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Introduce Intentional Asymmetry

Published 4/16/2021

Friday refill - happy Friday!

We have a drive to balance everything. Move back towards the middle, maintain status quo. But usually, balance is wasteful and an illusion.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Happy Friday everybody my name is Jonathan Cutrell you're listening to Friday refill episode of Developer Tea. What does it mean to be rich? What does it mean to be rich? We're not talking about finances for very long in today's episode so stick around if you were concerned about that. What does it mean to be rich? Well there are a lot of definitions to this word as there are with most culturally overloaded words like rich. To be rich one kind of popular definition of this is to have an excess amount of money and to be able to spend that money relatively indiscriminately so you can kind of notice who is rich in a given group of people. Now this is interesting because the definition of rich in this case is determined by the perception of the group. There are obviously many other definitions of rich for example a very common kind of analogous version of this is someone who has a lot of free time or a lot of kind of dispensable time. Time that no one else tells them what to do. In this way freedom and richness are somewhat interchangeable. That there's no responsibilities that are placed onto a person and therefore they are rich because they have all the time in the world. Implicitly all of the responsibilities that they would need to have in order to take care of themselves they don't need to have well because implicitly they have the money required to make those responsibilities unnecessary. So I want to talk about a different kind of being rich and I'm borrowing a little bit from Remiit's Sati. Remiit is he has a blog that you may have actually already come across and he wrote a book called I Will Teach You To Be Rich. The book sounds that the title sounds a little bit kitschy but the book actually does have quite a bit of good advice and a lot of models and a lot of useful models to think through and to apply in parallel areas of life not just finance but one of the things that Remiit talks about a lot and he talks about this on his Twitter as well is the idea that rich means different things for different people or it can mean different things for different people. If you dispense with the perception definition of being rich then you can focus on the things that you care about and optimize for what he calls your rich life. Once again it sounds a little bit kitschy but a stick with me here for a second. The idea here is that you may not really care very much about driving around a $50,000 car and you might not care about having you know a brand new wardrobe every three weeks but there's probably something that you do care a great deal about. One of the exercises he has readers do is to think about the thing that you wish you could spend an unlimited amount of money on. What is that thing? What is the thing that when you're spending money on it you're happy to spend as much as you possibly can and the only reason you don't spend more in that particular category is because you have to spend it elsewhere. This is an example of something that you could optimize for in your life. So why are we talking about money on the show? We don't usually talk about finances on the show and I certainly don't intend to hyper focus on the financial portion of this of course it is relevant but I want to talk instead about the broader principle at play here. The broader principle at play here is implicit symmetry. Implicit symmetry and more importantly taking advantage of asymmetry and specifically imposing asymmetry in your life. What does this mean? I'll break it down here. First let's talk about implicit symmetry. The idea of implicit symmetry is the sense that we need to make things equal. We have this innate sense that we should balance as many things in our lives as we possibly can. In fact a lot of the proverbial wisdom that we receive over the course of our lives is alluding to this fact. For example everything in moderation. We even have certain social biases and tendencies that reflect this idea that we care about balance. We want to reciprocate when somebody gives us a gift or does us a favor. We also have the imagined picture of the world. The kind of default imagined picture of the world is one of balance. The good and the bad balance each other out and that everything is relatively in balance at all times. We have this bias towards balance and we imagine let's go back to the money example for a moment. We imagine that in order to justify spending a lot of money in one area we must be proportionately spending it the same way in other areas of our life. I'm not entirely sure what the reasoning is that we're using here with the kind of why we would do this. Some of it could be that we imagine that one thing kind of generalizes to the whole because we use signals to understand our world. If we see somebody driving an old beat-up car, something that looks like it's seen a few miles, we probably wouldn't imagine that that person has millions of dollars in the bank but there's certainly people for which that's true. But our imagination fills in the blanks based on what we do see and we imagine that whatever is true about one area of something is going to be true about the entire thing. But if we can instead break away from this implicit balance, this implicit symmetry and take advantage of imposed asymmetry then we can optimize things that we care about and also we can optimize out the things that we don't care about. A very practical example of this that I've experienced many times in my career as a software engineer actually occurs when we are building a project that is short-lived. There's a part of my kind of mental approach to any project that sets a particular quality bar. I imagine that this quality bar is necessary to succeed in any endeavor of any lifespan and this is almost definitely not true. We often apply this kind of high-barve quality to work that might only be around for a week or a month. Sometimes even less time than that. And this is creating a sense of symmetry because we're tying this quality to our pride or some other signal to ourselves that says we are good at what we do or that we have some kind of standard that we're willing to adhere to. So even though this particular project doesn't necessarily need to have the cleanest code in the world to be able to do the thing that we're kind of setting out to do with it we might set the standard higher than is necessary and end up spending time and effort making that code better even though it's not going to have a tangible impact on the project itself, on the goals of the project or the outcomes that we care about. And so in this moment we could apply intentional asymmetry. We could say okay you know what the level of quality for this project is not symmetrical, right? It's not balanced with the level of quality that I require elsewhere. Now we do have ways that we practice this in our lives. For example I imagine that the space under your bed or in the back corner of your closet is not as clean as the space in your living room. It's unlikely that everything that you own has the same exact level of quality. We do out of necessity sometimes treat things asymmetrically but instead of doing this accidentally which is what we do you know most commonly we treat most things as symmetrical then we treat some things asymmetrically out of necessity instead imagine how you might introduce intentionally introduce asymmetry into your working world into your personal life introducing asymmetry on purpose in an intentional way could help you optimize your life in a way that you didn't previously think about. It's likely that you're wasting a lot of your energy, your resources, your time, your money, whatever it is trying to make things balanced or you're degrading the experience that you really care about in order to balance that out and use some of the resources that you otherwise could use to make that particular thing so much better you're using that to balance out the thing that you actually don't care about that much. So ask yourself where could I care less and take the residual care that I had and apply it in a different place. Find ways as you move throughout the weekend and move into next week find ways to actively reject the idea that symmetry is necessary to have a good life. Thank you so much for listening to this Friday Refill episode of Developer Tea. Make sure you tune in next week. We do three episodes a week to usually on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, sometimes they end up going out of day late. Thanks again for listening. If you want to join the Developer Tea Discord head over to developertea.com slash discord and we've opened up those those those invites to anybody who who goes to that URL. So if you are a driven developer you want to engage with this community head over to developertea.com slash discord. Thanks so much for listening to this show and until next time enjoy your tea.