The Long Game 95: Mindfulness Apps, Nutritional Epidemiology, Hustle Culture, Shock Cycle
📱 Vertical Social Networks, Ukraine, Russia, Goody, Hiring Young Talents, Engineering Victory, and Much More!
Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter. To receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:
In this episode, we explore:
Mindfulness apps work
The sock cycle
Vertical social networks
Hiring young and talented people
Let’s dive in!
🥗 Nutritional Epidemiology
How can this still be possible? 🍳
The reason is that nutritional epidemiology is extremely bad today and needs reform. This article explains some specific steps that could make nutritional studies more rigorous.
Here’s the TL;DR:
Stronger execution and reporting
Considering these proposed improvements to study designs, measurements, analyses, and reporting, do I expect nutritional epidemiology can ever reach the same standards as randomized controlled trials? It seems unlikely. But do these types of studies have the potential to increase their scientific rigor and provide more meaningful knowledge for human health? I believe so. The question is, will they?
In spite of their many faults, observational studies in nutrition continue to be popular with the press, where spurious associations are often translated into flashy headlines. Moreover, food industry sponsorship has long ensured ample funding for nutrition studies, and on many occasions, this conflict of interest has been found to lead to flawed methodology or misleading reporting of results. So if demand for these studies remains high and funding remains available, what provides the incentive for reform, and who should be responsible for ensuring quality? Editors and reviewers for scientific journals might help to elevate standards by requiring more rigorous methods and public disclosure of data and analytical codes. Perhaps the ultimate gatekeepers must be investigators themselves. We can only hope that most have a hunger for truth over flash.
🧘♀️ Shockingly, Mindfulness Apps Really Work
This new research paper is an encouraging step for tech-enabled health & wellness products. Here’s the abstract:
Emotions and worries can reduce individuals’ available attention and affect economic decisions.
In a four-week experiment with 2,384 US adults, offering free access to a popular mindfulness meditation app that costs $13 per month improves mental health, productivity and decisionmaking.
First, it causes a 0.44 standard deviation reduction in symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, comparable to the impacts of expensive in-person therapy, with improvements even among participants with minimal or mild symptoms at baseline.
Second, it increases earnings on a proofreading task by 1.9 percent.
Third, it makes decision-making more stable across emotional states, reducing the interference of personal worries with risk choices.
Overall, our results demonstrate the potential of affordable mindfulness meditation apps to improve mental health, productivity, and the impact of emotions on economic decisions.
Of course, this result should be confirmed by other similar experiments, but in this context of increasing mental health problems, this is a promising result.
🧠 Better Thinking
🤯 The Shock Cycle
Morgan Housel is often one of the best writers to put critical ideas and concepts into words. I found his tweet about the shock cycle so good that I thought about it all week.
It seems to be happening for all the important events, and COVID might be the single best example of this.
First, deny that a pandemic is coming, and make fun of tech bros calling for “no handshakes.” Then keep ignoring it when it spreads to Italy, then panic once they finally understand that it’s going global. After that comes the acceptance of the situation, and later we enter in denial mode when good news arrives. Examples of this are that Omicron was not as deadly, masks aren’t essential outside and for kids at school.
What’s the best way to avoid this shock cycle? It’s to practice meta-rationality. In the words of Tyler Cowen:
Tyler Cowen: A person is being meta-rational when he or she understands how smart or well-informed he or she is in a given topic area. Meta-rationality is very hard to come by in my view, so people typically do not defer to the views of experts when they ought to. Sometimes the expert might be wrong, but if you’re just playing the odds, the expert is probably right. So people are far too confident about too many things they shouldn’t be so confident about. Meta-rational people, who are essentially impossible to find, with the margin, we can be a bit more meta-rational. They know to whom they should defer or how to find out the right answer.
In practice, the best way to do so is to avoid watching mainstream news at all costs; they are either wrong or late. Instead, find smart and knowledgeable people on Twitter. They’ll provide much more signal and less noise.
Here are a few Twitter lists to help you do so:
⚡️ Startup Stuff
📱 Vertical Social Networks
What will be the next big generation of social products? I believe that they will be vertical social networks. This is what led us to pivot the product at Vital a few months ago.
Although some vertical social networks already exist and are very popular (Strava, Public, Saturn, for example), many people aren’t familiar with this concept. That’s why I liked this article explaining why vertical social networks are the future of social.
With 3.5B smartphone users worldwide, a social network that seems “niche” can now attract hundreds of millions of users. And with growing fatigue around swiping and liking static content, many users are looking for more curated and meaningful connections and digital experiences based on their online and offline interests. Enter vertical social networks!
Here are the five keys for success in vertical social networks:
Users post things that they can’t (or won’t) share anywhere else.
“New social networks should enable users to share content that they can’t post elsewhere, which is where vertical-focused platforms can shine!”
Snap also found success by creating a place where its users could share ephemeral photos and videos — content they didn’t want on their Instagram!
Solves a core, utility-oriented need with a new tool/feature.
Unlike other social networks where the network is the only thing of value, vertical social networks often come with a key utility. For Strava, records of all activities, for Saturn, your calendar.
Enhances a user’s status within an existing community.
Everything is a status game.
Develops and supports its own group of platform-native “stars.”
This was one of the key components of TikTok’s success. Average Instagram influencers could quickly gain notoriety on TikTok.
The platform is a “system of record” for identity within the vertical.
It holds all the important data related to your profile and interactions within the community. This encourages frequent engagement on the platform and makes it harder to churn.
Examples of this: Goodreads, Strava.
The author points to something very interesting at the end of the article: expect new social networks to develop alongside new device capabilities.
📚 What I Read
🧗♂️ On Hustle Culture
Excellent piece on hard work and how it got out of style in today’s obsession over self-care:
The difference is that Michael was expected to win despite his health. His health was seen as a means to an end, some greatness outside the self. Whereas now, since the arbiter of the highest good is the self (internal), not society (external), Simon had the courage to listen to herself over any external projections. “I’m doing me” is the noble path when the self is the ultimate arbiter of the highest good.
Courage used to mean sacrificing the self for an external aim. Now it means sacrificing the external aim for the self. “I have to be true to myself”
Jordan overcame his pain. Simon made the decision that was most authentic to her. It’s possible the latter is more respected today.
To be clear, Simon is also the GOAT at what she does, but she won Athlete of the Year for withdrawing, not winning, which only emphasizes the point.
Society’s choice of role models indicates what character traits they value above all else, and this tells us we prioritize self-care over sacrifice, of internal authority over external authority
It’s interesting to note that the increase in complaints around hustle porn also coincide with the shift in what society celebrates described above. Did the amount of hustle content increase, or did the perceptions of that same hustle content become more negative? I’d wager the latter.
Pair with: Hire People Who Give a Sh*t
🏁 On Becoming a Landing Spot for Entrepreneurial Young Talent Before they Start Something
Ramp’s CTO Karim Atiyeh on hiring young talented individuals:
And the two things that stood out to me instantly on the people side, what Karim said just kind of blew my mind in terms of I was like, "What are you after?" He goes, "I want to build a talent brand that years down the road when these people started their own company, is they look back where they all came from." That was Ramp 2019, Ramp 2020. This is that core. This is the absolutely unique set of talent that engineers seek out.
So when you say, "I want be in payments in San Francisco," Strike comes in, comes up instantly. If you say, "I want to be in fintech in Europe," it's like, okay, there's this. There's that. There's this San Francisco company. Move their office here. Maybe there's early day Venmo and then they got bought by PayPal and the engineering culture sort of dissolved a bit.
But even in the way Karim approaches hiring interns, I've noted in the company they hire so many freshman interns, right, so rising sophomores. It was like, "Why are we doing it? It's a lot of work." Right? People barely have any experience. It's like, "What are we doing? It's going to slow our team down."
And Karim's answer to this, "This top 1% that we hire are going to go back to their class. Their classmates are going to see these people spent their summer at Ramp and they all would want to come here and they will know that this is the first person in the class who just had their internship. And very few of us had exciting first time internships." So this sort of word-of-mouth culture carrier brands, so the people who work here, you don't need to sell the company anymore. It's just sufficient to meet the team.
🎙 Podcast Episodes of the Week
This week in podcasts:
Sovereignty in the 21st Century
A multi-episode series exploring sovereignty in The Digital Age, geopolitical game theory, the future of statism, and how Bitcoin/crypto fits into the picture.
A great episode highlighting the importance of engineering to win a war.
🍭 Brain Food
☢️ Nuclear Risk
If you’re a long-time The Long Game reader, you know my concerns regarding existential risk, especially nuclear risk. I covered this many, many times in previous editions. Unfortunately, the threat has never been as high as today in 27,969 days (August 9, 1945).
I know it feels better to think this could never happen, but when the outcome is so catastrophic, even a low probability should be enough to raise significant concerns. Unfortunately, a nuclear conflict is totally different from regular warfare and would change life on Earth for many decades.
Here are some resources on the topic if you’re interested:
🎥 What I’m Watching
🇷🇺 Why Russia is Invading Ukraine
A good explanation of what Russia wants in Ukraine.
🇺🇦 The Failed Logistics of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
Learn why Russia is having logistical troubles in Ukraine.
🤝🇺🇦 Here is a crowd-sourced list of resources to help Ukraine.
🔧 The Tool of the Week
🎁 Goody — Send the Perfect Gift
I found Goody to be a very well-done product. It will help you if you want to send a present to someone.
🪐 Quote I’m Pondering
Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.
― Alan Watts
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