Finding solutions instead of problems

A big part of the transition from being an amateur to a professional is taking complete ownership of problems and the path to solving them.

The transition, however, only becomes complete when we manage to consistently show up with a willingness to find solutions instead of problems.

Showing up with solution focused proactive behavior is challenging even for a day. So, becoming a professional in whatever we do, thus, is hard. It is why professionalism, like wisdom, isn’t correlated to age, experience, or title.

However, when you spend enough time observing people get stuff done, you realize it is pretty easy to tell a professional from an amateur. Gourmets always know a good chef when they see one in action.

When you find professionals, keep them close. They elevate your game.

World Oceans Day

Every Saturday, the Quartz newsletter shares a short editorial piece about a topic. I am nearly always impressed by how much they pack into a few paragraphs. Yesterday’s piece on “World Oceans Day” was no different.

Today is World Oceans Day, an international affair to celebrate the seas and sing their blues. Observed since 2002, the occasion is marked by conservation events around the globe. This year’s sad theme is plastic pollution.

Just as scientists are starting to make sense of the mysteries of the oceans’ depths—we recently discovered what makes the deep-sea dragonfish’s teeth transparent—the world’s waters are under serious threat. Rising temperatures are melting ice caps and pushing sea levels up globally, but there’s more. Human trash is everywhere, making its way into the bellies of beasts even in the oceans’ nether reaches.

Take Monterey Bay in California. It seems clean, but the pollution levels are profound. Researchers recently found the concentration of microplastics in the bay’s depths rival the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s filthiest stretch of ocean.

Located between Hawaii and California, the patch is a shifting mass of trash covering about 618,000 sq miles (1.6 million sq km). That’s roughly three times the size of France.

Every year 8 million metric tons of plastic—which can take decades or centuries to decompose—enter the oceans, adding to theestimated 150 million metric tons already circulating. As the Ocean Conservancy notes, “That’s like dumping one New York City garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day for an entire year.”

This waste travels to places human divers can’t access. The Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific—where the deepest fish in the seareside at 26,600 ft (about 8,100 m)—is considered the lowest place on Earth. But it too has a plastics problem. A recent study of the six deepest trenches in the Pacific Rim found contaminants in 72% of the 90 creatures examined.

The most helpful thing would be for industries to change their destructive habits. Still, personal actions do matter. The World Oceans Day website offers ample motivation, explaining, “A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival…It generates most of the oxygen we breathe, helps feed us, regulates our climate, cleans the water we drink, offers a pharmacopoeia of medicines, [and] provides limitless inspiration.” —Ephrat Livni

If this topic interests you, they also have started an excellent newsletter called “The Race to Zero emissions.” Akshat Rathi categorizes relevant news from the week by its effect on either increasing or reducing emissions.

Regardless of the political weather of the moment, our effect on this planet and the climate is going to be the most important issue of our time.

The challenge with reporting on climate change is to talk about the facts without making it feel like we’re completely doomed. Awareness of what is happening is important. Optimism and hope are important too. The Quartz team does a good job striking the balance.

Finding the fun

We were recently stuck with a situation where both kids wanted to be carried to their room for the second half of their bedtime routine by mom. Since we have only one mom for two kids, navigating this generally involved a fair bit of crying since they didn’t generally want to go to bed in the first place.

A few days back, we had a sudden moment of inspiration. No one would be carried to their room – everyone would walk. This wasn’t met with a lot of joy. But, since it was a new idea, there was some willingness to test it. No tears.

The next innovation came the next day when we decided we weren’t just going to be walking to their room. We’d be forming a human train with “choo choo” sound effects and such.

Since then, both kids are excited to form a train and get to their beds after story time.

I’ve been in many situations where I’ve seen the effect of fun and humor on sticky situations.

The lesson – take the effort to find the fun. It is generally worth it.

Getting good at things you don’t want to do

I came across a thought provoking tweet recently – “Be careful about getting good at things you don’t want to do.”

As obvious as that sounds, it is fairly easy to fall into that trap if we are solving for extrinsic measures of success – more money, prestigious roles, better titles, etc. And, extrinsic measures tend to be a natural outcome if all we solve for is “what should I do next?”

A better approach tends to be to to invest in solving who we want to be instead of what we want to do.

