Management They're in the room right now with you

The Worry Police

The Worry Police worry.

During their career, the Worry Police were rewarded amply for their worrying, so they believe it’s their move. It makes them feel important. Worrying.

The Worry Police have real power; they are the police. This power was granted to them because sometimes, preparing for imminent disaster is the correct strategy. An averted disaster is worth celebrating, but someone must tell the Worry Police that worrying is not the only means of disaster prevention. I just did.

The Worry Police don’t build trust. Because they are certain something is fundamentally broken with this process, project, or person. They have erroneously pre-judged on the barest of facts or straight-up rumors. They will continue interrogating until fundamental brokenness is proven or… manufactured. I know, right?

The Worry Police might sound engaged with their questions, but they aren’t. They’re worried. They believe this continued incessant worry will somehow miraculously guide this project in the correct direction, and sometimes they’ll get lucky. It’s maddening.

The Worry Police aren’t curious; they are concerned. Curious means asking hard and thought provoking questions. Concerned mean asking questions to alarm everyone, “I have concerns about this effort.” Curious rewards with discovery. Concerns amplify fears and create excuses.

The Worry Police don’t have hope because they haven’t been rewarded for hope, for optimism. The Worry Police can’t see potential or opportunity because this requires unclenching the worry muscles, taking a deep breath, and letting the air of possibility into their lungs.

The Worry Police don’t care much for data or facts because such truths are diametrically opposed to their goal of finding subjective wrongness. When confronted with this reality, their favorite knee-jerk response is, “But, what about…?” Your failure to know about this relevant but trivial other thing is a clear sign your fact-based argument is deeply flawed.

The Worry Police are predisposed to believe you’ve done it wrong. You haven’t. The Worry Police don’t build; they disassemble, believing it’s how to build best. When they are outranked, they get quiet. Isn’t that interesting?

The Worry Police exist for a reason you need to understand. They were granted power because the perception was they added value. There is a cultural reason they exist at your company.

The Worry Police, you might infer, aptly describes a specific job, but the Worry Police is neither a job nor a role, but a learned attitude. The Worry Police might read like a gross exaggeration, but they’re not. They’re in the room right now with you. Worrying.


I am describing the Worry Police harshly — perhaps too harshly — because I frequently have front-row seats for their theatre. More importantly, I am frequently accountable for unpacking their machinations and translating them into action while simultaneously cleaning up their wake of fear and confusion.

To be fair, the use of the mindset is an elevated “something-is-on-fire” state rather than a default state. To be clear, I write about humans colorfully because doing so engages the reader. To be blunt, I am confident the Worry Police are doing more damage than good. And to be honest, I know the Worry Police because I’ve been them. So far, this article reads like a piece the Worry Police would write.

Interested in how to contend with the Worry Police? Good.

Flip the coin

Don’t worry.

Leaders have real power, not because they’re the police, but because they understand how to build trust. They don’t pre-judge. They build their judgment with the people who understand the problem and have defensible opinions.

Leaders sound like they know what they’re talking about because they’ve taken the time to understand the situation entirely. They read the room; they communicate clearly and consistently to their audience. Their context has been carefully constructed by asking penetrating questions from the humans who most understand the situation.

Leaders are intensely curious. Yes, they are wondering what is happening right now, but they also wonder what contributing factors got us here in the first place. Leaders step back, way back, and they find non-obvious critical root causes. This curiosity creates shared understanding and long-term purpose.

Leaders hope. Leaders are optimistic. They do this because they believe in humans even when we are at our worst.

Leaders care for data and facts, but they also care deeply about the informed subjective. Leaders know each human’s experience — subjective or objective — is valuable information; it’s another piece of an infinite puzzle worth solving.

Leaders change their opinions, their strategies, and their agenda. They do this visibly and often by stating, “I was wrong,” in front of everyone.

