Action 10 | New format! recurring motifs, aesthetics, and actionable ideas

Hello friends, and welcome to The Action #10!

Initially, I started this newsletter as a way to get the weekly publishing muscle going and have admittedly been using the Actionable Ideas Newsletter format as a crutch of sorts. Issue #10 and onwards I will be adding my voice and some new sections.

You can expect a weekly format of the following:

  1. 💡 What’s New? – general personal updates

  2. 🔁 Recurring Motifs – a theme or two from the prior week that seems to resonate and repeat on the twittersphere or internet at large

  3. 🎨 Anatomy of an Aesthetic – a space to explore culture and attitudes, diving more into the feels.

  4. 🚀 Actionable Ideas – will continue to summarize 3 key ideas format, min goal is to hit 50 issues of this ETA July 2021

💡 Whats New?

This past week I saw the true power of meeting folks on twitter and hopping on a zoom call. Forming community in the age of COVID. The rhythm of meeting new amazing people in-person every year has been with me my entire adult life and we’ve lost a lot of that in 2020 – luckily we have the internet and ample tools at our disposal. I had about 2-3 great interactions that came out of responding to tweets that moved to DMs then email/zoom.

Additionally, I signed up to give two brand new talks at Product School this November. The two topics are 1) Dealing with Uncertainty as a Product Manager 2) Defining and Delivering Value. Excited for these topics! Be on the lookout for those (more of my speaking here), excited to get that muscle going again, as my last talks were in April.


🔁 Recurring Motifs

Motif 1: Writing as thinking

Writing as a non-negotiable deliberate practice for clear thinking. Huge shoutout to Steph Smith’s article on writing as thinking as a phenomenal reference. I will continue to keep in mind the Thinking and Writing (TAW) Cycle she clearly lays out.

“Writing and thinking are two peas in a powerful pod. Critical thinking leads to good writing, which leads to clearer thinking, and so on. By improving your writing, you are also improving your ability to think and vice versa”

Motif 2: Consistency beats intensity

In this Joe Rogan clip, Firas Zahabi (a legendary MMA coach) explains why consistently training at 70% beats intermittently training at 100%. Lower intensity but more consistency requires less recovery time, and cumulatively higher volume of reps and experience. I’m finding this theme show up in almost every other aspect of my life – writing, work, relationships, music etc.


🎨 Anatomy of an Aesthetic

This week’s aesthetic is sprezzatura: an Italian word defined as "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it." (source)

Sprezzatura – The Order of the Red Lynx

Thank you to my good friend Jamie Russo for bringing this idea to my attention as we were discussing the idea of “effortlessness”. Some relatives of sprezzatura are: the general ennui of cool, the psychology of flow, the way in Taoism, and others. I will definitely be expanding on this more as a separate article.

What stuck out to me as I dug a bit deeper is that sprezzatura is also described "as a form of defensive irony: the ability to disguise what one really desires, feels, thinks, and means or intends behind a mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance." There’s a certain defensiveness that colors this mood as well.


🚀 Actionable Ideas

Idea #1: Vector theory of impact - speed and direction

The vector theory of impact states that the expected value of ones impact is like a vector, defined by two things: direction and magnitude. Using first principles from physics, Sam Altman breaks down this theory succinctly: direction is what you choose to work on (think on 10-20 year timescales), and magnitude is how hard you push in your chosen direction (effort, grit, commitment). There is a lot of freedom in simplifying plans this way, as he succinctly states at the end of the tweet thread: "I find it liberating that you only have get two big things right!"

Action item: use as a remedy for overthinking - the next time you find yourself overwhelmed with different decision making inputs, take a step back and ask yourself: is this the right direction? am I applying the right amount of effort? Your direction is more important than your speed.

Idea #2: Barbell Strategy

Nassim Taleb's Barbell investment strategy – Theory of Constraints

The barbell strategy is a binary approach to resolving uncertainty. Usually, it is used in an investment context (where 90% of capital is invested in risk-free assets and 10% for very risky investments) but can be applied to the portfolio of bets you face in the day-to-day. The theory states that embracing the extremes in life is a better strategy for hedging risk than just striving for mediocrity.

Action Items: start identifying middle ground areas in your life where you can apply the barbell theory e.g. keep a day job (low risk), pursue a passion on the side (high risk), but avoid a middle ground job that mixes the two as an attempt to accomplish both.

Idea #3: Diffuse thinking

Learning How to Learn : 4 Steps - Instructables

Diffuse mode thinking, aka a wandering mind, helps form connections between existing ideas, often unconsciously while performing a passive action like walking or exercising. The mental oscillation between inward focus and outward wandering is important: “if we stay in a focused mode too long, diminishing returns set in and our thinking stagnates. We stop getting new ideas and can experience cognitive tunneling.” Diffuse thinking also differs from divergent thinking, as there is intentionally no set goal of generating new ideas.

Action item: take periodic diffuse thinking break after a long session of focused work. Deliberately set out to let your mind wander as you go on a walk, with no intention of focusing on a specific problem.


That’s all for now! see you all next week

Andrew