'Trivial Inconvenience Day' Retrospective

byHypothesis9mo28th Mar 20183 comments

84


Introduction

Shortly after reading Scott Alexander's LessWrong Crypto Autopsy I found myself agreeing with the point so strongly I was brainstorming ways that its dismal outcome could have been prevented. Peoples personal accounts of why they didn't buy bitcoin seemed to converge on a central theme: Buying Bitcoin was a trivial inconvenience. Pondering what might be done in light of this, I was reminded of Boston Rat's Bureaucracy Day. The Bureaucracy Day is essentially a designated day for people to beat the ugh field effect by getting together and going through the whole mess of annoying tasks, paperwork, and other trivially inconvenient things people have been putting off. Having been impressed by the concept the first time I read about it, Scott's dire analysis convinced me to try something like it in the hope that it would be a useful tool against this sort of thing happening again.

Design

Preliminary Steps & Research

The actual idea came to me when a friend linked Scott's post. From the first paragraphs I was taken by the premise, and lamented how I had the opportunity to buy Bitcoin when it was pennies but didn't. For me the sting is even greater because I'd been tempted to buy an entire thousand dollars worth, but eventually decided against it. (As Scott points out in his post, I was especially being an idiot since just buying 10 bucks worth would have made me a much wealthier man.) Part of why I didn't was I was under the impression my only option for buying was essentially meeting someone in person that mined it. I'm unsure exactly when this was, but it's quite possible I was thinking about this pre-exchange and that was the reality.

As I was sitting there thinking about this, I remembered the Boston Rat post and felt it was a good starting template for solving this issue. I said to my friend:

Okay, here's my idea. Are you aware of Boston rat's "Bureaucracy day?" We do "Trivial Inconvenience Day". Where we get people into a giant IRC room. Or Discord or whatever. (IRC is easier to use a web client for without sign up.) And have people make a list of s*** they know in the abstract they should do but are putting off. And then we all do it together and talk about having done it. Sort of like a baptism, but for buying cryptocurrency or fixing my website. >_>

The friend seemed enthusiastic about the idea, noting that the Event Horizon group house had done a similar thing under the label 'Agency Hour', but they'd wished it were longer.

I went ahead and pasted that exact quote from the conversation into my private discord server, and pinged everyone to see if they'd be interested in making it happen. The responses were telling enough on their own:

I'm down

yes

hell yes

sure

Thirded

I'm in with high probability, depending on when it is.

Eight people was enough for me. With the enthusiastic responses in mind I got to making it happen.

I made a list of things I was putting off. (These lists are kind of intrinsically embarrassing, so you will hopefully forgive me for not providing examples.) Then I solicited lists from other people, and fairly soon several of us had provided a decent list of things we could do for Trivial Inconvenience Day. Next was the real challenge: Scheduling. I asked everyone in the small group about their availability, and eventually decided to make the day:

@Trivial Inconvenience Day Friday at 14:00 PST?

This precluded one participant from coming, but otherwise fit most peoples schedules. I figured bringing in others later that it was up to chance whether this date was acceptable to them, and I was fine with that.

Attempted Atmosphere

From the outset I was aiming for the event to have a particular sort of feel. I wanted it to be serious, but also sort of cheesy. In real life we're used to doing slog-y, tedious work and having nothing to show for it afterwards besides hours passed on the clock. It's not a very rewarding experience. Therefore to help counteract this I wanted the experience to be chock full of artificial rewards[0]. The fact of the matter is that these mundane necessities of life give us nowhere near the level of reward we feel we deserve for the effort. That is after all why they're undone in the first place. Keeping this in mind I wanted the atmosphere to be high energy, exuberantly enthusiastic. It's probably best summarized by the short description of the event I gave to someone that was confused about its logistics:

We all make our lists, then publicly commit to doing things, then do them, say we did them, and get praise and cheers for it.

