The Wadsworth Constant: Ignore 30% of Everything

I’ll start with a story.

Last year my girl­friend and I watched the pilot epis­ode of a new TV show and were imme­di­ately hooked. The pilot epis­ode was refresh­ingly com­plex and forced us to guess miss­ing plot details con­tinu­ously: it’s adven­tur­ous to make your audi­ence work so hard dur­ing a pilot, we sur­mised.

We later dis­covered that, due to a tech­nic­al glitch, we actu­ally missed the first fif­teen minutes of the show (about 30%). The ‘com­plete’ ver­sion of the epis­ode was less sat­is­fy­ing.


Last year Steve Yegge wrote about life at Amazon.com and what it’s like work­ing under Jeff Bezos. On the top­ic of present­ing to Bezos, Yegge gave this tip: delete every third para­graph.  Why?

Bezos is so god­damned smart that you have to turn it into a game for him or he’ll be bored and annoyed with you. That was my first real­iz­a­tion about him. […]

So you have to start tear­ing out whole para­graphs, or even pages, to make it inter­est­ing for him. He will fill in the gaps him­self without miss­ing a beat. And his brain will have less time to get annoyed with the slow pace of your brain.


Around the same time as Yegge’s post­ing, a Red­dit user known as Wadsworth poin­ted out that the first 30% of “nearly every video in the uni­verse” can safely be skipped. As such things go, this soon became a You­Tube URL para­met­er: just add &wadsworth=1 to skip the first third of the video.

This ‘law’ soon became known as the Wadsworth Con­stant. It works.

Personal Pronouns as Relationship and Company Indicators

The per­son­al pro­nouns used by couples dur­ing “con­flict­ive mar­it­al inter­ac­tions” are reli­able indic­at­ors of rela­tion­ship qual­ity and mar­it­al sat­is­fac­tion, accord­ing to a study track­ing 154 couples over 23 years. The study showed that We-words’ (our, we, etc.) were indic­at­ive of a more pos­it­ive rela­tion­ship than ‘Me- and You-words’ (I, you, etc.) (doi).

Using We-ness lan­guage implies a shared iden­ti­fic­a­tion between spouses, even when the con­ver­sa­tion is focused on an area of con­flict. Con­sist­ent with this, We-ness was asso­ci­ated with more pos­it­ive and less neg­at­ive emo­tion beha­vi­ors and with lower car­di­ovas­cu­lar arous­al. In con­trast, Sep­ar­ate­ness lan­guage implies a great­er sense of inde­pend­ence and dis­tance in the rela­tion­ship. Com­pared with We-ness, Sep­ar­ate­ness was asso­ci­ated with a very dif­fer­ent set of mar­it­al qual­it­ies includ­ing more neg­at­ive emo­tion­al beha­vi­or and great­er mar­it­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion.

Sim­il­arly, the per­son­al pro­nouns used by CEOs in their annu­al share­hold­er let­ters provide a use­ful way of pre­dict­ing future com­pany performance. No doubt gleaned from the Ritten­house Rank­ings Candor Sur­vey, this is from Geoff Colv­in’s book, Tal­ent is Over­rated:

Laura Ritten­house, an unusu­al type of fin­an­cial ana­lyst, counts the num­ber of times the word “I” occurs in annu­al let­ters to share­hold­ers from cor­por­ate CEOs, con­tend­ing that this and oth­er evid­ence in the let­ters helps pre­dict com­pany per­form­ance (basic find­ing: Ego­ma­ni­acs are bad news).

via Bark­ing Up the Wrong Tree (1 2)

Strangers and Friends: A Shared History and Less Graciousness

Ryan Hol­i­day asks a very good ques­tion: why do we extend patience and tol­er­ance to strangers, while sim­ul­tan­eously treat­ing those closest to us less gra­ciously?

It’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion with some equally inter­est­ing pos­sible answers (is it a sub­con­scious and inef­fi­cient way of attempt­ing to ease our daily lives by telling those we spend the most time with how we want to be treated?). I like the con­clus­ory piece of advice: we should give every­one “the gra­cious­ness of meet­ing them fresh each time”.

Some weirdo says some­thing to you in the gro­cery store and you smile and nod your head, “Yup!” Just to avoid a scene right? You have a meet­ing with a sales rep and indulge the friendly but point­less chitchat even though you hate it. But a friend mis­pro­nounces a word and we leap to cor­rect them. Your girl­friend tells a bor­ing story and you’ve got to say some­thing about it, you’ve got to get short with her. What kind of bull­shit is this? We give the bene­fit of cour­tesy to every­body but the people who earned it.

Think of how much patience we have for total strangers and acquaint­ances. But what a short fuse we have for the actu­al people in our life. In the course of our every­day lives, our pri­or­it­ies are so very back­wards. We do our best to impress people we’ll nev­er see again and take for gran­ted people we see all the time. We’re respect­ful in our busi­ness lives, cas­u­al and care­less in our per­son­al. We pun­ish close­ness with cri­ti­cism, reward unfa­mili­ar­ity with polite­ness.

This is a great example of why I read Ryan’s work: he’s adept at point­ing out the every­day hypo­cris­ies that we rarely notice.

Entrepreneurship and the Possibility of Real Failure

In 2007 Vini­cius Vacanti quit his highly-paid job in fin­ance to take on life as an entre­pren­eur. In a short post describ­ing his reas­ons for doing so, Vacanti says that most of us haven’t faced the pos­sib­il­ity of real fail­ure, and entre­pren­eur­ship is a way to test your lim­its by attempt­ing to cre­ate some­thing of real value:

A scary idea star­ted creep­ing into my thoughts: what if I could build some­thing? Wouldn’t I always won­der? Wouldn’t I regret it? Wouldn’t it eat away at me over the years?

And, that’s when I real­ized that I didn’t actu­ally know if I was good enough because I hadn’t really failed in life (at least not pro­fes­sion­ally). Most people don’t really fail. We tend to take the job that we think we’ll suc­ceed in. We are hes­it­ant to reach. And, if we do reach and suc­ceed, then we don’t reach again.

The only way to know how good you might be at some­thing is to fail try­ing it.

And, that’s when I decided it was time to test my lim­its. It was time to really reach. It was time to quit my safe job and walk straight into almost cer­tain star­tup fail­ure.

There’s noth­ing mind-blow­ing here, admit­tedly – I just love how Vacanti phrased this.

Together, Unconscious: We All Sleep

One con­stant that con­nects us all in some way is that–at the end of our day–we lie down and slowly slip into a state of reduced or absent con­scious­ness and become at the mercy of our fel­low man. Every day we fall asleep: we have done so for mil­lions of years and will con­tin­ue to do so.

This hum­bling thought was inspired by Dav­id Cain’s short dis­quis­i­tion on how the act of sleep­ing is some­thing that unites us togeth­er, all around the world. Dav­id’s post did­n’t quite take the route I was expect­ing after read­ing the (won­der­ful) excerpt below1, but is still def­in­itely worth a read.

It’s an inter­est­ing quirk of Moth­er Nature — that she insists on tak­ing us down to the ground like that, every day, no mat­ter who we are. For all of us, the act of leav­ing con­scious­ness is the same, it’s just our set­tings and situ­ations — which bookend that uncon­scious­ness — where we dif­fer.

via Link Banana

1 I was expect­ing the post to con­cen­trate on the first sen­tence (leav­ing con­scious­ness), rather than the second sen­tence (sleep as a con­nect­or).