Why smart people come up with bad ideas

I recently made an observation, a very smart person I know blurted out an idea in a meeting and was convinced the idea ended the conversation.

The person who blurted out the idea is very smart, but the idea was not very good. I’ve seen great organisations implement bad ideas many — many — times. But this time I asked myself: why does this happen? What causes brilliant people to jump on bad ideas, and take decisive actions that are clearly not great?

My hypothesis was that stress causes us to believe that the real linchpin in a situation is having an idea, any idea, of what to do next. As if an idea was all it took to solve problems.

I wrote a Twitter thread about it to see if anyone else had similar experience. It turns out a lot of people do.

I’ve made an observation recently, and I’d love to hear if you’ve seen the same? People who are stressed (very busy) tend to believe ideas are more valuable than they really are.

Jesper Bylund
Turns out a most people see this behaviour

Some very smart people chimed in with their own experiences and it seemed like I had stumbled upon an important insight. Then my friend Fredrik offered this insightful reframe of the behaviour:

It could be rephrased like this, people who are very busy think in basics. Speed at the cost of depths and I wholly agree with your observations

Fredrik Paulin

This reframe is powerful because it removes the emotional component from the idea completely. This behaviour is not something that some people do. It’s not an error that pops up as the side effect of fuzzy thinking. It’s a classic error that is innate to humans, blank and white thinking.

To avoid this behaviour myself in the future I want to define this problem as follows.


Stress causes humans to think in basics. Which means we’re grasping for straws, and an idea that seems to solve the problem, no matter how badly, is preferable to not making a decision.

A side effect of this behaviour is a tendency to believe ideas are more valuable than execution. Because by choosing an idea, the stressed human believes they have taken action.

Do it

I don’t know how much time I waste preparing to act, if you’re anything like me, you probably spend a lot of time on busy work that looks like action.

It’s even harder to break away from when everyone wants to sell you tactics on moving forward, but that’s just more busywork.

Here’s my new mantra, feel free to email me more examples and I’ll add them to the list:

  • You can try to learn about the thing you want to do, but then you need to do it.
  • You can prepare to do the work, but then you do it.
  • You can research forever, or you can do it.
  • You can theorise, or do it.
  • You can do practice, but then you do it.
  • You can plan all you want, but you need to do it.
  • You can do the routine, incite the muse, and pray to god. But then you still need to do it.

Taking action is the goal. The rest is decoration.

Let’s not get suckered in by everyone selling us another ten step plan, quick action guide, checklist for success. Let’s just do it.

2020 in review

2020 looked like it was going to be an amazing year. I was expecting to make a lot of money, start at least one business, and travel a LOT…

Well you know what happened. Covid.

So instead, I got a job. Worked from home. And headed into what might’ve been a short depression. The year turned out really well in the end. But man, what a roller coaster it has been.

  1. Timeline of Events
  2. What I learned
  3. Fitness & Health

Timeline of Events


January I was working hard as hell, trying to keep it together running a small product team at a video infrastructure company.

February I was looking for new gigs and starting to worry about acquaintances getting increasingly hysterical online about this virus spreading around Asia. We still went out and saw friends.

March the lockdowns started. Now Sweden never locked down, but we were asked to keep their distance and wash their hands often. Well everyone not only did that, but most people went full on prepping mode, and quarantined at home. The capitol of Sweden even ran out of toilet paper, for some reason I still can’t understand. The place was a ghost town. I was really worried how this would hit the economy (people don’t have savings in socialist Sweden) so we did cautiously go out a few times and were shouted at by close friends… Despite following all recommendations from the public health authority. It was a strange month.

April was pretty much all closed. We were both working from home, which we usually do anyway, but the city was deserted. We did check into a luxury hotel for my birthday since all the hotel chains dumped their prices.


May finally brought the light back. We had some lovely sunny days during April, but in May it was finally getting Luke warm. I think the entire country celebrated finally being able to be outside, even being able to socialise (at a distance).
I also started a job at a huge grocery chain, working on the in-house toolset to manage grocery stores. Turns out there was some confusion about what my role was supposed to be, more designer or more developer. But I didn’t know that until much later.

