Monday BS #16: 24.01.22
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Two things today - in advance of publishing my BS conversation with Melissa Hogenboom on the limitless and circular challenges of motherhood, I want to share some personal words on my fatherhood.
Then a sharp turn and into pure play BS with my guest contributor, cyber security expert and former advisor to David Cameron, Jonathan Luff. Jonathan dives into cyber security BS and the biases around its perceived value.
Jonathan has been a brilliant supporter of A Load of BS and I’m thrilled that it’s nudged him to place a bit of BS at the centre of his thinking.
I had my first daughter Saskia aged 20, and my second Xanthe aged 41. I didn’t meet my first until she was 12 and it took me 4 months to wake up properly to what the birth of my second meant. That’s an unusual turn of phrase relating to the early days of child rearing.
At the turn of the year, I read ‘The Motherhood Complex’ by Melissa Hogenboom and subsequently chatted with her for A Load of BS (that podcast is coming soon). While Melissa presents the book for mothers, all parents (to be) should have a grasp of the issues at hand.
Amongst other elements of matrescence (the transition into motherhood), the book examines behaviours related to pregnancy and motherhood and presents the deep and unresolved challenges as far as how society views the different roles parents play in raising children. It exposes the stigma and biases that women still experience, suffer from when pregnant, as carers and as mothers, for example, trying to reintegrate into the workplace and re-establish identity.
When Xanthe was born in December 2020, despite prior conversations about equal parenting with my wife Tamsin, I remained mentally unprepared. Falling down the back of the sofa gathering clobber in a rush to take to hospital pre birth, in doing so ramming the sofa legs through our wooden floorboards, became an apt metaphor for my organisation.
Tamsin endured a punishing NHS experience which left her physically weak and mentally scarred after the birth. Well intentioned this part of our health service may be, but much of her experience only added weight to our occasional ‘must move to Sweden’ argument. Apart from Covid rules keeping me away overnight from the post-labour ward, the quality of care was rough edged, too often inhumane and unempathetic. That Tamsin’s brand new trainers disappeared in the melee added insult to injury!
Having a wonderful maternity nurse for the first few weeks at home was a great luxury but a distortion of reality (for me) as it hid the hard work. And we slipped quickly into imbalanced routines in which Tamsin took disproportionate workload. I rushed back into my work quicker than planned, and with COVID still dominant became more anxious to make hay while I could. Over anxious with the uncertainty, I devoted more and more time to work and less to the obvious.
Tamsin was battling with her recovery and despite what was clearly in front of me, I was self-absorbed. Further, Tamsin is normally such a stoical, strong person that I struggled to grasp the urgency. I didn’t want to accept it.
Why was I behaving like this? I had wanted to have children with Tamsin for so long, yet here I was involved, doing, but also watching. I naively believed the psychological and physiological hurdles would work themselves out (or I wanted it so) with kind words. It was scary to witness and, I think (early parental amnesia allows for the qualifier!), I brushed past it too fast. I misread badly.
Saskia was born after a short romance before I started university and I didn’t meet her until she was twelve. The circumstances were complicated; I was excluded at the start then didn’t work hard enough to change the course. Remaining invisible inside the cocoon of a fixed narrative was easy to do, its paralysis hard to undo. It was by no means a straightforward situation but the fear of the unknown and a self-prioritisation tendency overwhelmed me. Saskia, rather than her chaotic parents, was the one who suffered, and I regret that enormously.
When Xanthe was born, I suspect I fell into a not totally dissimilar ‘me first’ trap. ‘The Motherhood Complex’ references the 2019 research of Allison Daminger of Harvard University who interviewed 70 individuals from 35 couples and asked them to fill out a diary of domestic tasks completed and the thought processes that go behind them. She sought specific gender divisions of cognitive labour, categorised as follows:
Identifying options for filling these needs
Choosing and deciding among the options
Monitoring the results
Results show a divide between the first two and bottom two, with women taking on the weightier burden of the first pair; sometimes this was the accepted norm, other times couples simply ‘fell into them’ this way. The conclusion of which is that men often think they are contributing equally when in fact the cognitive load, the preparation, falls mainly to the woman (mother or not).
