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Last weekend my wife, son, and I went to storytime at the library. Fifteen kids, twenty parents, a big mat on the floor. A perfect Saturday morning.

Then class starts. 

“After storytime today,” the teacher begins, “we would appreciate it if everyone could fill out a survey about our performance.”

My head jolts up.

“We would further appreciate you texting this number to give consent to be surveyed in the future,” she continues.  

“All of this is so we can make evidence-based decisions.”

My mouth falls open.

Trust is dying right now. It’s dying by side effect and design.

Distrust is at the heart of modern marketing. Trust our product not theirs. Trust this candidate not that one. Podcast ads preach fear of the middle man. 

This kind of marketing is nothing new. What is new is that the competition they’re advertising against is humanity itself. Talk to Siri and Watson not each other. Trust data not intuition.

These messages undermine trust in each other in order to increase trust in corporations and systems. The meta-message: Trust companies not people.

We’re so hungry for validation we go along with it. How hot did the algorithm say you are? Show me your score and I’ll you show mine.

Human trust is an aging incumbent. Commercial trust is a hot category. Last month Facebook acquired a company called tbh that lets people give each other anonymous feedback. The deal was reportedly for tens of millions of dollars.

Verification and data tracking systems create a new frontier for trust. There’s no need for clumsy interactions like the one in the library — the networks know everything. 

But who trusts those networks? After the Equifax hack, even trusting trust is an issue. We’re trending towards a climate of default distrust. 

Not to worry, thinks the technocratic product manager. We’ll whiteboard a new global verification system of truth and trust to fix it.

God help us if they succeed. Today’s solution is tomorrow’s bureaucracy.

An ideal approach trusts others enough to not demand trust in return. It acknowledges the importance of trust without trying to commoditize it. It promotes good decisions, not fear.

The blockchain is an encouraging platform for new concepts of trust. I root for a future that looks like Keybase, not a Black Mirror dystopia.

In the end we didn’t fill out the librarian’s survey. Our son took off running the second storytime ended. We didn't look back.

Habits and gear

Until recently I felt too busy to think about how I was getting things done. It was all about crossing off the next thing on the to-do list.

This is one of the first things I wanted to adjust after my job change. Here are eight shifts I've made to better direct my time and energy.

Wifi Off

When I’m writing I keep Wifi turned off. This creates enough friction to keep easy temptations at bay. It’s like I’m buying my brain flowers to apologize for all the times I mistreat it with schizophrenic multi-tasking. My brain is grateful. Yours will be too.

No pinned Chrome tabs

Chrome used to be my mind map. Pinned tabs for various email accounts, calendars, Google Docs, articles I intended to read, etc. This resulted in me working almost solely inside Chrome, which made the distracting between-tabs-clicks way too easy. 

I approached breaking free of Chrome in a few ways: 

1) Separate email and writing from Chrome.

2) Use bookmarks to design my browsing habits rather than mindless surfing.

3) Bookmark articles I’m interested in but don’t immediately read (to date I’ve gone back to read exactly zero of them, which says it all).

4) Keep open tabs to a minimum (no more than three or four, ideally).

After these changes my Chrome usage has plummeted. It’s no longer a default state. Now I look at the web when I have a reason to.

Airmail

To separate email from Chrome I shopped around for an email app. I picked Airmail because of its basic UI and how it handles multiple accounts. Parts of Gmail I miss, but overall the ability to be focused about correspondence has made a noticeable difference. Apple Mail can also do the trick, it’s just buggy for me.

Outlook for iPhone

I started using Outlook at the recommendation of Craig Mod. The design is soothing and non-attention getting. Calendar and contacts are effortlessly folded inside the app. Top notch.

Bear Writer

For writing I moved from IA Writer (which I like) and Google Docs to Bear Writer. I like Bear because of how easy it is to access my directory of writing, how quickly I can start a new note/doc, and syncing between the desktop and phone apps. 

One thing Bear has not helped as much with is recording spontaneous notes and ideas. I spend a lot of time walking around NYC finding inspiration. I’ve tried using Siri, notes to self, and other ways to take down a quick thought. None have worked the way I want. I’m considering going back to keeping a notebook in my pocket. Other ideas?

"The portable whiteboard"

I spend my working time with three things in front of me: my laptop, a stack of books I’m reading, and a 8.5" by 10” sketchpad and set of colored Sharpies. I call the sketch pad and markers my portable whiteboard. 