June was unusually warm, a wonderful summer month! I even went swimming on my lunch hour. We met friends outside, had a champagne tasting and spent some time in the archipelago.
Oh, and I bought a hat.

July was full on summer. Since we can’t travel anywhere we took Mondays and Fridays off all of July and hung out with every friend that dared, and ate a lot of gelato.

August was unusually cold. We were at a couple of cray fish parties and I got very tired of video meetings. Actually it’s not the video that I had issues with, just unproductive meetings in general.


September was beautiful. But for us it was terribly sad, as Agnes father passed away suddenly. We spent as much time as we could with her family, but life can never be the same.

October had the last few warm days of the year. I tried to soak it all up. But it’s never enough.
We had a beautiful, corona safe, funeral for Agnes father.
I also had a health issue, with another blood clot appearing, despite eating blood thinners. Which isn’t great. And required some radical rethinking of my situation.


November was the month of change. To make time to work on my health, and my entrepreneurial things, I quit my job I only just started in May. It was a good job, with a good team. But I didn’t have my mind in a long term change process, and I needed something else. As if on cue, my friend Annelie asks me to join her company for a period to help out with some big technical projects. So I jump in at 80% time. Keeping 20% time to work on my own.

December became the cosiest month since my nephews discovered xmas. We celebrated Agnes’ birthday, every advent Sunday, and Christmas twice. The entire month was a blur of cozy Christmas celebrations.

What I Learned

Like every year, I’ve learned a lot. Too much to summarise effectively. But a few things have really stood out to me.

Alcohol is bullshit. I drink too much. Actually everybody does. We’ve had two sober months this year and I’ve always known I feel better without alcohol, but I didn’t know how big the difference was… It’s huge. So I’ve cut down to nearly nothing, and I’m really happy about it.

I’m old, and scared of success. I’ve been working on building my own projects and products since around the start of the millennium. But I’ve learned this year that I’m spending most of my time preparing and researching action instead of trying things. Well it’s time to change that. I want to create things, and life is ticking away.

How much risk is reasonable? My friend Annelie has a great mental model: how much risk would I take, if I were a Chinese entrepreneur? This really brings me clarity. I’m very under-leveraged. I should take on a lot more risk, and worry a lot less.

Sweden bores me. My best friends are international, I don’t like the climate here, not the natural one nor the intellectual one. So we’ve decided we’re moving to Berlin when the lockdowns end.

Health & Fitness

I put my money where my mouth is and paid an excellent trainer, and it has helped, but I’m also uncomfortably fat right now. I have nothing to blame but boredom.

My health is sadly not perfect. I’ve been getting more blood clots and I’m not a permanent high dose of blood thinners. It’s hard to know what this means. The doctors don’t really want to talk about what happens after something like this.

I’m probably not dying right now. Which is good.
But I think this will kill me. And probably much earlier than I would have otherwise died. I need to act accordingly.

Ten days without coffee

Last year my fiancé Agnes lived without caffeine for 10 days to see how it would affect her, I wanted to try it myself.

Her research showed that 10 days should be enough to go completely off caffeine, including withdrawals.
This intrigued me, as an avid coffee drinker since high school. I’ve never thought of giving coffee up, I haven’t seen the point. But I have to ask myself, am I really enjoying coffee, or is it an addiction? Can I even function as a human without caffeine, or will I get terrible withdrawals? Time to find out.

I’m doing this during the darkest months of the year in Stockholm (Sweden), so we only get a few hours of light every day. Will I stop being productive? Will I snap at people? I’m a little worried to be honest, but also excited to find out!

Day one, Monday 2021.01.18

Almost lunchtime and so far so good. The morning wasn’t bad at all but I’m feel a little drowsy and slow.

To be clear, I’m not naturally a morning person, but I am really strict with my sleep schedule because I had insomnia growing up.

Afternoon meetings were really hard to focus on. Felt oddly warm and comfortable, and almost dozed off more than once.

Day two, Tuesday 2021.01.19

Morning felt fine. Felt sluggish at lunch, but that could just be my normal lunch time coma.

