Essays at the intersection of marketing and life.
It seems I am surrounded with lessons about dimensions. And it seems I am a slow learner. Kahneman’s heuristics are pressing down on me: a smattering of availability bias here, a dollop of recency bias there, a big swathe of selection bias everywhere. Every pathway leads to a personal teaching moment on dimensions.
I love a simple observation which helps me see the world in a fresh light. Insights – rarely far-flung or intellectualised things – are distinguished by their power in shedding light on the inside of things.
Mister Musk delivered an insight I enjoyed this week.
Elon Musk – like Sinéad O’Connor, Stephen Fry and Jesus Christ – is a compelling person because he has brilliance layered with volatility, perfected with just a little smattering of crazy. Musk is a man who articulates the greater purpose of his projects before anything else. You will never find Elon trading in the transactional. Such obsessive focus as his would make me call for a day bed. While most of the world saves for a car, a holiday or an extension, Musk sets out to save the world.
His famous off-shoot business, the Boring Company (note the great name: descriptive, modern, memorable) has declared war on traffic, a logical extension of Tesla’s bid to solve the environmental destruction of fossil-fuelled cars. The Boring Company is planning to make super-cheap tunnels via innovative technology. To this end, Musk has embarked on a proof-of-concept 2km-long tunnel in Los Angeles.
I saw him explain his venture recently. In doing so he hit upon an illuminating truth which was both evident and super-interesting.
‘Traffic right now exists in two dimensional space’, he explained.
He’s right, of course. When we seek to improve vehicle capacity on our roads, we widen them (there is bus-corridor hysteria in Dublin at present), or we build new ones. We do not, in the main, dig tunnels as they’re inordinately expensive. But what if we could? What if we could bore hundreds of layers of tunnels under our cities, criss-crossing and expanding in limitless directions? If termites and rabbits can do it, why not us?
Musk speaks often of expanding dimensions – a theme of most of his work. Why play chess on a board, I imagine him ask, if you can play a better game in a cube?
I like the simple underlying philosophy: emancipate one variable. Because one new dimension changes everything.
Providence then came to teach me that lesson.
In Heathrow two days’ back, I hailed an Uber driver and tracked his approach. In time, the app’s GPS told me he was right in front of me. But he was not. I called, and the chap chided me for my lack of imagination.
‘You must be on the wrong level, sir. You must be on the wrong level!’
Staying at Eton last night, which lies across the Thames from Windsor, I decided to go to Evensong in St George’s Chapel. By way of further motivation, my visit would allow me walk up the steps that Meghan Markle boldly scaled in a big white frock when she decided to marry Harry in May.
The chapel is 700 metres from Eton, and I made my way by foot using Google Maps. Arriving at my destination, I searched about. It was a chapel-less place. The Google lady insisted that we had arrived. After a moment, I looked up a bare rock-face, perhaps 60 metres up, and there, perched in the sky like a vision from Jack in the Beanstalk, was St George’s Chapel – utterly out of reach and a 2km trek to approach from the other direction. Goddammit I muttered. Screwed over by a missing dimension, yet again.
I returned to my humble accommodation at the Crown & Cushion. I like the way even the poshest towns have ale houses with rooms above for let.
‘Be careful, we have wonky stairs’, was the guidance of the girl who showed me to my accommodation. The creaky 17th century house had all of the hallmarks of Tudor-style architecture, albeit built some time after.
Tired from the day and week, I lay on the bed and listened to Bach’s Cello Suite, attempting to create a little Evensong of my own. As I settled, my body told me something was not quite right. My centre of gravity felt off, like I was being dragged down.
I stood up and away from the bed, and instantly saw the culprit.
My ancient hostelry room had wonky floor boards, which slanted sharply away from the supporting wall. As a result, the head of the bed was pitched fully 5 cms higher than its foot.
And thus, with Muskian relish, I passed my first night simultaneously in three dimensions.