🌀🗞 The FLUX Review, Ep. 04

Episode 04 — May 27th, 2021 — Available at read.fluxcollective.org/p/04

We’re a ragtag band of systems thinkers who have been dedicating our early mornings to finding new lenses to help you make sense of the complex world we live in. This newsletter is a collection of patterns we’ve noticed in recent weeks.

“The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.”

— Ursula K. Le Guin

📈📉 S-curves and organizational mindset

The way an organization operates seems to be correlated with where it is on the S-curve (see Episode 2’s Lens of the Week). The work environment of the rapidly expanding Yahoo! of 1997 was very different from Yahoo! in 2010. Microsoft’s culture in 1988 was very different from the one in 2005. The rapid growth culture is aggressive and optimistic. The same organization becomes cautious and risk-averse at the maturity stage. These transitions tend to happen gradually, sometimes without us noticing it. On day one of a new job, you might be excited to learn about your employer’s stated culture of innovation, only to uncover a culture averse to generative, expansive strategies. 

This difference between perception and reality can especially affect company veterans. They may deny the stage transition, lament the golden days — or both! Having grown up and ascended the ranks in a company during its growth stage, company veterans might find the more stable stage of maturity alarming or boring. They might demand exponential growth, assuming something is wrong with those who fail to deliver it, or they may blame themselves for failing to make that hockey stick go up.

In these situations, it’s helpful to pause and look around. Is this really us “just not trying hard enough”? Or is it more about the unyielding S-curve shaping us? What stage of the curve are we at? If the stage we are at is not the one that got us promoted, we are better off recognizing the need for a different mindset. Looking for another growth stage? Instead of aggressive execution and ruthless prioritization, be patient and persistent: new things show little or no results at first; seedlings wilt if held too firmly. Made peace with maturity? Settle into steady, reliable processes and try to let go of innovation and nonlinear impact as values.

🛣️🚩 Signposts 

Clues that point to where our changing world might lead us.

🚏🏘 People are “panic-buying” homes amidst the global real estate surge 

Across the world, houses are selling for tens of thousands of dollars above their asking price as people hurry to purchase before prices go up even higher. Some buyers are paying in all cash; others are buying without even seeing the house in person; and many houses are being sold within mere days of getting listed.

🚏🏨 “Vacation” increasingly means long-term stays

Airbnb’s CEO revealed that, two years ago, 14% of trips booked on the platform were for 28 days or longer; that figure has now spiked to 24%. He added that 50% of nights booked are now from stays of one week or longer, with the emergence of “working roadtrips” as a major factor.

🚏🌯 Chipotle attracted 24,000 applicants through an online job fair

The Mexican restaurant chain held a virtual job fair on the chat platform Discord, where employees talked about job benefits and career opportunities with potential applicants. The company then saw almost 24,000 applications in one week, over three times as many applications as they got in the first week of the previous month.

🚏✍️ TikTokers are inventing new language constructs using emojis

Users of the social media app have started blending emojis and text to concisely convey moods and tones of voice. The “✍️Lesson✍️Pen✍️” style is used to highlight a video’s key point; “🤪Emoji🎢Rollercoaster☄️” adds visual intonation to a sentence; and “Emoji Strings 🤪😇😍😫😡🤩” conveys the unspoken “vibe” of a video.

🚏🐧 People are creating incredible Mii artwork on a new Nintendo game

Miitopia is a new role-playing game for the Nintendo Switch where every character is a Mii, a customizable 3D avatar. Though Miis are designed to represent players’ faces, the extreme flexibility of the Mii builder has helped some people create truly incredible characters, such as Marvel superheroes, emojis, cartoon characters, famous paintings, and even memes.

🚏🛢️ Remote work may have helped cause the pipeline hack

Cybersecurity experts think that the rise of remote work caused by the pandemic might have been a factor in the recent Colonial Pipeline hack. Many pipeline engineers were using remote desktop software like TeamViewer and Microsoft Remote Desktop to do their work, but the login webpages for those tools are easy to find. Hackers just needed to randomly try passwords and usernames until they got into the network.

🚏💻 “Proof-of-space” cryptocurrencies are causing a run on hard drives

Traditional cryptocurrencies use “proof-of-work” mining algorithms, requiring miners to run countless numbers of computations to get a shot at earning digital coins. This predictably caused a spike in demand (and prices) for beefy GPUs and the rise of ASICs, graphics cards that are very good at mining but very bad for anything else.

A new “proof-of-space” cryptocurrency called Chia aims to sidestep the GPU craze by requiring miners to have a lot of storage space at their disposal, but this is just causing a spike in demand for multi-terabyte hard drives and SSDs and the emergence of pricey hard drives that specialize in mining.

📖⏳ Worth your time

Some especially insightful pieces we’ve read, watched, and listened to recently.

  • The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill (Wired) — Details how and why the medical establishment ignored evidence that the coronavirus spread through airborne particles, and how this led to misguided public health policies that helped COVID-19 spread.

  • The Game is Changing for Historians of Black America (The Atlantic) — Shows how Black Americans have been systematically written out of historical records and how narratives of their history have been flattened into binaries, but ends on an optimistic note by showing how technology is helping uncover long-lost Black names, places, communities, and narratives.

  • The Gilder Paradigm (Wired) — Examines macro patterns in the tech industry and posits that “every economic era is based on a key abundance and a key scarcity.”

  • 50 Ideas That Changed My Life (David Perell) — The writer introduces dozens of lenses that have helped him navigate a complex world and grow his intellectual curiosity, including mimetic theory, the Overton Window, convexity, and the paradox of abundance.

  • Forecasting S-Curves is Hard (Constance Crozier) — Uses animations to show how hard it is to predict what an S-curve will look like if you only have data from the beginning or middle of the curve.

  • Why AI Moonshots Miss (Slate) — Argues that incremental, manageable advancements in science and technology are usually more successful than all-or-nothing moonshots.

  • The Strange, Soothing World of Instagram’s Computer-Generated Interiors (New Yorker) — Examines the rise of “fantasy architecture” and what this form of utopian escapism tells us about our desires, aspirations, and anxieties.

📚🌲 Book for your shelf

An evergreen book that will help you dip your toes into systems thinking.

This week, we recommend Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman et al. (2021, 419 pages).

Noise gives us a fascinating take on bias. When one person has a skewed perspective, it can be considered “biased.” This book introduces the notion that it’s also important to consider the variability within a system: noise. Imagine a healthcare system where every doctor gives a different diagnosis for the same underlying symptoms — that would be incredibly noisy, not to mention bad for patients.

The book makes a compelling case that noise can be as detrimental as bias and outlines a variety of methods to help reduce noise in systems. One interesting noise-reduction approach proposed in the book was to ask multiple people to make independent judgments and then bring them together to reconcile their differences.

🕵️‍♀️📆 Lens of the week

Introducing new ways to see the world and new tools to add to your mental arsenal.

This week’s lens: Thermoclines of Information.

Intuitively, you’d think temperature changes in a fluid would be continuous. Yet one interesting characteristic of fluids is the possibility of thermoclines: thin but distinct layers in a large body of fluid in which temperature changes more drastically than elsewhere. They can create barriers that sound waves will reflect off of, rendering it incredibly difficult to hear something only a few dozen meters above or below the listener.

Similar thermoclines can exist within organizations. The classic example is that corporate leadership often doesn’t care about the details of the factory assembly line… nor do the assembly line workers always want to hear about a 10 year strategy. The organization builds mechanisms to filter and limit that type of information’s spread. This can help limit information overload. However, taken too far, this gap in information can lead to potentially dangerous misunderstandings.

What are the thermoclines, the information barriers, in your organization? When does it seem impossible for people to get the information they would need to make good decisions? And what thermoclines do you help create when you choose what information you want to share and how you share it?

🔮📬 Postcard from the future

A short ‘what if’ piece of speculative fiction about a hypothetical future that could result from the forces changing our world.

// 2024. A small room with a window overlooking downtown Austin, Texas.

The screen blinks red.

<Account locked — insufficient margin coverage>

He blinked wearily. How could it have gotten to this point?

He had started carefully, following Reddit suggestions. Buying Bitcoin and Ethereum. Establishing hardware wallets and the shell accounts and VPNs to trade in the more speculative cryptocoins. Participated in a couple pump and dumps to build up his war chest.

And that’s when he made the jump to where the real action was: FameCoins. Chumps bought crypto. Heroes traded in crypto based on famous people and the power and access they promised. The first people to enter this market pumped normal cryptocurrencies, like Dogecoin. Next they cut out the middleman and launched their own FameCoins: ElonCoin, TrumpCoin, KardashiCoin, bellaCoin, and more. 

Used to be that you could be into bands before they were cool — but you’d only get street cred, social capital. Yeah, sure, you had the T-shirt from the first tour. But that was the old world. Now you could own being early. Catch the coin of a personality at the right time and you could see 100x gains in a week. 

Heh. 100x returns were for GenX. Zoom2TheMoon — that was his Reddit name — wanted 10,000x returns. When a large bank made an ETF to index all these FameCoins, he bought in, hard, leveraged up to his eyeballs. The indexing would spread out the risk on all the FameCoins. I mean, they wouldn’t all go wrong at the same time, right? This was a new kind of money. In Q3 2023 alone, he was sitting on 9 figures of crypto and various derivatives! His net worth on paper was literally to the moon — 384 million meters to the moon. On just a million bucks in principal.

<Account locked>

The run on the market had been brutal and swift. One of the first FameCoiners said it was all a hustle on a late night comedy show. The entire industry collapsed like a house of cards. Those punks at the FTC got involved, and without the FDIC or the Fed involved, there was nothing to stop it. A hundred thousand Reddit posts and 2 million TikTok vids aren’t a Senate transcript.

The FameCoin bubble had burst, and another generation had joined the ranks of those who learned the lesson the hard way.

<Account locked>

Well… maybe…