When are these nomads working? Travel productivity surprise

The Piszek family is on the road. We decided to escape the Polish cold and head south through Germany, Austria, and Italy. Check out my Instagram if you want to follow our route.

Bamberg, a charming small town in northern Bavaria.

One truism about travel states that it takes going halfway across the globe to discover who you really are. As it usually is with the cliches, it’s both cringy and true. The period of my biggest personal growth happened while I was studying abroad in Sweden, too far from my habits and friends to fall into the old patterns.

The same holds for work. While I am on parental leave and driving, wrangling the baby or the dog, my wife is working remotely. I’m quite impressed with her resolve and ability to do some actual work while sitting at the table of our RV when we’re on the motorway between Austria and Italy.

It’s bizarre that with ancient cities to visit and high mountains to scale, somehow we are usually both able to be more productive than in the comfortable, “perfect environment” of home. When you have something worthwhile to do, you don’t spend a moment procrastinating nor a minute longer than necessary to get ready. You do what you have to and somehow manage to achieve more.

One explanation would be Parkinson’s Law. It states that the work expands to fill all the time it has available. So when you really have a 3-hour task but have to fill the entire 8-hour workday, you’ll do that with ease and probably will clock in some overtime if you don’t have plans that day. The other reason is that we are underestimating the role that focus plays in our productivity. We still tend to count hours, disregarding their value. In my career, I had 5 hours of focused work more productive than 5 weeks of bumbling around in the office.

The value of each thing you’re doing follows a positively skewed distribution – 75% of the things you can focus on don’t really matter, and the value of the few important ones outweighs all the other ones. When you are driven to make progress, you focus on what matters.

The Deadline forcing function

I’ve known these things intellectually for a while now, yet I have trouble replicating the travel productivity surprise at home. I take too much time to make coffee. I browse the tasks to be done and nibble at the less important ones instead of boldly grabbing the meanest and toughest ones to gain progress.

Deadlines attempt to fabricate a similar productivity spike. Even if you’re moving them further and further before the launch, it motivates people to focus on the actual problems, not the vaguely relevant “nice to haves.”

Like all the other negative motivation tools, the deadline forcing function only works for a time. If your team learns that the deadlines don’t matter, they lose their effect. It’s called learned helplessness.

As a positive motivational tool with variable reinforcement, Travel productivity surprise doesn’t seem to lose its appeal the longer it’s in effect. I guess that explains how Nomads are able to achieve anything.

If you have an idea how to replicate this at home, please let me know. We’ll be traveling until then.

Deliberate Remote

In “High Quality Audio Makes You Sound Smarter” Thomas McKinley describes an experiment where people rated the online presenter as more intelligent, competent and likable when he had a good streaming setup.

In an experiment, people rated a physicist’s talk at a scientific conference as 19.3% better when they listened to it in high quality audio vs slightly distorted, echo-prone audio.

When audio quality is high (vs low), people judge the content as better and more important. They also judge the speaker as more intelligent, competent, and likable.

The one cheap fix is to focus on the microphone. Airpods pro may make you look better with no cable at all, but they gather sound from all around you. Headsets with boom microphones like Sennheiser SC-160 will be most portable and versatile. Matt Mullenweg (creator of WordPress) has a great comparison here.

Continuing the remote streaming topic, SP&X explores how fashion (particularly business fashion) may transition to the remote-first world. As the entire scene in your Zoom window is the equivalent of a 3-piece suit, your personal style extends beyond your attire (minus pants). Will fashion companies fill that need?

I want to see Gucci deliver a home studio build for their elite clients, that fully and completely ‘guccifies’ their space. Again, this is not reducible to the physical objects ordered in the visual field. It extends to the optics, to the lighting, maybe even the film grain of their digital feed, evoking 8mm film cameras, or anamorphic cinematograph

Until you have a ready Gucci streaming setup, invest in a good headset and put a little thought into your Zoom frame. You’ll look (and sound) like a pro!

The interconnected mess of it all

Monism

“The Heart of the Andes” by Frederic Edwin Church aimed to present the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, with everything interacting with everything else.

While reading “The Invention of Nature” (a book I’ll definitely reference later), I stumbled upon the concept of Monism.

In a Monistic worldview, there is no difference between organic and inorganic life because they are deeply connected. There is no hard boundary between humans and animals because we’re all part of nature. There is no division into different drawers of sciences just because of some obscure taxonomy. Monism stands in opposition to Dualism, first popularized by Plato, and later embedded in the western culture.

The perils of dismantling the world into even smaller parts and declaring them separate sciences seems to underline many of my talking points. While studying Computer Science and Psychology simultaneously, I couldn’t help but notice how interconnected and similar those seemingly disparate areas can be, but how ignorant experts are to anything outside their precious labels.

The last 2 years (!) of the pandemic have shown how dangerous this mindset can be. Organizations like CDC, FDA, WHO, US Army, and countless other acronym holders did everything according to their own procedures. Still, it ended as an utter fiasco costing millions of lives because everyone focused on their own little slice of reality and missed the big picture.

Samuel Coleridge (a British poet) called the early 1800s an ‘epoch of division and separation,’ of fragmentation and the loss of unity. He was lamenting the loss of what he called the ‘connective powers of the understanding.’ He had no idea.

I’ll read up on Monism some more and report back the findings to you.

Deliberate work

In “Your lifestyle has already been designed,” David takes a closer look at the default workforce lifestyle, observing that it definitely is not aimed at helping the little guy:

For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.

