Because this is a nuanced topic and Twitter doesn't allow for a lot of that these days, I thought I'd write a couple of paragraphs on why I don't think an Elon Musk-led Twitter is necessarily a good thing.
Before I do that, it is important for me to say that I do admire Elon Musk. He isn't perfect, but I do believe he means well. When he says that he wants to maximize humanity's happiness, I believe those words. It is very hard to ignore the work that he is doing at Tesla in helping humanity transition to electric; Also hard to discount his work at SpaceX, which has reignited the dream of space. There is a lot to applaud about his work.
Another important note: I have some, but not complete perspective on all that goes into running a social network the size of Twitter. I have a lot of context on what happened at Twitter over the years, as I've been around since the very beginning, and also knew a decent chunk of the early team. But that doesn't mean I understand all the ethical requirements that go into running it, or the steps Twitter has had to take over the years. Epistemic status: reasonably confident, but.
I don't know if Elon Musk is ready to run Twitter. It is completely fine (noble, even!) to say you want to defend free speech, but then you have to deal with all the instances where free speech flies in the face of own ethics, laws or politics. What is reasonable to you may not be reasonable around the world. What is a crime here, may not be a crime there. So you find yourself in the difficult position of trying to create an inclusive platform for a world that contains multitudes. What seemed very black and white in the beginning (free speech! Say anything!), is suddenly (perhaps sadly) pretty darn grey.
I don't know if a person that tweets stuff like this understands that type of nuance.
Heck — I don't even know if Elon understands how him tweeting that combined with his 83 million followers can be seen as normalizing trolling. And obviously I know that tweet is a joke. But again — all of this is nuanced. Some people will get that it is a joke, laugh or not, and move on; some will only see someone powerful trolling someone else, and replicate the behavior. Is that the "free speech" we apparently so desperately needed? I don't believe it is.
Now — is it all ruined? Is Twitter doomed with an Elon Musk acquisition? I don't think so. In fact, there are things he has said that I completely agree with: the algorithm should be made public (or removed! Make the chronological timeline the default again); Twitter should crack down on bots; the verification process truly is bad and should extend to every human being.
Can Elon make progress on some (or all) of these things? Certainly. Elon Musk can mobilize people in ways many other leaders can not. But running the world's consciousness (Jack Dorsey's words, not mine) is not quite like building great cars or reusable rockets. Cars don't quite have ethics, feel bad when they are bullied, tell lies or incite war. How people communicate in social media has real impact, with real consequences too. Hopefully Elon lets the Twitter team handle that part of the company — as they're the ones with the experience.
As with so many other Elon Musk things, we're going for a ride.
A few days ago I found myself writing "this is my cup of tea" when looking at a particular engineering problem. The subject of the problem isn’t relevant, but for the curious, it was mostly about detecting and blocking fraudulent transactions in an online platform. Thinking about it objectively, though, I don't know if I even have a "cup of tea" — that particular challenge just looked good to me. Similarly, in years past I found myself articulating infrastructure because I find it interesting to create the tooling to automate engineering operations. Is that my cup of tea? Not really, no; frankly, it's just something I enjoy and have done a lot.
If I have a "cup" of anything, that something has to be somewhere in product. In figuring out how to model something to solve a problem for people. But in reality, I dislike the idea of having a proverbial cup in the first place. For myself, that is — I obviously understand and respect how some people prefer deep specialization in a topic, even if it isn't something I look for often.
The topic of specialization versus being a jack of all trades has been well explored elsewhere. The key insight, that I've learned over the years is to not really fret about it (often a problem on its own), and to just be okay with being flexible. There are, of course, subjects I choose to deepen my knowledge of at specific points. In general, however, I love the idea of exploring a range of subjects (including things outside my comfort zone) and pulling from those when I need creative solutions to particular problems.
The market, managers, your biases, will often make you feel inadequate — either for being too specific in your knowledge, or for not being specific enough. I believe there is no right or wrong way to think about this. If you find comfort in depth, then dive. If, on the other hand, you are comfortable exploring many domains, then do that instead. Find a job, a team, a company under which your personal model is effective, and focus on doing your best work in your own way.
There are two competing schools of thought in the world of entrepreneurship: one that defends that the entrepreneur should never sleep, never take a break, never be off. The other school of thought says that entrepreneurship isn't everything, that your startup is not your life, and that you should never put it in front of other things.
These feel like two sides of a coin that leave no room for subtlety. If you are a card-carrying member of the first school, everyone else is a slacker who isn’t working hard enough. And if you're on the opposite end, members of the school of never-ending hustle are senseless people looking for success at all costs.
I'm here to defend a third school of thought — the school of intentionality. It lies somewhere in the middle of the other two. The school of intentionality understands that entrepreneurship (and knowledge work in general) is a creative business. And creativity can’t really be controlled. There is no on/off switch for it. Sometimes you are all about solutions — sometimes, all you see are problems.
I’ve gone through both periods of intense flow and exclusive focus on the work (for years on end, even), and periods where the work took a back seat to other things (personal projects, real life events, nothing at all). I find I do my best work in the ebb and flow between the two — and based on recent conversations with friends and peers, I’m not alone. So, why then does this industry force us to be miserable?
A balanced approach to work seems like a solid way to avoid burnout, frustration and perhaps more importantly, regret down the road about the life not lived.
There is only one rule in the dusty, barely ever opened rulebook of the school of intentionality: do what feels right in the moment, but whatever that is, do it with intent. When you sit down to get work done, know why you’re sitting down. When something is not working, look inward to find out why that is — and ideally, take a break. Learn about what works for you, rather than trying to model the way you work off others — because learning from their past success is no guarantee of your future results.
Truth is there is no guarantee of success at either end of the “how to live entrepreneurship” spectrum. Ask around, and you’ll find that if anything, this industry is far from fair, too. Right place, right time, straight-up luck, or a combination of these, end up dictating where you and your business end up — more so than how many hours you put in this week. So, simply work with intent. When you are working, work to produce your best output. But understand when that isn’t possible and pause.
Some days I find myself putting in more hours than some might find healthy. And some days, I find my creativity just isn’t quite there, and I take things slowly. And you know what? I found that to work quite alright.
For some book-shaped explorations of this topic, I recommend Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”, Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” and “Rework” from the folks at Basecamp. Some of these lean heavily on either side of the aforementioned spectrum, so read critically. Speaking of Cal Newport, I found his most recent book “A World Without Email” to be quite interesting — and its scope goes beyond what the title implies. More on that subject soon.
I’ve been thinking about data silos recently, and that made me want to come back to blogging, as I feel it is ground zero for ideas. But I have struggled with writers block over the last few years (full blown creative block really, as it affected my music-making too). I’m starting to chisel at it, though. Slowly. Baby steps, and this is one.
Anyway. Quick bit of housekeeping here before I move on to other things that have been on my mind. I’ve recently added a couple of quote-unquote static pages to this site, which I think may be interesting to some of the people who end up here:
- /now, which is intended to be an answer to “what have you been up to lately”, based on [Derek Sivers]’ idea. Derek explains the why of now pages at nownownow.com and there’s lots to explore there. I encourage you to create one of these too if you have a website of your own. It is a great exercise in distilling your own thoughts and reflecting on what keeps your creative juices flowing.
- /favorites is just a collection of some of my favorite things (between books, movies, tv, music). I love to both give and get recommendations, so if you have things that have particularly inspired you recently, feel free to email me (or DM me on twitter) anything you think I’d be into.
There. See you soon. Alexa, publish this thing.
(Originally published on Medium.)
In code, product, design, video games, life, tunnel vision plays a role. You’re in the middle of something, and when you come back up for air, you realize the world has changed. Your code no longer makes sense. Your product doesn’t fit the market. Your design is outdated. Your past goals no longer represent you. Things changed, and you didn’t see them change. That is tunnel vision.
In design and development, tunnel vision renders your skills irrelevant. You stopped learning new programming languages, or looking at what’s new in the world, because you were too busy building things. Your designs feel off because you haven’t been looking at inspiration as much, or experimenting with new ideas.
In product and product management, tunnel vision renders your work irrelevant. You go down one path, and the world shifts around you — a new technology comes out that revolutionizes how people see work and the world; a competitor product finds a way to mitigate the issues you are solving for; you spent too much time zigging while the world was zagging.
In life, tunnel vision disconnects you. You were too busy to spend time with your friends. You spent too long focusing on your work, while life chugged along. You were looking down while the world was right in front of you. You were hoping the clock would slow down just a little because, hey, a new sprint planning just ended and your task inbox just filled up again. But the clock didn’t really slow down — It just kept going, at the unreasonable pace of one second per second. Hold on — another email just came in, and I really have to check that.
I come bearing no true solutions.
I can’t tell you how to live your life — heck, this post is as much about me as it is about what I see in the world. What I can tell you is to come back up for air more often. In engineering, maybe that means spending a percentage of your time exploring new technologies. In design, maybe it is being inspired by the work of others a little more often. In product, maybe that is asking if your vision of the world still makes sense. In life, maybe that means spending more time with those you care about, and who care about you.