🌀🗞 The FLUX Review, Ep. 126
November 16th, 2023
Episode 126 — November 16th, 2023 — Available at read.fluxcollective.org/p/126
Contributors to this issue: Dimitri Glazkov, Neel Mehta, Boris Smus, Erika Rice Scherpelz, MK
Additional insights from: Ade Oshineye, Gordon Brander, Stefano Mazzocchi, Ben Mathes, Justin Quimby, Alex Komoroske, Robinson Eaton, Spencer Pitman, Julka Almquist, Scott Schaffter, Lisie Lillianfeld, Samuel Arbesman, Dart Lindsley, Jon Lebensold,
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.
“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
📝 Editor’s note: We’ll be off for the rest of the year for the US holiday season. We’ll see you again in January!
📝 Editor’s note 2: if you're reading this as an email, it might clip due to length, so visit the Substack link to read the original.
🗓️🪞 2023 year in review
It’s our last newsletter of the year, a good time to reflect. In 2023, we’ve spent a lot of time with our favorite themes of organizations, selves, system thinking, and ways of seeing the world. Here’s an overview of what we wrote.
This year, we ventured into the intricate maze of organizational structures and behaviors:
In When to Pick a Process (or not), we applied the Cynefin framework to get a better sense of when processes help us and when they are burdensome
We tried to separate “good easy” from “bad easy” in Simple problems vs. easy solutions
Discerned the difference between Attention and awareness for organizations
Highlighted the importance of recognizing Hidden keystones in the organization
Talked about sick and lost organizations in Lost and found and the nuance in the ability of good leaders to make people safe even through harshest transitions in Bridging from illusion to reality. We also explored power dynamics in Asymmetric threats.
Touched on the idea that To build long-term you have to remember long-term.
Argued In Defense of Reorgs.
Talked about The risks of peculiar specialization and brushed up on the “top five” productivity hack in Spreadsheet all the things? How about five of ‘em?
We continued our introspective journey, diving deep into the essence of our being and interpersonal dynamics:
Used a skiing metaphor to explore how to obtain agency in Shifting forward.
We spent a bunch of time in the world of systems thinking, poking at the interconnections and dynamics that shape our world:
Pointed at an interesting property of systems that survive and thrive: Success creates calluses
Wondered What vaudeville teaches us about disruptive innovation, accompanied by the Moat Digging and Moat Filling lens.
Came up with the Information sloshing technique
As we usually do, we invented a bunch of 2x2s:
We mined a whole library of lenses:
Wrote up and polished the classic lenses like over-adaptation, the bullwhip effect, hysteresis, the adjacent possible, composable alphabets, peanut buttering, whale fall (part two!), the sloping floor, regression to the mean, reality distortion fields, kayfabe and cargo cults, responsibility laundering, and of course, legibility.
Repurposed ideas to create somewhat novel lenses like load-bearing beliefs. the snake oil test, the highway pothole effect, the product development flashlight, crumple zones, Texas sharpshooters, confabulation, steelmanning, and Zeno’s project.
Suggested that iron sharpens iron might be a more effective replacement for the “us vs. them” lens.
Explored the lens of NPCs and Live Players
We even asked ChatGPT to help us craft some new lenses.
We recommended a bunch of books: Team Topologies, Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World, Collaborative Intelligence, Who Rules the Earth, The Whole-Brain Child, The Checklist Manifesto, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and Deliberate Calm. ChatGPT also gave us some book recommendations, riffing on ours.
If you have a favorite piece from this year, let us know in the comments!
Whoo! This year is a wrap for us FLUX folks. See you next year!
Clues that point to where our changing world might lead us.
🚏💼 American business formation rates are still far higher than pre-pandemic
Before the pandemic, about 300,000 new businesses were being formed per year in the US. That formation rate spiked right after COVID hit, but surprisingly it’s still sitting about 50% above the long-term trend line, with no sign of falling back down. Retail, food services, transportation, and administrative services have grown the most; some commentators speculate that COVID killed many businesses in those spaces, leaving plenty of room for new entrants.
🚏🥸 Facebook and Instagram will require political advertisers to disclose AI usage
Meta has announced that, starting next year, “advertisers who run ads about social issues, elections and politics… will have to disclose if image or sound has been created or altered digitally, including with AI, to show real people doing or saying things they haven't done or said”; advertisers will also have to disclose when they use AI to create fake people or events. The policy will affect Facebook and Instagram, which will alert viewers when they’re seeing an AI-altered ad.
🚏🔋 ExxonMobil plans to start mining lithium for batteries
Oil giant ExxonMobil recently bought 120,000 acres of lithium-rich land in southern Arkansas and plans to repurpose its oil and gas drilling machinery to extract a mix of lithium and saltwater from 10,000 feet under the surface, ultimately separating the metal from the water and pumping the water back underground. (The company says this approach uses less land and emits less carbon dioxide than mining for rocks on the surface.) ExxonMobil says it wants to start producing lithium by 2027 and hopes to make enough to “supply over 1 million electric vehicles per year” by 2030.
🚏🔬 A particle accelerator and AI model helped decipher ancient Roman scrolls
The Roman town of Herculaneum, which was buried in ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, is less famous than Pompeii but gifted archaeologists with over 1,800 ancient scrolls. Opening the scrolls would risk damaging them, so scientists prefer to x-ray the scrolls — but differentiating the ink from the charred pages is very difficult. One team of researchers recently used a particle accelerator to make the ink more legible, and an undergrad used an old GPU to train an AI model to detect “crackle patterns” that indicate where a letter used to be. He deciphered the Greek word πορφυρας (“porphyras”), meaning purple dye, winning him a $40,000 prize.
📖⏳ Worth your time
Some especially insightful pieces we’ve read, watched, and listened to recently.
Why Did the Metaverse Die? Because Silicon Valley Doesn’t Understand the Concept of Fun (Fast Company) — Invokes the theories of philosopher George Bataille to explain why Silicon Valley’s metaverse games have flopped. Techies live in the utilitarian “restricted economy,” thinking only about how to increase efficiency and minimize time wastage, while gamers live in the “general economy,” which asks how we can best spend surplus energy, time, and money. In short, Silicon Valley doesn’t understand the paradigm people use to evaluate games.
How to Boss Without Being Bossy (Jeff Wofford) — Evaluates different styles of directing people to do things, measuring them across the axes of clarity and harshness. Straightforward directives like “You will do X” are too blunt, while softer forms using passives (“X needs to be done”) or hedges (“Why don’t we do X?”) don’t make your intentions clear. A good balance is “I need you to do X”: it’s assertive and hard to disagree with, yet “neither threatening nor invasive.”
The End of the Russian Idea (Foreign Affairs) — Argues that Russia has historically broadly oscillated between “Westernizers,” exemplified by Peter and Catherine II, Alexander II’s end to serfdom, Kruschev’s de-Stalinization, and Yeltsin’s democratic reforms, and “Slavophiles,” who emphasize western moral decline and reify the twin pillars of the Russian state: the Orthodox Church and the military. By reviving the church and remilitarizing the country, Putin “has forged his own bell and cannon doctrine.”
California’s Third Largest City Is a Mostly Empty, Forgotten Dream (SFGate) — Details the bizarre story of California City, CA, a master-planned desert city that was intended to be a self-sufficient “green jewel in the desert.” But the city never developed an economic base and people didn’t buy up the vast amounts of land for sale, leaving the giant city with just 13,000 residents and miles of unpaved roads, empty lots, and unoccupied cul-de-sacs.
📚🎁 A guide to books on complexity
Looking to get yourself or someone else a gift that will immerse them in complexity and systems thinking? Here are some of our favorites.
For a general introduction: Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows
For the technologist: The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves by W. Brian Arthur
For the science lover: Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies by Geoffrey West
For the leader: Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders by Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston
For those interested in economics: The Origin of Wealth: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What It Means for Business and Society by Eric D. Beinhocker
For those interested in the built environment: The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander
For the parent: The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik
For those interested in the system of you: In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life by Robert Kegan
For the nature lover: The Hidden Lives of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben
For those interested in the psychology of complexity: The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations by Dietrich Dorner
For those interested in complexity in video games: The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Schell
For those interested in the history of the Santa Fe institute: Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by Mitchell M Waldrop
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