He also makes an excellent point about the 8-hour workdays:

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

But it all has to be worth it in the end, right? Few decades of slogging through, and you’ll be able to retire happily! Philip, who has reached the Nirvana of early retirement, is documenting his “struggles”:

Americans cannot imagine stopping work before they’ve either (1) purchased everything that they could conceivably want, or (2) collapsed from physical exhaustion

He recommends shifting the mindset before retirement because jumping from worker mentality straight to empty days can be more than a little disorienting:

Suppose that you are retired. At this point, your one job is the pursuit of happiness. If you are not happy, therefore you are a failure at your job and in your life. But how can you be happy 24/7?

Retirement forces you to stop thinking that it is your job that holds you back. For most people the depressing truth is that they aren’t that organized, disciplined, or motivated.

“Worried Denizen” argues that Leisure is the end in itself, and we have to learn to “waste it”:

In the long run, wasted time is indistinguishable from time well spent.

The only viable strategy to make the most out of your time is to make sure that it’s fun

Climate Tales to inspire

Companies like Heimdal are working carbon-negative cement – it means that they suck out CO2 to produce the material, in opposition to the traditional manner, which is a huge contributor to climate change.

Concrete is responsible for 8% of global CO2 emissions. Cement is usually made from mined limestone, which is one of the largest natural stores of carbon dioxide. Using that to make cement is a bit like burning oil. The world is addicted to concrete, so this problem is not going away. We make synthetic limestone using atmospheric CO2, such that when it is used to make cement, the process is carbon neutral.

This essay is a fantastic resource on the economics and chemistry of carbon-negative concrete.

PS: Yes, this issue of my newsletter is sent late. We are finally on the road, giving our RV a spin, and so far – so good!

Tales To Inspire Climate Solutions, not Tales To Condemn

I found myself continuing the thread started in my Solarpunk newsletter issue: If you want people to change their ways, tell them Tales To Inspire, not Tales To Condemn.

Initially, I wanted to link Mister Money Mustache’s article “Efficiency is the highest form of beauty”, where he extols virtues of a certain extent of frugality not to maximize column D3 in his spreadsheet, but because it appeals to him aesthetically:

The reason I pursue and love the idea of finding new ways to live life in an industrialized world, is the same reason I love music, and art, and writing and all of the beautiful, advanced, inspiring things that people do. It’s because Efficiency is Beauty.

I agree with MMM, and it’s easy to laugh at us both as engineers, but this is very close to the classical conception of beauty:

The classical conception is that beauty consists of an arrangement of integral parts into a coherent whole, according to proportion, harmony, symmetry, and similar notions.

Mister Money Mustache points out, that the opulent spending of the western world is not only in bad taste, but it also has a huge environmental impact:

Look at me! I can afford to grow all these impractical colorful feathers! Or dump water on this big green lawn and pay servants to water it, and I’m not even here because I’m in Monaco this month. Now, come have sex with me because you know you want some of these superior genes.”

But what appeals to me the most in MMM writing is that he does not dwell too long on condemning overspenders, nor the listing of 937 ways to cut your coupons, but focusing on a bright vision. Where most FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) advice consists of sprinting to retirement, leaving you with the Now What?! question, he presents the beauty of simplicity and the environmental benefits. His master plan is (was?) to use his influence and promote the desirability of being mindful with your resources:

you can fix the whole problem by doing just one thing: demonstrating and celebrating efficiency in your own life. (…) Start by attracting the top of society, allow them to demonstrate that your idea is desirable, then watch the rest of the world follow. 

This reminded me of Tesla’s fantastic Master Plan from 2006. It lays out a strategy of starting with an expensive car for rich people, and use these high margins to invest into lower-margin offering:

“The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium” (…)
Build sports car
Use that money to build an affordable car
Use that money to build an even more affordable car
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options

But what Elon omitted from the memo is that by entering at the high end of the market, and convincing the influential customers, he proved that it is desirable to own an electric car. The only people who were able to afford the Roadster (Tesla’s first car) were celebrities and rich folk. By riding this wave of hype (and I think we all agree that Tesla does create hype), he popularized electric cars, so that every major car manufacturer is switching away from the combustion engine to a more efficient electric engine.

On a more directly environmental note, Arnold Schwarzenneger has recently pointed out that constant alarms don’t make people act. They make them tuned out. From the Austrian World Summit:

Climate activists have succeeded in persuading many people that we’re on our way to human extinction and picking up speed, but people “tuned out” the climate change activism movement because it is “stuck in despair and confusion.” (…) 

Schwarzenegger warned that with the onslaught of news coverage of potential flooded cities, burning forests, and rising seas, “Is it any wonder people are confused or tuned out?”

I care deeply about the trees, climate, and environment. But I find myself tuning out as well. After all – I have to focus on my daughter, job, and life, and the constant climate anxiety does not help. If I devoted my whole life to doomscrolling, that wouldn’t help either. If we want to have a better future, we have to present a cool and compelling vision to work towards. The beauty of efficiency, sexy and insanely fast cars, and fresher air (what Arnold proposes as the first step) are all attacking climate issues indirectly but more effectively because they are easy to get behind.

Let’s kickstart the cool future with more tales to inspire. Maybe we’ll have the boybands back.

Maybe you have tales to inspire you’d like to see in these emails? Let me know!