Whenever I need to outline an idea or think through something deeply, I turn to the portable whiteboard. The ability to think in a flexible, physical space is liberating. I have more breakthroughs using the portable whiteboard than my laptop or any other tool. Highly recommended.

Unfollow everyone on Twitter

It took me several tries to defeat my Twitter addiction. The first move — made a few years ago — was to remove Twitter and all social media from my phone. This ended my mobile usage, but increased how often I used Twitter on the desktop.

I would get trapped in Chrome loops: check Gmail, check Slack, check Twitter, check Gmail, etc. I could (and did) spend hours this way achieving absolutely nothing. It’s the productivity version of "playing" an arcade game without putting in a quarter.

Eventually I came up with a more drastic solution: unfollow everyone. This has been the best answer. Now Twitter is such an unsatisfying experience I rarely go there. I’ll continue to keep my account for self-promotion, but it’s no longer a source of information. To date I have experienced literally zero ill effects and many positive effects from not reading Twitter.

Squarespace

I’m a longtime Tumblr fan but the writing tools just aren’t great. I’ve used Medium but I don’t want to be associated with the startup/life hacker zeitgeist. The only way I could think to have a truly neutral space was to create my own. I tried Wordpress but the setup process was too involved (maybe the tenth time this has deterred me from WP). While not cheap, Squarespace is great. I'll keep using them. 

Any habits or gear recommendations to share? I’d love to hear them!

Nobody cares about you

We’re so good at undermining our confidence. We let imaginary voices water down our true nature. We live in a story where we’re the center of attention. 

There’s an even scarier truth: Nobody cares about you. Nobody is thinking about you. Everyone is too self-obsessed to care about anyone else.

Sure, your family and partner care. Some of your close friends. But even many of them care only to a point. They're too busy worrying about their own stories.

We fear people are waiting for us to trip and fall. Let's say that's true. Maybe 10% of people you know are happy to see you fail. So what? You’re probably happy to see them fail too. 

The other 90% of people? They already forgot your thing ever happened. They’re too busy thinking about themselves to think about you.

Go for what you really want. Nobody cares about you.

Reading list

Here are the books I read during the month of August. 

NONFICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH
Beatles '66
by Steve Turner

The first book I read after my departure from Kickstarter was decided. I went to McNally Jackson, a bookstore in Soho, thinking I would buy a self-help book about transitions. Instead I came across this: a monthly diary of everything the Beatles did, listened to, or smoked/took in 1966, the year they released Rubber Soul, recorded and released Revolver, and recorded half of Sgt Pepper’s — aka the single greatest one-year artistic evolution the world has seen.

This very satisfying book gives a strong feeling for what it was to be a Beatle. My respect for Paul and George (already my favorites) went through the roof. Both are diligent, curious learners who used their time to seek new ideas and had the talent and humility to filter them through their own work. Paul’s interest in the avant-garde was early and knowing. The tape loops that back John on “Tomorrow Never Knows” were actually home recordings made by Paul. (Also surprising: "Tomorrow Never Knows" was the first song recorded for Revolver.) George’s interest in Indian music was sincere and devoted — it took a while for Indian musicians to take him seriously.

The book is full of amazing anecdotes, including John and Paul playing “Tomorrow Never Knows” for the Stones and Dylan before it was released and the pair hearing Pet Sounds for the first time. The book notes how the Beatles had the privilege of seeing the future in art, fashion, food, and ideas before anyone else. The culture that came to be in the ‘60s owed much to their incredible vision. For any fan of the Beatles or cultural production, this is a must-read.

Grade: A

FICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH
Before the Fall
by Noah Hawley

The story of a private plane crashing on its way from Martha’s Vineyard to NYC with a dozen wealthy passengers on board. Two survive. From there the book leaps into a Lost-like array of timelines and backstories with a very satisfying denouement (Lost-unlike). 

The book was written by Noah Hawley, head of the TV adaptation of Fargo. The feel for cinema and tension is exquisite. Just as impressive is the writing, which possesses a Delillo-worthy emotional elegance. As good a thriller as I’ve read.

Grade: A

NONFICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH RUNNER-UP
The Fifties
by David Halberstam

Wow. This is an enormous book with each chapter devoted to a deep overview of a key aspect of America in the ‘50s — civil rights, McCarthey-ism, Elvis, the bomb, Eisenhower, and other iconic developments. They're written with a perspective that is fresh, surprising, and all-knowing. Most enjoyable were the chapters on things I hadn't thought about: the washing machine, the suburbs, I Love Lucy. The way that every corner of culture informs and provokes the rest. This book makes me wish Halberstam had the time to do this for every decade. Tremendous.  

