Conducting Joan Didion’s merciless dissection of our society’s ailment while keeping in sight Musk’s vision.
|Jun 3||Public post|
Your life journey is about learning to become more of who you are and fulfilling the highest, truest expression of yourself as a human being. That’s why you’re here.
— Oprah Winfrey’s fucking inspiring commencement speech for USC
Hello Beautiful People —
After a series of stressful and somewhat anticlimactic commencement events, I graduated, and before I could take the time to sit alone with my feelings, I already find myself living and breathing in NYC.
Having grown up in a city, I feel surprisingly at ease falling asleep my first night, knowing that I’m merely a spark amongst the city lights, knowing that people are mourning for losses and celebrating small wins, knowing that people choose to give up, and they decide to believe again. When I was a kid, I was always left alone in the apartment until late at night as my parents were busy at work. I would get lost writing short stories on the balcony, as people turned their lights on and off across from our apartment building. There’s something so assuring about being reminded every day that I’m merely a part of something so much larger.
NYC brings me back to that feeling. I’ve been seeing magic being made in virtually every corner. A graffitied truck in East Village is screaming “I love you.” A man in suits is standing with a laptop in his left arm and taking a call with his right, looking over the meandering streets in Financial District. Soap makers from Brooklyn selling scented candles on Prince street gave me a crash course on functional fragrance in five minutes.
photo by @humzadeas
I also got to see how the designs and creations in the digital world are tangibly making lives a bit easier for many, and how such convenience also creates a new set of problems. When I was working at Facebook last summer, I felt like I was crafting things viscerally. We understand people by observing and talking to them in glass-windowed rooms, and we analyze them through the numbers we see on screen. Yet here the perspective is a much more direct one. It’s hard to dismiss the impact of something you do. One of the product leaders in NYC whom I really look up to Bo Ren shares her insights in this piece:
New York startups are great at experience design — the end to end user journey of brand, marketing, and storytelling. Good experience design helps get you from 0 to 1 when you’re still a scrappy seed-stage startup. However, to scale from 1.0 to 1.1 and expand internationally, New York companies need the experimental rigor and incrementalism of SV product thinking — a more analytical perspective of user behavior.
What Ren advocates here is to strike a balance between culture sensibility as well as analytical rigor. The former is what captures the heart and soul of many, and the latter is to provide the experience at scale. I want to see the next generation of creations born having the mix of these flavors, sprinkled with some heat and defiance of LA hustlers.
The weather right now is too perfect to be sitting inside and writing this letter. I know I will be be tantalized and distracted endlessly by the bewildering fashion, the beautiful typeface, and the exuberant culture. I can also feel the palpable possibility of my own voice being overpowered by the environment. Yet I still prefer this rawness and realism with a hint of idealism, conducting Joan Didion’s merciless dissection and confrontation of our society’s ailment while keeping in sight Musk’s vision of “f**k everything and let’s take it from the beginning.” Billions of narratives are being created all around me, and as a creator, I feel more enabled than ever, and there is no excuse not to make some cool shit happen.
Thank you for being a part of this journey with me. Stay tuned for more city-specific content to come. HMU if you want to grab a coffee or do something new in the city.
This week’s venture is a service that I’m currently using as I’m setting up my new apartment.
Feather is a furniture rental company that caters to people like me, millennial professional who wants everything on-demand, fears long-term commitment, and cares about quality design and sustainability. They offer individual furnitures as well as packages for bedroom, living room, and dining room.
I’m on my way to experiment with the all-rental lifestyle. From clothing (Rent the Runway) to furniture to content (library). The idea of possessions, once glorified by advertising, becomes suffocating.
On a more philosophical level, companies like Feather are both the manifestations and solutions to the fragmentation of life experienced by the postindustrial workforce. In our parent’s generation, they could develop moral “character,” an ethical sense of the world and their place in it by having long-term narrative time in fixed positions, like being a doctor or a teacher or an accountant. They developed character, and also implicitly, became the character (e.g. an accountant may have been creative and spontaneous in his younger years, but due to the nature of his profession, he’s become more trust-worthy and meticulous). Our generation, on the other hand, finds it hard to give order to our personal life in our fluxive and constantly changing worklife. Thus the question arises:
How can long-term purposes be pursued in a short-term society? How can durable social relations be sustained? How can a human being develop a narrative of identity and life history in a society composed of episodes and fragments?
Without answers to such questions, it’s easy to find “short-term capitalism threatens to corrode [their] character, particularly those qualities of character which bind human beings to one another and furnishes [sic] each with a sense of sustainable self." (Source: Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism)
Anyways… I ordered five pieces from Feather, and so far the experience has been great.
Income Share Agreement (ISA)
This isn’t something new, but it’s something exciting, and there recently have been some amazing progress in the space.
ISAs are used by experimental schools like Lambda School to fund students’ tuition in exchange for a percentage of their post-grad earnings. Even older and larger institutions are making the move. Purdue University are beginning to experiment more with ISAs as the advantages become more clear.
I recently came acorss Avenify and really like what they are doing. They are the first peer-to-peer lending platform for Income Share Agreements, providing better and more seamless infrastructure that doesn’t require a Lambda School to make happen.
Nearly all ISA-based schools right now, however, have a focus on software engineering, which makes sense as the economics for them are best. If the other professions can also better establish guidelines and principles to become successful at them, then there will be more online programs that enable this transition. The next set of big challenges and demand is to cultivate more creative talents, and if we can capture what people do for fun as transferrable skill, then the talent pool immediately widens. (e.g. hiring graphic designer from a fire Instagram account)
“The best qualification for a prophet is to have a good memory”
— Lord Halifax
One of my favorite books of all time is The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant. This piece rings similar message.
Condensed wisdom like this serves as a necessary reminder of where we are in time, and they apply to every aspect of our existence, from work to society to our relationships to ourselves.
I’m extremely grateful to be born in a rather blissful time. We are the happy generation that grow up feeling optimistic. The belief in entrepreneurship and self-determination is strong. But anything can happen, and the most unexpected things will likely flip people’s previous perceptions and ideas about how the world works.
My favorites lesson #2 and lesson #4.
#2: Reversion to the mean occurs because people persuasive enough to make something grow don’t have the kind of personalities that allow them to stop before pushing too far.
Long-term success in any endeavor requires two tasks: Getting something, and keeping it. Getting rich and staying rich. Getting market share and keeping market share.
These things are not only separate tasks, but often require contradictory skills. Getting something often requires risk-taking and confidence. Keeping it often requires room for error and paranoia. Sometimes a person masters both skills – Warren Buffett is a good example. But it’s rare. Far more common is big success occurring because a person had a set of traits that also come at the direct cost of keeping their success. Which is why downside reversion to the mean is such a repeating theme in history.
#4: Progress happens too slowly for people to notice; setbacks happen too fast for people to ignore
Growth is driven by compounding, which always takes time. Destruction is driven by single points of failure, which can happen in seconds, and loss of confidence, which can happen in an instant.
The irony is that growth – if you can stick around – is a more powerful force, because it compounds. But setbacks capture greater attention because they happen suddenly.
This is one of the best long-form readings on the web in a while. I want to hear what you think.
Dusted colors are reaching out to a more mature customer. Give tailoring and shirting a soft masculinity feel.
The colors of summer to match with your favorite kombucha or moon juice. You are welcome.
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