Q&A 009

Published on:
November 4, 2020

Hi All,

Preparing for this newsletter, we could not avoid discussing the US elections. Our first piece in this week's episode covers how to find a silver lining in events that can provoke anxiety. Furthermore, we share positive news on the energy transition and the fact that often minimum effort can lead to great results. Enjoy and do share the wealth by forwarding to a friend who would appreciate a weekly 5-minute read like this!

🤝 Rules

In any game we play, agreeing on the rules is the first step. If players cheat, eventually the game breaks down. Since even a democracy is an advanced game we play, Seth Godins short blog on cheating really struck me. It made me realise why people not playing by the rules can be such a source of frustration. If enough of them start cheating, the game is done.

There is an upside to cheating though. Not playing by the rules can lay bare the limits of a game. People who refuse playing by the rules can wreck a system and initiate a crisis from which a new system can emerge. That's why rebels are the best innovators. That's how we got democracy in the first place.

Echoing this characteristic of progress, Barack Obama often told people:

"History does not follow a straight line, it zigs and it zags."

If the election in the USA is proof of anything, it is that. Things are likely to get worse first. How fast they get better is a question, but humanity has a good long-term track record so far of emerging stronger from a crisis.

🏭 Cheap Energy

The 2020 International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook was just published, confirming that the world’s best solar power schemes now offer the "cheapest…electricity in history". Let that sink in for a moment. The technology is now cheaper than coal and gas in most major countries and 20-50% cheaper than their earlier projections. This now causes the IEA’s main prediction scenario to have 43% more solar output by 2040 than it expected in 2018.

The report also underscores the importance of individual behaviour change, such as "working from home three days a week", playing an essential role in reaching the "net-zero emissions by 2050 case".

The results of this transition are visible in a chart created by the BlackRock Investment Institute. It shows the US electricity generation sources shift during the last 7 decades.

Not only is electricity consumption flat for the past 20 years, production by coal powered plants is plummeting. We still have a lot of challenges ahead, but seeing the needle move in the right direction makes me hopeful we can actually turn this ship.

👂📣 Conversational skills

Once in a while, it is useful to revisit and refresh certain skills. Ideally, this should be fun and not take much time. Celeste Headlee does just that with her 10-minute TED-talk "10 ways to have a better conversation".

While some advice like being open, honest and interested may sound somewhat obvious at first glance, her take on having a good conversation is worth spending your coffee break on it. She has for example clear advice to make the most out of it:

"Enter a conversation with the mindset that you've something to learn."

As we increasingly live in a world of polarization, it becomes more important to talk to each other. In addition, discussions are often taking place using video- and telephone conference. We notice many people turn off their videos, making an interesting conversation rather difficult as you can no longer look someone in the eye and judge whether you should adjust your content, tone or speed.

Celeste notes, like we observed when discussing speed reading, your brain can process words quicker than the other can speak. Hence, your brain will start to wander even when the subject is interesting. Therefore, it is useful to practice your skills, as the most important advice for a better conversation is: to listen, which means practice your self-control and be humble.

😅 Minimum effort

As engineers, we love the word 'optimize'. Searching for a better or smarter way of doing things is a strong driving force. Achieving progress at minimum cost. It has its own term: 'minimum effective dose' (MED).

Everyone knows that exercising is good for your health and longevity. It turns out the MED is about 20-30 minutes per day. That includes time spent on simple things like walking around the house. Doing more than 45-60 minutes of intense training creates inflammation and potential damage to body and muscles.

People like Tim Ferriss and Ben Greenfield have created a whole industry around optimizing your work-outs, daily routines and exercise time. Central theorem of their thoughts include that being fit is not equal to being healthy. It is a balancing act where alternating between different types of exercises plays an important role.

Strength for example is not just about muscle mass, but also about flexibility. This requires both super-slow movements with heavy weights as well as explosive pull-ups of small weights. The ultimate balance is reached in so-called isometric training, or keeping a certain position (like a wall-sit) for a period of time. Each exercise only requires 2-4 minutes.

It all comes down to small routines and habits. Compounded every day, they yield great results. I have, however, still a tough time taking that cold shower every day.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter 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