Unpolished notes, thoughts and ideas for navigating the world around us.


Boundless Optimism

Anything is possible. As long as your brain is capable, your primary constraint is time. There are two types of time - finite time holds things you have control over. Infinite time holds externalities and occurrences beyond your control. Events in infinite time are things that happen to you ‘someday’. Death, black swan events, acts of God, luck, things you can’t plan for.

Take control of what’s within your reach and learn to let go of what isn’t. You can’t plan for luck but you can create room for serendipity. You don’t know when a market may crash but you can diversify to mitigate loss.

Arbitrage finite time and prioritize your development based on weaponization time. Should you spend time now and learn to code? How long will it take you to become dangerous and what’s the timeline for you to utilize that skill. Will the opportunity cost of time spent in regular language practice be worth the potential use case of a second language? Are you planning within finite time (near-term horizon) or infinite time (maybe one day)?

For finite outcomes, multiply your milestones. Make your progress concrete.

You should still account for the inevitability of infinite time. Hedge against the unknown. Be prepared. In the near term be on offense, plan to attack. In the long term be in defense, plan to defend.


The Practice

In his recent book, Seth Godin urges us to commit to output above perfection. Here are some of my notes:

  • To create art is to create discomfort - agitate and create something new - discomfort engages us. It’s unexpected. Make yourself uncomfortable. Bring practical empathy to your work.
  • The practice is agnostic of the outcome.
  • A locksmith trying keys isn’t a bad locksmith if the first keys he tried don’t work. He’s gathering data. It’s not a reflection of his abilities.
  • The magic is in sharing our art not just producing it. Produce for others.
  • Create brave and generous work. Put yourself on the hook.
  • Would you do it if you knew you would fail? - separate the process from the outcome.
  • Worrying is impossible without attachment - worrying is the search for an outcome / the promise that the journey will be worth the result.
  • Reassurance is futile. Worry is a signal we are wavering from The Practice
  • We don’t ship the work because we’re creative - we’re creative because we ship the work.

The price of Humanity

When thinking of what should be more affordable, do we think about whether things cost enough in the first place? These decisions impact whether costs spiral up vs spiral down. The cost and the price are not the same things.

Paying people fairly will raise the cost. It may also raise the price, but it doesn’t need to. Sometimes a higher price will be worth the societal good of increased labor costs—fairly paid workers. Sometimes we may want companies to internalize increased costs at the expense of profit—so long as the lack of profitability doesn’t impact their ability to hire and pay more workers.

Capitalism is often a straw man for the consumerism we all participate in. Nobody wants to be on the hook. Staunch anti-capitalists still subscribe to Amazon Prime and shop on BooHoo, having heard the tales of worker exploitation. Principles aren't cheap. Ethics come at a personal cost. Perhaps we should all be prepared to pay for a better tomorrow.

It is easy to say ‘I can’t afford to pay more, but this feeds the spiral up vs spiral down dichotomy. The less we want to pay, the lower the cost needs to be - the lower the cost needs to be, the more companies will look to squeeze labor costs. The gap between the cost and the price is the company’s profit. They should bear the brunt of this change, or at least the cost of figuring out what tomorrow should look like.

Economic growth should be consistent and a multiple of the mouths a system needs to feed. We can't only live in the present - we need to live in the future and plan for its viability. We need systems that incentivize growth. Capitalism fits that bill but is far from perfect. The incentive for growth is the opportunity to profit. That opportunity should exist for all.

Companies should factor in the cost of humanity in order to pay people fairly, and do so in a way that the business model can sustain long term. For too long the environmental and human costs of production have been considered externalities on the capitalist balance sheet.

Consumers want £3 t-shirts and £1 coffee. Do you think everyone in the value chain of a £3 t-shirt is fairly compensated and happy? Can they provide for their family and dream of ascending beyond their station?

Businesses and economies need growth. The low cost of coffee is killing coffee producers - that’s why I started Democratic Republic. I'm not saying everyone should buy £300 shirts and £30 coffee, but we should at least be cognizant of the human impact of our consumption, and factor the price of humanity into our purchasing decisions where possible.

What if by buying £20 t-shirts from companies with equitable value chains, those workers could take care of their families, kids could be supported at school, and go on to earn higher incomes?

The butterfly effect of an average consumer paying £5 more at the expense of what's affordable on their wages today could have a substantial impact on what becomes affordable on the wages of future workers. Spend what you can, wisely, and support value-led businesses.


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If you have any thoughts on time, output, or consumerism, I’d love to hear from you! Reply via email, leave a comment or send me a tweet!

Read on for this week’s recommendations >>

3 women in Chinese dress taking off the bus in New York: A photo by David Elikwu
Photo: by David Elikwu, in New York

Reading list

Books I’ve read/seen/will impulsively buy and add to my “to read” shelf on Goodreads. Recommendations from newsletter readers are always welcome:

  1. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo - seen. The first book in a series that has reached a broader market since being picked up by Netflix. I’m told it’s awesome - can’t wait to read it.
  2. Growth Hacking by Raymond Fong - read. Not for active growth/marketing practitioners, but it’s a solid tour of the basics of growth in the 21st century.
  3. The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath - impulsively bought. Through a collection of well-narrated examples, this book shares lessons on how to create impactful moments, motivate employees and delight customers. It’s packed with paradigm shifts on ideas you may have taken for granted.

Things I’m loving

Films and shows:

  • Ghost in the Shell - I remember early announcements of this show being lambasted for casting Scarlett Johansson in a Japanese anime adaptation and never got around to watching it. ‘Whitewashing’ aside, it’s actually pretty decent
  • Shadow and Bone - if your life has been missing a good magic show recently, this is it. Apparently, it’s based on a book - I’ve now added it to my reading list.

Resources:

  • Nutmeg - In the last 10 years I’ve tried about 8-10 different investment platforms but Nutmeg has the best mix of super simple plug-and-play operation, with great returns (so far). You can use this link to get 6 months without fees :)
  • Audible - 41 books this year and counting. The number of books I can get through on Audible is scary. I love being able to read while cooking, walking, doing DIY, and exercising. It’s an irreplaceable tool I’ll consistently recommend. Audible is currently running an awesome deal and you can get 3 months for 99p.

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