Leadership, shirtless dancing, face masks, social risks – and how to create a movement

Also: terrorist wristwatch fashion, understanding TikTok, and feeding the unconscious mind.

Yesterday, on an electric scooter at max speed, I wish I wore gloves. Autumn has officially arrived.

As a fan of all four seasons (both meteorologically and musically speaking) I can look forwards to the joys of the harvest season, but I can’t help but worry slighty about what the temperature drop will mean for social distancing and our everyday epidemiological efforts.

Keeping a solid metre’s distance is easy when it’s 25 degrees outside. Walking to work is a no-brainer (for those of us who are back in offices, that is), and conducting our social interactions outdoors is the modus operandi. But if the buses and trams get crammed again, classic Oslo-during-winter style, shit might hit the fan once more – unless we manage to create a cultural norm around wearing masks in public.

I’ve thought about how that might be done, which led me back to a classic, 3-minute (!) TED Talk from Derek Sivers about “How to Start a Movement” (video below). Using a priceless video clip of a random dude doing an even more random set of home-made dance moves, Derek explains the radical shift that happens when just one other person joins the dance. The first lonely dancer is just a weirdo. The pair of two dancers, however, is the start of a tribe, a movement, a legitimate social entity.

The difference is non-trivial. The second dancer makes the brave move to join something new and weird. But more importantly, he validates what the first dancer is up to. The second dancer breaks the join-in-barrier. He allows the rest of the crowd to follow with ease. In the words of Derek Sivers, “the first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader”.

Back to face masks – I think we need a similar thing to happen here. The earliest adopters, the leaders, are already out on buses with masks. The rest of us must step up and follow. It is not just about our own safety – it’s also about signalling to others that it’s socially and psyhologically safe to join in and act out a new behaviour.

This is a bottom-up approach to drive social change, one follower at a time, until a critical mass is reached. At that point, the rest takes care of itself, and soon enough the weirdos are the ones not dancing or wearing masks in public.

Another way to reach the same goal is to wait around for some top-down policy or authoritarian “do-as-I-say” rules to be put in place, but I much prefer the voluntary approach of random dance guy.

Let’s dance.


Weekly Recommendations

A shortlist of weekly recommendations for you to read, listen to or watch this coming week.

Article: “How Did the Casio F91W Beome a Terrorist Icon?”

A fascinating read about a seemingly insignificant digital wristwatch that has been embraced by an unlikely customer group – terrorists from all corners of the world. Two obvious and one non-obvious reason: 1) it’s durable, 2) it’s cheap, 3) it can be hacked to work as a bomb detonator (!).

“During the height of the War on Terror, it didn’t take long for the US government to spot the prevalence of the Casio F91W amongst terrorists. In 2011, Wikileaks released a document labeled the “Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants” which was intended to assist staff at Guantanamo decide which detainees are more likely to carry out suicide attacks. According to the document, owning an F-91W was the biggest giveaway of a serious terror suspect alongside ownership of a satellite phone, a radio transceiver, or large quantities of cash.”

Article: “The Rise of TikTok and Understanding its Parent Company ByteDance

I first heard about Musical.ly (TikTok’s precursor) from Gary Vaynerchuck back in 2016. Four years ago, he did what he does so well, time and time again: predicted that a new app was about to blow up and become a global phenomenon long before most of us had even heard about it (see this video from April 2016, or the blog post “Why Millions of Tweens are Using Musical.ly… And Why It Matters”).

I didn’t think much of it until 3-4 years later, until my own 12 year old cousin couldn’t sit still for more than a minute before starting to jump around doing various “TikTok-dances”. Gary’s prediction had most definitely come true.

TikTok is a fascinating phenomenon from so many perspectives:

  • It’s the first social network dominated by kids in the 8-12 year old age range.

  • It’s a social network without much of a social aspect to it at all – you don’t see content from people you “know” per se, but rather random things the underlying algorithms think you’ll find engaging.

  • It’s the fastest social media app to reach 1 billion users ever.

  • It’s at the center of a full-blown digital geo-political crisis, leading to a ban of the app (along with many other Chinese apps and web services) in India. In the US, Donald Trump got involved in interesting ways too – he has brute forced a sale of the American branch of TikTok to American owners within 90 days, or he will use executive power to shut it down. Now, everyone from Microsoft to Wal-Mart (!) is trying to get their hands on the hot app.

Despite all this, most of us adults the West don’t understand the product, nor the company behind it. I include myself in the category of the unenlightened here, but I’ve been reading up lately. The best articles I’ve found are The Rise of TikTok and Understanding its Parent Company ByteDance and “The TikTik War” [+ Norwegian bonus: Hva er det med TikTok som hekter barna? (Aftenposten)]


Podcast episode: Josh Waitzkin on the art of learning and designing your life

An oldie but a goodie, this is the second podcast episode of the Tim Ferriss Show released in 2014, long before the podcast became one of the most popular ones on the face of the earth. At that point Tim just interviewed his friends – he had committed himself to recording at least 6 episodes to see if he enjoyed podcasting. The rest, as they say, is history.

In this episode, Josh Waitzkin shares his thoughts on learning, going deep instead of going wide, pursuing quality over everything else, and the art of transferring lessons in metalearning (“learning how to learn”) from one domain to another. I particularly enjoyed the discussion about Tim’s “Pareto approach to learning” (i.e. trying to get to 80% proficiency in any skill as fast as possible) versus Joshua’s relentless focus on reaching the very top of various fields, from chess to tai chi to surfing. I’m certainly in Tim’s camp on this, but hearing the other side is enlightening.

Key takeaways:

  • Design a “daily architecture” with intention: align peak energy periods with creative work, down periods with administrative tasks and so on.

  • Avoid reactivity and unintentional inputs: Most people, when they finish a break, immediately check their email. By doing so, they are soaked in inputs, and become reactive. “Their creative process is dominated by external noise as opposed to internal music.”

  • Josh helps people “create rhythms in their life that really are based on feeding the unconscious mind”. For example, ending the workday with high quality focus to train your unconscious to value quality, or applying your mind to a problem first thing in the morning, pre-input and pre-distraction.


The End

I can see no better way to end to this newsletter than with a pristine Twitter pun, so here we go..

Happy sunday everyone! ☀️


Summary from last week's For The Curious: 
- Open rate = 76%. 
- Most popular link = "How to Speak", by Patrick Winston on Youtube. 

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