Video: Press play, or you’re stuck with my ridiculous, freeze-framed face.
Group dinner decisions can be torturous.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a car, with friends, hungry, but lacking any real direction, you might know what I’m talking about.
One morning as I entered my kitchen looking like Shrek-on-a-bad-day, I saw my cousin cooking what he called cowboy toast: bread cooked and buttered with its center removed, and a fried egg in the middle. That week, on days I woke up with him making breakfast for the house, my mornings would be more productive than usual.
I found – as many have – that avoiding decisions about breakfast freed something inside me to make better decisions later. Simply put: Our daily decision making energy is limited, and it’s sometimes gone by dinner time.
Honey, did you spend $500,000 on drapes?
The video above illustrates how a clothing store can use decision fatigue to sell you an accessory, but sometimes you’re at risk of making bad decisions that cost you more than five dollars.
A home builder can influence you to spend an extra $4,000 on kitchen counter tops by first exhausting your decision making energy; asking you to pick between 34 shades of blue for your bedroom wall color. After you pick “moon-lit ocean blue” you’re more likely to say: “fine, upgrade the counters.”
Car dealerships do this with speaker upgrades, electronic stores offer product warranties; and clothing boutiques pitch scarves, beanies and two dollar bracelets.
Grocery stores put candy and soda at the checkout stand because we’re more likely to indulge after spending 30 minutes deciding white or wheat and whether to spend thirty cents extra on brand name ketchup.
How to break out of jail
Get this – a prisoner is 70% more likely to be set free at a parole hearing at 8:00 A.M. than a prisoner guilty of the same crimes, and serving the same sentence, whose hearing is at 4:00 P.M.
The afternoon hearing gives prisoner B a mere 10% chance of being paroled.
The New York Times has reported that by late afternoon the Judge is so mentally fatigued from consecutive decisions on different cases that he’s more likely to opt for non decision: Just leave the guy in prison.
Black turtle necks = success.
The data agrees: making decisions makes it harder to make more decisions.
If you reach for caffeine at two in the afternoon it’s not always because you slept like shit; Michael Lewis – author of Money Ball and Liars poker – has a better solution than coffee when he describes the adoption of rituals to decrease the amount of minutiae one has to decide on every day: remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people.
According to Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs didn’t wear black turtlenecks everyday because they were magic, he wore them to avoid making decisions on what to wear every morning – he needed energy for bigger opportunities.
“An awareness of our own mental fitness”
This was the advice of Epictetus in 108 A.D. and it matters even more today.
If we catch ourselves making decisions quickly, based on emotion, or feeling strangely less interested in making a decision than we normally would, it pays to call it a day or eat some sugar, which restores blood glucose levels, and has been proven to alleviate symptoms.
The most common clue that I’m suffering from decision fatigue is an excessive desire to check email and social media; lacking will power to adhere to a plan, I look to someone else to direct my next thought or emotion.
That’s my clue to stop making decisions and eat Pinkberry.
Richard Feynman’s resume reads like a professor you’d expect to ask intimidating questions: Physicist, Nobel Prize winner, pioneer in nanotechnology and member of the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Developer of weapons for the military.
But he’s also cracked safes and painted nudes and played bongo drums in the streets of Brazil. He’s planned trips to places you’ve never heard of, like Tuva (the geographical center of Asia) and while a professor at Cornell he formulated a philosophy for propositioning women at bars. Impressively, he never tried to kiss the ass of superiors when the opportunity to use blunt words and raw intelligence was available instead.
Before becoming world famous he earned respect from top scientists by challenging their ideas without regard for their ability to give him personal gain. Recounting an experience with Hans Beth, another Nobel Laureate:
“When I hear about physics, I just think about physics, and I don’t know who I’m talking to, so I say dopey things like ‘no, no, you’re wrong,’ or ‘you’re crazy.’ But it turned out that’s exactly what he needed. I got a notch up on account of that, and I ended up as a group leader under Bethe with four guys under me.”
Niels Bohr, a “Great God” of physics, who made early contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, related something similar about the young Feynman:
“[Feynman is] the only guy who’s not afraid of me, and will say when I’ve got a crazy idea. So next time when we want to discuss ideas, we’re not going to be able to do it with these guys who say everything is yes, yes, Dr. Bohr. Get [Feynman] and we’ll talk with him first.”
