Category: The known unknown

How the Future of Text Content Should Be

Pic: source

As our attention spans go from low to almost non-existent in an increasingly noisy world, I get especially wary whenever I need to read a verbose report. Especially ones with unusually large paragraphs. You know it might be important, but just the way it is structured makes it very difficult to read to the end. Not to mention all those hours of sleep you missed over the years seems to visit you all together.

When texting friends or colleagues about topics of interest, I tend to type some longish messages myself. But what I have been doing, is structuring them in a manner that I think makes it a little easier for someone to read. I’m not exactly sure how effective it is, but in my opinion, going forward, it might be easier for people to read text content across platforms (websites, news articles, blog posts, social media posts, tweets, etc.) if you toss the traditional paragraph and format it the way I have been…

This here is a paragraph I pasted from the Creative Commons site. And below it is the same paragraph in my ‘attempt to make it more readable’ format…

Original Format:
Use Creative Commons tools to help share your work. Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give your permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice. You can adopt one of our licenses by sharing on a platform, or choosing a license below.

How I think it should be to make it easier to read+understand:
Use Creative Commons tools
to help share your work.
Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses
provide a simple, standardized way
to give your permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice.
You can adopt one of our licenses
by sharing on a platform,
or choosing a license below.

While this format would be horrible to available space and formats and layouts we are familiar with, it might just help your audience better understand more complex thoughts you are trying to convey.


Even Flow

Image: source

In the past few months, I happened to come across some books and a lot of articles around habits.
What at least some of us who struggle to build a good habit (or get rid of a bad one) assume, is that habits are like finding a nice, quiet spot somewhere (at a beach, in the bus, or at the park). That once it’s done, it’s done.

What happens sometimes though, is that once you’ve found that spot, it suddenly gets noisy or crowded. Could be a group of people speaking loudly. Or someone on the phone, who forgets it is the phone’s job to transfer their voice to the person at the other end of the call, and instead they take it upon themselves to. Sometimes you can ask people to be quiet or more away, sometimes you can’t. So then you need to consider finding another ‘nice, quiet’ spot. And if you do, that spot might present its own set of distractions. So what started as a clear, single objective of finding a nice quiet spot, turns into a journey of staying in a nice quiet spot. I’d assume that’s how attempting to create habits is.

And I recently read the book ‘Flow’, where the author talks of something similar in the pursuit of flow – that it is not a destination that one arrives at, but rather a state that one must put effort into maintaining, despite internal distractions and worries, and despite changing and uncontrollable external environments.

About regular corrections or adjustments needed to stay on course. Like that saying, “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” Those of us who manage to roll with the punches, succeed with our habit or attaining flow. And those of us who don’t, are still assuming it is a destination rather than a journey.
[Random musings]

The ‘Sample Size of One’ Concept Simplified

Given my growing interest in behavioural science and behavioural economics, when there was quite some news about the replication crisis in the field, it got me wondering if there might be a better way to undertake studies so that they remain relevant, if not replicable.

The thought was triggered by a random interaction in the market [read here], and I shared more thoughts towards finding a solution in a subsequent post [read here].

I also shared the two posts with three respected behavioural scientists+economists, who felt my concept might work. And given that I’m not formally from their field, they didn’t have any professional obligation to suffer a fool. So their nods came as a reassurance that I might be headed in a positive direction.

It was still challenging conveying the problem and my solution concept to people. So I started working on a simpler way to do that, and here it is. Let me know if you still have questions or doubts.


What Might Automotive Lights Look Like in Future?

When it comes to automotive light designs, a few occasionally catch your eye.
Like the sweeping indicator lights from some years ago. Those still are impressive. I think Audi SUVs were among the first to have them.

And you occasionally see some very strange designs. Like those on the Toyota Innova Crysta. What I call vampire taillights.

That said, indicator lights on a lot of vehicles seem a bit too small to be safely spotted at a distance.

And in general, most headlights and taillights are beginning to look boring and similar now.
Got me wondering if designers were close to exhausting shape/ design possibilities with the current technology?
They seem to have tried most imaginable possibilities in triangular, circular and trapezoidal.

If I were to predict what might be next in automotive light design, I’d imagine they will be light modules covered by the vehicle body, allowing designers to play with more shapes/ patterns by cutting out the body itself, without being limited by the available lighting tech and shapes, or ending up looking similar to the competition.

Pic: source

There have been aftermarket products like this chrome-effect, ABS Plastic cover above, that addresses this need. But perhaps going forward, it will become an integrated part of the manufacturing process itself, making use of the car body to create more unique light cluster designs.

Do you feel there’s room for improvement in the existing vehicle lights cluster?

A 2020 Hyundai Sonata here with interesting but not completely unique taillights.
Pic: AutoGuide

Counterintuitiveness – Psyched vs Calm

Pic: source

Counterintuitive Series: Psyched vs Calm

Counterintuitiveness makes life more interesting. It also briefly reveals gaps or lags in our understanding or mindsets.

From time to time, life demands that we get charged for something. Could be the commencement of a big project, a project with a tight deadline, a school or college assignment due the next morning, a job interview, and so on. And we feel the need to get psyched about it. Get in the zone, get charged up, and whatever other phrases there are for it.

And there seem to ways to do it to. The most common of course, being chugging down an energy drink or copious amounts of coffee.

The only problem with many of these methods, is there is a guaranteed crash after the initial ‘charge’. And sometimes, that can be worse than not having consumed or performed whatever ‘charge-up’ action. Like staying up all night working on the assignment and falling asleep in the morning and ending missing class itself. Or worse.

Calming down seems to have more than the same benefits that ‘charging up’ options offer, but without the subsequent crash.

But that’s the tough bit at least I often grapple with. The calming down. Most people suggest meditation, though that is sometimes easier said than done.

A few things that work for me, include standing against a wall or cupboard for a minute. Or lying down in a reclined position with arms stretched out and closing eyes for a minute or two.

And of course, brain dumps really work. Writing down each and every thought and to-do that comes to mind.

Before complex or creative projects, even a short nap helps clear the head and even make sense of some of the complexity.

Compared to the psych-you-up options, calmer ways to get in the zone often provide similar (or better) results, are more efficient, make you expend less energy, and are effective longer.

Leaving you with my favourite counterintuitive trivia question for some years now:

Q: Fighter jets normally take-off off aircraft carriers at a speed of around 270 km/hr.
What might be the approximate speed at which they approach the aircraft carrier to land?+

A: Most of us would imagine they would approach to land on an aircraft carrier at a much lower speed, given the short runway on the carrier. However, they approach at take-off speeds (~270 km/hr) or higher, because if they miss all of usually four arresting cables on the carrier that help it stop, they would need to take-off before they reach the end.

For more posts on ‘counterintuitiveness‘.

And remember, as US Marines probably say..

‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.’

+ except aircraft like the Harrier, Osprey, some F-35s and such of course.

Counterintuitiveness – Babies Resisting Sleep

Counterintuitive Series: Babies resisting sleep

Counterintuitiveness makes life more interesting. It also briefly reveals gaps or lags in our understanding or mindsets.

This particular one is a hypothesis and not an example (yet at least), but let me have your views or experiences on it.

Pic: source

A lot of parents of young kids nowadays, both friends and family, grumble about the time it takes to put their kid to sleep at a reasonable hour. And this seems to be a common occurrence across the world. One could perhaps attribute it to two factors. First, for many of us, our lifestyle and work-life balance has us sleeping much later than our parents’ generation did. And secondly, each new generation seems smarter and generally more curious than the previous. And the average kid nowadays has so much more information around to soak up.

However, it did get me wondering about the practice of putting kids to sleep. Nowadays, parents are often very gentle when patting the backs or bottoms of their kids to sleep. And kids really fight sleep. Leading to a tug-of-war between the two, often leaving both a bit grumpy.

Back in the day, parents or grandparents seemed to pat kids slightly less gently, something I thought was odd at the time. You’d wonder if they were trying to put the kid to sleep, or wake it up.

But it now makes me wonder if the overly gentle pat causes kids to resist sleep even more.
Stay with me on this thought for a moment.

Kids naturally tend to be a little rebellious when something is in conflict with their natural interest.
The gentle pat comes across as a request to sleep, something they don’t want to do, even if tired. So they resist, sometimes taking a really long time to fall asleep, to the displeasure of the parent.

Pic: source

The older generation’s firmer pats seemed counterintuitive. While intending to put the kid to sleep, they almost partially woke the drowsy kid. And therefore, seemed to conflict less with, or almost align with, the kid’s intention to stay awake.
Would this let the kid not resist sleep as much, and sleep faster?
Could it be that in our natural tendency to be gentler, we have added to the problem?
I don’t know. But hey, food for thought.

Click here for more posts on ‘counterintuitiveness‘.

Counterintuitiveness – Unhurried Conversations

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Counterintuitiveness – Unhurried conversations

Counterintuitiveness makes life more interesting. It also briefly reveals gaps or lags in our understanding or mindsets.

Some weeks ago, I chanced upon a virtual session titled “Unhurried Conversations about Rule-breaking”, hosted by Johnnie Moore and Tim Pilbrow.
Often, virtual sessions are mostly unidirectional. And interactions either lack many questions, or have a subtle tug-of-war, with participants trying to get their message across. This was far from both.

The session started with an overview by the hosts, followed by participants heading to breakout rooms, equipped with some simple rules:
When someone is speaking, avoid interrupting.
When speaking, you can take your sweet time. And once done, hold up an object to convey the same, so someone else can then speak.

The lack of pressure to squeeze one’s point across, or blurt it out so as not to take up much time, was refreshing.

It felt like there was more than sufficient time for everyone to share multiple views, stories and opinions, which in themselves were extremely insightful. And the best bit, there was the respect, both when everyone spoke, and when everyone listened.
And everyone’s understanding of the topic seemed to evolve nicely in this supportive environment.

In all, very different from both high-pressure group discussion type environments, and the no-questions kind we are used to.

With a fixed timeline, interactions and meetings with these rules could perhaps be far more effective. Thanks to Johnnie and Tim!

Click here for more posts on ‘counterintuitiveness‘.

Counterintuitiveness – Pre-rinsing Dishes

Counterintuitiveness makes life more interesting. It also briefly reveals gaps or lags in our understanding or mindsets.

A recent article, and probably many before that, states how pre-rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher actually reduces the cleansing quality.
Modern dishwashers have sensors that gauge the degree of dirt and adjust the amount of cleaning accordingly.
So the old, habitual pre-rinsing could trick the machine into thinking a mild clean should suffice.

But for those of you who own dishwashers and are used to mildly rinsing your dishes in advance, you surely sense this huge internal conflict each time you are done eating and before you put those plates and cutlery in the machine.

pix: source

In Hope of a Better World

Pic: source
In light of the current Russian war on Ukraine, and similar tensions and wars over the past decades that have left thousands dead, millions homeless and helpless.. here’s stating some obvious thoughts that many are thinking about, but few seem to be saying.
Paraphrasing a recent article on the retail landscape in India, that somehow also captured global turmoil and big bully politicians of some developed nations well:
‘Our country boasts of one of the biggest success stories in capital-guzzling modern retail in recent years, where the largest retail businesses raised billions of dollars in investment. And yet, smaller firms that feed and clothe majority of our citizens, and employ more people than Vietnam’s population, stay restricted by USD 400 billion in unmet credit needs.’
This seems to be a common pattern. The largest of startups, even with questionable business models, receive plenty of VC investments, but the banking system seems tough on the smaller businesses with more humble business models, even though they collectively cater to far greater customers.
Or how a tiny percentage of most countries’ population holds 80+% of the wealth.
Which brings me to a thought.
Currently, big bully politicians in some developed countries dictating which countries get to have nuclear technology and which don’t.
Instead, what if these big bully politicians’ countries completely dismantled their nuclear stockpiles? And we could see if the world gets any closer to peace, contrary to what their best ‘well-meaning’ efforts have managed over decades.
Thomas Jefferson famously said, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.”
Which brings me to another thought.
Instead of refreshing the tree of liberty, what if fresh seeds were sown? And the old tree uprooted from time to time?
What if politicians and political parties in all countries had a fixed term. Politicians served for a prescribed number of years. And political parties too were shut down after a few decades. The young generation would create a new political party and politicians.
In the current world, many political parties have become bigger and more profitable than most businesses. Ideology-clashes between politicians and political parties and even political ideologies has led to wars and tensions that have left thousands dead, millions displaced, their homes, culture, dreams and families destroyed.
With fixed term politicians and political parties, all the bad blood and grudges, along with the more sinister propaganda and defense profiteering will have a definite end date.
Even the well-meaning, but biased and toothless global peace organizations could pave the way for new ones. Ones where all countries have an equal voice and an equal vote. It cannot be a democracy if a peace organization is reduced to a group of elites who feel as pig Napoleon did when it revised the final rule to read, ‘All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’.
Current big bully politicians of a few countries only force countries to constantly increase their defense budgets. And that, from mankind’s perspective, is the most absurd investment ever. Do you and your neighbour annually build bigger and stronger walls and protection between your homes out of tension from each other? Yet as nations, this has been normalized.
If countries of the world could try this, we might know if the world sees some of that peace that everyone seems to talk of?
Pic: source

Sample Size of One: Towards a Possible Solution

This post explores an alternative to fix the replication crisis (particularly in the behavioural science and economics fields, and if relevant, in other fields too). This post is in continuation to an earlier post titled Sample Size of One: The Rose Negotiations. It would help to read that one first before coming to this one.
What can we do to solve our human desire to create or find patterns and thumb rules to how we function? Or to find keys to getting humans to behave in a particular manner, be it to drive a more healthy culture, or improve finance sense among populations. Especially when few patterns exist. And when our desire might be overly simplifying a pattern which might be far broader than what we might want it to be.
Here is a broad suggestion towards what a possible solution looked like, at least in my head.
Consider a “hypothetical” scenario where a group of researchers wants to find the effects of an ‘opt-in/opt-out response’ for organ donation.
Up until now, behavioural economists or scientists would identify a large, diverse study group of volunteers, and conduct the experiment. Let’s suppose at the end of the study, they found that 70% of respondents opt for the organ donation program when the form requires them to physically opt-out of organ donation.
Now, a non-profit across the world tries this tactic on a local population, but perhaps has a less than encouraging (and far less than a 70% success rate) outcome. This leads to questioning the research findings, and the broader hue and cry around the reproducibility and replicability of such studies/ experiments.
For a moment, consider currencies. They are always fluctuating, and there is a definite exchange rate to convert between any two currencies at at a given point in time.
Or consider diverse marketplaces across the world. Any single product would be differently priced in these different marketplaces. And within a single market, the price variance might not be too much. But it might vary if you went to a market in the next village.
Coming back to trying to find an alternative to traditional experiments that try to find thumb rules to then apply to social or business causes.
The alternative I see, is where the economist or scientist creates a simple experiment or study around the hypothesis they would like to test. They would then put it on an online platform (and share it with their colleagues and counterparts across the world, who would then deploy it among local populations).
The experiment would be introduced via a website. Deployment could be done online with voluntary participants, or random people. The experiments would run in perpetuity (hence online), and results of the same would keep evolving over time and geographies.
The outcome for the same opt-in/ opt-out hypothesis with this alternate deployment might look something like this:
The experiment is designed to be unbiased, simple (easy to deploy without the original team of researchers being physically present), and yet robust enough to provide meaningful data.
The results of this experiment would not be captured as a single value (like 70% in the first hypothetical scenario), but rather as a function of (age/sex/location/study response/point in time).
As a result, what the outcome might look like, is diverse data points from across the world at diverse points in time.
It is possible that patterns will emerge in localized groups, or even at a nation-level for some experiments (since respondents or the general population might share a similar national history, current political and economic environment, and similar fears and concerns – whether it is about inflation, unemployment, or a multitude of other variables that were possibly getting ignored when a research study focused on finding a thumb rule.
With a global, perpetual study, for the same opt-in/ opt-out experiment, we might perhaps get results like an average of about 65% in Mumbai, India, but a 20% on the outskirts of Mangalore, India, and maybe even an 80% in Itanagar, India.
That way, researchers and anyone trying to use these research findings would be mindful that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all finding. But rather that perhaps (cautiously), one might expect to get a similar response to an organ donation campaign in a town in Country 1 and a city in Country 2, because their outcome values over a particular period of time have been similar.
And these values that emerge across individuals and locations are not fixed values. They are ever-evolving, to reflect the evolution of humans in a particular society, given the context of its changing sociopolitical and socioeconomic landscape, among other variables. So perhaps the same individuals too could participate in the same experiment multiple times over the years, with different results. In that sense, it would be similar to taking an IQ test or an MBTI test.
Which means, the same non-profit that is driving an organ donation exercise in a particular country in a particular year, would refer to the current result outcomes for different parts of that country, to determine what strategies they might have to employ (government intervention, financial incentives, etc.), towards driving a more successful change effort.
An obvious extension of this proposed solution will be coming to a post soon.
In the meantime, it was still challenging conveying the problem and my solution concept to people. So I started working on a simpler way to do that, and here it is.
#SampleSizeOfOne #BehaviouralScience #BehaviouralEconomics
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