It is more upfront investment to understand our motives and values. But, once we do the legwork, solving what we want to do in a way that actually helps us get good at things we want to do turns out to be surprisingly tractable.

Signals from the gut

As time passes, I realize that I need to make sure I take the time to tune out the noise and pay more attention to the signals I receive from my gut.

It rarely gives answers and seems only to speak in a binary language that either says “feels right” or “doesn’t feel right.”

But, as the stakes get higher, I’m beginning to realize that the cost of ignoring those signals is only getting steeper.

The bias for sensational events

Hannah Ritchie from the “Our World in Data” team had a powerful post on our bias for sensational events. She analyzed the difference between causes of death covered in the news versus the actual causes of death. While the charts below cover data from the US, the trends are similar in other areas she’s analyzed as well.

This is a busy chart. So, here’s a simpler cut of what was over represented versus under represented.

Terrorism was ~4000x over represented in the news relative to the magnitude. Kidney disease and heart disease are far less newsworthy relative to their impact.

She ends with a lovely message about the challenges we (and the media) face.

“Media and its consumers are stuck in a reinforcing cycle. The news reports on breaking events, which are often based around a compelling story. Consumers want to know what’s going on in the world — we are quickly immersed by the latest headline. We come to expect news updates with increasing frequency, and media channels have clear incentives to deliver. This locks us into a cycle of expectation and coverage with a strong bias for outlier events. Most of us are left with a skewed perception of the world; we think the world is much worse than it is.

The responsibility in breaking this cycle lies with both media producers and consumers. Will we ever stop reporting and reading the latest news? Unlikely. But we can all be more conscious of how we let this news shape our understanding of the world.

And journalists can do much better in providing context of the broader trends: if reporting on a homicide, for example, include context of how homicide rates are changing over time. As media consumers we can be much more aware of the fact that relying on the 24/7 news coverage alone is wholly insufficient for understanding the state of the world. This requires us to check our (often unconscious) bias for single narratives and seek out sources that provide a fact-based perspective on the world.

This antidote to the news is what we try to provide at Our World in Data. It should be accessible for everyone, which is why our work is completely open-access. Whether you are a media producer or consumer, feel free to take and use anything you find here.”

Well said. And, big thank you to the “Our World in Data” team for the great work they do.

Joseph Heller and Enough

I came across this lovely anecdote from a book by late Vanguard founder John Bogle. This was an exchange Bogle witnessed at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island in New York.

The late novelist Kurt Vonnegut informed his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history.

Heller responded – “Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . enough.”

Fittingly, John Bogle titled his book “Enough.”

(H/T Morgan Housel’s blog)

Attention and Appreciation

I was watching kids interact with their parents at a play zone recently. If their basic needs (not hurt or hungry) were met, I realized that two words summed up most of what they asked for – attention and appreciation.

Just as I was about to file that away as a reflection on kids, it got me thinking about the root causes of issues adults I know face at home or at the workplace.

It turns out that attention and appreciation are just as important in dealing with adults as they are with kids.

The best partners, friends, managers, and leaders make it a point to never forget that.

Writing is telepathy

“What is writing?” – Stephen King asks in his masterful book on the subject. “Writing is telepathy.”

He goes on to demonstrate with a beautiful example (shortened).

“Look- here’s a table covered with red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. […] On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8. […] The most interesting thing here isn’t even the carrot-munching rabbit in the cage, but the number on its back. Not a six, not a four, not nineteen-point-five. It’s an eight. This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room… except we are together. We are close. We’re having a meeting of the minds. […] We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy. No mythy-mountain shit; real telepathy.”

We’ve all read works and posts by others that have spoken to us. Their thoughts seem to reach us at a time when we didn’t even know we needed them. We see the world they describe with clarity and relate to it.

Writing is telepathy.

Anticipating holiday trips

One of our favorite traditions since last year has been to book our holiday trips well in advance. This might just be a long weekend trip to a place close by – but, we’ve been making it a point to book at least 3 months in advance.

While it helps to plan ahead with young kids, the bigger reason is a learning from a Dutch study about the connection between vacations and happiness that found something surprising – vacationers experienced the highest amount of happiness before the vacation.

It turns out anticipating vacations is a large part of the fun.

We’ve taken that lesson to heart (and we’ve found it to be true) – the practice comes recommended. :-)