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?

A Proud Sad-Sack

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scienceisthecoolest / self reflection

Embracing negativity may also have social benefits. Compared with cheery moods, bad moods have been linked to a more effective communication style, and sadness has been linked to less reliance on negative stereotypes. Feeling down can make us behave more fairly, too. People who saw sad video clips before playing an allocation game were more generous with their partners than those who saw happy clips.


Loved Into Being

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All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. Ten seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time.

Fred Rogers.

Sales Email Copy

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We try a ton of things to spread the word about NOBL.

Last year, we tried a cold email campaign. We emailed complete strangers that we thought might be trying to make radical change in their organizations.

Email No. 1 – We can help, Megan


I found you via LinkedIn and I promise I can make this email worth your time and attention.

Work as we know it isn’t working. 67% of employees are disengaged. 72% of millennials feel their employers aren’t getting the most out of their skills. 1 in every 2 employees quits because of a bad manager. On average, employees waste 31 hours a month in useless meetings.

Organizations such as Levi’s, Taco Bell, Reddit, and Calvin Klein have trusted their teams to my firm, NOBL. In a world of overpriced consultants and endless survey tools, we’re different. We’re committed to being the fastest, most effective, and most affordable way to help your teams be their most creative and capable. If you have an ambition, we can help you reach it.

For established firms like yours, we’ve pushed engagement scores up 12% in just 30 days, meaningfully increased retention in 90 days, and boosted productivity by more than 25% after four months.

I’m sure your inbox is overflowing and your calendar is full. All I need is 30 minutes to show you that we can help you and your teams do more than you even think you’re capable of.

If you have no interest at all in hearing more, please let me know. If you are interested, just reply with a day/time for a call and we’ll make it work on our end.

Sincerely, thank you for the time you’ve already given me.

Email No. 2 – Megan?


Here I am, again, in your inbox.

You haven’t responded yet, likely because:

  1. You’re interested but you’re super busy
  2. You’re not interested and you’re hoping I’ll go away on my own (like when it’s Halloween but you forgot to buy candy for the neighbors so you turn the lights off)
  3. You’re trapped under a piece of office furniture unable to reach help

Which is it? If it’s #3, we’ll dispatch a border collie named Molly to save you. Hang in there!

In the meantime, check out Future of Work – our collection of new ways of working.

Email No. 3 – Megan, are you there?


Ok, we sent Molly to save you but now, well, we’ve lost Molly. This is embarrassing, but have you seen her? She is a cheap Lassie knock-off and has no idea that her name is Molly.

This whole situation reminds me of that time we helped a client discover an immediate $15MM opportunity just by visiting their retail team with them. Or that time we helped one of the fastest growing fashion retailers reach profitability. Well, no, those are actually case studies I could send you if you’re interested.

Or we could just hop on the phone for 30 minutes?

Email No. 4 – Megan, things are getting weird.


Good news! We’ve found Molly!

You see, when we didn’t hear from you or her, we sent a mongoose named Moose after you both. We lost him but then we sent a Bear that’s called Claire, but she was tranquilized when she wandered into a nearby office park. Then came a Koala named Gowalla, a Kangaroo that can play the didgeridoo (but his name’s just Clark), a mouse that once starred in an off-off-off Broadway rendition of Faust, and then, with all of our options exhausted, we asked the intern to take the bus to the dog park Molly likes the most. With all honesty, I don’t know the intern’s name.

But, eureeka!

Yes, this is all an elaborate ploy for your attention.

Did it work?

Email No. 5 – We give up, Megan.

Oh, Megan.

It looks like this wasn’t meant to be.

Molly, Moose, Claire, Gowalla, Clark, that mouse, and the intern (his name was Alex! or was it Andrew?) are sorry that their efforts just weren’t good enough.

They’ve all been fired.

I’m sure it was a good decision, but I’m concerned about how we’ll ever find another mouse that does such an accurate Othello.

No more emails from us, promise.

Self-Observation and Loneliness

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self reflection

I hate that by sharing this video it seems like I’m intelligence-signaling. I’m not. I honestly feel less intelligent by the day (this is partly the side effect of working alongside brilliant people). But there’s truth here. I am a person who spends most of his life in self-observation, wrapped up with self-honesty. It’s a lonely place at times.

I’m sharing this to communicate a simple message. A simple message best said by, of course, Kurt Vonnegut:

“I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.”

You aren’t alone. If you ever need community, even momentarily, I’m here.

The Nationalist’s Delusion

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Trumpism emerged from a haze of delusion, denial, pride, and cruelty—not as a historical anomaly, but as a profoundly American phenomenon. This explains both how tens of millions of white Americans could pull the lever for a candidate running on a racist platform and justify doing so, and why a predominantly white political class would search so desperately for an alternative explanation for what it had just seen. To acknowledge the centrality of racial inequality to American democracy is to question its legitimacy—so it must be denied.

Adam Serwer.

Amazon or Scientology?

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orgdesign / quotes

Back at Amazon headquarters or the trailer inside Gold Base, they really care about you. My auditor asked me a lot of questions about my work habits, my life, and family. As it turns out, I need more bias for action. Compromising for social cohesion only stymies progress. Oh, also, I have to disconnect from you. It’s okay, Jeff Bezos says you have to “maintain the culture,” and my auditor said that you are “antagonistic and suppressive to our tenets.” Either way, I guess this is goodbye!


America’s Unchecked Id

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Trump’s appetite seems to know no bounds when it comes to McDonald’s, with a dinner order consisting of two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish, and a chocolate malted.


Insatiable hunger, lust, greed, and dominance. Freud described the Id as primitive, illogical, irrational, and fantasy oriented.

Remind you of anyone?

Of course, we as a species need our Id. We need our primitive drive to survive and reproduce.

But the Id needs the Ego and Superego. Ceaseless desire, without reason and without a recognition for society’s norms is unsustainable and dangerous.

Yesterday I saw that my nation’s Id-In-Chief is largely unchecked. Likely, it’s even a Republican strategy to ram through unpopular legislation while there’s an unpopular President who can be blamed for it. The Ego shifts the blame to the uncontrollable Id.

Trump is unequivocally unfit for office. Congress is unequivocally unfit to check him.

Our hopes and the very fabric of this union rest now solely in The Courts.

Blockchain Explained 5 Ways

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I love this series and this episode is extremely topical as everyone’s Uncle suddenly wants to get into Bitcoin.

The conversation with the expert also reminded me of the Clay Shirky quote: “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”

Maybe you can simplify it: “Tools don’t get interesting until they get boring.”


The Art of Monstrous Men

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Hemingway’s girlfriend, the writer Martha Gellhorn, didn’t think the artist needed to be a monster; she thought the monster needed to make himself into an artist. “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.” (Well, I guess she would know.) She’s saying if you’re a really awful person, you are driven to greatness in order to compensate the world for all the awful shit you are going to do to it. In a way, this is a feminist revision of all of art history; a history she turns with a single acid, brilliant line into a morality tale of compensation.

Claire Dederer.

Your Manager as an Algorithm

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If nearly any task can be governed by an algorithm, that means nearly any management role can be performed by software. The white-collar jobs that were assumed to be safe from automation may in fact be even more vulnerable—and your boss’s job might be automated before yours is. Before rushing into this brave new world, managers, employees, and AI engineers should consider the benefits and failings of AI management.

We looked into algorithms as managers for Quartz.