Having spent most of my career as an analyst in the fields of Finance and Enterprise Technology, the word “data-driven” has become a security blanket of sorts. It’s the prefix we attached to our decisions to provide some measure of comfort that we weren’t the irrational human beings prone to bias and unrefined heuristics we really were. Most of my days were spent collecting data the same way my mom would collect free samples at grocery stores and malls (“I’m not sure what I’ll use it for but it’s free so take it!”). My fellow graph pushers and I would attempt to pull some interesting facts from the numbers, doing our best to remain objective, statistically significant, and tasteful in our choice of chart colors. Our powerpoints and excel reports would then get shipped out to a cabal of overlords who, mostly behind closed doors, would make “data-driven decisions”. I’m not convinced they did though.
I’m willing to bet that while data may indeed have triggered a discussion and may even have formed the basis of a list of possible actions to take, the decisions themselves are shaped by multiple, almost invisible factors. Such factors are inherent costs to group decision-making that must be paid for upfront as careful consideration or disregarded resulting in sub-optimal outcomes (my friend Mark Curtis lays out a few such costs in his blog post). Consider the following the next time you’re about to make a group decision:
At the onset of our mass confusion and shock in the early weeks of being quarantined in NYC, I came across an article naming what we’re collectively feeling as grief. We grieve for the things we have already lost (jobs, family members, opportunities to travel) and we dread we have yet to lose (a sense of normalcy, the comfort of crowds, restaurants). In the past few weeks, the word has been helpful in naming what I was experiencing and in giving myself permission not to go running off into the next project like I’m usually wont to do.
I didn’t have the energy to grieve yesterday and I remember thinking over the weekend of the things involving people I had the privilege to enjoy before this new normal. Things whose memory will last forever without a shred of regret and a double dosing of grief:
Going to the Made in America music festival with friends years ago despite not being a “music guy”. Being trapped in a sea of strangers during 2Chainz’ unintentionally hilarious performance was a highlight.
Sharing a bottle of Canard-Duchêne Champagne with my then not-yet-girlfriend in a tiny bar that served homemade Hot Pockets and blasted 90s hip hop and pop music that we all sang along to.
Finally taking my mom to Momofuku Ko with my only worry being whether she’d like the meal or not.
Being able to welcome last minute guests and friend-of-a-friends to our pop-up dinners where they ate family-style and sometimes by hand on banana leaves.
Riding a crowded New York train to join others visiting iconic destinations from the Met, Coney Island Boardwalk, or Chelsea Market. Even better was taking the train to visit the cramped but famous bars and restaurants that defined this city.
Spontaneous trips to the Fat Buddha Bar in East Village with who would become some of my closest friends before we all went our separate ways in life.
There were many potential reasons I could have skipped out on these memories not the least of which is my preference for solitude, routine, and making the least amount of movement possible. I wonder how much more I would grieve today had my isolationist self won out all those other times. There are many things I miss today that may never return. But for some of those things, I’m glad I took the chance to live them.
I recently chose the necessary evil of reactivating my Facebook account and unlike my Instagram account that’s mostly focused on food, Facebook seems to be the same cesspool of armchair economists, would-be epidemiologists, and rabid meme-sharers that I left it at. Leaving the fact that my Facebook network needs just as bad a trim as my hair aside, a sizable number of posts I see are about whether communities should reopen or not and if the former, how quickly and fully.
The slogans create a sense that there are only two sides to the argument: “Flatten the Curve” and “Stay at Home, Save Lives” on one, “The Cure is Worse than the Disease” and “Liberate [insert region here]” on the other. Of course there are a multitude of variations in between depending on how conservative a reopening can be, how robust a bailout package under continued lockdown should be, and a whole host of other factors. I am no expert in any field that would allow me to opine on any of these levers, so I will refrain from doing so. Instead, I will simply point out the complex value judgements people make when they place their stake in the ground.
(These are recaps of our “Hidden Apron at Home” Instagram Live sessions filmed under quarantine and held on my @errant_diner account. I focus on the fundamentals of cooking as I, a non-chef, understand them. They are based on my experiences learning how to cook and deal with systems and ways of thinking vs. just recipes. This fifth session covers all things Espresso and features my friend Mario Nnani.)
IG Live Recording can be found below (split into two parts due to some technical issues). As with our prior episodes, they’re best viewed full-screen and vertically on your mobile phone.
Despite having said Hidden Apron at Home was going to be a limited-run series covering some basic kitchen concepts that I think would be helpful for anyone looking to get started/better at cooking, the people have asked for more! This week, we’re featuring an ingredient I consume almost daily and yet have little knowledge of: Espresso. Is it a type of bean? A grind setting? A degree of roasting? All I knew was that it was the comfort I needed in the morning and the jolt was a bonus. Going over this with me was my friend Mario who’s been an early supporter of Hidden Apron at Home and happens to have a growing passion for Espresso (evidenced by the La Marzocco espresso machine he has at home).
Mario has been telling me about his plans to open a coffee cart / shop and so was the perfect guest for the show: knowledgeable enough to pull a proper shot and yet still enough of a beginner to be able to relate to an espresso noob like myself. He walked us through the basics of an espresso and how it’s actually pulled at cafés. More than just a geeky deep dive, I think knowing how something’s actually made increases one’s appreciation and enjoyment of it. Who wants to pay $5 for a crappy latte and not know what was wrong with it eh?
After the behind-the-scenes walkthrough, I showed folks how to make their enjoy their own espresso at home using an affordable Moka Pot and how to steam/froth their own milk using a French Press. Afterwards, I asked Mario for his “Top 5 Takeways”:
Sometime in the early 2000s, I stopped being bored. Boy Scout meetings, piano recitals, Taekwondo practices, housework done in a Saudi apartment preparation for a supposedly harsher life in Wild America. I remember staring at walls and ceilings as a kid, willing images to life in my head and crying of boredom when I ran out of books to read or pictures to draw inventions on.
I was bored yesterday and lay with my head back on the couch letting the sun set and darken the room. Nothing came of it of course. That’s kind of the point isn’t it? To simply witness the world turn without expecting your boredom to produce some sort of masterpiece like the Harvard Business Review articles predict it would.
When was the last time you felt boredom? The last time you felt an itch to do something but had nothing that would put a rest to the restlessness?
If you’re privileged enough to risk boredom, try it. Stare at a blank wall, the sky, or a solitary leaf until your brain produces its own hallucinogens and the clouds become a pod of whales going nowhere.
Currently Re-reading: Jenny Odell’s wandering, bookish, but timely call to “do nothing” and Jia Tolentino’s related and nuanced take on the calls to “put your phone away”.