Interesting things from the Internet

Inside the imaginarium of Solarpunk Architect

Continuing with the Solarpunk theme, I urge you to check out the work by Luc Shuiten:

since the 1950s, Luc (now 77 years old) has been designing for the future urban landscape based on his concept of “archiborescence,” blending organic and manufactured elements for homes, commercial buildings and even entire cities of tomorrow.

There is no evidence of office meetings boosting innovation

Whenever the discussion about Remote Work comes up, somebody cries

“Yes, but you need to collaborate in person”

The argument that usually follows is that these magical brainstorming sessions with the whiteboard are the fuel for innovation, and the only reason the economy still keeps going. The funny part is that we still have no hard data that this is the case.

This New York Times article with a self-explanatory title “Do Chance Meetings at the Office Boost Innovation? There’s No Evidence of It.” takes a closer look at this myth, and found no evidence of “chance office meetings” boosting innovation, nor productivity:

Yet people who study the issue say there is no evidence that working in person is essential for creativity and collaboration

It is true, that being in the physical office can be beneficial for some, but at the expense of other workers, and the interests of the business itself:

The idea you can only be collaborative face-to-face is a bias,” he said. “And I’d ask, how much creativity and innovation have been driven out of the office because you weren’t in the insider group, you weren’t listened to, you didn’t go to the same places as the people in positions of power were gathering?”

In fact, when I worked in the “Open Office” space, I remember doing everything in my power to avoid my coworkers so I can get some job done:

Contemporary open offices led to 70 percent fewer face-to-face interactions, a study found. People found it distracting, so they wore headphones and avoided one another

The Potato Paradox

From Wikipedia:

Fred brings home 100 kg of potatoes, which (being purely mathematical potatoes) consist of 99% water. He then leaves them outside overnight so that they consist of 98% water. What is their new weight? The surprising answer is 50 kg.

Farmers always Worked From Home

As the gripping cold conceded to the heatwaves in July, we moved to the countryside for a few weeks. There, we have a good view of our neighbors’ farm. While those small farmers are still around, we’re ecstatic to observe the rhythms of the rural lifestyle.

When the cow moos full of milk, my neighbor has to milk her. When the rye is ripe in July, he works 16 hours a day to scythe, sweep, and rake. He collects his chickens’ eggs at 5 am and waters the vegetables at 8 pm when the sun is not so scorching anymore.

Countless articles recommend keeping “Work-Life Balance”. Leave your job at 5 PM, turn off the work phone/email and enjoy your “Life”. It is crucial to set proper boundaries – the articles state in unison. Keep your mental hygiene.

My neighbor is too busy to sit in the office scrolling articles on the Internet, so he hasn’t heard about Work-Life Balance. He does what he needs to, and he rests in between. He sees the fruits of his labor and spends hours watching the rye grow. I envy him sometimes.

He lives on that farm. Farmers were working from home long before COVID. 

In the 1800s, 90 percent of the US population lived on a farm, rocking their WFH setups. How did they all survive without mental breakdowns and Harvard Business Review articles praising strict Work-Life Balance?

I believe we have the work-life balance debate wrong. Instead of introducing more rigid walls between Life and Work, we should focus on keeping a dynamic equilibrium – just like my neighborhood farmer.

Do things that need to be done, and stop sitting in place just because the clock tells you to.

Anne-Laure Le Cunff from Ness Labs touches on that issue in her article “The problem with work-life balance“, starting with the phrase itself:

“That’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off. And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance.”

I don’t have such issues with the phrasing, but I think we have it wrong where we think “balance” means tall walls between parts of life. But balance may mean a dynamic equilibrium (as in “Power of Full engagement“) – when one side of your work+life pie gets outsized, you compensate – from Anne-Laure’s article:

One day, one of your kids may get sick; another day, you may need to replace a colleague on the spot; yet another day, you may feel a burst of productivity and get so much done you can take a really nice break. It feels different to work in the summer than in the winter; it feels harder to work when you lack sleep; it feels easier when your colleagues are being helpful. These are ever changing factors you can’t control,

Demand more Life from your Work

Time is a bit cruel. It flies by when you’re having fun, and drags on forever when you’re counting minutes for your shift to end. So you can just decide to have a little more fun, and work will be less exhausting. Any workplace can provide:

  • Fulfillment and Challenge
  • Working on something bigger than yourself
  • Coworkers that can be turned into Friends.

If you’re trying to introduce strict boundaries between work & life, you’re going to treat your job as the enemy and something to run away from the first chance you’ll get.

Avoid BS (As in BuSywork) like the plague. You shouldn’t do constant overtime just to “prove your loyalty”. But if you get a chance to do something awesome, don’t throw it away just because it’s 5 PM.

A thing I wrote

Learn to delegate by hiring a Virtual Assistant

Before becoming a Team Lead, I hired a VA to train my delegation muscle. It has taught me to let go of micromanaging tendencies. It paid off for my Team and my Family.

Interesting things from around the web

The Most Precious Resource is Agency

Simon Sarris has articulated one of my talking points much better than I ever could: The school teaches children to be passive consumers of life.

We seem to have a political (public) imagination so shallow that it cannot conceive of what to even do with children, especially smart children. We fail to properly respect them all the way through adolescence, so we have engineered them to be useless in the interim.

But it does not have to be this way. In fact, we can teach them BOTH agency, and knowledge from the curriculum:

The secret of the world is that it is a very malleable place, we must be sure that people learn this, and never forget the order: Learning is naturally the consequence of doing.