It is a misnomer to say that women are superior multitaskers, this is definitively a gender bias. Men manage fine juggling projects at work so why not at home? Under its faux deferential veil, ‘I better ask the missus’ is surely one of the naffest, most chauvinistic of British male qualifiers.
When Xanthe turned four months, we reached a tipping point. Tamsin was sapped of energy and still in the throes of postpartum mental and physical trauma. It took a crisis to change our modus operandi; I immediately took on all the night work (at which point Xanthe’s sleeping also improved) and released the weights of responsibility from Tamsin’s shoulders. Since which time nine months ago, we started to work as an equal team, trying, not always successfully, to share the thinking, not just the doing!
I don’t suggest that reading books is the answer to better parenting but Melissa’s rigorously researched and personal writing has given me metaphorical glasses to the emotional and physical strain that women constantly face, before, during and after pregnancy. Which is to say I thought I knew what the view looked like, but I only had half an idea.
Most parenting literature focuses on practicalities and life stages but there is a vital and emerging sub-genre which gets to the gory, messy, unspoken heart of the matter. Here, I would also recommend:
Motherhood: A Manifesto, by Eliane Glaser
After the Storm: Postnatal Depression and the Utter Weirdness of New Motherhood, by Emma jane Unsworth
The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did), by Philippa Perry
A tight unit
Last November, Saskia came to live with us for six weeks, the first time we had had the chance to spend more than a long weekend together in almost 10 years. It was a wondrous time, watching her and Xanthe build the sweetest of bonds, and allowing her and me to relax fully in each other’s company, the sense of urgent jeopardy removed.
While I know I’ll always be a different type of Daddy to her than to Xanthe, while we continue to disentangle the mangled roots of the past, both relationships are equally meaningful to me. I have Tamsin to thank for paving this way forwards and guiding me towards our not always straightforward, fluid but happy and lively family unit.
I’d love to hear your experiences of adjusting to parenthood, and so if any of what I say resonates with you, drop me a line in the comments below or message me on Twitter. If you have friends who would benefit from hearing my reflections, do share this.
With each new experience you learn, and if we’re lucky enough to have another opportunity to bring a new person into the world, I’ll be ready and raring to go. I dedicate this piece to both my beautiful daughters and of course to my courageous wife Tamsin.
Guest contribution by Jonathan Luff
On Heuristics and Value in Cyber
Or, Why Security Tech is Dramatically Undervalued
A few thoughts on BS (behavioural science….) and security technology:
I’ll start by saying for the record that I am not an expert on all of the subjects discussed here. But I am hoping you’ll bear with me, and that a little knowledge (in a range of subjects) might not be quite so dangerous as the saying suggests…
Over the holidays I have been indulging my long-standing interest in behavioural science, not least by listening to ‘A Load of BS’, the excellent podcast series by Daniel Ross. I’ve learned why Wine Lists are so long, how Red Bull can charge 💰💰💰 for a small can of fizzy drink, and why a range of interests can be better than specialisation when making predictions. So, notwithstanding my obvious optimism and confirmation biases, I will make a prediction about the cyber security market in 2022 and beyond:
Cyber security technologies are dramatically undervalued, and the security technology sector will grow even more rapidly in 2022.
I trailed this prediction in a couple of talks at the tail end of 2021. My argument followed lines familiar to anyone who has spent time with us at CyLon over the past 5 or 6 years: We believe good security is the foundation of every successful modern economy, and that as more economic activity is digitised and moves online, the value of good security grows too.
However, as Ciaran Martin, the founding Director of NCSC, recently commented in his review of 2021 for Paladin Capital, something important has changed:
For most of the course of cyber security history, hacks have inflicted damage largely invisible to the general public. People may hear about strategically significant espionage against their own country, or their company might be harmed by the theft of valuable intellectual property. More directly, they may have been scammed out of some money, or received notification that their personal data was now in the unauthorised hands of persons unknown.
