Creativity is ‘Messy,’ notes on Tim Harford’s 2016 book

In June 2009, the veteran lead pilot of Air France 447 was awoken from his scheduled nap to find his junior crew in trouble. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he had three minutes to determine which of the conflicting alerts from the plane’s automated system to respond to, and what were false alarms.

He failed. Nearly 250 crew and passengers died in the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s from the easily most gripping chapter in economics journalist Tim Harford’s 2016 book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. That tragic story is a cautionary tale for our age, demonstrating the paradox of automation: “The better the automatic systems, the more out of practice human operators will be, and the more unusual will be the situations they face.”

How quickly could you look up from your smartphone if your autonomous vehicle alerted you that it had disengaged? Software, like many managers and orderly obsessives, wants a tidy world but the world is actually quite messy. That’s Harford’s message: Embrace the mess.

Below are my notes from the book for my future reference.

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Write more effective resolutions

It’s a new year! As much as 40% of Americans make new year’s resolutions each year but fewer than 1 in 10 report sticking to them. I wrote my first resolutions as a teenager, and I’ve learned a lot about what works and doesn’t in holding yourself accountable. Here are a few tips I’ve learned that I thought might help some of you!

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How to make a great checklist

No matter how expert you are, a simple, carefully-constructed list will improve the quality of your output.

That’s the central point that author Atul Gawande made back in 2009 in his popular business book The Checklist Manifesto, which followed an article he wrote for the New Yorker. It’s a short book that others have recommended to me before, so I finally grabbed a copy and breezed through it. His central point is clear enough that it likely could have remained a longform article, but the book is easy enough a read that’s worth the time. If you haven’t already give it a try.

Below find my notes from the book, including tips for making a better checklist yourself.

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Ludwig Wittgenstein

Words and sentences don’t make much sense when they aren’t entangled with each other. They all can carry wildly different meanings depending on the context and the speaker’s intent. This is a “language game.”

This is one of the many contributions that garnered intellectual celebrity for Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), an Austrian logician and philosopher. He is a philosophy student’s favorite philosopher, but A. C. Grayling argued in his 2001 aptly named “Wittgenstein : a very short introduction” that his academic celebrity may be unwarranted.

Grayling says Wittgenstein is primarily adored by “aphorism hunters.” I read Grayling’s short book because I wanted to ease my way into Wittgenstein as part of a philosophical exploration I had earlier this year. Pandemic, am I right?

The book was a helpful text, and I still appreciated playing with Wittgenstein’s evolution, from his iconic 1921 Tractatus and his Philosophical Investigations, which was published posthumously and seemed to contradict many of his arguments from his first book.

Find my notes below

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Personal finance is a social justice issue

The so-called K-shaped recovery to the pandemic economy is expected to widen inequality. It was already well-known that it is expensive to be poor. Yet we sometimes think of personal finance as the hobby of the already rich — of a white male dalliance.

Since the Great Recession and the lost generation of Millennials, there has been renewed interest in accessible financial advice. Yet even as white Millennials are finally making financial gains, it seems Black Millennials are still falling behind. For years at my company, I’ve tried to strike a balance between being positively encouraging to my team to increase their retirement savings (and to speak to the financial planner we make available to staff) without becoming too overbearing. We’ve made gains but I find the topic daunting.

Perhaps because the pandemic cancelled my annual Personal Finance Day with friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about a passion of mine: Personal finance is a social justice issue.

This is important because so many savings and investment fundamentals are simply not intuitive. Get rich schemes continue to fool many. In contrast, slowly and patiently putting a little bit aside into a passive index fund has been a remarkably reliable method for building wealth. Even God couldn’t beat dollar cost averaging.

Talk openly with your friends about what you earn, what you save and how you develop on your own journey. The internet is full of bad advice, but it’s also home to so much good stuff too. How to decide what is what? A solid rule: look toward the longterm and be committed by building habits.

(Photo of the calculator app by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash)

A few quick personal finance lessons from Morgan Housel’s ‘Psychology of Money’

Finance is no science. It involves the tiny actions and feelings of millions of people.

Finance writer Morgan Housel published a tidy book last year called the Psychology of Money that does a fine job communicating the concept. I quite liked it, so I’ve shared a few quick takeaways I got from the book. Consider buying your own copy.

Here’s a 2018 blog post he wrote honing the topic.

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How to live into your 90s

This isn’t like much of what I share here, but, then, this year isn’t like any we’ve experienced. From pandemic to other major personal life changes, I’ve been exercising less. It’s a challenge I’ve had before.

I’ve been thinking about that, as I’ve tried to maintain other habits. It’s something we all might ask: how can I live a longer, healthier life?

Five years after the initial round of findings from a longitudinal study called 90+, I saw an update on a new, detailed review on what we know about living longer and healthier. I thought I’d share a few of the simple takeaways, if only for my own uses.

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“I want to be the best in the world at something.”

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Moments of terror can look purely foolish when the threat is removed.

After you leap in fright, it’s pretty funny that it was just a broom that caught your eye in the dark. Even when the terror was real, after we survive, we usually can eventually joke about being stuck in that elevator. Later on, we have a tendency to laugh about the risks and stress. With doom removed from memory, romance can flourish.

I do find that soothing. When you feel like you can’t survive something, rest assured that afterward either it will be a hell of a story or, as a boss used to remind me, “you’ll be dead, and nobody expects you to show up for you own funeral.”

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Notes from Scene on Radio’s ‘Seeing White’ in 2017

Ahead of an Antiracist seminar that several coworkers and I are attending, organizer Kim Crayton recommended attendees listen back to the popular 2017 podcast season of Scene on the Radio ‘Seeing White.”

Though it’s several years old, I appreciated listening in greater detail and with fresh eyes. It’s as timely today as ever. Here I will share notes for me to return to, but I strongly suggest you listen to the entire excellent 14-episode series on “whiteness,” the historical construct of race and its implications today.

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What does work productivity look like during a pandemic?

For a story she wrote for (which you should read), my colleague Paige Gross asked me what I thought of work productivity during this disruption. I gave her a long answer, which she helpfully trimmed for her piece.

If interested, below I shared my stream of consciousness response to her at midnight 🙂

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