Thanks to the Internet, you can undo years of school trauma today:

You don’t have to wait for professionals to tell you how to make stuff, you can just make stuff. Start typing

Owner of Gail.com refuses to sell the domain to typosquatters

Typosquatters register domains similar to known, existing ones hoping that somebody misspells the address and end up on their site instead.

The owner of Gail.com received the domain from her husband, and it turns out many people end up there instead of gmail:

In 2020 this page received a total of 5,950,012 hits, which is an average of 16,257 per day. Looking at just unique hits, we received a total of 1,295,284, for an average of 3,539 unique hits per day. Occasionally, we get Twitter-bombed and may get several tens of thousands of visitors a day. As an example, on July 21st 2020 we received 109,316 hits.

This person, an outstanding Internet citizen refuses to pollute the common good:

Q: Are you interested in monetizing gail.com?
A: No, but thanks for asking.
Q: Don’t you know that you could throw some ads up and make money?
A: Yes, I know, thank you. For those who feel they need more advertising in their life, please have a look at our swanky Electronic Frontier Foundation ad below. If you believe in a free Internet, please consider clicking on the link and donating to the EFF.

Be like the owner of gail.com.

Lego Lost at Sea

On Feb 23rd 1997, nearly 5 million bits of Lego fell into the ocean when a huge wave hit the cargo ship Tokio Express, washing 62 containers overboard. We’re still finding it 24 years later. Among the pieces lost were green dragons, highly prized among beachcombers.

Lego Lost at Sea project documents those findings but has since expanded to all plastic debree washing out on Cornish beaches.

Travelling Salesman, Youtube Algorithm and Basecamp Drama

There will be openings at Basecamp

Basecamp is a quite outspoken remote company. So outspoken in fact, that they have published a book called Remote: Office not required. Their main business however is productivity and email software.

Basecamp founders have quite a personality. In past they have been highly critical about a variety of practices in typical tech companies: Venture Capital, and long working hours.

This week, they distanced themselves from the typical tech company a little bit further: They announced a few changes – particularly banning committees, politics at work, 360 reviews and taking away a few benefits.

  • On one hand, they have every right to do so. Tech companies have been inviting employees to bring their “whole selves” to work, with their opinions, needs that company can cater to (Google is famous for a world-class cafeteria), and enthusiasm. Basecamp has been resisting that trend all along, inviting employees to keep a work-life balance, and publicly bashing the trend of replicating the college campus at the workplace.
  • On the other, because the company is so outspoken about social issues, it attracts people that tend to be outspoken too. People who like to be heard listened to and treated seriously.
  • On the third hand (yes, my metaphor is slipping), Basecamp offered 6 months salary severance package and an excuse to take it for everybody who wants it.. Right before the summer after a year of lockdowns.

Reporters estimate that 1/3rd of the workforce has quit. It sounds dire until you realize that it’s 18 people. Basecamp is not a big company, although a very loud one. Just as their employees, their Twitter corner is loud and interested in social issues as well, and it has resulted in some backlash.

If I weren’t happily employed, I would definitely apply to Basecamp now. They will be on a hiring spree, and I bet it’s still an awesome company to work for.

Oh, and check out their resources about going Remote. They are exceptional.

Hacking Youtube algorithm for a better you

Four years ago I watched a few Youtube videos with smartphone reviews to make an informed choice. Since then, Youtube decided that smarthpone reviews and comic origins of obscure Marvel Comics characters are the only things I can ever be interested in and kept suggesting similar content.

Now that I am trying to figure out solar panels for my new RV, I’m thrown into the rabbit hole of electrical wiring suggested videos. That’s an improvement over comic heroes, but this has led me to consider building my own Lithium-Iron-Phosphate battery (the videos make it look so easy!), which my wife advises against.

Youtube algorithm is a powerful reality-shaping force and I’m desperate to wield it. I intend to deliberately teach the Youtube Algorithm to show me more fitness-related content to shape my reality and normalize a healthier lifestyle.

I’m documenting my wrangling of the algorithm here.

The new face (and lack thereof) of a travelling salesman

A classic Computer Science algorithm is called the “Travelling Salesman Problem”. It’s better explained as The “Amazon Delivery Guy Problem”: How do you plot the shortest route between points on a map?

There are no traveling salesmen anymore, are there? This is one of those legacy names that people in the industry accept but is baffling for everybody else.

I guess the new iteration of traveling salesmen are the dropshipping businesses advertising on Facebook or Instagram. The trick is much easier than knocking door-to-door:

  1. Find a product on aliexpress.com or other platform
  2. Create a brand and a small website for the product
  3. Create a targeted Facebook ad that will target people most likely to be interested
  4. Once I buy the product, it’s fulfilled by the manufacturer/distributor instead of the “salesman”. The salesman most likely has never even touched the product, let alone keep a stock. This is a process called dropshipping.

If you see an interesting product advertising on Facebook, check aliexpress for honest reviews. That way I learned I can buy the portable dishwasher 10x cheaper and it’s probably not as great as advertised originally.

Surprising consequences

  1. Hieronymus Bosch’s painting named “Garden Of Earthly Delights” is… a lot. Amazingly, very little is known about Bosh’s intentions, but the masterpiece is so full of symbolism, that somebody created a Twitter account that posts a fragment of the painting every few hours. It has been doing so since 2016. Highly recommended.
  2. Better Air Is the Easiest Way Not to Die is an article about well, you guessed it – Air Quality. I concur that Basics are important to get right, and Air is pretty high on that list. The author was kind enough to attach a quotable summary:
    • If you have an ultrasonic humidifier, kill it.
    • Monitor local air quality like the weather.
    • No incense.
    • Extinguish candles with a lid.
    • Be careful about smoke when cooking.
    • Get a particle counter.
    • Use an air purifier at home all the time. (Move this to #1 if the outdoor air has high particulate levels where you live.)
    • Install a HEPA cabin air filter in your car.
    • Avoid aerosols.
    • Use a mask very carefully when in dirty air.
  3. I learned on Bored Panda that my hometown uses a crazy setup of clams (yes, the crustaceans) to control the water supply for the City Of Warsaw.
    city of Warsaw gets its water from a river and “the main water pump has 8 clams that have triggers attached to their shells. If the water gets too toxic, they close, and the triggers shut off the city’s water supply automatically.” There’s a whole documentary on that, called Fat Kathy

How Starcraft can help your career.

Did you know that Starcraft 2 is remastered, and free to play now? Or that it can help your career? No, you don’t have to become a pro gamer.

We are organizing another Remote Meetup with my team and I was searching for a game we could play together to bond. Shopify CEO, Tobi Luttke is a huge fan of Starcraft 2, and (contrary to me), a gamer. I struggled to reconcile that with my prior experience – I just didn’t like that game so much when I played it first.

I firmly believe that I learned more about building businesses from playing Starcraft than I’ve learned from business books – Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke

Years ago, I preferred the “landrush” approach to strategy games (my fav being Red Alert 2 mostly because of corny soviet-inspired humor). I would get all my factories in place, get my ducks in a row, produce a giant army (of soldiers, not ducks), and only when I was ready, I would attack the opponent.

What makes Starcraft different (and was bugging me at the time) is that you cannot wait too long. The battlefield is always evolving, and waiting for the conditions to be perfect is a losing strategy. It immediately became an experience similar to my workday, where I have to prioritize things as they come along, not as I wish them to be.

Mike has an excellent article on Starcraft & Shopify that goes DEEP into this topic:

StarCraft is like a constantly evolving game of chess with incomplete information about the opponent’s layout, pieces, and attack/defense strategies. You must continually “read and adjust” your go-to-battle strategy as you learn more about your opponent’s positioning, buildings, and army composition. It’s an iterative loop.

Speaking of Shopify, Alex Danco has a great article “Six Lessons From Six Months at Shopify”, where he points out another game popular there:

It’s the one game that anyone at Shopify can expense. Because it’s just bound to be good for Shopify if people play Factorio for a little while. We’re building supply chains for our customers; logistics networks; and Factorio makes a game out of that kind of thinking. And you know what, it’s actually not surprising, cause that kind of thinking is super fun.

(I’m also super proud of my Brother-in-Law who helps make Factorio. Go Jerzy!)

Alex’s article also has a really good piece of career advice, that I have used inside Automattic with great success:

Familiarize yourself with the dozen senior people at Shopify who have the final call on really important decisions, from Tobi and Harley on down. You need to familiarize yourself with their operating philosophy around business and around how Shopify works. Go consume every written memo and every podcast episode (we have a great internal podcast called Context) they’ve ever done, get inside their heads, learn their perspectives and their preferences, and learn what gets them to say Yes to things.

Having an “internal model” of your “superiors” is an excellent way of not only doing what they want, but also making them do what you want.

If you know how somebody thinks, and operates lets you frame your ideas in a way that is appealing to them, or adjust them to meet mutual goals. It’s a first step of leading UP the chain of command.

Games and other media can help you understand well, the game being played around you. Don’t be clueless.

Surprising Consequences

Free stock & Free PR.

Austin Distel is a recurring revenue consultant that found an interesting way to stand out. He contributed loads of high-quality, free, and useful stock photos to Unsplash.com – THE site with free images for your blog posts. In return, he gets powerful SEO, branding & recognizability.

Check it out – chances are, you might have seen his face on the web. It’s the type of win-win solution that I love the most.

What can you do to help others help yourself?

Tyler Cowen is a Remote Believer now.

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economy at George Mason University. He has a wildly popular blog Marginal Revolution, and a podcast “Conversations with Tyler”. For the podcast, he used to interview interesting people from around the world, travelling to meet them.

However, the Covid remote work experiment has forced him to try doing that over the Internet. Despite his previous conviction that remote interviews will not be the same, to his surprise the episodes were just as good as the one in-person. There are milions of such stories.

Of course a fair amount of the economic activity will return to in-person. But enough people got forced to try otherwise, and didn’t resent the experience. Tyler still plans to travel post-covid, but estimates that a significant number of interviews are going to be remote from now on.

And that is the beauty of Real Remote™️. You can choose to do it, whenever it makes most sense, and you don’t have to be committed one or the other mode of operation.

Lessons Learned from Apple

Avy Faingezicht has shared his lessons he learned at Apple. I’m going to leave a few quotes here:

Everyone is winging it. Yes, experts too. What we call expertise is nothing but a mix of self-deception, ruthless focus, pattern matching ability, and just enough training data.

Truly, there are no adults.

Things happen because people make them happen

People are willing to listen to faceless systems more than they are willing to listen to other people’s opinions. Bake opinions into CI checks and no one will break them. Pick your rules carefully.

“Rules” that have long outlived their use is one of my biggest pet peeves.

Competence is fractal. Plus transgenic trees.

Imagine being hired at your dream company. Finally, you move from the current pond limiting your potential to an ocean of new possibilities and challenges. You’d get to learn from the smartest people you ever hoped to meet, and challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible.

