Escaping The Midwit Trap
Let a meme help you master your information diet.
What creates anxiety every morning for any hard-working and curious professional? The feeling of falling behind.
You wake up and are immediately behind on emails, podcasts, and social media feeds, on the vast and expanding canon of interesting books, movies, and music. There’s too much of everything and every day, inevitably, you fall further behind. You’re running and not even staying in place.
Welcome to the exhausting middle of the midtwit meme.
The middle is the hell of desire, envy, and awareness.
Guy on the left doesn't know about the curve, doesn't care, just lives. At least he trusts his intuition and acts.
But middle guy knows the curve exists and desperately wants to be right and be on the right. Middle guy grinds, worries, and overthinks his decisions. Middle guy constantly compares himself. He ends up tired yet mediocre, disappointed, and resentful. Sadly, middle guy created his own torture chamber.
When it comes to content, middle guy can’t afford to miss out. He needs to know what everyone else knows (and ends up thinking what everybody else thinks). He gets steamrolled by the content avalanche.
The good news is that the meme contains the key to breaking out of the trap.
Once you see it, there’s no excuse to be stuck in the middle.1
Understanding the attention curve
People use different heuristics to filter information, such as the Lindy effect or Nik and Zak’s ‘information shelf life.’
“Information, like food, has a sell-by date. Next quarter’s earnings are worthless after next quarter. And it is for this reason that the information that Zak and I weigh most heavily in thinking about a firm is that which has the longest shelf life, with the highest weighting going to information that is almost axiomatic: it is, in our opinion, the most valuable information.” — Nick Sleep, Zak Zakaria, Nomad Partners
What if we took the sell-by-date analogy further and imagined a nutrition label? This would help us navigate the content or information ‘diet’:
What nutrients do we need for a balanced diet; and
What foods or meals offer an attractive nutritional value?
Long shelf life is just one such nutrient. Some information expires quickly, yet it’s important. What we’re looking for is a balanced diet and to avoid the junk food that saturates our cravings without offering value. No hangovers, poisoning, or brain fog, please.
Instead of carbs, proteins, and fiber, let’s frame it as past, present, and future.
Future: new ideas emerging among innovators that have yet to enter the mainstream (the majority of Rogers’s adoption curve).
Present: common knowledge known by nearly everyone.
Past: knowledge fading from the collective memory; can no longer be assumed to be part of the average person’s mental library.
Each of these domains contains a different kind of value: