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Toward better

Well, that was interesting. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Painful. Difficult.

Have more people ever been happier to see a year go away? I’m posting this a few hours early just to clear the decks a bit faster.

Our attitude doesn’t have to be driven by the outside world, but sometimes, they overlap. The outside world provokes, persists and insists on changing the story we choose to tell ourselves.

And one reason we invented the calendar was to keep the outside world at bay as we reclaim agency over how we’ll choose to act–to respond instead of to react.

For those of you keeping track, 2021 is the product of the prime numbers 43 and 47. If you were looking for a reason to be optimistic, that’s as good as any.

Thanks for caring and thanks for leading.

Here’s to justice, health and peace of mind as we choose an attitude of possibility and resilience in 2021.

A different urgency

For many people, work consists of a series of urgencies. Set them up and knock them down. Empty the in-box, answer the boss, make the deadline.

Over the next few weeks, there may be fewer urgencies than usual. That’s the nature of coming back from a break.

What if we used the time to move system deficiencies from the “later” pile to the “it’s essential to do this right now” pile?

Improving a system returns our effort many times over.

Fix your supply chain. Dig deep into your communication rhythms. Figure out the priority list. Quit the tasks that are holding you back. Walk away from dead ends. Add rigor to your processes. Understand the difference between the things that feel urgent and those that are truly important.

None of this works if you do it temporarily. The point is to create and fix systems with finality. Identify a class of projects that your team will do instead of you and then never do them again. Reorganize your data archiving approach and then stick with it. Build a system for lifelong learning and then maintain the commitment.

In any given moment, an urgency that feels like an emergency gives us the permission to abandon our systems and simply dive in and fix it, as only we can. And this permission is precisely why we get stuck, precisely why the next urgency is likely to appear tomorrow.

Resolutions don’t work. Habits and systems can.

Most of us are so stuck on the short-cycles of urgency that it’s difficult to even imagine changing our longer-term systems.

Amazingly, this simple non-hack (in which you spend the time to actually avoid the shortcuts that have been holding you back) might be the single most effective work you do all year.

Bonus: A game design history…

Two videos for when you might have time.

For no really good reason, I filmed this long riff about my experience with the early days of video and adventure games. Probably more 1980s game history than you wanted to know.

Rewatching them, I’m reminded of how many lucky breaks I’ve had, how often I got the benefit of the doubt and how being in the right place at the right time can change so much.

Alas, I didn’t mention many of the people who did the extraordinary work of programming, of organizational development and of believing in possibility. I’m grateful to have worked next to hundreds of people who spent years battling the odds to invent the future.

A history of Spinnaker
Prodigy and online games…

The most important blog post

It is on the most important blog.


Even if no one but you reads it. The blog you write each day is the blog you need the most. It’s a compass and a mirror, a chance to put a stake in the ground and refine your thoughts.

And the most important post? The one you’ll write tomorrow.

If you don’t know you have it…

then you don’t. (Not yet.)

Cleaning out the fridge after a power failure, I found three half-empty containers of anchovies. Because they magically migrate to the back of the fridge, every time I had needed some, I ended up opening a new jar, because the old ones were invisible. Not just invisible if I had looked for them, but so invisible that it never even occurred to me to look for them.

And this is even more likely to happen with the data on your hard drive. If you don’t know to look for it, if you don’t believe it’s there, it might as well be deleted.

And of course, this applies to our lost skills, confidence and experience as well.

It’s worth putting in regular effort to remind ourselves of what we’ve already got and how it has served us in the past.

Stand up and fight

One of Woody Guthrie’s resolutions was to “Wake up and fight.”

But he wasn’t talking about being a bully. Or picking a fight at the local bar.

He was talking about changing the culture.

He was challenging himself to push back against the doubters, and even more than that, to overcome his own self-doubt.

The culture is created by all of us. It might feel as though it’s done to us, but it’s also created by us.

Wake up, stand up and fight. Make things better.

Amplify possibility

“People like us do things like this.”

Social media understands this.

It also knows that people like points, likes and something that feels like popularity.

The social media companies optimized their algorithms for profit. And profit, they figured, would come from engagement. And engagement, they figured, would come from confounding our instincts and rewarding outrage.

Because outrage draws a crowd.

And crowds establish culture.

And a desire to be the leader of a crowd reinforced the cycle.

And so the social networks created a game, a game in which you ‘win’ by being notorious, outrageous or, as they coined the phrase, “authentic.” The whole world is watching, if you’re willing to put on a show.

That’s not how the world actually works. The successful people in your community or your industry (please substitute ‘happy’ for successful in that sentence) don’t act the way the influencers on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook do. That’s all invented, amplified stagecraft, it’s not the actual human condition.

Many of us have an overwhelming need to rubberneck, to slow down when we pass a crash on the highway. This is odd, as most people don’t go out of their way to visit the morgue, just for kicks. And yet…

I hope we’d agree that if people started staging car crashes on the side of the road to get attention, we’d be outraged.

That’s what happening, and the leaders of social networks pretend that they can’t do a thing about it, just as Google pretends that they can’t control the results of their search algorithm.

The shift that the leaders of the social networks need to make is simple. In the long run, it will cost them nothing. And within weeks, it will create a world that’s calmer, happier and more productive.

Amplify possibility. Dial down the spread of disinformation, trolling and division. Make it almost impossible to get famous at the expense of civilization. Embrace the fact that breaking news doesn’t have to be the rhythm of our days. Reward thoughtfulness and consistency and responsibility.

You can do this. Enough already.

The two levers of modernity

First: If you come up with an innovation that creates value, that value is multiplied a million-fold because now you can share it outside your village.

Second: If you build a community, the network effect creates increasing amounts of value as more people use it.

And the pothole: As we race to create value, it’s easy to forget that it’s unevenly distributed. A safety net isn’t perfect, but it’s better than no net at all.

Rising tides lift all boats, but we’re not boats.

Reasons people donate

It’s urgent

It’s certain to work

It’s close by

Everyone else is

It might happen to you

Only someone as caring as you will choose to make a difference

Only someone as smart as you can understand something this complicated

It will raise your status with your cohort

Others are suffering

Time’s almost up

People like us do things like this

It’s the right thing to do

You are suffering

It’s a longshot worth pursuing

To create justice

It comes with a tote bag

It’s an obligation

Your parents taught you well

We’ll be proud of you

Because right here and right now, nothing would feel better than making a donation…



In the midst of all of it, some people are still able to trust. To trust in others, to trust in possibility and to trust themselves. And…

we’re surrounded by opportunity.

we often get a second chance.

there are still problems to be solved.

we learned something.

there’s another advance, right around the corner.

And always, there’s a chance to make things better.