“I’ve never had a goal”

I found the blog post “I’ve never had a goal” over at Jason Kottke blog interesting.  There is a quote from Jason Fried, the founder of Basecamep (aka 37signals):

I can’t remember having a goal. An actual goal.

There are things I’ve wanted to do, but if I didn’t do them I’d be fine with that too. There are targets that would have been nice to hit, but if I didn’t hit them I wouldn’t look back and say I missed them.

I don’t aim for things that way.

I do things, I try things, I build things, I want to make progress, I want to make things better for me, my company, my family, my neighborhood, etc. But I’ve never set a goal. It’s just not how I approach things.

Also, Jason Kottke’s therapist advice:

For the longest time, I thought I was wrong to not have goals. Setting goals is the only way of achieving things, right? When I was criticizing my goalless approach to my therapist a few years ago, he looked at me and said, “It seems like you’ve done pretty well for yourself so far without worrying about goals. That’s just the way you are and it’s working for you. You don’t have to change.”

I myself don’t set goals either.  But I’m yet to reach that “you’ve done pretty well for yourself” part. Wink.

Self-driving cars’ unexpected side effect …

Slashdot links to a rather unexpected prediction for the time when we are all driven by the robot cars:

“At least one expert is anticipating that, as the so-called ‘smart’ cars get smarter, there will eventually be an increase in an unusual form of distracted driving: hanky-panky behind the wheel.”

Money vs. happiness

It’s been said many times that you can’t buy happiness with money.  The Washington Post runs the article about the research that begs to differ:

Not only did the extra income appear to lower the instance of behavioral and emotional disorders among the children, but, perhaps even more important, it also boosted two key personality traits that tend to go hand in hand with long-term positive life outcomes.

The first is conscientiousness. People who lack it tend to lie, break rules and have trouble paying attention. The second is agreeableness, which leads to a comfort around people and aptness for teamwork. And both are strongly correlated with various forms of later life success and happiness.

On dental fear

Apparently, both dental fear and dental phobia are a thing, and not something I made up in my head:

It is estimated that as many as 75% of US adults experience some degree of dental fear, from mild to severe.  Approximately 5 to 10 percent of U.S. adults are considered to experience dental phobia; that is, they are so fearful of receiving dental treatment that they avoid dental care at all costs. Many dentally fearful people will only seek dental care when they have a dental emergency, such as a toothache or dental abscess.

There’s a questionnaire in existence (Corah’s Dental Anxiety Scale) to diagnose it.  I scored 17 out of 20, so, yeah – severe anxiety of phobia, but could be slightly worse.  Treatment, interestingly, can combine both behavioral techniques, such as positive reinforcement, and pharmacological solutions such as sedation and anesthesia.

And, for those who want to explore this even further, Dental Fear Central is a good place to start.

The trolley problem

The trolley problem is an ethical and psychological thought experiment. In its most basic formulation, you’re the driver of a runaway trolley about to hit and certainly kill five people on the track ahead, but you have the option of switching to a second track at the last minute, killing only a single person. What do you do?

Kottke has some thought-provoking variations.  I’m sure this has been turned into a drinking game somewhere.

Ergophobia – a fear of work

Ergophobia, (derived from the Greek “ergon” (work) and “phobos” (fear); also called ergasiophobia), is an abnormal and persistent fear (or phobia) of work (manual labornon-manual labour, etc) or finding employment. Ergophobia may also be a subset of eithersocial phobia or performance anxiety. Sufferers of ergophobia experience undue anxiety about the workplace environment even though they realize their fear is irrational. Their fear may actually be a combination of fears, such as fear of failing at assigned tasks, speaking before groups at work (both of which are types of performance anxiety), socializing with co-workers (a type of social phobia), and other fears of emotional, psychological and/or physiological injuries.


Coding, Fast and Slow: Developers and the Psychology of Overconfidence

Coding, Fast and Slow: Developers and the Psychology of Overconfidence

This is an excellent take on why (we the) developers suck at time estimations.   Basically, it boils down to two reasons: unknown details of the project and overconfendence.

First off, there are, I believe, really two reasons why we’re so bad at making estimates. The first is the sort of irreducible one: writing software involves figuring out something in such incredibly precise detail that you can tell a computer how to do it. And the problem is that, hidden in the parts you don’t fully understand when you start, there are often these problems that will explode and just utterly screw you.

And this is genuinely irreducible. If you do “fully understand” something, you’ve got a library or existing piece of software that does that thing, and you’re not writing anything. Otherwise, there is uncertainty, and it will often blow up. And those blow ups can take anywhere from one day to one year to beyond the heat death of the universe to resolve.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth it.

Scaling Teams and the Fight Against Human Nature

Scaling Teams and the Fight Against Human Nature

Human nature dictates that we:

  • Form tribes to build identity and camraderie – yet in a scaling startup, this causes untenable, painful, progress-stopping inter-team rivalries.
  • Invent a common enemy upon which we can heap blame and against which we can fight – sadly, inside the tribes that naturally form, there’s often a tendency to create that common enemy internally (it could be marketing vs. engineering or testing vs. production or sales vs. execs, or any number of others).
  • Minimize the positives and focus on the negatives – that could be feedback from customers, internal critiques, manager reviews, product imperfections, or weaknesses in process. It’s so easy to forget that we somehow beat the formidable odds against building something that worked, something that attracted customers, something that scaled, and a company where hundreds of people really do want to work.
  • Resist change at all costs – yet in a scaling startup, change is the only constant, and processes, procedures, formats, teams, and everything else has to change to be successful.
  • Act emotionally, yet believe our decisions to be driven solely by logic – we tell ourselves we act rationally, but can easily prove that irrational biases rule our minds. This wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous if we could recognize these biases, but in another failing of human nature, we cannot – we cling to the notion that our decisions, unlike the rest of our species, are uniquely logical.
  • Lose empathy as our numbers grow – tragically, when we need empathy the most (as an organization gets bigger and there are more people to consider and more complexities between them), our nature is to rescind it. It’s easy to empathize with a small group you see everyday, but much harder to extend that empathy to everyone in a larger group (especially those you may not know well).
  • Create rules and process to prevent against repeats of singular abuses – the old adage of one bad apple ruining the whole bunch becomes more and more likely the larger a startup grows. Process can be wonderful, but sometimes we create a process just to ward against some bad behavior from a former employeee and, by doing so, ruin the company a little more for everyone. Use process to free and enable, not to punish and restrict.
  • Irrationally romanticize the past – “Remember how things used to be? It was so much better three years ago when I first started here and…” -everyone at any organization, ever. But I remember three years ago. It sucked compared to today. Our ability to delight customers paled in comparison. Our ability to attract talent was in the toilet. Fear about our budget and our bottom line was a daily occurrence. 2013 is superior in so many ways and I know it, but even still find myself fondly remembering (or, rather, misremembering) back in 2010 when (in my human-addled mind) it all seemed so much easier.