Leaders help you grow, and they help you build. They also know when to stop, reflect, breathe deeply, and consider how to proceed in an informed fashion.

Leaders, you might infer, aptly describe a specific job, but leadership is a mindset. Leadership comes from everywhere. Leaders exist throughout your team, and they show up not because they have to but because they know it’s the right thing to do.

Leaders are influential humans, who build trust, speak with informed experience, and chase potential until they are breathless.

Rands Dabbler or S-Tier?

The Cello in Soho Square

This was the second time we’d heard Audrey play her cello in Soho Square. She found a bench and just started playing. We learned about the first session days after it happened and begged her to give us a warning next time, but her small smile silently said no. We mobilized. Her roommate, Bruce, was on cello watch. He’d message us an early warning when he saw her tuning her cello. When she left the building with her instrument, a second message was deployed, and we’d hustle across the city to the square.

Spring in Soho Square. Audrey is sitting on a random park bench, playing her cello. She practiced alone for years and never played for anyone. The first “concert” in the Square was a shock, the second a delight, and the third the last. Sadly, Bruce, Natasha, and I sat there because we knew Audrey was a classic dabbler.

Four years ago, it was baking. Two years ago, it was architecture. The past two were the cello. Audrey would dabble in a new hobby every two years, like clockwork. Sometimes she brought us along, telling us the history of bread, generously sharing the results of her baking, and dragging us across the city to discover a rosemary ciabatta “to die for.” Sometimes the dabbling was intensely private. The cello had been in her room for as long as we’d known her, but suddenly we heard it. When asked about the cello, she changed the subject. Ok. New topic.

Still Playing Destiny

Yeah. Still. It was released in 2014, and here we are in 2023, and I remain an avid Destiny player. There’ve been other games during that time. Most notably: Sea of Thieves (I never played anything like it), Fortnite (I tried to get others into it but failed. Still solo yolo.), and New World (the first legitimate World of Warcraft competitor I’ve experienced in decades). Each of these games, while enjoyable, looks like a distraction compared to the total time I’ve put into Destiny and Destiny 2.

I would classify myself as Good for most of my years in Destiny. While I understood how the game worked, how to progress, and how to acquire epic loot, I still regularly asked fellow clan-mates many questions because I knew they knew. I had no drive to become an expert in any aspect of the game, and I could sense what was required to be an expert. I could see it in those around me. Looked like work.

In my opinion and without judgment, there are four experience classes of players within a video game.

Average. The majority of players within a game. They understand and enjoy how the game works. They will play a game until they are bored and then move on. If completing the game is an option, your average player will likely not. They will become competent and build a good feel for the game but will probably not complete it.

In a multiplayer game, your Average play will briefly wonder how Good or Better players perform that skill, acquire that fancy armor, or achieve that thing. Still, they won’t wonder long because their commitment to this game is minimal. They don’t take the time to understand the intricacies of the game. They enjoy gently being led along a well-designed path.

They are… most players. If I had to guess, average players represent 50-60% of the player base.

Good Still a double-digit percentage of the player base. Your Good players have committed to the game. These humans will complete the game and then be looking for more. Video game designers build more challenging modes and difficult achievements for these good players because they want to give Good players a reason to keep coming back.

Because good players are likely to play the same content over and over again, they are more versed in the intricacies of the game, where complexities could mean: in-game economy, weapon dynamics, lore, play styles, or numerous other aspects of a given game.

Your Good players understand multiple aspects of the game and, as a result, have developed an aptitude for playing the game. They have developed skills. When Good players see other players perform exceptionally, they ask themselves, “How did she do that?” When Good players see better players sporting unique outfits and other heretofore unseen loot, they wonder, “How do I acquire that flying dragon?”

While not the majority of the players within the game, Good players are a sizeable chunk, the Dabblers. If Average players are 60% of the player base, I’d say Good is 30%.

Great A single-digit percentage population. Great players are measured by their demonstrated high aptitude for the game. These players don’t play the game; they live the game. When changes come to the game, they can explain why the changes are occurring and how they’ll affect gameplay. They know new game features before anyone else because they comb all news sources for any snippet of credible information to continue to piece together a complete picture. When Good players see and compete with these Great players, the Good player is good enough to know, “Whoa, she is one of those… the great ones.” Great players, less than 10% of the players in a game.

S-Tier Someone explained S-Tier to me a few years back. We were discussing scout rifles in Destiny, and someone in Discord said, “But, Mida (a gun), right now, Mida is S-Tier.” S-Tier? S-Tier is the top tier. It may mean “Superb” or “Super” and may originate from academic grading in Japan. In video game culture, S-Tier means “the best.”

I’ve never been S-Tier at any video game, but having watched many humans work at becoming great, I can tell you the difference between Great and S-Tier is… a second faster. It’s a sub-second judgment call based on endless experience where you are almost imperceptibly better than your peers. The seconds add up.

As a Good player, all I can tell you about them is, “I know when I see them.” I have never been great at video games, so how could I possibly explain what it means to be S-Tier? What is the difference between Great and S-Tier? It’s microscopic. Acquisition of this skill is exponentially more complex than Good, and only a handful can tell the difference. Consistently a smidge better… forever.

I’ll never be S-Tier, so am I just another Dabbler? Wait, that’s not the question.

Are You Willing to Do the Work?

You might read between the lines and believe I’m suggesting the label Dabbler has a negative connotation. Like a Dabbler isn’t genuinely committed to the effort, they’re just there because it’s interesting… right now. Briefly.

Here’s what the Dabbler knows. There is an infinite list of exciting things to learn, but the Dabbler knows they have finite time, so they dabble. They get 80% of the juice, and they move on. Respect.

S-Tier knows the last 10% of the challenge is the hardest, but it also teaches you the most. S-Tier sticks with it because they contradictorily and confidently believe two things:

  1. This puzzle, project, or challenge task can be conquered.
  2. There is always 1% more to learn.

Some humans have a natural predisposition for a skill. The cost of getting from Good to Great appears lower, but it is the story we tell ourselves because we instinctively know the real cost. Do you know what it takes to be Great? Endless stubborn effort. It’s not that you are unlucky in the genetic sweepstakes; you know being Great means never giving up.

It’s inspiring to see someone be Great. You see them do their thing and tell yourself, “I could never do that.” What you don’t see is the practice. It’s the invisible years they spent working on getting better. The incessant failure. The friends and family who innocently and deflatingly asked, “Why are you working so hard?”

To Inspire

One of my favorite quotes is from Penn Jillette, magician: “The only secret of magic is that I’m willing to work harder on it than you think it’s worth.” This applies to any craft.

Whether striving for S-Tier or a Dabbler, the work is the same. Spending the time to understand. S-Tier focuses on impressive depth, whereas the Dabbler appreciates the variety and complexity of breadth.

The magic you produce is two-fold. First, it’s the immense joy and sense of accomplishment of discovering understanding. It’s reaping the rewards for curiosity, whether it’s one thing or everything.

Second, it’s the unintentional inspiration. Here I am, years later, telling you about Audrey in Soho Square. Three unannounced concerts.

She still inspires me. I wonder what she is learning… right now.

Management Searching for task list zero

The Seven Dispositions of Task Management

I am DONE with this task. I finished. Good job. Victory. Next.

I am STILL THINKING about this task. I might need more time to complete it or be thinking about an appropriate approach. Going to just leave it here for now, but I will make a choice regarding this task (and all tasks) by the end of day.

I am RESCHEDULING this task to a realistic date and time when I can complete it. The most common reschedules targets are: the next working day, home-based tasks to the evening, or the following Saturday morning. Reschedules to the distant future are either external deadlines or wishful thinking.

I am making INCREMENTAL PROGRESS, but not completing this task. Incremental progress might mean updating the task name to make it more actionable, creating additional tasks to support this task, or doing some minor work on it. If this is the 18th time I’ve made incremental progress, this is ignoring the task.

I am making MEANINGFUL PROGRESS, but not completing the task. It is intriguing that I made meaningful progress but still need to complete it. Is this task too large? I wonder.

I am IGNORING this task, and this probably isn’t the first time, either. I can’t yet admit that I will not complete this task. I can tell I’m ignoring this task by how quickly I get it out of my field of view LA LA LA LA LA DOING SOMETHING ELSE NOW.

I am DELETING this task without completion. The horror. The shame, but I can finally move on now.

Management I am here to do one thing

Your Best Work

I’ve received some of the best advice from folks I’m trying to forget.

It’s usually past mediocre managers. Average folks doing the job, but in an uninspired fashion, in over their heads, or just coasting for reasons I never understood.

Every so often. They land an idea. Maybe I don’t hear it at the time because I’m actively trying not to interact with them, or perhaps I’m not ready to hear the advice because I foolishly believe that because they don’t inspire me, they can’t teach me.

Let’s call my manager, Zack. He’s been hands-off for my first six months on the gig. I think it’s because I am so obviously crushing it, but I quickly learn that Zack is hands-off on everything. No one is sure what Zack is doing. He’s in the office daily and attending exec meetings, but 1:1s are vapid “How are you doing?” affairs and project managers drive the products.

Zack has one move, which is when something goes exceptionally sideways. Zack has a nose for potentially publicly visible imminent disaster, so he schedules a meeting with me; we start by comparing notes, and then he says it. The line I can’t forget years and years later.

Zack says, “I’m going to give you the gift of focus.”

Happy New Year

After weeks and weeks of holiday, we’re tired of family, we’ve overeaten, and BAM, it’s a whole new year. Most of the resolutions are gone by late February. The complex machinations of humans doing things en masse pull us back to the familiar medians of getting stuff done. What a great time to reimagine your life, reevaluate your goals, and resolve to improve.

My experience is that a resolution you can use daily will stick with you. My experience is the smaller and simpler the resolution, the more likely I can transform a New Year’s aspiration into a lifelong habit. My experience is the more the resolution appeals to you, the more likely you will even consider it.

This year, I am going to give you the gift of focus. Too many words. How about just:


Focus. When Sarah walks into your office for the 1:1, you spin to face her and give her your full attention. Doesn’t matter what you were doing; what you are doing is giving this co-worker your full attention.

Focus. When Terrance walks through the presentation with a room full of people, you lean forward on the desk on your elbows and listen to every word he says. When you have a question, you write it down immediately. When it’s time to ask the question, you ask, but more importantly, you fully hear his answers.

Focus. Even when you don’t have to. Video conference call. 20 people. Ten who don’t need to be there. You aren’t a part of the conversation; you aren’t going to say a word, but your eyes are on the grid of faces, hearing and understanding every word.

The Entirety of Your Attention

This is the 500th word of this article. How many times have you been interrupted while reading this piece? How many times have you stopped… just because?

Our devices are full of needy applications and services. Our planet is full of media outlets desperate for our attention. Our politics are orchestrated as entertainment. Combine this with the fact that we’ve spent two years plus working in a distributed fashion where every needy application and delectable headline is sitting in a window directly next to your meeting.

Just a glimpse. Don’t worry. No one will know.

Maybe this is easy for you, but two years plus of video conferencing and my already focus-impaired brain needs a profound cleansing reminder. Focus is the entirety of my attention focused on one thing. This person, this meeting, this design.

But what about this other semi-related thing? Let’s wander in that mental direction for a bit…

No, all I am doing is this.

But you’re the people person. Read the room, Rands! What is the intriguing political dynamic of this particular group of humans? I wonder…

No, I am here to do one thing. The reason why I was invited was to participate.

But I’ve heard his story before, and he’s going to be talk talk talking for the next five minutes, so you know what I’m going to do? Just check Mastodon real quick. No one will know.

They won’t, but I will.

Thanks, Zack

There is a time and place where your primary job as a leader is sustained acquisition, synthesis, and redistribution of information. This practice is likely the majority of your career as a leader. More confusing, it’s a learned skill diametrically opposed to the skills you were rewarded for as an individual contributor.

But here’s why we must thank the hapless Zack for our gift — this douche who was nesting and vesting rather than building a team.

Focus, the pure focus on the task in front of you, is when you do your best work. The important achievements of information management are essential but immeasurable. When you focus, intensely focus, you can see the one thing that must be said, to discover the critical assumption that transforms good design to great and to most efficiently transform your years of experience into small, understandable, and unintentional lessons for those sitting right there… focusing with you.

Hollywood It is all connected sensibly

The Feige Rules

As a Henry Cavill super fan, I was extra crushed when I read that reports of his return to the role of Superman were no longer true. After much consideration, I am here to tell you why this is good news.

But let’s start with the bad news.

The DC Movie Universe is Garbage Fire Presently

It’s fashionable to rip on DC because it’s been a holistic cinematic disaster for, well, ever. There have been stunning individual movies over the years, but unlike the competition, the DC movie universe is a confusing mess, and DC has legendary characters.

You have the infinitely reinterpretable Batman. You have one of the earliest female superheroes in Wonder Woman. And you have the movie that kicked off that whole craze with Christopher Reeve’s Superman.

With all of these compelling assets, the DC movie universe is much less than the sum of its parts.

What’s the problem?

The Feige Rules

The moment I knew the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) was taking it to the next level was in April 2014. Agents of Shield was on TV and drafting on the impressive success of the first Avengers movie. The Winter Soldier (Best MCU movie ever? Discuss) was released on April 4, 2014 date. In the following Agents of Shield episode, they incorporated Winter Soldier’s events into the TV series.

The marketing campaign at the time. “It’s all connected.” We’d never seen anything like it.

The DC movie universe is a disaster because they have not followed all of the Feige rules. They read:

For the good of all movies, you shall:

  • Honor the source material, but don’t be beholden to it.
  • Find new voices who bring new perspectives.
  • Always remember it’s all connected sensibly.

Kevin Feige (pronounced: FY-ghee) is a producer for Marvel. Well, he’s the producer for Marvel and has overseen all five phases of the MCU, including the first three phases, which are called “The Infinity Saga,” and the last two called the “Multiverse Saga.”

For the Infinity Saga, the Feige rules have been held. The first Thor is a wildly different movie than the first Iron Man. Different directors with diverse perspectives, but in each film, there was a reminder — usually a post-credit scene — that this universe was connected and was narratively rowing in the same direction.

The intense joy of the final Avengers Assemble scene at the end of End Game is a byproduct of firm adherence to the Feige Rules. As each character appears, we remember our unique relationship with them from their unique film, but the feeling is intensely multiplied by the fact they are here… together.

It’s all connected.

Back to the Garbage Fire

DC movies have spectacle. DC movies honor source material and also riff on the material. The most recent Robert Pattison Batman was a work of art. Emo Batman FTW! Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker sets itself apart and is barely a superhero movie. Attempts to stitch Joker into a larger universe felt forced and contrary to the film’s intent.

Before that, you have the masterwork of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, the fresh perspective and historically compelling Wonder Woman (the first one, the second one was a disaster), and the goofy brutishness of an Aquaman who was no longer the butt of every DC superhero joke. (Aside: Do you want to see quality DC content? Check out the animation. Just wow.)

These movies stand independently, but the proper application of the Feige Rules have demonstrated to us that the audience can expect more. A meta-story with an eventual massive payoff where the final reveal is… everything together all at once.

Zach Snyder was tasked with this important work which eventually gave us The Justice League, but Snyder cares more about spectacle than narrative coherency. Also, he was the Director of many of these films, and an important part of the Feige Rules is they must be applied by an external human who is not motivated by one film but all of them. Bonus points if that human has little difficulty landing a coherent narrative. Watchmen? Dr. Manhattan is the villain? WTF?

The final nail in this narrative mess was the incessant demand for the Snyder Cut. The Whedon Cut was so stunningly unsatisfying we demanded a re-do. And they did it — only adding the narrative confusion.

This isn’t a narrative; this is a garbage fire burning from some of my favorite superheroes.

Firing Henry Cavill, Again & A Warning

Smart and influential people care deeply about the DC universe, including The Rock, Dwayne Johnson. His belief? Start by bringing Superman back to this universe in his best form. It is reported that he and his team pushed hard to get Cavill back to DCU. You first saw it at the end of DC League of Super-Pets (meh) with the cameo of Black Adam, followed quickly by Cavill’s surprise cameo at the end of Black Adam (phenomenal) wearing the Man of Steel suit, sporting the spit curl, and PLAYING THE CHRISTOPHER REEVE SUPERMAN THEME OMFG LOSING MY MIND.

It was a scene designed to call back to everything I loved about Superman, but I am OK with Cavill getting fired… again. Why? It’s reported the Gunn-penned Superman movie will focus on the early years of Superman, so Cavill doesn’t make for good casting for a young Supes. More importantly, it’s a strong sign of what the new regime of James Gunn and Peter Safran is willing to sacrifice to uphold the essential Feige rule:

For the good of all movies, you shall remember that it is all connected sensibly.1

  1. You’re right to be worried about the Multiverse Saga. It’s not following all of the Feige rules. 
Management Wondering why we are here

The Seven Circles of Meeting Hell

First Circle: THE SLOPPY AND THE UNPREPARED Meetings start late and run over. Attendees have not read the pre-supplied material, so we spend most of the time answering questions we had already answered elsewhere.

Second Circle: THE DISTRACTED Meetings where attendees are not paying attention to the meeting. They sit there on their phones and computers, working elsewhere. No one is clear about why they are here, but they don’t really care because they’re busy doing something else.

Third Circle: THE ONE MORE THINGERS The humans who wait until the meeting is over to raise a trivial issue because they feel they need to be heard and why not – sure – let’s fill the time with uselessness because you like to be heard and/or must have the last word.

Fourth Circle: THE RELITIGATORS Decisions already made are randomly reintroduced and relitigated because the seven hours we already spent litigating this decision clearly were not enough. They think the value is the debate and not forward progress.

Fifth Circle: THE EXPLAINERS A handful of humans lecture endlessly. We listen, wondering when we’ll be able to add to the conversation, which is a time that will never arrive because lecturers don’t listen.

Sixth Circle: THE ALL THE TIMERS We meet all the time. Daily. Because the belief is that progress can only be made via the very same meeting. This is literally their only leadership move.

Seventh Circle: THE FOREVER ENDLESS EMPTINESS ETERNALS Endless debate with no decisions. The reason why we showed up to meet is never addressed. We talk in circles. Forever.

Rands Every single day

10 Things I Love & Why

  1. AirPods Pro. First, I told myself I’d only include one Apple product on this list, and this is it. Here’s how to sell this product to your friends. First, show them how to properly insert them in their ears (many folks do this incorrectly) and then have them turn on noise cancellation. Boom.
  2. Rapha Merino Longsleeve. I’m a biased biker, and yes, Rapha is not the cheapest Merino you can purchase, but these intensely breathable shirts are my go-to base layer during the cold winter months.
  3. Field Notes Book Darts. The stack of books beside my desk is a calm anchor in a world of Elon-nonsense and failing democracies. Field Note’s Book Darts is ‘”[T]he fusion of a bookmark and a paperclip” and one of my favorite discoveries of the year.
  4. The Overstory. Simply the best fictional book on trees you’ll find. Soon to be a Netflix series from, uh, David Benioff and DB Weiss. Ignore that last part; buy the book and read it.
  5. Studio Hinrichs Typography Calendar. This has been on the list for over a decade because learning about typography is forever.
  6. Orange Mint Lifesavers. Trust me.
  7. Plae shoes. Specifically the Marten Anatese. I’m trying to remove all socks from my life, and these shoes are helping. Also, tying shoes is boring.
  8. Fenix Flashlight. This flashlight fits in your pocket and has three brightness settings: bright, brighter, and unholy bright. I purchased three and use them all time.
  9. Melin baseball cap. Aside from good design, my primary requirement for a hat is, “I AM NOT PAYING YOU TO ADVERTISE YOUR PRODUCT.” Melin does have lightweight branding on its popular tops, but it’s subtle.
  10. Anker USB C 120W Charger Port. Grab your MacBook, plug it into the 100W port and watch. Turns out all these extra watts are important. Must have travel accessory.

(Note: some of the sites listed above provide me a kickback. I’ll be donating all kickbacks to charity — specifically the National Alliance on Mental Illness.)

Rands It's all very human

The Quest for Interesting X

The almost immediate challenge with the introduction of the Internet presented was, “How do I find X?” Now, the actual first challenge was, “I wonder if X exists in this new world,” but that’s still “How do I find X?”

This quest made search services the killer app of the Internet. AltaVista was a thing for a bit, and then Yahoo’s curated list was the cool, but Google won. This is why you now ask, “Did you Google it?”

Google’s dominance has been challenged, but I’d argue Google is still king of the hill when it comes to “How do I find X?” Thing is, there is so much X out there; the challenge evolved. It was no longer, “How do I find X?” it became something like, “How do I find the best X?” or perhaps, “How do I find the X that most appeals to me?”

The evolution of the challenge created an opportunity for a new kind of service. It wasn’t where to find the people; it was where to find the people who knew about the stuff. Yes, it is nice to find people you knew in the real world, but it was also beneficial to find newly aligned humans who shared your interests. Together, we collectively did the hard work of finding new interesting stuff and sharing it hither and fro.

And this is when it went sideways.

The issue is one of incentives.

You are incentivized to find like humans. You are willing to spend time sharing interesting things with these humans. You’re usually equally glad to see what they find. You share thoughts, hopes, and dreams, and it’s all very human.

Services were designed to facilitate this discovery and sharing. Lots of them. I signed up for most of them, and I’d first explore the question, “Are my humans here?” If I get a hint of a yes, I remain and invest. If it felt empty, I’d pat myself on the back for grabbing my handle and never log in again.

Infrequently, a service checked all the boxes. Yes, my people are here. Yes, they are active. Yes, I’m also learning new things at scale and sharing them. In these rare situations, it appeared to be a positive feedback loop because the more we believed our people were there, the more people showed up, and the more we believed, “Well, everyone is now here.”

The content, the interesting things, flowed. It was a wonderful time.

The issue is one of incentives.

The services providing these connections and content quickly acquire high costs. They are businesses, and businesses must prove they can grow, like, forever. So it begins: they need money, so they advertise. Why don’t they charge for access to service? It’s because more people would leave if they charged than if they started to advertise. It’s because “free” feels better than paid. It’s because advertising can be framed in the same way as the reason you came to the service, “Because we know who you like, we can share goods and services that we know you’ll like.”

Sounds too good to be true, right? It is. You’re soaking in it.

So, forever growth must be proven, advertising must fund forever growth, so advertising must continually increase. This means you, the person just looking for Interesting X, must be incentivized to see and click on more relevant advertisements. The services need more data to provide more relevant advertisements and fund forever growth. These services require you to engage more.

They’ve already helped you find your people, and you’ve already helped them out by providing your social graph and high-affinity content for this graph, but they need more because of forever growth. You already see ads, and perhaps you’ve clicked on some of them, but now you start seeing “content we think you’ll like.”

Suppose I had to pick a feature in social networks that represented the downfall of social networks — this is it. I arrived because I believed my aligned humans were here. I stayed because I found them, and we began the process of mutually beneficial sharing of interesting things. The service needed to prove forever growth, so they started providing ads, and when that wasn’t enough, they showed You-Might-Like content.

The issue is one of incentives.

You-Might-Like content is not content I discovered or my network discovered; it is content designed by robots to get me to engage. When I don’t engage, the robots notice and find something else. When I engage, the robots notice, and they find more content. It’s a feedback loop that incentives the robots to find ever increased engaging content, and, you guessed it, the content I’ll engage with most is the content that angers me the most. And what happens when I engage? The robots find me more, and I become more angry.

There is a lot to like about robot-generated content. When I’m shopping on Amazon, I’m A-OK with the robots alerting me to other flavors of Lifesavers. Thanks. Orange Mint Lifesavers were a real find. When I’m wandering the thoughts and dreams of my trusted humans, I don’t need the robots. Ever.

This issue is one of choice.

I’ve been a fan of Twitter since the early days: November 2006. Unlike Facebook, which I left a couple of years ago for the reasons described above, I’ve remained on Twitter. This is partially because I don’t avidly read Twitter much except, you know, during insurrections and other world-changing events. I dabble and find bits now and then, but Twitter hasn’t been where I find the most interesting things.

My primary interesting things sources are:

  • A handful of channels on the Rands Leadership Slack and a private Mac Nerd Slack
  • Three Messages groups with close friends
  • RSS feeds I peruse on Feedly

Another reason I’ve stayed is that I mostly use a legacy version of Tweetdeck, and for reasons I don’t understand, there have never been ads there. There are no robots. This means my feeds are exclusively humans and the institutions I’ve chosen to follow. Conversely, I have a moderately sized following where I can share my thoughts and things I’ve written and built.

I’ve been trying to reverse engineer the intent of Twitter’s new leadership, and the kindest way I can describe it is chaos because chaos is engaging. It’s like a soap opera except with… people’s livelihoods on the line. I’m sure Twitter engagement is through the roof, but that’s because the building’s on fire and who doesn’t like spectating a disaster in progress?

Twitter’s not going anywhere. As with every company, a handful of quiet, unassuming, and talented humans keep it running. I’m not deleting my account, but I’m removing Twitter from the cycle of things I check for interesting things. I’ve dusted off my Mastodon account (@[email protected]), and I’m doing what I always do: finding my people because…

The killer app is the list of humans you choose to trust.

Rands A worthy cause

The Goldberg

The Rands “R” started many years ago as this:

I’ve been toying with branding, design, color, and other marketing elements for the site for years. I remember spending a couple of weekends trying to get a good picture of the weave of my favorite beanie as background for the site. That’d didn’t go well.

I don’t recall why Cyan caught my attention, but it became the glyph for the site. Many years later, Gruber commented, “It’s you. It reminds me of a slightly untucked dress shirt.”

High praise.

As I wrote about over four years ago, I updated the R with the help of the design skills of Collin Roe-Raymond, a former co-worker and always fantastic designer. He built what we now call Super Cyan and some other variants.

I thought about the new R as I thought about this year’s charity shirt. I was also thinking about what has been the most successful shirt in the growing catalog of Rands t-shirts which is: The Zone

We combined the Super Cyan R with the Flow ascetic into a design we dubbed Goldberg (See: Rube Golderberg). Look closely at Goldberg; many Rands greatest hits are hidden amongst the intricate design.

As with all shirts, all profits for this shirt go to National Alliance for Mental Illness. Between now and the end of the year, I’ll 2x match all profits for all shirts for this worthy cause.

Have a great holiday season.