Getting Ready for the Future: Can You Spot a Fake?

The more I read about tools like Midjourney and other AI driven methods for creating art and images, the more concerned I get about what’s coming at us as humans. We’re going to be overwhelmed – eventually – with visuals, audio and video that we can’t trust. And, we’re not going to be able to discern the real/true from the fakes, the “good faith” images and the rest.

You can see humans working together in articles like this one to determine that a popular image is, they argue, fraudulent. In this case, it’s just sort of a mild annoyance: A cool photo turns out to be manipulated, and the “artist” seems to be fake, too. You just have to scroll through this essay to see how much time went into analyzing this photo set, looking at shadows, and pixels and clear mistakes. Hours and hours and hours were invested in this project.

On the other hand, a content farm is creating SEO chum focused on using Midjourney to create “art”. These tools are toys now, generating illustrations mainly. But they’re getting more powerful every week, and photo-realistic images and videos are already out there. As the access to these tools increases, hobbyists will unload their work on all of us. Will any of us be able to spot the fake “art” anymore? Will it matter? How will we deal with AI generated images in “journalism”?

November in my Soul & Driving Off the Spleen

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.

Source: The Project Gutenberg eBook of Moby Dick; Or the Whale, by Herman Melville

YouOS: Time for 2023 Planning

I’m a big fan of EOS (or “Traction”) for those who run small businesses. It’s a straightforward, relatively easy to follow methodology for running your business. As someone prone to overthinking things in an effort to “get it right”, the tools in EOS force simplicity wherever possible.

One of the key steps in the EOS methodology is doing some annual planning, to get ready for the next year and start putting the operating plan into place. And, more specifically, to set some targets for what you want to achieve.

Late October/November is typically the time of the year that EOS businesses go offsite for their annual planning retreat, so it’s also the time that I like to starting thinking about what my own year ahead might look like.

For the last three or four years, i’ve been doing a personal version of the annual plan, It looks something like this:

  • Reflect back on the year overall: Articulate the the biggest wins, professionally and personally. Articulate some misses. I use the the “I like, I wish, I wonder” method I learned from Hyper Island.
  • Financials: Look at the numbers, and make a clear eyed assessment of whether I hit the target or not. The money isn’t really the point. the point is whether I accomplished what I hoped to accomplish or not.
  • Values Check: I review my personal values and reflect on whether they’ve changed or not (or how much) over the last year or so
  • 10 Year, 3 year Vision – I review my own version of where I hope to be in 10 years and 3 years. I re-read the narrative “from the future”, the story I want to bring to life in 3 and 10 years. I edit/adjust as necessary
  • 1 Year plan – I map out the plan for the next year, and focus on 3-5 priorities, the things I want to accomplish. I typically start by doing the Playing Field method I learned from my days at GoKart Labs (RIP). Then, i narrow down the options and pick the 3-5 things I really want to deliver on. I try to make them as specific as I can, so it’s easy to see whether they got “done”.
  • My own personal development plan – Then, i build out two or three specific things I want to work on in the next year. I like to focus on “thinking” and “doing”. For instance, in 2022, my “thinking” priorities were to 1) work on being mindful over the course of the day and 2) being aware of when I was confused/uncertain over the course of the day. The “doing” focus was about taking better notes when I’m reading, meeting, or working, so i’ve got a record of my decisions and choices.

This is by no means a bulletproof process and so far the results are mixed about whether it’s really helping me or not. But, I am trusting the process here and trying hard not to out-think what works for so many others.

Knowing What Good Looks Like and Why

I’ve been talking to a lot of mid-career folks about what they should do next with their work. Some are on sabbatical, some are coming to the end of one phase of their careers and starting another. Some just want to change jobs.

As I listen to them talk about what opportunities they might pursue or where they might go next, I listen for clues to their assumptions and what they are seeking.

Over time, I’ve built a pretty good sense of the patterns for people who successfully move from one stage to another. Someday, I’ll write up a more detailed list of what I see, but I recently read an essay that resonated.

The people that have cultivated taste and an eye for quality tend to do better in transitions like a job change. It seems weird, but I think it’s true. Its not a flair for design or an appreciation for cool visuals. It’s the ability to understand why something is good or “better” and be able to explain it.

Rossi gets at this in his essay about how to develop and grow your career:

If great taste is knowing what’s good, and great skill is knowing how to build things, there is a third element that I have consistently found in the most experienced people I have known.They do not only know what is good — they also know exactly why.

They know what makes good things good.

When I’m talking with folks or when I’m interviewing someone, I ask questions that get their ability to know and explain why something is superior. We typically (as a culture) don’t like to make judgements about people, but we often make judgements about stuff. So, I try to get at whether someone can explain what makes a thing – an app, a brand, a platform, a writer – better. Not just why its utility is good, but why its design/experience is better.

If you can spot “good” or “better” or “best” out in the world, if you can explain the differences to someone, that’s a skill. That’s taste. Thats discernment. And that ability will help you make higher confidence choices about what do next when it’s time to change.

