What feels good vs. good for you

We like to do the things that make us feel good. Here’s what can happen if we always lean into that impulse:

  • a heroin addict relapses
  • an impatient job seeker jumps at her first offer
  • a furious driver expresses his road rage
  • an unhealthy individual eats a cheeseburger
  • a manager takes all credit for a successful project

Sometimes understanding the difference between what feels good and what’s good for you is straightforward.  But not always.  And either way, the choice(s) involved is seldom easy.

So when that impulse starts brewing, treat it with a cuvée of will power, self-respect, and virtue.

And suddenly, what feels good is now good for you.

The crux of software design

In late Fall 2016, I removed all the primary social media applications off my iPhone. With years of varying usage, I grew uncomfortably aware with how trapped in its web I was and wanted to dramatically reduce the place it held in my life.

A daily routine without it validated earlier thoughts I entertained, officially cracking open a clear perspective around this addiction we’ve socialized as our modern, digitized way of life.

In great regularity, we’re engaging with systems that have a manipulative custody of our attention and psychology.  A like, a push notification, a message read receipt.  These platforms have become social programming gatekeepers that strategically utilize psychological triggers in the form of features to cater towards our basic social needs. Momentarily, it convinces us we’re well fed, but almost immediately our appetite re-emerges.

It bares a very important question – what are the motives behind how software is designed at scale and is the impact of this approach on humanity ethical and healthy?

Nobody is answering this question better than Tristan Harris.

An ex-Googler who had an unusual, yet enviable job title – Product Philosopher – Tristan is well known as the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience” and is leading the movement behind Time Well Spent, an advocacy group that better aligns technology’s role with humanity.

Tristan is in the technology vanguard of a product lifecycle trend we’ve seen in other sectors.  For decades, organizations were not developing consumer products predicated on prioritizing the end-consumer’s well-being.  Ironically, consumers weren’t prioritizing it either.  As a result, the processes were designed in a business context to maximize scale and profits with the environmental and social impact as an afterthought. Let’s call this phase one.  In a subsequent phase two, consumers became more in touch with their bodies and as a byproduct we saw a massive dovetail with natural foods, ethically-sourced products, and the like.  Social and environmental mindfulness was catapulted to the forefront.

In the same way consumers became more in touch with their bodies – with technology, I believe the bet here is that consumers are becoming more in touch with their minds. If we’re in phase one, this means two things – (1) currently, organizations have designed their processes around maximizing scale and engagement (how the success of many technology businesses is partly measured) and (2) we’re still awaiting a shift in consumer mindset to trigger the floodgate that will re-engineer the handshake between humanity and technology. Tristan stands before us with the ingredients for phase two.

We can prepare for a brighter future if technology organizations build an auditing layer into their product development lifecycle that echo the sentiments of Tristan’s work.  From here, we can imagine a day where phase one deteriorates and our first approach has its priorities straight.

You’re only nobody until you’re somebody

There are only thoughts until there are words.

There are only words until there are ideas.

There are only ideas until there are tests.

There are only tests until there are solutions.

There are only solutions because there were problems.

There were only problems because change was needed.

There was only change because there was somebody.

There once was a somebody who thought they were nobody.

The absolute necessity of trial and error in an examined life

Young, ambitious folks in mass are far more thoughtful in their lifestyle design and career pursuits, divorcing themselves from traditional frameworks of thinking.  As in, no longer is an ideal life defined by a check list grounded in the social expectations of some abstract higher order.  An abstract higher order perpetuated by posterity itself. Undeniably, we may seek similar items on that check list, but an interest in them is not informed by pressure to fit a mold.

We’re asking ourselves more meaningful questions and spending more time understanding the ripple effect of our decisions before tossing the stone in the sea. While this movement isn’t happening in one collective wave effort, there are internal wake up calls alarming within volumes of people nearing escape velocity.

It’s no secret that ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfillment’ have elevated themselves in the millennial buzzword ranks and are littered across the journalistic ecosystem.  It seems somewhat short-sighted to label this as a generational trend and instead investigate if this is actually a rewiring, or rebirth, of human thought process.

Hypothesis: part of the quest in understanding what happiness and fulfillment means exactly, and more largely how we can cultivate a wonderful and balanced life, is to conduct our approach through trial and error.

In science, we charter new territories by testing a series of hypotheses, and pursue results that show traction in the direction of fundamental truths. Fundamental truths in this case being scientific breakthrough.

In startups, we charter new territories by testing a series of hypotheses, and pursue results that show traction in the direction of fundamental truths. Fundamental truths in this case being product-market fit.

Above are just two high-level examples, but all logic considered, not taking the same approach to designing your life is a dangerous blind spot.

In career, use trial and error to test different industries, companies, and roles.

In environment, use trial and error to test different cities, neighborhoods, and homes.

In relationships, use trial and error to test different people, giving, and trust capacity.

In hobbies, use trial and error to test different interests, challenges, and comfort zones.

In self, use trial and error to test different belief systems, ideas, and boundaries.

And so on.  Forget the social standard – we live this life once and must define our own fundamental truths.

Use trial and error to charter new territories and when you find traction in the direction of your fundamental truths, focus and go.

Are vision and depth the same?

They share a jumping off point – the surface, an existing belief, a perceived reality, or a simple curiosity.

While they are directionally opposite conceptually speaking – external vs. internal respectively – the motivation is singular.  We seek (or ought to) fundamental truths beyond mass belief systems about ourselves and our world.  These very belief systems are reimagined when we have folks come along who discover the next truth by way of vision or depth. Resulting from a brave and personal vertical and horizontal exploration of oneself or an idea with no guide or manual.

In hindsight, we realize a metaphorical curtain has been drawn revealing what was already there but often disguised or hidden.

It’s a simple framework that we can all put into practice – a deliberate attempt to see ahead and deep within.

Sometimes two roads leading in opposite directions eventually meet.  Are vision and depth the same?

And then

Create value for a lead and then close the sale.

Listen carefully to a trusted advisor and then test a strategy.

Offer a customer service experience beyond expectations and then ask for product feedback.

Suggest an out of scope solution to your manager and then request more responsibility.

Focus on a dazzling user experience and then think about scale.

Build trust and then build loyalty.

If we come from a patient and motiveless generosity before pulling levers, new success metrics take shape, and situational output will be worth the investment after all.

Fight the impulse and then everyone wins.

Disruption comes at a cost

We can all do without the word ‘disruption’ – it’s buzzy and exhausted.  It’s disruptive.

However, it serves a purpose to illustrate what those striving to make a dent, win a market, be the best must risk.  A quest for disruption can disrupt anything in its path:

  • your relationships
  • your work/life balance
  • your reputation
  • your hobbies and interests
  • your free time
  • your headspace

You can see that these are vital organs in the body of life.  Which is why it matters what we choose to disrupt, what we trade our time for, and ultimately how we craft our lives.

To be a maverick is to know what you face to compromise – hand steady – before you break ground.