Q&A 076

Published on:
July 6, 2022

Dear Q&A friends,

Renewed optimism and possibility are this weeks themes in a world of change. As we gear up for the Summer Holiday, may they marinate while enjoying some time at a slower pace. We will be back in your mailbox on August 10th. Enjoy!


Last week's article on energy optimization of our brains made me see some of my own life's balances in a different light. Disparate stories and facts connected in a new way.

Sleep processes, human biases, pattern recognition and creativity seem to be dancing a choreography that can go in two directions.

Children are still building their mental models and mainly get their sensory information without passing through the 'reduction valve' of human mental models. They look at the world in wonder, seeing details grown-ups take for granted. It's often said that if adults would see the world the way a child does, they would be exhausted. By the same account, children are often measurably more creative. The holy grail of most creative people is to see the world as a 5-year old. Noticing the unnoticed, observing the details that are often filtered out by our energy-saving pattern recognition. As most studied psychedelics seem to take out the 'reduction valve' and cause sensory information to progress in an unfiltered fashion, you can understand their appeal for pattern breaking and creativity.

As a side-note of the famous '10.000 hours' study on mastery of skills, it highlighted the correlation between sleep and performance for top musicians. The top players slept at least 8,5 hours per day and built naps into their system. Further demonstrating energy cost of creativity, there is evidence of this type of work being most sustainable for 3-4 hours a day and the quality being highly correlated with being rested.

If you ever wondered what the impact is of not running on pattern-recognition enabled 'autopilot' in your daily life, consider how you felt when you last changed jobs. You likely felt a lot more tired in the first few weeks. If you have kids, you possibly remember how much they slept when they first went to school.

All of this leaves me with impressions of the balance on both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, you have human operation in a state of relative certainty. Thinking in a convergent fashion, your brain finds the fastest solution for any problem that arises. You find patterns, ignore what's repeating, find the anomalies. Experiencing mastery of your environment, you feel you're in a flow-like state. You can go for long hours and even tolerate less sleep.

On the other hand, there's the creative side of our human existence. Dealing with change, finding breakthrough ideas, divergent thinking. Since this requires forgetting your assumptions and turning off the autopilot, you are required to switch off your energy-saving mechanisms and wield the powers of 'marinating' ideas while 'not working'. In order to process unfiltered impressions and constantly altering your mental models, you also need more sleep. All in all, this process seems highly inefficient. The value of creative ideas however, make this modus operandi just as valuable, if not more in some situations.

In any state of our society, we need a mix of people in both modes in order to operate to our fullest potential. Which mix is right for us in the foreseeable future, I leave to you as a summer deliberation. On a personal level, though, I can't help but notice the coincidence of a downward trend in sleep duration with an increase in the complexity and pace of change in the world around us. Even autopilots could do with more rest.

🌳 Transition

Big challenges often ask for 'big collaboration' and a certain self-sacrifice. Put our own pride aside and join hands for a greater good. I see this need in tackling the energy transition problem. There are a lot of projects initiated by individuals, companies and governments to find a solution to provide the required energy on a carbon-free basis. However, I do also observe a lack of coordination and many parties inventing the same wheel.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to read that researchers from ETH Zürich and TU Delft have released an open-source model that can generate "hundreds of ways in which Europe’s energy system can become green and self-sufficient by 2050 [in a cost-effective way]". This model is a great tool for policymakers, researchers and companies to evaluate the effects and tradeoffs of possible measures they want to take. Detailed explanation of the model can be found here.

In addition, the model has already led to some interesting insights.

"A decision to restrict the use of biofuels, for example, necessitates a complete electrification of both heating and transportation, with electric vehicles being recharged at times of the day when sufficient electricity is available."

Personally, I truly believe this is an important step to make great strides towards a green and sustainable society. Achieving this is a matter of overriding political and regional boundaries. We need a shift in political and competitive thinking. We'll be rewarded with a positive mindset and a bright, green future.

"It turns out that there is much more flexibility in how we achieve a green, independent energy system in Europe by 2050 than we once thought."

👥 Medium

Supporting friends and family in conflict situations, I often find communication to be the main culprit. Especially, unintended misinterpretation, which subsequently escalates to Himalaya proportions.

To state the obvious: it matters which medium you use to convey a message. Certainly, when it concerns personal or confidential information, the choice of medium should get at least as much attention as the message itself. All too often, the easiest available medium (e-mail, Whatsapp, Twitter) is chosen without much consideration of the fact that the written word can be interpreted quite differently than the spoken one.

I do not blame anyone. We live in an era in which a lot of people seem to be wanting to play the role of the global journalist, providing tidbits as fast as possible to a broad audience. Often, this happens at the expense of not thoroughly checking sources, authenticity and uniqueness. There almost seems to be a certain hidden competitiveness. Most probably, people in need of attention.

Considering the challenging times we're in, I'd say we are in need of more personal, direct interaction. And here's the good news: it has never been so easy to do this, even when you're physically apart. Technologies such as videocalling come to the rescue.

This may not be new information to everyone, but I felt the need to remind myself. It is way too easy to communicate 'behind a screen' and forget about the importance of personal interaction, receiving and giving information through multiple transmitters (mouth, hands, body) and sensors (ears, eyes, smell). We are, after all, a medium, the medium!

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