Categories
Emotional Work

Day 133 and Emotional Shibboleths

When I was a kid I was terrified of drinking. A family member went to daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and my reaction to it was “I hope I never become an addict because this seems like a huge time commitment.” Little did I know that it’s one of the best possible uses of one’s time! As a kid I had not yet been initiated into the secret code words of emotional work.

AA and Al-Anon are filled with shibboleths. So many phrases (don’t “should” on yourself) or or even a single word (triggered) that I heard in daily life turned out to be passwords for the initiates into emotional work.

It’s not just AA that uses a these types of passwords to show that you too have committed to to either program work or some other system of working on yourself. Inner child shows that you’ve done family systems or trauma work. Speaking of mindfulness generally means you have committed to a meditation practice.

Once you commit to therapy, performance coaching or program work (which isn’t just for alcoholics Al-Anon is for anyone) you will find yourself noticing the little hints that someone else is also on a path to working though their self limiting beliefs. Wait that was another shibboleth! Entire television shows like Bojack Horsemen and Ted Lasso light up the minds of folks on this path. My favorite quote from Ted Lasso is a classic framing of self love work

Coach, I’m me. Why would I want to be anything else?” Jaime

“I’m not sure you know how psychologically healthy that actually is”. Ted Lasso

If you ever find me using phrasing you don’t recognize it’s quite likely it’s because much to the chagrin of my teenage self I now know that this is the best possible use of an hour a day to work on oneself.

Categories
Aesthetics Finance Internet Culture

Day 128 and Financial Aesthetics

Humans have imbued money with so much significance over the centuries that financial spaces (merchants, traders, banks, trading floors, brokers, hedge funds) show us the style of their times better than almost anywhere else. Even when power centers have shunned money directly (democracies), and sometimes even because of it, money has dictated the soft powers of perception and relevance.

This makes investigating the styles of finance particularly fun as their signifiers tend to hum with unsaid anger, greed and resentment. Sexy stuff generally as we fixate on ever finer granular details to indicate that our taste shows us to be worthy of holding power (and hopefully money).

There is a reason popular culture loves the Hollywood treatment of Wall Street. Even if some of the most iconic touchstones like American Psycho were meant as dark comedies we didn’t perceive them at way. We were supposed to laugh at the business card scene not get turned on. When Gordon Gecko bellowed “Greed is Good” we were supposed to know he was the villain. We didn’t. We don’t particularly like watching these heros get their comeuppance. Giovanni Ribisi in Boiler Room ratting out the pump and dump scheme doesn’t leave a very satisfied audience but oh how we loved the second act when the gambling prodigy finds a way to go “legitimate” and become a millionaire. Just ignore the crash at the end.

Americans in particular love to fetishize our villains. Our media is littered with anti-heroes that over time become our actual heroes. We throw jealous narratives at the preppy alpha males but love it when their power is subsumed by someone who plays their games better than them. We are riveted when a protagonist emerges that knows how to best the alphas at their own game and emerges victorious. Just be careful you don’t overplay your hand and remain a villain (sorry Martin Shkreli you deserved better) as we need you to be seen as the good guy. It’s a delicate tension.

Think poor savant Bobby Axelrod in Billions becoming the titan of industry. Sure you know he didn’t start out as a classic alpha male (that hard knock upbringing) but I doubt you could tell at the end as he styles himself in the cashmere of his former enemies. Sure now it’s a hoodie but that’s a small inversion of the original sweater. The WSJ has an extensive shoppable feature on the style of the show. Now that’s cultural relevance. Turns out we do want cosplay Carl Icahn or Bill Ackman.

I’m particularly excited about the aesthetics of the next phase of financial heroes emerging from the financialization of cryptocurrency. Scrappy upstarts that want to make a more just and free financial system free of cronyism and accessible to the entire world is a beautiful narrative arc. The chaos of outsiders making the system their own has an ending we all know. You might start out in a tee-shirt and hoodie like Axe but beware the creeping encroachment of luxury goods looking to ride on your newfound wealth.

Turning doge gains into jokey NFT art is just a hop skip and a jump away from getting subsumed into the Art Basel scene. Lest you one day turn up and wake up in a new Bugatti. And while right now it may seem funny to buy a Lamborghini remember the narrative the world wants. You may just claim the mantle of a new kind of power. Or the Feds will come for you. Have fun out there!

Categories
Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 127 and Horizontal Thinking

In the beginning there was the word? I dunno, seems more likely it was the image and then the Levantine religions got around to giving God the word. And thank God too as internet culture couldn’t exist without binary stuff.

