Assorted Musings

Your occasional digest of quick hits, cheap shots, and bon mots….

1. A good interview question: What was your most unpopular decision? When did you survey friends for advice and decide to act against it? What decision have you made that was most counter to conventional wisdom?


2. Children’s artistic and imaginative impulses burst about. I distinctly remember a scene in the 1st grade when the teacher put on classical music and everyone spontaneously began to play conductor. We waved our hands as if mirroring the 1-2-3-4 beat. It felt so natural. In adulthood, we become so self-conscious that we suppress the basic impulse to gently tap our foot when a song we like comes on. As Picasso is supposed to have said, “All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”


3. Alan Webber, founding editor of Fast Company, says: “Keep two lists: What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you up at night?”


4. Sometimes when I am riding in a car as a passenger I feel a bit chilly so I turn off the fan. In response, my friend who is driving will infer I am uncomfortable and take an action that he intends to help me. For example, if I turn off the fan and put on a sweatshirt he will assume I am chilly and, despite neither of us having talked about it, he will go turn on the heat. Yet when I turned off fan and put on sweatshirt I did so assuming all else would remain the same. I assumed static conditions. When the driver acted in response, it actually became too warm. In a system with multiple nodes anything you do will be interpreted and responded to by others. For every action there’s a reaction. That’s why it’s so important to communicate your thoughts and narrate your actions. Otherwise, you end up in a car that’s too hot.


5. People underestimate the value of doing stuff in public. I have dozens of aborted blog posts. They are cases where in the process of writing something for public scrutiny I discovered that my thought wasn’t as coherent as first figured. It sounded good in my head but when I went to write it down it all felt apart. You enjoy this effect when writing in general, but it’s magnified when you publish in the public domain.


6. I am intrigued when a good friend does not hit it off with a different good friend of mine. I try to figure out what I like about person three that my other good friend doesn’t; what side of me is brought out in person three. There is actually a decent amount of self-knowledge that emerges from such a thought exercise.


7. The best case scenario for a status and fame-obsessed philanthropist is to give a big gift anonymously and then, due to a leak by someone at the foundation, be outed a few months later. Such leaks are less accidental than we think….


8. A line from American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (a woman), in the second to last paragraph of the book: “If the many novels I’ve read are an accurate indicator, I have to assume there are betrayals in most marriages. The goal, I suppose, is not to allow any that are larger than the strength of the partnership.”


9. One sign of intelligence: Apply a general principle to your personal situation; Abstract the right general principle from your personal situation.


10. When I arrive in Patagonia, or the coast of Uruguay, or a spectacular national park in America, I always have the immediate thought: “I want to move here and live here forever.” The tranquility and beauty is seductive. Yet, I know that after a couple weeks I’d get bored or lonely. There wouldn’t be enough smart people around to socialize with. Thanks to Skype and videochat and the web, though, I think I could last much longer living in a nature setting (with broadband internet) than in times past. Perhaps my ideal is 60% city life, 40% rural / nature.

10 Responses to Assorted Musings

  1. Great post, Ben. It is filled with many thought-provoking items. I especially liked #4.

    You tweeted #3 earlier this week so it’s been on your mind. Will you publicly post your lists?

  2. Alex says:

    I’m definitely a fan of these “assorted musings” posts.

    #7 reminded me of the “Anonymous” episode from Curb Your Enthusiasm.

  3. BPT says:

    Add to #4: This also occurs when you’re lying close to someone, i.e. your significant other. Maybe you become uncomfortable and therefore shift your body slightly…but your partner then, in response to your movements, reacts by further adjusting themselves thinking they are helping you become “more comfortable”. In reality, you often become more uncomfortable because they have now messed up your assumption of static positions.

  4. On 1: an interview question I’d like to try (on either side of the interview) is “Give me an example when you gave up power for principle”.

    My experience is that powerful people are fairly sharply divided into those who virtually never give up power for principle (although they may sometimes try to appear as if they do so), and those who will do so on occasion. The former are virtually never people you wish to work with.

    Is “American Wife” worth reading? I read Sittenfeld’s “Prep” and thought it was excellent.

  5. Dan says:

    re #4) When riding passenger, I often hold my hands out in front of the A/C vents, palms forward, to cool them (I live in Las Vegas). The driver however, interprets this as I’m cold and trying to block the air so they shut the A/C off. Every time. Without fail.

    Also, when I ask “Do you know where my keys are?”, I expect “Yes, they are on the end table” or “No”. The purpose of the questions is to save me the trouble of looking if someone KNOWS where they are. The usual response however is “Did you look on the…” or worse, they start looking for the keys.

  6. Ben Casnocha says:

    GREAT point #2. Totally agree.

  7. Ben Casnocha says:

    American Wife — probably, if you liked Prep.

  8. I can relate to #5. For every 4 posts I publish I have at least one that I get most of the way through and then keep as a draft indefinitely.

    Sometimes it’s because I realize that it has far more meaning/humor/outrage to me than it would for others. My best censor is my wife who will often read something and simply say, “yeah…you shouldn’t post this.” haha!

  9. Thank you for ALL of these. Made me think. And look at things a little differently.

    I told myself I wouldn’t read on. Yet I did.

    Glad I did.

  10. Christian says:

    Just convince the smart people to move with you to Patagonia.

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