Digital typography always looks crisp. The words on our screen seem official, because they’re not the victim of sloppy or rushed handwriting.
But sometimes, we might be better off with a little less crispness.
Malka Older points out that polling data and predictions would probably be better understood if the graphs and charts were intentionally fuzzy. The less sure we are of the prediction, the fuzzier it ought to be.
The weather next Saturday is going to be crisp and clear, with no chance of rain.
And if it’s something we’re quite unsure about, better to set it like this:
The fact that we have to squint a little bit is far more effective than adding a disclaimer about our margin of error. If you’re not willing to make it fuzzy, it might be better to not say it.
A luxury good is one where the price paid is much higher than the apparent utility it offers. We pay extra precisely because it’s not a good value. The utility lies in how we and our peers think about it. The scarcity and bling of a luxury good are used to increase our status (in our own eyes and those in our cohort).
And so, a top-end Mercedes isn’t much better at being a car than a Hyundai is, it simply costs more.
As engineering has improved and knock-offs have increased, though, the two-hundred-year tradition of physical luxury goods is fading away.
One thing that’s taking its place is speculation.
An NFT has zero utility. It’s simply an entry in the blockchain that shows ownership of something that anyone could see for free.
But that in itself is a sort of luxury.
There are now hundreds of digital NFTs each worth more than a million dollars each. Just like Reddit stocks, they change in value dramatically, they come with a story and they’re fun to talk about with your friends and peers.
And one day, every one of them will be owned by someone who is unable to sell it at a profit.
Speculation is a great hobby if you can afford it, but it shouldn’t be confused with investment.
We’ve spent 130 years indoctrinating kids with the same structure. Now, as some of us enter a post-lockdown world, I’d like to propose a useful (though some might say radical) way to reimagine the curriculum.
It’s been a century of biology, chemistry, arithmetic, social studies and the rest. So long that the foundational building blocks are seen as a given, unquestioned and unimproved. The very structure of the curriculum actually prevents school from working as it should.
I think that a significant shift is overdue. The one below could work for kids from the age of 6. It doesn’t eliminate the fundamentals of being educated, but it puts them into context. More important, because it’s self-directed and project-based, kids can choose to learn, instead of being forced to.
We’re living in the age of an always-connected universal encyclopedia and instantly updated fact and teaching machine called the Net. This means that it’s more important to want to know the answer and to know how to look it up than it is to have memorized it when we were seven. Given the choice between wasting time and learning, too many people have been brainwashed into thinking that learning is somehow onerous or taxing.
Introducing the modern curriculum
The basic foundation is student-centered, self-directed projects. In service of learning to solve interesting problems and how to lead as well as follow. And to support that, the “courses” are practical tools students can use on their projects.
Statistics–seeing the world around us clearly and understanding nuance, analog results and taxometrics (learning how to sort like with like). Realizing that everyone and everything doesn’t fit into a simple box. Learning to see the danger of false labels and propaganda, and the power of seeing how things are actually distributed.
Games–finite and infinite, poker, algorithms, business structures, interpersonal relationships, negotiation, why they work and when they don’t. We all play them, even when they’re not called games.
Communication–listening and speaking, reading and writing, presentations, critical examination and empathy. Can you read for content? Can you write to be understood? Can you stand up and express yourself, and sit still and listen to someone else who is working to be heard? What happens when we realize that no one is exactly like us?
History and propaganda–what happened and how we talk about it. More why than when. The fundamental currents of human events over time.
Citizenship–Participating, leading, asking and answering good questions. As a voter, but also as a participant in any organization.
Real skills–Hard to measure things like honesty, perseverance, empathy, keeping promises, trust, charisma, curiosity, problem solving and humor.
The scientific method–understanding what we know and figuring out how to discover the next thing. Learning to do the reading and show your work. There’s no point in memorizing the Krebs Cycle.
Programming–thinking in ways that a computer can help you with. From Excel and Photoshop to C++.
Art–expressing yourself with passion and consistency and a point of view. Not because it’s your job, but because you can and because it matters. Appreciating the art that has come before and creating your own, in whatever form that takes.
Decision-making–using the rest of the skills above to make better choices.
Meta-cognition–thinking about thinking, creating habits with intention.
Here’s my question: If you could work for someone who had these skills, developed over the course of a decade or more of public school, would you want to? What about working next to them, or having them work for you? Or dating them? Or living next door or voting for them?
If this is what we need and what we value, why aren’t we teaching it?
The virtual office skeptic says, “we can’t go fully remote, because the serendipity of personal connection is too important.” The theory goes that watercooler conversations and elevator encounters add up to an emotional bond. Add to that the happy coincidence of overhearing a conversation where you have something to add or seeing something on a colleague’s screen, and the case is made for bringing people back to a building.
Of course, what it overlooks is that in any building with more than 200 square feet of space, you’re only bumping into a tiny fraction of the people who work there. If they’re on another floor, or across the street, they might as well be in another country for all the serendipity that happens.
