Roblog

Recent posts

  • Ryu Spaeth ponders the depiction – or lack of one – of Japanese people in the film Oppenheimer, an omission he finds strange given the historical intertwining of the two nation’s fates:

    “The legacy of the bomb, however, is more specific and concrete than Oppenheimer’s final vision of a world engulfed in nuclear fire. At the very same instant that the bomb created modern Japan in a burst of light, it also gave rise to the America we know today – America as superpower. Two new nations were born from this expression of the bomb’s divine power, and the cost of this transformation, like some ghastly blood sacrifice, were those 220,000 human beings who were either incinerated or succumbed to radiation poisoning, human beings Oppenheimer said were necessary to target to show what havoc the weapon could really wreak, which is to say that the inauguration of the American century would not have happened without the Japanese.”

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  • A beautiful reminiscence on the power of grids, by Alexander Miller:

    “When I was a kid, my dad gave me a piece of paper with a grid printed on it. It consisted of larger squares than standard graph paper, about an inch in size. It was basically a blank chessboard. The columns of the grid were labeled with letters (‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, etc.), the rows labeled with numbers (‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, …). My dad then helped me draw a map of an imaginary island within the grid’s boundaries. I sketched the squiggly coastline of my island, forming a splattered blob shape, within which I added the obvious necessary features all mysterious islands require: forests of crudely draw trees, a mountain with a cave entrance leading to a secret underground network of caverns, an abandoned hut on the beach. There were variations of this game: sometimes the map was of a completely imaginary place, but other times we mapped a known area – like our backyard – and added fantastic elements.”

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  • When enough is enough

    Sense-making involves knowing enough to act. But how do you know what “enough” means?
  • Great life and career advice from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham:

    “Once you’ve found something you’re excessively interested in, the next step is to learn enough about it to get you to one of the frontiers of knowledge. Knowledge expands fractally, and from a distance its edges look smooth, but once you learn enough to get close to one, they turn out to be full of gaps.

    “The next step is to notice them. This takes some skill, because your brain wants to ignore such gaps in order to make a simpler model of the world. Many discoveries have come from asking questions about things that everyone else took for granted.”

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  • Anton Corbijn’s new film, about legendary album cover designers Hipgnosis, looks great.

    “Thorgerson and Powell were very different individuals, but that difference worked perfectly. Corbijn explains their dynamic: ‘They loved making things,’ says Corbijn. ‘One with great ideas and one with the technical skills to execute these ideas.’ He knows first-hand how demanding it is to deliver album design in its entirety: ‘I have done a lot of record sleeves in my life, but I’ve not designed that many. I may have taken the photo on the sleeve. Hipgnosis however, did everything. It’s amazing they came from nothing in a way. Neither of them were educated in the visual sense. They found ways to do the impossible.’”

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  • A fascinating New York Times piece about Guam, a piece of America that both is and isn’t part of the USA:

    “Guam, with its strategic location, quickly became home to Andersen Air Force Base, where B-52 bombers deploy on a rotational basis, and Naval Base Guam was expanded. The Guam tourism board’s slogan, Where America’s day begins!, was everywhere. The Guam Chamber of Commerce proudly proclaimed the island America in Asia! while Guam’s license plates read Guam, U.S.A.; but underneath that they also said Tano Y Chamorro — ‘the land of the CHamoru.’”

    As tensions between China and the USA ratchet up, Guam is uniquely and unfortunately placed:

    “In every iteration of war games between the United States and China run by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (C.S.I.S.), Beijing’s first strike on U.S. soil has been to bomb Guam.

    “Yet the island is largely forgotten by most Americans. Guam plays a central role in ‘homeland defense,’ though it rarely shows up on maps or in textbooks about the homeland — no place tries harder to show its patriotism and gets so little recognition in return.

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  • An interesting profile in the New Statesman by Katie Stallard of Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s dictator and the recent mediator of the Wagner mutiny. It charts his rise from humble beginnings to absolute power in Belarus:

    “Born in 1954 in a poor village in eastern Belarus, Lukashenko was raised by a single mother who worked as a milkmaid, and he was bullied at school by other boys because he didn’t have a father. He served in the Soviet army and worked his way up through the Communist Party ranks to become the director of a collective pig farm in 1985, where he was once accused of beating a tractor driver with a shovel for coming to work drunk.”

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  • Paul Millerd reviews Bill Perkins’s fascinating book Die With Zero. Most people plan their lives on autopilot, working hard and saving as much as possible for retirement, but that’s a mistake:

    “This is a push against the default or what he calls ‘autopilot.’ Most people look at life and retirement as a money problem because, well, that is what everyone else is doing. By looking at life as a life energy allocation problem you might make different choices like giving money to your children while they are still alive, deprioritizing work and buying back time before you are ‘supposed’ to retire, and spending lavishly on experiences that might pay ‘memory dividends’ to you and people in your life.”

    Perkins emphasises the importance of making memories while you can:

    “As we get older, we spend more time reflecting on our lives. This is why Perkins argues that more people should think about old age as a combination of savings AND memories. Through this lens, having memorable experiences earlier in life, especially before retirement, can be valuable because they will pay memory dividends. And there’s good evidence that this is what makes people happy.”

