"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" (No. 47)
Back to writing after a break, because some writing > no writing.
This week’s toy: Stiletto Crocs. This is very silly and also a great marketing ploy. Notice the pattern? Pick a mundane object, make it fancy and ridiculous, and get lots of press. Duchamp would be proud. Edition No. 47 of this newsletter is here - it’s June 12, 2021.
The Big Idea
The first step of making a thing is exciting. As a kid, this happened all the time - go to a box of items, pick a few and combine them. So what happens when you try to create things as an adult?
Making a thing is a statement
Paul Graham writes in “A Project of One’s Own” that the childhood activity of starting a project just feels harder as an adult:
Many kids experience the excitement of working on projects of their own. The hard part is making this converge with the work you do as an adult. And our customs make it harder. We treat "playing" and "hobbies" as qualitatively different from "work".
Because we separate the idea of “work” from a pleasurable hobby, it can be challenging to find exciting projects at work. But the very act of selecting the items you work on can drive the work project into something more than just a work project. Think of the last time you were working on a great idea. Was it the work itself or the way that your insight connected to something else, like solving a specific and generalized problem at the same time?
Who you make it for matters
Sarv Kulpati suggests building for a specific user helps you solve a specific problem. At work, perhaps solving for a specific need is also a good way to focus. If you see someone taking an action 30 times a week and each time it takes them 4 minutes to complete, solving that action so that it takes only 30 seconds will give them back time. Almost two hours a week in fact. That kind of time really compounds as you think about multiple people doing the same task and able to recapture their time.
But time isn’t the only thing you should be trying to change when you are building things at work. Fundamentally when you choose to build a process (or a project) you are defining a way to work so that others can follow your model. What problems do you want other people to solve? Taking the first step - and explaining how you do it - might help others to create their own thing as well.
What’s the takeaway? Even if you don’t think you’re building you are. Treating your ideas as works in progress and iterating against them to produce results will work better than expecting things to just be done. Building that prototype against a real model or problem makes it more likely that your solution will be useful.
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: @stevesi on the future of work. It’s not going to look like the “remotification” of the way we work now. It’s going to be something new.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ Stretchy Screens - Samsung has made a prototype OLED display that can stretch up to 30%. While the initial use case is for medical devices and monitoring, you can imagine many other uses for this technology.
2/ The Autobots are coming - Waymo and big trucking company JB Hunt are close to commercializing city-to-city automated trucking. This is a big deal because even if we don’t have full automation of trucking loads, allowing for robots to drive operators overnight will dramatically speed up logistics and shipping. Robots don’t do the last mile … yet.
3/ To JOIN, or Not To JOIN, that is the question - I’ve been writing SQL queries for a long time now. While I have gotten marginally better at reading them and understanding what they do, I have not often found a standard way to format them. Benn Stancil makes a solid argument to format in the way that makes most sense to you. There is no standard except the one that makes sense most of the time.
On the Reading/Watching List
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s newest film is hitting HBO Max, and I can’t wait to watch this dance and singing spectacular.
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.
The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon