No Wasted Footsteps

This summer, we moved into a new house. Moving is a lot of work. As part of moving out of our old house, we got rid of a lot of junk that we had accumulated over the years. We ended up working with the amazing Dave O’Rourke of Spaceback. As Dave and I were loading a huge junk pile into his truck, he said something that really stuck with me — he said: “in this business, you can’t waste any footsteps”. Meaning, there’s a lot to do, lots of things to lift and move, and you need to be smart and efficient with your energy.

As I am now moving items around our house, and carting empty moving boxes and miscellaneous trash out, Dave’s words have been sticking with me. If I’m going to the basement, grab a box to take to the trash. If I’m going up to the second floor, grab a bag or a box or an item that needs to go there. Going back to the first floor? Grab something that needs to go there. No wasted footsteps.

This is good advice for moving a bunch of stuff around, but it’s also good advice in general. And it’s been on my mind, as of course moving to a new house means that you tend to fall behind on other things (like work and email). So the same approach of no wasted foosteps could (and should) be applied to digital life. Get the thing done that you need to get done right then and there, don’t waste any footsteps walking around empty handed. The folks that I work with that seem to be most productive and efficient seem to take this approach, and I’m going to try to keep it front and center myself.

Hardware-based Identity

I’ve written before about how re-structuring identity is one of the most interesting opportunities on the web today. Today’s identity ecosystem is account-based (accounts with Google, Facebook, Apple, etc), which perpetuates data silos and prevents interoperability & innovation.

As web3 and crypto become more widespread, there’s an opportunity to shift to an identity model that’s more about cryptographic signatures, which can be done directly by an individual without an account at any one company. The problem is, the user experience around this is still rough, and worse, there are some pretty extreme risks (lose your private key, lose everything, with no recourse).

So the big question is how to address the the opportunity and also solve for these hard challenges. It feels to me like an important approach is leveraging the concepts of multi-sig and hardware-based key-signing.

On hardware-based keys: the most powerful one out there today is the iPhone. ApplePay and sign-in with Apple are all about the hardware you hold (the phone) and using it to authenticate. It’s secure and easy (amazingly so) — no need to remember passwords, limited phishing vectors, etc. Problem is, it’s totally locked up in Apple land.

Luckily there’s a lot going on in the identity hardware space.

I use a Yubikey every day. It’s still a geeky experience and not for everyone, but it’s eye opening, and it builds on open standards like FIDO.

I was intrigued today to see the launch of Ryder, a wearable hardware wallet in watch form. A problem for me, though, is that I don’t like wearing a watch. Just not comfortable and I don’t want to do it.

I think rings are a really interesting form factor here. I just ordered an Oura Ring for sleep tracking (thanks Nadia) and am excited to try it. And Joel recently pointed me to the NFC Ring which lives in the payments (and identity) space.

Cards are also a big one. We use cryptographic key signing on cards every day (smart chips), but still only connected to existing payment systems. Projects like Keycard (thx again Joel) have the potential to open that up.

For hardware identity to really work (and to be safe), it also needs to be paired with some sort of multi-sig or multi-factor process. Project like Casa and Magic have been working out a lot of the details here and I think we’re getting closer to really good user experiences.

In the end, I want to live in a world where using the web “just works” — where fundamental activities like login and payments can feel like magic, but without perpetuating proprietary and siloed models.

The Beauty of Focus

It has been a stressful year, in so many ways.

This morning, I opened up my Calm app to attempt to resurrect my meditation habit. I have had an intermittent meditation practice for years, and despite the fact that it really seems to work for me, I have never developed a rock steady daily habit. (From a tools perspective, I find that when I’m in a good routine, I either use nothing and just do breathing, or use a simple app like Insight Timer, but when I’ve lost the groove I find it helpful to use tools like Calm or Simple Habit to get back into it.)

Anyway, for me, the big benefit of meditation is helping to get perspective on the constant stream of ruminating concerns flowing through my mind — some of which are useful and necessary, but some of which are not. And the basic practice of focusing on what’s happening here and now (breath, sensations, sounds) is incredibly powerful as a way to regain clarity.

Thinking about this this morning made me realize why I enjoy certain activities so much — activities that have a natural focus to them and basically force you to detach from your running thoughts and focus on the present: listening to music, being at a baseball game, doing carpentry or other house projects, skiing, hiking, coding. Those are the ones that really do it for me, but of course you see it with gardening, drawing, reading, etc etc.

