Make a lot of progress with small daily steps
"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" #68
This week’s toy: a video game where you participate in VR. I’ve been skeptical of the vision provided by Ready Player One and real-life analogs like Oculus, and my experience with SandboxVR was … fun. It didn’t make me sick. It was quite immersive. I’d do it again. The equipment was a little clunky and I’m sure in a few years it will be much smaller. Edition No. 68 of this newsletter is here - it’s November 15, 2021.
The Big Idea
Thanks to Austin Kleon, I have a shiny new date stamp. And a reminder that most things require more time than you’d expect.
Austin Kleon is an artist. Or a writer. Or a writing artist. I’m not sure if the particular label matters, because his book just tells you to keep going.
By Keep Going, he means “do something, and repeat.” Whether you are focused on a small improvement or a giant project, Kleon reminds you that the way to make progress is to try something and then just do it. That doesn’t mean that you will be successful. It means that when you keep pushing on the things you want to do that it might take a while to get to where you are going.
One of the things that Austin talks about is his love for the humble date stamp.
Yep, you’ve seen it before, probably for some of us not since the time when we had library cards and the librarian stamped the due date on the card. But the date stamp (think of it as a time series of sorts) tells you when you did a thing, gives you a marker to look back on, and tells you about a rate of improvement.
Doing “something small, every day” is the mantra from the image above. One reason I appreciate Austin Kleon is that his drawings are not always polished. But he embraces the idea of doing something, just for art’s sake.
1% improvement every day is quite a large return.
1.01 ^ 365 = 38x return
even if you are only good once a week:
1.01 ^ 52 = 1.67x return
This should help you remember that if you make a true improvement at a rate of about 1 out of every 5 things you try, you’ll still get a lot better quickly.
You’ll also make a lot of mistakes which will feel big at the time.
The Slog is Worth It
I’ve been writing these newsletters since July 2020. When I started, I had no idea what I was doing and had the modest goal of being able to publish something one time a week. After doing this 68 times, I’ve gotten a lot better at:
summarizing information to provide value immediately
finding and categorizing things I want to write about later
enjoying the writing process as a way to process and develop ideas
Where will this go? I’m not sure yet.
I take inspiration from simple projects like this one where a photographer took daily selfies for 20 years. Keep doing things that don’t obviously scale.
Start by Starting
Wow, a 20 year project sounds daunting. But a lengthy project is many smaller steps stitched together. So to start something, just start it. Don’t worry about how long it might last. Keep doing it if it’s good. Keep doing if it’s bad … for a while. But don’t get hung up on whether you should stop if it’s not your thing.
The best project you could start today is the project you start today. So start by starting. You’ll know by looking back which ones you were successful in continuing and which ones were one-hit wonders.
What’s the takeaway? Sustained compounding excellence only happens when you do something over and over again. But while you’re doing it, it can be hard to know if it’s worth continuing.
A Thread from This Week
Twitter is an amazing source of long-form writing, and it’s easy to miss the threads people are talking about.
This week’s thread: on the mainstreaming of electric vehicles, even for people who are skeptical of EVs.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ The Streaky Shooter - The “hot hand.” The Streak. Unfair advantages with luck. Do these things really exist? You’d think based on probability that this is just a trick of our brains. We really want Steph Curry to get hot and sink many more 3s than possible in a row. So some scientists have studied it, and there is some truth to the idea of a streaky shooter. It’s a very specific kind of truth - that shooters who practice from a similar point on the floor do have an unfair advantage and can beat the odds if they are doing the exact same thing. Consider that for your next process.
2/ DTC is heading to more categories - Looking for an opportunity to build a brand? Pipecandy’s data points at the opportunity to reach customers directly in more categories than just fashion and apparel. If you overlay the amounts of money people spend on each categories in eCommerce, there are some interesting entry points. It’s expensive to ship a better widget, but I’m guessing some of these companies will bridge out into services and content as well. (Home and garden lends itself to this nicely.)
3/ Repetition, repetition, repetition - I love this exploration of binge listening from Tiago Forte. I’m not sure I could devote as much time in one sitting to listening to an entire podcast series, and I agree that when you get deeply engaged with a content creator, you learn new things from their work and also are better able to focus. I’m not sure this holds for binge watching Netflix, as I think there’s something special going on with podcasts.
On the Reading/Watching List
Watching: speaking of VR zombies and other things that are changing really rapidly, take a watch at this keynote with NVIDA CEO Jensen Huang. At about 28:01 he starts transforming himself into “Toy-Me”, which right now seems like a Claymation Siri. I’m sure it will get better much faster than we think.
Reading: Atlas of the Invisible: Maps and Graphics that will change how you will see the world. Have you ever wondered why maps of the world show things the way they do? This book, by a cartographer and data visualizer, uncovers some of the assumptions inherent in the way maps are shown.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
I’m grateful you read this far. Thank you. If you found this useful, consider sharing with a friend.
Want more essays? Read on Data Operations or other writings at gregmeyer.com.
The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon