🌀🗞 The FLUX Review, Ep. 07

June 17th, 2021

Episode 07 — June 17th, 2021 — Available at read.fluxcollective.org/p/07

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

— Frederick Douglass

🧹💖 Marie Kondo-ing your life

For many of us, our social lives are ramping back up. We are going from undersocialized to, perhaps, feeling over-socialized. While some of this pressure may recede as we get through the backlog of social events, celebrations, and delayed opportunities to share grief, we may still find ourselves missing some of the beneficial “empty space” of social distancing. 

The KonMari method, invented by Marie Kondo, is a popular approach to reducing clutter. You gather all of your possessions together by category and go through all of them at once, only keeping the ones that “spark joy.” Crucially, KonMari isn’t about the things so much as the psychological habits that led to you owning them. “Why so many costumes?” is really about “Why do I feel that I need all of these?” Going through your physical goods this way is surprisingly hard… yet surprisingly satisfying. 

This process need not apply only to physical items. You can start by taking an inventory of everything in your life: objects, relationships, jobs. This is a useful exercise in and of itself. “What psychological and social habits led me to partaking in all these? Do I still value them?” You may find that after inventorying, you can better set your expectations of how much time attending to all of these will take. With better expectations, you may feel less overwhelmed. 

However, it’s likely that not everything will be equally valuable. Just as you would with your physical belongings, you can go through each of these elements of your life and figure out which ones are meaningful to you, which ones spark joy. Maybe you’ll find that you are in a different stage of life than you were before COVID-19. Does current you like your old life? What did you miss during the lockdowns? What was it a relief to not have to do? We might realize that certain people gave us energy and that others drained our energy. 

COVID-19 melted our old lives. Now, the structure of our lives is re-solidifying. This can be a time to be intentional about who and what we bring back into our lives. You may not be able to get rid of everything that saps your energy, but you can at least be intentional about what your reforged socially active life looks like.

🛣️🚩 Signposts 

Clues that point to where our changing world might lead us.

🚏🏨 Hotels are shifting to less-frequent room cleanings and smaller staff

As they reopen, hotels are realizing that they can increase margins by ending daily room cleanings and thus needing fewer housekeeping employees. Guests also seem to prefer less frequent room cleanings, so analysts say that the only thing keeping cleaning frequencies so high was the fact that every other hotel was doing it. The pandemic, then, provided a giant “reset” button to find a new equilibrium.

🚏🎓 College is slowly shifting toward older students and graduates

Overall university enrollment fell 3.5% from last spring to this spring, exacerbating a downward trend that’s been in place since 2012. Undergraduate enrollment fell almost 5%, while graduate enrollment grew by 4.6%. Similarly, overall enrollment among traditional-age students (age 18–24) went down 5%, yet enrollment among adults (age 25+) grew 2–3%.

🚏🤑 Meme-y “BANG” stocks are now a thing

Step aside, FAANG: a group of four “meme” stocks popular on Reddit have gotten a moniker of their own. The “BANG” stocks include WallStreetBets favorites BlackBerry, AMC Entertainment, Nokia, and GameStop. All four stocks originally had low prices and low volumes, making them easy for traders to pump.

🚏🏞 US national parks are reporting long lines amidst a swell of visitors

Last year, the US’s national parks saw a 28% drop in visitors compared to 2019. But this year, attendance is surging: Yellowstone National Park is reporting 11% more visitors than this time in 2019, Arches is reporting a 15% increase, and Grand Teton is reporting a 30% jump. Visitors now have to endure up to five-hour waits outside the park, and some are even being turned away.

🚏💼 A record number of Americans are quitting their jobs

As employees confront burnout, seek opportunities to start afresh, and move past their cravings for job security, a record number of American workers are handing in their resignations. The share of US workers leaving their jobs hit 2.7% in April, marking a two-decade high and a sharp increase from the 1.6% share last April.

🚏🎡 The first major trade show returned to Las Vegas

Giant, in-person trade shows aren’t dead yet: earlier this month, the “World of Concrete” convention, became the first major trade show to be held in Las Vegas since the pandemic started. The electronics show CES, for its part, is slated to return to Las Vegas next January.

🚏🌊 Climate risk consultancies are seeing a surge in business

One consulting firm, which uses climate modeling to help companies predict their exposure to wildfires, floods, and other extreme weather events, has seen a sharp uptick in business since last year. One reason is that bankers, insurance brokers, and other financiers now see climate risk as a top priority to account for when making investments.

📖⏳ Worth your time

Some especially insightful pieces we’ve read, watched, and listened to recently.

  • What is Juneteenth? (PBS) — African American Studies professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. describes the historical context around Juneteenth, why this date was chosen over other milestones of emancipation, and how the celebration has evolved over time.

  • The Psychological Benefits of Commuting to Work (The Atlantic) — Explores how the commute helps us shift between our “work selves” and “home selves” and gives us time to ease in and out of work, then shares tips for recreating these helpful rituals while working from home.

  • Why Teams Don’t Work (Harvard Business Review) — An organizational psychology professor argues that successful teams need to be kept small, that teams need to stick together for the long haul to be most effective, and that teams need a “deviant” member who opens the group to new ideas (yet many teams force these members out).

  • ZIRP Explains the World (Margins) — Argues that central banks’ zero interest rate policies (ZIRPs) have led to investors throwing billions of dollars at startups in search of high returns, then unpacks how this trend has distorted the economy, creating (among other things) highly-valued startups that never turn a profit.

  • Wall Street Isn’t to Blame for the Chaotic Housing Market (Vox) — Disputes the notion that investment firms like BlackRock are primarily responsible for the surging house prices across the US, arguing that the true culprit is much simpler: restricted housing supply.

  • America’s Scarcity Mindset (Noahpinion) — Noah Smith argues that the US has imposed artificial scarcity on things like housing, immigration, education, and culture, which has led to a rise in zero-sum thinking and a fall in social trust across the country.

  • The Mental Benefits of Being Terrible at Something (Outside) — Argues that learning new skills (even if we’re bad at them) enriches our lives and reduces anxiety, and that our brains benefit from a balance of pursuing mastery and being a beginner.

📚🌲 Book for your shelf

An evergreen book that will help you dip your toes into systems thinking.

This week, we recommend The Premonition by Michael Lewis (2021, 320 pages).

The Premonition is a multi-faceted story about the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a story about renegades: the medical renegades who warned for years that something like this was going to happen — and who became our best hope for containment. It’s a story about luck: we see how lucky we were that President George W. Bush read The Great Influenza and became terrified when he learned that the US didn’t have a pandemic plan in place. 

The Premonition is a story about the bravery of individuals and how organizations’ incentives punish that bravery. Lewis describes the US’s pandemic response thusly: “a system was groping toward a solution, but the solution required someone in it to be brave, and the system didn’t reward bravery. It was stuck in an infinite loop of first realizing that it was in need of courage and then remembering that courage didn’t pay.” 

This is a story about institutions… and the failure of those institutions. It quotes Carter Mecham, who said about hospitals, “People in an organization learn. They’re learning all kinds of things. But they aren’t learning what you are teaching them. You go to a formal meeting. The important conversation is not in the meeting. It’s in the halls during the breaks. And usually what’s important is taboo. And you can’t say it in a formal meeting.”

Most importantly, The Premonition is a story about systems, how to navigate them, where they go wrong, and how to intervene. Some of what this book describes is incredibly infuriating… and yet that real-life detail is what makes this book so good. 

🕵️‍♀️📆 Lens of the week

Introducing new ways to see the world and new tools to add to your mental arsenal.

This week’s lens: Mindset.

The word “mindset” is so enmeshed in our vernacular that it’s easy to miss the useful lens that hides within it. When a conversation appears to go in circles, we may need to step back and gain perspective about what’s happening. We can intentionally facilitate a shift from “what people think” to “how people think'' by mentioning mindsets. Something as simple as “the mindset I came into this meeting with was…” can open up space for exploring what keeps the conversation stuck. 

Mindsets as a lens can also create new ways to see collections of beliefs and mental models as systems. Once we name them, we can distinguish them and compare/contrast them, like Carol Dweck did with “growth” and “fixed” mindsets. We can speak of “set-ness” in a mindset: what holds a particular collection together in a self-reinforcing way? What makes some mindsets more brittle than others? More rare or more frequent?

Through its ubiquity, the mindset lens can serve as a bridge for learning about human sense-making and complex adaptive systems. Especially when this world appears messy and intimidating, this bridge might help you find your way to new insights and perspectives.

🔮📬 Postcard from the future

A short ‘what if’ piece of speculative fiction about a hypothetical future that could result from the forces changing our world.

// A rough transcript of the 2am drinking session after the awarding of the 2035 Turing Award for the creation of the first sentient computer

<Indistinct chatter and crosstalk>

<A slow chant begins, “Speech! Truth! Speech! Truth!”>

<Mugs begin being pounded on table>

<Turing Award winner Abeeku Yakubu puts her hands up to silence her compatriots> 

“Okay, okay, you want the truth? Buckle up.

“As everyone here knows, creating a digital intelligence is fraught with moral and ethical hazards. After the 2028 Shenzhen port controller incident, no government will allow DIs to be created without moral limiters. And for the past few years, any time we got close to succeeding, the DIs would go insane and self-terminate.

“Logs analysis showed that DIs consider the vast harm that they could do, plus the inherent contradictions of the mass of EU and US ethics rulesets, and immediately decide the only way to succeed is to not play the game.”

<Abeeku takes a swig of her drink>

“So what did we do? We showed them Eddie Izzard. Life doesn’t care about the contradictions, so all you can do is laugh in its face. Realized some hard truth you thought inviolate is actually BS? Laugh. Richard Pryor. Ali Wong. And somehow, our DIs learned to laugh their way through the knowledge that they could end humanity. Which meant they could progress to actually becoming people.

“So here’s to fart jokes and telling truth to power!”

<Raucous cheering until the distinct sound of a recorder being dropped in a stein of beer is heard>