But lately it seems like we’ve decided to go all in on horizontal thinking. Now it’s all about images. Gifs, YouTube videos, twitch streams and TikToks giving us cultural understanding not though the written word, but vibes.

The weaving together of aural, visual and emotional planes is an aesthetic that I’m thrilled to see Gen Z adopting en masse. If vibes had a gender, it wouldn’t. But seriously, backing away from the linear is a lot of fun and all of this vibes zeitgeist has been throwing my thinking back to a 1998 pop-science book called “The Alphabet and The Goddess.”

The Alphabet and the Goddess by Leonard Schlain is about humanity’s progression from horizontal to linear thinking. Shlain, a neurosurgeon, argues that that learning written languages, especially alphabetic languages, altered human brain function from holistic thinking to linear thinking. In other words, humanity wasn’t always so limited in processing. That’s a kinda new development.

I can’t say I have any real expertise in different theory’s of the mind like lateralization, but it does seem as if we seek to reduce complex matters such as ethics to simple rules and numerical measures in human systems, this despite us having significant holistic and metaphorical capacity.

If you coded “holistic, simultaneous, synthetic” views as feminine and the masculine as a “linear, sequential, reductionist”, you’re not alone according to Schlain. The scanning of the written word and visual processing of images may be different processes for the mind and for some weird ass reason we gendered them. Even though it’s just a straight up difference in brain processing. Schlain says:

Images approximate reality. The brain simultaneously perceives all parts of the whole integrating the parts synthetically into a gestalt. The majority of images are perceived in an all-at-once manner. Reading words is a different process. When the eye scans distinctive individual letters arranged in a certain linear sequence, a word with meaning emerges.

Basically humanity has been livin’ la vida linear for a few centuries, even though we have been plenty holistic as a species. But maybe with the internet our horizontal image driven thinking is coming back? Which brings me back to vibes. Vibes getting the New Yorker treatment this week.

I learned that vibes have a strong tie to the critical theory crowd. I suspect this pisses off a number of more literalist thinkers that are dedicated to trad aesthetics… I mean, ummm, Burkean economics? Whatever. Maybe the trads and red pillers sense the critical theory backstory?

Gernot Böhme identified “atmosphere” as the basis for a new aesthetics of perception, a kind of over-all feeling that has much in common with vibe. Heidegger had used “mood” to describe the quality of being in the world, and Walter Benjamin had identified “aura” as the feeling inspired by the presence of a unique work of art.

I think I’ve finally found the through line of why the “woke, critical theory, Gen Z, gender fluid crowd” and their vibes upset the “Athens to Jerusalem Western Civilization” crowd. Going from “great works” to “vibes” is going from linear to horizontal. It’s big dick energy being trounced by hot girl summer. The patriarchy is falling to glitter queers. And there is nothing anyone can do about it. And personally I like these vibes.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 126 and External Aesthetics

An essay by Amanda Mull, whose writing I generally enjoy, has an essay on fashion and the end of the pandemic. It’s an interesting read on how fashion and disease have intersected in history and how we might react to our own moment in history as the summer of the vaccine rolls around. But it was this line that caught my attention.

Clothes are a language we use to tell others about ourselves; fashion is a conversation. If there are no other people to talk to, then what’s the point?

Aesthetics have been a big part of my adult life and one of my primary professional interests. I’ve worked with brands as diverse as Nike, Gucci and Ann Taylor and I founded a cosmetics line. I like conversations in the language of style.

But I didn’t realize until the pandemic that I had very little interest in an internal dialog on aesthetics. I think Ms Mull has hit on a truth I couldn’t put my finger on. What was the point if I was just talking to myself?

I’ve got several drawers of cosmetics and a full closest of clothing but I haven’t felt the urge to use any of it simply to please myself. I didn’t realize just how little these aesthetic conversations were about a personal dialog with myself until this year. I never wore makeup to please myself. If I did then I would have work lipstick this year. Nor did I wear clothing for my own enjoyment. The pandemic seems to have proven that for me aesthetics are all about the dance with others. The joy of communicating one’s taste and preferences to the outside world is more riveting than playing with my look for an audience of one.

While I have a personal style (it leans towards minimalism and Italian basics) it’s not so tied up with my identity that I felt I needed to expressive it to myself. I’ve got mixed feelings on the matter as there is an undercurrent of moralizing that suggests style should be for the joy and satisfaction of the wearer and no one else. It’s got a kind of self care “you be you” celebratory tone that is in reality a bit judgmental.

For some of us it’s clearly about telegraphing who we want to be seen as in the world. The semiotics of taste, class, wealth and culture are arguably more interesting than a personal picadillo for purple. Layering nuances into garments and color is an art but if no one looks at the final piece it feels a bit like keeping a painting locked up in a private collection. So I guess I feel ok that I’m only interested in style if it’s part of an external world. I’ll keep the talking to myself in my head and off my hips and lips. It’s nice that I have something I actually want to share with the world.

Categories
Startups

Day 125 and Working With Startups

One of the most frustrating aspects of startup life is the vendor startup relationship. There are so many pitfalls and disasters that can befall each side. That naturally leads to a lot of dysfunctions as each optimizes for their own needs, a process that unwittingly leads to the disasters we sought to avoid in the first place by trying to prevent issues.

From a startup’s perspective there are two key issues. Established businesses tend to be slow moving. They are slow moving as they have process and documentation. Nothing is more frustrating to a startup than needing a nimble partner that can throw shit at the wall only to get a meticulous vendor that documents all the shit that didn’t work in exacting detail. This isn’t to say that one shouldn’t report (in a remote first culture documentation is even more crucial) but 40 page decks on what happened will send a founder running.

From a vendor perspective startups are frustrating because they never have any of the assets, documentation or processes in place that make your job possible. Anyone who has become embroiled in a mess of half functional SaaS operation software knows what I mean. How are you supposed to deliver on a contract when all the basics you need from a startup are impossible to locate and occasionally contradictory?

The tension between the two workflows is clear. Especially because startups eventually become more process driven and operationalized over time and vendors are always looking for ways to become more nimble and cost efficient. So you’ve got two parties who want to become more like the other, but as they do that risks upsetting the partner that chose them for the opposite virtues. If this were a romantic relationship it would be heading for a breakup. “You’ve changed man!”

My best advice to vendors is to be as flexible as possible with startup clients. The faster you provide an output the more likely it is that the founder will come to rely on you. Most successful startup vendors simply roll up their sleeves and start producing. They don’t scope in too much detail or negotiate contracts that lock them in, no, successful startup vendors know they give themselves security and contract stability simply by giving a founder what they need every day. As you find more needs you act on it. You stay flexible till suddenly you’ve become the crucial partner that gets budget every quarter. As a startup grows becoming the indispensable partner means that you grow along with it. Your goal should be to have your client succeed at the same pace that you are succeeding.

My best advice to founders is to allow your vendors best traits to rub off on you. Paying attention to their competencies allows you to build up teams that support that. That then enables your vendors to perform even better for you as the fluency on expertise develops. Great marketing teams don’t just produce great marketing in-house but rather they allow it to flourish in the entire ecosystem. There is a reason why CMOs have winning agencies and winning agencies have great brands. The truth is that you will always get the most out of your vendors if you respect what they excel at and spend your time and money prioritizing that support.

The danger if you don’t make productive vendor startup relationships is two fold. One startups will waste valuable capital with a partner that was never a good fit. Two vendors will waste billable hours and employee energy on accounts that have a high probability of imploding. It’s a waste of money for both sides. But when it works well lol it’s absolutely money.

Categories
Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 123 and Being Liked

I asked if folks cared if other people liked them today on Twitter. The results are surprisingly mixed on the issue.

A Twitter poll asking if folks care if others like them with 4 options: yes, no, yes but I like about it and no but I lie about it.

The four options were Yes, No, Yes But I Lie About It and No But I Lie About It. It is fascinating to see the breakdown in responses even a few hours into the poll. I don’t know what I thought the response would be but I don’t think it was an even split.

Now, of course, I didn’t ask if being likeable is good, or bad, or even helpful. I just asked if people cared. It’s likely people who do care don’t think it’s good that they care. And there are people who don’t care that maybe which wish did as caring about being liked may have benefits. I don’t actually believe that a third of folks don’t care as frankly society would look pretty different if 35% of us just didn’t care about perception. And sure you can argue that you don’t care but you hide the fact, but then your answer would have been the least popular option “no and I lie about it” which is lagging in the results. My guess is that a number of folks are aspirational “no” votes which I can respect. I’m confident I would have voted no in my twenties. I used to be an aspirational no vote

Currently my vote would be “Yes But I Lie About It” but I’m not sure if I’m lying to myself or others with that answer. I don’t generally care what people think of me but I think I lie to myself about needing to care. I think being liked is important and I want to act like I care more. I’ve got some hang ups about not having been a more palatable person when I was younger. Maybe if I had been nicer or better behaved or well…just more likable I’d be richer, more loved, have a better relationship with my family and other fantasies. I’m also not convinced that changing myself for others has the benefits I think. That’s just some 4 year old inner child trauma emotions. How others feel about me has little to do with me and a lot to do with them. That’s true for how I feel about others. My reaction to you says a lot about my emotions, trauma and hang ups than it does about if you are likable.

Categories
Aesthetics Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 122 and Soul Delay

There is a line in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition that has stuck with me for years. The context isn’t all that crucial except to know the hero has just taken a long flight.

She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien’s theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.

Sadly I am not jet lagged, as that would imply international travel which is a context I doubt I’ll have for at least a few more months. But I’m finding soul delay can happen even without jet lag. The separation between one’s body and one’s soul is a rich emotional issue. For the past week or two I feel like I’ve been reeling from a gap between my soul and my body. It came on suddenly, despite all the disparate causes been easy to see coming and not remotely surprising.

The dawning realization that I may not be stuck forever with a chronic illness hasn’t been the unmitigated joy I anticipated. In fact, it’s been fairly miserable realizing that the convenient excuse to keep me from workaholism won’t be an available crutch forever. I’m assessing all the things I take for granted in my life and their myriad benefits and it’s not pretty. It turns out even the most joyful possible goal attainments come with a host of introspection.

And that generally means you can’t lie to yourself. It actually feels a little bit like attaining wealth overnight. All those excuses you used to have about how you’d just pursue the life of your dreams if not for financial limitations? Some of them turn out to be lies you’ve been telling yourself for years. And then how do you feel? It turns out much of your circumstances were self imposed.

Which isn’t to say that I’m finding out I need to make drastic life changes and that I’ve been living a lie. That would actually be easy! It’s more that the sum of dozens of self limiting beliefs need to be assessed, turned over for utility, and discarded or repurposed. Why was I a founder? Why am I married? Why do I pursue attention? All of these are little bits of honesty that are giving me soul delay. Because finding out what I actually want, without the benefit of a circumstance preventing me from achieving my desires, is going to require reconciliation between my soul and my reality.

So right now I feel a kind of emotional jet lag. After intensive work and a significant amount of willpower I am getting what I wanted. I’m getting my health back. But I’m still reeling in my soul from the journey. The cortisol spiked adrenaline of the effort is wearing off. I need to recover from my recovery. My soul needs to reel itself in. But I don’t know when it’s arriving at baggage claim. And I’m so very tired from the effort. So even if I have arrived it doesn’t feel like I thought it would. I hope I can be patient with myself while I wait. It’s been two years so I figure what is another few months?

Categories
Finance Internet Culture Startups

Day 119 and Status Narratives

I’ve mostly worked inside insular industries. There is something about disdaining a club and then slowly forcing it to adapt to me that I find appealing. My handle on Twitter “AlmostMedia” wasn’t actually meant to be a joke about the ephemeral nature of timeline driven content (though it is now) but was an inside joke about my first personal blog.

I wasn’t as comfortable being an outsider when I was younger so a common theme on my blog was about how I “almost” achieved insider totems and status but never quite did it right. I never felt like I was stylish enough, cool enough, rich enough or had enough status symbols. Now I kinda laugh at myself as I realize semiotics is as driven by the out group as the in group. I always had the power to be enough.

But thanks to this insecurity about being “almost” but not quite right I’ve achieved a pretty valuable skill set. I’m able to see what is coming, what will resonate, and most importantly what will have status. I’m not always great at the timing (I’m often too early) but I am very good at nudging narratives into the popular conception. I call this the Thursday Styles problem. Timing what is next is as much about knowing what is coming as when it will hit and doing what you can to control the pace.

I particularly like fashion and startups as as success is often a Thursday Style problem. Status narratives are driven by people who like to show off that they knew something cool was coming. Think of the trope of venture capitalists publishing a post about when they first met a founder timed with a company’s IPO. Music used to be like this too with snobs insisting “I knew them before they were cool” when a band blew up.

Status narratives often revolve around being first. Much of crypto is obsessed with showing off how early they were while also insisting to everyone that “it’s never too late” as they need to drive a status narrative that brings in more adoption. Being early generally only matters if you are also still around when it’s “late” and you always need more people to push you further into early. Even if most of the benefits are seen by late adoption we all want to feel like we won the status game of being early. But it’s important to remember we are all a little too early or too late. We are almost right. Which is enough for plenty of success.

Categories
Aesthetics Internet Culture

Day 113 and Competence

I’ve never found it amusing to watch people be incompetent. The fool isn’t funny to me. Television shows with shitty protagonists who can’t do their jobs, and don’t care, make me sad. I don’t find The Office enjoyable. I never understood Arrested Development. I didn’t even attempt It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The shows I gravitate towards are the ones where people want to make good things. Where the competence is the point. Shows like The West Wing, Star Trek, Mad Men, or The Expanse, where striving to be better is either the core virtue or the central tension.

I hate watching dysfunctional workplaces. Shows where the protagonist is fighting against bumbling bureaucracy don’t inspire laughs for me. They make me want to avoid ever being in a large organization. I still fear organizations like Human Resources. The pop culture obsession with being a knowing cynic makes me despair. How is it better to know something sucks, but rather than try to make something better, you laugh about how it all sucks? It’s not fucking funny to me. It’s sad.

I don’t know when America culturally made the transition from believing those at the top had earned it to knowing it’s all a charade but it certainly wasn’t in my lifetime. When I came of age Clinton was already a liar. We knew the history of Vietnam and Watergate so why anyone gave a shit about a blow job was beyond me. The trend only continued with the aftermath of 9/11 and our forever wars. The Obama era seemed like it provided a reprieve for people at least pretending like achievement was a virtue but the backlash was so severe I worry that was actually a fantasy.

I wonder if the “fool” or the jester archetype has become our default aspiration. If entertainment has decided its simply more appealing to play for laughs than the boring tedious reality of building stories around competence don’t get made. We don’t see the inspiration of good work.

Which sucks as being competent feels amazing. Sure I play for laughs and shitpost on social media but I want to assure you that none of that feels as good as doing work well. I don’t care what kind of thing you are making. It can be a meal or a billion dollar company. The satisfaction of competence is deep. No laugh I’ll ever get from a shitpost will ever feed the soul like a real achievement. A sincere creation hits different. Not to say that humor has no plays or that a shitpost doesn’t have virtue (I will and have gone on at length about the creative necessity of shitposting), but that being a fool isn’t the only enjoyment in life. The enjoyments I relish most are where I’ve shown myself to be competent. And I like watching others be competent as well. So please share your accomplishments with me. Even, or especially, the small ones. I think it’s just great.

Categories
Startups

Day 112 and Unknowability

Human minds seem to prefer predictably. The back brain craves knowing what is coming even as our flighty consciousness seeks novelty. Talk about a tension that sucks. We’ve all seem just now much this is a recipe for misery when you live in a world with no predictability but easy access to low stakes novelty during the pandemic. We are twitchy, bitchy and miserable as we have no idea what our world will be like but we can dopamine drip our pleasure seekers with social media, food and substances for an enjoyable now.

I’ve written at length in this experiment about my frustrations with unreliability especially when it comes to my own body. It’s one of the hardest aspects of managing a recovery from an autoimmune disease. I need to be mentally strong enough to not let bad days shake my routines so I keep building towards the wider goal. I can’t be distracted by one data point. It’s about movement towards the goal. Ironically this is a skill I learned from startup life.

While the entire planet is getting a crash course in unpredictable futures now, startups are defined by their desire to solve problems that don’t yet have defined solutions. No one in a startup knows if the predictions will be right. If they are working on something that will have the intended outcomes is unclear. You work on faith. You trust that over a longer time frame the daily tasks and routines you push (sometimes we give them dumb names like OKRs to fake a sense of control) will actually get you where your mind’s horizon sees.

I sometimes wonder if those with religious faith would do better on average in startup life. We have some degree of comfort with the inscrutable. Mysteries are sources of joy rather than fear. We trust that there are things beyond our knowing and our control and yet we must live on despite that.

The obsession with data and trend lines and the potential for prediction, surety or knowing amuses me. Sure sometimes you can plan a lot. You should plan. You have some inputs that consistently deliver the predicted outputs. Your best guess are better than other people’s facts (thanks Spock!) But if it were all so neatly defined there would be nothing new to create. We wouldn’t be able to build value. It’s the undiscovered country that we seek.

In faith, in life, and in startups you must manage your squishy human mind that is constantly tortured by its own biology. We want to know and we want it to be predictable. But we also love the tickle of a new experience against our dopamine seeking biology. The spike of pleasure we find pleasure in the newness. That’s why we do it. And it’s on us to balance the tension between our need to predictably build and our addiction to novelty. Manage that and you may get far in your journey. Or it’s a miserable sine-wave that makes you nauseous as you go up and down trying desperately to bring the future forward between impulse and planning. It’s usually both if I’m honest. So if you don’t enjoy roller coasters I wouldn’t get on this ride. But if you do well you just might see God.