The Blogroll: Week 10

If you’re asking “what the heck am I looking at?”, here’s a primer. Also, if you know of an article or blog I should be reading, let me know.

The Blogroll

Alexandra Schwartz - Improving Ourselves to Death

Survival in the hypercompetitive, globalized economy, where workers have fewer protections and are more disposable than ever, requires that we try to become faster, smarter, and more creative. (To this list of marketable qualities I’d add one with a softer edge: niceness, which the gig economy and its five-star rating system have made indispensable to everyone from cabdrivers to plumbers.) Anything less than our best won’t cut it.

[…] Meanwhile, parents continue to feed their children the loving, well-intentioned lie that there are “no limits” and they can “be anything,” which leaves the kids blaming themselves, rather than the market’s brutality, when they inevitably come up short.

All told, this is a bleak picture. If the ideal of the optimized self isn’t simply a fad, or even a preference, but an economic necessity, how can any of us choose to live otherwise? Storr insists that there is a way. “This isn’t a message of hopelessness,” he writes. “On the contrary, what it actually leads us towards is a better way of finding happiness. Once you realize that it’s all just an act of coercion, that it’s your culture trying to turn you into someone you can’t really be, you can begin to free yourself from your demands.”

[…] Since it is our environment that is causing us to feel inferior, it is our environment that we must change: “The things we’re doing with our lives, the people we’re sharing it with, the goals we have. We should find projects to pursue which are not only meaningful to us, but over which we have efficacy.” Storr means to be helpful, but changing every aspect of the world we inhabit is a daunting prospect. No wonder people try to change themselves instead.

It’s always interesting to read accurate descriptions of modern life. Being in the suburbs of a mid-tier tech town, I’m a little removed from the optimization grind people in Silicon Valley probably feel, but I still feel it. And it’s exhausting. I don’t want to track or even optimize my productivity, because truthfully, I’m only productive when my fickle gut bacteria and children allow me to be. I’m somewhat resistant to metrics and market segmentation because once in my life I’d like to just ignore the data and make something I think is cool…

…which is sort of what he’s saying. You are basically a constant with consistent flaws — maybe you have an evolving skillset, but fundamentally, you are you. Happiness comes from making the pieces around you fit accordingly. Embrace change, and cozy up to fighting for the things you need and the direction you want to go in life.


Cate Huston - Creating Success, Together

We want to be careful how we create process. The fastest way to a mediocre team is to define your process around mediocrity. A slow but sure way to a mediocre team is to define your processes to gradually push them towards putting their own self interest front and centre – like the conclusions the guy drew from the promotion process we talked about earlier.

  • Incentivizing complexity is terrible. When you incentivize complexity, you get a lot of it. Most of it unnecessary.
  • Impact is contextual and subjective. Time in app is a good example – is it good if people are spending more time on your app if it’s also making them more miserable? Are there longer consequences from that?
  • People leave when they don’t grow. Not all people, but still – if people don’t see a way to learn, or increase their impact, or whatever growth means to them, they will leave in search of it. Remember career development was the top thing developers were looking for in new jobs.
  • And people leave when they feel unappreciated. When the work they are doing doesn’t seemed valued in whatever definition of value they have – financial, or recognition (or both).
  • If you don’t feel like you can be successful somewhere, why would you stay? Which is why we need to understand what people think of as success, so that we can give them a path – or encourage them to find that path elsewhere.

A lot of this goes back to the economic necessity the last article mentions. “Survival in the hypercompetitive, globalized economy, where workers have fewer protections and are more disposable than ever, requires that we try to become faster, smarter, and more creative.”

That’s probably the hardest thing about being a business owner — to keep the best staff, you have to offer growth potential. No one has time these days to sit around forever doing the same tasks, making the same paycheck. The demand is for people to become “faster, smarter, and more creative,” and the natural desire is for people to want compensation for the effort and the additional expertise they acquire.

Or I guess the alternative model makes being a business owner quite easy. It seems that the future we’re moving to is the Netflix model where we’re only retained when we’re immediately useful, and not a day longer. Loyalty means nothing, and growth potential is something you’ll have to look for elsewhere. As things evolve, there’s always someone willing to work a little harder with a skillset that matches the need a little better.