I’d like to think that this kind of focus-building isn’t about ignoring the world, but rather about getting your mind to a place where you can actually be more effective in doing the things you need to do to have an impact (whether that’s on your career, family, politics, community, etc).

It’s funny and a little backwards (though not ironic) that finding ways to focus down and think less can actually help you do more, but I think it can and does.

Second Chance Studios

Several years ago, I started volunteering at Defy Ventures, a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals start their own businesses.

Through Defy, I met an entrepreneur named Coss Marte, who beginning to build a personal fitness business called Coss Athletics. At first, it consisted of 1:1 and group sessions with Coss in parks, and has grown steadily since then. Now called ConBody, it features both a studio on the Lower East Side and a growing online business. Importantly, ConBody exclusively employs other formerly incarcerated individuals as trainers, and in addition to being a successful and growing business, the team members have a 0% recidivism rate.

(As an aside, I can personally testify that the ConBody workout is legit. I literally threw up halfway through my first class. Though it’s debatable whether that says something about the workout or my baseline fitness going in.)

Today, Coss is launching a new initiative called Second Chance Studios. Second Chance Studios is a nonprofit video and audio production company that exclusively employs formerly incarcerated individuals in New York City. It will also serve as a job training and placement program focused on digital skills in audio and video production.

Second Chance is currently fundraising for its launch on Kickstarter and as of now is about $36k towards its $50k goal. You can back it on Kickstarter here and learn more from the video below. I’m proud to be a backer and am excited to see the project launch.

The Slow Hunch

One of my favorite ideas from the last 10 years is “The Slow Hunch” which my friend Steven Johnson popularized in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. Here is a good summary of the book, and the idea of The Slow Hunch is this:

“World-changing ideas generally evolve over time as slow hunches rather than sudden breakthroughs”

Great thinkers and inventors such as Darwin and Tim Berners-Lee used The Slow Hunch to process big ideas over long periods of time. A kernel of an idea takes root, but doesn’t mature right away — but rather, needs to bump around with other ideas and experiences over time until something profound clicks. In some ways, USV is like an ongoing Slow Hunch — Andy likes to describe USV as “a conversation that’s been going on for 15 years”.

Back when I first read Where Good Ideas Come From, this idea of The Slow Hunch really stuck with me. It’s been there with me for nearly 10 years and I keep coming back to it.

Today, I’m officially renaming this blog The Slow Hunch (www.theslowhunch.net). I’ve had these domains (and @theslowhunch) for some time, and have flirted with using them, but have never actually done it — but today I’m flipping the switch.

This blog renaming coincides with a bunch of work we’ve been doing at USV on this general topic. Albert wrote the potential for and importance of tools for networked knowledge here. And “Access to Knowledge” is a pillar of our Thesis 3.0.

For The Slow Hunch to work, information not only needs to be captured, but also revisited and reprocessed over time. In WGICF, Steven talks about the Commonplace Book as a tool used by Darwin and others for this purpose. Like a notebook and scrapbook kept over time, but with the key feature being re-reading as standard practice to help connect ideas over time.

For the most recent USV book club, we read Steven’s newest book, Enemy of All Mankind, and Steven joined us for our group discussion. During that conversation, we revisited the idea of the Slow Hunch, and in particular, how he thinks about the process of building ideas over time. He describes it in terms of turning ideas into “magnets” that can live for a long time, and “catch” other ideas, building up into snowballs over time.

For all the information we consume and produce on a daily basis, we are still lacking simple tools to assemble and package it in ways that produce real knowledge. To give idea fragments the potential to become slow hunches. It’s a huge need and also a huge opportunity.

I first wrote about the need for this kind of thing back in 2010 (Wanted: An Open Commonplace Book). What I pointed out then, and what is still true now, is that our current information universe is fragmented (google docs, email, notion, evernote, browsing history, social media, etc), and what’s really needed is a tool that can help package this all up in a way that’s useful.

Today, tools like RoamResearch and Walling are pioneering connecting old information with new information (a network “graph”). And tools like Memex are indexing your browsing history. (as an aside: all of these require an enormous amount of trust, as networked personal knowledge is both valuable and dangerous)

To me the most promising idea here is user experience and user interface innovations that make it easy, intuitive and fun to link old information to new information, and to revisit it over time in a way that makes sense. Unlocking this at scale will have massive implications not only for personal productivity (and happiness), but for networked knowledge much more broadly (research, news, corporate innovation).

