Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Diderot Effect: Why We Want Things We Don’t Need — And What to Do About It

The famous French philosopher Denis Diderot lived nearly his entire life in poverty, but that all changed in 1765.
Diderot was 52 years old and his daughter was about to be married, but he could not afford to provide a dowry. Despite his lack of wealth, Diderot’s name was well-known because he was the co-founder and writer of Encyclopédie, one of the most comprehensive encyclopedias of the time.

When Catherine the Great, the emperor of Russia, heard of Diderot’s financial troubles she offered to buy his library from him for £1000 GBP, which is approximately $50,000 USD in 2015 dollars. Suddenly, Diderot had money to spare. 
Shortly after this lucky sale, Diderot acquired a new scarlet robe. That's when everything went wrong. 
Before we talk about how to get started, I wanted to let you know I researched and compiled science-backed ways to stick to good habits and stop procrastinating. Want to check out my insights? Download my free PDF guide “Transform Your Habits” here.

The Diderot Effect

Diderot’s scarlet robe was beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that he immediately noticed how out of place it seemed when surrounded by the rest of his common possessions. In his words, there was “no more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty” between his robe and the rest of his items. The philosopher soon felt the urge to buy some new things to match the beauty of his robe. 
He replaced his old rug with a new one from Damascus. He decorated his home with beautiful sculptures and a better kitchen table. He bought a new mirror to place above the mantle and his “straw chair was relegated to the antechamber by a leather chair.”
These reactive purchases have become known as the Diderot Effect.
The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled.

Denis Diderot, discoverer of the Diderot Effect
Denis Diderot as depicted by Louis-Michel van Loo in 1767. In this painting Diderot is wearing a robe similar to the one that prompted his famous essay on the Diderot Effect.

Why We Want Things We Don’t Need

Like many others, I have fallen victim to the Diderot Effect. I recently bought a new car and I ended up purchasing all sorts of additional things to go inside it. I bought a tire pressure gauge, a car charger for my cell phone, an extra umbrella, a first aid kit, a pocket knife, a flashlight, emergency blankets, and even a seatbelt cutting tool.
Allow me to point out that I owned my previous car for nearly 10 years and at no point did I feel that any of the previously mentioned items were worth purchasing. And yet, after getting my shiny new car, I found myself falling into the same consumption spiral as Diderot. 
You can spot similar behaviors in many other areas of life:
  • You buy a new dress and now you have to get shoes and earrings to match.
  • You buy a CrossFit membership and soon you’re paying for foam rollers, knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and paleo meal plans.
  • You buy your kid an American Girl doll and find yourself purchasing more accessories than you ever knew existed for dolls.
  • You buy a new couch and suddenly you're questioning the layout of your entire living room. Those chairs? That coffee table? That rug? They all gotta go.
Life has a natural tendency to become filled with more. We are rarely looking to downgrade, to simplify, to eliminate, to reduce. Our natural inclination is always to accumulate, to add, to upgrade, and to build upon.
In the words of sociology professor Juliet Schor, “the pressure to upgrade our stock of stuff is relentlessly unidirectional, always ascending.” 

Mastering the Diderot Effect

The Diderot Effect tells us that your life is only going to have more things fighting to get in it, so you need to to understand how to curate, eliminate, and focus on the things that matter.
Reduce exposure. Nearly every habit is initiated by a trigger or cue. One of the quickest ways to reduce the power of the Diderot Effect is to avoid the habit triggers that cause it in the first place. Unsubscribe from commercial emails. Call the magazines that send you catalogs and opt out of their mailings. Meet friends at the park rather than the mall. Block your favorite shopping websites using tools like Freedom.
Buy items that fit your current system. You don't have to start from scratch each time you buy something new. When you purchase new clothes, look for items that work well with your current wardrobe. When you upgrade to new electronics, get things that play nicely with your current pieces so you can avoid buying new chargers, adapters, or cables.
Set self-imposed limits. Live a carefully constrained life by creating limitations for you to operate within. Juliet Schor provides a great example with this quote…
“Imagine the following. A community group in your town organizes parents to sign a pledge agreeing to spend no more than $50 on athletic shoes for their children. The staff at your child's day-care center requests a $75 limit on spending for birthday parties. The local school board rallies community support behind a switch to school uniforms. The PTA gets 8o percent of parents to agree to limit their children's television watching to no more than one hour per day.
Do you wish someone in your community or at your children’s school would take the lead in these or similar efforts? I think millions of American parents do. Television, shoes, clothes, birthday parties, athletic uniforms-these are areas where many parents feel pressured into allowing their children to consume at a level beyond what they think is best, want to spend, or can comfortably afford.”
—Juliet Schor, The Overspent American
Buy One, Give One. Each time you make a new purchase, give something away. Get a new TV? Give your old one away rather than moving it to another room. The idea is to prevent your number of items from growing. Always be curating your life to include only the things that bring you joy and happiness.
Go one month without buying something new. Don't allow yourself to buy any new items for one month. Instead of buying a new lawn mower, rent one from a neighbor. Get your new shirt from the thrift store rather than the department store. The more we restrict ourselves, the more resourceful we become.
Let go of wanting things. There will never be a level where you will be done wanting things. There is always something to upgrade to. Get a new Honda? You can upgrade to a Mercedes. Get a new Mercedes? You can upgrade to a Bentley. Get a new Bentley? You can upgrade to a Ferrari. Get a new Ferrari? Have you thought about buying a private plane? Realize that wanting is just an option your mind provides, not an order you have to follow.

How to Overcome the Consumption Tendency

Our natural tendency is to consume more, not less. Given this tendency, I believe that taking active steps to reduce the flow of unquestioned consumption makes our lives better.
Personally, my goal is not to reduce life to the fewest amount of things, but to fill it with the optimal amount of things. I hope this article will help you consider how to do the same.
In Diderot's words, “Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.” 


When to Solve Your Team’s Problems, and When to Let Them Sort It Out

After careful review of her harried work life, Charla, an IT manager, discovered that 20% of her time over the previous two months was spent managing escalations. It seemed that each interaction with her team ended with her feeling a need to exercise her authority to rescue them from a crisis. For example:
  • Sarah complains that Ken — a peer — repeatedly fails to include her on group emails.
  • Geri can’t get the data he needs from another department.
  • An internal customer is two months late with requirements but is pressing Pat not to push back his delivery date.
  • A VP is bypassing the approval process and directly cajoling Brittney to add functionality.
  • Sunil is distracted from his commitments by another team’s periodic informal requests for his help.
Charla routinely ended her day having accomplished almost none of what she intended to do in her attempt to be responsive to her team’s demands for rescue. As she inspected her calendar, she concluded her team’s motto had become, “When in doubt, escalate.”
Managers are more likely to get in a situation like Charla’s, where they allow their team to abdicate responsibility for solving their own problems, when they fail to understand their true role as managers. Prior to taking a management role, you can measure your contribution to the organization by counting the number of important problems you solve. But the day you become a manager, the arithmetic changes. Your success is no longer measured by how many problems you solve. Instead, your role is to build a team that solves problems.
Anytime you become the hero by solving the problem, you risk teaching your team that without you, the situation is helpless. Over time, and with repetition, you collude with your team in creating a situation that isn’t good for any of you. You surrender your bandwidth to low priority tasks and you reinforce weakness in your team.
If you’re an effective manager, escalations should be aberrations that you accept rarely and thoughtfully. Here are some questions to ask yourself and principles to follow to make sure you’re not stepping in when you shouldn’t.
Who should own this problem? When you transition from professional to manager, change the way you approach problems presented to you. Before asking, “How do we solve the problem?” pause and consider, “Who should own this problem?” Balance the need to solve the present issue with consideration for how the way it is solved will influence future behavior. For example, if a team member is getting inappropriate pressure from a powerful internal customer, it’s tempting to conclude that your authority is needed to solve the problem. Notice, however, that by stepping in and confronting the customer, you are teaching your team that they are incapable of holding boundaries without you.
Do it now or do it right? At times, it’s appropriate to allow a direct report to escalate a problem if urgency trumps process. For example, if customer requirements must be complete in order for a strategic product launch to come in on time, you might need to use your pulpit to get action. But even under these circumstances, you should engage those in your team in the process as much as you can so you are more a partner and less the hero.
What is the least I can do? In your desire to be useful and responsive, you might be tempted to do more than you should. If others are struggling to solve problems they should rightfully own, always ask, “What is the least I can do?” Find the lowest level of initiative for yourself while requiring your team member to act at the highest level they are capable of. Then, use it as a teaching moment to help your team learn to do it without you the next time. For example, if a boundary needs to be set with a senior manager in another division, you might ask your employee to craft and send the email and cc you. Coach her on how to write the email in a tactful but clear way. Once she sends it, you can reply and show your support for the employee. Over time, the goal should be to drop you from the cc line and build confidence in your employee that she can hold boundaries.
Content, pattern, or relationship? Think of the problems presented to you at three different levels: content, pattern, and relationship. 
  • Content problems are those where the issue is the immediate concern. For example, if a nurse is supposed to fill out patient reports before the end of his shift, and failed to do so, you have a content problem. The problem is the missing report.
  • Pattern problems exist when the problem isn’t the single issue itself, but when the issue is a recurring one. For example, patient reports are routinely left incomplete.
  • Relationship problems happen when the issue has to do with fundamental concerns about competence, trust, or respect. Relationship problems generally call for a change in relationship, structure, or policy.
In general, employees should solve most content and pattern problems on their own. This should certainly be the case for problems within the team. For example, if a peer nurse isn’t getting reports done in a way that affects another peer, the accountability conversation should happen at the level where the consequence is most acutely felt. In healthy organizations, and with strong teams, content and pattern problems outside of the team should also be generally solved by whomever experiences them. They should not be escalated. For example, if colleagues in other departments bypass a prioritization process, those who experience the bypass are in the best position to both see and confront it. If others seem repentant, but then repeat the infraction, they should similarly hold the pattern conversation.

Going back to our nursing example: After addressing the first instance (content), and then the emerging pattern, the affected nurse could end the pattern conversation with, “Great, it sounds like I have your commitment to be 100% consistent with the patient records. If there are further problems, I’ll have exhausted my available options and recommend we talk about this with our managers.”
However, if they have candidly addressed the problem at those two levels and do not see appropriate change, then escalation is appropriate. Ideally, those escalating to you would stay involved. They should also notify the other person when they have the pattern conversation that if the solution does not work, they will need to escalate to find some other answer. That lets the other party understand all of the consequences of noncompliance — hopefully adding motivation to follow through — and avoids the accusation that they are simply pulling a power play when they later escalate the problem to you.
It takes two to escalate. Client and long-time IT veteran Tom O’Dea has a policy he calls “mutually agreed escalation.” A former executive at AT&T and Sprint, Tom is always willing to get involved, but only when all parties agree they need his help to solve the problem. This extra requirement encourages team members to make going to him a last rather than a first resort. He makes exceptions when there is a power differential between his employee and their counterpart. But with peer-level disputes he has learned that the cooperative escalation requirement discourages his people from using him as a cudgel to threaten others or a cop-out to avoid uncomfortable conflict. Instead, they feel more responsible to maintain a respectful dialogue and surface concerns honestly so that if they reach loggerheads they can agree to involve him.
As a manager, your primary contribution is creating a high-performance team and the primary driver of high performance in teams and organizations is a culture of peer accountability.
Escalations are sometimes appropriate, but if handled incorrectly, they eat away at this crucial norm. These five principles can help you judge if and how to allow escalations in a way that builds rather than weakens your team.

Joseph Grenny is a four-time New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance. His work has been translated into 28 languages, is available in 36 countries, and has generated results for 300 of the Fortune 500. He is the cofounder of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and leadership development.

Thursday, July 13, 2017


I’ve previously written about how you can get SIM cards for the USAthe UK and France delivered to you in Singapore so you can have them activated and ready to go by the time your plane touches down at your destination.
But it’s also helpful to be aware of the data roaming offers from our various local telcos so we can see how we can get the best deal. I’ve taken the liberty of looking at Starhub, M1 and Singtel’s offers and here are some of my findings.

Starhub (Prepaid)

Happy Roam
Starhub has what I think is the best data-only solution for anyone who just needs data with their Happy Roam prepaid roaming offer. You don’t need to be an existing Starhub customer to take advantage of this, you just need to buy a prepaid Happy Roam SIM.
This offer is valid in the following countries
DestinationPreferred Partners’ Network
AustraliaTelstra | Vodafone
ChinaChina Mobile
Hong KongThree (3)
IndonesiaXL Axiata | Three (3) | Indosat
JapanNTT DoCoMo | KDDI
MalaysiaAll operators
New Zealand2Degrees | TNZ
South KoreaSK Telecom | Olleh KT
TaiwanFar EasTone (FET) | Chunghwa Telecom
ThailandTrueMove | DTAC
United KingdomThree (3)
United States of AmericaT-Mobile
There are different pricing configurations on offer
3 Days1GB$5
7 Days1GB$7
30 Days1.2GB$10
30 Days2.4GB$15
30 Days3.6GB$20
You can buy a $15 or $50 Happy prepaid SIM in Singapore, download the Starhub Happy prepaid app and activate it just before you leave. Note that while you will be able to make calls using this prepaid SIM, they will be at the usual outrageous roaming rates. Therefore if you buy a $50 Happy prepaid sim and activate a 30 Day 3.6GB $20 plan, you’ll have $30 left on your phone for calling. Don’t be surprised if that lasts you all of 5 minutes.
If you just need data, I think this is an amazing deal. It’s difficult to beat S$20 for 3.6GB of data.
Happy Roaming SIMs can be purchased at any Starhub shop, 7-Eleven/Cheers store and at Changi Airport (Travellers’ Counter and UOB Currency Exchange Counters). I’ve been using one on my current RTW trip and don’t have any complaints so far.

Starhub (Postpaid)

If you’re a postpaid customer on Starhub, you can pick from a 2GB or 3GB DataTravel pack that costs $15 and $20 respectively.
What’s interesting to note is that these plans cover 12 different countries, but they’re not the same as the ones covered under HappyRoam. For example, you can get Macau on DataTravel, but not the UK or the US. If you want the UK/US, you’d have to use HappyRoam, or…
DataTravel Unlimited
This is Starhub’s version of Singtel’s unlimited data roaming packages. You pay one flat fee, depending on country, and get unlimited data for a day.
However, Starhub’s plans range from $19-50 per day, versus Singtel with $19-29. To be fair though, there’s only one country at the $50 price point (Vietnam- which Singtel DataRoam Unlimited doesn’t support. Presumably the carrier in Vietnam asks for a very high reimbursement rate)
If the 12 countries covered under Starhub’s DataTravel don’t match where you’re headed, Starhub has a slightly more expensive option in the form of its RoamEasy packages. These cover 80+ countries, but you’re looking at paying $40/$100 for 400MB/1GB, versus $15/$20 for 2GB/3GB with DataTravel.

M1 (Prepaid)

Where prepaid is concerned, M1 has recently relaunched its MCard offering with a $15 and $28 option. You get 2GB and 10 minutes of calls that are valid for 10 days, which can be used across either 12 or 17 destinations depending which plan you spring for.

M1 (Postpaid)

M1 has a nifty program for its postpaid customers called DataPassport, which lets you pay a fee to use your local data allowance overseas for a given month. $10 to let me use my monthly local data in the USA? Sounds pretty sweet.
These DataPassports come in a few flavors- if you’re going to a single destination, you can pay $10 or $25 depending where you’re headed
And if you’re headed to multiple destinations you have regional DataPassports too
Daily Unlimited Data Roaming
Alternatively, you can pay $15 for unlimited data roaming per day in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, Saudi, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and the USA , or $25 for Japan and the UAE.  These rates are significantly cheaper than Singtel’s (see next section)
Singtel (Postpaid)
DataRoam Saver and DataRoam Unlimited
Ah Singtel. The ones who invented this whole campaign around the “Romaphobe”, poking fun at those who go to ridiculous lengths to avoid using data overseas, while forgetting that the reason they do so is because telcos like them charge obscene amounts for data roaming (and it’s OT but let’s remember that Singtel is the upstanding telco that tried to pull a fast one on all its customersback in 2008 by signing them up for their stupid Color Me Tones and saying you need to opt out or you’ll be charged. They got off with a slap on the wrist).
Seriously, just watching the video again makes my blood boil. It’s like the classroom bully making fun of those who detour down the corridor to avoid them.
Singtel’s postpaid customers can take advantage of DataRoam Saver and DataRoam Daily plans. In my opinion these are the worst value of all the telcos.  All the plans are for 1 day and expire at midnight local time. Meaning that if your flight lands close to midnight, say, 1150pm, and you turn on your data roaming you’re going to feel very stupid…
DestinationDataRoam Saver (Unlimited)DataRoam Daily (100MB)
S Korea$19$10
Hong Kong$19$10
Do note that if you’re travelling to China, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, you can pay $20 to enjoy 1GB data for 30 days. (promotion valid till 31 Dec 16)
If you’re heading to Australia, you can pay $10 to get 1GB of data that lasts you for one month.
And if you’re heading to Malaysia, you can pay $10 for 1GB of data (one month) or $5 for 200MB (one month).
Singtel has also recently launched another offering called ReadyRoam. When you sign up for one of these plans, you get 1GB of data to use across 30 days, with 9, 16 or 31 destinations depending on which plan you spring for. This is very useful when you’re travelling to multiple geographies and may even be better than purchasing a local sim card in some cases.
If you finish using your 1GB your plan will automatically renew at the same price as your pre-selected plan, i.e $12/GB for 9 destinations, $20/GB for 16 destinations and $35/GB for 31 destinations respectively.

Local prepaid SIM

The big advantage of getting a local prepaid SIM is that it gives you both data and voice calling. Why do you need voice calling in an age of Skype/Whatsapp? Well, if you’re on a road trip you might end up in a place with only 2G speeds or no data coverage at all. If you’re trying to book a table at a restaurant they may request for a local number. If you’re trying to register with some of the local apps (eg taxi booking) they might request a local number to send a OTP registration code to. If you’re trying to register with a wireless public hotspot some of them only send activation codes to local numbers. As far as Skype/Whatsapp have come, voice calls over the voice network are still much more reliable and better quality.
EDIT: Another important need for a local number- when you need to call your Uber/Grab driver to tell them where to find you

Other Options

People on the comments have highlighted providers like Interfone where you put a sticker on your sim card that allows for cheaper roaming. I’ve not tested any of these, but feel free to provide more ideas in the comments as well.
The EU recently eliminated data roaming charges across Europe, meaning that if you buy a prepaid sim card in France you should be able to use that data all across Europe. I’m hopeful that closer economic integration among ASEAN and other regional blocs will see similar legislation passed soon, so people can post important cat videos wherever they are.