But 2021 changed that across the western world. Disruption of everyday life became a reality for many.
From a BS perspective, I think this matters. The heuristics of security have changed, and therefore so has the context in which security technologies operate. Until recently, security remained the domain of the expert, invisible to most, and ignored by the rest. While it was ‘someone else’s problem’, it was confined to the technology pages and to specialist online communities. But in 2021, cyber security was regularly front page, ‘top-of-the-10’, news. It touched us, and our evolutionary instincts are now engaged.
The ‘availability heuristic’ has interested me since 2010, when I first watched a TEDx talk by Bruce Schneier. Bruce described how we now over-emphasise rare, catastrophic events such as terrorist attacks or plane crashes, but undervalue mundane but much more likely causes of harm in our daily lives, such as driving a car, because we tend to evaluate risk based on the ease with which we can bring instances of it to mind. And ever since the arrival of newspapers, and more recently 24/7 news, we have been bombarded by the newsworthy-but-rare (e.g. plane crashes), a false preponderance which fools our instincts, and skews our responses.
With cyber security breaches and their effects now so visible and dramatic in our news feeds and on our television screens, our instinct to seek safety has been engaged. And it isn’t just you and me; it is every CEO of any company who has seen a peer or rival scrambling to recover from an embarrassing security incident, while their share price tumbles and the impact bleeds across to their own valuation.
I liken this bandwagon effect in cyber to one we’ve already witnessed in another domain: electric vehicles (EVs). I was struck, in 2015, by an extraordinary ‘Wait, but Why?’ blog post about Elon Musk, which set out how he and Tesla would revolutionise the automotive industry, at a time when Tesla’s losses were astronomical, few Teslas had been made let alone sold, and Musk was a long way from being the world’s wealthiest man. Buying an EV back then was at best eccentric, if not totally unwise given the lack of charging infrastructure among other things. But EVs have moved from the margin to the mainstream, driven in large part by the highly visible presence of Musk and his Tesla products (as well as SpaceX), forcing EVs into our collective consciousness. Now, every major vehicle manufacturer is on the bandwagon, and the bandwagon is electric. And likewise I’d argue every CEO is now thinking about cyber security. The likely impact on the value of that security (and of the technologies that provide it) is, I hope, obvious.
In future posts, I would like to spend time examining further the behavioural characteristics of security products. My hunch is that for some time most buyers of such products have been ‘satisficing’, on the principle that you rarely get fired for hiring IBM Security, even if the shit hits the fan. This is the cyber security equivalent of buying a flight to JFK, to use Rory Sutherland’s oft-cited analogy. I will be interested to explore whether, as cyber security moves out of its niche and into the Boardroom of every significant company worldwide, it will take on Veblen-product qualities, like a fine wine or an expensive handbag.
I am grateful to Ciaran Martin for his comments on an earlier draft, flagging the ‘market for lemons’ issue which still bedevils the cyber security market. While I’m persuaded that the concerns and momentum that characterised cyber security in 2021 (and which Russian cyber actions in Ukraine have further underlined) will drive fresh investment and push valuations higher still, Ciaran rightly identifies the lack of Board understanding about what ‘good cyber security’ looks like as a potential brake on momentum, and thereby on valuations. That’s a meaty topic for discussion another time.
For now, I will simply re-state my view that the value of security and of the most innovative products and services in cyber will skyrocket in 2022, mirroring EV companies like Tesla, Rivian and others in 2021. And, as Paul Craven advises, I am writing this prediction here to avoid any chance of post-facto rationalisation, however things turn out!
Later this week on A Load of BS, I welcome rituals expert Dr Dimitris Xygalatas, talking low key, repetitive rituals, arousing ones and the collective ones which tend towards pain and the extreme.
So if you’re into body piercing, fire walking and a dose of religion, then tune in.
If you enjoyed this post, please do take a moment and share this with a friend. That’s how the community grows best!
Have a great week,