And yet, after a while, you’d find yourself shocked that in your new peer group not everybody is the smartest fish in the sea. Some of your new colleagues would be less driven, less experienced, or less capable even than you!

How can that be? In my dream job, a pinnacle of workplaces, and the awesomest place on the planet earth™️?

I came to the conclusion that competence is fractal. Companies, rooms (and reservoirs) have a different average competence. But inside those, the competence is distributed unequally – there are people less competent, average, and spectacularly capable. You can also keep “zooming”, and any subset will have a similar distribution.

In the 1960s, Benoit Mandelbrot has observed the same property of chaotic events in financial markets. Inspired by this behavior, he continued the work on what he later named Fractals.

8 MANDELBROT SET IMAGES ideas in 2021 | fractals, benoît mandelbrot, fractal  art
A “Mandelbrot Set” – a particular fractal. Click for a trippy fractal video.

Assuming your dream workplace will be full of superstar players may be caused by the over-prescription of Gaussian distribution. As Nassim Taleb points out in Black Swan, the Gaussian curve only works for properties physically limited to a certain range – like height. In my experience, competence is not such a phenomenon.

Any room you enter will have a broad distribution of competence, and I like to focus on 2 particular consequences:

  1. It’s better to enter the rooms where I have more to learn, but will be at the lower end of distribution at the beginning,
  2. I have every right to be at this lower end. Somebody has to.

Trees!

I know right? Always a good time to talk about trees.

Transgenic Chestnuts

Richard Powers’s “Overstory” inspired me to write about trees previously. One of the heroes of the book is American Chestnut, an iconic and once plentiful tree that sadly is not around anymore. As the Sierra club recounts in “The Demise and Potential Revival of the American Chestnut”:

Between 1904 and 1940, some 3.5 billion American chestnut trees, the giants of the Appalachian hardwood forest, succumbed to a fungal blight called Cryphonectria parasitica.

From the same article I learned that thanks to genetic engineering, there is hope:

The fungus in question attacks only the trunk of mature American Chestnut trees. Roots of these once ubiquitous giants are constantly (100 years later!) producing offshoots, which meet their gruesome fate after few years but still are able to pollinate. The American Chestnut Foundation has a blight-resistant, genetically engineered specimen (“Darling 58”) that could mate and produce healthy (and genetically diverse) offspring of the currently attacked millions of wild trees. Wild.

Aside: The same Nassim Taleb praising Mandelbrottian distribution over the Gaussian one is a huge opponent of GMOs. His argument is that there is too much we don’t know about their interaction with the environment.

Hungry Trees

Yes, more trees. this time swallowing trespassing signs. Because we shouldn’t be telling trees what to (or not to) do.

Go for a walk (preferrably in the forest)

“It’s a Superpower’: How Walking Makes Us Healthier, Happier and Brainier” (The Guardian)

One of the great overlooked superpowers we have is that, when we get up and walk, our senses are sharpened. Rhythms that would previously be quiet suddenly come to life, and the way our brain interacts with our body changes.

Read more about the benefits of walking on deliber.at

Welcome to the talent wars

I believe (and hope) that the war as we know it is fundamentally an outdated concept. Jurisdictions (like Miami) will compete to attract talent, but that is not good news for unskilled labor, like gig workers.

  1. When we were fighters, we were fighting over herds of game and their territory,
  2. Then, the agricultural revolution came. The most important asset became fertile land, and the wars were fought over that.
  3. After the Scientific Revolution, we learned to process raw resources like metals, coal, and later oil.
  4. We are now experiencing the digital revolution. The new resource is going to be talent and talent is not easily captured in traditional warfare.
ValueAfter RevolutionWhat are wars fought overCountries that benefit
Fertile landAgricultural revolutionLand & peasants
You want to conquer easily arable land
Fertile Crescent, Mediterranean
Mined Resources (Metals, Oil)Scientific RevolutionResource-rich landColonial powers, plus resource-rich countries like Germany and the USA
TalentDigital revolutionNo wars, but hostile takeovers of talentAnybody who started educating in STEM like crazy 10 years ago

Two classes of employees.

Remote Work transition is certainly accelerating, but not everybody is benefitting from this situation. It has also lead to a new sort of class divide:

  • Talent” – highly skilled, and specialized experts that are constantly honing their craft and navigating the changing demands of the job market. During lockdowns, these people are known as the “Zoom Class” (because they can ride out the pandemic while working over zoom).
  • Gig workers“, who we treat as a utility, and depend on to provide us with the endless stream of Amazon purchases and Uber Eats orders. Also known as the “Heroes

Nick Rimedio, who serves on the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the lockdowns had widened a class divide. While quarantine has been almost relaxing for what he called the wealthy “Zoom class,” it has been a nightmare for the poor and middle class who have storefronts or work service jobs in businesses in the area, he said.

New York Times

Talent is the new Oil

Automation is coming after our jobs, and I have written before how to protect yourself against that. But in the meantime, workers take time to train. With technological progress, complexity in many industries is unfathomable and requires highly trained labor. Which takes time, and can be rushed only to a point.

Training somebody to do basic programming tasks can be done in 6 months, but the way of thinking about the world needed to succeed in the information economy takes years to acquire.

We are post-scarcity on almost everything else, and I believe the talent will be the new frontier.

On the commodity metaphor

While drafting this newsletter, I wanted to compare “Gig Workers” to commodity and “Talent” to differentiable products. But I don’t think that’s entirely correct. There is a huge pool of the talent group that has commodity-like properties.

