Episode Sixty Seven: The Difficulty; Listless Interestingness

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

I’m sat at home at the dinner table. The TV in the other room is playing theme from Resogun, which means I must have unboxed the PS4 and plugged it in. It’s 7:53pm and I haven’t had dinner yet, don’t know what I’m going to have. Other than the videogame music and the forced-air heating, the house is quiet, and cold.

1.0 The Difficulty

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling from depression for a pretty long time. And that various bits of medication and so on have helped. But hey, the thing about long-term clinical depression is that it doesn’t go away.

And that bright period of the last few months? I knew it wouldn’t last. I don’t think I’ve felt properly depressed, or low, in the last two months or so. But I’m feeling it right now. I’m not sure what it is. I don’t know if it’s work or if it’s not-work, I don’t know if it’s because of what’s going on with my mother-in-law, who should’ve been out of hospice by now but isn’t, I don’t know if it’s because two days ago my wife dropped off our fourteen month old son into daycare for the first time, one thousand, seven hundred and sixty miles from where I am. Or that I have yet another bout of work travel coming up in under forty eight hours.

But my brain’s doing that thing it’s done for over twenty years now: that thing where it’s slowed down my entire body – that physical thing that my self inhabits, the one where the only real thing I need are the hands that are resting and typing on the keyboard and touchpad, it’s slowed it down so that it doesn’t really want to do anything. Or, it’s slowed it down so it’s super-aware of absolutely every little thing that’s in every to-do list, of everything that needs to be done with the house, of everything that I’ve fucked up at work, of the light in the upstairs bathroom shower that hasn’t been changed for weeks now because I can’t summon the will to go up and do it, and all it can do, all that body can do is just. Sit. There.

So yeah. I have that self-loathing right now, and the slowness, but it doesn’t stop my mind from racing. Some of my closer friends ask me: how exactly, every week day, do I manage to get this out.

And I kind of say, it’s because (big secret: it doesn’t actually take that long for me to write, and no, that’s not because I’m outsourcing it to TaskRabbits or because I have a markov chain botnet that I bought from a Russian warez site, and no, I don’t know what you mean when you’re asking me about my box full of infinite Amazonian mechanical turks) if I don’t get it out, if I don’t suck up all those spare processor cycles or whatever dominant cultural metaphor of the day we’re using to explain the universe applied to how the brain works, if I don’t occupy my brain with some sort of stimulus like the thinking that goes into this: then I run out of things and I basically go zombie. See that bit of identity? Go eat that. See that bit of self-esteem? Go eat that. Gorge on it. Grill it medium rare and poke it and it runs out bloody and snarf it down, because there’s more where that came from, there’s a bottomless pit of dark, succulent despair and self-hatred. So you may as go upstairs, hide under the covers, and just turn off the rest of the world. Because if you’re looking around, you see: shit hands, shit fingers, shit arms, a shit chest covered in a shit t-shirt, shit legs with shit trousers on, shit socks, and oh: what’s the point.

So instead of writing about something smart, or something witty, or something that happened on the internet, I’m writing about this. I’m writing about what’s inside my head, because the thing that’s caught my attention is, right now, how much I hate myself, and useless I am.

2. Listless Interestingness

Of course, who am I to not soldier on and attempt to still get something down. To try and crawl through. So, here are some things that even in this state of listlessness, at some point yesterday, I found interesting:

– So, there’s a new book, No Exit[1] doing the rounds about the new Californian Gold Rush, covered wonderfully by Felix Salmon[2], which had this line that a lot of people are quoting: “There is no reason whatsoever to believe that computer engineers make particularly good entrepreneurs” which reminds me of the wailing and gnashing of teeth when the British videogames industry collapsed for the nth time, and someone made the observation that perhaps people who’d grown up making games for themselves and copying the disks and sealing them up in zip-loc bags and mailing them out where, perhaps, whilst good game designers, not necessarily the best businesspeople and that might be the reason why they’d all pretty much eventually gone out of business or gotten bought. I think there’s a similar point being made in the Mills Bakers’ essay that I covered the other day, only with designers. Business (like design, like videogame design) is hard, and requires a certain set of skills, and I guess you’re as likely to find a designer/developer/researcher unicorn as you are to find a business/designer/developer/researcher unicorn for a startup. Good luck.

