Category Archives: Books

Here Comes Everybody: Journalism and Ease of Publication

I’m reading “Here Comes Everybody“. I’m taking notes.

In the chapter “Everyone is a media outlet”, Clay explains very well what is the matter with the journalism industry. (He has since then co-authored a report on the future of the news industry, which I need to read.)

In a world where everyone is a publisher, journalism is becoming an activity rather than a profession — activity which can be carried out both by those employed by the news industry and the “amateurs” (oh heck). A profession serves to solve a hard problem, that requires specialisation. Reproduction, distribution, and categorisation are now orders of magnitude easier and cheaper than before: professionals are no longer required for these activities.

Look at iStockPhoto and professional photography: the price of professional photography not so much due to the incredible quality of the professional’s work, in many cases, but comes from the difficulty of finding the right photo. iStockPhoto helps solve that problem, so the photo now costs 1$ instead of 500$, can very well have been shot by an amateur, and be no lesser in quality than a more expensive, specially-commissioned professional one.

As it has become easier to publish, public speech and action have become more valuable and less scarce, just like the ability to read and write became more commonplace with the invention of movable type, and scribes lost their raison-d’être.

Journalism is a profession that seems to exist because of accidental scarcity of published material due to the expense of publishing in the physical world. Scarcity (and therefore cost) is not an indication of importance: water is more important to life than diamonds, but that doesn’t make it expensive (The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith).

When everybody had learned to read and write, and scribes weren’t needed anymore, we didn’t call everybody a scribe, we just stopped using the word; reading and writing is ubiquitous and so not rare enough to pay for, even if it’s a really important skill. Scribes as a profession died out.

As for music and movie industry: the service they performed was distributing music and movies, but now anybody can move music and video easily and cheaply. The problem they were solving does not exist anymore, and so they are trying to maintain it by turning on their customers and trying to make moving movies and music harder artificially.

Because it’s so easy to publish, making something public is less the momentous decision that it used to be. The general criticism of the low quality of online content has to do with the fact we are judging “communications” content (conversation, often) by “broadcast” content standards of interest and quality. We look at Facebook statuses and think “was that really worth broadcasting?” — not realising that it was never intended for broadcast in the first place. It was not meant for us. If you eavesdrop on a dining hall conversation at the table next to you, doubtless you’ll find it uninteresting, but you won’t think “why are they speaking so loud I can hear what they’re saying?”

There used to be a distinction between communications and broadcast media, which has now broken down. Broadcast is one-to-many, a one-way megaphone which attempts to reach as many people as possible of a target audience. Communications, on the other hand, are two-way conversations for specific recipients, one-to-one. Now we also have many-to-many, communications tools which enable group conversation. There is a continuum between broadcast and communications rather than a sharp break neatly following the lines of the technology used (TV/radio vs. phone/fax). Communications and broadcast are mixed in the same medium, and we make the mistake of judging communications by the standards of broadcast.

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Posted in Books, Connected Life, Media | Tagged auchalet, broadcast, clayshirky, communications, conversation, here comes everybody, journalism, scarcity, scribes | Leave a comment

Social Tools Allow Ridiculously Easy Group-Forming

More notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Both markets and organisations imply costs (transaction costs in large groups, labour required to maintain organisation). There are activities which simply don’t happen, because their cost is higher than their potential value both for markets and organisations. This is where social tools step in: they lower the cost of coordinating group action, and allow new forms of activities to appear.

Stuff that we find normal in 2013: if you stage a public event, photos of it will most certainly be made publicly available (through Flickr and the like) even if you do not hire a professional photographer or mandate people to collect photos. The social tool provides a cheap way for any person taking photos of the event for their personal satisfaction to add them to a public pool that anybody can draw from, through spontaneous tagging.

Under the Coasean floor: activities that are valuable to somebody but too expensive to be taken on in an institutional way, like aggregating amateur documentation of the London transit bombings. People have always had the desire to share, and the obstacles to sharing are now gone, so it happens.

When transaction costs are high, hierarchical organisations are the least bad solution for group action. If transaction costs drop a little, large organisations can afford to become larger, and small organisations appear where there were none, because they are now “cheap enough” to put in place. But when tools arrive which make transaction costs plummet, all kinds of group action which were impossible before are now happening outside of traditional organisations, in loosely structured groups, without managerial direction or profit motive.

Group undertakings: sharing, cooperation, collective action — by order of increasing difficulty.

Cooperation is more demanding than sharing because it requires changing one’s behaviour to synchronise with others (who are also doing the same thing). Conversation is an example. This makes me think of something I wanted to say about Facebook groups: groups where all that happens is people “sharing” stuff don’t take off. Sharing doesn’t really create a sense of community like conversation does. So if one wants a community of people, one must encourage conversation, which is more difficult to achieve than simple sharing. Collaborative production (cf. wikipedia, a potluck dinner, a barn raising) is another form of cooperation, more involved than conversation.

Collective action goes a step further, ambitioning to change something in the world, creating shared responsibility by tying the group and individual identities together. Action is taken “in the name of”. This comes with a share of governance issues, especially the larger the group. The shared vision of the group needs to be strong enough to keep the group together despite the tensions arising from individual disagreement on specific decisions.

Seb Paquet: ridiculously easy group-forming. This reminds me of an O’Reilly book that I read during my year in India (I read a number of O’Reilly books there, purchased in Indian editions and therefore compatible with my student’s budget): Practical Internet Groupware. It was an eye-opener, and much of the stuff in there is still true nearly 15 years later.

Says Clay Shirky (quoting!):

Ridiculously easy group-forming matters because the desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct that has always been constrained by transaction costs. Now that group-forming has gone from hard to ridiculously easy, we are seeing an explosion of experiments with new groups and new kinds of groups.

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Posted in Books, Connected Life, Understanding life and the world | Tagged auchalet, collaboration, collaborative production, collective action, cooperation, group action, group activities, groups, here comes everybody, online communities, sharing, transaction costs | 1 Comment

Delivering Happiness: A Book to Read on Running a Happy Profitable Business

I have just finished reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh. It’s a much “lighter” read than “Here Comes Everybody”, though the lessons it delivers are just as profound. Whereas Clay Shirky’s book has points to make, supported by stories, Tony Hsieh’s is the story of Zappos and his own, making points along the way.

When I was working at Orange during the end of my studies, I used to say that if I ever ran a business, it would be unsustainable because my first priority would be to make it a good workplace, which cared about its employees. Zappos seems to have achieved that, and at the same time managed to be sustainable and profitable. It’s not a “despite that”, either. It’s pretty clear that what has allowed Zappos to survive and be profitable is it’s concern about treating people well — both outside its walls and in.

I see echoes of my quest over the last years in Tony’s interest in happiness. What makes us happy? How can we organise our lives and businesses to have more of that?

My distaste for much of the corporate world has all to do with the fact it values profit over people. The story of Zappos shows us it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to create a workplace where there is a higher purpose than profit, where profit is a means to preserving the culture and “tribe” of the company.

Reading “Delivering Happiness” has moved me a step further towards understanding the importance of brands. For me, the word “brand has a distasteful ring to it, because I guess it’s so often associated with a certain type of marketing and hollow messages. Seeing brand as the external flip side of company culture actually makes perfect sense, and might help me develop some of my thinking about my own brand (I know I have one), the eclau brand, the Going Solo brand, etc. A brand doesn’t have to be artificial.

If you’re interested in an inspiring story of building a business based on trust, values, personality, growth, happiness, purpose, transparency, and authenticity, read this book. You won’t regret those few hours of your life. And buy an extra copy to leave lying around at work.

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Posted in Books, Corporate | Tagged auchalet, business, happiness, human business, zappos | Leave a comment

La pile de livres aspirationnelle: se construire un champ des possibles

[en] About the aspirational pile of books that I brought to the chalet with me.

Note: comme la plupart des billets que je publie ces jours, celui-ci a été écrit hors ligne durant ma petite retraite à la montagne.

Je suis au chalet, avec deux chats et une pile de livres, de quoi lire pendant probablement un mois. Une bonne douzaine. OK, un mois en ne faisant que lire.

J’en suis au premier bouquin que j’ai pris sur la pile. Entre-temps, j’ai quand même passé une demi-journée à trier/organiser mes photos (j’ai pris mon disque dur externe exprès) et je suis maintenant en train de rédiger mon 7e (septième!) article pour Climb to the Stars en quelques heures.

Pourquoi diable monter tant de livres pour quelques jours seulement? Je me suis posé la question. Je me la suis d’autant plus posé qu’on a abordé récemment avec Evren la question de la pile aspirationnelle de “choses à lire plus tard”. Je ne me leurre pas: cette pile de livres est totalement aspirationnelle.

Précisons tout de même que j’ai loué une voiture pour ma petite retraite à la montagne, ce qui me permet de ne pas trop me soucier du poids excédentaire de mes aspirations.

En fait, ce à quoi j’aspire, avec cette pile de livres, mon ordi plein de photos à trier, et mes doigts pleins d’articles à taper, c’est aussi le choix, le possible. Je veux être ici au chalet avec le choix de mes lectures, et non pas limitée et contrainte par un choix fait avant de venir.

Alors j’amène plus de livres que je ne peux lire. J’élargis un peu le choix. Je me laisse la liberté de suivre mon humeur. De butiner. C’est ce que je cherche un peu, ici loin de tout.

Chez moi, c’est un peu la même chose. Il y a dans ma bibliothèque plein de livres que je n’ai pas vus. Dans ma DVD-thèque (oui, encore, je sais) plein de films et de séries à regarder encore. Dans mon étagère vitrée, une bonne trentaine de thés.

Je veux être dans un contexte où j’ai le choix. Je peux sur un coup de tête lire ceci ou cela. Les habits et les chaussures, c’est sans doute la même chose — et les réserves dans le garde-manger.

Mais si on a lu The Paradox of Choice, on sait que cette liberté, ce choix ouvert auquel on aspire, eh bien il peut aussi être contre-productif. A trop devoir choisir on se fatigue. Trop de possibilités, ça angoisse.

On n’utilise qu’une petite partie des choix à notre disposition, et le reste pèse sur notre conscience. Ça me fait penser à cette étude où l’on demandait aux gens de planifier leurs menus sur un mois, et on comparait ensuite avec ce qu’ils mangeaient réellement. Pas trop de surprise: les menus “réels” étaient bien plus répétitifs que les menus théoriques. On croit qu’on va vouloir de la variété, mais en réalité, on aime aussi la répétition.

L’autre chose à laquelle ça me fait penser, cette histoire de pile aspirationnelle, c’est la bibliothèque d’Umberto Eco, dont il est question si ma mémoire ne me fait pas défaut dans “A Perfect Mess“, le parfait livre-compagnon à The Paradox of Choice cité plus haut. (Si c’est pas dans A Perfect Mess, c’est peut-être dans The Black Swan, autre livre indispensable.)

La bibliothèque la plus intéressante, c’est celle qui regorge de livres encore-non-lus. C’est elle qui contient peut-être le livre qui va bouleverser notre vie, mais qu’on n’a pas encore lu. (Plus j’y pense, plus il me semble que ça vient de The Black Swan, ce que je raconte.) Le potentiel pour le changement radical réside dans ce que l’on ne connaît pas encore.

Bon, ça rime à quoi, tout ça? Dans cette pile aspirationnelle, il y a plusieurs niveaux:

  • on aspire à un état où l’on aurait lu tout ça
  • on aspire à une liberté de choix qui, poussée à l’extrême, serait paralysante
  • on aspire à une vie où on aurait le temps de lire tout ça (le livre comme métaphore du temps de libre — même si on sait qu’on se prive activement d’avoir le temps de faire tout ce qu’on ferait si seulement on avait plus de temps)

En résumé: quatre jours au chalet, ce n’est pas assez!

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Posted in Books, Psychology | Tagged auchalet, bibliothèque, choix, lecture, liberté, livres, priorités, temps | 2 Comments

Here Comes Everybody: Organisations and Transaction Costs

[fr] Je lis "Here Comes Everybody" et je blogue mes notes. Un deuxième chapitre fascinant (en tous cas pour moi) sur les coûts organisationnels.

In an effort to be a better reader, here are some notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky‘s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Making a decision inside a large unstructured group is hopeless, as you’ve most certainly experienced if you’ve found yourself caught up in a spontaneous “dinner party group” of 15 people or so at the end of a conference (a larger group is more complex). What ends up happening is that somebody steps up and seizes power, either by dictating a venue and giving marching orders, or proposing a decision-making process for the group. If that doesn’t happen, you can bet that some group members will get tired of the situation and head off in their own separate sub-groups, in which it was possible to reach an agreement for action more easily. (I personally usually end up playing “friendly dictator”.)

“More is different” (Philip Anderson, 1972). Aggregates exhibit novel properties which their components did not have. Scale changes the nature of things. This is super important.

At some point of group size, it becomes very costly to maintain connection between each member of the group, and so the “everybody interacting with everybody” dynamic of a small group breaks down. Add more employees to a late project and it will make it even later, because more people involved means higher cost of coordination for the group (Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month). But it’s an inevitable problem: large groups have to be managed in some way, and that’s why people gather together into organisations.

A hierarchical structure simplifies communication between organisation members, but also requires resources to maintain itself. This means that job number one of any organisation is self-preservation, as if it breaks down there is no way in which it can fulfil its stated mission.

Preserving the organisation requires work, and comes at a cost. It’s worth it as long as this cost is lower than the gain from having an organisation (i.e., the organisation allows us to do stuff that would not be possible in an open market of individuals, who would all have to independently agree on how to work together: higher transaction costs).

The Coasean ceiling (Ronald Coase, 1937, The Nature of the Firm): when the organisation grows so much that the cost of managing the business destroys any profit margin. There is a cost whether your hierarchy is flat or deep: if it’s flat, each manager has more subordinates, and so has to spend more time communicating with other people; if it’s deep, there are more layers, and information has to transit through more people.

The first org chart, probably: Western Railroad (McCallum, 1855 or so). It’s a management system designed, amongst other things, to produce “such information, to be obtained through a system of daily reports and checks, that will not embarrass principal officers nor lessen their influence with their subordinates.” No wonder the head so often seems disconnected from the hands and feet in the organisation!

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Posted in Books, Connected Life | Tagged auchalet, coordination, firm, group action, group dynamics, here comes everybody, hierarchical, org chart, organisation | 2 Comments

Reading Like a Student

[fr] Envie de lire mieux. Je vais me remettre à prendre des notes, et les publier ici. C'est du boulot, mais j'apprendrai plus.

As I devour chapter after chapter of Here Comes Everybody, I find the intellectual high of reading and learning dampened by the foresight that a few days/weeks/months from now, what I have just read will have collapsed into the vague mushy pile of “what I know”, complete with shortcuts, sloppy thinking, lack of references or sources, incorrect recollection, and confirmation bias.

This has been my in satisfaction with reading lately. Realising that once the last page is turned, my main impulse is “gosh, I need to read this again so I can hold on to what I’ve just learned”. Much as it pains me, I’ve become a lazy and sloppy (yes, again that word) reader.

It wasn’t always so. I read tons of books during my studies. I took tons of notes. There were no iPhones around, no kindles, no digital versions. I didn’t even have a laptop. I took tons of notes on paper. I wrote summaries. I copied quotes. I read to remember, not for entertainment. I was expected to do something with what I had read.

Nowadays, I read freely. I photograph pages with important ideas and stick them in Evernote rather than painstakingly copying quotes (what a time-saver! makes it so easy to find the right page… if I remember what it was about).

I’m not thinking of going to back to copying quotes long-hand (I can’t really write by hand anymore, thanks to RSI, but that’s another blog post). However, I am thinking of taking my reading more seriously: summarising main ideas, taking notes. Only this time around, there is no reason for them to stay in offline notebooks gather dust: I have a blog for this. The fact that I’m strong-arming (!) a batch of MBA students to keep learning blogs during our partial module together is probably no stranger to this desire to reconnect with the “learning in progress” aspect of blogging.

Stay tuned.

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Posted in Blogging, Books | Tagged auchalet, learning, learning blog, notes, quotes, reading, student, studying | Leave a comment

Se raconter, laisser une trace: un peu de moi… pour toi

[en] A lovely book a friend of mine wrote -- a kind of guided biography to pass down to your children and grandchildren. In French and for sale in Switzerland at the moment, but it will shortly reach the rest of the French-speaking world and be translated in English.

Il fallait y penser: un livre pour se raconter, pour laisser une trace à ceux qui nous sont chers une fois que l’on ne sera plus là.

un peu de moi… pour toi 1

C’est Christine Wirz qui y a pensé. Christine est une copine de judo et d’uni. Comme moi, elle a perdu sa mère trop tôt: elle avait 13 ans. L’autre soir, elle m’a dit: “Qu’est-ce que ça aurait été différent pour nous, si on avait eu ça pour nos mamans.” Elle a bien raison. Quand les gens ne sont plus là, il y a tout un tas de choses qu’on ne peut plus leur demander.

un peu de moi… pour toi 2

Christine et Alessandra Marchetto ont publié à compte d’auteur, en créant albiziabooks (avec une page Facebook à aimer!). J’aurais fait le même choix. (Le monde est petit: c’est Corinne qui a fait l’intégration de leur site web, dans le plus grand secret.)

un peu de moi… pour toi 3

A temps pour Noël, ce très joli livre est disponible dans les librairies romandes (29 CHF). Ne tardez pas toutefois — même si le premier tirage a été important, je ne serais pas étonnée qu’il y ait rupture de stock avant les fêtes.

un peu de moi… pour toi 4

un peu de moi… pour toi 5

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Posted in Books, My corner of the world | Tagged albiziabooks, biographie, christine wirz, générations, Livre, souvenir, un peu de toi... pour moi | Leave a comment

Books Read in 2011

[fr] La liste des livres que j'ai lus en 2011 (entre crochets... pas encore finis!)

Last year, I stumbled upon a blog which had a list of a books the blogger had read over the last year. I cannot for the life of me remember who it is. I do remember, though, that I asked him how he did it. He told me he kept a running list in which he added each new book he started, between brackets — and removed the brackets when he’d finished reading the book. Or so I remember, and so I did.

Some books have comments after them, in brackets too. Almost all the “started” books are still “ongoing” — as you can see, I’m somebody who has many many books going at once. It can take me over a year to get through certain books. But I rarely abandon them mid-way forever, though I’m starting to do that now with certain books I find disappointing. This list is somewhat chronological.

  • Apprendre à vivre, Luc Ferry [life-changing]
  • Illium, Dan Simmons
  • Olympos, Dan Simmons
  • Elephants on Acid, Alex Boese
  • Les Miscellanées du chat (*partial)
  • Does Anything Eat Wasps?, ed. Mick O’Hare
  • Madhouse, ed. Urmilla Deshpande, Bakul Desai
  • Je croyais qu’il suffisait de t’aimer, Jacques Salomé
  • Tales From Firozsha Baag, Rohinton Mistry
  • Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • What You Can Change… and What You Can’t, Martin Seligman
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
  • Simon’s Cat, Simon Tofield
  • Zima Blue, Alastair Reynolds
  • [Mediocre But Arrogant, Abhijit Bhadhuri]
  • The Dip, Seth Godin [disappointing]
  • Eat That Frog!, Brian Tracy [disappointing]
  • Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman [life-changing]
  • The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch
  • [The Power of Slow] [disappointing]
  • Indian Take-Away, Hardeep Singh Kohli [funny]
  • [The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson]
  • [Simon's Cat beyond the fence, Simon Tofield]
  • L’intimité au travail, Stefana Broadbent
  • How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer
  • [Confessions of a Public Speaker, Scott Berkun]
  • [Influence (the psychology of persuasion), Robert B. Cialdini]
  • Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  • Three-Legged Friends (and other animals in a vet’s life), Caitlin Barber
  • The Wild Life of the Domestic Cat, Roger Tabor
  • [The Moral Animal, Robert Wright]
  • [La société émergente du XXIe siècle, Michel Cartier & Jon Husband]
  • [Facebook, Twitter et les autres…, Christine Balagué & David Fayon] [disappointing, too basic]
  • Argleton, Suw Charman
  • Simon’s Cat in Kitten Chaos, Simon Tofield
  • Rama II, Arthur C. Clarke
  • Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts [epic]
  • Clicker Training for Cats, Karen Pryor
  • Terminal World, Alastair Reynolds
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
  • [The Long Tail, Chris Anderson]
  • Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
  • The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky [even more life-changing]
  • Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • [L'Esprit de Solitude, Jacqueline Kelen]
  • Coraline, Neil Gaiman
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman

2011 was the year of grieving, for me, and some of my readings reflect this. “Apprendre à vivre”, which was an important stepping-stone in helping me start figuring out how to make sense of life and death, as a person who does not have the consolation or support of believing in any kind of afterlife or higher power.

“Learned Optimism”, and even more importantly, “The How of Happiness”, have prodded me to question some of my beliefs about what to do and not to do to keep oneself happy. The very practical nature of these two books has actually resulted in my doing things quite differently now than I did a year ago, and I believe this is lasting change in the way I approach my life. You’ll find blog posts about this if you search a bit.

I love SF, and as you can see I’m an Alastair Reynolds fan. I pre-order his books now, and I’ve read everything he’s written that I could lay my hands on. Dan Simmons is great too. During the autumn I finally read my first Neil Gaiman book (after years of following him idly on Twitter) and I’m hooked. I have a pile of books with his name on it waiting to be read.

I loved pretty much all the books I read during this year. I usually like the books I read, funny, eh? Maybe by now I’m a pretty good judge of the kind of stuff that interests me.

If you want to ask me anything about any of the books on the list, peruse the comments, I’ll be happy to oblige!

Sorry for the absence of links in this post, the sheer number I could have added managed to discourage me. I might add them later hope hope ;-)

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Posted in Books | Tagged 2011, Books, lives, reading list | 6 Comments

The Trap of Happiness: Big Things and Small Things, Outside and In

[fr] La clé, pour être heureux, n'est pas dans les événements ou circonstances extérieurs, mais dans nos activités. En nous, et non au dehors de nous. Ce n'est pas très intuitif, d'où le piège. ("Quand ceci ou cela arrivera, alors je serai enfin heureuse.")

I realized today that many of the things I agonize over, the big things of life, are probably not worth spending so much energy on.

These big things of life — work, relationships, where to live — are just the measly circumstantial 10% component of our happiness (50% is due to our happiness “set point”, and the remaining 40% depends on certain intentional activities).

If I’m agonizing over whether to pursue a relationship or not, whether to keep my current line of work or change it, stay put or move to another continent, I’m doing so because at some level, I believe those decisions hold the fate of my happiness. But they don’t.

This is not to say that major life changes have no impact on how we feel. Of course they do. And of course bad decisions can lead to pain and anguish. But if things are going reasonably well and the drive is to be happier, the research presented in The How of Happiness (which I’ve already blogged about) tells us that these major changes will probably have way less long-term effect on how happy we are than certain more modest-looking intentional activities that have been show to reliably increase happiness.

Major events give us a “happiness high”, which is maybe one of the reasons we keep on looking to them as the solution to our lasting happiness. Hence the trap of happiness:

We think that big important things like being in a relationship, having a great job, having kids or living in our dream city are going to make us happy, when in fact it is small day-to-day activities that make use happy. So when we’re unhappy, we yearn for big changes and stay stuck on “if onlys” rather than doing something that will actually make us feel happier.

For me, there is an important corollary to this:

The key to our happiness is inside of us, and not in exterior events.

This is nothing new under the sun, but I think that today I have really understood it.

You see, in addition to agonizing over “big decisions”, I spend a lot of energy hoping or waiting for things to happen which I expect will make me feel happier. Things that are outside my control or depend on other people. Without getting into details, this energy sometimes pushes me down alleys where I do things which I know are doomed to failure, which I know are a bad idea (and I can even explain why), but I have a very hard time stopping myself from doing them.

And I have understood today that the way to fight these “dysfunctional” urges is to remember where they come from: they come from feelings of unhappiness that I’m trying to address in the wrong way. I’m trying to make big things happen outside of me, rather than certain small things that involve only me — the “happiness activities” or “intentional activities” Sonja Lyubomirsky describes in her book.

Not surprisingly, some of them are already part of my “toolkit” for making myself feel better. Before reading The How of Happiness, however, I think I just hadn’t measured how important they were. And now I have extra stuff to add to my happiness toolkit. Yay!

So I’m making a note: to fight my gosh-I-wish-I-wasn’t-heading-for-that-wall-again urges, pick an activity out of my happiness toolkit. And I’m putting “working on being happier through daily activities” above my big “existential issues” on the priority list.

I find it ironic, in a way, that something as important as how happy we are (I mean, a huge amount of what we do, we do because in some way we’re trying to be happy) can be influenced by so small and seemingly trivial things.

It does explain, though, how we can tumble from “happy” to “not happy” in just a few clicks, and climb back to “happy” by answering two e-mails and cleaning the bathroom sink.

It’s not rocket science.

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Posted in Books, Personal, Psychology | Tagged activities, breakthrough, control, happiness, happiness activities, helplessness, intentional activities, law, life, passivity, rule, the how of happiness, trap | 2 Comments

Variety is the Spice of Life

[fr] De l'importance de varier les choses que l'on fait pour être heureux, les façons dont on s'organise, et le type d'article qu'on publie sur son blog. La routine ne tue pas seulement le couple. Vous avez d'autres exemples?

I’m in India. I’m reading “The How of Happiness“. The two are completely unrelated aside from the fact they come together to give me the title of this article.

Photo credit: Sunil Keezhangattu/Flickr

Don’t let the slightly corny title put you off as it did me, The How of Happiness is an excellent, solid, well-researched and practical book.

I don’t want to delve into the details of the book, but just share with you something that has fallen into place for me during the last week. It has to do with variety.

You see, in her book, Sonja Lyubomirsky doesn’t only go through the various things you can do to make yourself happier, or help you pick those that seem the best fit for you: she also insists on the necessity of varying the way you put them into practice.

The example that really made this point hit home for me was the one on “counting your blessings” (yes, corniness warning, directly from the author herself, but don’t let that stop you).

First, the test groups who were asked to write down the things they were thankful for 3 times a week ended up seeing less improvement in their happiness than those that were asked to do it only once a week. Doing it only once a week makes it more of an event and keeps boredom/immunisation at bay.

Second, even then, Sonja Lyubomirsky invites the reader to not do it in the same way every week. By writing, by conversation with a friend, upon certain occasions, about certain areas of your life, or in yet a different manner, so that it remains a meaningful practice. (Page 97, if you want to look it up directly.)

This immediately reminded me of a flash of insight I had one day walking in the mountains around my chalet. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I can see the road I was on and I remember the insight quite clearly.

Update: I found the article I wrote at the time, it was in 2009!

I was thinking of the different ways in which I had got organized, and how I seemed to become “immune” to a given method after some time had passed. The flash of insight was this: “maybe I just need to keep on finding new ways of getting organized.” I brushed off the idea, because it wasn’t comfortable, and wrote it down to the need to have different techniques for different contexts. For example, there are times when I’m more stressed than others. Times when I have more work than others. Times when I feel productive, and times when I need to kick myself down the two floors from the flat to the coworking space to get to work. Even my recent musings on freeform versus structured work go in that direction.

But in fact, I was right. Just like it’s important to vary “happiness activities/techniques” to prevent habituation (or worse, boredom), I think it’s important to vary one’s organization methods. Or at least, for me, it is. And it could well be because there is a “happiness” component for me in the act of getting organized. I like the feeling of being on top of things, of finding solutions to be productive despite my built-in procrastination engine, of learning how I function, of coming up with strategies to prioritize and get things done. And maybe — maybe — for me, trying to find one method that I can just stick to is a big mistake.

Another area I’ve recently connected “variety is the space of life” to is blogging. I’ve been hanging out with the communication team at Wildlife SOS these last days, volunteering a bit of my time and expertise to help them make better use of social media.

As I was inviting them to vary the type of article they publish on their blog (at the moment, almost all the stories are animal rescue stories), I realized that this was another example of this theme at work: “variety is the spice… of reader engagement?”

Even if as a reader, animal rescue stories are my favourites, I will actually enjoy them more if they stand out against other types of articles. And for another reader, the favourites might very well be “behind the scenes” articles or “get to know the team” ones.

By publishing only one type of “top post”, one turns it into the “average post”. Add a sprinkle of intermittent reward to the mix, and you’ll probably positively influence the way readers perceive your content. Isn’t it more exciting to head over to a blog which might or might not reward you with a new article, which might or might not be the type that moves you most?

Now think about relationships: don’t we say that routine is the biggest love-killer? Oh, some habits are nice — but you also want new stuff, changes from the habitual, different way of being together and relating to one another. Surprises. The unexpected. This is nothing new.

So, let me summarize. Variety is the spice of life. Not only should you flee excessive routine in your marriage or relationship, but also in the following areas:

  • activities that make you happy
  • how you get organized (work, and probably life too)
  • the kind of content you publish on your blog

Can you think of other areas where it’s a little counter-intuitive, but it actually turns out to be really important to add variety to the way you do things?

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Posted in Blogging, Books, Life Improvement | Tagged blog, book, content, happiness, india 2011, insight, organisation, routine, the how of happiness, variety | 10 Comments