“Well, someone has to know this stuff”

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I fucking love science.

The mindset of make a guess, test it as best you can, and record everything for the next person to learn from seems like the most meaningful path we individuals can take as members of a social species. It emboldens our personal creativity and answers for our impermanence at the same time.

This talk explores the ancient relay race of our knowledge in mathematics, starting at 3000 BCE. That we can even trace the race is astounding. That we have created institutions like this community college to continue the race is hope inspiring.

Also, it’s the job of every generation to convince the next to pursue the race.

Barlow’s Principles of Adult Behavior

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self reflection

Silicon Valley visionary John Perry Barlow died last night. I honestly didn’t know much about him, but reading the outpouring of eulogies across the web today I wish I had met the man. It must be the mark of a life well spent to be able to leave a momentary gaping hole of reverance in the chaos and cynicism that is the web.

Everyone has been sharing Barlow’s Principles of Adult Behavior, a list he created when he was 30:

  1. Be patient. No matter what.
  2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
  3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
  4. Expand your sense of the possible.
  5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
  6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
  7. Tolerate ambiguity.
  8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
  9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
  10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
  11. Give up blood sports.
  12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
  13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
  14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
  15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
  16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
  17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
  18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
  19. Become less suspicious of joy.
  20. Understand humility.
  21. Remember that love forgives everything.
  22. Foster dignity.
  23. Live memorably.
  24. Love yourself.
  25. Endure.

I love this list. Personally at 35, I most struggle with #19, #3, #24, and #25 (in that order). I was never into #11 or #15, so that’s a load off. Related to #2, I am a notorious “say how you really feel to someone’s face” person, but I’m beginning to learn that it’s less of a virtue than I once believed.

I’m Only One Person

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Let me beguile you just a little bit more about extended families. Let us talk about divorce, and that fact that one out of every three of us here has been or will be divorced. When we do it, we will very likely wrangle and wail and weep formlessly about money and sex, about treachery, about outgrowing one another, about how close love is to hate, and so on. Nobody ever gets anywhere near close to the truth, which is this: the nuclear family doesn’t provide nearly enough companionship.

I am going to write a play about the breakup of a marriage, and at the end of the play I am going to have a character say what people should say to each other in real life at the end of a marriage: “I’m sorry. You, being human, need a hundred different affectionate and like-minded companions. I’m only one person. I’ve tried, but I could never be a hundred people to you. You’ve tried, but you could never be a hundred people to me. Too bad. Goodbye.”

Kurt Vonnegut, again.

This Model is Wrong, But is it Useful?

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2×2 matrices map extremes. That’s their function. So as drawn, they obliterate nuance. And yes, they are overused.

The measure of a 2×2 matrix isn’t in how well it captures reality, but in the quality of conversation it produces in response to its narrow-mindedness. As you feel out where it fails to accurately depict you or a situation you find yourself in, does it force you to meaningfully examine the underlying factors and forces that produce greater complexity than is shown?

I doodled this on the drive to work today as a way of thinking about the beliefs leaders hold and how they approach the job of leadership. It is clearly wrong and reductive. But does it start a useful conversation?

For me, it made me think about why I advocate for the top-right quadrant but my own instincts often drag me into the lower-left quadrant. I wondered where those instincts came from (my stint in advertising was grounded in confrontational strategies, for example) and how I could overcome them. So for me, it was useful even if it was wrong.

How about you?

Forbidding The Privilege of Stopping

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It would not be easy, no—for in order to win such a battle, he would have to forbid himself the privilege of stopping, and whatever he did right he would have to repeat, as though he were already living in eternity.

Tom Junod.

This quote really nails something I’ve struggled with since starting a company. When you find something successful you have to keep repeating yourself even if you’d rather, out of vanity or boredom, stop. Forbidding yourself from stopping is a discipline we don’t talk enough about.

What Technologists Want

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On the same day that scientists announced successfully cloning monkeys, this horrific gem about deepfakes was reported by Motherboard:

Since we first wrote about deepfakes, the practice of producing AI-assisted fake porn has exploded. More people are creating fake celebrity porn using machine learning, and the results have become increasingly convincing. Another redditor even created an app specifically designed to allow users without a computer science background to create AI-assisted fake porn. All the tools one needs to make these videos are free, readily available, and accompanied with instructions that walk novices through the process.

Techno-utopianism is officially dead and the technologists killed it.

They shaped our tools. And then they made those tools our tormentors. They looked at what these tools could do, and in the case of deepfakes these technologists chose to do harm. Where one technologist devised a way to erase a woman while robbing another of her identity and dignity, other technologists saw an opportunity to empower more to follow. Technology isn’t a biological entity, even though it’s fashionable to describe it so. It doesn’t need or want. It doesn’t grow solely through its own evolutionary mechanisms (not yet, at least). Technology is an implement and in that way it’s the hands shaping the tool and wielding the tool that deserve our scrutiny.

The 21st century, it turns out, will be one defined in part by wrestling with how the cruelest of humans and the most sinister of all of our natures can amplify themselves through digital tools. The evil made exponential. Governments will need to reign in control of these toolmakers, and we’ll need to monitor that control. As users, we must be willing to protest these tools even when we often benefit economically and socially from some of their applications.

It’s time to stop lauding cleverness without interrogating its consequences. It’s time to demand moral, political, and regulatory control over digital technologies.

You fuckers ruined it for the rest of us.

New Year, New Site, New-ish NOBL

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self reflection

Screenshot 2018-01-21 17.38.58

We just launched a new website (!) and I thought it the occasion to look back for a second.

We’ve been doing this crazy experiment called NOBL for just about three years and three months now. Year one was a crash course in the basics of running a service business (and I steered us into more than a few fender benders).

Years two and three were when we settled into a process and forged our approach into a truly effective force for organizational change. It’s also, not at all coincidentally, when we gained the leadership and thoughtfulness of Bree Groff.

This next year is about finding our confident voice and charting a path to help even more leaders around the globe who are both ambitious and compassionate. If it’s like any of the years before it, it’ll be up and down and the downs will be made bearable by the incredible people we work with and the love of our friends and family.

Also, if I’m looking back, I have to sincerely thank Lucy Blair Chung and Megan Foy for their enormous contributions. They’ve of course gone on to do amazing things but their spirits are still very present.

Also, lastly, in case you haven’t spotted the trend yet, the biggest thing this company has done for me, personally, is afforded me the benefit of learning from so many amazing women. I hope I get to do this for a very long time, and they’ll be the first to tell you that I’ve got so much more to learn.

The Questionable Era of Social Purpose

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Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.

Laurence D. Fink.

P.S. Eric Posner disagrees:

There is no reason to believe that CEOs are capable of determining the best social uses for a corporation’s funds. Do you want the CEO of Exxon or Coca-Cola to use dollars that would otherwise go into lowering the prices of their products to fund the latest climate-denial institute or an art museum in a wealthy community? Or would you rather use those dollars for your own charitable interests?