Sketchplanations

Explaining one thing a week in a sketch

Sketchplanations

Explaining one thing a week in a sketch

Forcing function

One of the simplest and most effective behaviours that you can try to help you level-up is to keep creating forcing functions for yourself. A forcing function is an external stimulus that makes you get to where you want to be. Signing up for an event so that you are forced to get yourself in shape, offering to give a talk so that you learn your material, inviting people to a dinner party so you get your house in order, paying for a personal trainer to make you turn up every week — all useful forcing functions to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Forcing functions play, very effectively, on our fear of letting ourselves down to make ourselves do what we want us to do. Another useful sense of forcing function is a way to help people make fewer mistakes, like putting your passport on the door handle so you can't forget it before your flight.
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You get what you measure

Sir Arthur Eddington, an English astrophysicist, told a short story involving a scientist studying fish by pulling them up with nets. After checking all the fish hauled up, the scientist concludes that there is a minimum size of fish in the sea. But the fish seen were determined by the size of the holes in the net, the smaller ones having slipped through, unmeasurable. The instrument you use affects what you see. Or as Richard Hamming puts it: "You get what you measure." This analogy provides a nice concrete example of a phenomena that affects us routinely in more subtle ways. What and how we choose to measure affects the conclusions we draw. So, a website may easily measure sales and bounce rate for its pages, while things like trust, authority or satisfaction, which may be more significant longer-term metrics, go unmeasured. Richard Hamming points out: "There is always a tendency to grab the hard, firm measurement, though it may be quite irrelevant as compared to the soft one which in the long run may be much more relevant to your goals. Accuracy of measurement tends to get confused with relevance of measurement, much more than most people believe. That a measurement is accurate, reproducible, and easy to make does not mean it should be done, instead a much poorer one which is more closely related to your goals may be much more preferable. For example, in school it is easy to measure training and hard to measure education, and hence you tend to see on final exams an emphasis on the training part and a great neglect of the education part." Also see: Goodhart's Law What gets measured gets better (an earlier take on this) Campbell's Law Understanding reliability and validity Quote from Chapter 29, You get what you measure, of Richard Hamming's, The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn. If you happen to be in the business of doing research or science Richard Hamming's Bell Lab's talk, You and Your Research (pdf), is an excellent read.
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Flow

Ever since I came across Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi's concept of Flow it has stayed with me as a simple framework and beacon for finding joy, creativity, and total involvement with life. Mihalyi himself on his research: "What I 'discovered' was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us come to being happy." When researching happiness Csikszentmihalyi found that be they climbers, ballet dancers, chess players, or gardeners, people gave surprisingly similar descriptions to how they felt at their peak experience while performing an activity. When in flow people are wholly focused on the present moment, they experience a strong sense of control, they lose their self-consciousness and their ego, their experience of time changes so that time can fly by or a moment can seem to slow down, and the joy of performing the activity becomes an end in itself. Flow has a fairly simple set of conditions which I find myself using as a little mental checklist: Clear goals Clear feedback about your progress Matched challenge and skills When climbing, a prototypical flow activity, it's clear that you are trying to get to the top, you can immediately see if you are making progress and whether an action progressed you or not, and it's wise to pick a wall that is difficult but not impossible, for you to enjoy it. No wonder climbing can be so addictive. By contrast, it was evident to me that none of these were present when studying for my PhD. I also like flow because it reminds me that peak happiness is unlikely to be experienced by sitting around watching the TV. The quote is from, Flow, the psychology of happiness, by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, who also taught me that any name can work to do great work. Also see: Match joy with skills for flow at work Goldilocks tasks The fun scale Hope
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Hitched to everything else in the universe

It all matters. Be it one person, one bird, or one tree. We are all connected. As John Muir wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra: "As soon as we take one thing by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." Take care of each other. The sketch is Heart Lake in his beloved Sierra Nevada.
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Halloween

Perhaps when you first dressed up as a ghost and went round the houses asking for sweets you thought to also ask what was the meaning of Halloween and why are we doing this? In case, like me, you didn't, I can share for you that Halloween is a smush together — or portmanteau — of hallow, of old English origin meaning Saint, and e'en, a contraction of the Scots word even meaning eve. So it's really the night before All Hallows or All Saints' day on the 1st of November when Christians celebrated the lives of past Saints and martyrs. It's also part of the season of events called Allhallowtide including All Souls' day on the 2nd of November and sometimes days beyond. The other Halloween traditions come from a mix of sources over hundreds of years that are both complex and somewhat disputed. I did like that the Jack O'lantern, before transferring itself to a pumpkin in the US, was originally carved out of turnips. And I also read that a mighty one quarter of candy sold in the US is sold for Halloween. Some of the better, sources, explaining the origins of Halloween. Also see, Boxing Day.
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