[I recently talked with a CEO who was incensed by the stories (hyped by the media) of people who had finagled their way to two full-time jobs while working remotely. Apparently, if you spend a lot of time managing your calendar, faking your zoom calls and living in fear, you can get away with it for a while. Perhaps one in a thousand workers pulls this off. Better to worry about embezzlers, I think, because if someone is focused enough to pull off the two-job trick, they’re probably aware that all of this energy is better spent in other ways. But I digress…]
The real challenge of remote work isn’t that it somehow erases the mysterious serendipity of magical office collisions. The problem is that making connections digitally requires enrollment and effort. If we do it with intent, it actually works better.
We can collaborate in real-time on shared documents with people we’d never be able to meet face to face.
We can have a six-minute impromptu brainstorming session and have it transcribed to a shared doc–anytime we have the guts to invite the right people to the right platform and say ‘go’.
We can share a screen when we get stuck, and we can share it not with the closest person, but with the best person.
And yes, we can deliberately take five minutes off to have a one on one conversation with someone at work about nothing in particular.
The real magic of connections at the office was that we were having these connections without trying. It’s not that they were better, it’s that they were effortless.
But they didn’t work for everyone in the same way. They often reinforced status roles and privilege. They were unevenly distributed and didn’t usually appear when we needed them. All of which added up to a new layer of stress for many people.
No, we’re not sharing donuts. But if we put in the effort, we can share more than that.
Management isn’t. Management uses power and authority to get people to do tasks you know can be done. Management is needed, but management is insufficient.
Leadership is voluntary. It’s voluntary to lead and it’s voluntary to follow. If you’re insisting, then you’re managing…
And creativity is the magical human act of doing something that might not work. If you know it’s going to work–then it’s management.
Akimbo (a now-independent B corp that is pioneering cohort-based learning) has proven that creativity and leadership can be learned. They’re learned by doing, not by lectures.
Consider the legendary altMBA, now in its sixth year. The First Priority Application Deadline is tomorrow, September 7th for altMBA’s January 2022 session. Learn to lead by doing the work.
And I’m excited that the fifth session of the Creative’s Workshop, which inspired my book The Practice, begins September 28th. You can sign up and find details at this site. It’s a place to find the others, to share your work and most of all, to learn to see your creative practice in a powerful new way.
Many people return to work with and learn from their peers again and again. Check out what they’re building at Akimbo…
The Rolodex and the Filofax disappeared a while ago, but we’re still not all using the tools that make it easier to coordinate people and time.
I use Calendly to book various kinds of 1 on 1 discussions. I set it up to have access to certain windows in my calendar. Then, I just send the link (for example, to the 15-minute zoom call) and the other person can pick any time that works for them. Done. No back and forth.
I use Streamyard to have conversations with one or two people that can be recorded or broadcast live on social media. This is a great substitute for a live Zoom meeting where you’re asking your entire team to watch a conversation as it happens. By sending them a recording instead, they can watch it at their convenience and even speed it up or watch it again.
I have found that Doodle saves a ton of time when you’re trying to organize five or ten people to a coordinated live meeting or call. Instead of the endless circle of guesses, there’s a simple grid and people vote for what’s workable. It’s still not seamless, but it works.
Shared workspaces like Google Drive and Lucid are a dramatic improvement over sending docs and back and forth. There’s really no comparison.
And Zapier is next-level when it comes to moving information, regularly, from one digital silo to another. It takes a few minutes to set up, but then saves a huge amount of time, allowing you to get back to what you’re really here to do.
Also Figma, which is generally used for laying out websites but is a powerful tool for graphic collaboration.
Don’t forget Discourse, when you and a group are ready to get serious about developing ideas and discussion in scalable ways.
Cooperation, connection and the power of being in sync is getting more important every day. We do better together.
Marginal cost is how much extra you’ll need to spend to serve one more customer.
The marginal cost of a hot dog is pretty low–if you don’t have to account for rent and labor and insurance and the rest, one more hot dog might only cost 15 cents to serve.
On the other hand, the marginal cost of a custom pair of shoes is pretty high, because the labor and materials are expensive.
The internet is transformative because so many things have a zero marginal cost. It doesn’t cost anything for WordPress to add one more user. And it doesn’t cost me anything to have one more person read this blog.
When we factor in the magic of the network effect (things that work better when more people are using them) it turns out that the marginal cost isn’t zero. It’s actually negative. That means that it’s expensive for an online service to have fewer users.
Moving from expensive to cheap to free to “it’s a bonus to add one more person” changes our economy and our culture forever.
Culture doesn’t change (much). Elements of human culture have been around for 100,000 years, and it persists. In fact, its persistence is a key attribute of why it works.
People like us do things like this.
In the last ten years, the culture has changed dramatically. We’re buffeted by shifts that are faster and more widespread than anyone can recall.
The combination of media, illness, technology and climate have made each week different from the one that came before.
Even early adopters and news junkies are becoming fatigued in the face of so much, so often.
And this persistent shifting in the foundations of our culture is sharpening the rhetoric and resolve of folks who would rather things stay as they imagined they were.
Our conversations and arguments about how we react to changes in the culture do little to change the forces that are shaping our future, though. Change persists whether we asked for it or not. Wishing and insisting won’t get us back to a world that’s static.
Our response to change is often all we have control over. And the way we respond is how we create the next cycle of culture and possibility.
September 2, 2021
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