Excess capacity

Every once a while, I’m guilty of attempting to fill every bit of space in our dishwasher.

Every time that happens, the dishes don’t get cleaned as well. The dishes inevitably get in the way of each other producing sub-par results.

Excess capacity is useful – in dishwashers and in life.

Discipline problems and clarity problems

When we struggle to follow through on our hopes of building a new habit, our default reaction is to blame it on a lack of discipline.

While discipline is sometimes the culprit, I’ve found that we often fail to clarify why that new habit matters. Developing a new habit requires us to break old ones. And, it is hard to do that without clarity on why the juice will be worth the squeeze.

It takes thought and effort to develop that clarity – significantly more effort than it takes to make the commitment.

But, the presence of that clarity can help us summon the discipline we need.

Discipline problems are often clarity problems.

Opposite reactions and an inner compass

We were getting out of a parking lot on our bikes recently. Our 4 year old was having some difficulty maneuvering her bike. A man who was waiting for her to turn to get into his car gave me an exasperated look.

Once she managed to get out and cross the road, I noticed folks in one of the cars that was waiting give her and us a warm smile.

I’ve experienced this a few times as a parent over the years. A year or so ago, we saw this play out in the seats in front of us on a flight. Our then one and a half year old tapped on the seat in front of him just as we were getting seated. In response, the man in front of him told him off.

I tried reminding him that he’s just one and a half and is just getting seated. “My kids didn’t behave this way when they were small” – he shot back and continued to grumble for the next ten minutes about having to sit in front of misbehaving kids.

Another passenger in the same row tried reminding him that the offending kid was all of eighteen months. He also shared that he missed his kid while he was traveling and gave us kind smiles.

To no avail.

They finally moved seats a few minutes later.

Such experiences remind me that we perceive situations differently. This perception is a result of our mindset, our environment, and our previous experiences.

They also serve to remind me of the importance of an inner compass. The more dependent we are on the approval and perception of others, the more likely we’ll find joy and tranquility absent in our days.

Deciding to paint a masterpiece

“You can’t really decide to paint a masterpiece. You just have to think hard, work hard, and try to make a painting that you care about. Then, if you’re lucky, your work will find an audience for whom it’s meaningful.” | Susan Kare, designer of the original Mac interface.

Filed as a beautiful reminder of the idea that you never know if a good day is a good day. So, just keep swimming, keep swimming

(H/T: The Practice by Seth Godin)

Rules and exceptions

I posted about a proposal to improve government systems a few days ago. I received notes from a couple of folks in response either empathizing or reminding me that government systems are bad as a rule because we don’t have any options.

I also posted about the first rule of giving good advice yesterday – don’t give advice unless it is asked. Two moms wrote in wondering/suggesting if moms should be an exception. :-)

All of these notes are valid.

As a rule, government systems suck. But, there are plenty of exceptions. We’ve all experienced them. California DMVs, for example, are known for poor service. And, yet, there’s a DMV close by which is outstanding. Similarly, the government of Singapore could compete with any high performing corporation in its ability to manage processes.

As a rule, it is helpful to not give advice unless it is asked. A lot of time and energy is wasted in doing so. But, there are times when the rules don’t apply. People sometimes need to hear what they don’t want to hear.

Every rule has exceptions. Those exceptions often prove the rule.

And, perhaps most interestingly, the opposite of a good idea is often a good idea.

Archetypical cycle and the internet

I haven’t synthesized what I’ve taken away/learnt from yesterday. But, I found myself reminded of a few notes I’ve thought about in the past:

(1) Ray Dalio’s powerful post about “archetypical cycle of internal order and disorder.” It is a long read but it points to his framework for the rise and decline of empires.

(2) The description of the internet as a giant machine that simply gives people what they want. That then led me to continue to think about the societal cost of algorithmic feeds and the resulting fracture of newspaper business model resulting in the drive to serve never-ending niches.

(3) And, related, Morgan Housel’s note – “Tell people what they want to hear and you can be wrong indefinitely without penalty” – is a beautiful articulation of a powerful and sometimes sad truth.

Dissents

There is a tradition in the US Supreme Court for justices in the minority to write a “dissent.”

I used to wonder why these mattered until I read Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s note on dissents – “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view.”

It is a beautiful articulation of why dissents matter.

It is also a useful reminder about playing the long game on disagreements that matter to us.

Government applications and ETAs

I recently sent in my passport for renewal.

A few days later, I began wondering if everything was okay. I hadn’t heard anything from the company processing the passport or the consulate. After some mucking around, I realized there was no online portal where I could check the status either.

Great.

Coincidentally, an email arrived the next day confirming their receipt of my application. They shared that it was now “processing.”

I have no idea when I will receive the next update.

Unlike visas/work permits/immigration documents, renewing my passport doesn’t cause anxiety. But, such documents are important and delays in processing can be painful. For example, my driver’s license was stuck in processing recently and I had no idea why till I went to a DMV and requested their help to resolve it.

I think there’s an easy way for our experience with government applications to by so much better. This product would have 3 requirements:

1) A place online where I can check my status
2) An ETA (estimated time of arrival) for processing my application and an explanation if the ETA has changed
3) Any issues or options to expedite it (e.g. “pay money here to process is quicker” or “no options – please just wait”)

These 3 requirements wouldn’t solve every problem. But, I think they’d go a long way in making the experience significantly better.