The Ideaspace

Interviews, essays, and research exploring the frontiers of what's valuable and in our self-interest

Lab Notes

New Bento Resources

Recently released tools and resources related to Bentoism:

  • Build your bento online by Asher Weintraub. Asher is a high school student and workshop attendee who made the first-ever online bento builder. Label your bento with your name or question, fill in each box, and click to save as a PDF. Great work Asher! I hope we can integrate this into a future iteration of
  • Modifying Bentoism for Conflict Resolution by Mark Annet. In this piece, Mark, another workshop attendee, writes about incorporating Past Me and Past Us into Bentoism as a way of resolving conflict. He writes:

The need to include the past when seeking to resolve a conflict comes from the principles of mediation and, in particular, an article by Professor Carrie Menkel-Meadow of Georgetown University Law Center titled, Remembrance of Things Past? The Relationship of Past to Future in Pursuing Justice in Mediation.

In this article Professor Menkel-Meadow discusses how including the past is essential to a future "just" solution. Accordingly, she lays out five principles to use when mediating a conflict resolution process (and excerpted below):

  1. The past is an essential part of justice.
  1. How the past is treated is an essential part of the justice of any [conflict] resolution process.
  1. The past is no more knowable or stable than the future, so there are likely to be many "pasts" and...[mediation can be used to] enable relevant parties to "mediate" their own stories and realities of the past.
  1. The past must be acknowledged and responsibility taken...It cannot be banished...from mediation [because ultimately the conflict resolution process can produce] different kinds of outcomes...ranging from amnesty, forgiveness, restitution, restoration, recompense, and punishment.
  1. Mediation and various kinds of the "mediation-like" processes must be made more variable and their different constituencies, including both those inside and outside of the processes.

This fifth and final principle, is why the expanded "Conflict Resolution" bento is so perfect to the task of conflict resolution. Its simplicity allows it to be adaptable and at the same time to hold individuals accountable.

Thanks to Mark for these insights.

  • We Need to Talk: Marriage Counseling with Capitalism by Rhys Lindmark. A wonderfully imaginative essay picturing capitalism, post-capitalism and humanity going through marriage counseling. Bentoism and its secondary effect of values pluralism play a big role. A Bentoist lens on the future from a longtime Bentoism contributor.

  • A Framework for Your Ultimate Self by Yancey Strickler. A talk I gave for Adobe’s 99U conference that explains self-coherence, my own path to Bentoism after a challenging time, and an attempt at making bentos for Brian Eno and Madonna.

Lab notes (recap)

From the very first Bentoism workshop two years ago, I’ve treated each event as an experiment. A space for me and others to explore our challenges, test ourselves, and use exercises to help us better see where we are and what we need.

In that same experiment spirit, each event I conduct is different. I typically take lab notes to record what happens during each one. Here are the lab notes from last week’s experiments.

Weekly Bento — Sunday June 14, 2020 — 30+ attendees


  • Write down something that makes you feel overwhelmed or chronically unsuccessful during the lockdown that you could imagine giving up. Answers included the need for perfection, always being online, and writing a weekly newsletter.

  • Imagine you’re Noah and you can save two things from the old world to bring into the next one. What do you choose? Answers included travel, human touch, and NYC delis.

  • Imagine you’re Noah and you can save two things from our lockdown life right now. What do you choose? Time, togetherness, and space to step back were mentioned.

  • (This last question was suggested by an attendee in the moment. It was a good one. People’s list of things to save from post-COVID life was longer than pre-COVID life.)

    Visualize the dimensions of your self-interest and list your goals for the week ahead. People then drew bentos and filled out each box with their priorities and goals.

Group Bento — Wednesday June 17, 2020 — 20 attendees


  • I presented the Mission statements, Vision statements, stated Values, and core Customer Promises for Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter based on language from their websites. Here’s Twitter, for example:
  • I then mapped these statements onto the bento.
  • The Mission became Now Me
  • The Values became Future Me
  • The Customer promise became Now Us
  • The Vision became Future Us
  • Here’s how this looked for Twitter (excuse the bad Keynote design):
  • The goal for Twitter’s management is to make decisions and design products that simultaneously fulfill all four dimensions of the bento. It’s this need to satisfy multiple dimensions that creates difficult trade-offs.

  • Participants were invited to choose which company they wanted to become the CEO of. They joined breakout rooms of four or five people who also chose that company. During breakout discussions I moved from group to group like Tim Gunn in Project Runway to listen and offer suggestions. Each group was given three questions to answer:

  • What are two new products your company should launch based on your bento?
  • What are two existing products or policies your company should change to be more coherent with your bento?
  • Is your company currently coherent with your bento’s mission, values, customer promise, and vision?
  • Each team presented their ideas, which included:
  • Apple closing its Irish tax havens because they’re incoherent with Apple’s mission of creating tools that advance humankind.
  • Google putting Deep Mind/AI on modeling how to address climate change and the other UN SDGs based on its coherence with Google’s mission of making the world’s information accessible and useful.
  • Facebook setting a goal of “enhancing” communication and introducing things like a Grammarly editor that makes suggestions for improving your tone when posting and managing your emotions while using their products.
  • Twitter creating a Pagerank-like ranking for people so it’s easy to tell how credentialed or trustworthy an account is.
  • Takeaways:
  • People were able to propose remarkably coherent and creative moves for these companies using only the bento and their consumer awareness.
  • Trying on someone else’s brain was interesting. As one attendee remarked, it was fascinating to see what it felt like to seek coherence within an existing system. Some of the tough trade-offs and dilemmas these companies face were better understood by having to grapple with the dimensions of impact.
  • Will try a similar experiment with different companies/people as our models at an upcoming Group Bento.

Retro Bento — Friday June 19, 2020 — 14 attendees

  • Start by introducing ourselves. One minute to say your name, where you’re from, what you do, why you’re here.

  • I explain that we’ll reflect on the past week using the perspective of the bento. Participants will journal what happened. I’ll name a space and give questions to help frame their thinking.

  • We start with Now Me. I ask: What did you do for Now Me this week?

  • What tasks did you take care of?
  • What work did you move forward?
  • Did you exercise? Eat well? Get enough rest?
  • Everyone is given 90 seconds.
  • What did you do for Future Me this week?
  • Did you make a contribution to a longterm project?
  • Did you invest in something that won’t produce immediate returns?
  • Did you keep up a commitment or make a new one?
  • What did you do for Now Us this week?
  • Who of your Now Us did you give energy to?
  • Who of your Now Us gave you energy?
  • Did anyone give you energy that you didn’t reciprocate?
  • What did you do for Future Us?
  • Did you learn something that you will use in the future?
  • Did you teach something to someone else?
  • Did you live in a way that everyone on Earth could sustainably follow?
  • Did you strive to see the bigger picture in your decisions and actions?
  • I asked everyone to take out the bento they had made earlier in the week and compare it to what they had written. People reflected on the ways they met the spirit of their goals and fell short. There was a longer discussion on how to manage feeling disappointed with oneself.

  • Takeaways:

  • Three people said the reflective questions made the bento clearer for them, especially on what it means to make a positive choice for Future Me and Future Us.
  • Will iterate on this model more next week.
  • Self-disappointment is a good topic for future exploration.


I’m appreciative of this optimistic look at where we are from good friend to Bentoism author John Higgs (his book Stranger Than We Can Imagine is highly recommended and very bento-aligned). Higgs, who lives in the UK, notes that graffiti is getting optimistic again. Despite our challenges, the potential of Future Us remains strong.

Thanks for being part of this journey to somewhere better. I hope to see you later this week.

Peace and love my friends,

The Bento Society