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Readings: 15 Feb 2016

Julie Zhuo writes on Medium about trading quality for scope or delivery speed in a project.

[…] to create high-quality work, there has to be a minimum acceptable bar. And high-quality creators cannot trade off below that bar. They simply can’t. It would be inauthentic to who they are. It doesn’t matter if their peers, their boss, the whole wide world told them that this bar didn’t matter and that the right decision is to give up a bit of quality for speed or time or money or whatever. It doesn’t matter. That person would rather stay up late, or wake up early, or not sleep for two days straight, or not do the thing at all if it could prevent him shipping something that was below his bar. To do otherwise is to suffer a deep and abiding disappointment in the self, to betray private values, to lose personal integrity. I don’t know of many great designers who would choose to remain at a place where they are consistently asked to churn out work that doesn’t meet their minimum bar.

The Partially-Examined Life podcast ran a two-part series about Lucius Annaeus Seneca’s letters to Lucilius. It was a fun discussion, but may not be the best starting place to learn about the Stoics – try out Boing Boing’s series of posts about William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life, Mr. Money Mustache’s review of the same, or Maria Popova’s post on the Seneca essay “On the Shortness of Life”. If any of that appeals to you, give Seneca’s letters a shot. I first read about Seneca in Alain De Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy back in 2006, but didn’t get around to reading Letters from a Stoic until 2013. I wish I had gotten there sooner. The letters are practical, friendly, and insanely readable for something written so long ago.

One of the panelists on The Partially-Examined Life used the concept of lexicographic preferences to explain the Stoic distinction between those things that are good (virtuous choices) and the preferred indifferents (tasty food, comfort): the Stoics would be fine with a choice that maximizes a preferred indifferent so long as it was equally virtuous as the alternatives. Virtue always sorts before preference. It seems like Julie Zhuo also holds a lexicographic preference – quality sorts before other factors in design work.