Feynman’s life can teach us to connect with our own intelligence and communicate confidently from it. His genius let him express things easier than most because he often knew he was right, but he also knew how to say he didn’t know, perhaps beginning answers with “I don’t know. I might suppose something, but I don’t know if it’s true.”
His defining characteristic was a confident intellectual honesty.
Here’s 8 lessons on the subject, in Richard’s own words:
Thinking Vs. Following the rules
[rules in algebra are] “a false thing that they had invented in school so that the children who have to study algebra can all pass it. They had invented a set of rules that you can follow without thinking to produce the answer. A series of steps by which you could get the answer if you didn’t understand what you were trying to do.”
On being polite – or not.
[as a student at MIT] “I wrote about liberty in social occasions – the problem of having to fake and lie in order to be polite, and does this perpetual game of faking in social situations lead to the ‘destruction of the moral fiber of society.’ An interesting question, but not the one we were supposed to discuss.”
On the fragility of experts
[As a student at Princeton he frequented a small restaurant where he met a painter who convinced him that mixing red and white paint would get yellow. This was against Feynman's studies of light, proving that red and white light would equal pink, so he bought paint for the painter to prove his point, and the painter couldn't do it.] “The painter had told me so much stuff that was reasonable that I was ready to give a certain chance that there was an odd phenomenon I didn’t know. I was expecting pink, but my set of thoughts were, “The only way to get yellow will be something new and interesting, and I’ve got to see this.”
“You only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that’s the end of you.”
“It was great. The lieutenant takes me to the colonel and repeats my remark [that some information about the atomic bomb should be declassified]. The colonel says, ‘Just five minutes,’ and then he goes to the window and he stops and thinks. I thought it was very remarkable how a problem of whether or not information as to how the bomb works should be in the Oak Ridge plant had to be decided and could be decided in five minutes. So I have a great deal of respect for these military guys, because I never can decide anything very important in any length of time at all.”
On Knowledge Vs. Memorizing
[A Greek Scholar] “comes to another country, where he is delighted to find everybody studying Greek. He goes to the examination of a student who is coming to get his degree in Greek, and asks him, ‘What were Socrates’ ideas on the relationship between Truth and Beauty?’ – and the student can’t answer. Then he asks the student, ‘What did Socrates say to Plato in the Third Symposium?’ the student lights up and goes, ‘Brrrrrrrrrr-up’ – he tells you everything, word for word, that Socrates said, in beautiful Greek. But what Socrates was talking about in the Third Symposium was the relationship between Truth and Beauty!”
“I had a scheme, which I still use today when somebody is explaining something that I’m trying to understand: I keep making up examples.”
[After speaking gibberish with perfect Italian intonation] “I didn’t know what he said, and he didn’t know what I said. But it was OK! It was Great! It works! When they hear the intonation, they recognize it immediately as Italian – maybe it’s Milano instead of Romano, what the hell. But he’s an iTALian! So its just great. But you have to have absolute confidence. Keep right on going, and nothing will happen.”
He closes his book “Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman” with a wish for readers to have the same fortune he’s had. A career not burdened by a need to maintain a position, get promoted or be a slave to financial support, but one giving us freedom to maintain our integrity.
Blogging does an awesome job of impressing your downline – the cheering audience who wishes to be you. If you have a blog and expect to make money from it in a way other than selling advertising (Where there is no money) then the people visiting it had better want to be you – or they’ll never pay you.
Photography’s best blog
Chase Jarvis is a famous photographer who’s taken pictures for Apple, REI, Red Bull and others but none of those clients came from his audience of hundreds of thousands who watch his web series and read his blog. I’m not a photographer but I’ve watched a few episodes of Chase Jarvis Live and found it entertaining.
The people who watch Chase’s show want to be entrepreneurs and photographers like Chase. They’re not interested in hiring one. But they are interested in buying things that will help them be successful like chase – tripods, photography lighting and special websites for photographers. Chase owns companies that sell all three and he uses his web series to promote them.
