Aspire to be less wrong – Elon Musk

A few years ago I was inspired by my love of David Deutsch work and this quote by Elon Musk:

Aspire to be less wrong

Elon Musk

I couldn’t say it better myself. So cold winter morning I found some rights free space images from NASA and I put together this poster. Never printed it, but since then it has been becoming increasingly popular on the Figma community. So I figured I would offer some good exports for sale.

I hope you like it!

This outdated worldview is holding back the internet

If you’re born before 1990 you probably tend to believe a computer is a laptop (or a desktop, but that’s so retro…).

Walking around the average office you might think that’s correct. But there are two issues with this world view. The first one is that the numbers don’t agree, I’ll get back to that. And the second one is that it gives us a bad explanation to understand our users or clients with.

What we believe are computers is just the shape that was popular for computing devices between the early 80s and 2007. They used to be beige boxes, but the use case was the same: they sit on our desk or table, and they let us peck at spreadsheets with our mice.

That’s not what the world looks like anymore. More and more people were introduced to computers that looked like the iPhone. They know what laptops are, sure. But to them that’s not what a computer is. For them the computer is a screen you use for internet services.

In fact most computing is already done on iphone-like devices:

“In terms of computing, no one now questions the shift that took place from desktops and laptops to mobile devices. However, reality was messier as it took nearly a decade for consensus to view the smartphone as a laptop or desktop alternative. For years, smartphones were viewed as merely laptop and desktop extensions. What was initially viewed as a superior email machine for executives marked the start of a paradigm shift in the making.”

Above Avalon

The world looked confusedly at us kids who understood the internet. Now we’re in danger of doing the same. We’re probably already moving towards computation that is even less like a traditional computer like watches and headphones.

Most companies still lag the mobile paradigm shift, partly — I think — because we who were born before 1990 still think a computer is a box with a keyboard.

It’s time to abandon the idea of the traditional computer. It had it’s day, I still love it. But that’s no longer a model of the world that makes sense.

The only useful distinction today is online or offline. And online is touch first.

Vacation from consumption

In a conversation with a friend he explained that he takes weeks off consuming in order to focus on creation. That sounds amazing.

He has, like me, the idea that he wants to create more than he consumes. Regardless of if it’s published or not, simply create for the joy of making things. That’s why I was excited about this concept.

My friend picks a week with few meetings and blocks off time for creative work. He writes down a handful of things he’d like to work on, and makes a commitment to not consume anything during the week. This sounds a lot like Taleb’s via negativa to me, which is an idea I like.

I asked him about the process during the week; his response was simply that he works on his list, and often he finds that he creates something quite quickly, after which he can spend the rest of the time blocked off exploring the offshoots of what he created. But he doesn’t start consuming.

Sounds like a perfect vacation to me. I can’t wait to try it.

Starting something new

It’s almost a year since I closed down BlankPage, the writing service I ran for several years as a side project, and I think it’s finally time to start something new. Picking what to work on, has turned out to be a surprisingly hard problem.

When I started BlankPage is was just one of those excited moments when something life changing felt within reach, and I set about making it a reality immediately. This time I have more experience, and I know how important it is to work on things that are achievable.

That sounds a bit dark, but what I mean to say is that I have some idea of how much time, energy, and money I can spend on a project. So there’s no reason for me to pick a project that is far beyond those limitations in scope. I can’t build a new type of nuclear power plant by myself, with my savings. Understanding that and picking something a bit more viable is actually a freeing and exciting idea. Because it makes my next project so much more real, even in the idea stage.

Derrick Reimer wrote about finding product founder fit a while back, and I like the idea of picking a project that suits you as the creator. That should increase the likelihood of success.
So which are my criteria?
These are my thoughts, off the top of my head while writing this post:

  • The project needs to be small enough that a single full stack dev can easily build it.
    An MVP can’t take more than a few days to implement. Otherwise I won’t iterate fast enough.

