Stories of When Less is More

5. General

Stories of When Less is More

Welcome to the fifty-eighth edition of ‘3-2-1 by Story Rules‘.

A newsletter recommending good examples of storytelling across:

  • 3 tweets
  • 2 articles, and
  • 1 long-form content piece

Let’s dive in.

𝕏 3 Tweets of the week

Source: X

I think everyone – not just entrepreneurs – should study philosophy.

(Reid Hoffman is the founder of LinkedIn)

Source: X

Heartwarming example! Also great to see medical facilities in India realise the importance of better communication with patients.

Source: X

This is super insightful – the source and objective of an organisation’s capital has a strong impact on all aspects of its being.

📄 2 Articles of the week

a.’The 67 -Hour Rule: Married couple are Working as much as ever’ by Derek Thompson

With all the modern labour-saving devices at our disposal, one might assume that time spent on work would have reduced over time.

But Derek Thompson cites some very interesting research to coin the ’67-hour rule’ – the number of paid hours married couples work in a week – a number that has remained constant for more than a century!

In the 1880s, when men worked long days and women were mostly cut off from the workforce, the typical American married couple averaged just over 68 hours of weekly paid labor. In 1965, as men’s workdays contracted and women poured into the workforce, the typical American married couple averaged 67 hours of weekly paid labor—just one hour less. In the early 2000s, the typical American married couple averaged, you guessed it, almost exactly 67 hours of weekly paid labor. In 2020? Still 67 hours.

This is a nice line – loved the framing of a god with an affinity for double-digit prime numbers!:

After all this, the average married couple in America still works about 67 hours a week. It is as if some god with an affinity for double-digit prime numbers descended from heaven and decreed that, no matter what seismic changes upended the world from one generation to the next, the average American family must labor for the same number of hours a week, for all of eternity.

The reason for the number staying high? Women spending more time at work and men working lesser paid hours:

So what explains the 67-Hour Rule? Any answer must begin with the fact that paid working hours have increased for women even as they have declined for men, for very different reasons.

And why is that happening? Rising costs and expectations:

Greenwood told me that, beyond rising efficiency, the 67-Hour Rule may also reflect rising costs and rising expectations. Americans are more productive than ever. But buying homes, raising kids, and caring for older family members are all more expensive than they used to be. (Prices for housing, medical care, and college have been rising faster than inflation for practically this entire century.) The typical home today is also larger than it used to be, and outfitted with a suite of technologies—air-conditioning, flatscreen televisions, dirt-cheap electric lighting—that would have flabbergasted an 1880s monarch.

Expectations are driven by other people:

The consistency of the workweek for married couples might also reflect a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses effect. As workers get raises, some of them could choose to work less. But richer economies also create new categories of desire: movies, amusement parks, electronics, travel, summer camps, Stanley water coolers. If people become envious of their peers’ rising standard of living, they’ll instead choose to continue working at higher wages to buy nicer stuff. Thus the hedonic treadmill sustains higher working hours and holds the 67-Hour Rule in place.

b. Lucky vs. Repeatable by Morgan Housel

Housel at his pithy best again with a piece exploring the difference between luck and repeatable occurences:

…a better way to frame luck is by asking: what isn’t repeatable?

It’s so important to know the difference between the two when attempting to learn from someone. You want to try to emulate skills that are repeatable. Attempting to copy the parts of someone’s success that aren’t repeatable is equivalent to a 56-year-old dressing like a teenager and expecting to be cool.

You may not be able to repeat someone’s success because you cannot replicate the external contextual factors that propelled them:

You can learn a lot from Warren Buffett’s patience. But you can’t replicate the market environment he had in the 1950s, so be careful copying the specific strategies he used back then.

Jeff Bezos can teach you so much about management and long-term thinking, but much less about e-commerce and cloud computing.

The way to get luckier is to find what’s repeatable.

🎧 1 long-form listen of the week

a. ‘Do Nothing, Then Do Less’ on Cautionary Tales with Tim Har

This fascinating episode (with Tim Harford of ‘Cautionary Tales’ and Laurie Santos of ‘The Happiness Lab’ podcast) discusses stories of when less was more – when people realised more value by either doing nothing… or doing less.

Here Tim talks about how parents, doctors and, of course, soccer goalkeepers would benefit from doing less:

Tim: …maybe we should do less parenting or medicine, maybe doctors should be doing less, prescribing fewer tests, prescribing fewer treatments. Even soccer goalkeepers are too committed to being active when faced with a penalty was in fact, they’d be better off if they stayed still…

(So) there were economists who actually looked at what goalkeepers do when faced with a penalty kick. And basically, in the penalty kick, the striker gets to try and put the ball in the net, and they can boot it to the left, or they can boot it to the right, or they can boot it straight down the middle, and the goalkeeper doesn’t have much time to react. And so the standard procedure for a goalkeeper is just to guess – it’s fifty-fifty – just dive to the right or dive to the left, and you got a fifty percent chance of going the right way. Even if you do go the right way, you might not save it. I mean, actually, most penalties turn into goals. Usually, the keeper isn’t able to save it, but there’s a lot of pressure on the keeper to try. So the goalkeeper will usually leap off to the left or the right. If they leap in the wrong direction, well you know, no one blames them for that. But actually, quite a lot of penalty kicks go fairly close to where the goalkeeper originally was standing. They go right down the center or near enough to the center, and you can prove that if the goalkeeper had not dived either way, they probably would have had a better chance of saving the penalty kick. They would also have looked ridiculous if the kick had gone far to the left or far or the right, because they would have looked like they weren’t even trying. And so there’s that pressure to act even when just waiting and standing still would have been a better thing to do.

They also share the fascinating story of Ryan McFarland, inventor of the the Strider balance bicycle: something that created a whole new category in bikes not by adding, but by removing a key feature of the cycle – the pedal.

Basically, nothing Ryan bought worked, Plus none of them were all that good at teaching a little kid the most important part of riding a bike, which is the art of balancing it. You can’t learn to equalize your weight on a bike with training wheels because the wheels wind up doing all the balancing work. And so Ryan decided to engineer a new kind of bike, one that even a toddler like body could learn to balance…. His solution was to start with a typical bike, but rather than adding something new to the bike’s design, he chose to take something away. He got rid of the pedals. Ryan was the first to design what’s now known as a strider or balance bike. Kids can easily get the bike moving just by pushing their feet on the ground, kind of like Fred Flintstone style, and without pedals to worry about. Even a two year old could ride it on the strider body was able to learn to steer and balance all the stuff he’d need when he graduated to a real bike.

Creativity thrives under constraints – and the following story of a jazz pianist named Keith Jarett is a superb example of that maxim:

…Keith Jarrett, the great jazz pianist, and his attempt to play a solo piano concert in the great German city of Cologne. And that particular concert, it was the largest concert that Jarrett had ever played solo. He was still quite a young man, I think he was still in his twenties. There was a mix-up at the opera house. The promoter was very young, she was a teenage girl called Vera Branders, and she or the opera house between them, had not got a good piano on stage for Keith. He’d requested a particular piano Bosendorfer Imperial (not clear). He’s a real perfectionist. And instead, (though) they looked around for a Bosendorfer piano, and they’d found this beaten-up rehearsal model, not a proper grand piano. It’s not big enough, but also in really bad condition, out of tune, pedal sticking, all kinds of problems, and Jarrett basically said, look, I can’t play this. If you can’t get a new piano, I won’t play, and he left. But it turned out they couldn’t get a new piano. There wasn’t enough time, and Jarrett eventually realized that if he didn’t play, then this poor girl who was promoting basically her first concert was going to be torn apart by this crowd of angry German jazz fans who would show up for it was a late night concert at eleven thirty, probably had a few beers. They’re going to show up at this concert and there’ll be no concert. There’ll be no Keith Jarrett. So Jarrett decided, Okay, I have to do it. I have to play this thing. And so he walks out on stage in front of this packed auditorium of fourteen hundred people, sits down to play this piano that he knows is unplayable, and… it is the concert of a lifetime. It is his most successful ever recording. And because of the manifest limitations of the piano, he was forced into playing what was basically a much simpler melody, a much simpler approach to improvised jazz than he would normally use. He was using a restricted number of keys, he was avoiding certain areas of the keyboard, he was keeping it quite simple and rhythmic. The point is he could have done that on any piano, and yet he didn’t because it never occurred to him. You know, he always wanted to use the full range of what was available, and it was only when all of those options were cut off and he was absolutely backed into this corner that he discovered this simple style, which continues to be his most loved work.

That’s all from this week’s edition.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

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