Feeling some slight headache coming and going. And warmer than usual. I’m naturally always cold. Temperatures under 25C is just not for me. But I don’t know if caffeine withdrawal can have this effect?

The headache persisted the entire day. Just getting slowly worse until I went to bed.

Day three, Wednesday 2021.01.20

Not a great day. I woke up at 4am from a headache and couldn’t fall back asleep. Felt ok all morning, but then after lunch something strange happened…

I feel great. I feel awake. Like I’ve just had a pot of coffee without the jitters. This is really odd.

Day four, Thursday 2021.01.21

I feel great! Not what I’d call energetic, but I’m not tired at all. I feel calmer, and warmer, than usual. This is actually quite great, though I do miss drinking coffee.

I can’t believe how many drinks have caffeine in them. The only warm drink without caffeine I’ve found was some fancy red tea that smells and tastes like bubble gum. They haven’t been a great substitute… Also its warmer today which helps.

Day five, Friday 2021.01.22

I don’t feel as good as yesterday. But I still feel surprisingly springy in the morning. I discovered they serve decaf espresso at a local coffee shop, which really helps still the hunger for drinking something warm.

Day six & seven, weekend

I felt great. Energetic, focused, and calm. Woke up hungover one morning and that was annoying but still no real craving for coffee.

Day eight, Monday 2021.01.25

I slept well. Woke up early and had a massively productive day. Was focused without hardly a break from 8am to 9pm. And I felt great!

Day nine, Tuesday 2021.01.26

Slept badly and really feeling like I need a coffee. But oddly, as the days goes on, I need it less and less. Actually feeling pretty springy and energetic now at 2pm. This was rarely the case when I was drinking coffee.

Day ten, Wednesday 2021.01.27

That’s it, this is the last day. I did it! And it’s strange.

Feels like this wasn’t as hard as I had thought it would be. Almost like I wanted there to be more problems? Which is a strange thing to want.

I feel great though. I feel rested, and despite a few bad nights I’m not very tired during the day.
When I do get tired, it feels more like a calm sleepiness rather than the abrupt mental cliffs I experienced before.

I’m excited about having coffee again. But also kind of worried how it will make me feel. I’ll have to follow this up with a post about going back on coffee.

The Fairytale of eternal economic growth

“Fairytales of eternal economic growth.” is how Greta Thunberg depicted the mindset at the United Nations in 2019.

This echoes a famous quote by the cherished natural historian David Attenborough:
“Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a planet with finite resources is either a madman or an economist.”

Doubtless you’ve heard many variations of this apparent truism.
It’s catchy, and for good reason. It seems to capture the core problem in a pithy phrase.

It’s a perfect summary of an incorrect world view, leading to all sorts of problems. But it’s the world view of these two lovely people that is incorrect. To understand why, we need to become a little bit economically literate. Bear with me!

Economic growth does mean we create more stuff to consume. This is the issue as Greta and David understand it, and so far they’re right. But if we create stuff at outrageous expense we’re not achieving economic growth. That’s where this pithy phrase breaks down completely.

If you pay someone $200 to build you a chair, that you then sell for $100, you are $100 worse off. The economy shrank, not grew. That’s what economic growth means. Creating more value than you put in. The world economy is a lot more complex than this example, but it still works the same way.

Economic Growth means doing more, with less.

Greta and David are not entirely wrong. But their world view is incorrect. Infinite economic growth can indeed take place in a finite world. In fact you could say that it must take place. That if we do not create infinite economic growth, we will run out of resources.

This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with working for a better environment, or any other public good. These are laudable goals. But it does mean that we need to work for these things economically. We can’t save one acre of the Amazon at the expense of two acres. This is obvious.

Less obvious but equally true is that we can’t save one acre of the Amazon at a greater monetary expense than it’s worth. Because the end result would be the same; we’d run out of resources and lose the Amazon as well. So necessarily environmentalism must also create economic growth, otherwise it’s unsustainable.

The faulty truism Greta and David are selling is a self fulfilling prophesy. Resources are only finite if they succeed in slowing down economic growth.

How to use Google Optimize with NextJS

This guide will show you how I’ve gotten Google Optimize experiments to run properly on a NextJS site, without doing any advanced implementation.