  • The project cannot be production critical for the customers.
    I simply cannot guarantee seven 9’s uptime.

  • The Project’s competitive advantage should be based on a clear understanding of the users needs and wants.
    Not technology. It doesn’t have to be unique, it would be ok to just be different.

  • The Project should “give back” to the free and open web some how. The internet is important, and I think it’s up to all of us to strive to keep it open.
    So whatever I build, it should take cues from the IndieWeb movement somehow.

  • The Project shouldn’t aim to become a “scale-up”.
    If I end up taking on VC money, it will consume my life.

Alright, that’s enough for today I think. Back to work.

What’s so Ethical about Design anyway?

Last year I gave a talk at Designers in Stockholm about where evil comes from and how to avoid it. I called it “What’s so ethical about design anyway?” as a joke about the raging debate on ethics of design.

This debate has only grown since I gave the talk, but I’ve heard very little of substance on the topic. So to contribute I thought I’d update my talk and make it available online.

Here are my thoughts on how evil happens in large organisations, and how to avoid becoming evil.

This talk is 5 to 30 minutes long. Email me if you’d like me to present it for your organisation or meetup.

Finding patterns in randomness.

I recently saw season three of Stranger Things on Netflix with my partner, and at one point we both wanted to pause the episode just to learn a word the nerdy professor used: Apophenia.

Apophenia is the tendency for us to find patterns in random noise. Like seeing faces in clouds, or believing we can predict a coin toss.

Originally the word was intended to denote the more extreme behaviours of finding patterns, for instance delusions in connections with schizophrenia. But I think it’s useful in all sorts of situations. Especially for me, as a designer, when I track and observe human behaviour.

Participation medals for moral panic

I’ve always wondered about why some words are deemed to be more dangerous than other. I’m not referring to offensive language here, that’s an entirely different conversation. But words that are simply shunned for their perceived power. Words like “problem”.

A problem is a complication in your way. Something to be solved, worked around or on. In engineering and design a problem is not a negative word, it’s what you’re there to straighten out. Not exactly the focus of your work, but an important part.

In other fields, like politics, a words power comes from the perceived effect it might have. So Problems get renamed into Challanges, and recently I saw the next logical step; Opportunities.

The problem with this second way of working with language is that we’re shooting the messenger. We’re reframing and retooling language instead of working on the problem.

Instead of doing PR about a crash we’re pretending new words can achieve less crashes.

Language has power, and choosing the right words is important. We should continue to do so. But not to absurd extremes.

Fear of problems will not diminish because we change the vocabulary every five minutes. Showing that problems can be worked on and overcome might diminish that fear.

Jony Ive’s wisdom about design problems

Speaking with the Independent Jony Ive, chief design officer of Apple, gave us this insight into design. I think it’s one of the most wise things I’ve read about design problems in a very long time.

I think that is a huge part, a fundamental part, of my job. When you’re talking about the future, and as a designer that’s where my head is, then it’s extremely rare that I feel that I’m working in response to an articulated problem.

I could count the occasions that I’ve done that in the last 25 years on the fingers of one hand. It’s extremely rare that what we do is a response to somebody articulating a problem. By definition, you didn’t know it was a problem until you were aware of a better way of doing it. The tremendous challenge here is that when you have been solving a problem a certain way for a long time, so many things convince you that, of course, that’s the best way of doing it, not least habit.

When you have been solving a problem a certain way for a long time, the very idea that there could be a better way of doing it, can seem almost sacrilegious. It can seem extremely unlikely, so what you have to do is work by taking a leap of faith. That faith is based on the thought, ‘I’ve been here many times before and many times before we have found a better way of doing this’. And you just have to believe that’s the case and you keep on.

Sometimes, the vast majority of times, we are able to find a better way of solving a problem.

— Jony Ive

It’s extremely rare to solve articulated problems. Because normal users don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what the real problem is, they simply discover annoying details. And most often, the habit of how things are done, is not the best way of doing things.