How to Fix the World

The world’s got problems. Poverty, sickness, violence, crime, exploitation, and countless other bad things exist. They are not good. What more, their very existence is a red flag that something must be done. But what?

No matter your politics or philosophy, most of us would agree making the world a better place is a desireable goal. Where we all differ is in deciding what should be done to accomplish that goal.

So let’s break it down.

Let’s assume there are two ways we might determine to fix the world: centralized solutions or decentralized solutions.

1. Centralized solutions

Here’s how centralized solutions work. Identify a widespread problem and work toward a solution that solves the problem for everyone affected. Often this requires turning to large organizations like the government. Common problems that are being  worked on at a centralized level include:

  • Public education
  • Healthcare
  • Poverty
  • Individual rights

The centralized approach assumes a solution can be engineered and once “solved,” executed. It assumes complete accuracy with regard to theories of human behavior and no second order effects — I.e. policies aren’t gamed at the micro level, central forces perfectly execute the policy.

Centralized approaches do not have a successful historical record. Command economies fail. Public education is broken. Poverty has not been eliminated by the welfare state. Pick pretty much anything. And its not for lack of trying.

Possible exception: Centralized establishment of individual rights. So far as we can agree upon explicit individual rights, establishing those rights and then upholding them via the law has been a boon for society.

What’s going on here? I’d posit establishing individuals as the rightful owners of their own existence aligns agency and self-interest. The individual is responsible for their own survival and existence, requiring nothing of their fellow man other than non-aggression. But non-aggression has a consequence: a given individual’s rights cannot come at the expense of others.

Individual rights are an exception to other centralized solutions due to their elegant symmetry and decentralized, distributed execution.

2. Decentralized solutions 

The most widespread decentralized solution to making the world a better place is to let individuals own the outcomes of their decisions. I.e. individual, personal responsibility. Decentralized solutions follow naturally from individual rights.

Extend personal responsibility into large groups of people and you get an emergent second order effect: the “free market.”

Importantly and controversially, the free market turns a blind eye toward fixing (centrally) the playing field. Equality of outcome is ifnored (it’s opportunity and agency that matters). Differences in wealth and personal preferences are a feature, not a bug.

Okay, so what?

So when it comes to making the world a better place, which is more effective, decentralized or centralized solutions?

Long ago I concluded I had the most agency to make the world better through my individual decentralized actions. I can make the world better by educating my kids, being a good neighbor, making responsible decisions, being productive with my work, solving problems when I see them. There is symmetry in this approach. I reap the rewards of my actions but also suffer for my mistakes.

It’s imperfect but feels right. It both feels right locally—I can see the positive impact on my proximate world. But it also works globally. If every person individually determined to pursue small ways to make their world better. No omniscient central control mechanism is required. Eventually, small things sum up to significant macro change.

Don’t take my word for it.

It’s not perfect. A consequence is there will still be many big problems in the world. And for those, what? Centralized solutions? It depends. Can they be accomplished without downstream effects? Can they work without violating non-aggression? What is the cost of trying? What is impact of failing?

Perhaps the most important questions: What message does it send? What culture does it create?  Where  does it place the locus of control to fix the world?

Fix the world or bemoan it’s brokenness?

What’s better? To point out the manifold ways the world needs to be fixed and gnash your teeth, protest, and rage against the central powers to “do something!” Or enact through individual behavior small ways to make the world better, encouraging others you care about (and who care about you) to do the same in their own lives?

Like the Mote and the Beam, perhaps it’s better to fix locally first before attempting to tackle the global problems. Fixing your local world does not mean you don’t want the world to be a better place. It doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye to the pain of others. Support those around you as best you can given your limited resources.

Our resources are limited, so put your efforts where they’ll have the most impact. Fix your world.

The Mote and the Beam

From the Sermon on the Mount comes the story of the Mote and the Beam. A refresher:

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. — Matthew 7:1-5 KJV 

I’m no Biblical scholar. That’s my dad. But what of the mote and the beam? Is it merely a store about being hesitant to judge others? Maybe. Or maybe it’s something more.

Our Virtuous Modern Landscape

Our society is slowly drowning in the rising tide of judgment. It is everywhere. Individuals are shouted down, damned as evil, monsters! Sometimes for simply having the gall to disagree.

Social media amplifies it all. A social connection shares a perspective. Likeminded individuals pile-on. Many might disagree (or have a question) but say nothing—just not worth it. And for the one who disagrees enough, they go for the jugular. The result isn’t pretty. And nothing changes. Nothing is learned.

The situation devolves.

Elsewhere, what about the the professionals? They’re as bad if not worse: Hop over to the latest news cycle and watch journalists twist words and facts into narratives that push an agenda, more fiction than fact. “Fake news?” Try any news.

Better yet: No news.

Dehumanized

Have you ever noticed how you behave differently when you’re in a public space, face-to-face with other human beings? You extend your fellow man a basic courtesy. You don’t just cut people off at the pass. It’d take an incredible affront to bow out your chest, curse your fellow man, or flip someone the bird.

Yet all of these things are natural outcomes of doing one simple thing: hopping behind the wheel of a car. Why are human being so quick to damn their fellow man when sitting comfortably behind steel and glass?

Or behind the screen of a phone?

Perhaps it’s because technology robs of us nuance, eliminates the threat of facing the raw consequences of our rage, makes us feel bigger than we are, more perfect, less flawed.

Perhaps the more technological we become, the less human we are.

The Mote

A simple glance around is all it takes to see that “something is wrong” with the world. It’s all going to hell. There’s so much to enrage us. Whether it’s the President, the politics, the hubristic opinions of “the other side,” whatever. And it must be pointed out! Rage on!

It’s  Cunningham’s Law:

the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.

Except no one wants to get the right answer—we just want to point and shout “You’re wrong!” Forgotten in our rage is the person on the other end of our spirited, breathy opinion. The target of our rage—the actual human being—becomes a caricature.

The Beam

But what if, instead of pointing out how egregiously wrong the other side is, we took a minute to assess our own position. What if, just for the sake of understanding our own position, we steelmanned the other side. Go a step further: imagine the other side may know something you don’t. Remember their humanity and try to empathize with their position. How else can you hope to understand the ideas you hope to defeat?

So put on their shoes. It won’t kill you.

Yes, it is scary. And it does require courage. What if you are wrong? Cognitive dissonance exists because it’s a shield to protect, but that shield can blind us. Wouldn’t you rather dismantle your misguide beliefs now rather than become more entrenched—and all at the cost of further dehumanizing other people?

But it takes work. It’s a process. But the reward is this: When we remove the beam in our own eye we can finally begin to see.

Rehumanizing

I’m an optimist, but these days it’s becoming harder and harder. So many people I respect adamantly refuse to entertain the possibility they are wrong.

(And I, too, fear my own certainty, my own cognitive dissonance.)

So what if we began to engage with others across our screens as though the individuals we’re addressing were physically in the same space as us? What if we were to see them as human beings with similar struggles?

Perhaps the antidote to our enraged modern existence is in the remembering: none of us is a group. And each of us is human.

The only meaningful minority is the individual.

How Mobile has Hijacked Human Nature

We live in abundance; why does our attention feel so scarce?

Our biology hasn’t caught up to our technology. Today, we live in a time of abundance — abundance of information, content, and connectivity. Yet our time and attention

 has never felt more scarce — or scattered. How we manage the interplay between these dynamics is critical to our future yet completely unresolved. We are in uncharted territory.

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The Axis of Content Consumption is Attention

The democratization of content may have already happened but it’s far from over. Today, we are all drowning to consume as much content as possible, treading water as we doll out our time to whatever content manages to grab our attention. And no matter what we choose, we never feel like we make the tiniest dent. We’re left dissatisfied and still drowning. The Internet is a flood.

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The Democratization of Content

Prerequisite.

Benedict Evans has two thoughtful articles out about content creation versus consumption (and how mobile versus PC relates to the two) and the end of “Content is King.” If you follow Evans on Twitter (and you must if you are at all interested in macro-tech trends, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.), you’ll find both of these articles put lots of words behind ideas he’s been brooding on for some time.

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A Framework for Understanding Human Decisions—Jobs to be Done

This following post originally written for the FullStory blog, but since I am such a Clayton Christensen fan and have blogged about this topic here in the past, syndicating the post for anyone interested.


Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and Harvard business professor, makes the case that in order to understand what motivates people to act, we first must understand what it is they need done — the why behind the what.

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FullStory—I am here!

If you’ve been reading along lately, you picked up on the fact that last week was my last at Google.

And this week was my first at FullStory.

What is FullStory? How you answer that really depends on your job and how you use the tool. I’m not trying to be obtuse; it’s just that FullStory is an analytics (SaaS) platform that captures everything your users do on your website. Understood in its most basic form, FullStory allows you to watch (Literally! Like a DVR) how a user engaged with your site down to the mouse movements, clicks, pauses, everything.

You can mine user sessions for all sorts of reasons, whether they’re for product marketing managers, customer support, design, user experience (UX), user interface (UI), development (finding errors, fixing bugs), etc.

It’s pretty rad—e.g. see this FullStory review from a long-time customer.

I began paying attention to FullStory way back in 2014. A couple Xooglers from Atlanta I’d kept up with were two of the three founders and I was enthusiastically watching to see what they were cooking up.

Fast forward to late 2015 and I started seriously inquiring about roles at FullStory, had a few conversations, and started imagining the possibilities. The timing wasn’t quite right then but all was kept on the backburner. Things quieted down for a bit though I think it stayed on the backburner until late 2016 when things started getting “serious.”

Now here I am.

I’m going to be handling content marketing. You could say my job title is FullStory-teller. I hope to do for FullStory a lot of what I did for a certain minimalist footwear site. I’m just getting started, but you’ll be able to follow along at blog.fullstory.com; also, if you’re not already there, add me on instagram and twitter (these are my personal accounts).

Very excited about the future here. There is just so much potential, excitement, and opportunities.

And if you have a website and care about making it better for whatever reason or whatever function, yeah, you should totally check out FullStory.

The Canary in the Coal Mine and Leaving Dysfunctional Groups

The expression “canary in a coal mine” originates from coal miners using canaries as a kind of early warning system. The miners would take the birds into the mine and periodically check-in on their status. The delicate canaries were more susceptible to gases like carbon monoxide, so if they suddenly stopped moving, miners would be alerted of dangerous air conditions.

Hence, the expression “canary in a coal mine” is an idiomatic way of talking about events that portend negative things to come.

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Casey Neistat and Success by Doing (Plus Stochasticity)

If you aren’t familiar with Casey Neistat, allow me to remedy the situation.

Casey Neistat is likely the most burgeoning YouTube star of 2016. Here’s his channel. I’m approaching a year having subscribed to his daily vlog videos and to my eye what Neistat is doing on YouTube is a testament to the democraticization of video content.

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