The Antichrist Idea

Movies and propagandistic history have taught us that bad guys are an almost unrecognizable species. They appeal to the bad desires in humans, and only bad people support them.

Heroes, we are taught, are eminently understandable and relatable. They want what’s best not for themselves, but for everyone. Good people instantly recognize and support them.

The idea of an Antichrist is important because it strips away this easy narrative and reminds us the true nature of good and evil.

An Antichrist isn’t some kind of obvious monster gaining power by crushing the weak. They gain power by appealing to the common good, compassion, and progress. They appear heroic. They command devotion. They are a role model.

The danger is that just below the surface, the promises conceal vices.

Not necessarily on the part of the Antichrist figure, but those enthralled by him. The virtues they praise in him are cover for destructive impulses they wish to justify in themselves. The common good is a hiding place for envy; compassion for vengeance; progress for conquest.

Real world villains of the really dangerous sort do not appear uniquely evil, antisocial, or psychotic. They appear heroic, but not because of genuine courage or self-sacrifice, but because they enable us to justify evil impulses in our own hearts by presenting them as positive programs.

It is usually feigned concern for Theoretical Man that causes the greatest harm to actual men.

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Coming at it Fresh

I think about my work all the time. Evenings, weekends, holidays, etc.

This is mostly a good thing. It helps me work better and it’s fulfilling to be connected to what I do.

Sometimes it’s not good. Sometimes my brain gets overcooked on work stuff and I get in mental ruts. I need to come at it like an outsider again.

This requires some effort. I have to create conditions that make it easier to not think about work, and stay disciplined about it. Usually that means finding something else to focus on. Another challenge or project.

When done right, I return to work mode as a new person.

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Solutions vs Problems

A lot of really smart ambitious people love solutions. They get excited about amazing solutions and start building with them. Most of them fail to accomplish anything meaningful.

Why?

Because problems determine the success of a venture, not solutions.

The size, scope, intensity, definability and cost of a problem matters more than the cleverness of a solution. If you find an intensely felt problem in a sufficiently large market that is clear enough to understand, how you solve it isn’t that important.

I remember when I was pitching venture capitalists for the first time and I boned up on all kinds of engineering details of a platform we were building. I’m no a coder myself, but I thought they’d be grilling me about the nature of the solution we were building.

They didn’t. At all.

They didn’t care in the least about the specs of the solution. They cared about my ability to identify and define a clear problem and the provable value in solving it. Then they cared about whether I seemed like the type of guy who could rally some good tech talent to decide the details of how.

They had it right.

Most endeavors fail because someone stumbles upon a really cool solution to a vague problem of unknown size and value, and never really wants to commit to paring it down to something clear.

The problemification process is painful.

Asking things like: What problem is this solving? Who is this a problem for? How many of them are there? How big of a problem is it? How common is the problem? How much would they pay to have it solved? And repeating these questions until you get down to something tangible is annoying.

If you’re never allowed to talk about or explain solutions, how far can you get? Can you paint a problem picture that is so compelling it’s a no-brainer for someone to say, “Oh wow, if someone solved THAT, they’d have a huge business”?

If not, keep trying.

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Be Weirder in Business

“Bring it down to earth” they say. “Land the plane” they say.

Then you write on economic theory from the 1800’s and C-suite from massive companies DM you to tell you they loved it.

There is no shortage of nuts and bolts how-tos and tactics. These are great and often needed.

But people will tell you all the time how much they love and long for more practical application. Just like they’ll tell you they want access to post-event recordings. In both cases, they’re lying.

Practical application can be more fantastical than theories or first principles, because it’s post hoc systemization of things that worked for often unknown reasons.

First principles and abstract theories don’t pretend to perfectly solve your situation. As such, they are flexible, adaptable, and you are in control of how and when to use them.

And they’re refreshing in business! They’re different. They’re interesting.

Don’t be afraid to share ideas on the level most interesting to you. Don’t get lulled into the belief that you’ve got to bend everything into a bullet-list.

Feel free to get weird with your writing!

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Musical Truth

There’s an interesting tension between music for the listener and music for the performer.