The majority of tech workers are uniform and replaceable enough. I’m sure that’s the case in many other specialized fields – creme de la creme will be irreplaceable, but the others will eventually be automated away.

The promised talent wars

War is a bit of a clickbait, but various initiatives around the world are trying to capitalize on the location independence of the “Talent” group.

  • When you bring together talented people who like to create things, Startups & new industries will take care of themselves. We have seen this in Florence, Venice, Paris, and later New York and Silicon Valley
  • These people tend to be compensated well (an argument can be made that unfairly so), which means higher tax revenue
  • They also have more discretionary income, some of which they will spend locally,
  • Children of educated&motivated people tend to turn out the same way. This is a flywheel for the community.

Miami

For a while now, Silicon Valley is downright hostile to the tech industry, behaving like an abusive partner that took your passport. Lockdowns took away any benefit of staying in San Francisco (meetups, conferences, and chance encounters), and multiple tech giants have adopted Remote Work (latest big news is Spotify pointing out that “Work isn’t something our people come to the office for, it’s something they do”).

Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami jumped on the chance of turning the city into a tech hub and his efforts are inspiring. He is personally helping tech influencers move to his constituency, and now he’s reaching out to SV employees by the means of a billboard. In San Francisco.

“Thinking about moving to Miami? DM me”.

I’m not able to put together a coherent sentence about how transformative can it be to have supportive, effective, and accessible local legislation. Books will be written about the emergence of the Miami tech hub.

It’s not only about talent. It’s a fight for taxes

Municipalities seeking tax revenue is of course nothing new. But traditionally, the way to do that was to create jobs, which would both provide income to residents and attract talent.

Remote Work is changing that. Having a job in one place, and living in another is now possible, and something I myself practice. But in this new world, how do cities fight for taxes? Are they even entitled? The problem is already here.

Japan’s home tax

Every country with a “superstar” city has this problem: smaller towns are investing in family-friendly infrastructure and education, only to see its citizens move to the one superstar city and continue paying taxes there.

Japan has an interesting solution, called ふるさと納税 (Furusato Nouzei or, roughly, the Hometown Tax System). In an interesting quirk, a taxpayer can select a town at her discretion, and the towns started to compete on “gifts” they would send to incentivize choosing their municipality for the ‘donation.’ From Patrick Mckenzie:

The three farming communities we’re using all had a monthly subscription option for things produced locally, and they sound like e.g. “A rotating box of seasonal fruits produced in our town. Here’s the schedule: January, 500g of… February, a box of… The aesthetics of that are brilliant; fruit on our table will have come *from a place.* The economics are brilliant; probably half of the fruits are things we, like a typical Japanese family, wouldn’t generally choose to eat in a year.

For a while, cities even offered a “kickback” in the form of travel vouchers and other cach equivalents. Government had to put a stop to it in 2019. Read more in this essay and Tweetstorm for an incentive-exploration filled ride.

Furusato-tax.jp is a comparison site that lets you browse the best offers for the “thank you” tokens. Caviar? Wagyu beef? Sushi? They got you covered. This wouldn’t be possible without the Internet.

Specialized cities

Just as Japan’s towns are specializing in Wagyu-beef-for-tax-donation schemes, other cities are seeking to attract Nomads and professionals:

What will happen next?

Each of the revolutions outlined at the beginning of this post has shifted economic opportunities from incumbents to new countries:

  • The agrarian revolution has brought prosperity to those with fertile land and water access
  • The industrial revolution brought demand for steel, potassium, and eventually, oil, which meant prosperity for Germany and the USA
  • The Digital revolution will shift the production centers to places abundant in highly educated and motivated workers,

Two countries in particular are well positioned to benefit from this new world order:

  • China, which has a head start because the industry has already shifted here,
  • India, which I’m especially optimistic about, because of their proficiency in English. Programming languages are all modeled after English grammar and English is already lingua franca. For better or worse.

Since I like having skin in the game, I’m investing in the Indian stock exchange. I started this thread on Reddit, and people shared great pointers. One thing I took away from GameStop is that Reddit has sold financial advice.

While the world order will be reshuffled, cities will specialize in attracting a certain kind of worker, with unique preferences. The concentration of artists and professionals in cities like Florence has led to Renaissance, and I hope it will lead to something good this time as well.

And I also hope we’ll find a way to trickle down these benefits to gig workers too. Wars may be over, but revolutions can turn out bloody too.

Penguins and Effective Advice.

Last week’s deliberate newsletter issue about Tesla, Bitcoin, and Ducks turned out to be a spectacular success, so I have an important update to share with you today. Did you know how flamboyant Northern Rockhopper penguins are? Well, now you do.

Image courtesy: @kaleybrauer

Another important piece of information about penguins is that there are penguins in Africa! I had the privilege to swim with them in Cape Town.

Best Advice is what NOT to do.

My mom loves sharing unsolicited advice with me, and my grandpa is a master mansplainer. He would ask me for help on something I do for a living and later interrupt me to explain a detail I just told him. (I think I may have inherited some of this advice-giving enthusiasm since, well, here is another email from me.)

We live in a post-scarcity world of information. The shortage of opinion is not a problem we have to solve. Quite to the contrary – we are bombarded with options and would gladly defer to someone to remove some of the choice.

And yet, people still act as if “just another idea to consider” is something we crave. My personal pet peeve is googling an article full of general non-information ending with “you should act in accordance to your personal situation and consider other sources.”. I know that, but JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO.

