The Long Game 41: Wellness Programs, Woo Science, Commenting vs Making, Work-Life Balance

🛰 The Engineering of Perseverance, Identity, The Most Intolerant Wins, Exploding Topics, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at lifetizr, and this is The Long Game Newsletter.

Greetings from Paris!

If you missed the past episodes, you could catch up here.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Wellness programs and “woo” science

  • Meditation and losing the edge

  • Commenting vs. Making

  • Work-life balance

  • Identity

Let’s dive in!

🥑 Health

🥗 Wellness Programs Don’t Work & “Woo” Science

In theory, a program aiming at helping employees feel better at work and engage in preventive medicine should have very beneficial results, right? Well, things don’t always pan out the way you’d think. That’s what this article showed: to understand the impact of an intervention. We need to study this intervention the right way. Randomized control trials are the gold standard here because it enables to isolate only the intervention's effect.

One element that’s potentially dangerous for the long-term success of preventive health and wellness is that many claims aren’t supported by science. Marty Makary mentioned this in The Price We Pay, where he showed that companies often spend a lot of money on wellness programs with no proven benefits. Vinay Prasad explained a similar idea on the preventive medicine side in Malignant. He showed that early screening of some cancers doesn’t improve survival rates.

More generally, what I take from this is that the interventions you think will obviously work and be beneficial sometimes are not. It doesn’t mean we should stop trying to make employees feel good, and people prevent diseases, but it means we—as actors of the health & wellness industry—should have the honesty and rigor to back our claims.

This debate is actually more complicated than it seems. The reason is that many health interventions come with a significant psychological component. For example, early screening can help you find a disease early, but it can also significantly increase your anxiety. These positive and negative effects could average out over the long term, or the increased anxiety could even make the outcome worse. A corporate wellness program may be very beneficial for some employees and not for others.

A lot of wellness activities are dubbed “woo” right now. I will eventually write more about this concept, but the idea is that things like cold showers, breathing techniques, meditation, psychedelics, and so on aren’t yet part of the medical establishment. These things may be overhyped, just as it’s possible that we don’t yet understand the extent to which they’re valuable for our health. For example, I’m extremely happy I fixed my debilitating chronic back pain in 6 weeks—after two years of pain and thousands of euros spent on multiple physical therapists—thanks to what most people would consider “woo” science: basically reading a book and understanding that the pain is emotional and not physical. I’m currently writing a detailed piece about this, but it’s—by far—the most important book I read in my life. Some “woo” practices may be onto something serious.

The way forward will be to tailor the right interventions for each individual. However, before getting there, we need to start with less than perfect interventions. The line between going from something OK to something personalized and great and straight fraud and BS is often thin in this fast-growing industry that health & wellness represents.

🌱 Wellness

🧘‍♀️ Meditation and Losing the Edge

One of the main objections I hear from people who don’t meditate is that they’re afraid reaching a more meditative state of mind will make them lose their edge.

You often hear things like:

“I just don’t want to lose my edge, and I’m afraid I’m going to become complacent. I don’t want to lose my edge.”

In my experience, this edge that people have, and that’s so important to them, is a double-edged sword. That intensity and that edge that they view as a pure advantage, which helps them most often professionally, usually has a lot of consequences personally.

Meditation will not cause you to "lose your edge." It will rather cause you to see your life clearly, what your values and wishes truly are, and when you have a clear intention towards a goal, it will make your focus and edge even sharper when directed towards it.

In my experience, when I found myself caring less about some things in my life or even some of my own shortcomings, it was because they were actually not that important. But then I discovered other goals that were much more worthy of my time and energy, and then I got my edge back.

But… of course, there are no one-size-fits-all!

If you enjoy this newsletter, make sure to subscribe if you haven't!

🧠 Better Thinking

🔁 Commenting vs. Making

Last week I shared a great article about the tragedy of legible expertise, and it also covered some aspects of the discussion around ‘commenting vs. making.’ This week, I came across this piece on the same topic. I think it’s worth mentioning because I see a lot of people repeatedly forgetting this element. Once you start building, you understand how hard things are, and you also understand that commenting on what others are doing or building isn’t hard nor particularly constructive.

I gained a lot of appreciation for people who make things, and lost a lot of tolerance for people who only pontificate. I found myself especially frustrated with my past self, whose default was to complain and/or comment, then wonder why things didn’t magically get better.

Making stuff is no easy task, and the only way to learn and get better is… you guessed it: to make stuff. You’re not going to learn everything in books or from other people (although it’s a big part of it.) When you see people not taking the ideal route or not doing the ideal thing, they often thought about it, but they have constraints that you can’t imagine. It shouldn’t be an excuse to justify bad management, but it should be a call for all the people commenting to start putting their insights into action!

I realize it doesn't sound like it, but I'm trying to excuse the CDC here. I'm not just saying they're corrupt. I'm saying they have to deal with the inevitable amount of corruption which it takes to be part of a democratic government, and they're handling it as well as they can under the circumstances.

⚡️ Startup Stuff

⚖️ Work-Life Balance

I came across Waze's ex-CEO Noam Bardin’s piece on why he left Google, and it’s a must-read. He explains his decision to leave and covers more generally a few things that are wrong in tech right now.

