The world according to Plato in 6 lovely minutes

A lovely bite-sized tour of Plato’s greatest hits from The School of Life.

Plato’s four big ideas for a more fulfilled life:

  1. Think more (and know yourself)
  2. Let your lover change you (love is based on admiration, we need to help each other)
  3. Decode the message of beauty (we sense in beauty qualities we need but don’t have)
  4. Reform society (a utopian thinker about government and society)

Plato wanted to end democracy in Athens because he observed that few people thought properly before they voted, which resulted in very sub-standard rulers. He wanted people to become rational thinkers, philosophers in fact, before they could vote. “The world will not be right until kings become philosophers or philosophers kings.”




Flow states feel awesome because: norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins

Dr Steven Kotler, Director of Research for the Flow Genome Project, talks in this 4:20 video about the neurochemistry of your brain when you’re in a flow state.

Transcript from YouTube: Besides neuroanatomical changes in flow there are neurochemical changes, right. The brain produces a giant cascade of neurochemistry. You get norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins. All five of these are performance enhancing neurochemicals, right. So they make you faster, stronger, quicker and they do the same thing with your brain. In the front end of a flow state you take in more information, you process it more deeply meaning you process it using more parts of your brain and you process it more quickly. There’s some debate about this but it does appear that you process it more quickly. This is norepinephrine and dopamine. So when people enter a flow state they talk about feeling like they’re senses are incredibly heightened. This is the performance enhancing aspect of norepinephrine and dopamine.

Where these chemicals really come in handy is how they affect motivation, creativity and learning. We’ll start with motivation. Besides being performance enhancing chemicals these are obviously all feel good drugs, right. These five chemicals are the most potent feel good drugs the brain can produce. As a result flow is considered the most addictive state on earth. Scientists don’t like the word addictive so instead they use autotelic. When something is autotelic it is an end in itself. What it means is that once an experience starts producing flow we will go extraordinarily far out of our way to get more of it which is why researchers now believe flow is the source code of intrinsic motivation.

Another thing that those neurochemicals do is they augment the creative process. So creativity is always recombinantory. It’s the product of novel information, bumping into old thoughts to create something startlingly new. So if you want to amplify creativity, you want to amplify every aspect of that process. Again, the neurochemicals help. So on the front end of the flow state when you get norepinephrine and dopamine they’re tightening focus so you are taking in more information per second. So you are boosting that part of the creative process. Norepinephrine and dopamine do something else in the brain which is they lower signal to noise ratio so you detect more patterns. They jack up pattern recognition so our ability to link ideas together is also an enhancer. Taking in more information we can link it together.

Anandamide which is another chemical that shows up in flow doesn’t just promote pattern recognition. It promotes lateral thinking. So pattern recognition is more or less the linking of familiar ideas together. Lateral thinking is the linking of very disparate ideas together, right. So more information per second, all kinds of pattern recognition, lateral thinking. All of it surrounds the creative process and amplifies all of it which is why, for example, studies run by my organization, the Flow Genome Project, we found creativity is increased 500 to 700 percent. To give you another example in a recent Australian study they took 42 people, gave them a very tricky brainteaser to solve, the kind that needs very creative problem solving.

Nobody could solve the problem. They induced flow artificially using transcranial magnetic stimulation to basically knock out the prefrontal cortex. They induced artificial transient hypofrontality technically.
As a result, 23 people solved the problem in record time. So massively amplified motivation, massively amplified creativity. The last thing flow does that’s really important is it jacks up learning. [TRANSCRIPT TRUNCATED]


I voted for Fairy Tern as New Zealand seabird of the year (2014)

I voted for the Fairy Tern as New Zealand seabird of the year. You?

The fairy tern is New Zealand’s most endangered bird – only around 10 breeding pairs survive. Not surprising, given they nest in small depressions on sandy beaches. Forest & Bird is working to save the fairy tern in several ways, including by using decoys to lure adult fairy terns to new, safer nesting sites. You can do your bit by not driving on the beach. – See more at:

Sea Birds



Why you shouldn’t drink seawater (even if you’re shipwrecked)

Gideon Jacques Denny: Shipwrecked figures signaling to a distant sailing ship

Gideon Jacques Denny: Shipwrecked figures signaling to a distant sailing ship

I feel like I’ve always ‘known’ that it’s bad to drink seawater but I can’t remember ever learning why. This excerpt from Rose George’s excellent ‘90% of Everything: Inside Shipping‘ gives a fair idea.

In a lecture to the Royal College of Physicians in 1942, MacDonald Critchley, a physician who had studied survival at sea, said that “seawater poisoning must be accounted, after cold, the commonest cause of death in shipwrecked sailors.”

At first, it wouldn’t seem so: seawater is liquid and it quenches. The relief would be immediate. But seawater has an average salt content of 3 percent. This increases thirst dramatically so that more seawater is drunk, and more, and salt levels go ever more haywire, until the body tries to regulate it by urination, and you expel a quart of urine for every quart of seawater drunk, making matters worse. There are also complicated and intricate effects of seawater on cells, blood, and tissue, but in essence, too much seawater can fry your brain.

Then this happens, in the words of Critchley:

“The victim becomes silent and apathetic, with a peculiar fixed and glassy expression in the eyes. The condition of the lips, mouth, and tongue worsens, and a peculiarly offensive odor has been described in the breath. Within an hour or two, delirium sets in, quiet at first but later violent and unrestrained; consciousness is gradually lost; the color of the face changes and froth appears at the corners of the lips. Death may take place quietly: more often it is a noisy termination, and not infrequently the victim goes over the side in his delirium and is lost.”




‘Never mind passion and goals, get a system’

Scott Adams, creator of the wonderful Dilbert cartoons, talks to the Wall Street Journal about his new book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

He says forget about passion (you’ll be plenty passionate once your business is working well) and don’t worry about goals (they can be short-sighted).  What you want is a system.

Just after college, I took my first airplane trip, destination California, in search of a job. I was seated next to a businessman who was probably in his early 60s. I suppose I looked like an odd duck with my serious demeanor, bad haircut and cheap suit, clearly out of my element. I asked what he did for a living, and he told me he was the CEO of a company that made screws. He offered me some career advice. He said that every time he got a new job, he immediately started looking for a better one. For him, job seeking was not something one did when necessary. It was a continuing process.

This makes perfect sense if you do the math. Chances are that the best job for you won’t become available at precisely the time you declare yourself ready. Your best bet, he explained, was to always be looking for a better deal. The better deal has its own schedule. I believe the way he explained it is that your job is not your job; your job is to find a better job.

This was my first exposure to the idea that one should have a system instead of a goal. The system was to continually look for better options.

Read the rest of the interview and see a video interview with Mr Adams here.

‘I’m intrigued by this idea of complexity being something adversarial, that sneaks into your life like a cockroach’

Write things down

Five takeaways from the written version of a charming talk given by Pinboard founder Maciej Ceglowski  at the 2013 XOXO conference in Portland. Well worth a read.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m intrigued by this idea of complexity being something adversarial, that sneaks into your life, like a cockroach, and you have to fight to eradicate.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here’s a pernicious idea that comes out of startup culture called “fail fast”. I’ve always been a big believer in failing slowly. When you’re not in for the money, success doesn’t come to you pre-labeled. It can look just like failure. Chasing money makes it easier, because then you can quantify success unambiguously. Otherwise, you may have a hard time telling the two apart.

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]riting a work diary is the only honest record of what you’re thinking at the time. Your memory will lie to you, almost immediately, about what you thought was going to happen on any given day. The only way you can trust it is to write down your state of mind – what you’re worried about, what you expect will happen. And then over time you can go back and look for patterns of thought that you might want to fix. Maybe you’re always too optimistic, or maybe you choose to work with toxic people, or chronically underestimate what things will cost. Writing it down will help you understand your mental habits, and correct for them.

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s not our job, Thoreau argues, to fix the world. We may not have the time for that. But we can’t cooperate with injustice. If the law compels us to do something wrong, we have to break that law.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he reason I think it’s vital we act now is that this state of affairs is still shocking, still disturbing. Let it persist and it will become the new normal (in other words, the “old shitty”) and anyone trying to fight it is going to be branded a Utopian or hopelessly naive, unable to come to terms with modernity. We should commit to giving legal, financial and moral support to anyone who refuses to obey gag order, or publishes a National Security Letter. The secrecy exists because the programs it cloaks can’t withstand the light of day. One good, timely push will break them.

Read Mr Ceglowski’s talk here.



‘Making time in your schedule is not enough, you also need bandwidth’

Mistakes busy people make

I like the distinction makes over on between scheduling time and scheduling bandwidth.

Busy people all make the same mistake: they assume they are short on time, which of course they are. But time is not their only scarce resource. They are also short on bandwidth. By bandwidth I mean basic cognitive resources — psychologists call them working memory and executive control — that we use in nearly every activity. Bandwidth is what allows us to reason, to focus, to learn new ideas, to make creative leaps and to resist our immediate impulses. We use bandwidth to be a good participant at an important meeting, to be a good boss to an employee who frustrates us and to be attentive parent or spouse.

When we schedule things, we don’t want to just show up, we want to be effective when we get there. This means we need to manage bandwidth and not just manage time… Picture yourself at dinner with a friend whose marriage is on the rocks and wants some advice. Now imagine her request comes at a time when you have a big-project deadline looming. You value her friendship so you make time for dinner, but once you’re there, you find your mind wandering back to that project…  while you’ve made time for her, you didn’t make bandwidth for her.

Read more:



Empathy in journalism, management and explanation

Synonyms for Empathy

Sometimes when I’m free-range reading I come across things In Threes. This time it’s empathy.

The Evolution of User Experience | Whitney Hess

Whitney Hess talks about how she’s evolved her career in response to what she sees happening around her. Right now, she’s evolving into a kind of compassion coach who’s working on developing empathy in the workplace.

I eventually realized that doing the work for my clients wasn’t really teaching them anything. They were outsourcing their empathy. So my new purpose became to help product teams establish a user experience practice. I led workshops for stakeholders to understand the value of the process. I trained team members on how to conduct every method. I worked across projects, across products and across the entire organization to create a culture shift.

But while they’d worked to build empathy for their customers, they had no empathy for one another. There were still turf wars, interpersonal conflicts and unilateral decision making. So my new purpose became to coach senior leaders and product teams on cultivating compassion for customers and colleagues… This is where I am now. I’m learning how to be a coach. I’m learning how to measure and develop empathy in others.

The Art of Explanation | Lee LeFever (Common Craft)

In his book The Art of Explanation, Common Craft’s Lee LeFever says that explanation requires empathy.

Every once in a while I encounter someone who is a natural explainer… These people seek out unique and helpful ways to explain ideas to others. Sometimes they are teachers and journalists who combine their natural communication style with a focus on the professional standards of their profession. When I meet one of these people I look for common traits and ask: what do great explainers have in common? In a word, it is empathy. Great explainers have the ability to picture themselves in another person’s shoes and communicate from that perspective.

How journalists can improve their storytelling by embracing design thinking | Poynter

Poynter looks at how journalists are embracing design thinking to help them focus on users and better storytelling. The post walks through “the five pillars of design thinking — empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test”.

Most people come to a “story with an idea, a perspective or a hypothesis,” [Leticia Britos Cavagnaro] said; being empathetic means having the “ability to talk to someone and really let go of those preconceptions.” The goal of empathy is to gain insight or “put myself in the shoes of the other person or the many different stakeholders,” Britos Cavagnaro said. Use empathy by asking open-ended questions and actively listening to uncover people’s needs and motivations. Asking “Why?” often is effective.

Northwestern University Knight Lab’s Miranda Mulligan said in an in-person interview that it’s important to challenge your assumptions and test whether they’re valid. Ask yourself: What would my audience like to know? Once you think you understand, dig deeper. Go back and interview your sources or audience again and test the conclusions you’re making.