How many times have you loved every detail about the album version of a song, then heard a band play it live and change it up? If you’re like me, your first reaction is annoyance. You came to hear and sing the version you know by heart, not indulge some variation meant to subvert your expectations.

That’s the listener-centric view anyway. Peak experience for a listener is something that perfectly meets the longing and expectation they have for each part of the song they know is coming.

Peak experience for a performer is different. It’s more about being in the zone synchronously with yourself and other performers. It’s more about the beauty of surprise, when a choice goes in an unexpected direction, or comes out with a surprisingly perfect sound for the moment.

True transcendence happens when these perspectives meet.

If listeners are totally in charge, music starts to devolve to the least common denominator and ceases to progress. We get nothing but the audio version of Henry Ford’s “Faster horse”.

If the performers are totally in charge, music starts to revolve around ego in a regressive inward spiral. It becomes weird, self-indulgent, and pathological.

The tension between what pleases listeners and what pleases performers is the fulcrum on which musical truth rests.

When the listener is getting enough of what they expect and want, their delight feeding into and challenging the performers, who in turn give the audience more and challenge them with something new, yet not too far off the path. Both challenge and constrain each other. Both want to be pushed to the point where it feels they almost lose control, but never entirely.

The act of writing, performing, and listening to music is on some level always the pursuit of this musical truth.

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Market > Marketing

A good marketer focuses on the market, not marketing.

Marketing is something you do to your targets. It’s a unilateral attack. The framing and phrasing are all wrong. People don’t want to be marketed to.

Your market is something you’re a part of. If you Live-In-Market you never have to Go-To-Market. Your job is to participate in and create value with and for the individuals and companies in your market. To join, start, encourage, highlight, and enhance conversations that create value for the members of the ecosystem.

Call it content, call it community, call it events, call it whatever you want. At the end of the day, it’s about being a part of your market, serving it, and participating in conversations that add value.

When you do, you don’t need to market products at people. You don’t need to cram them into a funnel. When they have problems you can solve, they’ll come to you for help.

And when they do and you help them, that’s called sales.

This is why my title at PartnerHacker is Chief Market Officer. I don’t make a big deal about titles, and this may seem silly or cheesy, but words are powerful framing devices and this variation on CMO is a reminder for me of what my job is.

Not marketing, but taking care of the market.

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Algo Simping

There’s a style of writing content-ing that makes me grumpy. It’s all over social media, but worst on LinkedIn.

Algo simping.

Posts that communicate almost nothing, but are carefully crafted around the arbitrary rules of the all-powerful algorithm.

They are not made because the writer has something to say, but because they crave engagement. Engagement for its own sake is like the Ouroboros consuming its own tail. Feeding attention to attention-seekers to get more attention to feed attention-seekers so you can get more attention.

If you have something to say, say it. “Write the truest sentence you know” as Hemingway (I think) put it. And say it in the truest way you can.

Studying the intricacies of the algorithm so you can feed it sacrifices and hope it is pleased feels vacant and servile.

Virality is fun, engagement is fun, playing with the rules of the game is fun, dancing with your audience is fun, but only when you have an idea you want to share. Only when you have something to say.

Sharing for the sake of sharing to get attention for the sake of attention is a sickness. It’s devolving humanity into dopamine receptor powered automatons, salivating at the ring of the algorithm created by some half-hearted engineer buried in the guts of some confused tech giant.

What substrate do you want to build the bones of your ideas on, and what to give them flesh? Social media is a fine platform for this. But when you stop building on top of it and instead feed your empty words into its gaping maw for nothing but a heart emoji, something has been lost.

Don’t simp the algo. Say something.

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Keep it Grounded or be Brilliant?

There seems to be a tradeoff between artistic brilliance and sanity.

I wonder if some of the great artists of the past who worked under patrons and achieved madness-inducing brilliance did so precisely because of the patronage system. When you are sheltered from contact with customers and markets for daily sustenance, you are afforded the space to go insane and also maybe make some crazy good art.

The idea of such a tradeoff makes me uncomfortable, and I hope it’s true that people can achieve peak brilliance while maintaining total sanity. But the evidence doesn’t look too good.

In a wealthy society, the number of people who don’t have to be connected to market exchanges for their daily bread is large. The scope for artistic and intellectual exploration is high. As such, the odds of becoming crazy are high.

I don’t know if people ever have a true meet the devil at the crossroads moment of choosing, where the option to stay good and grounded is offered against becoming great and mad, but if they do, I wonder what percentage of people would choose which. And I wonder later if they’d change that decision.

It’s not uncommon to encounter brilliant types who seem tortured with regret and a constant wish to be less volatile. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a grounded person who wishes they’d traded some sanity for brilliance.

Yet the world would be a lot less interesting if no one ever made that choice. So here’s to the crazy ones I guess. Your willingness to trade sanity for brilliance might not make your life better, but it definitely makes ours more interesting.

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Thou Shall Not Covet

Nobody talks about covetousness these days. I suspect it’s the source of a lot of depression and frustration.

What gets labelled FOMO is often covetousness. Scrolling a feed of people telling you how your work should be, your food should be, your money should be, your spouse should be – this can be interesting or helpful, but it can grow into covetousness.

Covetousness isn’t primarily damaging because it causes negative feelings towards those who have what you don’t. It’s damaging primarily because it causes negative feelings towards what you do have.

If only my (X) could be more like theirs.

This can be a starting point for positive change. But it more easily morphs into covetousness that leads to despair.

Don’t pay attention to what others have or claim to have. Unless it makes you genuinely happy for them (a superpower worth cultivating), it is likely to make you less happy with what you have.

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Of Monsters and Men

After a long steady cultural trend toward pretending monsters don’t exist, or if they do they’re just like us and it’s totally cool to be a monster, resistance is forming.

There is a new appreciation for the old fables and fairy tales about monstrous creatures and the dangers they pose to society.

This is a necessary re-centering, but it’s also coming on a bit fast and furious and carries with it the seeds of evil deeds.

Witch hunts, inquisitions, and even genocide are the unbridled versions of monster-awareness. From these, no one is safe. Even the least monstrous can be otherized into monsters in the minds of those mad with monster-hunting mania.

The solution is not to call the ugly beautiful, act as if dark forests pose no danger, or pretend the fringe is the center. The solution is to be firmly and clearly aware of the danger of monsters out there and aware of the monstrous forms lurking in your own heart.

The monster in you thirsts for blood and violence. It takes delight in harsh and brutal punishment. It begins with just enough to make you think it’s justice, but its appetite for vengeance only grows and the objects of its rage expand until no one is safe.

The monster in you uses the hunt for external monsters as its bait, to lure you into a never-ending hate-filled hunt for weirdos, which quickly becomes anyone not just like you.

After seeing several light-hearted Tweets about how monstrous various people were, and how the old days of facing off against monsters might be needed, I felt something sinister slowly at work. The good thread in here – re-recognition of the real danger of monsters – was interwoven with a monster in disguise. Like Dracula donned the cloak of the townspeople and led the charge against what they thought was him but was really one of his vitcims.

I summed up my sentiment in a Tweet:

This is a trend very much worth keeping an eye on. I have to temper myself often when my hackles get raised over encounters (almost never firsthand, but mediated through biased filters via screens) with monsters.

I do not deny the threat of monsters. But I am attempting to start by recognizing the biggest threat is within. Tame that one, avoid the rest, redeem when possible, only fight when absolutely necessary.

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Is a Digital Priestly Class Needed?

Yesterday, I read this fascinating newsletter on Anticipatory Gardening. It got me thinking about the possible need for a digital priestly class.

“Priestly class” used mostly as a slur. But priests exist for some good reasons.

One of those is to turn accumulated information and wisdom via trial and error, revelation, innovation, and contemplation into something easy to pass on and not easy to lose or forget. This is done through ritual, garments, traditions, building, books, processes.

A priestly class can become gatekeepers, hiding knowledge from the world, but at their best, they are preservers, keeping knowledge alive even in trying times.

The digital age did a lot to remove the gatekeepers. But while none of us were noticing, it also removed the preservers.

Things are being scrubbed and forgotten. Previously discovered truths have to re-found or re-invented. Entire troves of data become inaccessible with new hardware. Ways of being and thinking are inconceivable as we are conditioned to believe life has always been like this.

Our confidence in digitization causes us to neglect other forms of preservation. We don’t need that anymore, I’m sure it’s online by now. Google has added all the books in the world to some library somewhere, right? The Wayback Machine ensures everything’s been cataloged, right? Sadly, no.

Making info easy to add and spread can also mean it’s easy to edit and destroy. Many of these archival tools have already been pruned and changed. All are selective in what they preserve.

A digital priestly class is needed to preserve and pass on all of this information before it gets compressed and condensed into algorithmically determined summaries and we forget all the richness behind it. (Google’s utopian vision is, I’m not kidding, a world where every search yields a single, perfect result. Paging Doctor Hayek!) We will become dumber if we turn over humanity’s accumulated wisdom to the bots and algos that manage info online.

Digital preservers need to emerge to protect and maintain the weird history being written on the web, as well as everything moved onto it from before. The digital equivalent of norms and rituals and sacred cathedrals and libraries and monasteries may be required to serve this purpose.

I have no idea what that might look like, or how closely it will map to the trappings of knowledge-preservation in the past. I do know that it must be voluntary and independent from any government. Otherwise, the gatekeeper function will rear its head and dominate the role, and we’ll be right back where we were pre-printing press and pre-digital.

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The Lack of Utility is the Sign

Another crypto scam is imploding. None of this is hard to see coming if you refuse to believe something is valuable without demanding to see utility.

When the value derives entirely from the belief that other people will believe that other people will believe that other people will believe it’s valuable, you’re in trouble.

You can win if you time it right, but you never sleep well and you never know if you’re timing it right.

A few years ago, I thought 90% of crypto was fake, useless scams. Today, I think it’s probably more like 98%. The percent of crypto projects that have any real utility has pretty much declined every year since Bitcoin was released. Maybe it increased for the first few years, but since at least 2015, it has been plummeting rapidly.

There are a few things that blockchain tech can do that offer the promise of real utility. Solving the Byzantine General’s problem with economic incentives in a digital environment is pretty amazing, at least in theory.

In practice, it opens up new surface area for digital innovation. Nanopayments. Timestamps and proof of history. Global, instant, nearly free transactions. Data and units of exchange combined. Split payments. Liquidity for things like revenue streams and fractional ownership. And on the fringes, some additional tools for the constant cat and mouse game of evading government censorship and regulations (though most crypto makes government’s job easier and tyranny far stronger, a few ever shifting edge cases will always exist, and such gray/black market outlets are on the whole a good thing).

But almost no one is working on any of these things. The few that are have almost no traction.

Pretty much all of crypto is – and has been at least since BTC crippled itself with tiny blocks to purposely curb its utility – useless ponzi garbage and government/organized crime grift, surveillance, and psyops.

The saddest part is how many full-throated libertarian types have empowered tyrants and corrupt legacy banksters while believing they are resisting them.

Again, it may seem confusing and hard to discern what’s what, but if you simply and relentlessly ask “What’s the utility”, all of this is and has been obvious to see for some time.

The stock market can be (and is) manipulated and corrupt, but shares of a company at least have a causal connection with utility. You can see where they get worth beyond just the belief that others may value it. The companies make and sell things that create value for people, and get revenue in return.

When the only value is the belief that it will someday create value for someone, but no one has even attempted to propose how, you’re in trouble.

You may buy shares in a company without a product, but only if you have seen some kind of vision or roadmap that plausibly lays out how your money will result in a product that creates value. None of that is present in almost any crypto project.

Again, there is real value in the underlying problems that Bitcoin solved in 2009. But almost no one is attempting to tap into any of it.

Look for utility. Would you use the thing for something, or could you find someone to sell it to who would? Otherwise, you’re mostly just contributing to a big egregore that wants to eat you.

This isn’t a perfect rule in a world of limited info and subjective economic value, but it’s a great heuristic to reduce downside risk massively, and keep your sanity intact.

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