The anti-conspiracy theory

In literature and movies there's an archetype, a certain type of character, that I enjoy; the antihero. 

An antihero or antiheroine is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, and morality. (Wikipedia)

The antihero usually portrays how a slightly more realistic person would react in situations in need of heroism.

These days conspiracy theories are both abundant and constantly heckled. Something about great mysterious behind-the-curtain players who try to mastermind humanity into their evil machinations speak to us. It probably makes us feel like the underdogs, or heroes, of our daily situations.

The anti-conspiracy theory would, like the antihero, explain all the same facts and results as the conspiracy theory. But instead of grand masterminds hiding in the shadows, the antagonists world be plodding middle managers doing a series of dumb things to further their immediate, and often political, claims. With little or no thought about the actual results their actions have.

Basically, the road to hell paved with good intentions.

"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
(Hanlon's razor)

    A perfect example of this story arc would be Ayn Rands much debated Atlas Shrugged. The story is often ridiculed for over-the-top heroes and a utopian view of rationalism. While most of those criticisms are pot shots at an author that never really mastered the English language, they completely miss the main plot of the story; in Atlas Shrugged the world is ruined by a series of bumbling idiots trying to pursue their own political power and ideals. To effects all to common in our own world. It's an alternative narrative to why things are so messed up, taken to an extreme.

    It doesn't really matter if you think Atlas Shrugged is a good book or a terrible one (I love the book for it's contrarian world view, but the author was not a very good writer). But the way the story is built up, the narrative, is a perfect anti-conspiracy theory. 

    The next time you hear a conspiracy theory, try turning it into an anti-conspiracy theory and see if that story doesn't work a little bit better. 

      Lifestyle design: iteration two

      I’ve spent 20 days trying to follow the routine I set up in iteration one. It didn’t work.

      Well maybe that is a bit dramatic. It didn’t work as expected, but I learned a lot about how time tracking an entire life really works. As usual, I’ve been slightly too enthusiastic. So I need to tweak my formulea based on what I’ve learned.

      What I learned one: Sleep is hard

      I planned to sleep 8 hours and spend an aditional 1 hour per day in bed to relax.
      I mananged an average 6 hours of sleep and I felt like shit. I was lucky if I spent more than ten minutes relaxing before I needed to sleep.
      This isn’t really a fault in planning, just an observation that I’m not disciplined enough. I need that sleep. It’s the foundation of everything else.

      What I learned two: No one works 8 hours a day

      Now when I say work I mean active time being productive. Since all my work is digital I’ve been able to track every minute of work. And let me tell you, whenever someone says they work more than 40 hours a week, what they really mean is they spend that time in proximity to work.

      • At 4 hours a day I work great. A lot of things get done and I’m nice to collegues.
      • At 6 hours a day I work sporadically. Some things get done but I get easily distracted and I’m a bit of a grouch.
      • At 8 hours a day I don’t work well. Little things get under my skin. My solutions are equally brilliant and idiotic. I’m easily angered and everything stresses me out.
      • At 10 hours a day I’m mad. Everything pushes my blood pressure through the roof, and little real work gets done.

      Thankfully I also tracked the number of tasks that got done. I’ve edited out the small stuff and most of these tasks were about as much work.

      • At 10 hours: average of 4 tasks.
      • At 8 hours: average of 6-8 tasks.
      • At 6 hours: average of 12 tasks.
      • At 4 hours: average of 15-25 tasks...

      Working less apparently forces me to focus better. A lot better. In fact I’m slightly shocked at the difference.

      What I learned three: Media is not rest

      I had 3 hours of play, or rest, planned per day. But after 8 hours of focused work, I ried watching a movie or reading a book. Both of which made me even more tired. Media, it turns out, is not really that restful.

      We spend a lot of time with media, as relaxation, as a social event. So much time we take it for granted that we should. But at least for me, I’ve found that media doesn’t relax me at all. On the contrary, it keeps me focused and alert, spending more of my energy.

      Perhaps more media is not the answer.

      What I learned four: This is going to take forever

      I can’t keep testing this slowly. Or I will never find a balance that works. Thankfully a tip from my friend Michael gave me an alterantive strategy.

      From now on I will try to plan only the next day, and evaluate how it went each night. I’ll keep tracking my time and use Day One to plan and evaluate my days.

      What TV executives believe about their audience

      A few years back I was involved in redesigning a website for a TV channel in Sweden. What they told me gave me a profound insight into the minds of the networks. To bait your click, you won't believe what they believe. We met in a conference room in the networks main building. He was in charge of communications for several channels that belonged to the network. I was a junior employee at a highly regarded marketing agency.

      We sat down, three of us from the firm, and the TV exec, to discuss what we would be doing. We began by offering a series of ideas about how they could communicate their unique brands and shows, but the exec stopped us half way though.

      "No, no. You've got it all wrong." he said "this isn't why people watch our channel at all".

