3 New Ideas 💡
The Signalling-Utility Spectrum 🏎
It seems that with the popularity of NFTs - a new form of showing ownership of something made exclusive by scarcity - signalling and its place in our psychology and decision-making seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Every purchase has a purpose and Nat Eliason explains that the various reasons that motivate our spending on consumer goods can be split into two buckets: signalling and utility.
Contrasting the example of a $5 white t-shirt bought almost entirely for its tangible utility (giving us something to cover our bare skin) with that of a $100+ t-shirt sold by Kanye West (where value is added in the form status/signalling), Nat describes the signalling-utility spectrum upon which all consumer goods - everything from our $5 t-shirt and iPhones to a college degree or Lamborghini - can be placed on.
A useful model for being mindful and examining what hidden motives might be motivating our consumption.
The Resource-Scarce Algorithm 🍔
As a species, we developed in an environment scarce in things like food, information and other rewards which, as a result, we evolved to crave.
Today, this world order that our brain’s circuitry is wired to compete in has largely been flipped on its head to give us one of abundance.
The danger of this shift lies in the fact that our maximising cravings can now be met in a way that goes beyond the point of requirement.
This overconsumption can be seen everywhere including in our calorie-rich diets (food), need for content (information) and addictive tendencies (rewards) and is the problem with running what Justin Kan describes as the resource-scarce algorithm in a resource-abundant world.
This idea that our primitive brains have desires which are misaligned with what we want at a higher level (long-term goals) comes up a lot, but I found the phrasing a useful reminder of that fact to think of in situations where I’m reaching for the (metaphorical or not) slice of cake that is hard to resist.
Negative Visualisation 🥽
Negative visualisation is the practice of intentionally surfacing our worst fears and imagining all the things that could go wrong with future courses of action.
Often associated with stoic philosophy, this practice encourages us to be prepared for all the bad things that we might otherwise want to optimistically ignore by visualising and planning out what we would do in those cases.
Somewhere on the internet, I heard the story of Michael Phelps swimming the 200m butterfly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. As the story goes, Phelps’ unsecured goggles started to fill with water as the race began, blocking his vision as he flew in and out of the water across the pool. A nightmare of a situation for any swimmer going after his 1-in-every-4-year chance of standing on the podium, Phelps went on to win the race and even set a new world record in the process.
What earned Phelps the gold medal that day wasn’t optimism, luck or pure talent (at least not entirely), it was a preparedness that made his performance nothing other than an execution on one of the countless simulations he had run in his head for what he would do if things went wrong.
Hope for the best but prepare for (and picture) the worst.
3 Favourite Saves 💾
The Value Chain of the Open Metaverse is an edition of Packy McCormick’s Not Boring newsletter in which he describes the prospects and implications of a world where our lives are lived in virtual space. He explains how the emerging Web 3.0 ecosystem could encourage the development of a metaverse of interconnected worlds (think Ready Player One) and how existing business models will be replaced with ones where we value ownership of digital goods (think Fortnite skins or Prada outfits for our virtual avatars to wear) that act more like physical ones. Hard to do the topic justice in a few sentences but definitely worth the read.
Justin Kan has been mentioned a few times in this newsletter due to his podcast The Quest, but in this interview with Ali Abdaal, Justin is on the receiving end of the questions. He shares insights on his life and motivations, describing the importance of mindfulness and how it can fit with our ambition and desire for success. The two cover a lot of ground over the course of the interview, discussing amongst other things: what motivations drove their different pursuits of accomplishment; what comes after ‘success’; what happiness looks like when viewing the bigger picture; and what new priorities are guiding them down their current paths.
How I Approach the Toughest Decisions is a Medium post from former-POTUS Barack Obama where he talks about how the responsibilities of the oval office forced him to develop a framework for decision-making that he could fall back on in the absence of any certainty. Describing tense moments from his early presidency - including the path to recovery from the 2008 financial crisis and deciding whether to deploy troops to Afghanistan - he stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with people whose advice you can trust, listening to all voices in the room, taking time to breathe, and weighing your personal values. As Obama’s mother told him: “The world is complicated, Bar. That’s why it’s interesting.”
3 Quotes to Think About 📝
“We would worry less about what others think of us if we realised how seldom they do.” - Ethel Barrett
“We bring our whole selves to the decisions we make. And those decisions, in turn, both reflect and determine who we are.” - Barack Obama, How I Approach the Toughest Decisions
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” - Francis Chan
This is an excerpt from my weekly newsletter Sunday Saves. You can start receiving a curated list of insights by signing up here: