Hey you! Yes, you, who has made or participated in a gift to someone in the last month. What have you given, really? It’s likely you’ve given a physical object, a possession that the receiver now has to provide space and care for. One could say, you’ve stolen time from the receiver, because you’ve added to their presumably already huge mountain of stuff, which is becoming increasingly harder to manage. Stuff is a burden. More stuff is a bigger burden. Don’t give that to your friends!
I know that’s a bleak picture I’m painting. But it’s true.
If you really want to make a gift, you basically have two options: the first is to give an experience, not a thing. The second is to ask what the receiver needs and get them exactly that and nothing more, in the highest quality you can afford. But if I’m the potential receiver, the best option remains: don’t gift me anything.
Saving the planet is hard. It involves many big decisions, and difficult ones at that. So I want to help you with a few impactful actions you can take to start moving in the right direction.
Consume less. Maybe even choose a smaller place to live, which will have a huge impact on your CO2 emissions. Think hard before you buy anything: will it really bring you joy for a long time? Whenever you really need to buy anything, get the best quality you can possibly afford, because it will last longer and be more repairable. The Konmari Method might help you on this path (it helped me greatly). Minimalism might also be a fit for you.
Compensate your CO2 emissions. Use a service like PrimaClima to compensate every last bit of your emissions at least 1×. Going for 2× would be great of course (compensating two tons for every ton you emit), or an even higher amount. But start with 1×. If you read this, you can probably afford 175 Euro per person per year. This compensation mechanism ensures that we rich countries channel money to poorer countries with the explicit goal of preventing them to emit as much as we did when we were getting rich.
Now, there are a few things you shouldn’t do:
Don’t vote green and be done with it. Green parties everywhere are more ideologic than scientific. They might have the right goals, but often propose methods that are proven to not work. So if you do vote green, make sure to also help them to get their science right.
Don’t buy organic and be done with it. The organic movement is more ideologic than scientific. Many measures of organic farming are worse for the environment than non organic farming. GMOs might be our saviour regarding sustainable agriculture, but the organic movement hates GMOs (for no scientific reason). Instead of blindly going for organic food, aim for sustainability by eating locally grown, seasonal food.
Don’t fly often. Treasure the rare occasions where you do fly, and make sure to compensate the CO2 emissions (remember, compensating 2× is better than 1×).
Recently, I’ve thought a lot about what I can contribute to the world. Here’s what I came up with:
Be an example for simple living. Minimalism fits me well, I think, and it’s still a movement that hasn’t fully caught on. I can do and talk about this first step towards achieving a culture of quality. I have a long way to go, though.
Co-lead an exemplary company. From what I hear, many work places still have a strongly or at least a somewhat toxic culture. I think I am already doing better than most others. But there’s a long way to go as well, towards higher quality, sustainability and an even more respectful and stress free culture.
Promote reason over ideology. As a skeptic, I always try to value facts and reason over ideology and misinformation. We skeptics are precious few, but I think I can work towards spreading the scientific mindset more and more.
Raise a thoughtful next generation. It seems that after the baby boomers, my generation is the first that wants to stop consumerism, pollution and even climate change. I hope I can teach my offspring to be eloquent advocates for the planet, empathic people and inexorable skeptics.
If we look at quantity and quality as opposite, our current culture falls squarely on the extreme quantity end.
- We value ten crappy toys over one great toy.
- We value a high salary over a fulfilling job.
- We value cheap clothing that only lasts a few months over crafted clothes that last years.
- We value large flats full of stuff over small flats with only few items that we love.
- We value a never ending, opinionated news feed over few, well researched books.
- We value complex software with many features over focused software that does one thing really well.
- We value ten mediocre cakes at a party over two really awesome ones.
- We value a large social network over having any real friends.
I could go on like this for a long time, but I think I made my point. We value quantity over quality — everywhere. We need to change that, because this focus on quantity has two main drawbacks.
Firstly, quantity over everything means we produce more than we need, but need to replace it soon because is wasn’t made well. Ever growing seas of trash are the result. What if, instead of owning twenty sweaters, we own only four but those will last ten times as long? What if, instead of publishing every crappy story, our news media would research more and only publish what they know to be true? What if we wouldn’t buy so much, because we love every item that we have, and therefore need a smaller flat and a lower salary — freeing us to accept more fulfilling jobs, less working hours and improve our quality of life?
Secondly, if quantity is our goal, we will stress ourselves and each other out much more. When we try to create more more more, we can’t keep working at the same speed. We need to constantly accelerate. Imagine instead that quality is the goal and quantity is irrelevant. Now, we can live and work in a relaxed way and have time for retrospective thoughts, which will allow us to improve quality, so we can produce better goods and services, not more.
“Oh but the economy!” I head you say. “We need the growth.” Ok I give you growth: let’s create more more more … quality!
Every few years, someone comes along, captures an important aspect of myself and makes it visible to me.
Richard Dawkins made my realize my love for Biology and science in general, with his many writings. He also helped me uncover the fierce skeptic inside myself by being the unapologetic advocate for the truth that he is.
David Allen with Getting Things Done nudged me into the great habits of keeping inboxes and zeroing them frequently. This amplified the calmness I was born with and allowed me to stay relaxed and productive ever since I read his book.
Kenji López-Alt facilitated the discovery that I really like cooking. His scientific approach resonated deeply with me — and it doesn’t hurt that using this approach, I can actually produce food that tastes delicious!
Susan Cain with her book Quiet helped me rediscover my personality. Reading it, I gave myself more permission to be my introverted self, and not try to be more extroverted all the time. Now, I can better play to my strengths, which was — I think — her goal.
Ray Mears helped me to reiterate my love for nature and the great outdoors. Also, while I like to be the person who has everything they need with them, he helped me realize that the more you know, the less you carry, which is true literally and figuratively.
Sam Harris is almost candor itself. He made me understand and strengthen my listening skills. He deeply understands his opponent’s views and arguments before usually uprooting the best version of their argument with a more thoughtful counterpoint. That is also what I strive to do.
Tom Greever with his book Articulating Design Decisions helped me level up my skills as a designer and project manager. His down-to-earth, trustful and strategic approach to design is one that I have made my own now.
Marie Kondo, in her public persona, is an embodiment of calmness. I’ve realized that stuff was a problem for a long time. Her approach of tidying reflects my sense of order and simplicity — and makes it actionable. This is a prerequisite for my inner calmness, which I’m still in the process of restoring.
Because of these people, I’ve noticed and sharpened different aspects of myself. Thank you!
Zero days are an idea from the long distance hiking community. After we walked 30+ kilometers a day for a few days in a row, our bodies need time to relax, and we take a zero day, a day where we walk zero kilometers. Makes sense, right?
For me, zero days make sense in almost any context. But especially for work. Taking a zero day from work, where we don’t touch or think about any work-related task, is a great way to move forward in said work in the long run. If we work every day, all day, we’ll lose sight of what we’re doing it for. We’re losing sight of the bigger picture.
A zero day of a hike is a time to contemplate where we are, why are there and with whom we enjoy sharing this experience. It’s almost like a prolonged retrospective, where we’re forced to reflect on things because we’re not allowed to make any direct progress.
So there we go. It’s holiday time soon. Time to sit down, relax, and enjoy retrospective thoughts, without the need to make progress. Time to take a few zero days.
“If only I had done X, this would have never happened.” Why would you think that? Wishful thinking, perhaps, because it allows you to imagine a simple reality where one action would have such clear consequences? We as humans seem to be magically drawn to counterfactual statements of the form ”If A would have been different, B would be different, too.“. We’re assuming a causal relationship between A and B. This allows us to imaginatively control the uncontrollable—the reality that didn’t happen.
The problem is, we never know what would have happened, because we didn’t try to really change A and only A. The name for these statements, counterfactuals, is perfectly on point. The statement is contra-to-fact, it contradicts reality—it’s false by definition.
For me, this is a rare case where being able to put a name on it made all the difference. Whenever I hear a counterfactual statement now, my mind raises a red flag and I know to critically examine the statement, because it’s probably false.
It’s consistently weird to me how many decisions parents can—and sometimes have to—make for their children.
For example, my wife and I can choose to indoctrinate our child into a religion of our choosing. Although some religions are less harmful than others, it is morally reprehensible to put that kind of stamp on a child before they can decide for themselves. Like for alcohol or drugs, a minimum age for religion sounds like a good idea to me.
Another choice we face is the kind of kindergarten or school we pick for our child. There are quite a few options with unscientific or even anti-scientific pedagogic concepts, like Montessori or Waldorf. Going to such a school would set our son back years, at least in regards of critical thinking, but quite certainly also in other areas.
We can also choose to not vaccinate our child, thereby not giving him basic immunisation against common or dangerous diseases. This will harm him, but it will also harm other people around him, who might not be able to be vaccinated. We’re all legally allowed to skip vaccinations for us or our children. But if you are doing just that, please get off this planet—you’re a danger to humanity.
Why did we set up a culture with these freedoms? Yes, at first glance, these are freedoms of choice. But at closer inspection, your freedom to indoctrinate your child is severely limiting their spiritual and philosophical freedom. Your freedom to not vaccinate your child is hurting their health and the health of their peers. Your freedom to pick a crackpot school for your child is stifling their potential, and thus their freedom to become the best person they can be. Morally, we already aren’t allowed to limit our children in that way. So why are we legally allowed to do so?
Bushcraft is having fun in the forest without using technology. That’s my understanding, at least. Like any outdoor activity, it has its unique characteristics. Doing Bushcraft is slow, for example. You don’t want to exert yourself, because working up a sweat means you have to dry your clothes and you need to collect more water. So Bushcraft is relaxed. It’s is also defined by reducing everything to the bare minimum: no need for a gas stove when a fire suffices. No need for a tent when a tarp is enough. This reduction means that the more you know, the less you carry: knowledge about using your environment and available materials means you need to take less equipment.
I love this slowed down, deliberate way of being, which heavily relies on skills and knowledge. I call it the Bushcraft Mode. Like the martial ways, the benefits of the Bushcraft Mode extend far beyond its immediate practice.
Applying it on the job, for example, could mean thinking fast and planning well, but working slowly and deliberately. It can mean focusing on quality and the application of all my knowledge in contrast to the dreaded ASAP culture where doing comes before thinking. Working in Bushcraft Mode is slow enough that you can be ready for any situation. Just because you’ve had the time to prepare. It can lead to doing the right thing because you’ve taken the time to gather all the knowledge, instead of trucking on in the wrong direction because you need to reach that milestone by tomorrow.
To apply the Bushcraft Mode in my private life can mean focusing less on stuff and more on friends, less on owning many things and more on knowing how to skillfully use everything I own. It can mean using my environment to get creative instead of buying more stuff. Cooking in this mode, I will use few high-quality ingredients—and take my time and produce something simple but great.
For me, operating in Bushcraft Mode is akin to a rediscovery of slowness. Of quality. Of deliberation. Of taking time to do things right.
On my best man’s wedding, his best man gave a presentation. Because as a consultant, that’s what he’s used to do, in order to structure his thoughts. As a coder, I’m using my text editor with markdown to structure my thoughts. Alternatively, as a UX designer, I’m using pen & paper sketches. Previously, I experimented with mind maps, outliners (which are more limited than markdown) and todo applications.
Structuring our thoughts outside our mind is necessary for any problem more complex than making tea. I wonder why so few good tools exist. Let me consider some drawbacks of the above solutions:
- With the exception of mindmaps and pen & paper, they are linear and don’t allow annotating the all important links between distant topics.
- Most methods focus on prose, which is often cumbersome. More visual approaches can be much quicker.
- Presentation software is made to share thoughts, not to structure them for oneself, so the focus is wrong.
The ideal tool to support my thinking would meet the following three requirements:
- Non-linearity: Reordering topics and links between topics must be possible.
- Time-sensitivity: It must be possible to see in which order the separate parts were created in order to retrace the though process later.
- Visuality: There must be a way to incorporate sketches, scribbles or even pictures from other sources.
So far, I don’t know any tool that combine these three. Pen & paper sketches are non-linear, but not time-sensitive. Presentations are visual, but linear. Text documents are none of the above. Mindmaps are non-linear, but not time-sensitive and rarely visual.
The way we structure our thoughts is critical in order to solve any complex problem. I, for one, am gonna spend more time improving my tools and methods here, since that’s what’s worked in many other related scenarios, e. g. for coding, designing or presenting.