Practical Vocabulary

The Zeigarnik Effect, as defined by Cal Newport in the amazing to contemplate and difficult to apply Deep Work, is as follows:

This effect, which is named for the experimental work of the early-twentieth-century psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes the ability of incomplete tasks to dominate our attention.  It tells us that if you simply stop whatever you are doing at five p.m. and declare, “I’m done with work until tomorrow,” you’ll likely struggle to keep your mind clear of professional issues, as the many obligations left unresolved in your mind will, as in Bluma Zeigarnik’s experiments, keep battling for your attention throughout the evening (a battle that they’ll often win).  152 – 153

It strikes me that David Allen’s entire Getting Things Done system is an effort to battle this particular effect.  He encourages us to write things down in a trusted system so that they do not linger in our minds.  Cal Newport also presents some nice fortifications against malingering tasks, but I won’t summarize them for you because I recommend you read Deep Work in its entirety.

After reading the Stoic philosophers all summer . . .

I found this quotation by Alan Jacobs (with an assist by the best passer in the game, Austin Kleon):

Remember Pascal’s warning against the error of Stoicism, which is to believe that you can do always what you can really only do sometimes.

It’s important because it’s of the “work-hard-but-forgive-yourself-when-things-don’t-go-as planned-because-after all-you’re-only-human” variety.  Source is Snakes and Ladders, where Alan Jacobs records “stray random thoughts.”

About (more than) Andreesen Horowitz

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I was recently reading the “About” page on the Andreesen Horowitz website.  I found myself there because I was trying to learn more about Ben Horowitz, whose insights often come across my screen / desk.  I really like the way AH clearly breaks up, and defines, its team around certain functions.  And I also really like how they articulate “Operations” and the fact that they have a “Professor in Residence.”

  • Investing: Backing brilliant entrepreneurs to build the future.
  • Market Development: Accelerating time to market and matching corporate partners with emerging technology leaders.
  • Technical Talent: Creating the definitive network of technical superstars, and developing the right program to support your people.
  • Executive Talent: Connecting and counseling industry leaders.
  • Marketing: Building awareness, and offering guidance through all the brandbuilding events an entrepreneur faces.
  • Corporate Development: Helping companies plan their financial and strategic futures.
  • Policy and Regulatory Affairs: connecting technology companies with the resources to navigate the regulatory landscape.
  • Operations: Ensuring a first class experience for everyone who interacts with the firm.
  • Board Partners: Experienced operators and accomplished technologists.
  • Special Advisors: Bringing to bear deep expertise.
  • Professor in Residence: Our liaison to academia helping transfers breakthrough from the lab to the market.

Unhook from the Anchors

Last week, I attended a meeting with Reshan Richards.  During the meeting, we — the group — got stuck twice.

Both times, Reshan helped us to get unstuck by offering a very simple, very deft nudge.  He suggested that maybe we were using the wrong name for the problem we were trying to solve.

Once we abandoned the old name for the problem, we found that we weren’t stuck with the same associations, the same ready-made solutions, the same paths.  In both cases, we found desirable outcomes.

Though I’m sure Reshan wasn’t deliberately thinking about psychology — he was just being creative and disruptive, as is his instinct — the efficacy of the move he made can be traced to an undoing of the “anchoring effect.”

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains it this way:

[The anchoring effect] occurs when people consider a particular value for an unknown quantity before estimating that quantity.  What happens is one of the most reliable and robust results of experimental psychology: the estimates stay close to the number that people considered — hence the image of the anchor.  If you are asked whether Gandhi was more than 114 years old when he died you will end up with a much higher estimate of his age at death than you would if the anchoring question referred to death at 35. . . .  Any number that you are asked to consider as a possible solution to an estimate problem will induce an anchoring effect. (119 – 120)

Creative and agile leaders, it follows, will be able to spot anchors, understand their effect, and help others to shed them when they establish unhelpful limitations or hinder progress.