If you want to be most helpful, here is my advice-giving algorythm™️ (also on Twitter):

  1. Ensure that the other party is indeed seeking advice. It’s very likely that they’re seeking support or encouragement. Professional problem-solvers tend to skip this step.
  2. Good advice is NOT a truckload of other things they could worry about. People seeking advice are overwhelmed already. The best help is curing that overwhelm.
  3. The best advice is: “at your stage skip all this and all that. Here is the step you should focus on. Here is how you start”.
  4. The best way to know is to ask “What have you tried?
  5. Remember that advice is about helping THEM. Not giving you an opportunity to finally regurgitate all you know about a topic and prove that you haven’t wasted 5 years studying it. Give them a starting point. The simpler the better and don’t overwhelm them with information.
  6. The best advice is “don’t worry about these 10 things. It’ll sort itself out, or you can look at this later”.

Julia Evans, in her article “How to Answer Questions in a Helpful Way” recommends prefacing the answer with even more prompts:

  • Rephrase a more specific question back at them (“Are you asking X?”).
  • Ask what prompted their question.
  • Ask, “Did that answer your question?

Surprising Consequences of the Internet

Superstar Cities Are in Trouble (the Atlantic)

The Remote Work experiment of 2020 has caused a massive exodus from the world’s biggest cities. Employers had no choice but to permit working from home, and that has allowed deliberate choice about where this home should be.

Beyond anecdotal accounts of bankers fleeing Manhattan and tech workers saying sayonara to the Bay Area, we have loads of private data to back up the story that superstar cities are in trouble.

Redistributing workers (and tax revenue) to smaller towns is the most exciting consequence of Remote Work. I have been betting on this outcome for a few years and I’m really happy to see it start.

Superstar pain could be America’s gain—not only because lower housing costs in expensive cities will make room for middle-class movers, but also because the coastal diaspora will fertilize growth in other places.

Working From Bed Is Actually Great (New York Times)

Continuing the trend of surprising consequences, it’s now socially acceptable to work from your bed! Mostly because nobody cares. What you do in your bed is your business, even if that means business.

Working from bed is a time-honored tradition upheld by some of history’s most accomplished figures. Frida Kahlo painted masterpieces from her canopy bed. Winston Churchill, a notorious late riser even during World War II, dictated to typists while breakfasting in bed. Edith Wharton, William Wordsworth and Marcel Proust drafted prose and verse from their beds. “I am a completely horizontal author,” Truman Capote told The Paris Review in 1957. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down.”

“Being in bed is great,” he said. “I wish, in general, there were fewer norms and standards around where it is and isn’t acceptable to work.”

Almost a Jurassic Park (Traveller)

Clive Palmer wanted to build a hotel resort in secret, so he disguised it as a “dinosaur park” in documents. He thought he’d get less attention that way.

“…Then, in Paris and London and Frankfurt and Beijing, they started writing these articles to say that we were going to clone dinosaurs here.”

“We had 500 scientists applying for jobs, which got me thinking – there must be something in this dinosaur thing,” he said.

[Deliberate Internet] – Comet, overprotecting the digital content, and meritocracy

The comet expedition

My wife (whose handle everywhere is Made In Cosmos) is predictably very interested in seeing the Neowise comet before it leaves the sky. The comet will be visible over the next few days and disappear for another 6000 years of its solitary journey.

On a comet-hunting mission, we have couped up in our summer house and have been hunting for comet sights. Yesterday, the sky was perfect and we were trying to aim our telescope and powerful binocular into that elusive tail of a comet. To no avail.

Sometime after I was getting frustrated  – I looked upward and saw a beautiful, clear sky with the Milky Way spread before our eyes – a sight much better than a thousand comets.

What is it that an event like a comet or a deadline gets us all excited and motivated, but we neglect to enjoy what we already have? Humans are such suckers for scarcity.

The Neowise shot by Tony Hallas. Here is another good one.

Overprotecting the digital content

The creators I help to sell put much effort into their work, and they deserve to be paid. They worry about not having a sales copy compelling enough, or their customers copying and sharing the creations, cutting them out of their rightful compensation. They turn to the protection mechanism – password-protected PDFs or locked-down video players to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

Yesterday, I published an article with 10 reasons why that kind of overprotection is hurting your sales, annoys your customer, and is hurting the relationship with them.

3 Surprising Things on the Internet

  • Did you know there is a special shortcut to display a random Wikipedia article? By going to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random, you will be taken on a random journey, but be forewarned – Wikipedia has MANY articles about random villages and 7th-grade celebrities. Me being me, I immediately thought, „Wait, what if I built a WikiRoulette with this?„. It turns out somebody already thought of that! Check out http://wikiroulette.co/. Today I learned about Forest Nightshade, Fencing at the 1956 Olympics, and the “List of places in Aberdeenshire”, wherever that is.
  • A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you [Princeton Press] enumerates the reasons why the world is not meritocratic, and the „meritocracy fallacy” is an easy excuse for the lucky. The online world revels the idea of meritocracy. Everything is democratized (setting free publishing and commerce is something I contribute to), everyone can participate and, anyone can start something new – they only need a laptop and grit. However, like in any human industry, connections, and lucky breaks people have gotten in the past matter a great deal. The world is getting meritocratic (with initiatives like Starlink and Remote work), but we are not there yet.
  • Mario takes a flight in the days of the Coronavirus is an artistic rendition of what would Super Mario first level look like, if the pandemic hit „World 1-1″