How to do Nothing by Jenny ODell

What is the attention economy?

The corporate capture and mining of our free time, attention, and care. Some examples:

The attention economy does not reward context

It rewards hysteria and fear. It foments an arms race of urgency that abuses our attention and leaves us no time to think. It rewards having a “take” after having read a single headline.

Two tools to resist the attention economy:

Margin is the ability to resist the attention economy and must be protected

The idea of /margin/ has to do with how much ability we have to politely withdraw or decline from the attention economy without suffering harm. For anyone who has even the tiniest margin, it’s important to put it to use opening up margins further down the line. Tiny spaces, by nature of giving us time to step back and think, can open up small spaces; small spaces can open up bigger spaces.

The final few paragraphs of the book. Beautiful. Peaceful. Worth remembering

If I had to give you an image of how I feel about the attention economy now, as opposed to in 2017, I’d ask you to imagine a tech conference. Like so many conferences, it would be in another city, perhaps another state. The subject of this conference would be persuasive design, with talks by the likes of the Time Well Spent people, about how horrible the attention economy is and how we can design our way around it and optimize our lives for something better. Initially I’d find these talks very interesting, and I would learn a lot about how I’m being manipulated by Facebook and Twitter. I would be shocked and angry. I would spend all day thinking about it.

But then, maybe on the second or third day, you would see me get up and go outside to get some fresh air. Then I’d wander a little bit farther, to the nearest park. Then—and I know this because it happens to me often—I’d hear a bird and go looking for it. If I found it, I would want to know what it was, and in order to look that up later I’d need to know not only what it looks like, but what it was doing, how it sounded, what it looked like when it flew…I’d have to look at the tree it was in.

I’d look at all the trees, at all the plants, trying to notice patterns. I would look at who was in the park and who wasn’t. I would want to be able to explain these patterns. I would wonder who first lived in what is now this city, and who lived here afterward before they got pushed out too. I would ask what this park almost got turned into and who stopped that from happening, who I have to thank. I would try to get a sense of the shape of the land—where am I in relation to the hills and the bodies of water? Really, these are all forms of the same question. They are ways of asking: Where and when am I, and how do I know that?

Before long, the conference would be over, and I would have missed most of it. A lot of things would have happened there that are important and useful. For my part, I wouldn’t have much to show for my “time well spent”—no pithy lines to tweet, no new connections, no new followers. I might only tell one or two other people about my observations and the things I learned. Otherwise, I’d simply store them away, like seeds that might grow some other day if I’m lucky.

Seen from the point of view of forward-pressing, productive time, this behavior would appear delinquent. I’d look like a dropout. But from the point of view of the Place, I’d look like someone who was finally paying it attention. And from the point of view of myself, the person actually experiencing my life, and to whom I will ultimately answer when I die—I would know that I spent that day on Earth. In moments like this, even the question itself of the attention economy fades away. If you asked me to answer it, I might say—without lifting my eyes from the things growing and creeping along the ground—“I would prefer not to.”

Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

The danger of “resulting”

It’s important to remember that in making bets, you have two separate components: the bet and the result. It’s important not to conflate the quality of the result with the quality of the bet. If you do that, you’re likely going to be tempted to change your betting style in the future incorrectly Examples:

Poker involves hundreds of decisions in a single match

At the end, a player has to separate luck from skill, signal from noise, and guard against resulting. In game, they have to execute their best intentions within constraints of the speed expected by the table (you can’t just sit and think for 5 minutes on your turn) -> Very similar to interviews: how can I incorporate this into interview practice? Looking back and dissecting past interviews to separate luck from skill

We believe that we’re rational and reason from first principles, but we don’t

Here’s how we think we form abstract beliefs:

  1. We hear something;
  2. We think about it and vet it, determining whether it is true or false; only after do that
  3. We form our belief

As it turns out, here’s how we actually form abstract beliefs:

  1. We hear something;
  2. We believe it to be true;
  3. Only sometimes later, if we have the time or inclination, we think about it and vet it

(As it were, I found myself just believing this, before catching myself and asking whether it was true or now. It passes muster, though, now that I think about it)

We should actually strive to be wrong; we learn faster that way

From this GQ interview of Annie Duke She realized: “I’m going to be a faster learner if I’m not so afraid of being wrong. I’m actually going to learn more quickly because I’m going to be less likely to be swatting away information and trying to fend it off in defense of my own self narrative.”

Why science improves so quickly

In published papers, we share methods of gathering and analyzing data, the data itself, and our confidence in the data. This allows the premises of the experiment to be replicated and checked. It also performs a very helpful function of indicating our confidence in the results (via p-values—defined in the book as “the probability one would expect to get the result that was actually observed (akin to declaring your confidence on a scale of 0-10)” and confidence intervals” -> Look up p-values and confidence intervals

We examine ourselves like scientists, really naive scientists

“Self-serving bias” is the term for how we typically examine and mine our past experiences for lessons: we take credit for the good stuff (“skill”) and blame the bad stuff on external factors (“luck”) We study our outcomes like scientists, but like naive scientists, because we look for a plausible reason that ALSO fits our wishes: “it is usually a reason that flatters us, puts us in a good light” (as an example of this, in a study of auto accidents, in 75% of the accounts, the victims blamed someone else. Most remarkably, in /single-vehicle accidents/, 37% of the drivers found a way to blame someone else)

Duke calls this inability to tease apart skill and luck—or in the example above, our inability to attribute it properly—a “fielding error”. In the filtering we do in our minds, we incorrectly decide that an outcome was because of luck or skill. The risks of this are twofold:

  1. Blaming bad outcomes on luck means we miss opportunities to examine our decisions and make more accurate future bets to improve
  2. Perhaps less intuitively, taking credit for good outcomes means we will often reinforce decisions that shouldn’t be reinforced—we’re attributing lucky situations that broke our way to our own skill and actions, and so double down on bets that maybe shouldn’t have worked

Resulting, revisited. Post-hoc analysis runs the risk of fielding errors: attributing bad outcomes to luck and good outcomes to skills, which leads us to change our betting style in the future (aka "resulting")

The best way to cut down on this is to deconstruct decisions before an outcome is known: attorneys evaluate trial strategy before the verdict comes n. Sales teams evaluate strategy before learning whether they’ve closed the sale. Make it a habit when seeking advice to give the details without revealing the outcome

Is it possible to use this when talking about interviews? Should I give the outcome first for positive stories and hide the outcome for negative stories (e.g. weaknesses)?

Various examples / analogies