With that, hitting publish on the next chapter of The Slow Hunch here on this blog.

The 1k Project

It has been a long few months, and many people’s lives have been turned upside down in untold ways.

One way to help is through the 1k Project. The 1k Project matches sponsors with individuals & families in need, using a $1k / month for 3 months model. Recipients are sourced through the Project’s trusted network, and donations are anonymous, unrestricted gifts delivered via GoFundMe. I’m sponsoring a family starting this month.

I am a big believer in unrestricted cash as the best method for channeling support to those in need. For the same reason I believe in Universal Basic Income, I believe that every person knows what they need money for and how to use it, and having any measure of cash flexibility can be a lifesaver. You can get a sense of the impact of the 1k Project from some of the stories from recipients.

I feel fortunate to be in a position to support this effort, and am proud to be involved. If you would like to join me, by nominating a family or individual in need, by becoming a sponsor yourself, or if you could use financial help from the 1k Project network, you can do any of those things here.

Listening

In the wake of the events of the past few weeks, I am trying to focus my efforts on listening. Here are some things I’m listening to:

One place I feel comfortable speaking on this is putting my money where my mouth is, and in that spirit, here is a list of where to donate to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Quarantine Creativity

Continuing to look for glimmers of hope and positivity in the middle of this crisis, one area that is for sure glimmering is at-home creativity. I know from seeing the numbers from some of USV’s portfolio companies in the “creator” space that creative activity is way up. People are stuck at home, and they are writing, making music and getting busy in the kitchen.

Here is one example which just floored me. My daughter’s best friend is in the Boston Children’s Chorus and they just released this beautiful video performance:

Not only is this a fantastic and uplifting way to express creativity during a dark time, I would argue that this is better — more beautiful, with far greater reach — than a live performance, or certainly a traditional video of a live performance would have been.

So I am encouraged that not only are we seeing creativity blossom where it can, I think we’re going to see brand new forms of expression emerge from this crisis.

There is so much pain in the world right now — both economic and physical/emotional. This feels like one small bright spot to focus on this morning.

Post-COVID: Which Behaviors Will Stick?

It’s an overwhelming time right now. Everyone in the world is focused on COVID-19, and to varying degrees, is changing the way they live.

From an economic perspective — beyond the obvious massive damage due to a halting of large swaths of the economy, which will need to be addressed with some form of government bailout — there will also be some amount of permanent restructuring.

Many people are experiencing, for the first time, how many activities — work, learning, healthcare, and socializing — can be done remotely and in new ways using digital tools. For sure, when the dust settles, we will largely go back to doing things how we’ve always done them, but I suspect that certain new behaviors will stick, and will result in longer-term behavioral and economic changes.

The most obvious one is business travel and remote work. Everyone who can is learning how to do this now — including companies/teams/individuals that may have resisted it mightily in the past. Moving forward, it’s going to be much harder to justify an in-person-only culture. Virtual conferences & meetings have drawbacks, for sure, but they also have advantages. I suspect that coming out of the crisis, many professionals will have a permanently higher bar for justifying work travel.

The next one is remote health. We now have the infrastructure, at scale, for communicating with doctors virtually, and collecting test samples at home. Laws limiting what doctors and patients can do together over voice and video will change. Nikhil Krishnan has a great piece exploring this in detail. This will stick.

Everyone with kids is scrambling to figure out how to keep them engaged, connected and learning. Every school is scrambling to implement a remote learning capability. Subscriptions at online learning platforms are through the roof. School will resume but remote learning will stick.

Finally, it also feels like we are rediscovering our social and entertainment lives. I have never been more active with friends and family — especially, for some reason, those who live at a distance — as much as recently. I have never done video chats with groups of friends and now that’s regular. My kids are connecting with their friends over FaceTime every day. Group and one-on-one chats are on fire. To a degree, this is because everyone’s at home with nothing to do. But I believe this will also stick.

What is most interesting to me is not the social changes, but the institutional ones. In the cases of work, learning and healthcare, we are talking about massive institutions that are learning new behaviors on-the-fly. This is a big deal — we’re probably seeing years-worth of change occurring over a matter of weeks. It’s astonishing, really.

And, as a result, a massive number of individuals are learning new moves, which will put pressure on the institutions not to roll everything back when this is all over. Not everything will stick, but I suspect a lot of it will.

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