58: Be Intentional with Ben Kuhn

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

In this episode, we’re joined by my friend Craig Fratrik as well. Ben is the CTO at Wave, a fintech startup serving Africa. In this episode, we chat about effective altruism. being intentional about your life, the perils of graduate school, and how to be an effective manager. You can check out Ben’s blog at: https://www.benkuhn.net/

Articles referenced in the conversation:
– My favorite essays of life advice: https://www.benkuhn.net/weeklyessays/– How to Read Self-Help: https://blog.tjcx.me/p/how-to-read-self-help– My weekly review habit: https://www.benkuhn.net/weekly/– Kindle4RSS: http://kindle4rss.com/– Attention is your scarcest resource: https://www.benkuhn.net/attention/– Be impatient: https://www.benkuhn.net/impatient/– Zvi’s Mazes Sequence summary: https://thezvi.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/mazes-sequence-summary/– Grad school is worse for public health than STDs: https://www.benkuhn.net/grad/– The unreasonable effectiveness of one-on-ones: https://www.benkuhn.net/11/– Your room can be as bright as the outdoors: https://www.benkuhn.net/lux/– Inadequate Equilibria on light boxes: https://equilibriabook.com/inadequacy-and-modesty/#iv


Will Jarvis 0:05
Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways that is worse in the past towards a better, more definite vision of the future. I’m your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives podcast.com.

Well, Ben, thanks for joining us today.

Ben Kuhn 0:44
Thank you for having me. I am excited to talk.

Will Jarvis 0:46
Absolutely. And today we’re also joined by my friend Craig and Craig, you actually introduced me to Ben’s blog. So you kind of complete the circle here. Yeah, glad. Thanks, Greg. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I was really intrigued. Yeah, absolutely. Well, Ben, could you give us kind of a brief bio, and some of the big things you’re interested in, but the big problems you’re working on right now?

Ben Kuhn 1:08
Yeah, sure. So briefest of fires, I am the CTO of wave, which means that I lead the engineering team. And wave is a tech startup whose mission is to make Africa the first cashless continent. And so maybe it would help if I explained a little bit about why that’s a problem that I’m really excited about working on. And I mean, the short answer to that is that I think it will have a really big impact on the lives of a lot of people to be able to use electronic payments instead of cash for various things. Now, that’s a little bit of like a surprising claim. I guess, if you’ve only ever used electronic payments, you might not realize that, like using cash for various things, is actually really bad and really inconvenient in ways that are like can be quite damaging. And so I guess I’ll give a few different ways that this can happen. Yeah. So that i think that i think wave is, is is helping solve so one, the most obvious one is money transfer fees. So if you don’t have an easy way to send money by like moving bits around, then a lot of people actually end up spending really surprisingly enormous amounts of their income on on money transfer. So in Senegal, if you look at Senegal is where wave has the biggest presence. And if you look at our next largest competitor, and what their like money transfer revenue was before we entered the market with much lower prices, it was actually like, somewhere around like a percentage point of Senegal’s GDP, oh God, just on sending moving money from point A to point B, which if you’re used to the money moving operation being something like decrease the bits here and increase them there, then you’re like, Why does it have to be, you know, 1% of GDP just for this one service? And there were others that were also people were spending a meaningful amount of money on? And I mean, the answer is it doesn’t. People don’t spend that much money anymore, because WAV is much cheaper. But that’s just a very direct way in which we’re saving people in Senegal, like hundreds of millions of dollars a year that they can then spend on things that are really important, like school fees, or you know, medical care, or whatever, it’s not like, you know, there there are people who typically aren’t very well off. And so the money that we save them gets used for really, really important things. Another less obvious way in which having electronic payments can be really, really important to people is by saving them a lot of time. So like, if you’re a business person, and you don’t get a payment, when you expect to get a payment, then maybe you run out of inventory, and you can’t sell things to your customers anymore, and then you lose a lot of income. And this is actually a huge selling point for WAV originally when we launched in Senegal is that we put a lot of effort into making sure that our users could always get access to their funds very quickly. And as a result, a lot of our original users just saw their incomes increase a lot because they could they were like fish traders. And they could do more efficient trades because they could get their cash faster. And so that’s another way that that having access to electronic payments is really important. Now maybe I’ll give you one more, which is like the one that I’m most excited about, which is more of a longer term thing. Yeah. Which is, if you if you look at all of the tech companies in Africa today that are succeeding, they’re all FinTech companies, and they’re just kind of like mysterious. Why is this? My theory about this is that the problem is, if you the tech company, are not collecting the cash yourself, there’s no one else to do it for you. And this just makes it impossible to build many types of tech companies in Africa, because the infrastructure isn’t there. So if you wanted to build an e commerce company, well, they’re actually is one of those that IPO, although I think it’s doing pretty badly. Now, perhaps related to this is, if you’re an e commerce company, then you probably have to get your customers to pay you via cash on delivery, except in a few markets where there’s like mature payment infrastructure. And that’s just like adds a lot of friction to your business. Absolutely. And similarly, like in many other verticals, like, they’re just, there’s so much stuff that you can’t do, because you can’t really collect payments from your customers. So in the long term, I think that wave or something like it existing in these countries, will enable a lot of different types of businesses to be built that are simply impossible to build right now and really contribute to helping

businesses develop in all of these countries and helping the economy grow. So I guess for context on like, quantitatively how important this is, wave was inspired by a product that succeeded in Kenya called m pesa. And for various reasons, even though m pesa, worked very well in Kenya. Until now, nobody has really managed to replicate that level of success in other countries. But when m pesa, succeeded in Kenya, a lot of economists looked at basically, what was the effect of MPs on people’s incomes. And you can do this by looking at MPC was rolled out throughout the country progressively. And you can look at the timing of when people got access to like the first MPC agent in their town. And that that varies. And so you can use that as sort of a, an instrument to figure out what was the effect of getting access to MPs on their incomes. And based on that, they estimated that M pesa. The rollout of M pesa, lifted 2% of all Kenyan households out of poverty. So that’s just an enormous number of people. This is like they they crossed the World Bank, I think extreme poverty line, which is like $1.50 a day or something. And so right. So this is just like a massive effect on people’s incomes. And, you know, it’s, it was really surprising to me, when I read that study, it was shocking, in fact, that something that seems so simple, like, you know, replacing cash with electronic payments could have this large effect. But that, it seems like the finding is like pretty robust. And, you know, if you talk to AV users, they’re like, really, really pumped about wave. And that just convinced me that this is a really important problem to work on. And I think that wave can have like a similar impact to that, like throughout the rest of the sub Saharan African continent.

Craig Fratrick 7:35
I following up on that I do you have any interesting, start quick stories about the sorts of things you did to make money so accessible? Just to get a picture of how it’s impacting? Yeah. The Yes.

Ben Kuhn 7:52
Um, so, there’s, there’s a lot of stuff that we’ve done that I think, like, actually, so are you? Do you mean, um, stories of like users using wave?

Unknown Speaker 8:09
Yeah, sorry. So I, I don’t know why maybe I latched on too much to something you mentioned early on. But you, you said how one of the crucial things for growth, and early on for you is making sure that there was that they can always access their money very quickly. And that may be connected with how it could be so impactful, or something like that. So I was just curious about what sort of things you or your company or wave had to do to make sure that people could access their money.

Ben Kuhn 8:36
Okay, I understand. Yeah. So there, there are a lot of things that we do on this. And I would say this is one of the core problems, perhaps the core operational problem, at least of running a mobile money company. So we’ve has a network of what we call agents all throughout Senegal, that our customers can deposit and withdraw their funds at. So in Senegal, we have over 10,000 agents right now. And managing that network of agents is an extremely challenging logistical problem. So there are 1000s of them everywhere. Some of them are in very rural areas, and we have to constantly make sure that these agents have enough cash to serve our customers, not so much cash that it increases our capital requirements a lot that they have all the supplies that they need, that they’re that they’re they’re staying open and serving customers when they promised to in their like business hours, and stuff like that. And so this is extremely logistically challenging and a huge fraction of waves team is dedicated to the sort of circulatory system of all of the cash between the agents. To be honest, I’ve lost track of all of the different ways that we do this. Now there are like, if I there, we used to have a graph of like, you know, here’s how every agent is exchanges money with wave. And, you know, when I started looking at that graph, there was like, there, there was like, one way. And then at some point it forked off. And there are now like 10 ways. And so there are some some agents go to banks and some agents have intermediaries and some agents go to other agents near them. It’s a very complex problem. And I would say one of the most difficult parts, and the reason one of the reasons that wave is able to be so cheap is that we’ve solved this problem better than other companies, and that we therefore have lower costs, and we can pass those on to customers in savings.

Will Jarvis 10:35
That’s awesome. Well, then, you know, I am, I’m curious, you’ve written one of your posts that, you know, first you were earning to give and now you’re kind of, you know, kind of EA stuff. And now you’re working more directly on problems that have high impact? Is that a lot more rewarding than earning to give?

Ben Kuhn 10:54
Yeah, definitely. Um, I think I really underrated this before I started doing this. But I would say it’s, well, obviously, it’s more Maybe, maybe not, obviously, it’s more personal, really rewarding, because, you know, I can write a feature and just like design a feature and code up a feature and ship it to users, and then see people use this thing that I built. And I can be like, yes, you know, I built that. And now these people are using it, and they’re really happy about it. And like, if you show up at somewhere in Senegal, and you tell people that you built part of the wave app, they’ll be like, really excited and like take sell tickets and stuff. Right. So that’s, that’s your ordering. I think, I think that I underrated more than even I underrated that aspect. But I think another underrated aspect of how this has been more rewarding is that I think that I just did much better work, when I switched to working on something where I was really viscerally motivated by the root goal that I was working on, Sarah, my previous job, before I worked on wave, I was working on building machine learning models for a startup that use these machine learning models to purchase peer to peer loans on like lending club.com, they like ran a hedge fund, because their machine learning models were better at predicting that these loans were not going to default. And I joined this company, because I thought it was going to be like a really interesting problem, I got to read a bunch of statistics papers and like learn how to build machine learning models. And like I did that, and it was intellectually interesting. But at the same time, it was very obvious to me even at the time that my work was not attacking the core constraint of the company, like their machine learning models were already pretty good. And their real problem was that they were having a hard time convincing people to invest in their hedge fund. And so in retrospect, I mean, I in fact, I tried to do this a little bit, but I tried to do a little bit of hedge fund sales, but like, I wasn’t very good at it, because I was an engineer. But also, like, I didn’t really care about running a hedge fund. And so my my, like personal incentives, were not working in the right place for this, and I just wasn’t, wasn’t very effective. And instead, what mostly happened to me was I kind of got D motivated and found it hard to focus on my work, and probably didn’t even do a good job at improving the machine learning models as I would have if I really cared about the output of them. And when I moved to WAV, even though my work was I would say most people would consider it to be less intellectually interesting to build, build features in what is essentially like, what engineers call a crud app. So it’s an app where you create things, you read things, you update things, and you delete things. And that’s all you do. And it’s extremely simple. And so most people would consider that less intellectually interesting, although I would disagree. But even so I think, like, I became much more effective as a person doing things, just because I was thinking from first principles about what problem in the world am I trying to solve? And what is the shortest path to solving it. And I wasn’t trying to for instance, I didn’t care whether My job involves, you know, reading statistics, papers, or doing accounting, which literally, My job involves doing accounting for, like, months at one point. And, you know, it wasn’t I, I’m glad that I didn’t spend a lot more months of doing it. But ultimately, it was fine, because I knew that the accounting was actually the most important way for us to achieve that thing.

Will Jarvis 14:18
Could be working on.

Ben Kuhn 14:21
Yeah, got it. And so as a result of that, I think I did much better work and became much more effective as like a person trying to achieve goals than I would have if I had been sort of more disconnected or alienated from the the end product of the thing that I was working on.

Will Jarvis 14:37
Gotcha. And you may have just answered this question, but you know, what general advice do you have that on on selecting a problem to work on? You know, and are there things people generally miss when they think about that?

Ben Kuhn 14:51
Yeah, so the generalized handle that I have for this experience is that you should look for something that resonates with you. Which is to say, like that, where you don’t feel like you have to force yourself to do things that you you don’t care about. But that instead, it’s something that you’re really like excited about, and you’re not internally conflicted about whether to work on it. And, yeah, I would say I think most people, in my experience, and certainly my personal experience was I did not realize what was possible. Before I, I changed jobs and started working at wave, I didn’t realize that it was possible to have work that resonated so much. I think, especially as like a software engineer who cared about improving the world. I was like, Well, obviously, that, like, they’re all of the things that I look at where people say, Oh, I’m doing software engineering, and it directly improves the world. There’s like, Oh, these are all kind of bogus, right? Like, he’s like Facebook think that Facebook is directly improving the world because like Mark Zuckerberg is really good at convincing people that Facebook directly improves the world. And like, most people seem like they’re kind of bullshitting themselves. And I don’t really believe this. And so I decided to earn to give, because I didn’t think it was possible to work on something right felt like, basically, everything that I was doing was aligned with was was fully aligned with, with goals that I was trying to achieve in the world. And I think, in in both this and in many other areas, like I would say, I think people don’t realize how good things can be. And so they settle. And I guess my generalized advice is like, consider not settling? I don’t know, I think it’s, I would say also don’t don’t take it. Like, as with all advice that I gave, I would say people should also consider reversing this advice. And in the sense that maybe I got lucky, and maybe some people actually should settle, or like, you know, maybe if you’re listening to this, you’re already likely to have received the advice don’t settle. And so you’re already too far in the non settling direction. But like, if you if you hear the advice, like, you know, things can things can be a lot better than they currently are. And that resonates with you, then maybe you consider trying to make things way better than they are.

Unknown Speaker 17:12
I want to unpack one thing. So I think you have the EA, like lesson of that, like people can easily fool themselves about the impact they’re having. Right? So at the very beginning of that story was, you know, this that lots of people, lots of software engineers have like, fooled themselves about the impact that they’re having, because they’re working at particular companies and that sort of thing. And so then it’s like, that’s, that was the first step. How important do you think that EA? Like, really trying to think of your sort of what impact you’re actually having in this career is?

Ben Kuhn 17:49
I mean, if you care a lot about having an impact, I think it’s incredibly important. And most people are quite doubted it, although maybe not most listeners to this podcast. I don’t know the demographics of your listeners. But yeah, I do think it’s, it’s very, very easy. Not for not not just in choosing a job, but in most things to convince yourself that you’re doing something important. And turns out that that’s, like, that’s not really true.

Will Jarvis 18:22
That makes sense. going right off that, you know, you you wrote a post on life advice posts, got a meta post, I really enjoyed it. Do you still read it every week? I believe you mentioned that.

Ben Kuhn 18:37
Oh, you mean the so this is a post of a bunch of links to essays of life advice that I’ve read. Not literally, there’s essays, I have had to change them up over time. Yeah, because, you know, they get stale if you reread them, you know, five or six times, and I could probably recite a lot of them from memory at this point. Um, but I, I do still read, like, I have a list of like, things that I read to, like, motivate myself to be more awesome. And I’ve just, like, found this really useful. I still find it useful. That’s awesome.

Will Jarvis 19:08
Do any standout in particular, is having like, a big impact?

Ben Kuhn 19:13
On? Um, so I would say it’s actually, it’s, I would say it’s actually less about the particular things that I’m reading. Like, it’s, it’s not like they’re not obvious, right. And sometimes I shouldn’t need Sam altman to tell me like, you know, don’t put family low on your priority list. Like this is something everybody already knows. Right? I think it’s, it’s less about the, the actual, the content and more about the content. It’s less about the content being novel and more about like continuously reminding myself of, of what is important. And I think that actually, what is important to you varies a lot by person, right? So I wouldn’t want to make like you Eric recommendations there, although I guess I kind of did with this this blog post. But I’m like, I guess so the way that I, the way that I think about this is, I actually I actually read a great blog post on this topic, which I will I will cite, because it’s like made an interesting point. It’s called How to Read self help by a guy named Tom Cleveland. And his point was basically this that, like, people read self help books, not because they contain non obvious insights. I mean, some of them maybe do, but most of them, it’s pretty. It’s stuff that you read, and you’re like, Well, duh, of course, the reason that you’re reading it isn’t because you need to be informative, something that you previously think did not know, it’s that you need somebody to, like, kick you in the pants and be like, go be more awesome, right? And that’s sort of the point of these these, like life advice essays is that like, if I’m a user, I read these right before I do my, like, weekly review, where I think about the question of like, how could I have done a more awesome job in the past week? Not literally just my job, but also like, personally, in my life. And so it’s, it’s really good to go into those weekly reviews in a state of like, yes, I’m going to become more awesome in all the ways that I don’t know if Sam altman or thinks that I should be more awesome or something like that. along. But it’s also good to have a mix of a mix of these so that a so that they stay on V so that you don’t just become a clone of like one one person?

Unknown Speaker 21:24
How did you develop that like, weekly meta habit of doing the weekly review? And like getting these bottles of inspiration? Or?

Ben Kuhn 21:32
Oh, yeah, so I also wrote a blog post on this. So I guess we should probably put it in the show notes, because it’ll have a more complete picture. But I think I so I started doing these at the recommendation of drew wave Co. And I think, and I just found I found them incredibly useful as sort of a way to continuously make small impact compounding improvements to my personal habits over time. So every week I would it started out with like, every week, I would look at my my rescue time report. And I would be like, oh, gosh, this week, I spent a lot of time in slack. And like, what if I spent less time in slack by batching it instead of all tabbing, to my slack window every five minutes. And it turned out, you know, after a few weeks of this, I was spending, I think something like 50% less time and slack and 50% less time and like scheduling tools generally and like 50% more time on programming, and I was like, holy crap, I just became 50% more productive by like asking myself this simple question. And after that, it became pretty clear that like, yes, this is a thing that is like very useful, and that I should keep doing. I would say, interestingly, I have found it to be a very hard habit to stick to even though I intellectually know that like, it’s very important. Yeah, it’s just like, you know, some weekends, I won’t be in the mood to do a weekly review, or like, I’ll, like, you know, my friend will invite me to have waffles at my weekly review time. It’ll be like, weekly review waffles, like, you know, hard choice waffle times. Yeah. And so and, you know, I’ve evangelized weekly reviews to a bunch of colleagues at wave, who have also often had the same problem, like, Oh, I know that I should do this. And yet, somehow, it’s hard. And I always do prioritize it in favor of other things. So like, perhaps the most important thing to making it stick was iterating a lot on the format of the weekly review and like, what time I would do it at and what prompts I would use, and making sure that I set things up so that I wouldn’t like slide off halfway through, just to make sure that I actually successfully did it every time. And if you’re going to start a weekly review habit, I highly recommend, like basically focusing most on like, how do you make sure that you keep doing it over time? and picking up if you if you if you drop it?

Will Jarvis 24:07
That’s it’s a great thought, and I’ve had great success. My wife and I do it every Wednesday night. So we have dinner.

Ben Kuhn 24:13
And then like, yeah, having an accountability, buddy. accountability, buddy. Yeah. Great, helpful. Yeah, that can be really useful. It’s cool.

Will Jarvis 24:22
I think this is Craig’s question, but I’m curious about it, as well. You know, there’s so much to read out there, you know, how do you filter out what’s worth consuming and what’s not?

Ben Kuhn 24:33
Yeah, um, this is something I kind of I wish I had a better answer to. Um, I think the only thing that I have started doing that I think was not obvious to me, originally, was to be very aggressive about not finishing things that I start, whether that’s books or articles, or something like that. I’m like, I used to be sort of a completionist about these things, you think that it was immoral not to finish the book. And then I realized, like, you know, life is short. And so yeah, being being really aggressive about removing, or sorry, not removing, being being more aggressive about Phil skipping things, it seems like you’re not getting very much out of them, I think is is pretty important. Um, is there anything else that I do? That’s interesting? Um, I think, uh, not relying on social media for things is something I would, I would plug. So, you know, a lot of people used to use RSS feeds back when Google Reader existed, when apparently, nobody cared enough about RSS to go find another RSS reader when when Google died, or when Google killed Google Reader. And I think that’s pretty sad. But like, Well, one thing that you can do now is like substack exists. And so you can subscribe directly to people’s sub stacks and not rely on the magic of algorithms to get you their thing. And there were like a lot of really good substack writers, but also RSS still works. Um, and you can consume a lot of things by RSS, including substack, if you want. So I actually I have an RSS reader, I use an RSS reader called Kindle for RSS that delivers all the RSS items for a given day to my Kindle, and then like, I can read it offline and not get distracted by by the internet and, and stuff like that. I guess I also often read this, like while going to sleep. And that really forces me to prioritize what I’m going to read because I know if I’m reading something boring, because I start to fall asleep. So you know, maybe that’s a life hack for you.

Unknown Speaker 26:43
It does anyway. But when they say that you you know your your it’s not like an unending list of things to do. It’s not like an infinite scroll, or like an inbox. Like if you’re relying on your inbox instead. And the emails keep coming, and they keep piling up and that sort of thing. But if it’s bundled everyday in your Kindle, and then, you know, you kind of have to finish that base.

Ben Kuhn 27:06
Yeah, yeah, that’s definitely something that I really appreciate about it. I do still use on social feeds some and I guess I actually use Hacker News a lot. I mean, I hate Hacker News. But I also think it’s a very good source of interesting things which I would not have otherwise discovered. And just as a piece of social technology is quite impressive. Like, if you look at how crappy for instance, like Google Search has gotten over the last, like 15 years, or kind of like how hard it is to find good information on most things, and how much they become like gamed and like, become terrible. I think that’s really, really impressive. The degree to which Hacker News is actually still quite useful and interesting, despite it, I would say it’s many, many flaws. But so I don’t know, I, I do wish that there was a better way to consume these things. Without having a sort of infinite feed that you need to check a lot. And I’ve actually, I wish this often enough that I’m considering writing my own sort of like reading management app that works the way I think it should work. But I haven’t I haven’t gotten there yet. But maybe someday, I’ll take a long enough vacation that I can finish it. And yeah, I don’t think I definitely don’t think this is a solved problem.

Will Jarvis 28:18
Definitely. You’ve written a lot, or a fair, you’ve read a Post wrote a post about management. And what what are some big takeaways? And how have you evolved over time? Like, how has your management skill gotten better? And is there any takeaways we could Garner from it?

Ben Kuhn 28:37
Yeah, I have a few. So I think the first big adjustment that I encountered when I switched from being an individual contributor engineer to being a manager, was, the feedback loop is much longer. So if you’re doing individual contributor engineering, right, somebody you know, asks you to help build a feature, and you design it, and then you build it, and you write the code, and then you test the code, and the code works. And you’re like, great, I think it’s gonna work. And then you ship it, and then there’s your thing it’s working, you’re done, it went well. And that cycle can often take, you know, a couple days at most, and there are, of course, intermediate points where you’re like, you write your code, and you basically know it works. And that that part can take, you know, like an hour or something. If you’re a manager, and especially if you’ve never been a manager before, you’re most of your work isn’t like that, like you’ll have a one on one with somebody and you’ll give them some advice. And, you know, two weeks later, they’ll be like, you know, that that advice was like kind of useful. And then like four weeks later, they’ll be like, I’m still thinking about that advice that you gave me. And then like two months later, they’ll be like, oh, that advice. It was so good. And so it takes you a lot longer to learn whether the things you’re doing are useful or non useful. And that just Guess I think this is a common problem for people who transition from engineering to management. But it deprives me of a lot of my like daily dopamine. And I kept asking myself, you know, Oh, is this stuff that I’m doing even like, useful if I disappeared tomorrow, like, would anyone care? And like, eventually, I learned, I think most of what I learned was how to judge myself on process and not results. So instead of having to wait for somebody to be like, two months later, oh, like that advice is really good. I’d be like, I would finish the meeting. And I would think to myself, yeah, I feel like I gave really good advice in that meeting. And I would be satisfied with that, even though I hadn’t seen the full cycle play out. And I think that was a an important mindset shift that helped me sort of cope. But it just takes a long time to be have a good enough models of what goes on when you are doing management, that you can do that. And so it’s like, it’s a tough transition. And basically, just one that I think you have to, like, be ready for and understand that you feel uncertain about whether your work is good now, not because you’re a bad manager, but because this happens to everyone.

Will Jarvis 31:07
It makes sense. It’s a big shift.

Ben Kuhn 31:09
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, that was that was the biggest shift. I would say, another thing that was important for me, and I guess this is related, is just learning to be more patient. So I think I mean, I wrote a whole blog post about how great it is to be impatient. And I still think that it is really I still endorsed that post, like, it’s really good to ask yourself, How can things move more quickly, and stuff like that. But if you are a manager, and you’re helping other people solve their problems, it’s important to usually, instead of like, instead of, for instance, jumping in to help them yourself, which, like, over time, will lead you to become over committed, and everyone to continue to rely on you to solve problems, which is not what you want, because then you will not be able to scale, it’s important to do it in a way in the way that helps people learn how to solve their own problem instead. And so that was another big mindset shift for me. And then I think the third one, which is also I guess, related to the above to is, um, the third one, which is related to the verb to is, I would say, trying to figure out a good way to put this. Um, I would say, the, the third way that I’ve I’ve improved, has been getting in my own opinions out of the loop. I mean, I, so I became a manager because I, in part, because I was a very good engineer. And I often, like had opinions about what good engineering entailed. And when I first became a manager, those opinions were like, still mostly valid, because I still had a lot of context on the what was going on at the engineering level. However, as I stopped, as I have stopped contributing to the codebase, myself, and stopped, like doing most of the individual work myself, my opinions have become more and more stale, and more and more likely to be incorrect. And so as a protective mechanism against having incorrect opinions, I have always tried to instead of telling people my opinion, ask a series of questions that caused them to realize what the correct opinion to have is the advantage to this being if, if my opinion is not actually correct, then they will answer the questions in a way that tells me that my opinion is incorrect. And so this is especially important because if you’re in a position in the sort of a high in the hierarchy position, people will default to sort of assuming that you know, what you’re talking about, which is often extremely untrue. And so you have to you have to figure out how to protect yourself from not knowing what you’re talking about, because nobody else is going to do it for you. And so I guess, figuring out how to add how to ask questions instead of saying like, instead of state things that people might not tell you are clueless was another thing that I think has has made me a lot more effective. Awesome.

Unknown Speaker 34:43
Yeah, that’s, that’s cool. Like, you know, unlearning some habits, like habits that serve you well as a software like as an individual contributor, you know, like, appreciating that feedback, and then being impatient to try and like kind of urge things for Or the quicker pace? And then yeah, you know, just building your intuitions and having good opinions. It’s interesting that management for you, but the most important part of management for you was like unlearning those habits that you’ve learned. So

Will Jarvis 35:13
definitely. I love that. And I have a question that I it’s, it’s I just for me pretty much. But anyway, we’ll go for it, Keith report raboy. Boy, I’m not sure how to pronounce his last name, founded opendoor VC at Founders Fund. Now he has this blog post, and he describes giving people only one priority at any given time. And I’ve used this and it’s really helped me like, in management situations, like, you know, just just I, you know, what’s the most important thing, you know, the individual contributor can be doing. And that’s the only thing like, we’ll even talk about, this is all that matters. And that’s like, a really good way to like, speed things up. Do you find like, you know, how many priorities is optimal at a given time? You know, and it could just be like, you know, I’m just terrible manager. And like, that’s all I can handle. So I don’t know. But I’m curious, your thinking on this?

Ben Kuhn 36:08
No, I think you’re not a terrible manager. I think in fact, you’re a really good manager for only giving your reports one thing to work on. And in fact, this is something that’s, I think, very deeply ingrained in waves culture. So for example, if you ever talk to drew the CEO, and you you give him a list of multiple things, he will immediately ask you is this list stack ranked, and if the list is not stack ranked, the conversation will pause while you stack rank. So the jury knows what the most important item in the list is. And I think this, I mean, sort of the the reason this is this is great is because most things you do in a company context are, I guess, distributed according to a power law. So maybe this is like a weird statistical digression, but I think it’s, it’s really interesting and underrated. So I’ll give you a bit the mini version, but so things like human height are distributed according to a normal distribution. So like, there’s some average and like, things are clustered like pretty tightly around the average, the average for like, height for for men is like, it’s either like 510, or six feet. And then like, most people are within like, you know, four inches of that, or, or whatever. Whereas the distribution for income between people is, is distributed according to what’s called a power law. So like, basically like, the, the stylized version of this is the 8020 rule, where like, you know, 20% of the people have 80% of the wealth or something like that. Similarly, in a company. So this is, notably, this is a very different distribution from height, it is not the case that 20% of the humans have 80% of the tallness. Funny to imagine what that would look like or like, you know, most people are like six inches high. And then there are like a few people who are like miles tall. But that is not what it looks like. Anyway, so this is a kind of counterintuitive thing for humans to think about, because most things in the physical world are not power law distributed. But if you’re starting a company, there is a power law distribution among like, what is what is the next possible thing that you could work on. You might not know what the the thing is, that is at the top of it at the tail end is going to you know, get you most of your users for the next month, or whatever. Um, but that thing is out there. And like you should really only be working on things that you think could possibly be that thing. And just focus really intensely and kind of ignore everything else. And so I would say that level of focus, which I would say, seems maniacal from the outside, is definitely one of the things that has helped wave succeed with a relatively small team. in building a product that has a huge impact on a lot of people’s lives, is just really being ruthless about only working on things that we think could be in that power law of like the 20% of things that will do 80% of the needle moving over the next month.

Unknown Speaker 39:03
That’s a great little cultural thing about the stack rank. I love that as there any other curious things about wave culture that you’d like to share?

Ben Kuhn 39:11
Um, I get maybe this is related to stack ranking, I think a lot of our communication happens in the form of of bulleted indented lists, which is maybe something that I didn’t expect, coming from, you know, a more academic background where people like their paragraphs and their complete sentences, but in fact, in my opinion, now is that bulleted lists are much more effective, because they make the structure obvious to you, instead of you having to reverse engineer the actual structure from somebody’s somebody’s paragraph. The other advantage, of course, is that if you have a bulleted list, you can use keyboard shortcuts to stack rank it really quickly, is very important. If you’re stack ranking things like multiple times a day. I guess that’s more of a quirk than a thing that’s really core for us, um, cultural things that are really important, I would say. I mean, we’ve all So I think the most important thing is we’ve always hired for basically exclusively for people who are really excited about working on our mission. And I mean, one reason for this, we’ve already talked about when when you ask me, you know, about choosing a problem to work on, which is just like, I think it’s not unique to me that I do much better work. When I’m really motivated by the end goal. I think this is true of most people. And so we really want people who will do amazing work. And that’s much more likely if they’re excited about the thing that they’re producing, and not just working with, with shiny technology or something like that. The second thing that I think is like maybe less, less obvious, or more interesting about this approach is that it leads to a really, really aligned team that has, I think, very little like, you know, internal disagreement or Discord. And this just makes it really easy to work with anyone at wave, because you know, that if you have a disagreement with them, you’re both trying to do the best thing for our users. And the only thing you disagree on is how to get there. And as a result, it’s much easier for us to be like, Oh, you know, these people disagree, they should just sit in a room until they agree. That works. Yeah, that works. And the decision that I’m making is like, much better. Compared to my impression is that at many companies have wave size, there’s quite a lot more internal politics and standing disagreements. And you know, people thinking that others are acting in bad faith or something. So obviously, this is going to be hard to scale as we grow. But it’s something that I really hope that we can preserve, because I think it’s very common for organizations to really start having a lot of problems with this. And I think that waves compelling mission gives us an advantage that most companies don’t have at sort of avoiding the typical descent into I guess, maybe if I say descent into a moral maze, then everyone who has listened to your episode with z will like know what I’m

Will Jarvis 42:00
Yeah, absolutely. I love that. I love that I and I hadn’t thought about you know, mission is like a certain hedge against is some sort of hedge against like a descent into moral maze is like that. That’s, that’s really well put. Well, great. Do you have other questions? Or if that’ll jump into overrated, underrated? Hey, shaking my head. Now that sounds good. Cool. Awesome. So I’ll throw out a term and just tell us whether it’s overrated, underrated and why? Or maybe it’s Gregory? graduate school overrated? underrated. correctly, right?

Ben Kuhn 42:38
Yeah. Oh, man, are you really want to rant? Here? Yeah, I would say I would say graduate school is a, I would say it’s overrated by like, probably like 95% of people, and either correctly or are underrated by like, 5%. I actually, I updated on this recently. So first, I’ll tell you why it’s over rated by like, really, really overrated by most people. Which is Sue, I mean, the reason is that the incentives are all messed up, and like, as a result, so the way that I look at it as a manager is, of course, that grad students are individual contributors, and their managers are just really, like abjectly terrible, I think it’s, it’s very common, that your thesis advisor will basically not give you the time of day, but you’ll have to email them multiple times to get like the most trivial of things from them. And that’s just because you’re basically a peon to them. And your productivity, mostly, like doesn’t affect anything we do very much. And they’re like, like absorbing the research. This is certainly not true of all advisors. But it’s a very common experience, and very, very bad experience to have an advisor who does not care about you, and it’s sort of hanging you out to dry. And, like, as a result of the fact that graduate students are incompetently managed, they have the same problem that happens to anyone who is doing something they don’t know how to do and has an incompetent manager, which is sky high rates of depression and anxiety. So you can look at the surveys of grad students and their their mental health problems. And you will discover that the average the the rate of depression among graduate students is approximately equal to the rate of depression among people whose spouse died one month ago yeah, crisis really bad. It’s like it is a I would say like, you know, it is a moderate humanitarian crisis. Yeah. That is completely avoidable.

Will Jarvis 44:42
Like a rescue. You know, gotta ride down the deck and break them out.

Ben Kuhn 44:47
Yeah, well, I mean, I’m trying right I keep Frankie perfect. I will keep harping on this. But the harping will continue until until grad student attendance rates improve. So Right. Okay, so that’s, that’s why it’s incredibly overrated by most people. I think that like, you know, oh, and then like, I guess the other. The other reason that it is overrated is because most people who are considering grad school only get asked for advice from professors and the professors are all like, you should go to grad school, it’s great, you’ll get an academic job for sure. Which is totally false. And they don’t ask, for instance, fifth year grad students who if you ask them, I’ll be like, man, it sucks so much here, never do grad school. And, like, so they’re all these like chipper bright eyed undergraduates, thinking they have amazing chances on the academic job market. And then it sort of the feeling of doom gradually washes over them. But by that time, they’re in like, year three, and if they quit, they’d have like, three years of sunk cost. And yeah, it’s just, it’s really, it’s really bad. Anyway, oh, I guess I should have cited my point of evidence for like, the, the, the, the impact that this bad management has, which is so my former partner was a was a graduate student, and had one of these, I would say, fairly checked out advisors. He was like, not a bad person. He was like, you know, nice when they had meetings and tried to be supportive of her. But also, if she wanted anything from him, she would have to email him like two or three times. And like, he gradually developed an OG field around emailing him because of that. And so I observed this and I thought, huh, like, maybe if she had anyone giving her so that this is like management, what I want is like, he should have one on ones with your direct reports, which is a meeting every week, it’s kind of like a weekly review, like the one that you will do with your, your, your wife, as like, what if what if I did this? Once? So right, so her advisor was not doing this? Yeah, he just like, you know, I mean, maybe he would have if she asked, but he didn’t set it up with Yeah, he should have. Um, and so I was like, Well, you know, I’m like her advisor, I care about her getting out of grad school, mostly, because then she will be less depressed, and then I will be less depressed, right? And so what if I filled in for this guy? I mean, I’m not an academic philosopher. I don’t really understand anything about my partner’s dissertation. But I do, unlike him have the qualification of caring a lot. And so we started doing this. And I asked questions like, oh, like, you know, how’s your email to that guy going? have you sent it yet? And she would be like, I guess I should send it and stuff like that. It’s like very sort of basic, like, manage management advice, type stuff. And at the end of her dissertation, I asked her, you know, like, were these helpful? Like, she was like, Yeah, like, I think they sped me up by like, about a year and finished Oh, my God. Yeah. Which is ridiculous. Like, I was spending half an hour every week. I didn’t know anything about philosophy. So I was basically just asking questions about like, email. And like, I mean, I was like, I was doing to be a little bit more turnable. Myself, I was doing a lot of like, active listening, like, I

Will Jarvis 48:01
read like, rubber duck, right?

Ben Kuhn 48:03
Yeah, yeah, I was basically I was basically her rubber duck. And, like, maybe I was, like, I would ask slightly more mean, questions than rubber duck, like, really, you should send that email, or something like that. But, so it was, um, and I think that like, I wasn’t that replaceable, because like, I think it was important that I actually cared and wasn’t, like, checked out during those meetings or something. So, um, but anyway, I think it’s it’s completely ludicrous that I basically saved her a year out of like, for that she had been working on that dissertation. Like, it’s just like, how many other of these incredibly smart people are wasting years? I don’t know, like scrolling Facebook, because they’re dissociated, because they like, don’t know how to make progress on their thing. And because they have an annfield around sending emails that like, could be like, trivially fixed by having a manager who cares at all instead of not caring. Right? Okay, so that’s, that’s my rant. Just carrying matters. Yes. Oh, I guess I still owe you an explanation of why I think it’s underrated. Yeah, by the other 5%. And maybe I’m overestimating the 5% thing, but I did. I did see somebody tweet recently that all of my smart friends are now telling me that they don’t want to go to grad school because it’s about as bad as having their spouse die. Which I had two conflicting reactions. One is like, Yes, I’ve created a meme. But the the other conflicting reaction is like, I don’t think it’s actually true that literally no one should go to grad school. I think there are people for whom it is a good choice. And that they can actually have a big impact by doing academic research. Um, I think they’re basically they’re like a few, a few sort of predictors that you can use here to tell you whether, like To what extent you should be worried about like grad school, destroying your mental health. So one, obviously as I mentioned, is like having an advisor who cares, and I think you can do a lot to figure out whether you will have an advisor, who cares for For actually selecting their advisor, but nobody tells you to do this. But like, you should really do it. So I mean, ask their current grad students, whether they are supportive, and how supportive and do you have weekly or bi weekly meetings? Do they give you good advice in those meetings and stuff like that? And like, you know, if Have you ever been depressed? If so, how did your advisor like handle it? Stuff like that. Um, so that’s one thing, I think there are also like some things about your personal situation that can make grad school like a better or worse decision, I think, if you have an alternative to the academic job market. So for instance, if you’re in computer science grad school, you can become a programmer. And this takes a lot of the pressure off, because you’re not worried about being totally unemployed. If you’re like, one, paper fails to be a good paper or something like that. Yeah, um, so that’s that, that’s like one important thing. And then I think the other thing is having experience being effectively self directed. Um, so I think, for instance, I think I would be much better at being a grad student now than I would have been, if I had gone straight after college. I don’t really know how feasible it is to do, I guess what I would call real work between college and grad school, I think this varies by field. And sometimes it can make you look bad, for reasons that I don’t really understand. But basically, if you have been thrown into the deep end of these things before, and you’ve been like, yeah, I’m really fine, like taking initiative to like, email my advisor, even though it’s like pulling teeth to get a response that’s useful, or like, I’m really happy being like, left to my own devices, and I won’t get depressed, if I get stuck on a thing for a long time and don’t have any idea how to make progress. I think that’s like a good sign that you will be okay in grad school. And I think that generally, like some of the things that people do in grad school, like have a big impact on the world, because they discover new and interesting stuff that then like, you know, helps develop new technology, or whatever. And the last thing that I would say is like, knowing why you’re there and having like a very clear sense of mission, I think is important is the other thing, I think a lot of people go to grad school because they have graduated from undergrad and it’s like that or job and they’ve never, they’ve never thought about the real job option. Until like grad school, like no matter what you majored in, in college, you can go to grad school and that thing, and it’s a real option. And if you majored in something like poorly chosen, maybe you don’t have any other options that seem high status. And so that could end up with a lot of people in grad school who like maybe if they had thought through things earlier, shouldn’t have ended up there.

Will Jarvis 52:36
That makes a lot of sense. Craig, do you have any thoughts on that as our president, graduate student in the group,

Ben Kuhn 52:42
then no, are you? Are you a grad student? Correct? I’m sorry, if I insulted

Unknown Speaker 52:47
I’m doing assign me that I may get a PhD in economics from Duke. And I’m in my seventh year, and I definitely could have benefited from a fair amount of that advice. However, sorry, I’ve started working concurrently. So I got a job as an economist. And so yeah, no, trying to wrap things up here that definitely could have. Yeah, there. There are some key some key things, I guess the things I would add my own experience, too. Yeah, I think the one you said about, like, being self directed, was the biggest one for me, I had worked before grad school. So I was familiar with that. But you know, if you had asked me, like, when you have an independent project that someone is versus Are you able to diligently work on it? Like the answer would have clearly been? No, if they think that, like, I learned how important that was over these past, you know, four years or five years, so. Yeah, right.

Will Jarvis 53:40
That’s great. And I like what Ben, what you said about, you know, having meaning and like, really think about, like, purposefully like, you know, what are you doing at each step just throughout your entire life, I think is a really valuable lesson to, to just try and do more of just be intentional.

Ben Kuhn 53:57
Yeah, I certainly agree with this. I think that like, I, I’ve been noticing more and more of the degree to which like, it seems like, I think everyone like most people, I would include myself in this most people like under think this, I guess spend like less time than would be optimal thinking about sort of, what what should I be doing? And why should I be doing this? Probably because it’s, as Craig said, like, it’s a diversity of project that you have to work on. And so, in fact, like, I’ve benefited a lot in the past from my friends, nudging me to be like, oh, like, it seemed like you were thinking about this. Did you make any progress on it? And I’m like, I didn’t make any progress on this because it’s versiv. And I feel like have you considered thinking about it? Anyway, so yeah, I think that learning how to, I guess I would like learning how to stare into the abyss of like, what what should I be doing? Am I currently doing the right thing? It’s something that I’ve found to be really every time I’ve leveled up in this skill. I found it to be Really useful and cause me to make much better decisions?

Will Jarvis 55:03
I love that. Richard Hamming I, you might have, I might have found it on your website, you and your research.

Ben Kuhn 55:10
I believe that is, like one of the life advice essays? Yes.

Will Jarvis 55:13
Okay, perfect. He had a thing where every Friday afternoon, he would take the entire afternoon, it was a quarter of his full working time and just sit there and try and think about whether what he was working on was valuable or not. And like, yeah, we’ll set which I don’t know, maybe a quarter sounds like a lot to me. But, you know, not to be underrated. I

Ben Kuhn 55:31
don’t know. I he, he was a smart guy. I think he I think he got some good results from it. And I would say like, yeah, it’s, I’ll say, I’m not surprised. I think that like if you. important decisions take a long time to make. And a like a lot of thought. And if that’s, you know, how you’re deciding to spend the next five years of your life or whatever it is, definitely, it’s like a highly leveraged use of time.

Unknown Speaker 56:02
Definitely, one thing I want to go to is just, as you said, staring into the abyss, I think one thing that was hard for me is like, I gravitate toward quick problems, or just like problems where you can get that feedback and feel like you’re making progress on them quickly. And it’s like, all the things I have had to level up through the PhD, it’s just like, being willing to sit with frustrating situations that don’t resolve in like, 15 minutes of concentration. And so maybe the key is like to get to, you know, his levels of success, you have to be willing to do it for three hours a week or something like that of like really sitting and staring and focusing on like, a challenging problem. But yeah,

Ben Kuhn 56:40
yeah, that’s definitely something that makes it harder is like, it’s not always easy to tell when you’re making progress, right? Because it can be, it can be sort of, it can come in lumps, like you spent three hours thinking of something, and you don’t think about anything, or you don’t think of anything useful, and then you know, then you spend five more minutes and you’re like, oh, I’ve been thinking about it wrong the entire time. And like, I really, really, my stack ranking should have had this other thing in the number one spot. And now like, I need to rethink everything based on the fact that my criteria have changed. And so it’s kind of like the the act of staring into the abyss itself is like you’re you’re sampling from sort of a heavy tailed distribution. And sometimes a lot of the time it’s useless. And then sometimes it’s like, you realize that you should completely change how you’re thinking about something. And so it’s pretty demotivational at least until you’ve done it a lot and seen that the results pay off, it’s really easy to tell yourself, oh, this is useless. Like I should just stop, stop overthinking things, and, and start and keep down my current path. But then, I think this is actually something that I’ve, I’ve learned to love partly by working at wave and seeing through the CEO who is I would say the person I know who is best at staring into the abyss being like, Oh, you know, maybe we should completely change what our business is working on. So I guess an interesting part of the wave story is that before they even started doing money transfer at all, they, the founders worked on 10 different social mobile apps and pivoted for Oh, really, which I mean, I think this has to be like a record of like largest numbers of pivots. And they got really good at building mobile apps, but none of them none of them took off. And so I think they just got very good at at thinking, Oh, realizing, oh, like we have been working on completely the wrong thing for the last whatever. And this happened again, with wave even after so the original product of the company was was international money transfer, like sending money from the US to Kenya. And that thing reached product market fit and reached like basically saturation in the in the US to Kenya market within a year. Like over half of all Kenyans were using the thing. So it was like a hugely successful product on the founders nevertheless realize that domestic mobile money, the thing that wave is working on now was like a much more important business. And basically, they didn’t completely pivot that time because like send wave, the money transfer product was was working, they needed to keep it around. But they pivoted on basically 100% of their own attention to this completely unproven new product that then that was in, like I think, like late 2015, early 2016, that they started working on it. And then it took another three years after that for mobile money to get to product market fit. Which just like and of course now like the mobile money businesses is way more valuable than then send sunwave would have been. Yeah, so I think they’ve they’ve certainly been vindicated there. But it just took an insane amount of conviction to leave behind this business that was obviously good, and be like, Oh, this completely unproven thing. We have, we are confident that this completely unproven thing right is going to be much more important in the long term to our business, and we’re going to give up on the thing that we know works right? So watching them, and that that wasn’t the only height, that’s the biggest instance of that type of decision. Yeah, there have been like many, many smaller ones also. And so I guess like learning from from drew and Lincoln about sort of how to how to stare into the abyss and and realize that you have been working on the wrong thing and be okay with that, because you’re making progress has really helped me sort of internalize that mindset.

Will Jarvis 1:00:24
Right. And Ben, we’re at the top of the hour. So if you have to go just just let me know. I have more time. Okay, good. But my question is, so, you know, making that pivot, right, from sin wave to internal money transfers. You know, like you said, it had to take like, a, you know, what’s the internal story is the internal story, like, you know, clearly, this is the right decision, like, we’re 100% confident this is gonna work, or is it like, do you see what I’m saying? Or is it like, Oh, God, we think there’s like a 70% chance it’s gonna happen. You know, if we work really hard, we’re gonna go do it.

Ben Kuhn 1:00:56
You see what I’m saying? Okay, so your question was, what was the like, internal messaging? or? Yeah, what

Will Jarvis 1:01:03
was the internal feeling? was it was it like really abundantly clear, if that makes sense? Or was it like, you know, we think pretty sure.

