on behalf of our (grand)children is also not a sustainable way forward. Some rules and regulations could be in order together with a normalisation of consumption patterns.

🕹️ Free

During a conversation on startup investing a few years back, one moderator highlighted the importance of contrarian thinking. Being able to hold a belief that your environment thinks is plain wrong, seemingly holds the key to finding the biggest investments opportunities, as they are often linked to paradigm shifts that our normalcy bias prevents us from considering. He went on to challenge us to share contrarian thoughts, and then defuse most of them by asking for a vote. All but one thought were shared by a large minority of the group, proving his point of the rarity of contrarian ideas.

I did not express this back then, but one of the thoughts I deemed contrarian was my disbelief in a free will.

My thinking on the subject was originally triggered by an Albert Einstein quote on the matter, who did not believe in free will, but thought is was practical in society. Think about crime and punishment if there were no free will, right?

Investigating the thoughts further, I bumped into many, many quotes and thoughts on the concept. Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer highlighted Kurt Vonnegut's playful

‘If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,’ said the Tralfamadorian, ‘I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by “free will.” I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I’ve studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.’

Appreciating how much our subconscious informs our actions and the sheer unfathomable complexity of humanity, I currently think 'free will' is like chaos, a term to capture something we cannot model. Mocking it, Tom Wolfe wrote:

"Let's say you pick up a rock and you throw it. And in midflight you give that rock consciousness and a rational mind. That little rock will think it has free will and will give you a highly rational account of why it has decided to take the route it is taking."

There must be value to the concept itself though, otherwise it would not be. In my thinking, I tend to cycle between the 'Surrender experiment' of appreciating the natural flow of things and the power of making things happen, that seem to paradoxically co-exist. While my hypothesis is obviously not contrarian, it's not common as well, which might be indicative of its value. What do you think?

🎯 Milestones

The beauty and value of -artificial- milestones! We create them on a daily basis and they act as a carrot to chase. They also present opportunities to reflect, evaluate and adjust.

We've reached our 100th newsletter. 2,5 years of (mostly) weekly essays, ponderings, discussions and wonderings. More than 100,000 words and hundreds of hours of work. Last couple of weeks, we've been debating whether and how to continue.

Yes, we get positive feedback and we know that a lot of our readers enjoy the weekly, fixed break on the Wednesday, reading our thoughts while enjoying a cup of tea or coffee. However, we do feel we've reached a certain, perhaps local, maximum. The topics we discuss, the learnings we get out of the research we do, the writing experience; we sometimes experience repetitiveness and diminishing returns.

This is not necessarily bad and could serve a purpose. It's a reason to reflect and perhaps adjust the course, while the overall goal may remain the same. At the outset of this endeavour, we formulated some clear goals as stated in our 50th newsletter:

"We wanted to be creative, practice our writing skills and get something 'out there'. Share whatever resonates with ourselves, because we think this may be useful for others as well."

The evaluation of our creation to that point is still true today:

"Still, while discussing and evaluating reaching our 50th newsletter, we concluded we are very happy with where we are. It is an unique feeling to share your creation with the outside world for anyone to see and admire. Thus far, it has brought us joy, wisdom and some sense of purpose. We have deepened our relationship in a -for ourselves- very meaningful way. We are successful according to our own standards."

In that sense, should we really change this seemingly successful formula? What'll be our next milestone?

Let's see what the other half has to say.

✅ Done

The nightmare of some, the muse for others, deadlines bring up mixed reactions. The other day, I had a conversation with an entrepreneur who just finished a multi-week project on a strict deadline. She explained how accepting the project make her anxious at first, cursing her optimism and accepting the job. Once the friction of the first outlines were behind her, she returned to her familiar flow, doing a great job, speeding up last minute before delivering a product she was proud of. With 30 years of practice, this was a familiar pattern, so she was able to experience, but not suffer from the deadline.

I have come to appreciate the value of deadlines more and more over the past years. Since filling my days with work is never a problem, setting deadlines is a wonderful tool to prioritize. I just need one moment of clarity, followed by a small action. Promising a delivery, agreeing on a common result. As I want to keep my promises (also to myself), I then have all the leverage I need to deliver.

This newsletter has been the result of 100 deadlines. 100 times we needed to sit our butts down behind a keyboard to deliver on the promise we made each other and the perceived expectations from our audience. Sometimes this clashed with other commitments and desires, sacrificing an evening on the couch with a book, but I don't remember ever thinking about bailing on the deadline.

Yesterday evening, lacking inspiration & energy, I did bail somewhat. I decided to leave the writing to the very last minute, hours before our all-hands staff meeting where we send out the Q&A. It felt like a fitting experiment, an hommage to the power of the deadline. Would a 2-hour deadline help, or hinder? Would my amygdala kick in, paralysing any form of creativity?

Trusting the results of 99 earlier writing deadlines and knowing there's always a plan B helps. Like the 'comfort zone-stretch-stress' model for growth, creative confidence seems to grow with exercise, which makes me optimistic and hungry for more experiments.

The deadline also solves the 'when is something good enough' dilemma. You need to ship, so you do. I used to see this as greatness' biggest foe; quality matters most, right? Interviews with some great writers made me change my mind though. Most of them work on deadlines and consider their work as snapshots of their ideas and their thinking. They are already thinking about their next projects while finishing up the last. Many quotes on the subject can be summed up in simple terms: It's never finished, you just stop.

That's it! 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

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Q&A 099

Published on:
February 15, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

Automatisms and tricks have an expiration date. This week, we explore common wisdom and historic remnants that may be overdue. Balancing experience with fresh eyes seems to be an important tight-rope exercise. Enjoy!

🦴 Archaic

The slow-changing genetic make-up of our human race remains one of my favourite pondering subjects, as it explains a lot of the friction induced by the increasing pace of change around us. Organs and behaviour that have lost their original purpose (like the appendix, the tailbone and possibly the hiccups) are labelled human vestigiality. On the behavioural side, we have tons of biases (on which we shared some thoughts before) affecting our decision making in ways that do not necessarily serve us well in these modern times.

Tim Ferriss recently reminded me of a 2014 article by Tim Urban (waitbutwhy) that explored another remnant of our past:

"An irrational and unproductive obsession with what other people think of us."

Tim Urban digs into the role of social survival in 50.000 BC tribe life, where acceptance was literally a life-or-death issue. In a world were social survival is no longer a real concept, this remnant is often withholding us from finding our purpose and own voice.

In the article, Urban makes this trait come alive by likening it to a wooly mammoth that rules parts of our lives. He provides a structured approach to taming the mammoth by finding out where our mammoth is hiding, reframing common convictions and finding your authentic voice.

If the mammoth is bothering you in your daily life, the article provides tangible approaches to reducing its role. The flip-side hiding here is how other people's opinion can also effect social behaviour, as it will make us consider the consequences of our actions. The poison is in the dose.

🕵️ Detection

This short article might save you energy. Energy you put into trying to figure out whether someone is telling you the truth. I, at least, find myself often wondering and therefore spending quite a bit of 'braintime' and focus on whether what I'm hearing is really true and how it is presented to me. This is, most of the time, due to the fact that I feel an intrinsic need to fit what I'm hearing into a certain logic (my logic 😉).

Everyone will be familiar with certain tricks and wisdoms to detect lies. Facial expressions, physical behaviour, nervousness, sweating, not looking your opponent in the eye, you named it. Many youtube tutorials and professional consultancies will teach you new tricks. The "truth", so it seems, is that none of these tips and tricks will make you a better lie-detector than anyone else.

"... despite the fact that cultures throughout history have had quite firm ideas about how an untruthful person behaves, the science suggests people are generally poor at detecting lies."

This is one of the conclusions of two professors from the University of Oslo in Norway, who went through more than a century of research on humans' ability to detect lies. Some more (good or bad, up to you) news from their paper:

"On average, people are not able to tell lies from truths based on how others talk or behave."

"Overall, liars don’t appear nervous, and they don’t avoid eye contact, any more than those telling the truth."

Also, the suggestion that we may pick up lies unconsciously, which influences our gut feeling, seems not to be supported by hard evidence. This all seems to suggest that I could save myself all the trouble I go through to figure out a/the/my truth. That doesn't feel right either.

Luckily, professors Tim Brennen and Svein Magnussen don't just leave us with this somewhat dire conclusions and the feeling that we human beings are nothing to show for when it comes to uncover the truth. They have some pretty practical advice:

"Well, there is one reliable procedure based on common sense, and that is to simply find out what the supposed liar says that does not fit with other stuff that you know."

Aha! "My logic" comes into good use after all! The procedure they suggest is already often applied by the police and investigators researching criminal incidents. Not communicating the already collected evidence, the police will ask the suspect to give as complete an account of the incident as they can together with how they were involved (or not). This way, you increase chances that the suspects reveal certain 'facts' for which you have evidence to the contrary.

Again, so much information is revealed by not communicating at all.

🚲 Tool

As the world of AI is evolving on a daily basis, an interesting landscape unfolds. On the one hand, we see people running with the tools in the most obvious direction, using it as a production facility for -often mediocre- prose, images and code. On the other hand, we can see people starting to discover the slightly more hidden value (as we explored here and here).

A wonderful use case was shared by Nat Eliason this week, who experimented with the use of ChatGPT as a writing coach. He draws a fascinating parallel to the way Benjamin Franklin used 'Spectator magazine' as a tool to improve his own writing:

"I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try’d to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.”

Nat then takes us by the hand by showing exactly how he uses ChatGPT to enrich and grow in his own writing. Like having great examples (art often starts by emulating what you like!), a thesaurus or a list of synonyms by your side, ChatGPT can be a tool. The story of how we master this tool is just beginning.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own. Or get an impression of everything else we shared in our renewed, searchable archive.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 098

Published on:
February 8, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

We continue our trend of writing longer pieces this week with two meta-analyses of themes that have been occupying us for longer. Biting off pieces of the elephant did make us realise there is so much more to connect, but we think we paint a useful picture anyway. Enjoy!

📏 Measure

Last week's piece on measuring wealth by means of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) hit me once more as I bumped into multiple pieces on the effect of applying measurement to anything. In any management education, a famous Peter Drucker quote is the basis for measuring important parts of performance.

"What gets measured, gets managed"

It's the basis for looking at performance in an objective fashion. Turnaround times, profitability, sales, customer satisfaction, you name it. Creating KPI's, creating dashboards for these have been the basis of shifting management from a gut feel profession to a science.

Now, you don't have to be a physicist to appreciate the flip side to this dogma. Quantum theory explains how measuring a phenomenon interferes with the phenomenon itself, which seems to be translating to all forms of measurement.

In 'Coders', Clive Thompson reminds us of learnings that go back decades:

"Back in the ’70s, the social psychologist Donald Campbell pointed out that if you use a single measurement to reward people, they’ll do everything they can to goose that number higher. (It’s now known as “Campbell’s Law.”)"

For those same reasons, Basecamp's Jason Fried abandoned sales targets as a whole. He found that the quality and profitability of year-end sales dropped dramatically as people were just focused on meeting their targets, ignoring everything else the company stood for.

For all its downsides, measuring does give us a sense of control. Like any model, we yearn for simplification and reaffirmation that we are on the right track. The amount of books we read, the number of 'billable hours' we make, the time we spend at work (butt-in-seat-time), the daily steps our fitbits record.

Another flipside of measurement is a variant of 'affecting the phenomenon itself': comparison. Comparing your performance versus your past self is a way to measure a type of progress, but we can't help ourselves to measure against others too. As Theodore Roosevelt once observed "Comparison is the thief of joy", measurement can distract us from enjoying the intrinsic joy of any activity.

Last week, Nat Eliason wrote about measurements in relation to the death clock, a tool to predict your time of death. He makes the case for tons of 'soft factors' that might affect your lifespan as much as the hard factors (like friends, sense of purpose, ...) but cannot be measured objectively.

Which leads me to some questions; do we need to measure less? Do we need to measure differently?

My recent foray into teaching kids about chess brought me a wonderful analogy. When starting out, kids learn how to assess their performance on the board by counting piece value. A queen is worth 9 points, a rook 5, a bishop 3, a pawn 1. Do the math and see who's doing well. Once they progress, additional measures are added. How safe is your king? Who controls space? How is piece activity? In the end, the rational models are replaced by complex, intuitive assessments.