 

Burnt out and Lonely? What We’re All Really Missing

Do you feel that heavy weight? Maybe you sense a fatigue that’s different, not in your muscles and bones, but in your brain and heart. Do you say “meh?” more than you should? Maybe we’re all burned out.

I talk to people in digital every day. These are people that are doing the stuff at work that’s supposed to be fun: making new products, leading product teams in large enterprises, running marketing departments. It’s creative work, at its core, and that work is supposed to be energizing, right? But more and more, the folks I talk to are having a hard time reconnecting to the motivation they used to have.

A couple recent articles might shed some light on what’s happening. Trish Warren at the New York Times normally writes about faith, religion and culture, but in a recent essay she took on burnout and she touched on some potential root causes. Look beyond the christian themes woven through the essay, but pay attention to the gist of the conversation she has with Curt Thompson. A couple key ideas:

  • We’re getting atomized – At work, at home, out in the world we’re moving away from each other. It’s easier than ever to isolate ourselves (via our phones, headphones, computers) on purpose, but the pandemic made it even worse.
  • American Individualism – America’s weird preoccupation with individual identity (note: My thesis was on “Song of Myself”) is running through us all right now, making it harder than ever to find commonality, making it harder to be part of something bigger than ourselves
  • Loneliness – No one wants to talk about this, but there’s a real crisis of loneliness happening in America right now. The irony in our tech saturated world is obvious (haha “we’ve never been more connected! haha), but it’s real. We’ve all been working in our basements too long.

“We know that the brain can do a lot of really hard things for a long time, as long as it doesn’t have to do them by itself. We only develop greater resilience when we are deeply emotionally connected to other people.

https://curtthompsonmd.com/

In order to feel momentum in our lives, we need to move things forward. We need to make, we need to create and we need to help others. But, it’s harder than ever right now and the work of trying has burned a lot of us out. It’s not just you.

How good can work be, when most of the people in your group or on your team are feeling the same way you are, when everyone is sort of fatigued. When everyone is “over” the idea of work in general?

The Opposite of Quiet Quitting

Its easy for me to sound like an old-timer, talking about the good old days. But, I found myself nodding along as I read the first half of Brie Wolfson’s piece on her early days at Stripe. She wrote nostalgically about the high commitment, highly intention, quality-focused culture that everyone was working to build at Stripe. “Big Mood”, she calls it. “… and we were all in. On all of it.” Its the exact opposite of “quiet quitting”, and for a lot of workers, it built a sense of belonging, purpose and focus. I think a lot of people are missing that right now.

“I can say with confidence that nothing great in this town is built without the whole team linking arms to build it together. And, that true collaboration makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. And, that getting there requires working your butt off to do work you’re proud of and leaning on and supporting your colleagues to do the same. At Stripe, we had all that pulsing through our veins. “

Brie Wolfson

She goes on to lament what seems to be a passed era, a time when everyone she knew felt fully committed to their work. And, while acknowledging the many, many negative aspects of a demanding, go-go, “hustle bro” culture, she’s eloquent about missing that shared commitment, that shared sense of purpose, the faith that the team was building something that would make a difference in the world.

I hate the effect, but I like the term she introduces: “lgtm culture.” Looks Good To Me is a mode where “good enough” is what you’re aiming for, a mode where your colleagues aren’t holding you to a higher standard and are ok with letting things go out the door that are “fine”. It’s hard to do your best work, to feel the sense of satisfaction when your team puts out “fine” work, but your ambitions point higher. But, conversely, it’s hard to feel isolated and alone when your whole team is expecting you to help them deliver something truly great.

I’m not sure what business leaders can do to address this stuff. But, as team mates, as co-workers we can do two things.

1) Make an effort to connect and draw people out of their isolation. Maybe it’s just a quick convo after the zoom, maybe it’s coffee. But, make a point to find some shared interests.

2) Help each other lift the work. Make supportive, actionable, constructive feedback. Help your team aim a little higher, so they can build something they’re proud of.

Why We’re Feeling Burned Out

A couple of takes on burnout. I’m still making sense of the culture change that’s driving the idea of (I hate this term) “quiet quitting”. My hypothesis is that it’s more about isolation and a sense of being stuck. That is, feeling disconnected – in a couple different ways – with your coworkers and work in general, because it’s hard to see or feel a sense of momentum.

Here’s a couple more articles:

  • BU’s take on a recent MSFT survey – “…revealing that 55 percent of hybrid employees—those mixing working at home and in an office—and 50 percent of all-remote employees reported feeling lonelier at work than before the pandemic
  • The MSFT survey on remote work – “43% say relationship building is the hardest part of remote work”
  • GitLab’s take on Remote work and burnout – This was done before the pandemic, but the takes are worth digging into.
  • Burnout and Isolation – What if burnout is really about isolation? A little god-centric (it’s from a writer who focuses on faith), but still interesting.

Stick Together: Staying Balanced When Everything is Up in the Air

If you spend a lot of time online, (or at least paying attention to the news) you’re probably feeling overwhelmed. On one hand, the news is terrible: Ecological nightmares happening in slow motion, wars across the globe, economy in turmoil, inflation, infowars, 30% of the population in the US duped into thinking the election was stolen, your neighbors fighting over science and vaccines, etc. On the other hand, your Instagram feed is a steady stream of gauzy filters, happy overload, best lives, extreme positivity, hope, hustle, ambition.

Yet, we’re stuck in the middle trying to get through the day, and figure out post-pandemic norms. We’re languishing.

American culture seems to be driven by extrinsic validation. We like nice cars (because they signal success), expensive clothes (because they signal taste, style), big job titles, the right zip code, the vacations, the right causes, etc. We love likes, so we perform online to get the validation.

But, when the world is going nuts, when chaos seems right around the corner, when your planned path isn’t an option anymore, how do we stay balanced, centered, tethered, steady?

I’m struggling with this right now. I don’t have good answers, but i’m compulsively clicking on the links in twitter hoping to find an article to help me. I’m getting distracted by alerts from the folks barking for my attention. This guru wants me to take a class. That other one wants me to go to their seminar. No app will ever really help me get clear, despite what the ads say.

There are days when I feel like a Kurtz, who went up the river, leaving with optimism, now stuck in the wild, overwhelmed at what the Internet has done to us all. The horror. What has replaced all that hope?

So, I’m working at staying upright. A little yoga, a little meditation. More exercise, better sleep. You know its bad when i’m taking advice from Radiohead:

Fitter happier
More productive
Comfortable
Not drinking too much

I’m one of those guys that always put their head down and tried hard to do the work. I was never the smartest, I have been lazy, but i thought i could endure more work than others.

That approach is making this period of languishing worse, this acedia harder.

I want to be centered, I want to be still. But, my reptile brain is winning and I’m pretty sure my dopamine receptors are burned out.

I think the answer is pretty obvious, but hard for me to see sometimes: Stick together. Find your people, listen carefully, be of service, offer support, ideas and generosity. Be useful. Seek ways to help move something forward. Find ways to connect, even over zoom.

I was listening to the Ezra Klein podcast and the guest was talking about the way profound loneliness – feeling apart, being isolated emotionally, not necessarily just being physically apart – drives people crazy and makes them susceptible to crazy ideas (like QAnon, the Big Lie, conspiracy theories about vaccines, etc). This recalls the book Vivek Murthy wrote a couple years ago, where he made the argument there’s an epidemic of loneliness. Of course we’re all lonely. It’s part of what’s making us nuts.

So, let’s try to stick together. Let’s help each other get out of this bog of ennui and listlessness. Let’s help each other find a sense of balance in a destabilizing world. Let’s hang onto each other when everything seems up in the air.

Its’s Working: Mostly Whole 30

I’m past the halfway point for the Whole30 (or, in my case, the mostly Whole30) and i’m pretty sure I can make it the rest of the way. More importantly, I’m not sure if I will go back to the pre-Whole30 days. It’s working for me on a couple different levels.

I’m doing the Whole30 for a couple reasons. First, to support my wife who wanted to do it as a reset after the holidays and all the things that come with the Holidays in a covid-driven time. I’m interested in experiencing how my body performs without all the grains, the alcohol, and (mostly) without dairy. And, like a lot of folks, I’m trying to re-evaluate the role food and alcohol plays in my life, overall, and how I use food when it’s not simply fueling a workout. More on that later.

In general, though, I feel much better. Lighter and less puffy, since I’m not having a beer or two each night. Sleep is solid, consistent, restful for the first time in years. I’m no longer waking up at 1 AM and staying awake for 2 hours, wondering why. I haven’t weighed myself (the point isn’t about weight loss), but I think I’m losing a little weight.

I’m going to keep going. I feel so much better, why wouldn’t I?

Create More, Consume Less

Has there ever been a better time in human history to be a curious person? Everything you could ever want to learn is right at your fingertips, a click away. It’s amazing to have the resources to find, learn, understand and connect to experts, especially when you really need them. And, of course, our brains love the stimulation and the spark that comes when we lock into a new concept.

So much to learn, so little time. Getting smarter every day.

But, we need balance in our lives. In all things. The risk in all the stuff out there – videos, apps, stories, tweets, reels, snaps, etc – is that “learning”, “research” turns into consumption, pure and simple. We can fill our heads with ideas and mental models and theories, but unless we’re doing something with the knowledge, we’re just letting it wash over us. “Learning” turns into distraction.

The flipside of consumption is creation. Making something new out of the materials we’ve found is a generative act that, when done adequately, results in a helpful contribution.

We have to put that knowledge into action, put it to work. Certainly, we can apply it in our daily jobs to sharpen our own abilities and improve the quality of the work we do. Better is to share the insights and ideas to make things better, easier, smarter, more rewarding for the folks around us. Ideally, we’re adding to the knowledge base by contributing insights, new methods and genuinely new ideas.

2022 is still just getting started. This year, I want to create more than I consume. Making music and art at home will keep me creative and engaged in the world. Creating for work – writing, podcasts, webinars, coaching – will give us a chance to push the ball of knowledge forward, and, hopefully, put us in touch with others who are trying to do the same thing.