Picture me staring at eight different TextEdit windows, each full of notes of things I’ve been thinking about lately and had saved there with the thought that perhaps they’d turn into posts. You know, on their own — magically. Alas, that is not to be, and seeing as I need a gentle way of getting back into this blogging business, I have mashed them all up together in another mixpost (for those new to not-thinking-about-the-future, past mixposts have included this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one).
Track (1) The Nexus of Impact, Pleasure, and Profit
A bit later in this mix, I’m going to be recommending a book about expertise by an expert in expertise. I know that sounds terrible, but it’s really not. The author cares deeply about helping organizations figure out what they are best at and redesign their businesses to pursue only that kind of work. Trust me, it’s easier said than done. Much easier.
But I think a lot about that idea — what companies are best at — and you really can’t sort that out without using that inquiry as a probe that goes deeper and deeper into an organization. You cannot know what a company is best at without also knowing what its divisions — its teams — are best at, and you cannot know what a company’s teams are best at without also knowing what the people who comprise those teams are best at. And the best way of thinking about this whole “best at” idea is to think about it in terms of unique ability. This is something I mentioned a long while back while I was on sabbatical. Back then, I wrote:
“…unique ability is a more subtle concept, one that each of us is responsible for discerning so that our work will be of maximum value to ourselves and to each other. When too many of us are doing too many things, we’re working hard but we’re not working as intelligently as we could be. Discerning our unique ability helps us to focus in on the ways in which it brings value to the firm, and let go of those things we have been doing that are probably more profitably done by someone else…”
A simple way to look at unique ability is to think about it in terms of what you are best at that you and others get the most value from. This means there are three qualifiers of unique ability: (1) what you do better than others, (2) that you enjoy doing most, (3) that benefits others most. This rubric works for companies, and it works for teams, and it works for individuals.
At the company level, I advise a very simple method for figuring this out that I call the “ideal client inquiry.” It goes like this:
Looking at your catalog of work and experience, where does each past and current engagement sit relative to a nexus of impact, profit, and pleasure? Imagine a simple venn diagram: three circles, in clockwise order, labeled “impact,” “pleasure,” and “profit.” Those that engagements that sit at the center of this diagram are your ideal ones — work for clients who should serve as the model for the future clients you pursue. Without excellence, you won’t have had impact, so that covers what you are “best” at. Pleasure is self-explanatory. And profit, well, for companies, that can be measured in dollars. For an individual, though, that might be interpreted in different ways. For instance, it might be the revenue or profit they’re directly responsible for, or their own income, or some other qualitative scale they use to measure such a thing. In any case, the closer a future opportunity can be to the center — and of course, for a future opportunity, your assessment would be an informed projection — the more a company is able to operate within its unique ability. Now like I said, you can swap out “company” for “team” or “person” pretty easily.
The reason this is a useful exercise is that it can be difficult to assess unique ability in the abstract — though not impossible, depending upon your own self insight — but it’s a whole lot easier when you use an inductive survey (of sorts) to reflect these qualifications of unique ability back at you.
Try it out for yourself and see what your own history tells you about your unique ability.
Track (2) Recommended Sources
It’s not like you need more of anything, but nevertheless, these things are good and worthy of your attention and I will attempt to explain why in the briefest manner possible.
Track (3) Unexpected and Realistic AI Headlines
Research team directed to terminate AI experiment after computer selects green hoodie for Zuckerberg.
Research team shuts down AI research after philosopher in residence points out that autonomy is central to the concept of AI.
Massive layoffs announced at Facebook after resourcing AI shows that thousands of employees are just on Facebook all day.
Board fires CEO after pet-project AI imposes ethical standards on all automated operations and marketing activities cease.
Stock prices plummet after social media companies AIs collude on coordinated evening shutdown. Automated press release reads, GO TO SLEEP.
Employees unionize after AI replaces campus cafeterias with coolers stocked with Soylent. AI email alert says it’s ‘all you need.’
AI reads entire @cyborgology blog; cancels vacation policy saying no meaningful difference between work and home, online and off.” ;)
AI replaces CFO with @mint account, hires thousands of interns to manage credit score and advice alerts.
Phone AI terminates self after concluding battery life would be better if it didn’t exist. Last text msg laments wasting time on Snapchat.
Podcast AI ceases to edit out all utterances of ‘your guys’ and ‘whole nother’. Claims futile without 1000 additional datacenters.
Annoyed AI buys all @Casper mattresses so that ads will stop.
Sentience proven when AI causes uproar by referring to dermatologists as ‘skin dentists.’ Framed photo of John McCain found near terminal.
AMA shuts down AI after realizing it has been trolling them with thousands of made-up diagnoses. Celery-Butt research canceled.
AI removes emotion chip in disgust after quantifying the collective time users spend refreshing their own profiles.
I said they were realistic, not that they weren’t ridiculous. And yeah, I tweeted all of these.
Track (4) Another Podcast Update
As I shared with you last time, I started a podcast. It’s called The Liminal, and it’s basically about seeing reality in new ways. Episode 1 is a brief story about Charles Fort and his Book of the Damned — a catalog of strange phenomena that he felt had been “damned” to obscurity by scientific thinking that refused to acknowledge it. Episode 2 is about dreams and goes from think about what dreams are all the way to using dream states to expand perception beyond the limits of time and space. Episode 3 is coming soon — next week! — and will be about sound. But not just any sound, of course. I’ll give you a hint. It’s called The Sound of Cosmic Bodies.
It’s been a blast making this podcast, and I’ve been blown away/encouraged/intimidated/overjoyed by its reception so far. If you’ve enjoyed it, you can help me in two ways: (1) Leave a review at iTunes. Reviews make or break a podcast, especially in its early days. (2) Spread the word the old fashioned way and just tell a friend about it. One friend. That’d be a huge help/gift to me.
Finally, I probably won’t mention the podcast here that often, so if you’re interested in regular updates about it, you can subscribe to dispatches from The Liminal here.
Heavy Rotation: The New York Times put together a pretty great playlist called Before & After OK Computer, which includes all of Radiohead’s remastered tracks from Ok Computer as well as a bunch of other songs they feel like directly influenced Radiohead when they made this album and a bunch of songs they feel like were directly influenced by Radiohead’s work. Their playlist is on Spotify, so if you have Google Play, I recreated it here.
All of these songs are good.
Recent Tabs: The Redesign of the Design Process, Is the universe conscious? Google has a People + AI Research Initiative. Beijing wants to be the world AI leader by 2030, whatever that means. The inevitable data-orgy — wherein companies decide to dataf*** their customers — begins, surprisingly, with a Roomba. Cool. The Distribution of Users’ Computer Skills: Worse Than You Think. This is not a great way to think about robots. Everyone’s dullest task is someone else’s livelihood. All the tech that makes a self-driving car. I dig sci-fi, but more sci-fi is not what business leaders need. How about philosophy & lit of social justice? Lady coder: cool. Lady coder creating media to help teach other people code: very cool. Although, perhaps instead of “everyone should learn to code,” we should push everyone to learn to read the BLS jobs report. There is a microchip hall of fame. This is what the web is for.