“Jerry Garcia performed thousands of times, and he was the only one who heard every performance.
The same is true for the work you’ve created, the writing you’ve done, the noise in your head–you’re the only person who has heard every bit of it.
Tell us what we need to know. Not because you need to hear yourself repeat it, but because you believe we need to hear it.
Take your time and lay it out for us, without worrying about whether or not we’ve heard you say it before. We probably haven’t.”
‘Superman could bend steel with his bare hands.
Along the way, we’ve been sold on the idea that difficult tasks ought to be left to heroes, often from somewhere far away or from long ago. That it’s up to them, whoever ‘them’ is.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted Theodore Parker: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
But it’s not bending itself. And it’s not waiting for someone from away to bend it either.
It’s on us. Even when it doesn’t work (yet). Even when it’s difficult. Even when it’s inconvenient.
Our culture is the result of a trillion tiny acts, taken by billions of people, every day. Each of them can seem insignificant, but all of them add up, one way or the other, to the change we each live through.
Sometimes it takes a hero like Dr. King to wake us up and remind us of how much power we actually have.
And now it’s our turn. It always has been.’
The following idea is endorsed by all of these people:
None of them exist.
They’re constructs, built by an algorithm. Rights released, happy and smiling, but no one in particular.
Fifty years ago, you couldn’t trust the endorsements in direct marketing ads for lousy products:
“A miracle!” …Bob
Because you knew there wasn’t really a Bob.
Twenty-three years ago, when I created a book with the Weekly World News (yes, this is true), I visited their tiny office in Florida. It consisted of three people and a filing cabinet. Inside the cabinet were pictures of 400 people (mostly friends and former friends of the three editors) that would be cut and pasted in the WWN any time they needed a picture of an expert, a citizen or both. They weren’t news and they weren’t the world, but they were weekly.
I knew that the Weekly World News was low-brow chicanery, but I have a hunch that not everyone did.
In 2019, and perhaps forever, we’re now at a new level, one where the polish of photography or video is no longer any clue at all about the provenance of what we’re encountering.
I don’t think we have any clue about how disruptive this shift is going to be.
Even the real celebrities we purport to trust (“influencers” deliberately in quotes) are easily bought. It used to be only Rula Lens who we doubted.
There are people and organizations that are racing to break the fabric of community that we all depend on. Either to make a short-term profit or to atomize/vaporize widespread trust to hide from accountability and to slow change.
Like all shifts, there will be a counter-shift. But keep your eyes open, because the rules are clearly changing. Remaining trusted and consistent will become ever more valuable as it becomes more scarce. A resolution to be in higher-resolution for those you seek to serve.
In the meantime, it’s worth confirming the source before you believe what you see.
A Box of Infinity
It’s hard to look right at it.
The possibility that lies before us, the chance to connect, to lead, to be heard–it’s bigger than it’s ever been.
Tempting indeed to avert your eyes, because staring into infinity means embracing just how small we feel. We avert our eyes because to realize how much potential we have to contribute puts us on the hook.
But whether we ignore it or not, the infinity of possibility remains.
Dance with it.
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
It’s a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light. Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost eery part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the head but of a future summer rose, the snowbound internal pulse of the hibernating bear. Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grown and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care.
Hiding done properly is the internal faithful promise for a proper future emergence, as embryos, as children or even as emerging adults in retreat from the names that have caught us and imprisoned us, often ways where we have been too easily seen and too easily named.
We live in a time of the dissected soul, the immediate disclosure; our thoughts, imaginings and longings exposed to the light too much, too early and too often, our best qualities squeezed to soon into a world already awash with ideas that oppress our sense of self and our sense of others.
What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence.
Hiding is an act of freedom from the misunderstanding of others, especially in the enclosing world of oppressive secret government and private entities, attempting to name us, to anticipate us, to leave us with no place to hide and grow in ways unmanaged by creeping necessity for absolute naming, absolute tracking and absolute control.
Hiding is a bid for independence, from others from mistaken ideas we have about ourselves form an oppressive mistaken wish to keep us completely safe, completely ministered to, and therefore completely managed. Hiding is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference and control. Hiding leaves life to itself, to become more of itself. Hiding is the radical independence necessary for our emergence into the light of a proper human future.
“A truth is a useful, reliable statement of how the world is. You can ignore it, but it will cost you, because the world won’t work the way you hope it will. You can dislike the truth, but pretending it isn’t true isn’t an effective way to accomplish your goals or to further our culture.
Most of the kinds of truth we experience are about the past and the present, and these are the easiest to see and confirm, but there are also truths about cause and effect.
Identity is the truth of description. A circle is round because we define a circle as round. You can say, “a circle is rectangular in shape,” and all you’ve done is confused us. Words only work because we agree on what they mean.
Demagogues often play with the identity of words, as it distracts us.
Axiomatic truth is truth about the system. The Peano axioms, for example, define the rules of arithmetic. They are demonstrably true and the system is based on these truths. Einstein derived his theories of special and general relativity with a pad of paper, not with an experiment (though the experiments that followed have demonstrated that his assertions were in fact true.)
There were loud voices in mid-century Germany who said that Einstein’s work couldn’t be true because of his heritage, and many others who mis-described his work and then decried that version of it, but neither approach changed the ultimate truth of his argument.
Axiomatic truth, like most other truths, doesn’t care whether you understand it or believe it or not. It’s still true.
Historic truth is an event that actually happened. We know it happened because it left behind evidence, witnesses and other proof.
Experimental truth may not have the clear conceptual underpinnings of axiomatic truth, but it holds up to scrutiny. The world is millions of years old. Every experiment consistently demonstrates this. Experimental truth can also give us a road map to the future. Vaccines do not cause autism. The world is not flat. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising.
If you want to challenge an experimental truth, the only response is to do a better experiment, make it replicable and show your work.
Personal experience truth is the truth that’s up to you. How you reacted to what happened can only be seen and reported by you.
And finally, consider cultural truth, and this is the truth that can change. This is the truth of, “people like us do things like this.” Which is true, until it’s not. And then people like us do something else.”
‘In The Wizard of Oz, we meet a powerful heroine. Dorothy is resolute, focused and honest. A generous partner, leading her friends to where they seek to go.
“C’mon, let’s go,” is a great sentence, worth using more often.
It doesn’t require a permit, a badge or a degree.
It’s simply the work of someone who cares enough to lead, at least right now. And right now is enough.’
“Of course it did. We wouldn’t be in this jam if it hadn’t.
The nature of our independent choices means that sometimes we’re seduced by a decision that turns out to be a mistake.
Worth considering for next time:
Was it a failure of strategy (wrong choice) or execution (bad follow through)?
Are we thinking long-term enough?
Are shiny objects swaying our judgment?
Is it the arrogance of being sure we’re right, or the impatience of not waiting for more information?
What about the desire to go along with (or against) the crowd?
Or perhaps we’re trying to teach someone a lesson when we’re actually hurting ourselves.
Often, we’ll be in a jam because we failed to act at all. And sometimes it’s because we didn’t leave ourselves enough of an out in case of a pothole, because, as we all know, it rarely works every time.
A passion for forward motion is the single best way to improve the status quo. And the more forward motion we make, the better we’ll get at figuring out if its a good idea next time.”
A Toyota Prius passed me at 100 miles an hour. I didn’t know a Prius could even go that fast. The driver was passing on the right, using the breakdown lane, zigging and zagging across traffic. If a car could careen, he was.
The problem with this sort of fast passage is that there’s no room for error. One mistake, one failure, and you’re out.
The other sort of rambunctious, risky forward motion is very different.
This is the work we do when we’re out on a limb with a new idea. When we’re sharing ideas that feel personal or important. This is the work of practical empathy, and most of all, of acting ‘as if’ before we’re sure.
The thing is–even though this might feel as risky as driving down the Saw Mill River Parkway at 100 miles an hour, it’s actually the safest work you can do. If you fail while trying to help, you’ll get another chance. And then another.
One by one, the urgent goes away.
Those emergencies from a year ago (and a month ago), they’re gone.
Either they were solved, or they became things to live with. But emergencies don’t last. They fade.
Knowing that, knowing that you will outlast them, every single one of them, does it make it easier to see the problem, not the panic?
Often mis-characterized as a day of independence.
What actually matters is what you’re going to do with it.
It turns out that if you have the power to make rules, the rules are your responsibility.
If you have the freedom to make choices, the choices are your responsibility.
And if you have the ability to change the culture, to connect with others, to make a ruckus, then yes, what you do with that is your responsibility as well.
Doing nothing is a choice. The thing you didn’t say, the project you didn’t launch, the hand you didn’t lend…
But whatever we do, if we have the independence to do it (or not) is our responsibility.
Off the hook with Milton Friedman.
Here it is 2017, and the Chairman of one of the largest pharma companies in the country is gleefully telling patients and the FDA to live with the costs of his profit seeking, at the same time he pays his CEO more than $95 million a year. Because he can, and, like many who lucked into top jobs at big companies, because his excuse is simple: He’s just doing his job.
If the idea is so wrong, if it leads to an erosion of the social contract and the deaths of innocent kids, why are we still discussing it?
Because it’s simple, because it diminishes responsibility, and because it comes with prizes and warm chocolate cookies for those in charge.
[More from Seth Godin]
Nearly fifty years ago, Milton Friedman published a polemic, an article that altered the way many people think about corporations and their role in society. Countless writers have explained why it’s poorly reasoned, dangerous and wrong. (Including business school deans, Harvard Business Review and Fortune).
The simple message of the simple article was: “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits…”
Friedman does add a parenthetical, “so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud,” but it’s clear that his emphasis is on the first part.
Businesses, he argues, should show no corporate responsibility, do nothing to further the goals of an ethical society, do nothing to improve the lives of customers, employees or bystanders—unlessthese actions coincidentally maximize profits.
An interesting question that most people haven’t focused on: why did this dangerous idea catch on and stick around so long?
Because it’s simple, because it diminishes responsibility, and because it comes with prizes and warm chocolate cookies for those in charge.
The simplicity of the argument matches up with its mendacity. There’s no need to worry about nuance, no need to lose sleep over choices, no endless laundry list of social ills to worry about. Just make more profit.
Do this, get that.
A simple compass, a north star, a direction to go that absolves the employee/boss of responsibility for anything complicated or nuanced.
People love mechanical simplicity, especially when it benefits them.
The official rules of baseball are more than 250 pages long. Why? Because working the system, cutting corners and winning at all costs long ago replaced playing by the spirit of the game. Since the league can’t count on people to act like people acting on behalf of the community, they have to create ever more rules to keep the system in check.
The problem is far worse in a supposed free market. When humans stop acting like humans and instead indicate that they have no choice but to seek every short-term benefit and cut every possible corner, we can no longer trust each other to act responsibly.
Off the hook feels like a simple way out. “I’m just doing my job, and not thinking hard about the side effects (or to be more accurate, the effects) of my actions. Not only that, but one of the things that’s part of my job is lobbying to have fewer rules. Because working the refs is good business. And because everyone is doing it, I have no choice but to do it too.”
Of course, it’s difficult for us to solely blame poor Milton. Lots of us have bad ideas, I’ve certainly had plenty. No, we need to blame ourselves for letting selfish corporate officers get away with this reasoning. When we go to work, or partner with, or buy stock in a company that signs up for Milton reasoning, we’re rewarding people who have long ago stopped acting like people.
Profits are fine, they enable the investment we need to produce value. But almost nothing benefits from being the only thing we seek, and the pursuit of profit at the expense of our humanity is too high a price to pay.