In line with George Box' "All models are wrong, but some are useful", I think any form of measurement has its value in the right context. The big question in any endeavour is therefore: does the measurement help me at this moment?

Harvard professor Clay Christensen tried to teach his graduate students about choosing the right types of measurement which he summarized in a small book called "How to measure your life". A quote that resonated with me:

"I came to understand that while many of us might default to measuring out lives by summary statistics, such as number of people presided over, number of awards, or dollars accumulated in a bank, and so on, the only metrics that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people. When I have my interview with God, our conversation will focus on the individuals whose self-esteem I was able to strengthen, whose faith I was able to reinforce, and whose discomfort I was able to assuage — a doer of good, regardless of what assignment I had. These are the metrics that matter in measuring my life."

Even the 'death clock' reveals a prevailing belief about life; living longer is better. Challenging that wisdom, Edward J. Stieglitz phrased:

"And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years."

Whatever you choose to measure, choose wisely!

🪨🐐 Wisdom

Worldwide events and our own lives seem to be full of them: mistakes that we've made before. Most people react to such events in disbelief, "do we ever learn from the past?".

The reason someone or something made a mistake doesn't necessarily mean that the action they took or the course they followed was necessarily wrong. There are so many variables in play that it is hard to get all the causal relationships in the right order. It is therefore not always fair to speak about "mistakes that we've made before" even though the actions or results may look very similar.

Taking this one step further, it might even serve a purpose to try a -seemingly- similar approach to a -seemingly- similar problem again. Who says that this time around it doesn't work? The past can serve as a great inspiration but isn't necessarily leading. One realisation makes this very clear; why is it that we do remember actions and sayings from a certain individual that lived two-three thousand years ago (e.g. Aristoteles) but not from every (wise?!) person living in that time.

This all passed my mind when I read this passage from the book "A Gentleman in Moscow":

"I guess the point I'm trying to make is that as a species we're just no good at writing obituaries. We don't know how a man or his achievements will be perceived three generations from now, nay more than we know what his great-great-grandchildren will be having for breakfast on a Tuesday in March. Because when Fate hands something down to posterity, it does so behind his back."

Which brought me back to entropy and chaos and our deliberation:

"Chaos might therefore indeed be nature's deliberate setting to propel development and create diversity."

Nature itself might be the best at learning from the past. Its most important traits: trial and error, time, patience. Let's be more gentle on ourselves and embrace perhaps yet another reason to go back to our early lives as a child.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own. Or get an impression of everything else we shared in our renewed, searchable archive.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons

Q&A 097

Published on:
February 1, 2023

Dear Q&A friends,

Two bigger pieces this week. One focused on a re-evaluation of measuring progress, the other on possible ways to get there. If plans are part of your life, you may enjoy trying this pair of glasses. Have a great week!

🌳 Progress

The usual indicator to measure our wealth is Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It's straightforward but also one-dimensional, in the sense that it's just a financial representation of wealth. Researchers have developed another benchmark called the 'Genuine Progress Indicator' or GPI that also includes qualitative components of well-being, such as social and environmental factors.

Comparing the development of global GDP and GPI per capita leads to interesting observations. While GDP per capita has shown a steady rise over the years, GPI peaked mid-1970s and has declined somewhat ever since:

The result resonates with my long-standing belief that our everlasting focus on GDP growth is not the way forward. I know, there is a risk of some confirmation bias here! Digging somewhat deeper, it becomes clear that the reason why GPI declines is mainly due to the depletion of earth's resources, pollution and climate change. Even though global poverty levels have been reduced and life expectancy has gone up, financial wealth has come at a far greater cost: the certainty of long-term survival.

All this came to my attention through Jeremy Lent, an author and speaker whose work "investigates the underlying causes of our civilization’s existential crisis and who explores pathways toward a life-affirming future". In his article 'Solving the climate crisis requires the end of capitalism' he sketches a pretty black-and-white picture that combatting climate change requires fundamental changes but that the big elephant in the room is often not addressed by policy makers:

"That elephant is called capitalism, and it is high time to face the fact that, as long as capitalism remains the dominant economic system of our globalized world, the climate crisis won’t be resolved."

