Ginger beer: Risky business

As a kid, I absolutely loved ginger beer. So one day as a 10-year-old I decided to make it myself. I found a recipe courtesy of New Zealand childhood TV legend Suzy Cato, made up the gingery-yeasty-sugary concoction and left the bottles for three days. The anticipation for trying my home-made bottle was building. And little did I know, so was the pressure inside the bottles. The first half-full bottle was opened with a half metre foamy column pouring out of the top. With some less than sound scientific knowledge, I reasoned that the full bottle would be less likely to explode. Obviously, this was completely wrong. The final bottle exploded in a torrent of foam, hitting the ceiling 3 metres above, spraying the walls, and leaving barely enough ginger beer in the bottle for a taste. A failure. A bit like this one:

It’s well known that ginger beer has a tendency to explode, but I was obliviously engaging in this risky behaviour. As a naïve 10-year old an explosion had not even crossed my mind, so I loaded up the yeast and the sugar without restraint. There were no what-if scenarios niggling me with fear. And even though it was a total failure, I learnt a lot, from the physics of pressure to the biology of yeast, to the joys of science experimentation.

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In my youth: A little naive about the reality of science

In life, the fear of failure can often hold us back from trying things, but ultimately, risk-taking is the driver of innovation. None of the world’s big breakthroughs were achieved by safely sitting on the couch. In the world of entrepreneurship taking risks is just as important as it is for a child learning about the world. But for many the thought of investing personal capital, staking their reputation on an unproven idea or sacrificing a steady salary seems terrifying.

Unfortunately, we tend to exaggerate the likelihood and consequences of failure. Sure, the ginger beer exploding and coating the walls with sugar was not ideal, but it was not a total life disaster. When considering a risk, think “really, how bad is the worst case scenario?”. If it all goes wrong, could you bounce back? Chances are you could.

Even so, Leonard C. Green specified, “Entrepreneurs are not risk takers. They are calculated risk takers.” Successful entrepreneurs do not take reckless risks with a vague hope of success, betting everything on one roll of the dice. They take small steps towards their goal, so any stumbles do not totally derail their plans. With each and every one of these steps, they find ways to minimise risk. Can they make the step cheaper, faster, more effective, all to reduce the investment in this risk.  Riskology even suggests a Smart Risk Equation for quantifying risk, balancing potential loss against potential reward. So sure even though glow-in-the-dark ginger beer would be cool, the risk of poison from that glowing powder is so much higher than the potential benefit. That would not be a smart risk.

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Source: Environmental Risk

The final, most important element of risk taking is learning. There is no value in taking a risk, failing, and calling it a day. Be an experimental, cyclic risk taker. A popular strategy in entrepreneurship is Act. Learn. Build. Repeat. When you act, you are taking a smart, calculated risk. A small step towards your goal. Whether it is a success of a failure, pausing to consider helps you to learn. This learning can then be built into the next step or iteration, and then the whole cycle repeated. With this strategy, improvement and progress are inevitable.

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When I made ginger beer as a child, my mum’s reluctance for sugar-coated walls meant  it was the first and the last time I made ginger beer. I never followed Act. Learn. Build. Repeat. This was a missed opportunity, as I would not have made the same mistakes twice. At the very least I would have opened the bottle outside!  I learnt a lot from my foray into ginger beer production, but this knowledge could have exploded exponentially if I had not just left my risk as a failure, but rather, as the pinnacle in a learning cycle.

This is perfectly encapsulated by Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, who said, “Failure is not the opposite of success but a stepping stone to success.”

Who knows, maybe I’ll give ginger beer homebrew another go tonight. Building from my failure, 10 years on.

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Why we procrastinate and how to combat it (the scientific way)

Procrastination. Everyone does it (and I certainly do). It’s one of those things that is absolutely great early on (so much time left), but quickly, those weeks turn into days, and then hours (uh oh). Suddenly, you’re at the panic point. There is literally not enough time to get everything done.

80 – 95% of college students procrastinate, with over 95% wishing they did it less. But ultimately, no one is making you procrastinate. So if we don’t want it, and we have total control over it, why do we do it?

Turns out, we are just plain unempathetic. Research using fMRI  has found that when we think about our self in the future, we activate the same part of the brain as when we think about a total stranger. This means that when we procrastinate, our brain thinks we think we are passing the problem (and the work) onto someone else. Unfortunately, that person is us. With a whole lot less time.

Another study asked students to decide how much of a concoction of ketchup and soy sauce they would drink. Those who had to commit to drinking it that day only mustered up the courage for two tablespoons, but if they only had to consume it the following semester, they were willing to drink half a cup. This dramatic increase stems from our lack of empathy for our future self. By failing to self-regulate our behaviour, we are prioritising an instantaneous mood boost now, over the consequences in the future.

When trying to combat procrastination, if we remind ourselves that in 10 minutes, or an hour, or a weeks time we are not going to suddenly want to do that dreaded task, then we may actually have a chance of getting it done early. This concept of connecting to our future self is known as future self-continuity, and can have many benefits, like improved decision making, goal pursuit and well-being.

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Sourced from Cubiclebot

On average, older people tend to procrastinate less. However, this is not because of a true growth in self-control, but rather the adoption of strategies to deal with this behaviour. So the earlier you can find a way to tackle procrastination, the better.

Learning to self-manage and self-regulate is key. I love nifty little apps, and so as I procrastinated a lab report, I thought, maybe there is an app to help with this. After a few trials, I found two gems on Google Playstore, Accomplish: To-Do list reborn and Clear Focus (sorry they’re both android only).  I’ll look into Clear Focus next time, but for now, I will focus on Accomplish.

Accomplish is an app which allows you to create a to-do list, and then drag and drop the tasks into a calendar. It is really easy to move them around, adjust their lengths and finally tick them off when you are done. If you do not tick off a task by the end of the day, then it returns to do the to-do list for the next day. This is perfect if you are little ambitious or underestimate how long tasks will actually take because you won’t forget about them the following day.

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Source: Google Play

I personally find myself drowning in lists scribbled on spare pieces of paper. I am constantly reshuffling them, and figuring out when best to do everything. This in itself is procrastination.

Breaking large tasks up into small ones makes them seem more achievable, and reduces the initial inertia to get started. By beginning the day with a plan, and segmenting that massive lab report into quick 15 – 30-minute tasks, it all suddenly becomes very easy. Accomplish is perfect for this. You can also start to get a better perspective on the timeline, allowing you to see how procrastinating now will affect you later on.

 

Now, planning out your day is the first step, but making the most of those segments is even more important. My next tip is using a Pomodoro timer, so tune in next time for scientifically backed procrastination-beating tips.