Hello from a plane! I’m coming back from Italy, where I just spent the last 8 days with 15+ friends from college celebrating our friend’s wedding. The only thing I’m going to say about that is that Italians are much better at life. Anyways. Here we are. This week’s issue is a bit different – blame it on the altitude, the mind-fuck that is hurtling through space and time in a plastic metal winged tube, or shitty wifi - but I got inspired to change things up. Enjoy!
Some things I think:
The more my career takes me in the direction of creative projects that require alone time, the more I realize being productive has very little to do with high-stakes meetings, rushing from point A to point B, or can’t catch a breath to-do lists that I will probably half-ass due to exhaustion.
Real power comes from slowing down. Focus is sacred.
I would go as far as to say our greatness depends on the intensity of our focus. The thing is - long stretches of focused thought don’t yield overnight results. It takes years to make things that seemingly manifest in days.
The classic “ideas are worthless, execution is everything” adage is flawed.
Six+ months into an intense software build, I can attest that the little execution details make all the difference. But the constraint on executing well is not operational. It’s more often about having good ideas about how to resolve challenges.
In other words, good execution requires good ideas.
Self-doubt kills more early stage companies than competition or lack of funding ever will. We talk about companies needing financial capital, but rarely about the importance of emotional capital.
For most people, adjusting their self-image accounts for the difference between giving up and reaching their potential. Want to make the world a better place? Tell someone you believe in them.
There are two types of founders.
Those who do lots of research, validate ideas, test many prototypes, and iteratively get to a product. This is a more technical and user-focused approach.
The other is where the product vision emerges fully-formed in the founder’s eye before it is brought to existence. Here, the founder zeroes in on their self expression and reshapes the universe to his/her preference.
The former is about problem solving, the latter is about manifesting a creative vision. Problem solving is about taking an action to make something go away. Creating is about taking an action to bring something to life. Both can achieve success, but if you look around, some of the most interesting consumer products of our era weren’t solving clearly defined problems, they were bringing creative visions to the world.
I had two immediate reactions to Apple’s announcement of Vision Pro this week. The first, that the difference between Apple and Meta is proof that product development is mostly useless without good taste. The second, that I don’t want a $3,500 pair of goggles, and I certainly don’t want to want them. My mood was uneasy, even a little defensive as I was watching the keynote, I think because I am scared the world is moving too quickly? So maybe this is just a sign that everyone in tech should take a big sacred breath and a few years off.
It's so frustrating when you have good taste, but your taste exceeds your abilities. I’ve been feeling this so much the past year. If you find yourself in the midst of the mud, I urge you to let the gap between where you are and where you want to be inspire you instead of be an excuse to beat yourself up.
I aspire to Isak Dinesen’s way: work a little every day, without hope and without despair. What a way to live! To make! To be!
Most of the social internet has become about building an audience and connecting people to brands and influencers. It’s better understood as a performance by the top 1%, not as a way to exchange knowledge or connect people to one another.
There’s a shift against large networks like Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit in favor of small private communities and group chats. This makes a lot of sense (Dunbar’s law, etc…) but it also makes me a little sad.
How much more could be accomplished if knowledge were not scattered across a million private places. If I want to buy a toaster, I don’t want to have to find and join the best group chat for toaster aficionados (this is a terrible example, but you get the point).
There’s a big path dependence here. Social networks were designed for massive scale -> funded by ads -> optimized for engagement -> obsessed with quantification and vanity metrics -> lots of clickbait and performative BS -> people retreating to the comfort of small group chats.
We should look to places like Wikipedia and boutique search engines for inspiration. There is still so much opportunity to build open knowledge libraries accessible to all.
The people I find most interesting on social media are using it as a sort of diary/note to self, not broadcasting to an audience.
Being a founder requires constant calibration between arrogance and humility, optimism and pessimism. You need the arrogance to believe that you have something important to say, but the humility to know most people won’t care. You need the optimism to convince yourself and others (employees, investors, customers) to believe in you. But you need pessimism to see all the ways you could fail, and plan appropriately.
While the information contained in large language model’s is vast, it’s also one-size-fits-all. I’m much more bullish on source-grounded AI that allows you to curate a data set which the AI then uses to shape the model’s interactions with you.
I really hate the term content creator. It’s such a corporate way of describing artists, writers, intellectuals, and other creatives who ultimately just want to create work they’re proud of.
Part of the problem is that the big social networks are not content platforms supported by advertising. They are better understood as advertising platforms supported by content, which has led to so many creators becoming lonely content machines, trapped playing someone else’s game. (s/o to Metalabel for their latest zine exploring this issue).
Twitter became about arguing, Instagram became about showing off, Facebook became about people you went to school with saying weird things. The most important role in a social network is the vibe designer, because the big questions are sociological, not technological.
The internet has dramatically changed our ability to know things, but our ability to change things has remained the same, or possibly diminished as a) most of our free-time is now spread out in unsatisfying micro doses of scrolling throughout the day b) seeming has become more important than doing.
On the Internet, clapping for essential workers is more socially rewarding than paying them a livable wage. The Internet we’ve built rewards noisy, marketable people using language that satisfies the optics, not people doing good things quietly. I’m thinking about how different things would be if our brains weren’t hijacked to keep scrolling even when we’re not hungry for more, if the feeds fixated less on self-promotion and more on self-sacrifice.
I think my best parenting advice (which applies to life in general) is that everything is temporary. When a mood is so overwhelming we tend to mistake the intensity of it for the longevity of it. But a baby waking up every two hours is temporary. A kid who will only eat chips – temporary. There will always be some new terrible thing. But that thing will be temporary, too.
When I started writing a newsletter in 2019, I remember thinking there were too many newsletters. That was before Substack had made a meaningful dent on the Internet and only a handful of writers were seriously using it. The coolest things do not yet exist. You are not late.
Words and language play an incredibly important role in our culture. Some examples I like:
1. Remote servers vs. The cloud. Remote servers are a bunch of physical servers stored in a data center somewhere in the world. “The cloud” sounds like a magic place with unlimited storage.
2. The entire technology industry uses the word “user” to describe its customers. “Users” is a passive word, while “customer” is much more active and suggestive of a relationship that must be treated with respect and service.
3. What if we replaced the phrase “tax the rich” with “help the poor” (h/t Antonio Garcia).
Technology treats the process of consuming and the process of creating as distinctly different, when the reality is that for our brains, the process of absorbing a book is not all too different from the process of producing one. We are always seeking new connections, combining and recombining old ideas to produce new ones. So why is it that we consume books full of words, but write in an empty Google Doc? Why is the process of consuming so passive, while producing so active? Curation is so deeply under-explored on the Internet in my opinion. It sits right in between consumption and creation and is the perfect bridge between the two, allowing us to actively engage with what we consume to then produce work from this saved knowledge.