Q&A 005

Published on:
October 7, 2020

Hi All,

We feel compelled to offer you a break from a week that felt like a newscycle tornado. Our weekly writing focuses on tranquility, resisting temptation and good news on change. Enjoy!

⚙️ Change

Claudia Schneider of the University of Cambridge writes in Aeon's Psyche on the research done into drivers for behavioural change. This has many useful applications, since most of our current societal challenges require collective action. When deciding wether to tap into people's feeling of guilt or encourage them to do better, one fact proved key:

"Having a positive self-image about who we are and what we do is a fundamental human need."

The team experimented with self-affirmation exercises and concluded a more positive effect on prosocial behaviour than using guilt as a driver.

"...instead of focusing on ‘doom and gloom’ messaging that zooms in on people’s shortcomings and risks alienating them, policymakers and strategists might find that positive messaging, speaking to people’s positive sense of self, might be a more powerful lever of behavioural change."

In case of urgency, positive affirmation and a good old slap in the face might prove for an even better combination. If anyone can show us how to wield this tool, it's the wonderful Sir David Attenborough, who joined the Instagram ranks to increase the audience for his warning on climate change with a heartfelt opening video.

🚨 Indistractable

Last week I participated in The Next Web's 2020 conference, held online for the first time. For me it was proof we are getting better and better at creating online events. The interaction with the speakers and other participants was better than any past edition.

One of the highlights for me was the session with Nir Eyal on controlling your attention (and therefore your life). Using Odysseus and the Sirens as a cautionary tale, he explained how mastering your internal triggers is key and the problems are not easily solved by swearing off our digital devices.

As the modern equivalent to beeswax in your ears, he offered two techniques that really resonated:

Plan the time, not the output. People are terrible at estimating, so stop measuring yourself on output. He mentioned that even Marc Andreesen, once a fervent opponent of this timeboxing technique recently did a complete 180.

Make time to think. We spend too much time communicating and being reactive. 'Hack back' external triggers by asking yourself whether the trigger is actually serving you when it occurs. If that's not the case, silence it. You can always tie yourself to the mast like Odysseus by using apps like Forest (iOS) or SelfControl (desktop).

If you want to know more about Nir's thoughts, check out a lecture on YouTube or read his book.

🤡 You are not weird enough

Another highlight at TNW2020 for me was a session with Ben Hammersley who is a Futurist at Wired Magazine. He explained how the pandemic has been just another example of the amount of unpredictability that is now part of our daily lives. Like companies adopting Design Thinking and Agile methodologies to cope with this rise in uncertainty, Ben is an advocate of celebrating diversity as your best defense.

Being predictable and linear is the most surefire way to become obsolete, so becoming more 'weird' (while reviewing often) is his coping advice. As a company, that means investing in all forms of diversity; cognitive, cultural, gender. As a person, he pleads for working on your meta-skills instead of traditional education; a 4-year bet on any subject sounds crazy to him.

🧘🏻‍♀️ Tranquility

With lots of emotions flowing around, I sometimes long for moments of tranquility. One way to deal with emotions is to practice Stoïcism. It is no coincidence that this ancient form of mental training is gaining popularity. Its central belief is that you can influence and in some cases even control emotional responses to your impressions.

Impressions are unavoidable. Our sensors pick up what's happening around us, our hormones drive our feelings, our thoughts come floating in when they want. The key is: do you readily act upon them or do you take the time to debate them? As Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD said:

"The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.

Whether it's Stoïcism or another form of mental awareness, they all help to create a positive-critical stance, one much needed in current times.

🤑 Responsible wealth

According to research done by Stockholm Environment Institute and Oxfam Novib, the world's wealthiest 10% accounted for 49% of the world's CO2 emissions in 2015. This is more or less unchanged from the situation in 1990. The 'Bigfoot' among them is the top 1%; they account for 15% of the emissions.

Though one might use this research as another whip to bully the rich, I like to see this as good news. This relatively small group is easily identifiable. We can make a targeted effort to convince this group to significantly reduce their footprint.

Economic activity does not necessarily have to be reduced. Rather than introducing another form of wealth tax, changing behaviours and investing in new technologies can be made attractive. Next to immediate emission reductions, this could cause a snowball-effect as many wealthy individuals are an mimicked by others.

This could turn out to be a triple-edged sword: reduced emissions, rise in investments, increased well-being. China, which always seems to be growth-minded, recently announced it aims to cut CO2 emissions to zero (net) by 2060!

That's it for this week! If you have a friend who would appreciate a weekly 5-minute read like this, forward this e-mail. If you got forwarded this one and like what you read, click here to sign up. Earlier editions can be read in our archive.

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

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons