Xavier Jared

TwoShay

Two brothers on personal development, philosophy, and being awesome

Expert Blindness

Xavier,

As a nerd, I have a tendency to turn everything into a technical problem. This often makes a lot of sense, since I am orders of magnitude more efficent at creating technical solutions than, well, pretty much anything. When I visited Tanzania and the condition of entry to my hostel—Hostel Hoff—was a poster from my home country, instead I made a giant mosaic of The Hoff, made from tiny pictures of The Hoff (nerd link). Not because it was totally awesome, but because that was actually easier for me than to go out and find an appropriate poster that someone else had made. I am really bad at shopping.

The Hoff
The Hoff is totally related to my home country.

I can solve anything with tech. What do you do when you are busy at work but your girlfriend wants attention? Computers are awesome at sending email. (Works better than you’d expect, but not as well as you’d hope.)

Computers may be pretty sweet but sometimes they are just not cut out for the job you need them for. One day, for sure, but not yet. Until then, I am training myself to look for the lo-fi-yet-more-effective solutions. I am trying to cure myself of expertise blindness.

Failing

A few months back I had an idea for a game called VeganQuest. You can probably infer all you need to know about it from the name. A website where you complete vegan tasks (quests!) for experience points, you level up, you get marked off by the more experienced vegans, etcetera etcetera. Smothering Veganism in the World of Warcraft addiction sauce.

I still think that would be awesome, probably because the name kicks so much ass, but I am not going to build it. It would be a lot of work, and as I thought about it more (over many weeks) it became apparent that I was trying too hard to solve problems with computers. I did not want to make a game, I wanted to help people discover veganism. As I examined the different issues I was tackling, I saw that they had all already been solved, or could be solved with a far less costly method. To enumerate:

Information. I could build a central repository for good, solid vegan information. Turns out we already have that. Google. Solved. No shortage of Vegan philosophy there. Want some recipes? In a somewhat safer variant of Rule 34—though no less disturbing—any food you can conjure has been recreated in a vegan variety, just a short search away.

Keeping track. VeganQuest would have a log of everything you have done, send reminders when you are dropping the ball, and give experience, level ups, and rewards to keep you motivated. All of which is just about equivalent to marking off your vegan days on a calendar beside your desk.

Peer pressure. Veganism is such a radical departure from what your friends are eating, and indeed potentially what you yourself eat, that it can be a depressing and lonely experience to go through on your own. I know, I did it. A supportive network is essential, not just of experienced practionioners, but of people at your level, who are going through the same trials as you. A website could allow you to tap into to a world wide network of other vegans undergoing the same experiences as you. Or you could just catch up with some local newly-vegans for dinner regularly, who are going to be better able to share relevant shopping and restaurant tips.

Having a mentor. A consistent teacher in the early days of going vegan (or any new endeavour) helps so much. You need someone who can recognize that you cannot learn everything at once, who can assist you to learn in a manner most efficient for you, who can provide support when you are down and cheer when you are up. Especially in a field where you have to relearn such fundamental things as how to stock your kitchen, a mentor is crucial. A computer cannot fulfil that role.

VeganQuest attempts to solve the above four points, but it loses sight of the bigger picture and gets too excited by cool algorithms. There is a lo-fi solution to all of the above that is not only cheaper to implement, but also more efficent.

Second Attempt

Back I went to the drawing board, and emerged with a new incarnation of the idea: Vegan Month.Go vegan for a month, with the support of a mentor and peers in your local neighbourhood. This is a big step for me—with the exception of a mailing list there are no computers involved at all! I stepped outside of my comfort zone and found the best solution to the above four issues, regardless of whether a computer was involved or not.

The Hoff
The Hoff approves of lo-fi solutions.

Vegan Month is not a boot camp. It is not the “first month of your vegan life”. Vegan Month is about embracing an alternative lifestyle for a month to see what you can learn and take away from it. I ran a pilot program in November with four cadets, and it was a smashing success. They now describe themselves everywhere from “Vegan” to “Eating Healthier”, but across the board everyone discovered new things about the world and themselves.

The plan is now to run more courses in January. Places are very limited, since each group needs to be able to fit around a dinner table. If you want more information, check the website, but in the spirit of focusing on the business, there is no fancy signup form, just send me an email!

Do not be blinded by your area of expertise. It is fine to reach for them as first option, but be cautious of becoming trapped inside your professional cone. Often times there is a far less exciting, totally boring, but incredibly effective solution to your problem. Even Michael Phelps doesn’t swim across oceans. He takes a plane.

Hand-picked related writing

Discussion

We don't publish comments here on the site, but that doesn't mean we don't want to hear what you've got to say! Write something on your own blog, on twitter, or send us an email.

Get more

Email

Sign up to our mailing list for notification of new posts

Feed

Subscribe to our feed for irregular new posts

Twitter

Follow Xavier or Jared on Twitter

Facebook

Friend Jared on Facebook