Monday, January 31, 2005

Masters Thesis

I've applied for a leave of absence from my masters program. After completing the coursework (including an inexplicable A in the final course, which I honestly expected to fail), I realized that I wasn't ready to launch right into my thesis. The leave gives me a few months to catch my breath and focus on a meaningful thesis question. It has to be related to education and technology (both of which have a fair bit of latitude) and could involve some original research, but wouldn't have to.

I’m tossing around a bunch of ideas, all centered around how people are using (and will be using in the future) the web to discover, define and pursue their aspirations. There’s also an element of mapping aspirations over values, both stated values and how they’re reflected in lifestyle choices (how we spend our time, energy and money), which I’m exploring here.

An example at the mundane end of the spectrum might be how high school students use college searches and college sites to decide where they want to go and what they want to study. It may also include some aspect of online career planning, which I’ve been working on for the last few years. I think the web can be used in better ways to help people envision their future work, especially by putting it in the context of figuring out how work will fit into the rest of their future life, including relationships, leisure, and learning.

Myron is doing some amazing work with high school kids, getting them to use the web to create a presentation of what they want for the future, using MLS to choose the home and location they envision themselves in, AutoTrader to select their vehicles, Expedia to plan their annual trips, etc... They create a sort of "surface view" of what their future life might look like, and then they add up the main costs to figure out what type of work will sustain those lifestyles, discussing values and choices in the context of what kids want. I love that approach, and I've seen how powerful the learning is for his students.

I'm fascinated by the psychology of aspiration and the concept of possible selves. Eddy Elmer sent me a helpful list of psychologists to use as a starting point for researching identity and self-actualization: Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, and Rogers seem to be the most promising.

43Things could be right in the middle of this stuff -— it’s currently the best example of a site that really harnesses the power of the web to help people figure out what they want to do. I love how it connects people with shared goals and informal expertise. It led me to this fascinating paper about goal-setting and the Delmore Effect.

So I’m not lacking interests...just need to focus. Any ideas for further reading, or more specific questions that emerge from these ideas? E-mail me or leave a comment here, and I will be most grateful.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Studying Goal-Setting

Fascinating paper about how people set goals (pdf). I enjoyed the illumination of the fact that we mostly think planning is a good thing, but don't actually do much of it:
"Specifically, they were asked: 'Do you believe that it is possible to improve your effectiveness by formulating goals?' This question evoked assent from 94% of the respondents. In spite of the near universal awareness that goal-setting would be useful, almost all of the queried people also confessed that they did not set goals. Specifically, they were asked: 'Is there any area in your life where you would like to do better, but have not formulated explicit goals in order to help you do better?' Although they had just agreed that goals were valuable tools, 91% admitted that they had not taken advantage of this useful strategy."
It's as if setting goals is like flossing or something -- knowing how valuable it is isn't sufficient motivation to actually do it. So what about the popularity of 43Things, where people seem to be loving the goal-setting process? One of the most interesting insights is related to something called the Delmore Effect, which basically shows that we tend to focus our attention on short-term, lower-priority goals and ignore the bigger, more important ones. I wonder how you analyze goals in 43Things for that effect?

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Meet the Twixters. This in-depth article introduces us to the stories behind the kids who move back in with their parents after college and stay there into their late 20s. What's driving 20% of 26-year-olds to live with their folks? All the usual suspects -- college debt, crummy entry-level earnings, volatility in the job market -- but I'm more fascinated by the motivations related to lifestyle choices:
"The real heavy lifting may ultimately have to happen on the level of Western culture itself. There was a time when people looked forward to taking on the mantle of adulthood. That time is past. Now the current culture trains young people to fear it. 'I don’t ever want a lawn,' says Swann. 'I don’t ever want to drive two hours to get to work. I do not want to be a parent. I mean, hell, why would I? There’s so much fun to be had while you’re young.'"
Maybe the Twixters are giving up some independence and privacy to embrace consumer culture, using money saved on rent/food/utilities to buy great toys, fancy cars and vacations. Why not take the perks of affluence without the responsibilities if it's available, right? That's not to say that the trend is driven primarily by greed:
"But whatever the cause, twixters are looking for a sense of purpose and importance in their work, something that will add meaning to their lives, and many don’t want to rest until they find it. 'They’re not just looking for a job,' Arnett says. 'They want something that’s more like a calling, that’s going to be an expression of their identity.' Hedonistic nomads, the twixters may seem, but there’s a serious core of idealism in them."
Lots of great food for thought around this concept. They believe that they should follow their passions and find the perfect work, but it's like they're waiting for it to land in their laps.

Thanks to Gwen for this great find.

What You'll Wish You'd Known

Gwen linked to Paul Graham's graduation speech, which he unfortunately never delivered. It's more honest and realistic than most talks about finding your path in life (although not as gritty as Dave Pollard's undelivered commencement speech). His general advice relating to high school and self-actualization seems to be to jump through the hoops and spend as much time as you can pursuing interesting questions and projects:
"And what's your real job supposed to be? Unless you're Mozart, your first task is to figure that out. What are the great things to work on? Where are the imaginative people? And most importantly, what are you interested in? The word 'aptitude' is misleading, because it implies something innate. The most powerful sort of aptitude is a consuming interest in some question, and such interests are often acquired tastes."
It's all about taking responsibility for your life, rather than deferring responsibility to your school, employer, parents or peers. I suppose it would probably still sound preachy to any teenager, but I think it's closer to the truth than most advice about figuring out your future. It's really worth reading the entire thing.

Monday, January 24, 2005


Rob linked to some great reflection from an awesome web-design company that could be taken as a guide to designing smarter organizations, including potential pitfalls and issues. Lots of lifestylism in there: integrating the importance of rest, playing together, acknowledging their actual life stages, addressing fear of not having enough money, and more equality than you'd usually see in a company.


The Occupational Adventure linked to an article about a fascinating study (PDF) showing how attitudes toward work and life have changed over 25 years. The generational differences are striking. Lots of good stuff about a shift toward family priorities and the benefits of not taking a work-centric approach:
"Employees who are dual-centric or family-centric exhibit significantly better mental health, greater satisfaction with their lives, and higher levels of job satisfaction than employees who are work-centric."

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Economics of Wal-Mart

Consumer choices are a part of lifestylism that I haven't been talking about much, aside from the usual "buying more stuff doesn't make you happy" thing. But we all do buy stuff, and I've come to think that it's important to think about the impact of those purchases. This fascinating look at the economics of Wal-Mart is a great starting point if you're thinking about making purchasing decisions only on price alone:
"Wal-Mart has also lulled shoppers into ignoring the difference between the price of something and the cost. Its unending focus on price underscores something that Americans are only starting to realize about globalization: Ever-cheaper prices have consequences. Says Steve Dobbins, president of thread maker Carolina Mills: 'We want clean air, clear water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world--yet we aren't willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions.'"

Working Time

This document is surprisingly interesting for a government report: Overview of the Literature on Working Time and the Distribution of Work.

Money and Happiness

Curt has another great post on the mythical connection between money and happiness, pulling together some choice quotes from an excellent article titled Money = Happiness? That's rich. One finding that surprised me: "An annual poll by the University of California at Los Angeles and the American Council on Education found that entering freshmen rated becoming 'very well off financially' first on a list of 19 goals, ahead of choices such as helping others, raising a family or becoming proficient in an academic pursuit."

Monday, January 10, 2005

What Do You Believe? is otherwise known as the World Question Center. This year's big one is a question of faith: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

Daniel Goleman's answer talks about declining emotional well-being of kids over the last couple of decades and he advances many of the usual suspects: social isolation, technology dependence, decreased family support because of geographic mobility and overly regimented play. He also talks about the effects of economic progress:
"For one, the ratcheting upward of global competition means that over the last two decades or so each generation of parents has had to work longer to maintain the same standard of living that their own parents had —- virtually every family has two working parents today, while 50 years ago the norm was only one. It's not that today's parents love their children any less, but that they have less free time to spend with them than was true in their parents' day."
I also liked Roger Schank's take on how we make irrational (and important) decisions. If this is true, can decision-making be improved through learning and reflection?
"People believe that are behaving rationally and have thought things out, of course, but when major decisions are made—who to marry, where to live, what career to pursue, what college to attend, people's minds simply cannot cope with the complexity. When they try to rationally analyze potential options, their unconscious, emotional thoughts take over and make the choice for them."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Grab Bag of Gems

My Bloglines account is getting too full again, so I'm pulling out a few that I can't bare to lose:
  • A great interview with Po Bronson, author of What Should I do With My Life?.
  • Doug also talked about Bronson's book in a recent post, and his latest post about attention is spot-on.
  • Pat Kane reports on an intiative in Scotland to allow workers to take every seventh year off, paid for by a subvention from their salaries in the preceding six years. While I do love the idea of sabbaticals and other related concepts, I share Pat's concern over the black/white split between work and non-work, as if it has to be all or nothing.
  • Curt has a short post about dreams that helps take the fluffy edge off of the concept for me.
  • Jory's battling for authenticity: "Why are you building that resume? To make more money doing something that you do not love? To maintain a lifestyle that you suddenly found yourself living, but that you never actually chose?" Esther and Tannis also comment on a similar track.
  • The Experience Designer bounces off of one of Hope's great posts about travelling in India: "The experiences being described by Hope on her journeys are, for me, fundamental and critical in understanding the deeper and more fufilling aspects of how people learn the things they value the most."
  • Christopher throws out a challenge to just be enough, rather than fixating on self-improvement. "Our wholesale buying into the ideals of ambition and upward mobility have not led to greater happiness."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Less Social Mobility

From the Economist, via Stephen Downes, comes this article about declining social mobility in the U.S.: Ever higher society, ever harder to ascend. It's an interesting analysis, pointing out that as the gap between rich and poor widens, it's also becoming harder for most people to move across the gap. What if more people are deciding that they don't want to climb the ladder?