Google Optimize can help you test improvements to your site, but it’s most effective when you don’t need to interrupt developers to add new scripts to your site codebase for every test. Unfortunately creating tests using Optimize’s editor for a site that uses reactive frameworks can create errors.

I’ve found two common categories of errors that pop up when you run Optimize tests on a NextJS site:

Error crashes your site

When your test is previewed you can either see your test blink, or not show up at all, or the site crashes.

Why does this happen?

Your test is probably editing HTML on the page. Causing the reactive framework to develop errors when it rerenders that part of the screen.

How to work around it:

To work around this problem you can constrain yourself to adding HTMLmoving HTML, or adding CSS, but not changing or removing HTML.

Error where a test never starts, or gets zero traffic

When you preview tour test it either never starts, or it’s shown on every page regardless of URL or trigger. When published the test either never starts of the alternative get’s no traffic.

Why does this happen?

NextJS, and other JS frameworks, can send new pages from the server (server side rendered, or first page draw), or render new pages with new URLs directly in the browser. Unfortunately, rendering new pages in the browser does not trigger the same window events as server render, specifically Page Load.

How to work around it:

Add a specific event to your site Router. There are tons of examples on how to setup Routers for every framework our there, a good developer should solve it in an hour, and you only have to do this once.

Specifically we add an event on navigation in your Router, we call one using Google DataLayer to specifically support Google Tag Manager. This is the code we run: window.dataLayer.push({'event': 'pageView'});

Then trigger your experiments on Custom Event: pageView instead of PageLoad and they’ll all work like you intended.

Good luck, and let me know if you have any problems with this!

How to move from Squarespace to Eleventy

A personal blog isn’t worth $100 a year. That’s the thought that struck me when it was time to renew my squarespace subscription a few months ago. Instead I decided to move to something more light weight.

I didn’t want WordPress, I’ve used WP a lot over the years and I’ve increasingly felt it’s old school to the point of being annoying. So I went with simple text files, and used Eleventy to render those into web pages (thanks to TDH for the tips about Eleventy).

Then it just became a struggle of finding out how to move from Squarespace to Elventy. This is how.

Export your stuff from Squarespace

Squarespace has a lot of special features. And they haven’t spent a lot of time making sure you can export it. Instead we’ll have to rely on the standard: WordPress. All your pages and blogs will be exported properly. I have no idea about anything else.

This only works before you cancel your subscription!

  1. Log into your squarespace account
  2. Click the site you want to move.
    The site you want to export
  3. Click Settings, then Advanced, then Import/Export.
    Find export in the advanced menu
  4. Choose which blog should be your main one, this correlates to what WP knows as the post type “post”. The others will get custom post types based on their URL format, in my case “journal” and “talks”.
    Choose a feed to use as main blog
  5. Click export again
  6. Wait while Squarespace creates the export XML file. This can take quite a while, since they seem to batch these export jobs in the background.
  7. Hit the download button and save your export.xml file.
    Just press download

Now comes the tricky part. If you want to import this site into a new WordPress installation, it works just like a normal WordPress import:
8. Open your WordPress admin
9. You might need to add support for custom post types corresponding with any blog feed you exported before you run the import. If you need to, here’s a guide.
10. Go to tools and click import
11. If needed, install the plugin for importing wordpress xml files.
12. Find your export.xml file and import.
13. Done!

But if you’re not interested in WordPress, and like me would like to move to a flat file cms like eleventy?

Import your stuff into Eleventy

  1. Download this brilliant WordPress to Markdown script by Will Boyd.
  2. Install Node.js so you can run the script.
  3. Move your export.xml into the script folder
  4. Open a terminal and navigate to the script folder and run the following command: npx wordpress-export-to-markdown. For advanced choices see the script guide on Will’s GitHub repo.
  5. Make sure to use the --save-attached-imagesoption so you download all the images from your old site. Otherwise these will be lost when you close your Squarespace subscription.
  6. The /output folder created is your entire site, exported as flat files.
  7. Run npx degit 11ty/eleventy-base-blog my-11ty-project && cd my-11ty-projectfrom the terminal to set up a new blog using eleventy.
  8. Copy the /output folder over into  /posts in your eleventy folder.
  9. Navigate your terminal to the eleventy folder and run npm install and then npx eleventy --serve and that’s it! Your Eleventy export is done!

