I’ve been writing about BusinessMagik for a while and I love the articulation that Venkatesh gives to Lorecraft here:

I mean, this stuff is at some level ridiculous to my hidebound Gen X mind. Lore? Magic? Witchcraft? Vibes? Management by memes? Lexicons and larps? Tweeted incantations of power? Work as a multiplayer game? The workplace as an extended universe fiction?

Good for fun and games and actual fiction, but as a basis for Serious Things? Really?

When you’ve spent the first 45 years of your life convinced you are some sort of hard realist, with an imagination shaped by the end of the Cold War and the unforgiving economic landscapes of the early neoliberal world order, it is hard to entertain the thought that perhaps reality is, or could potentially transform into, some sort of malleable medium for imaginations addled by something uncomfortably close to magical thinking.

But of the two worlds I’ve been witnessing, I am becoming convinced that the emerging weird world being claimed by lorecraft, with tarot cards and literal magical thinking in the mix, is actually more real, and has been all along.

The dying world I spent so many years understanding on the other hand, despite the powerful normalcy field surrounding it, is in fact the less real world. The magical thinking that governs it is all the more powerful because those caught up in it are not even aware of it.

There’s more where this came from. We’re only getting started.

Continuing from yesterday’s post on interesting conferences, this looks interesting:

A Mostly Screen-Free, Zine-Full, Remote-Participation Conference on Experimental Methods for Research and Research Exchange

So there’s a digital naturalism conference. Looks pretty rad! They made a booklet from their last conference in 2019 which you can see online here. Looks fascinating!

Reminds me of this wonderful project from Simon Colly, the internet of natural things:

This self-assigned research project led to a popular newsletter, numerous articles, a touring presentation, and R&D projects. But what does ‘Internet of Natural Things’ mean? Well, throughout history, societies have collectively reinvented their image of nature, so it’s logical that we are now defining a new image of nature for the post-digital age. And with that comes a new and more authentic idea of beauty that designers can embrace.

The research has many strands. I’m exploring biophilic thinking in art, design, architecture and emerging tech. There’s great overlap with mental health and wellbeing. I’m particularly interested in the ways data and social media help us track animals, invest in them, and crowdsource their stories. I’m fascinated by how all of these strands coalesce to influence culture and aesthetics.

I want to understand how nature can play into a better relationship with digital technology, and how technologists and designers can work with, not against, the natural world. The guiding idea is not that we need less technology, but that we need more nature.

What a lovely phrase:

Careful attention results in output

Thinking in terms of input/output I always return to this meditation from Derek Sivers:

The word “inspiration” usually means “something that mentally stimulates you.”

But “inspiration” also means to breathe in.

The meanings poetically combine when you think of yourself breathing in thoughts, filling your body with ideas. But don’t forget to breathe out.

[…]

Because nothing is truly inspiring unless you apply it to your work. (“work” meaning your life’s output, whether creative, business, or personal).

In other words, your work, itself, is the inspiration.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Paul Robert Lloyd on creating “design histories”:

A design history looks both forwards and backwards. New posts show the team where a service is going, while older posts tell the story of how we got to where we are now.

That’s a fancy description. The simpler answer is that a design history is a blog with a design team committed to regularly posting about their work.

Love the idea of using a simple blog to keep track of how a service has evolved and changed over time. Nothing fancy. Just good ol blogging.

Architectural blogging

I think a lot about blogging, about why I like it, what I think I can accomplish through blogging that I can’t accomplish, or not easily anyway, through other kinds of writing … and that leads me to metaphors. For instance, I have appropriated from Brian Eno and others the distinction between architecture and gardening, and have described my blog as a kind of garden. But lately I’ve been revisiting the architecture/gardening distinction and I have come to think that there is something architectural about writing a blog, or can be – but not in the sense of a typical architectural project, which is designed in advanced and built to specifications. Rather, writing a blog over a period of years is something like building the Watts Towers:

A homestead, bit by brick

First, Brian Lovin on a perspective around incrementally correct personal sites:

Incremental correctness is the process of iterating towards something more truthful, accurate, usable, or interesting. The faster we can iterate, the faster we can discover good ideas. Things aren’t perfect today, but tomorrow things can be slightly closer to perfect.

Incremental correctness changes everything about the way you work. It’s anti-perfectionism. It’s pro-generation. It’s about discovery and proof, research and prototyping, and having a framework to reliably test your instincts. It discourages major redesigns, preferring isolated improvements to a small subset of nodes in any kind of working tree.

I’ve always struggled to have this mindset when working on my personal website. I get stuck in these loops where I redesign the thing once every few years, and am left so thoroughly exhausted and frustrated by the process that I don’t want to touch the thing ever again. If you’ve ever dreaded the notion of having to redesign your portfolio, you probably know what I mean.

Paired with Frank Chimero, on digital homesteading:

Have you ever visited an architect’s house, one they designed themselves? It’s fun to walk through it with them. They have so many things, arranged so thoughtfully, and share the space with such pride because of the personal reflection the house required to design (not to mention the effort it took to build). It’s really quite special. I think there’s a pleasure to having everything under one roof. You feel together, all of you at once. In a way, building your own house is the ultimate project for a creative person: you’re making a home for what you think is important, done in the way you think is best.

This a nice little meditation on service roles (i.e. consulting)

Have you ever been asked to help, and ended up feeling abused and misused? Why did it go that way?

Whether you’re part of a bunch of #consultants dealing with a #management issue, a coach, mentor, a friend, an HR or Finance Business Partner, or leading a radical #innovation process to help them to be fit for the #future — why does it end so disappointingly, so often?

The punchline:

Media inside baseball, yes. But also great commentary and exploration of the power dynamics against “building a brand” or “being very online”

Oh! This is a magical website. Collection of essays that auto-compiles to a print on demand book. Very relevant to my interests:

The notion of a singular printing or edition obviously goes out the window when readers can recombine and print on demand as desired. “The book” in this context has to encompass all the machinery, the HTML and CSS, the server, the underlying content, the templates for the pages, the code to collate them, and the means of printing. Drawing attention to its own publishing to a degree a more traditionally constructed book might not. This is particularly visible, I think, on the cover for the on-demand print version of On Publishing where the logic of: “randomly place logos of those studios that have been included in this particular compilation so they do not overlap at one of a number of sizes” spans fifty lines of code that form the canonical notion of the cover.

This article explores why such social constellations might be forming and what makes them different from the long lineage of Small Groups that came before them. It also examines both the potential benefits and pitfalls of joining a Small Group and explores why they might one day be widely embraced by the culture at large.

At the very bottom of the post there’s a good roundup of other “small group” thinking in various forms

Doing the work by actually reading the source material. Very generalizable!

People often ask what they can do to generate original contributions or comparative advantages. Usually they vastly overestimate how common it is to have gone through the basic intellectual background in a field. If you’ve actually read the book (actually checked the proof, actually implemented the algorithm), you’re probably way ahead of the field. Much expertise is simply doing this over and over.

Love seeing Craig Mod build his next book in this daily email series for subscribers. Figma is a great tool for this!!

Again: Fluidity, fluency, looseness — these are the words of Figma. Rigidity, precision, old software models — these are the words of InDesign. My goal is to get the book to 98% laid out before moving to InDesign. 

Love this mediation on maps, mapping and managing complexity in projects from Dark Matter Labs:

Maps are not simply means of sharing our work publicly. They are a central part of our inquiry process. They allow us to share our individual thoughts, explore connections and work collaboratively. Our daily work often involves moving between projects and holding multiple pieces of information simultaneously, and maps serve as a vessel for retaining that information. Different team members can enter a project, introducing new ways of thinking and spotting a host of new connections.

“Specific curiosity as a driver of creativity”

The present research examines the causal relationship between specific curiosity and creativity. To explicate this relationship, we introduce the concept of idea linking, a cognitive process that entails using aspects of early ideas as input for subsequent ideas in a sequential manner, such that one idea is a stepping stone to the next.

Study 1 demonstrated the causal effect of specific curiosity on creativity.

Study 2, a field study of artisans selling handmade goods online, found that experiencing specific curiosity predicts greater next-day creativity.

Study 3 demonstrated idea linking as a mechanism for the effect of specific curiosity on creativity.

Study 4 further established the impact of idea linking on creativity, finding that it boosted creativity beyond the well-established intervention of brainstorming.

We discuss specific curiosity as a state that fuels creativity through idea linking and idea linking as a novel technique for creative idea generation.

(Paper via here and freely available with a Google)

Some interesting insights from this:

  1. Maintaining an active list of “open questions” might make you more creative. Is there a way to reframe your general interests into a list of questions? I did something a bit like that with my areas of inquiry post recently
  2. Doing things leads to questions leads to creativity leads to doing things…. There’s a nice virtuous cycle here where finding specific problems - i.e. specific questions leads you into a positive cycle of curiousity and creativity…

Update: I wonder if there’s value in a little tool/prompt/exercise that encourages people to convert their general, abstract interest into a set of active questions. I have a hunch that if you can push people into a question mindset they can be more focused, more creative, less distracted and more likely to spend time on their interests….

Hmm. I quite like this working in seasons idea. As I shift more towards an independent model where I’m able to dictate my schedule a bit more (vs clients dictating it)….

Seasons & Work

When I look at the last eight years since I started working, one theme that stands out is how my work seems to move in seasons.

I typically go through some significant work shift or change around the end of the year or the beginning of the next. A bit under a year ago I was stepping out of Growth Machine and starting on my rapid career sampling.

The year before that, it was diving into Roam and creating the course as well as opening the Cafe (ouch).

Before that in different years it was starting Growth Machine, starting my current blog, starting my first startup, getting into content marketing, starting my first blog… it’s always around that time.

Spring and into Summer are also often characterized by an intense focus on some project. Last year that was getting Growth Machine through COVID. This year it was learning programming.

In the fall, I tend to be less productive. Not sure why. Maybe it’s a relic from school starting and me resisting doing anything related to school until the absolute last minute. Whatever the source though, it tends to be a slower season.

