Going bananas for WW

If this blog has a core, at the moment, it’s about decision making. One way to change decision making is to change the initial conditions. One way to do that is to dial ease up or down.

Losing weight is about introducing new habits and breaking old habits. WW, formerly Weight Watchers, uses ease a lot. Make the good things relatively easy and make the less good things relatively difficult. For example, part of what makes keeping a food journal a successful dietary change is that it introduces a friction, writing down the food forces our focus: do I really want to eat this? There’s no noting bananas though.

“To introduce new habits you want to pick foods you can eat on autopilot. If you’re with WW there are zero point foods that you don’t need to pay attention to. Bananas are pretty healthy and you’re probably not going to overeat bananas.” – Julie O’Brien, The Science of Change, November 2021

The episode is full of behavioral hacks, for instance having slack in the system for an occasional treat (or lapse). Another is the idea of rules of thumb. WW has points, intermittent fasting has times, Whole30 has no carbs. Each also restricts booze.

As a teen I worked retail with a woman who did the points system. She ate popcorn all the time. I didn’t get it. Popcorn has calories. But it worked for her.

As a teen I thought the world was more black and white. Now I get there’s more shades of grey. Now I appreciate the aspects of designing ease.


Here’s a few more posts about the different ways ease works.

Excellent endocrinologists

In Average is Over Tyler Cowen predicts that future jobs will reward people who work well with machines and humans. There will be good careers for people who understand people and data.

For instance, a doctor spends years of her life in medical school and residency and attends continuing medical education courses to ‘know a thing’. But she also must convince her patients. The way we do each of these will change with time but these are the two parts any job. Put another way, it doesn’t matter how good the model is if people don’t follow it.

“The (diabetes treatment) model we created beats 95% of primary care physicians, not because they aren’t smart, but they don’t go through the six million (treatment) combinations in their head. For endocrinologists there’s a top quintile who get results as good as the best output of our algorithm. They don’t do it by choosing the best algorithm, they use their humanity to talk to their patients about adhering to the drug regime. They are getting results a different way.” – Len Testa, Causal Inference, October 2021

Good convincing outperforms better medicine! This is why financial education does not work. Action does not follow information like a tail follows a dog.

Testa doesn’t elaborate how the doctors describe the diabetes deterrents, but it’s probably in the listener’s language. “Excise the statistical jargon,” said David Spiegelhalter and communicate better.


Sounds like a JTBD post no?

Two health designs

We highlight design because humans are conditional creatures. Certain circumstances make certain actions more or less likely. Living near a huge retirement community in Florida shows this contrast clearly. The involvement in new sports like pickleball, water volleyball, and sand tennis exemplify the design principle: If you build it, they will come.

In talking about his book,Drink?, David Nutt notes how much alcohol is a cultural act. Per Nutt, alcohol’s health impacts are terrible, the societal costs are large, and meaningful outcome changes wouldn’t require that much tweaking to the current system. But we don’t change.

Culture is design too. So to not drink a person needs to counter culture.

“In my book I suggest if people say to you, ‘Why aren’t you drinking?’ quite a good repost is to say, ‘Because I’ve got quite a busy day tomorrow.'” – David Nutt, London Real, February 2020

That’s good communication, it’s in the listener’s language.

The second design is around fasting, an area design helps.

“Right around the five hour mark of a fast you’ll probably get hungry (this being our ‘normal’ time between meals), and that’s the most difficult time. Sleeping through that is the best idea then. If you can start a fast at three p.m., then in the evening you have to stay away from the snacks, but when you wake up you’re in that cruise state of twelve plus hours.” – Matt Tullman, No Meat Athlete Radio, October 2021

In my experience this is true. Fasting pangs are non-linear. Depending on the time, circumstances, and maybe even hydration, a fast can be more or less difficult. Sleeping through those time-based hunger troughs can help.

You are a designer. I’m a designer. We are all designers.


Nutt sounded quite certain in the podcast about the health effects, but a query for “cancer alcohol meta analysis” showed less convincing results. In an attempt to be more Bayesian I’ll update from ‘quite bad for you’ to ‘pretty bad for you’.

Triangle problems

How do you fit the triangle in the circle?
the triangle problem

One way to think about Alchemy, said Rory Sutherland, is to think of a Sudoku puzzle. In Sudoku each column, row, and 3×3 box must have one through nine once and only once.

Sutherland’s suggestion is to shift back and forth between the rows, columns, and boxes. We’ve highlighted donation alchemy, wine alchemy, and magazine alchemy. Alchemy is like moneyball find secondary things that deliver value. An easy addition, from Sutherland, is good wifi and good seating.

Another way to consider Sudoku situations is as a triangle.

“This is why I like being in the field of addiction. It isn’t just about ‘the drug’ and it’s not just about ‘the person’ and it’s not just about ‘the society’. It’s about all three, it’s this triangle between social factors, personal factors, and drug factors. It’s a very complex equation but it’s fun because you can see different parts of the world and different weightings and different outcomes.” – David Nutt, London Real February 2020

Nutt’s podcast covers a lot of ‘the society’ solutions, where certain locales changed consumption patterns. Mostly the outcome change is about ease. When alcohol is less easy to consume – via where and when it can be purchases or how much it costs – then people drink less.

The triangle feels like a better analogy than Sudoku. The triangle can be rotated like a dial. We can move points A, B, or C or A, B, and C. The triangle also fits with a complex adaptive system view: if we move A down three and over two it will be in the circle but then B will be out. And it could affect C too.

Triangle problems joins our toolbox for problem solving along with: black box problems, profession problems, TiVo problems, and cooking problems. Each of these is a framing, if this is the problem here’s how to approach it.

Thanks for reading.

Predicting an AA A+

There’s this idea in sports that certain people are “ruining the game”. It’s those baseball people who favor home runs and defensive shifts. It’s the golfers who drive for show and dough.

And we can blame computers.

And us. We’re to blame too.

Computers compress time. I could have mailed this to you as a letter but that would take me buying paper (after a trip to the store of course) writing it…yada yada yada…and you walking to the mailbox. Computers compress all that.

Analytics is a type of compression. Rather than a lot of people and a lot of time to learn about the advantages of home runs or infield shifts in baseball or long drives in golf, a few people with computers thought it might work and ran the data.

This is an issue we will see more of: novel data making interesting predictions.

“We looked on Twitter for anyone who announced they were going to their first AA meeting and we followed what they tweeted after that. Did they stay sober for ninety days or did they go back to drinking? Did they complain about being hungover at work? Did they celebrate their sobriety? Then we took all the data we could model from their Twitter feeds to try to predict if they would be sober. Things like: who do you follow, do they talk about booze, are you over 21, how do you cope with stress? We can predict with 80% accuracy if someone will stay sober or not on the day they decide to go into treatment.” – Jen Golbeck, November 2020

This algorithm, Golbeck notes, is also pessimistic, it tends to say you won’t recover when you will. And it’s confounded by the sample: only certain people announce things on Twitter.

These algorithm approaches will grow in the decision making blend. Part-of-that means understanding the tools. We are time traveling, leaping to the future rather than walking there.