That’s it! Hope this quick guide helps you get started.

I’d also recommend using Vercel to host it. Here’s the guide for taking it live with their excellent Now service.

Splitting the web in two?

I just read Tom MacWright’s excellent post Clean starts for the web which argues that the web stack has gotten so convoluted, so expensive to maintain browsers for, that it might be time for a clean start.

At one point Tom mentions:

My first thought is that there are two webs:
The document web
The “application” web

The document being the old school web; wikipedia and news sites, and the application web being all the JS heavy SPAs like Facebook and Netflix.

I think this is an excellent point. There really is a difference between creating documents on the web, and creating interactive tools. One should be simple, one can be allowed to be complex. But I think we’re failing as web developers to imagine tools for creating documents. It’s so much easier to post a tweet, publish a tiktok video or send a snap, than it is to publish a document online.
Which is madness. If we want a living, thriving, open, web and not a series of walled gardens I think it’s time to start taking this seriously.

Improve your thinking with a Cognitive Behavioral Journal

I strive to be less wrong, and I think I’ve discovered a tool that makes the process a bit more measurable.

I recently finished The Coddling of the American Mind, an interesting book I’ll post about later. In the Coddling the authors outline the general process of how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works, and it was much simpler than I had thought.

This surprised me because while I’ve never participated in CBT, I studied Cognitive Psychology in collage. Which I guess just contrasts the difference between learning about something, and experiencing that something.

So I started using it to consciously improve my thinking. It’s a very simple practice, and I encourage you to try it as you read:

  1. Identify when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, write down which thoughts are anxiety inducing or overwhelming.
    Example: I had a blood clot recently and I’m afraid it’s limiting my lifestyle permanently.

  2. Think about what emotions underlie your anxiety or overwhelm, write it down. There’s always some emotion behind the thoughts. Always.
    Ex: I’m afraid of being Limited.

  3. Write down a score of how strong that emotion is between 0 and 100. Ex: 80

  4. Identify any common cognitive distortions that are present in your current thinking.
    Ex: Overgeneralization.

  5. Now restate the original thoughts without those cognitive distortions.
    Ex: I will have to learn how to live with the ramifications of a blood clot. As far as I know, I’ll just be on weak blood thinners for life. I can still do anything I want.

  6. Finally put down a new score of how strong the emotional impact is now, after you restated the thought.
    Ex: 20.

That’s it.

Repeating this 6 step process should make a noticeable difference in how one reacts to emotional triggers.

More importantly, to me, it’s a measurable way to improve my own thought process. I can revisit my journal and consciously learn from the errors I make. Practically see how often I find specific mistakes in my thinking, and how should be thinking. Practicing more accurate ways of thought instead of unknowingly repeat the same mistakes.

If this interests you, try it! And let me know what your experience was.

Derek Sivers on creativity

Derek Sivers is a very interesting thinker, which is why I was not surprised when I heard this amazing insight on an episode of the Yo! podcast.

I think creativity is overrated. I almost don’t believe in it. Because what’s obvious to you, is amazing to others. All right, like, other people’s creations always seem so impressive. They seem like genius. We think like, how did they do that? How did they come up with that? That’s brilliant. The thing is, those creators know the source of their inspiration. They know that they nicked a color from here, a shape from there, an idea from this and that. And they just mixed it together in some way that’s maybe unique, maybe not.

So to them, it’s not that impressive. If you don’t feel creative, welcome to the club. Nobody is. They’re just spitting out combinations of things they’ve taken in. And other people are the ones who call it creative. So my advice to people to unlock creativity is really just go put things out into the world. Like, any old things. Not impressive things, just anything. […] So just go copy things and other people will call it original and will call it creative.

— Derek Sivers

This is a clear case of “truth staring you in the face”. When you actually know all the sources, all the combinations and edits, nothing feels creative. There’s no point in trying to be original. Because what is creative, or original, will never be obvious from the perspective of the creator. Only from the outside.