I rather like this ebb and flow. Six to nine months of focused output, a period of rest, a period of reflection and planning, then another push forward.

Amen to this! Google Photos can identify all QR codes in my library via incredibly fancy machine learning. And yet I need to swipe up, then tap then tap again to click on a QR code. Why can’t you just click a QR code in the camera roll?

(Hey Apple: what I wish I could do is tap on a QR code in a photo in my photo library, which it seems like I can’t? Because then I could save photos of all these posters and make my own ad hoc deeplink homescreen as a photo album on my phone, and share it with my family.)

(Also a nice post with lots of nice simple ideas for QR codes)

I’m thinking about Libraries - both literal, physical existing libraries AND conceptual future digital “libraries”.

Especially in the context of my library.json project how can we ensure that a project all about books can funnel value back to libraries?…..

The library of the future

You might be saying to yourself: but aren’t all the libraries already built? What’s the next frontier? This brings us to our final can of worms in this series: What would a public library look like on the internet? This question is so intriguing, yet so complex and nuanced, that many of you had a lot to say on the subject last week in our most engaged Open Thread in months. Some of you thought that anything attempting to replace libraries digitally was inexorably doomed to fail, and others were eager to bring their favorite features of their library — from shushing librarians to storytime — to some corner of their daily digital routine. 

We believe this conversation is just getting started. We did a Library Design Sprint with librarians, designers, and researchers in summer 2020, and we tracked how Brooklyn Public Library went online early in the pandemic in our Terra Incognita project. This is a topic we’re still extremely interested in, and I’m looking forward to revisiting it in future newsletters. If you have a vision for the intersection of technology and libraries, we’d love to hear more about it in the comments, even if you’re not a billionaire. 

Love this meditation on note taking and expertise in ill-structured domains…

CFT asserts that due to this nature of ill-structured domains, cases are as if not more important than concepts. This second idea is a more subtle one, so we’re going to spend a bit of the time examining the implications.

I think many of us have been exposed to a particular style of teaching in school, where we are taught a concept, and then the examples that illustrate that concept are treated as disposable. My go-to example for this is how we are taught quadratic equations — we are shown one or two examples and then we are expected to memorise the general approach for solving such equations. As a result of this instruction, many of us internalise that concepts are important and examples are not.

“Real nonsense”

From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and your ability; the work you are doing sounds very good “Drawing – clean – clear but crazy like machines, larger and bolder… real nonsense.” That sounds fine, wonderful — real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever — make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you — draw & paint your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO

Oblique Strategies for Navigating Web Platforms

Canon reading for “artist in consultance”…

Corporate personhood and artists-in-consultancy in recent fiction

This virtualisation occurs in the context of the porous borders between the individual and the collective inherent in corporate subjecthood, whereby the anthropomorphisation of the corporation and the corporatisation of the individual combine to dissolve the border between inside and outside, creating a networked subjectivity.

A great little meditation on Alan Jacob’s line of inquiry on “Invitation & Repair”

As I’ve said many times before, I completely agree with Yuval Levin that it is indeed a time to build (or rebuild) our institutions, but the problem is that nobody wants to rebuild the institutions and they don’t want to rebuild them because they don’t care about them, they don’t value them, they don’t see what purpose they serve; for them an institution is simply an impediment to the achievement of their desires. In this kind of environment, I don’t see the rebuilding of the institutions as an immediate possibility. Americans today perceive institutions as repositories of resources for them to exploit.

The future and past of web-books

I love this meditation and exploration on web-books:

Existing e‑books stand far from high standards of paper book publishing. Typography is poor, navigation and search are inconvenient. I present my vision of the future of books realized in bureau’s interactive books on design, which we publish and sell using in‑house technology and subscription business model. I will show live demo of our books and share actual sales numbers.

Remind me of the stuff Craig Mod was writing a decade ago…

As I stated before, we will always debate:
the quality of the paper, the pixel density of the display;
the cloth used on covers, the interface for highlighting;
location by page, location by paragraph.

This is not what matters. Surface is secondary.

The ditch digging,
the setting of steel,
the pouring of concrete for the foundation of the future book.
This is what requires our efforts.

Clearly defined scope of these systems,
clearly defined open protocols.
These are what require our discussion.

Tools with simple, quiet, clean interfaces
organically surfacing our changing relationship with text.
These are what we need to build.

All of these efforts combined, these systems integrated,
these tools made well and deliberately.
This is the future book.
Our platform for post-artifact books and publishing.

We still haven’t solved all of this but I love thinking about the future of the book. Especially the practical notions of how to make both web and print books in 2022 (a pragmatic concern for me!)…..

More soon

A framework for writing online. This is a nice short video from David Perell

I especially like the ABCD framework for feedback. Asking specifically:

  • A - What’s awesome?
  • B - What’s boring?
  • C - What’s confusing?
  • D - What didn’t you believe?

That last one is key - writing is so much better when you strengthen the foundations and address people’s assumptions directly.