Grade: A+

FICTION BOOK OF THE MONTH RUNNER-UP
You Should Have Left
by Daniel Kehlmann

A novella about a writer and his family going to a house in the country. Surprising, well written, satisfying. Imagine Karl Ove writing The Shining except you'll finish it in two hours, not two months.

Grade: B+

The Invisibility Cloak
by Ge Fei

This was my first time reading contemporary Chinese fiction and I enjoyed it quite a bit. It tells the story of a high-end stereo expert in a fantastical contemporary Beijing whose poverty traps him in a series of confusing experiences. It kept my attention, though the ending was so abrupt I tried re-downloading the book to make sure there wasn’t some kind of technical issue (there wasn't).

Grade: C

Barbarians at the Gate
by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

My second time reading this business classic, the story of the sale of RJR Nabisco in the late ‘80s — at the time the biggest and most high profile leveraged buyout in history.

The book is an incredibly reported sprint of ego and competition. Every one of Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe pop up, all of them looking worse for the experience.

The book unintentionally and unknowingly reveals the shallowness of capitalistic competition, media hype, and the destructiveness of ego. For all of the time, money, and brain power used to complete this “deal of the century,” the epilogue reveals that the whole event was almost meaningless. Nothing came to pass the way any of the players expected, and for most of them their careers were effectively over once it was done.

Grade: A+

Anything You Want
by Derek Sivers

A series of business and personal vignettes from the founder of CD Baby. There’s a humbleness and clarity of vision that’s appealing.

Grade: B-

A People’s History of the United States
by Howard Zinn

History is written by the victors. Here’s the other side. I'm halfway through this classic of American history told from the side of the marginalized, the discriminated against, and the defeated. The net takeaway: the challenges many see and feel with America now have always been there, many by design. These things aren’t accidents. Americans are really good at telling ourselves myths.

Grade: Incomplete (still need to finish)

Know your job

The other day I had breakfast with a founder. I had recently announced that I was stepping down as CEO of Kickstarter. That morning I learned he was considering stepping down from his company too.

Business is good, he begins. He’s been at it for almost a decade and it’s arguably the best it's been. The metrics are up. People are happy.

But he's not happy. He doesn't feel useful. Things are growing but it's not from his ideas. Instead new leaders are doing well. When he lets them drive, things grow. When he takes the wheel, things stall.

I’m not meant for this job anymore, he says.

I listen. Then I ask a question.

Why are we talking about the failure of your ideas and not the success of the team you’ve put in place?

He raises an eyebrow.

The CEO's job is to build an organization that succeeds. How do you do that? By knowing where you want to go and hiring people who can get you there. It sounds like you've hired the people. Now you need to make sure you know where you're going.

Getting perspective takes conscious effort. You have to create space for it. Regularly. It means spending less time in the office and in the weeds. It means letting the team do their job while you do yours. 

Your job is to see the matrix. There are many ways to start seeing it: talking to peer CEOs, meeting customers, reading books, a weekend of solitude, taking drugs in the woods. All involve time, space, and separation.

Seeing the matrix means you learn to see the world through the lens of where you're going. You learn to communicate, guide, and decide as if your future successful self is looking back on current events. It's not every step and every detail. It's colors, shapes, a direction.

Everything else comes from the team as you talk through the vision together. It's a constant conversation. And when the team and vision come together, the sky's the limit. That's when the future becomes real.

Now's not the time to quit. Now's the time to grow into your new job.

He is smiling. He likes this new way of seeing things. We walk outside. It's a beautiful morning.

It's amazing how different the world looks when we manage to get out of our own way.

How the White House budget threatens creativity

Kickstarter was launched in 2009 — not by a computer science major or an MBA, but by an artist, a designer and me, a music critic. Arts and culture were important to us and we thought a lot of other people, too. It took off. 

When a Washington Post headline a few years later declared "Kickstarter raises more money for artists than the NEA,” I felt both humility and apprehension. We were mentioned in the same breath as the National Endowment for the Arts, an organization whose mission we admire deeply. But I worried our success might be seen as an argument that the private sector alone should address arts funding.

Read in full: Published as an Oped in The Hill