Without choosing sides, I do believe that present-day challenges merit taking a critical look at our current capitalist system and its drivers, essentially its overriding objective to maximize profits. Capitalism has brought us many good things and most proponents argue that it's a system that promotes (technological) innovations, which are urgently needed to solve the problems we face. However, research has also shown that quite frequently these innovations end up increasing pollution and depletion of resources. While GDP grows, GPI declines.

"This dynamic, known as the Jevons paradox, was first recognized back in the nineteenth century by economist William Stanley Jevons, who demonstrated how James Watts’ steam engine, which greatly improved the efficiency of coal-powered engines, paradoxically caused a dramatic increase in coal consumption even while it decreased the amount of coal required for any particular application."

The discussion is often obscured by the proposition that any alternative to capitalism is worse than capitalism itself. You may even be called a communist. Therefore, they argue, capitalism and (GDP) growth is the only way out of our problems and we should not consider another system. Of note: in all UN environmental and global warming analyses, there is not one scenario that takes into account a stable or declining GDP. Not one. They considered such scenarios 'implausable'. That's in itself strange too. It seems implausable to me that highly-educated social beings would just ignore one of simplest answers to growing pollution and use of resources: reduce the demand.

As we've argued before, the preferable future is probably a balance, a best of multiple worlds. I'd agree that changing a well-entrenched system will take decades, but that doesn't mean we should not try to clearly define and implement the boundaries of a new system based on "life-affirming values". Many new and promising economic models have already been proposed, such as Kate Raworth’s 'Doughnut economics' that we covered in our second newsletter. It is possible to reduce resource and energy consumption while reducing inequality and improving well-being.

Everyone plays a role in this crisis and has a place on the board. The pieces aren't necessarily black and white, but some are on opposite sides, some in the middle. I feel there are spaces to be filled on this board. Will you join me in trying to fill the gaps and find foundational principles that could create the conditions for long-term flourishing on a regenerated earth?

🏗️ Plan

Cathedrals have always impressed me, as most of its initiators have not been able to witness their completion. Generations of builders worked on something that they saw progress only marginally over their lifetime, which I think is inspiring for a lot of challenges we have before us.

This morning, I attended an inspiration and brainstorm session, organised by my kids' school, aimed at creating improvement plans. As a speaker to inspire all of us, they asked Daan Quakernaat to kick-off the meeting, which he did using the Cathedral as an example of organic building. Daan got interested in Cathedrals while visiting the one in Reims which inspired him to plan visiting all other French cathedrals and become an expert in what medieval Cathedral-building can teach us.

Building a cathedral often started with a generic plan (how many towers, global size) that changed as time progressed. Competition with adjacent cities and self-esteem generally inspired the level of ambition, while this often led to drastic changes down the line. As an example, the Reims cathedral started out with a sketch of 7 huge towers, ending up with 2 half towers making the facade and 5 structures that can barely be called towers. All the same, the resulting cathedral is considered a masterpiece of gothic architecture. Daan's big take-away is how happy the builders were with results that did not match the original plans, but led to something impressive and beautiful anyway. He asked us to look at our accomplishments and check if we were not overlooking or undervaluing the builds so far.

Switching gears, ignoring sunk cost fallacy and just moving on, can also be seen at the Laon cathedral at its north 'rose window', where new techniques for increasing window size were introduced as the gothic building skills progressed. They just switched plans, leaving the old and the new plan visibly exposed.

As a side-note, he shared how all of the big carved stones, making up the structure without any cement, were 'signed' by their sculptors in places that were not visible to the eye. While also being in line with medieval artistry, these signs did perform a valuable feedback mechanism, as they were the precursors of the 'quality check id' you can find in many products. When walls collapsed, as they often did during building, they could identify the weak parts of the structure and impose disciplinary 'quality measures' to the sculptor responsible.

Illustrating another lesson to be learned from cathedral building, Daan shared imagery of the Notre Dame fire ravaging the wooden roof of Paris' Notre Dame cathedral. As much as this is qualified a 'disaster', it happened several times in the churches lifetime, as has happened to most cathedrals that have been in existence several hundreds of years. His moral here: 'cry, clean debris, collect money, rebuild'. A wonderful illustration of 'this too, shall pass'.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, get your own. Or get an impression of everything else we shared in our renewed, searchable archive.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons

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