The whole piece is great, and I highly recommend reading it, but here I wanted to share the work-life balance section:

Work life balance. When I was growing up in Tech in the ‘90’s - there was no such thing as work life balance. We loved what we did and wanted to succeed so we worked like crazy to achieve great things. As I had kids, I learned the importance of being at home for them and that's how I understood Work Life balance - its a balance, sometimes you need to work weekends and nights or travel, sometimes you can head out early or work from home - we balance the needs of the employee and the company. Today, in Silicon Valley, work life balance has become sacrificing Work for Life - not a balance. Young people want it all - they want to get promoted quickly, achieve economic independence, feel fulfilled at Work, be home early, not miss the Yoga class at 11:00am etc. Having trouble scheduling meetings because “it's the new Yoga instructor lesson I cannot miss” or “I’m taking a personal day” drove me crazy. The worst thing is that this was inline with the policies and norms - I was the weirdo who wanted to push things fast and expected some level of personal sacrifice when needed. I don't believe long hours are a badge of honor but I also believe that we have to do whatever it takes to win, even if its on a weekend.

I totally agree with his take. The ideal workday is to finish early and have time for other activities, but the reality as an early-stage startup is that it will require more than that. The way I see it is that you need to find the maximum output that’s sustainable over the long term.

For people like Elon, it’s 18 hours of work per day, every day, without holidays. For others, it’s going to be less than that. There is no easy recipe here, but some non-negotiable elements are that your team needs to be 100% aligned with the company's mission, and they should give a shit.

Many more things need to be said about this work-life balance debate. I’m not going to cover them all today, but here some of them:

  • Many people who already made it call for more work-life balance often forgetting that they themselves needed to put in the hours in the path to figuring things out.

  • On the side of more work, many people worship long hours for the sake of them, almost like a new religion of Workism. Working a lot is not a badge of honor. What matters is what this amount of work helps you achieve. More work doesn’t always equate to more results.

  • When you’re working on something you love, the lines between “work” and “life” tend to get blurry. If you manage to work on what you’re passionate about, you’re fortunate, but when pushed too far, this can backfire (less family time, less time for personal health, etc.) When studying people who achieved great things, obsession and lack of balance are very common. Feature or bug? I don’t know. However, it’s good to mention figures like Tobi from Shopify, who seem to be a one-of-a-kind leader, very different from his peers.

📚 What I Read

👥 Identity, Francis Fukuyama

Fukuyama is a great thinker, and I enjoyed reading The End of History and the Last Man a few months ago. More recently, Fukuyama wrote identity. It’s a key book to understand our current political landscape where political parties founded on recognizing a group’s identity are created and thrive all over the world. Sadly, identity politics is here to stay.

Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today.

Identity grows, in the first place, out of a distinction between one’s true inner self and an outer world of social rules and norms that does not adequately recognize that inner self’s worth or dignity.

⛔ The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority

This week, I revisited this article from Nassim Taleb about why the most intolerant ends up winning.

It suffices for an intransigent minority –a certain type of intransigent minorities –to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences. Further, an optical illusion comes with the dominance of the minority: a naive observer would be under the impression that the choices and preferences are those of the majority. If it seems absurd, it is because our scientific intuitions aren’t calibrated for that (fughedabout scientific and academic intuitions and snap judgments; they don’t work and your standard intellectualization fails with complex systems, though not your grandmothers’ wisdom).

🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week

The Long Game Podcast is back!

🌇 #11: Mwiya Musokotwane on Building the Future of Africa, Charter Cities, Innovation and Institutions

Mwiya is the co-founder and CEO of Thebe Investment Management, a Zambian private investment firm that is the developer of Nkwashi, a 3100-acre satellite town that will be home to up to 100,000 residents. Thebe Investment Management has US$1.5bn of project pipeline under development.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Topics we discuss:

  • Why Mwiya came back to Zambia and left the UK

  • Why Mwiya is building a new city in Africa

  • Why charter cities lead to more progress & innovation

  • The African tech ecosystem

  • Building a Pan-African culture

  • Wakanda

  • The benefits of low tech businesses

🍭 Brain Food

🌳 The Social Life of Forests

I found this article to be very entertaining. I knew nothing about forests, and this story about Suzanne Simard, a professor of Forest and Conservation Sciences, is captivating. It’s a fascinating story exploring Suzanne’s discoveries about how trees communicate with each other.

Underground, trees and fungi form partnerships known as mycorrhizas: Threadlike fungi envelop and fuse with tree roots, helping them extract water and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in exchange for some of the carbon-rich sugars the trees make through photosynthesis.

Her initial inklings about the importance of mycorrhizal networks were prescient, inspiring whole new lines of research that ultimately overturned longstanding misconceptions about forest ecosystems. By analyzing the DNA in root tips and tracing the movement of molecules through underground conduits, Simard has discovered that fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest — even trees of different species. Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones can pass from tree to tree through these subterranean circuits. Resources tend to flow from the oldest and biggest trees to the youngest and smallest. Chemical alarm signals generated by one tree prepare nearby trees for danger. Seedlings severed from the forest’s underground lifelines are much more likely to die than their networked counterparts. And if a tree is on the brink of death, it sometimes bequeaths a substantial share of its carbon to its neighbors.

I also learned how coal was formed 👇

🎥 What I’m Watching

👩‍🚀 Perseverance

This week was a fantastic week for space exploration: the perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to watch the landing live. The video below explores the insane engineering of the Perseverance Rover.

For more: read this great piece by Venkatesh Rao on the value of money on earth.

🔧 The tool of the Week

📈 Exploding Topics

I’ve already mentioned Exploding Topics here, but I think it’s worth checking this website regularly if you want to be aware of the latest trends. The concept is simple; it surfaces rapidly growing topics before they take off. I like to keep an eye on the “Health” and “Fitness” categories.

🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.”

— Søren Kierkegaard

If you enjoyed this newsletter, make sure to subscribe if you haven’t 👇

👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

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Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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