      We all leaned in. The exec launched into a vague pitch about what made them truly unique, summing it up in a phrase that is forever etched in my mind:

      "People stay with our channel, for our programming"

      I was confused. I didn't think he meant any coding was going on, but didn't understand the term, thankfully he explained it. In the view of the network, people tuned into to a channel, and stayed with that channel, because of their unique arrangement of shows and commercials. The programming, is their term for the schedule of material broadcast. Each show, each commercial break and even the ads themselves, are scheduled to reflect the overall feel of the TV channel. This is, according to him, why people like one channel over another.

      I was stunned by this. Not the information itself, I've always expected every media form to think like this to some degree, but by the thought that these executives actually believed that in the age of the internet.

      This was prior to Netflix launch in Sweden, but anyone who had seen any statistics about video usage online, or seen anyone using youtube or torrenting a movie knew that this was completely false. Not just ignorant, but incorrect almost to the point of lunacy. People find and watch specific content because they like that content. They might endure everything else, only if there's no easier way. But they do not choose their content by association.

      I walked away from that meeting in a stunned silence.

      Recently I think I have realized how this idea took shape. TV usage is measured by putting a box near your TV that records audio cues from the programs and commercials. This recorded data is later collected and aggregated to find statistically interesting patterns.

      The problem, like with most statistics, is of course that this collection method cannot measure intent. So if you were to turn on your TV while you do the dishes, and talk on the phone, and then see one program before you go to bed, you will be measured as staying with one channel for quite some time before jumping to a specific show and then turning off.

      Even though your intent was background noise while you do something else, the measurement is easily interpreted as you enjoying the channel and sticking to the programming.

      For that network, or at least that executive, the numbers were clear. Their unique programming was what kept people glued to the TV screen five hours every night.

      This is not a jab at TV, though they are aging rather badly, but a warning to all of us not to get caught forcing what we want users to think onto statistics, just because we believe our work to be important. Let's never become so arrogant we start believing our brand is more important than our product. In the end, every business is about creating value for your customer.

      (If anyone has similar insights into the TV industry, I'd LOVE to hear it. Please post in the comments below.)

      Lifestyle design: the plunge

      Getting started was much harder than expected. After I got past the first wave of fear & procrastination actual problems reared their ugly heads.

      "Problems"

      Now there are a lot of people who complain about this word; problems. They seem to believe that by admitting there is such a thing, we stop and give up.

      I’ve never believed that. I think we need to clearly state and define every problem and complication before we can do anything about them.

      In my experience, the people complaining about this word are the same people who are least likely to solve anything. I might be wrong about this, but it is interesting to note that the larger and more sluggish an organisation, the fewer problems they seem to communicate.

      Problems solved

      I have things I need to deal with to really get going. The first of these major hurdles I’ve just left in the dust. I’ve managed to clean up my debt and I’m back in the black. It took some radical action, but I’m actually better off now than I have been in years.

      Getting ready to celebrate

      Happy celebrations

      I also managed to celebrate my 31st birthday with a few of my dearest friends. We drank sparkling wine far into the night and both laughed and cries. There was also chocolate cake that might haunt me forever.

      Friends

      Thank you everyone, I really needed that.

      Lifestyle design: beginning somewhere

      This december my life changed dramatically. I transitioned from being a partner of the worlds best web agencies to what is essentially a normal, though mostly remote, developer job.
      Then suddenly, my intended life partner left me. We came to terms again but after months of tears, talks and moments of happiness we finally parted ways.

      So now I find myself in a situation usually refered to as a life crisis. But I’m not sure I would call it that.

      I’m not crushed. Just a bit sad.

      I am not powerless, but more empowered than ever before.

      So what now?

      Lifestyle design

      I’ve always wanted to design my own lifestyle. To try and define how parts of my life fit together. And I’ve had some success creating an unorthodox daily routine already. But now is the perfect time to try something a bit more interesting.

      I’m looking into every area of my life, to try to change basically everything, into something that is more me. I will post a step by step log here with my ideas, and my outcomes.

      I have no idea where this is going.

      But here’s my initial plan: Over the coming year, I will try to tackle one aspect of my life per week. Some might take many weeks. Some might take days. I expect most of these experiments to fail, but to be interesting nonetheless.

      If you have any ideas, I’d love to read them. I have a few already and will post about the first one shortly.


      Massimo Vignelli on focus groups

      It is one thing to believe something, and an entirely different animal to put that belief into an articulate argument for that belief. This quote by Vignelli explains the true issues of trusting focus groups and market testing.

      "I don’t believe in market research. I don’t believe in marketing the way it’s done in America. The American way of marketing is to answer to the wants of the customer instead of answering to the needs of the customer. The purpose of marketing should be to find needs — not to find wants.

      People do not know what they want. They barely know what they need, but they definitely do not know what they want. They’re conditioned by the limited imagination of what is possible. … Most of the time, focus groups are built on the pressure of ignorance." via BrainPickings

      Whenever someone asks me to do a focus group, I usually begin with asking that person what they want the focus group to answer. It is usually quite easy to guess the normal responses. Especially if the product or service is entirely new.

      It's not that the focus group isn't observant or brilliant, they quite often are. The problem stems from them not having enough time with the product or service to really give us the important information. And sadly we can't observe a tester for weeks.

      Don't confused with testing for quality assurance purposes, I've never seen a project without a few rough corners left, and that sort of testing is essential.