Here’s a different version: A business is a construct, an association of human beings combining capital and labor to make something. That business has precisely the same social responsibilities as the people that it consists of. The responsibility to play fairly, to see the long-term impacts of its actions and to create value for all those it engages with.
Full Friedman article:
“Ask this question often.
Several times a day, at least.
Endogeneity is a fancy term for confusing cause and effect. For not being clear about causation and correlation.
It’s one reason why smart people make so many mistakes. We think A leads to B, so more A gets more B. While A and B may have been related in the past, though, it’s not at all clear that improving A is going to do anything about B.
There is, for example, an extraordinarily high correlation between per capita cheese consumption and the risk of being strangled by your bedsheets while you sleep:
That doesn’t mean that eating less cheese is going to help you not die in bed.”
“The boom emoji gets a lot of play. It happened. It worked. We won.
The tree emoji, on the other hand, celebrates the patient and generous acts of planting seeds, watering them, caring for them, and then, in a generation, you have a tree.
It doesn’t even have a noise.
Simple growth. With patience. (I prefer the deciduous tree instead of the evergreen, because the leaves coming in and falling off are part of the deal).
Put me down for the tree emoji.” 🌳
“There are very few fences that can stop a determined person (or dog, for that matter).
Most of the time, the fence is merely a visual reminder that we’re rewarded for complying.
If you care enough, ignore the fence. It’s mostly in your head.”
‘Our worldview casts a shadow in the words that resonate.
One reason it’s difficult to understand each other is that behind the words we use are the worldviews, the emotions and the beliefs we have before we even consider what’s being said.
Before we get to right and wrong, good or bad, effective or ineffective, we begin with worldview.
They affect the way we choose a car, engage in a conversation or vote. These cultural and learned worldviews alter the way we see and hear and speak.
Words like: Fairness, change, interference, freedom, responsibility and opportunity trigger different reactions based on worldview. It’s always easier to encourage action based on an existing worldview than it is to change that view.
The columns below don’t line up for everyone (or anyone), but instead highlight different instincts on different axes on how each of us see the world in any given moment…
|An all-powerful authority||Treat others as you’d
want to be treated
right now, right later
|Exploration, truth, working toward perfect, always a little wrong|
power, agency, taking space
|Role awareness, dignity,
giving space, flexibility
|Deserve, entitled, keep||Share, distribute, invest|
|Ends and means||Means and ends|
|Getting things done||Listening, speaking up
and being heard
|Power, authority, compliance, respect, status||Fairness, hope, justice,
|Realism, denial||Optimism, pessimism|
|Equity, fairness and
the alleviation of suffering
long-term thinking, wisdom
Once we understand the landscape that someone sees, we have an easier time using words and images to fill in that landscape, to create a story that they can hear and understand, and, perhaps, we can make change happen.’
A fish is not like a bicycle, but they’re not mutually exclusive. You can have both.
Part of our culture admires reason. It celebrates learning. It seeks out logic and coherence and an understanding of the how and the why.
At the same time, there are other people who seek out influence and authority. Either to exercise it or to blindly follow it.
Sometimes, they overlap. Sometimes, power is guided by reason. But that’s not required, not in the short run. And sometimes, reasonable, informed people wield power. But again, as a visit to a university’s English department will show, not always.
It’s tempting for the powerful to argue with those that admire reason, pointing out how much power they wield.
And it’s tempting for the well-informed to argue with those that have power, pointing out how little reason they possess.
But just as a fish isn’t going to stop you from riding a bicycle, these arguments rarely work, because power and reason don’t live on the same axis. Listening to someone argue from the other axis is a little like watching TV with the sound off. It might look normal, but it is hard to follow.
Before we engage, we need to agree on what’s being discussed.
“But often, what we want is traction. The traction to find our footing, shift our posture, make a new decision. The traction to actually influence what happens next, not merely slip our way toward a goal of someone else’s choosing.”
“How long is now?
Yes, that dog is moving, but not that tree. Plants don’t move.
