Collective Collapse

Why are people how they are?

Theory of mind is hard and just when you think you’re getting okay at it, life humbles you. This is a great post by Dave Bailey on what you are really dealing with when you’re dealing with someone’s negative emotions or reactions. A couple examples:

Overreaction is often a sign that something else might be going on that you aren’t aware of. Perhaps they didn’t get enough sleep or recently had a fight with a friend. Maybe something about the situation is triggering an unresolved trauma from their childhood — a phenomenon called transference.

When you notice someone overreacting, broaden your focus and get curious about what else might be going on.


In Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication, he explains that every negative emotion is the result of an unmet need. However, few of us actually know how to put that need into words. Rosenberg suggests that labelling the universal human need can be therapeutic, or even transformational.

Clear thinking

This Lex Fridman podcast with Joscha Bach is expansive:

Along the same lines, another of my favorite Lex Fridman guests is Daniel Schmachtenberger.

Both of them, from everything I can tell, are well furnished in the g department. You’re guaranteed to come out of the listens with lots of new ideas and ways of thinking.


China reduced the amount of time kids under 18 can play video games to 3 hours a week on Fri, Sat, Sun from 8-9pm. As much as I dislike authoritarianism… it does seem like their description of video games as the opium of the masses isn’t totally off. Don’t get me wrong, I like video games too, but the balance is way off.

Also on the China front, Dan Wong’s annual letter, if you haven’t read it yet, is well worth it.


We have no real reason to write/think about collapse… not in 2021, but this article may be worth bookmarking for the future. It explores dispositions towards collapse, types of collapse, and even the aesthetics of collapse.


Summer Glow

Summertime swimmers–starting with a Pied-billed Grebe, then Mallards for the next three. All of these backlit shots were taken at a city park here in Seattle.


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

The pyramid

The Five Dysfunctions is a business fable, which while it sounds cheesy (and maybe it is), the story really helps the message stick. I’ve read a few books like this and I’m starting to prefer the format to any other. Humans are hardwired to enjoy stories; it feels like a natural way to learn.

There’s a lot written about this book elsewhere, so I won’t try to do a full summary, but here are a few of my takeaways:

  • A management team should establish a common goal and a shared commitment to it. Emphasis on the shared–all departments should have buy in and be committed to it. Marketing should be committed to goals that are primarily engineering oriented. Product should commit to a goal primarily focused on the support team.
  • As a manger, the team you put first is the team of your peers. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s the only way to have unity as a whole business. When management is on the same page, the big problems can be solved as a team. The the team that works for you is obviously important, but as rough as it sounds, it has to come second.
  • Have healthy conflict. Conflict shouldn’t be avoided. When it happens, if the team trusts each other enough to have intense disagreement and still not lose sight of the fact that everyone is going towards a common goal, it’s a sign that the conflict is healthy.
  • Holding people accountable is almost never comfortable, but learning to do it anyway is a requirement for a leader.

Video: American Avocet

One of my favorite annual birding trips is East from Seattle over the Cascades to Eastern Washington where American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts migrate up from Central and South America. This is a short clip of an Avocet preening in the early morning hours.


Getting Things Done 16 years later

The last time I wrote about David Allen’s system of Getting Things Done (GTD) was 16 years ago. Lots has changed since then, but the one thing that’s remained pretty much constant is that I’ve never stopped using GTD.

The main idea behind GTD is that: if you get the things you need to do out of your head as soon as you think of them then review and organize them later, you’ll worry a lot less and get more done. That’s really all you need to know, but if you want more, this is my more-in-depth GTD review after a decade and a half.

If you get the things you need to do out of your head as soon as you think of them then review and organize them later, you’ll worry a lot less and get more done.

As soon as I think of something to do, I add it to my inbox. The inbox is a general purpose list that makes sure that a task isn’t forgotten. It should be super easy to add to your inbox. I use OmniFocus to track todos but, the default Apple Reminders app is also surprisingly capable. Whatever you choose, make sure you know how to use it well and trust it. Don’t over-complicate.

Once I’ve got time to organize my todo list, which I try to do every couple days, I move tasks out of the inbox and into specific projects.

I use lists in a very broad, contextual way rather than grouping tasks by lots of projects. By that I mean that my “work” list is just called “work,” even though I’m always working on a lot of different projects at work. Similarly, “home” is the only list I have for stuff around the house. If I need to filter down to a specific project, I’ll either nest tasks, or filter by tags to narrow in focus.1

Every couple weeks (I should probably do it more), I review all my lists, clean things up and re-prioritize. If any task I encounter takes less than 2 minutes, I do it right then.

That’s pretty much it. And it works.

A final reminder, be careful to avoid introducing micro-frictions that more complicated systems and software introduce. Start with an easy system, then iterate it over time.

1The GTD book has a much more involved system using Contexts and Projects, but I’ve found that the above is enough most of the time.


The way

It’s like chopping down a huge tree of immense girth. You won’t accomplish it with one swing of your axe. If you keep chopping away at it, though, and do not let up, eventually, whether it wants to or not, it will suddenly topple down. When that time comes, you could round up everyone you could find and pay them to hold the tree up, but they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would still come crashing to the ground…. But if the woodcutter stopped after one or two strokes of his axe to ask the third son of Mr. Chang, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” And after three or four more strokes stopped again to ask the fourth son of Mr. Li, “Why doesn’t this tree fall?” he would never succeed in felling the tree. It is no different for someone who is practicing the Way.

Zen master Hakuin Ekaku as quoted by Robert Greene in Mastery


The labyrinth is thoroughly known

Joseph Mallord William Turner – Death on a pale horse

We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

Joseph Campbell – The Hero With a Thousand Faces


My beautiful partner gave me Mary Oliver’s book of poetry Swan: Poems and Prose Poems. The title poem is one of my favorites:


Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –an armful of white blossoms,
a perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
a shrill dark music, like the rain pelting the trees like a waterfall
knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
a white cross streaming across the sky, its feet
like black leaves, its wings like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

Mary Oliver – Swan
A Trumpeter Swan photographed on Lake Washington in February 2021

3 Types of Creativity

As defined by Margaret Boden in 1992:


Taking two disparate ideas and bringing them together to form something new. In a sense, I think of this type of creativity as the realm of metaphor extended beyond the explanatory realm and into the realm of realization. It’s maybe more hegelian (I’m a little out of my league here) in that it’s two ideas coming together to form something higher.

Exploration of conceptual spaces

Creativity loves constraint. This type of creativity happens within, or expands upon, a cultural framework. A bladesmith inventing a new design for a sword. An architect a new design for a home. A new strategy in Chess or Go. A programmer discovering a new algorithm.


Take the conceptual space we just mentioned in exploration and expand upon or change boundaries or constraints of the space itself. This is the realm of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It’s a new type of poetry a la e.e. cummings. It’s going from linear books to Choosing Your Own Adventure.

More here.


On the Loss of Tribe

In suburban America we generally interact with our neighbors only at a surface level. Most interactions are limited to waving hi as we walk by or occasionally we stop for sidewalk chats. Sometimes we visit for longer at annual block parties.

In the book Ikigai, the authors share several conversations they had with Japanese people who live in small towns and villages noted for their longevity. The interviews almost universally mention the importance of easygoing but deliberate and frequent hangouts with neighbor friends.

Similarly, Sebastian Junger in his book Tribe speaks about the comradeship he felt as a soldier and its distinct absence when he got home. He’s spent the rest of his life deliberately making life decisions that will bring that sense of community back.

Years ago I moved with my wife and son to Uruguay. There, even though we were in a suburb to the capital city Montevideo, it felt like drop-in friendships formed naturally. Having a friend spontaneously show up at your door to chat, or planning an impromptu asado with neighbors was not uncommon. As cliché as it is to say about Latin American culture, the pace of life was slower and people seemed genuinely more connected because of it. I really miss it.

It’s not that this never happens here in suburbia, but it feels like when it does, it happens in spite of our culture instead of because of it. It reminds me of A Pattern Language (pdf). The book is about the impact that patterns used in architecture and community planning have on our lives. It feels like the patterns that we’ve built most American neighborhoods around, combined with our productivity culture, whether by accident or otherwise, are completely antithetical to fostering that easygoing hangout culture.

What a loss.

A few years ago at work I had a good group of co-workers who became friends. Most mornings we’d hang out just chatting for a half hour or on some days longer. I was lucky to have one co-worker, you know who you are if you’re reading this, who was great at fostering that type of environment as well as a boss who was very tolerant. (For what it’s worth, we were also a very productive team). At the time, I didn’t think much of it but I really miss it now. Especially since Covid and Zoom have essentially erased any potential for those types of hangouts.

In Concrete Cowboy, a movie based on the book Ghetto Cowboy about urban horse culture in Detroit, there are scenes of a group of people sitting around a fire talking. The feeling, at least in the movie, was that it wasn’t at all unusual to sit around at the end of the day, as the sun went down, enjoying each other’s company. Talking about the difficulties life brought each other, and observing how the world was changing brought a sense of place. Of belonging.

Yes, it’s just a movie, but we’ve all seen this type of easygoing hangout happening and we’ve all been part of them at times. The lamentable part is how they now feel exceptional to everyday life.

Online hangouts and the cozyweb are nice and have their a place for sure.

Formal get togethers and parties are also nice and have their place as well.

Neither are substitutes for the feeling of “tribe” though.