[1] Kindle edition: http://amzn.to/1imtFJf
[2] http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2014/04/21/the-most-expensive-lottery-ticket-in-the-world/
[3] https://mokriya.quora.com/Designer-Duds-Losing-Our-Seat-at-the-Table

– Matt Haughey tweeted the other day that “brands apologizing on Twitter is the best Twitter of all”[4] which prompted me to immediately ask him if someone had made the brandsapologizingontwitter tumblr yet, which they hadn’t, so we went and made it[5]. It’s got that US Airways Tweet on it. Hopefully (inevitably?) it will be a long-term project, much like Phil Gyford’s Our Incredible Journey[6] tumblr.

[4] https://twitter.com/mathowie/status/459369552707473409/photo/1
[5] http://brandsapologizingontwitter.tumblr.com
[6] http://ourincrediblejourney.tumblr.com

– In amongst a discussion of a) the culture of startups, b) how awesome Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, and c) its merits compared to The Avengers, someone (and I’m really sorry that I’ve forgotten who) sent me a link to a paper in the Academy of Management Journal titled “Superman or the Fantastic Four? knowledge combination And experience in Innovative Teams”. Now, I can’t really say much to this because despite *seeming* like I’m the kind of person who’s read a lot of comics, I haven’t actually read a lot of comics (if you’re following on from the first section of the newsletter, this is a mental trigger for feeling both inadequate and an imposter), and also I didn’t even watch the Fantastic Four movies. Anyway, it’s clear that the Fantastic Four would be better than Superman because a) Superman is stupid and b) Everything is Awesome When You’re Part Of A Team. The point being made here, in a bit of a fanwanky kind of way, is this: is the Avengers team composition better than the Captain America: Winter Soldier team?

In the Avengers corner, you have:

– The Scientist (Stark)
– The Tank (Hulk)
– The Rogue (Black Widow)
– The Ranger (Hawkeye, but he isn’t really in it)
– The Warrior (Captain America)
– The, er, Other Warrior (Thor)

In the Captain America: Winter Soldier corner, you have:

– The Warrior (Captain America)
– The Rogue (Black Widow)
– Er, and Falcon

And yeah, I probably got all those wrong because I never played enough RPGs when I was growing up. I mean, at the very least, having a two-person team in Captain America and Black Widow (who also has her semi-leet hacking skills) isn’t so bad. I was reminded of John Rogers’ (he of brief Warren Ellis Global Frequency pilot fame) series Leverage[8], which has the quite fun heisty combination of a hitter, hacker, grifter, thief and mastermind, and yeah, you could probably turn that into a mediumsplainer about how you should build out your startup team.

– I am still on a crusade about empathy. I’ve had a bunch of interesting emails about it that I’m behind on replying to people (there’s that voice again), but suffice to say it’s going to be a strand that I’m going to be continuing. One of the random thoughts that I had was whether, from a macro-cultural point of view the general acceptance inside America of American exceptionalism, *especially* amongst the West Coast Californian Ideologues is something that inherently biases against, or acts against empathy with users. Or, are there other ways to test this theory? One thing that I’ve been struck by has been how the companies that I admire have some elements of similar culture, both explicit and implicit. For Pixar, Apple and Wieden+Kennedy, they’re all founded by idealistic yet capitalistic hippies. They share, roughly, the same notion that money is important, because it’s required to accomplish the mission. But it’s not the end goal. The end goal is something bigger, or something different. In all cases, it may well be that the founders wanted to stick dents in the world. In any event, you should go and read the smart things that Alex Payne[9] and Scott Berkun[10] had to say about company culture.

[7] http://amj.aom.org/content/49/4/723.short
[8] http://amzn.to/1imwnhC
[9] https://al3x.net/2014/04/23/mob.html
[10] http://scottberkun.com/2014/critique-dont-fuck-up-culture/

I’m tired. I’m going to order a dirty pizza.

Have a good weekend.

Dan