Well, yes, they actually do. Trees grow and then they decay. It’s just that we can’t see it happening now. It happens over a longer span. Which means it is happening now, just not in a way that matches our frame.
Getting our time scale right is essential. It affects how we perceive the growth of our organization, or the changes in our planet. It changes the way we invest in education and how we react or respond to the news media.
Do we need a sweep second hand on our wrist watch or merely a page-a-day calendar to mark the passage of time?
Alan Burdick’s new book goes into the history of how we think about now (as compared to before and after) and one particular example stuck with me: What would happen if we were creatures that lived for only 28 days? Or for 300,000 days? And if our attention span compressed or expanded along with that outcome?
Often, people who are happier or more effective than we are are merely seeing things in a different (and more appropriate) time window.
And one last example, I’ll call it Dash’s Twitch: It turns out that the insanely stressful ticker that the New York Times had on their home page on election night, the one that kept flicking back and forth, taunting everyone who saw it, was actually using “real-time” data that only updated a few times a minute.
Which means that the twitch was faked. Yes, the data was moving over time, but it wasn’t moving now.
If our now gets short enough, everything is a twitch.
And twitches, while engaging, aren’t particularly useful or productive.”
[Anil Dash is the CEO of Fog Creek Software. He also founded Makerbase, Activate, and the non-profit Expert Labs, a research initiative backed by the MacArthur Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which collaborated with the Obama White House and federal agencies.]
The Candy Diet
If we don’t care to learn more, we won’t spend time or resources on knowledge.
“The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel.
In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.
Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the “L” stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the “History” stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.
And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn’t want to hear. We’ve responded by not buying newspapers any more.
The decline of thoughtful media has been discussed for a century. This is not new. What is new: A fundamental shift not just in the profit-seeking gatekeepers, but in the culture as a whole.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”*
[*Ironically, this isn’t what Einstein actually said. It was this, “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.” Alas, I’ve been seduced into believing that the shorter one now works better.]
Is it possible we’ve made things simpler than they ought to be, and established non-curiosity as the new standard?
We are certainly guilty of being active participants in a media landscape that breaks Einstein’s simplicity law every day. And having gotten away with it so far, we’re now considering removing the law from our memory.
The economics seem to be that the only way to make a living is to reach a lot of people and the only way to reach a lot of people is to race to the bottom, seek out quick clicks, make it easy to swallow, reinforce existing beliefs, keep it short, make it sort of fun, or prurient, or urgent, and most of all, dumb it down.
And that’s the true danger of anti-intellectualism. While it’s foolish to choose to be stupid, it’s cultural suicide to decide that insights, theories and truth don’t actually matter. If we don’t care to learn more, we won’t spend time or resources on knowledge.
We can survive if we eat candy for an entire day, but if we put the greenmarkets out of business along the way, all that’s left is candy.
Give your kid a tablet, a game, and some chicken fingers for dinner. It’s easier than talking to him.
Read the short articles, the ones with pictures, it’s simpler than digging deep.
Clickbait works for a reason. Because people click on it.
The thing about clickbait, though, is that it exists to catch prey, not to inform them. It’s bait, after all.
The good news: We don’t need many people to demand more from the media before the media responds. The Beverly Hillbillies were a popular show, but that didn’t stop Star Trek from having a shot at improving the culture.
The media has always bounced between pandering to make a buck and upping the intellectual ante of what they present. Now that this balance has been ceded to an algorithm, we’re on the edge of a breakneck race to the bottom, with no brakes and no break in sight.
Vote with your clicks, with your sponsorship, with your bookstore dollars. Vote with your conversations, with your letters to the editor, by changing the channel…
Even if only a few people use precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions, it still forces those around them to catch up. It’s easy to imagine a slippery slope down, but there’s also the cultural ratchet, a positive function in which people race to learn more and understand more so they can keep up with those around them.
Turn the ratchet. We can lead our way back to curiosity, inquiry and discovery if we (just a few for now) measure the right things and refuse the easy option in favor of insisting on better.”