TLDR: Counterintuitively, people think they’d regret a foolish action more than a foolish inaction (in the short run), but it’s actually the other way around (in the long run).

From the book “Stumbling on Happiness” by Dan Gilbert:

 Consider these two scenarios:

  1. You own shares in Company A. During the past year, you considered switching to stock in Company B but decide against it. You now find that you would have been better off by $1,200 if you switched. (regret from inaction)
  2. You own shares in Company C. During the past year, you switched to Company D. You now find that you would have been better off by $1,200 if you kept your stock in Company C. (regret from action)

Studies show that 9 of 10 people expect to feel more regret when they foolishly switch stocks than when they foolish fail to switch stocks, because people think they will regret foolish actions more than foolish inactions. But studies also show that 9 out of 10 people are wrong. Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends.

But why do people regret more inactions than actions? One reason is that psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than actions. When our action causes us to accept a marriage proposal from someone who later becomes an axe murder, we can console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience (“Collecting hatchets is not  a healthy hobby”). But when our inaction causes us to reject a marriage proposal from someone who later becomes a movie star, we can’t console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience because … well, there wasn’t one.

The irony is all too clear: Because we don’t realize that our psychological immune systems can rationalize an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we hedge our bets when we should blunder forward.

Lesson learned: Most people have to make decisions with incomplete data about the future all the time. You’re better off making the decision and then recovering from failure, than to be paralyzed by fear and take no action. This reminds me of the “regret minimization framework” from Jeff Bezos, and of the top regrets of the dying.

This is just one of the gems (of many) from the book “Stumbling on Happiness” by Dan Gilbert.

Note: This was originally written for my company blog, cross-posting it here.

We were recently invited by Gartner to showcase the Double at the recent CIO Leadership Forum in Huntington Beach, California. In addition, we were also invited to be on a panel to share best practices in innovation.

Photo of the panel in Huntington Beach, Calif.Dr. Sasi Pillay from Washington D.C. (NASA's CIO) is on the Double. On Sasi's right is Tom Soderstrom (microphone in hand), IT CTO for NASA JPL. On Sasi's left is Jay Liew from Double Robotics.

Above: Photo of the panel in Huntington Beach, Calif. Dr. Sasi Pillay from Washington D.C. (NASA’s CIO) is on the Double. On Sasi’s right is Tom Soderstrom (microphone in hand), IT CTO for NASA JPL. On Sasi’s left is Jay Liew from Double Robotics.

Dr. Sasi Pillay, NASA’s CIO from Washington D.C. was one of the panelists but could not make it at the very last minute because of the new strict limits on employee travel, due to the recent 2013 federal budget sequestration.

Tamra Hall (VP, Executive Partner at Gartner) who was the panel moderator asked us if we could have Dr. Pillay be on the panel remotely, over a Double. After all, the Double is for telepresence and the only thing we needed was a regular wifi connection.

We were excited about taking on such a high profile challenge, especially in a room full of billion dollar company CIOs. We called up Dr. Pillay in D.C. and gave him the URL to our web interface, which works from a regular web browser.

He called in about 10-15 minutes before the session started, as the attendees walked in. Ms. Hall kicked it off by introducing the panelists, then launching into a few questions of her own before opening up the Q&A to the audience. It worked great. Dr. Pillay fielded the questions just like any other member on the panel.

We’d like to thank Gartner & NASA (and the travel budget cut!) for the opportunity to show just how the Double can help companies reduce their travel costs. Dr. Pillay may have been ~2600 miles away from where he needed to be, but the Double made that problem irrelevant.

Below is an excerpt from Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.

Long ago we had passed the stage of asking what was the meaning of life, a naive query which understands life as the attaining of some aim through the active creation of something of value. For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and death, of suffering and of dying

Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, “I have nothing to expect from life any more.” What sort of answer can one give to that? What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life-daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment.
Continue reading

To figure out what’s next (or where to), it’s useful as a thought exercise to know how we got here. Silicon Valley’s living legend Steve Blank shared his account of the valley’s “secret history“. It’s easy to forget that the fruits we enjoy today & billions of dollars in wealth has been created as a result of the military’s arms race.

In the 19th century, the development of the steam engine and the development of the British navy (and its imperial reach) moved hand in hand. In the 20th century, the United States was the engine of global technological development, and much of that innovation was funded and driven by military acquisitions, and almost all of that had some spin-off civilian application. The development of both aircraft and radios was heavily subsidized by the military and resulted in the subsequent birth of the airline industry and the broadcasting industry. The interstate highway system was first conceived of as a military project to facilitate the rapid movement of troops in case of Soviet attack or nuclear catastrophe. The microchip was developed for use in the small digital computers that guided both nuclear missiles and the rockets needed to put payloads in space. And of course the Internet, which entered public consciousness in the 1990s, began as a military communications project in the 1960s.

Wars are times of intense technological transformation, because societies invest—sometimes with extensive borrowing—when and where matters of life and death are at stake. The U.S.-jihadist war has driven certain developments in unmanned surveillance and attack aircraft as well as in database technology, but the profound transformations of World War II (radar, penicillin, the jet engine, nuclear weapons) and the Cold War (computers, the Internet, fiber optics, advanced materials) are lacking. The reason is that ultimately the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq are light-infantry wars that have required extrapolations of existing technologies but few game-changing innovations.

Emphasis above is mine. Put another way, if it weren’t for the “major” wars, could you imagine an alternate world today without computers, internet, wireless, GPS-reliant location-based mobile apps, all the companies born from this category (e.g. Google, Facebook, Microsoft), and all the jobs + productivity to society born from this category? That isn’t to say these couldn’t have been developed privately, though it’s hard to imagine how receptive VCs would to some guy who walks in their door with a business plan to throw a bunch of satellites up in space for check-in + restaurant review app.

From aircraft to nuclear power to moon flights to the Internet to global positioning satellites, the state is much better at investing in long-term innovation. The government is inefficient, but that inefficiency and the ability to absorb the cost of inefficiency are at the heart of basic research. When we look at the projects we need to undertake in the coming decade, the organization most likely to execute them successfully is the Department of Defense.

There is nothing particularly new in this intertwining of technology, geopolitics, and economic well-being. The Philistines dominated the Levantine coast because they were great at making armor. To connect and control their empire, the Roman army built roads and bridges that are still in use. During a war aimed at global domination, the German military created the foundation of modern rocketry; in countering, the British came up with radar. Leading powers and those contending for power constantly find themselves under military and economic pressure. They respond to it by inventing extraordinary new technologies.

Excerpts above are from the book “The Next Decade” by George Friedman.

I have many questions about the future, as I’m sure you all do:

  • Will technology as a result from commercial R&D by private funds ever impact humanity as much as it has R&D by the military?
  • In Friedman’s terms, what “new structure” (as opposed to “rearranging of furniture”) is being built today that will lay the groundwork for the next Google / Apple / Twitter? (And will it be a by-product of the military over-investing in response to a significant threat? What would that threat be?)