Ben Kuhn 1:01:11
It was definitely, it was definitely not clear to most people, I think, I would say I bet that drew was extremely confident that it would work. I don’t know if he was 100% confident. I think he was 100% confident that it was the right decision. I don’t know how, like, what his confidence was that it would actually work. But I do think he’s often been much more confident than me that something would work and be right then. Right. I think I think he had a very high confidence, I guess I was, my guess is that he had a very high confidence that if we tried hard enough, it would eventually work. And I don’t know if he expected it to take longer or shorter than another, like three years to reach product market fit. Or maybe it was even, like four years or something. But I think like his his overall conviction that like it would work eventually is like has been born out. That’s awesome.

Will Jarvis 1:02:10
So I’ve got one more question for you. And it’s a little bit of a pivot but overrated or underrated, bright lights in the home?

Ben Kuhn 1:02:18
Ah, incredibly underrated, I think. So the backstory here is that a couple of winters ago, so in Boston, the sun in winter sets at around like four or 4:30pm. And I noticed that after a sunset I’ve been, it became much harder for me to focus. And I was like really resistant to just doing anything, like productive and I just wanted to like curl up and like read a book or something. Yeah. And so during one of my weekly reviews, I thought to myself, gosh, wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have this problem. And instead, I could still focus in the afternoon, because then I could get more stuff done. And so I decided to try to simulate the effect of the Sun not setting at four, but instead, setting later. And so I searched on Amazon for like the brightest light bulb that you can buy. So I bought one it was like, it’s like super bright. It’s the equivalent of I think around like 40 incandescent light bulbs. Oh, wow. And like, it’s an LED bulb. But like, despite being an LED bulb, and therefore a pretty energy efficient, it still doesn’t pay so much heat, but like the bulb also has like an internal cooling fan. That’s like dissipate all the heat, like the LEDs are generated. Yeah, and you can’t really look at it directly. Because the, like the it’ll apply after images. Yeah. Um, and so I like I rigged up some terrible light fixture. And there’s, there’s a blog post on my website with the instructions for how to do this, which if, if you ever have trouble focusing in the dark, I highly recommend trying it out. But anyway, so So I set this thing up and and basically, I turned it on, and I was like, holy shit, I’m so energetic right now. And that was the point at which I knew that it was going to help solve my problem. And indeed, when I started using this light bulb, in the evenings, I it became much much easier for me to stay focused on whatever like I sort of high willpower high attention task I was trying to do for much later. In fact, I realized that if I if I kept it on too late, it would become very hard for me to go to sleep. So I had to make sure that I turned it off at around like 630 if I wanted to go out nine. Otherwise, I would be like I would have been like lying in bed thinking about all this stuff that I like wanted to do. And yeah, so I would say during the winters I regained around an hour a day of time during which I was able to do like high intensity focused thinking and it was just a huge benefit. So like I told a lot of people about this and they were like, Huh, sounds cool, but I think they were still underrating it sorry, yeah, listening to this podcast, even after my schpeel, you’re probably still underrating it. For example, I would like have friends over at my house. And they would all say things like, Ben, it feels so cheerful and inviting in here. Like, have you looked at the small sun on my bookshelf? Oh, that’s why then some are like, I gave one to my mom for Christmas, because she also has like the, well, she actually has, like, I think more serious, like seasonal. Yeah. And so I gave her one. And she called me to thank me. And she said, like, gosh, like, I put this in a room in the house that like people didn’t usually hang out in and now like, mysteriously everyone is hanging out in this room all the time, because it’s like, so much more cheerful. And so, um, yeah, I think that like the kids, these See, right lights, just getting getting enough light has a really, really big effect on mood and concentration. And, yeah, I keep in fact, I believe so strongly in this, that I keep trying to convince people to start a company that builds these lights in like a better form factor. Because the, like, the one that I bought from Amazon is like, it’s like, really inconvenient. It’s like super ugly, it’s, the light is like concentrated into a very small area. So you’ve got like, you can’t really look at wherever the light is, you have to sort of like, and then like, it has this fan, that’s kind of loud. So it’s like, it’s, it’s not really like nice. And I really want somebody to start a company that makes the nice version of these bulbs where you can like put something on your ceiling and it gives like, even really bright illumination like throughout the room. If I weren’t working on wave, probably I would like try to start this company myself on just because something that I like want to exist in the world. So maybe some listener to this podcast will like start start that company, but definitely feeling that everyone should try should get on the super bright light. hypetrain. Absolutely.

Have you read inadequate equilibria. But yes, I have. Okay, this was I think I have seen several other people make references to like, really bright light bulbs, like helping with, with seasonal affective disorder, the thing that I realized are that this is this is definitely part of what like, inspired me to do this, I think, yeah, the thing that I realized was like, you don’t have to be depressed in order for this to be useful. I didn’t have any mood symptoms, I was still like, perfectly cheerful in winter, I just found it harder to focus in the evenings. And it was still incredibly helpful to me. So I guess I think about it as like, there’s sort of and this is this is in the blog post, I think about it as sort of, there’s like a bell curve of like, how much does light affect you. And if you’re all the way off to like, they’re like really affected by it end of the bell curve, and you like have seasonal affective disorder. And then your doctor will tell this, like, tell you like put this light bulb right next to your eyeball, but like the light bulb was really like dim and so it still Yeah. But anyway, and so that’s like, if, if you have seasonal affective disorder, then you should like definitely be doing this. Yeah. But there are a lot of people who like don’t have full blown sad, but like, still could benefit from a better illuminated space.

Will Jarvis 1:08:03
That’s over. I love that. I think it’s really good advice. And it’s one of those things, you know, if I mentioned this earlier, that it’s it’s simple. And, and somewhat like retrospectively obvious that Yeah, like people like to be in the sun, you know? And that’s more pleasant, but you still think about it in your day to day life.

Ben Kuhn 1:08:21
Yeah, or like even more like retrospectively obvious cases, like, you know, until humans became able to build these very large shelters, right? Yeah. We were constantly in environments that even on a cloudy day, were 10 or 100 times as bright as most indoor environments are today. Right. So like, why should we expect that reducing the brightness by a factor of 100 would just be okay. Like, that’s kind of surprising. Like, yeah, so I don’t know, I I’m interested. I’m very shocked that I like didn’t think about this earlier. But there you go. That’s cool.

Will Jarvis 1:08:59
It’s great tip. Well, Ben, thank you so much for coming on. What’s your blog’s address, we’ll put it in the show notes and everything as well.

Ben Kuhn 1:09:07
my vlogs address is Ben Kuhn. dotnet. It’s b e n KUH. N as in November dotnet. Awesome. And you can go there you can see some of the essays we’ve mentioned. Sign up for our mailing list, where you get future essays. And yeah, hopefully this will be useful to some people. Awesome.

Will Jarvis 1:09:26
Thanks, Ben. Appreciate it.

Ben Kuhn 1:09:27
Thank you. It was great to have you on here. really appreciated the great questions. And yeah, thanks again for having me. Awesome. Thanks for listening. We’ll be back next week with a new episode of narratives.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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