The internets Oddest industry
For proof of blogging’s ability to influence an audience of emulators don’t look further than Jeremy Shoemaker. He get’s paid by placing affiliate links in blog posts and the subtext of everything he writes says “I’m rich because I own internet businesses and if you buy the products I use you’ll be this successful.” John Chow‘s slogan is more explicit: “I make money online by telling people how much money I make online.”
Where most stories fail
Blogging proves a key principle of story telling – a story is never as important as the person telling it. Give me a book of investing advice by Rihanna and I’ll throw it in the trash but put Warren Buffet on the cover and I’m interested.
Neil Patel tells a great story to companies like GM, Microsoft and Amazon. He says “Everything I touch on the internet gets lots of page views”.
On his beautifully designed blog he talks about his experience starting companies and consulting for Hewlett Packard and others. He lands these contracts – it seems – because of who he is, not his companies logo or brand. He makes his life as a serial entrepreneur seem fun and its easy to get excited about working with him.
It’s easy to get excited about being him.
His blog generates revenue over $1 million a year for his businesses – and it’s branded as his own blog, not a companies.
Where your company can prosper
Its common for businesses to take it as a given that they should be Facebooking and blogging but whats uncommon is haveng a human being – like the CEO – publicly being the Facebooker or the blogger.
For an illustration of a $2 Billion business doing blogging the right way notice Dana White and the UFC. His personal video blog on YouTube shows him in private planes, talking to important people and driving fast motorcycles. But the reason it’s a success? He’s excited about his business.
Ask any of the biggest media outlets covering MMA online and they’ll tell you that any headline with the words “Dana White” is the plateau of page views. The UFC also produces the equivalent of a corporate blog on Fuel TV but the magic happens on Dana’s blog which carries the same constant theme every episode: “Holy %#$# we’re putting on fights this weekend and they’re gonna be awesome.” He’s excited about his business and its contagious.
His style of blogging is likely to brash for most polished companies but the foundation is simple – get excited and people will get excited to be you and associate with the company you associate with.
The final outsource
Want your employees involved?
One of my favorite blogs is the MIT Admissions blog because its contributors are real students who write well and are excited about MIT in Ironic ways. If your employees are excited about their work and communicate well why not let them cheerlead for you?
But no swearing. Unless you’re in the fight business.
A box robot contemplates the loss of its contents – photo: jnap
If you don’t value something it won’t bother you to lose it.
So value nothing and you’ll never feel loss (or fear it).
This is a recipe for life without pain but it can also prescribe a life without pleasure. If nothing makes us happy to have (or experience or see or hear) then nothing makes us happy.
You can feel joy through loving your girl or your shirt or the way your ass looks in a skirt, but a breakup or spilled spaghetti sauce or your mid 30′s can take all those things away from you.
So it seems we should find a line between falling in love and not allowing ourselves to.
The trick is to cut off from caring when things get taken away, and since that puts a lot of pressure on our reasoning to override emotion, we can use strong reminders to align ourselves with life’s desires when life starts having its way with us.
The following is written by a man advising a Roman general on the loss of his empire. The general, Antony, has just found his city of Alexandria fallen to an enemy’s force overnight in 31 B.C.
I read this aloud in times of loss, both personal and professional.
When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving you.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.
- C.P. Cavafy “The God Abandons Antony” 1911
With an attitude like the one Cavafy describes to Antony we can experience the spectrum of human emotion – jubilation and sadness – but in healthy doses, allowing us to move forward from tragedy unencumbered by baggage.
The truth about life is that it keeps moving towards the towards… the thing that makes way for the thing that comes after it.
And it’s always right in the end.
I don’t mean ‘right’ in how it turns out right in line with what you want, but right in the way that the sun rose this morning. It’s right because it happened. Life has its way.
A confession: I listen to music you might find insufferable.
Maxi jazz is a 55 year old Buddhist rapper from London who’s made music with Dido, Robbie Williams and Tiesto.
I’m a huge fan of his work with British electronica band Faithless, seen here at Glastonbury 2010.
When I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to be a background actor in a soon to be aired commercial for an unnamed computer company I said yes because Tiesto would be starring in it.
I’d be able to ask the worlds #1 DJ a question: Are you going to make another song with Maxi Jazz?
I arrived on set at 10:00 am and by 11:30 a production assistant gave me lube and asked me to ‘oil up’. Myself and the other extras were told we’d be acting as a summertime crowd at a dance concert and the only direction the unnamed computer company had given the production staff about the extras was that ‘skin be in’.
As the lights went down and the speakers went up we danced under expensive video cameras attached to complex cranes and took directions from our director until finally meeting Tiesto at about 8:00 pm.
“Are you going to make another song with Maxi Jazz?”
He smiled and reclined his head as if he wanted another song with Maxi as bad as I did but having long ago given up the idea. Smiling bigger he laughed and responded with a Dutch accent:
“No, we tried already. He’s too stoned.”
Lesson learned: asking a question is better than asking for a photo.
Maxi, like many (all?) musicians smokes weed. But I didn’t know it made him unproductive at work.
Don Valentine, founder of Sequoa Capitol and original investor in YouTube, Apple, Google and others has a rule – if you ask a question make it less than 15 words. This cures the most common flaw of question asking in conversations today: the practice of asking a question and immediately giving your own answers as multiple choice.
“Are you going to make a new song with Maxi Jazz? It seems like you’re busy making music with other people, did you get in a fight or do you think he’s too old, I guess he’s just been busy touring with Faithless. ”
I made this mistake years ago when I asked professional surfer Rob Machado if he knew any amateur surfers who had moved to foreign surf haven’s with enough money and free time to travel as much as he did. My hope was to gain insight from the worlds most successful surfing ex pat’s, but I confused Rob by mentioning Steve Jobs, cheap airline tickets and a vague reference to computer hackers in the same sentence.
Lesson learned: get to the question mark quickly and immediately stop talking.
But the quickest way to get great answers is to begin your questions with one of these.
What, Where, When, Why, Why not, How
All familiar words but surprisingly under-used in favor of beginning questions with:
Should, Is, Isn’t, Can, Can’t, Are, Do
These words either deal in hypotheticals or inspire one word answers. I could have given Tiesto more opportunity for a revealing answer by cutting ‘are’ and saying instead “Your song with Maxi Jazz was awesome. When will you guys make another?”
So I’ve got room to improve next time I’m oiled up on a Hollywood set.
Whoever these people are looking at must be popular. Photo: Luiza
Give a person a number and they’ll try to make that number higher. Money, cars, followers, lovers(men) shoes(women).
I watched a music video today with 300,000 views and only two likes. So either the record company inflated the view number with fake hits to make the video seem popular, or less than 1% of the people who watched it actually liked it.
Numbers are seductive because they offer a seemingly easy way to understand the whole story.
The score was 42-27
She has $18 million.
He has 27,000 Twitter followers.
They give us social proof without asking us to think.
I know two people who run separate business serving clients ranging from tech companies to hotels and the bulk of their business is sending fake views, fake follows, fake likes, fake everything to the social media accounts of their clients. Are they bad guys? No. They’re responding to an online environment with systemic incentives that entice people to play internet popularity contests.
But even if Gangham style had a remarkable 10 million views to start with, we wouldn’t have become fans of the song, dance and rapper if they weren’t all remarkable on their own.
Inflating your social media numbers is mostly vanity.
If anything, lying in your social media accounts creates pressure to justify why you have so much attention. And this robs you of one of the great benefits of being one of the small guys – growing in a sustainable way.
The great thing about your first blog or episode or shipping your first products is that you don’t have many critics yet. You’re allowed to screwup, find your voice, discover technical flaws et cetera – without a scrutinizing audience.
In the context of social media I lean towards mathematical fictionalism – numbers are false. Not real. A useful fiction.
Having 500 subscribers or 3000 followers doesn’t mean anything. What matters are the engaging conversations you have with individuals that inspire them to grow your audience for you.
Someone said to me before “It’s all in your head” and another person said “it’s just in your head.”
I’ve said these things to others too and no matter who ‘s speaking and who’s listening it’s the same expression: What’s driving you crazy isn’t actually real. It only exists as a figment in your mind. But since our emotions often seem real as an earthquake this advice can fail to penetrate and we go on thinking that not only does our hair look bad but other people will actually stop their day and make it’s judgement their priority.
Recently I’ve found it more effective to say to myself and friends when preoccupied - This thought of yours exists only in your mind and not outside of it.To discard it from your mind is to eliminate it from existence.
