#65 Arguing online is a form of turn-based combat
Lessons from Paul Graham, Steven Krug, Schopenhauer, Scott Adams and more
In “What doesn't seem like work”, Paul Graham provides an interesting heuristic to identify what kind of work you should do. Here’s a summary of his argument:
Few people know so early or so certainly what they want to work on. But talking to my father reminded me of a heuristic the rest of us can use. If something that seems like work to other people doesn't seem like work to you, that's something you're well suited for.
I’ve always found that anything that I enjoyed doing (no matter how hard or mundane it was) I have done a great job at it. It’s been decently rewarding and fulfilling as well. What more can I ask for!
And with that quick note, we’re off to today’s learnings.
1. Happy Talk Must Die
Steven Krug’s “Don’t make me think” is a highly recommended book on web usability. I’m yet to read it. Last week, Sketchplanations linked this snippet from the book":
We all know happy talk when we see it: it's the introductory text that's supposed to welcome us to the site and tell us how great it is, or to tell us what we're about to see in the section we just entered.
If you're not sure whether something is happy talk, there's one sure-fire test: if you listen very closely while you're reading it, you can actually hear a tiny voice in the back of your head saying "Blah blah blah blah blah…”
Happy talk is like small talk – content free, basically just a way to be sociable. But most web users don't have time for small talk; they want to get right to the beef. You can – and should – eliminate as much happy talk as possible.
I’ve made this mistake in this newsletter too, I’m sure. What do you think my “happy talk” parts are?
2. 38 ways to win an argument
Schopenhauer's 38 stratagems are excerpts from Arthur Schopenhauer’s book "The Art of Controversy". These were written somewhere in the early part of the 19th century and seem to hold true even today.
Sample a few and you will know why do I say so:
Carry your opponent's proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it. The more general your opponent's statement becomes, the more objections you can find against it. The more restricted and narrow his or her propositions remain, the easier they are to defend by him or her.
Use different meanings of your opponent's words to refute his or her argument.
If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the contrary. Only one valid contradiction is needed to overthrow the opponent's proposition.
3. Things you’re allowed to do
In post #22, I had briefly covered Milan Cvitkovic’s “Things you're allowed to do”. It surfaced again in my reading list and I revisited it. And so you’re seeing it again here.
Here’re a few things I’ve added to my list of things to remember:
Say “I don’t know” or “I don’t have an opinion” when you don’t
First, figure out how much your time is really worth to you, and then act/spend accordingly
Approach a person or group you admire and ask whether they want to cofound something with you
Hire someone just as an excuse to make yourself complete a project
4. Design Principles
Design Principles is an open source collection of Design Principles and methods. I have gone through only a couple of entries of known brands & products so far. Some of the principles are very commonly known & used - no matter how they are described or titled. However, most companies have a few very unique things as well. Execution apart, this unique element may be the reason behind what they are and offer to the world.
Here’s a couple of good ones that I found in the list so far:
“Ten things we know to be true” from Google. The title speaks for itself. I loved the framing in this list.
Shneiderman's "Eight golden rules of interface design" has highly practical inputs on the topic.
The 10,000 year clock. The idea and then the guidelines to create it, this one shows a complex project also needs very fundamental building blocks.
5. Lessons from Scott Adams
Farnam Street recently did a quick book summary post on “How to fail at almost everything and still win big” by Scott Adams. Here’s one of the key observations from the post - “Among the unlikely truths he offers, you’ll discover that goals are for losers, passion is bullshit, and mediocre skills can make you valuable.”
Here’re my top 2 from the 10 things that the post covered.
Don’t read the news for truth - I don’t read the news to find truth, as that would be a foolish waste of time. I read the news to broaden my exposure to new topics and patterns that make my brain more efficient in general and to enjoy myself, because learning interesting things increases my energy and makes me feel optimistic.
Change your mind - [Y]ou shouldn’t hesitate to modify your perceptions to whatever makes you happy, because you’re probably wrong about the underlying nature of reality anyway.
Patrick Collison maintains a list of Questions that he finds interesting. Here’s a sample from the page:
Why are certain things getting so much more expensive?
What's the successor to the book? And how could books be improved?
Why are programming environments still so primitive?
What does religion cause?
This page and the list is intriguing on many fronts. The diversity & width of topics is insane. The questions are at a level of simplicity that they are actually intimidating.
How can one be thinking about so many different things at this level?
On a side note, his website & this page is so ‘old school’! Paul Graham’s blog is another such example.
7. Everything else
Some random goodness from the internet:
Follow: Lucy Jean Green (@nameandcolour) is a Kinetic artist and Paper sculptor. Those flying birds are just out of this world.
Watch: NEOM | The Line (super interesting design, never thought a line could be an option), “17th Century Watercolors” & “Iconographic Encyclopædia from 19th century” (kudos to the original creators and now the archivist who have painstakingly created this beautiful visual delight)
Read: “Shape of safety” (and a couple more related article on airplanes linked in the post), “Scandalous history of the cubic formula” (secretive work, fearless competition and more), “Water bottles and comedian on stage” (one of those obvious questions that no one asked)
Interact: Emoji kitchen browser - an emoji plus an emoji equals to a lot of fun. Hats off to the creator of this fun tool.
Before we sign off, here’s a quick cheat sheet for becoming better (h/t STOA newsletter).
That's all for this week, folks!
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