4 June 2021

Things I changed my mind about

We all want to think we’re not stuck in our ways. The truth is: it’s not easy to think again about our hard-coded beliefs. I therefore thought it could be interesting to list here the things I did change my mind about. This will ideally be a living and evolving article, one way for me to make sure my mind doesn’t become stale.

Procrastination is useful under one condition

Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World changed my mind on procrastination when I read it in June 2018. Until then, I would blame myself for being lazy at undertaking some of my tasks. “In ancient Egypt, there were two different verbs for procrastination: one denoted laziness; the other meant waiting for the right time”. And that’s precisely the point: procrastination can actually be useful by providing time to generate new ideas and keeping us open to improvisation.

But that only works if there has been some initial work on the task, so our subconscious mind can keep silently “working” on that task (that moment when you “suddenly” get a new idea when in the shower or after waking up). “Great originals are great procrastinators, but they don’t skip planning altogether. They procrastinate strategically, making gradual progress by testing and refining different possibilities”.

Intelligence isn’t academic only

I don’t remember when I gradually opened up my mind about that notion, but Google’s change in hiring practices around 2009 or so certainly put the final nail in the coffin of my old belief. Until then, one of Google’s hiring criteria was the ranking of the university the candidate had graduated from: all universities from all countries had been grouped in tiers (from elite to lower tiers). Not graduating from elite or tier-1 universities wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for candidates, but it would make it harder for them.

Undoubtedly because I had always been excellent at school, even skipping a year in both French and British educational systems, I had also considered academic success to be the best (or even only) signal for intelligence. Of course that belief looks silly to me today. However, when one is part of an elite club, it can be hard to accept to let everyone be part of that club: it’s no longer “elite”, since there’s no selection anymore. When it comes to hiring, there are much better ways, namely through structured interviews, to pick excellent candidates, including ones who may not have graduated at all or who have succeeded in other ways (so-called “late bloomers”).

Here’s a good illustration of how people can reveal themselves: I’ve hired possibly up to a hundred people to work for me over the years. Two people I recall distinctly were former administrative assistants who became program managers as they started working with me, first on a limited basis while still doing their former jobs, then full-time as junior program managers. About 10 years down the road, they have moved on to greener pastures and have continued along a successful trajectory: one has been promoted 3 times over that period of time and now manages a small team; the other eventually became an Android software engineer for a startup.

Electric cars are mostly not worth it financially (as of 2021)

Let me preface this by saying I haven’t owned a car since 2011 (before that, I only owned second-hand cars – you would laugh at how they looked) and I’m not planning to buy any car for the foreseeable future. But I did look at replacing my mum’s little petrol car with an electric one; I also occasionally rent a car; and I crack up in laughter with this British car dealer’s videos (because of his so-British accent and because he’s quite predictable).

I did always find electric cars to be on the expensive side. But I thought that with the price of electricity being relatively cheap and with possibly less maintenance required, it would be just a matter of years before the premium for buying an electric car would pay for itself.

By doing the maths, it simply doesn’t add up, in the cases I have examined, which may not correspond to your personal usage. For relatively low annual mileage (less than 10,000 km) and without being able to charge a car at home (because living in an apartment), it would take decades for the total cost of an electric car to pay off. Again, there are many variables at play (country you live in, type of vehicle, etc.) but I was surprised and a bit disappointed that it wasn’t really financially sensible. Now of course from the standpoint of reducing carbon emissions, it’s a no-brainer.

Those who can afford it should probably pay the extra price in acquiring an electric car. For others, it would make more financial sense to wait just a few more years when prices will continue to go down (as it’s heavily correlated to the price of batteries which have kept going down) and when batteries will either have more range or recharge more quickly.

Categorising people carries an oversimplification risk

I briefly touched upon that risk in my article titled Excuses, published just a few days ago. I’m not certain if it’s that I changed my mind on this topic or if I’m slowly articulating it better in my brain. Let’s say that it’s generally easy for me to be on the side of those who feel discriminated against, whatever the reason may be. But at the same time, I’ve become a little wary of the assumption that if individuals of a particular category get discriminated against, then all individuals of that category should be treated differently or given specific attention. It may make sense in some cases, I don’t know, but I would be cautious of the shortcut that seems to be made these days in the name of political correctness.

I’m purposefully not providing the specific examples I have in mind because I’m not interested in igniting an online flame war. I am however very much driven to action when it comes to finding practical solutions to long-standing issues of diversity and inclusiveness – part of the reason why I may have been selected to take part in one of Google’s DEI council.

And many more

To date, there are 100 topics Dirk and I debated on as part of our 2debate podcast, mainly covering topics related to business, technology and politics. Each side, for or against, is assigned randomly. I always try to honestly defend the side I’m assigned to, coming up with arguments that are still aligned with my core values. As a result, I often no longer remember what my initial stance may have been on a particular topic, since I tried so hard to defend one side… and Dirk’s arguments being equally good, there are very good reasons to adopt the opposite stance.

Debating in that context has therefore proven extremely valuable in terms of enhancing the plasticity of my brain – highly recommended! Digression: if you’re interested in joining our podcast on a one-off basis, contact me.

The additional value of debating on those topics is the confirmation that looking for common ground is conducive to effective negotiations. Adam Grant, in Think Again:

“Most people immediately start with a straw man, poking holes in the weakest version of the other side’s case. He does the reverse: he considers the strongest version of their case, which is known as the steel man. A politician might occasionally adopt that tactic to pander or persuade, but [successful debaters do] it to learn. (...) Admitting points of convergence doesn’t make you weaker – it shows that you’re willing to negotiate about what’s true, and it motivates the other side to consider your point of view.”