2000 years ago Marcus Aurelius said “you can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind”, things that exist only there, “and clear out space for yourself.”
It’s from a Red Bull marketing executive who says he’s a fan of my web series. Shred Show, my YouTube channel about surfboards, already has 8,000 views and 120 subscribers in just four weeks. Success.
Now out of nowhere it looks like I’m about to receive wings – corporate sponsorship.
The next line of the email continues – “We only use the Red Bull name and logo with the events that we create and put on ourselves.”
The roadblock is a company wide policy against the sponsorship of third party web series’. But Red Bull makes up for it by enriching my life with new sports like “Crashed Ice”.
It’s also called Downhill Ice Cross and the sport is a blend of roller derby, ice hockey and motocross.
Red Bull doesn’t just support action sports, they create new ones.
Before launching into a new market in the 90′s Dietrich Mateschitz hired a research firm who reported that “no product has ever failed this convincingly’. Why? Disgusting taste, thin color and a sticky mouth feel when drinking.
Red Bull? Failure.
But this judged the drink on taste alone.
A few days after I got the email from Red Bull a mysterious box showed up on my front door containing case of Red Bull and a very nice hand written note.
My mood elevated. It’s amazing how happy sugar water and a little taurine can make you.
What helped Red Bull become a success in America was giving free product to break dancers and DJ’s and other grass roots figures with small followings who influence Joe The Partier and Paris Hilton.
In 2013 they’re up to the same thing. Supporting niche sports and hooking up people with small followings.
Some say the quick route to business wisdom is the business section at Barnes and Noble. But books written by trendy C.E.O’s. and popular scholar’s are sometimes surpassed by fictional works written by unassuming authors, stumbling onto wonderful descriptions of how the world really works and why.
One of my favorite books is “Ask The Dust” – it’s the semi-autobiographical story of a young writer named Arturo Bandini who moves to Los Angeles from Colorado during the greatly depressed 1930’s to write books, be seen in magazine columns and become distinguished but instead, he finds himself in general mayhem. He gets lucky, unlucky and involved in various successes and tragedies in a quick 165 pages that you can read in a slow weekend. The ending is excellent.
But story aside, the author (John Fante) unwittingly makes a strong point over two paragraphs on the 46th page about how marketing works and why. It’s one of my favorite excerpts from the book, and I share it below.
Seth Godin has written, and I agree with him, that marketing succeeds if it can find an audience that already wants to believe the story it’s telling. In the Case of Arturo Bandini’s Los Angeles in the 1930’s, the newspapers and magazines told a story America wanted to hear, describing L.A. As paradise, but real life was closer to Jack Kerouac’s description in “On The Road” a decade later as “the loneliest and most brutal of American cities.”
A Good website influences people to do things like buy something or sign up for a free trial, and depending on its ability to drive these types of behaviors, it’s either successful or it isn’t.
This prompts a question for CEO’s, business owners and engineers: What’s the one thing you want your web visitors or app users to do? Do you want them to call you or schedule an appointment or follow you on Twitter?
If you define this well (Zappos: buy shoes, Google: search) you can design simply around that goal. For example, Amazon wants visitors to click that “add to cart” button. They don’t pressure us to sign up for a book club, list favorite books in a profile like Goodreads or share what we buy on a social network. They just ask for clicks to that button.
Too often businesses fire a shotgun of objectives at web visitors and ask them to buy things, sign up for an email list, fill out a form and “like” a Facebook page. But the less options you give visitors on a web page, the more likely they are to do the one thing you want them to.
Once you’ve chosen the action you want web visitors to take, and you’ve created a plan to drive that action, you can test how good of a job you’re doing using tools like Crazy Egg and others, but my personal favorite is watching a friend use your website. For example, a chiropractor could ask ten friends to schedule an appointment. Seeing real users play with your site – especially those who aren’t technically inclined – can be telling. It’s an excellent way to learn that a welcome video is too long or that a “schedule an appointment” button could be placed better.
To many demands overwhelm web visitors. One suggestion influences.
www.unbounce.com – create, publish and optimize landing pages without having to be technical.
www.crazyegg.com – a heat mapping tool showing you why web visitors are or aren’t converting.