This was from a great NPR story on Netflix’ culture:

HENN: And the rules were the same for the top people too. When Netflix changed strategies around streaming videos, they let go an entire team of engineers who basically had helped build the company. Today, Patty calls herself the queen of the good goodbye.

How may people do you think you have fired?

MCCORD: Oh, I would really like to remove that word from our vocabulary. It’s like, we don’t shoot people.

HENN: OK. What word do you like? Severed is no less pleasant than fired.


MCCORD: No. You just move on.

HENN: How many people have you moved on?

MCCORD: Oh, hundreds.

Partially because of this culture, Netflix is now one of the most valuable companies in the world. It’s kind of a weird way to look at humans though. We’re only useful to the machine if we can do a very specific thing with 100% efficiency — it doesn’t really matter if people are scared that they might not be able to pay rent or eat next month. The company and its shareholders are what matter.

I guess I’m lucky enough to have a marketable skillset and work at a place that doesn’t operate like this — but it almost feels inevitable. We’re all moving to a gig economy, and even the most noble brands are embracing gig-economy flexibility. And if your gig is about to be automated, I… I really don’t know. I don’t know what people are supposed to do or how they’re supposed to think anymore.

People are being replaced by machines, companies are optimizing for ruthless efficiency instead of well-being, and we’re voting for politicians all over the world who are eating away at collective security and social safety nets. It’s a big ball of awful.

All we can do is try to get ahead as far as possible, as soon as possible, then retire before Google Assistant literally performs all the tasks. That feeling of urgency has really been hitting me lately — it’s keeping me up at night.


Austin Kleon - The ones who disappear

In his later years, Lennon struggled with the notion of churning out rock ‘n’ roll product, so his househusband era was also a kind of retreat and sabbatical from the meat grinder. “Rock ‘n’ roll was not fun anymore…I had become a craftsman and I could have continued being a craftsman. I respect craftsmen, but I am not interested in becoming one.”

“I chose not to take the standard options in my business – going to Vegas and singing your great hits, if you’re lucky, or going to hell, which is where Elvis went,” he said. “Walking away is much harder than carrying on.”

What a luxury to even entertain the idea of walking away from your craft.


Khoi Vinh - The Secret to Writing (Is Writing)

In a world full of talented designers, the ability to express oneself in written form is a key advantage.

However, someone asked me recently: “I know I should write, but when I actually do it I don’t know if I’m writing for myself or because I know I should write.” I’ve always said that everyone should just write but I realize that for many people it doesn’t come so easily. It can feel more like a compulsory duty than a passion, at which point it becomes pointless—unless you’re writing from your heart, your writing is unlikely to make much of an impression on anyone.

Touching on a thread above, I do think that as efficiency becomes more of an employment factor than anything else, having the ability to clearly communicate and record thoughts is going to be huge. Especially if you’re a company founder. It seems so clear to me how different the trajectories are of startups with founders who write and communicate well vs. companies that with founders who don’t.

Even if you’re not “a writer,” you need to be writing. Just make sure to find someone on your team who can edit.


Chuck Wendig - It’s Time To Talk About The Sandwich

[Bad language alert for this one.]

Here’s why it’s great — first, it does the thing that you might find in, say, Thai food, or some Vietnamese food — you’ve got sour and savory, plus the fattiness of the peanut butter (not to mention the salt), and the pickles bring some nice crunch. It’s eerily satisfying. And it helps then too to decouple your assumption that PEANUT BUTTER = SWEET, because it ain’t. Think satay. Normal peanut butter is savory as shit, we just happen to use it a lot with sweet things, combining it with jelly or chocolate or honey or whatever.

So, then authors-extraordinaire Kevin Hearne and Adam Rakunas said, no no no, you need food lube for that sandwich, and they said the true magic is adding in mayo to that motherfucker.

Peanut butter, pickles, and mayo. What a time to be alive. (Can’t wait to try it.)


Andrew Allemann - Over 100,000 .App domains already registered

Over 100,000 .app domain names have been registered after less than a day in general availability.

Google Tech Lead Ben McIlwain disclosed the number during a talk at Google I/O this afternoon.

30,000 domain names, ostensibly pre-registrations, were registered within the first three minutes of general availability.

If you didn’t know, .app just went live. It’s kind of a big deal


The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts. Also, I’m only listing blogs that don’t act as newspapers, because those are the ones I feel need the most support.)