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MC#010: Seeking a Benign Violator

😅The Pleasure of Rule Breaking + 📋 Making it Easier to Send + 🎮 Gaming = Fun Work

Jason Shen
Jason Shen
5 min read
MC#010: Seeking a Benign Violator

Hey friends,

This is the 10th edition of Making Connections! (woah, double digits baby!) where we take a random (illustrated) walk down tech, fitness, product thinking, org design, nerd culture, persuasion, and behavior change.

Thanks for everyone who took my Decade of Insights impact quiz and found yourself on this newsletter as well. I hope you stick around but if it’s not your cup of tea, the sub link is at the bottom!

1. 😅The Pleasure of Benign Violation

Communication | Humor

This originally started as a tweet:

I was in a panel with 2 other speakers as part of an Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month presentation with Nielsen. During the Q&A, I tried to answer questions smoothly and thoughtfully, as I would on stage.

One of the other speakers, Stephen Lin, is an actor, and he brought a totally different energy to it. He paced around the room, left to change shirts (?), and would go on tangents that seemed unrelated to the question. At first I was off put by this, but then I realized it was hilarious and made the whole event way more entertaining and memorable. Because I didn’t know what he was going to do next.

It reminded me of a theory about humor called Benign Violation. These researchers at the University of Colorado believe that all humor can be described as a violation (a breaking of a rule, norm, moral code, grammar even) in a way that is benign (psychologically safe, comfortable).

I think more generally, it also speaks to the idea that surprising things (movies, findings, people) are more memorable and entertaining.

In their book, Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, authors Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger shed new light on why human beings gravitate toward surprise. As it turns out, we are all hardwired to enjoy new experiences — we like the shot of dopamine we get when we make a new purchase, get a text alert or meet a new friend. “Surprises point us to dangers, opportunities, and new information,” said Renninger. “Research shows that surprise intensifies our emotions by about 400 percent, which explains why we love positive surprises and hate negative surprises.” (link)

Unfortunately, it’s also what makes Trump so effective at grabbing media attention.


2. 📋 Making it Easier to Send (and Filter)

Dating | Efficiency / Communication

It's been a while since I've done any online dating, but revisiting Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by Christian Rudder (one of the OKCupid founders) reveals that copy and pasting a longish message is way more efficient than writing one from scratch.

Example from a man:

I’m a smoker too. I picked it up when backpacking in May. It used to be a drinking thing, but now I wake up and fuck, I want a cigarette. I sometimes wish that I worked in a Mad Men office. Have you seen the Le Corbusier exhibit at MoMA? It sounds pretty interesting. I just saw a Frank Gehry (sp?) display last week in Montreal, and how he used computer modelling to design a crazy house in Ohio.

It's a kind of weird message but you learn something about the guy and if you're into that kind of person, you might be inclined to reply.

Rudder says that copy-pasted messages underperform  from-scratch messages by 25% (and in general, the reply rates improve as you invest more in the message to a point),  But in terms of replies vs time spent, it does way better since you can send far more of these personalish messages.

We all complain about the abundance of messages and flooded inboxes, but that’s because we made writing/publishing faster and easier. Maybe we should make reading easier and faster too.

There’s a bot on Reddit that summarizes articles by 70%+ using actually quite a simple set of heuristics:

1) Associate words with their grammatical counterparts. (e.g. "city" and "cities")
2) Calculate the occurrence of each word in the text.
3) Assign each word with points depending on their popularity.
4) Detect which periods represent the end of a sentence. (e.g "Mr." does not).
5) Split up the text into individual sentences.
6) Rank sentences by the sum of their words' points.
7) Return X of the most highly ranked sentences in chronological order.

I used it to summarize my Fast Company article on COVID-19 burnout by 85% to 8 sentences and thought it did ok.

What if our emails all were autosummarized? If you use Gmail, Priority Inbox already sorts your messages for you. What else could we do to more aggressively filter messages? Do we want that?


3.  🎮 Gaming is Work That’s Fun

Gaming | Resilience

The ancient historian Herotodus writes of a kingdom struggling through an intensely difficult and trying time, and used games as a way to distract themselves. He was talking about the Lydians of Asia Minor, who invented dice, knuckle bones, and the ball, but he might have been talking about modern knowledge workers as documented in this OneZero article:

After a day of struggling to get anything done at work, the ability to jump into a game and knock out some side quests, or rack up some wins isn’t so much a dopamine fix as it is a necessary salve. We’re not playing video games to escape the daily grind anymore, we’re playing to recreate it.

Some of the games people often talk about include Animal Crossing, where you slowly build up a private island that’s all your own, or World of Warcraft, when you level up your character through quests and activities before teaming up to take on a bigger baddie with your guild.

Game designer Jane McGonigal says it best in her book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World

"Games make us happy because they are hard work that we choose for ourselves, and it turns out that almost nothing makes us happier than good, hard work."

She even goes as far as to say that because playing games are a way to focus our energy “at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy”, that the experience is actually the “direct emotional opposite of depression." Dang.


That’s all for today! If you made it to the end, congrats and thanks!

Jason

PS - I started a new job this week! More on that in a future edition

PPS - If you are enjoying this newsletter / new format, would you be willing to write a testimonial? Reply back or even better, tweet me =)

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Jason Shen

Human(e) technologist on a mission to help build resilient teams and organizations. Former NCAA gymnast and three-time startup founder.