Organizing & Advertising

Next up was to try and expand the number of participants. I assumed that with 7 people we would see significant shrinkage and no-shows. That meant for the thing to really work I'd have to boost it to a healthier, larger number of people. I briefly considered posting a public advertisement on LW 2, but the meetups feature didn't exist yet. When I asked staff for guidance on this issue they told me to post it on my personal blog. It was at about this point I realized that if this first event had major hiccups (as it was virtually guaranteed to) then I'd be spoiling the concept for a long time. The other problem was that by the time I'd finally found the time to start advertising, it was Thursday and the event was scheduled the next day. Advertising to a large group on such short notice felt rude, so I opted against it. Instead I decided to advertise directly to people on my Discord friends list. The exact message I sent them was:

Hi. I'm organizing a "Trivial Inconvenience Day" tomorrow at 14:00.
Basically it's a lot like Boston Rat's "Beauracracy Day" where people show up and get paperwork/etc they've been putting off done, except here the focus is on things which are trivially inconvenient that you want to do but haven't gotten around to. Would you be interested? It's online of course. It'll be hosted on Discord and I'll invite you at the time if you want to do it.

I created a Discord server for the event and invited people early so that I could ping them all when the time came to get on it.

The Event

Pre-Event Instructions

These are the instructions I gave to participants.

Here's basically how this is going to work:

  1. You ideally already have a list of things which will take under an hour to complete that you've been putting off. If you don't, make that list now.
  2. You're going to announce your list to us, pick a reasonable number of things to commit to completing.
  3. Do the things you said you would.
  4. We all act extremely enthusiastic about you doing this, and I give you a role called 'Doer' that puts you above the normal channel listing.
  5. Consequently, when other people finish doing things shower them with praise.
  6. Ideally most of us end up doing the things, and feel good about it.
  7. Conquer your fear of seeming cheesy or silly, that's part of the fun. :3
  8. The voice channel is for people who would like to participate in actual vocal cheering and encouragement. It's not mandatory though, text is fine.

/endQuote

I should note that 'under an hour' in point one turned out to be woefully inadequate, and I would strike it from any future versions.

How It Went

The day of the event itself made me a little nervous. Were people really going to show up? I decided in advance that if nobody did I would just do my list anyway and then try again later. Thankfully, people did show up. All told 16 people joined the server, including myself. Not all of them participated however.

We laid out lists of what we wanted to do, how many things we needed to do to consider ourselves to have succeeded, and then we got to work. One fundamental conflict I hadn't anticipated was that working and cheering are kind of at odds with each other. People don't all complete things at the same time, so when someone succeeds the others aren't standing by to give them boisterous cheering. It's more like a silent chorus of clap emoji that slowly filter in. This is however better than the usual silence.

Highlights

  • One participant signed up for a Vanguard Index Fund account.
  • Another participant began the process for getting their statue appraised.
  • Someone found a couple hundred dollars in assorted cash going through their old documents.
  • Somebody who had been buying 10 dollars of bitcoin a week raised their weekly buy amount.

Conclusion & Results

Overall, people seemed to be satisfied with the concept and execution. While a lot of genuinely trivial things got done, the mere fact that I got someone to stop procrastinating on signing up for Vanguard is more than enough for me to consider it a success. However I also gave participants an exit survey to see how well the event did. The results of this survey were encouraging. I can confidently recommend rats who feel like attempting a version of this in their own spaces do so.

Exit Survey Results

A copy of the survey can be found here.

Lessons Learned & Changes For Next Time

  • Keep track of all invites sent, and the responses given. This was important data that at the time I was sort of just trying to commit to memory. In retrospect it would have been very useful to be able to measure the performance of invitations, A/B test variations, etc.
  • Assuming I did that, explicitly calculate shrinkage and collect RSVP's so I can have a better estimation of how much effort needs to go into advertising to get X number of people.
  • Either find a better way to define a cutoff people for when someone has 'completed' the Trivial Inconvenience Day challenge, or fundamentally restructure the event to avoid this issue. Under an hour is not sufficient, all day is obviously fatiguing.
  • Advertise the next Trivial Inconvenience Day on the LW2 events & meetups page, now that it exists.

Participant Feedback

It got kind of hard to tell who was and wasn't on board with things, I think making that more legible would increase the sense of cohesion. Otherwise things went fairly well.

idk; i got distracted and ended up failing to participate

Possibly some kind of official end point instead of just petering out as people run out of energy

Criticise people's goals a little (I know you can't do it for manpower reasons)

References

[0]: Yegge, Steve. (2012, March 12). The borderlands gun collector's club. Retrieved from https://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/2012/03/borderlands-gun-collectors-club.html

84