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  • Cynefin for the rest of us

    Explaining the popular sense-making framework Cynefin in the simplest terms I can.
  • Related to this week’s blog post about Cynefin, I wrote this early last year: an example from history, in this case the collapse of the Soviet Union, as seen through the eyes of Cynefin. #

  • From my blog over at Orso, a post on understanding the natural variation inherent in data. How do you know if a change in a metric is a cause for alarm, or just business as usual? #

  • Tim Hwang with a great post on long-term scientific experiments:

    “If you’re not already familiar… I highly recommend that you immediately stop what you’re doing and visit the Wikipedia page for ‘long-term experiment’. Then, check out Sam Arbesman’s collection of Long Data. Then, Michael Nielsen’s list of long projects.

    “If you’re anything like me, the scientific efforts that appear on these lists are deeply compelling. That’s due in part to their relative rarity. It’s hard to find cases of an experiment or a data collection effort that grinds away on the scale of decades, and easy to appreciate the uncommon dedication and focus they represent.

    “These efforts are also compelling on an epistemological level. They suggest that there is a wealth of valuable knowledge to be gleaned from even fairly humble explorations that operate over a long, long period of time.”

    Tim reckons that such experiments are under-performed, especially given how simple and cheap they can be relative to the insights they can deliver. He suggests a new way of funding them:

    “One approach could be to popularize a style of grant that I call TILT – tiny investment, long term. Under a TILT grant, a foundation or government agency would award grantees a relatively small stream of money spread out over an extremely long period of time, say twenty or thirty years.”

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  • A useful tool from Jay Acunzo, which helps to define how an idea differs from the competition that’s already out there:

    “Unfortunately, most of us get stuck playing comparison games. I think that’s because most of us are quick to spoil the possibilities for ourselves. We can’t wait to see the score. We can’t wait to look in the box at the cat. We can’t wait to figure out the best practice, or else we spend too much time consuming things inside our echo chamber. We adopt a narrow view right from the beginning instead of considering endless possibilities — which should be the hallmark of any creative person. As a result of being so anchored to our peers and competitors, when it’s time to pitch our premises, it sounds like a comparison.”

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  • A sobering post from Mark Hadfield, whose “Meet the 85%” agency speaks to real people up and down the UK, seeking to understand what’s going on in their lives. He’s piercing the bubble that lots of businesses and marketers live in.

    “Yet the unfortunate reality is that burying your head in the sand is not an option any more. As our good friend Richard Huntington says: ‘Hope is not a strategy.’

    “Reality is here to stay. And for the foreseeable future – whether you like it or not, regardless if it doesn’t align with your brand onion – the reality people are living now and for a while is pretty grim.”

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  • For the sake of argument

    Narratives are particularly useful because they’re flexible, and can be updated when circumstances change. But how does that happen in a social setting?
  • This week I started my own strategy consultancy. It’s called Orso, and it provides commercial, consumer and creative strategy for creative agencies and consumer brands. The website explains more.

    (In case you’re wondering about the name: itsitalianforbear.com.) #

  • I’m sure not everyone – not even a majority, in fact – of the people reading Roblog are into football, let alone in-depth tactical analysis of it. But this is a fascinating video even if you’re not that way inclined.

    Fernando Diniz, the coach of Brazilian team Fluminense, has developed a radically new approach to tactics. Rejecting the systematic, shape-obsessed style of successful managers such as Pep Guardiola, Diniz’s approach appears to be chaotic. But it’s actually incredibly well-drilled – and successful.

    It’s a footballing application of so many things I talk about on Roblog. Like Cynefin (the players are constantly trying to get the game out of the merely “complicated” domain and into something more complex and unpredictable for their opponents). Or the difference between competence and literacy (the players aren’t concerned with playing a role; they’re genuinely improvising). Or systems thinking vs. sensemaking (the players aren’t interested in the system and its boundaries, they’re interested in the relationships between themselves).

    The deeper-dive article that the video mentions, Jamie Hamilton’s What is Relationism?, is also great if this stuff piques your interest. #

  • Myles Karp on why there are so many Thai restaurants in America, far more than the population of Thai-Americans would suggest:

    “Thai restaurants are everywhere in America. Mexican and Chinese restaurants might be more plentiful, but there are demographic reasons that explain the proliferation of these cuisines. With over 36 million Mexican-Americans and around five million Chinese-Americans, it’s no surprise that these populations’ cuisines have become woven into America’s cultural fabric. Comparatively, according to a representative from the Royal Thai Embassy in DC, there are just 300,000 Thai-Americans—less than 1 percent the size of the the Mexican-American population. Yet there are an estimated 5,342 Thai restaurants in the United States, compared to around 54,000 Mexican restaurants; that’s ten times the population-to-restaurant ratio. So, why are there so many Thai restaurants in the US?”

    I’ve thought the exact same thing about the UK, and had idly assumed that it was because there were lots of Thai-Americans and we were influenced by American cuisine. The actual answer is fascinating. #

  • The importance of narrative

    The importance of storytelling within sense-making, and what makes for an effective sense-making narrative.
  • Defining sense-making

    An attempt to define “sense-making” in a straightforward and useful way, avoiding academic or obtuse language.
  • Samuel McIlhagga strikes a pessimistic note about Britain’s prospects:

    “The overall trajectory becomes obvious when you look at outcomes in productivity, investment, capacity, research and development, growth, quality of life, GDP per capita, wealth distribution, and real wage growth measured by unit labor cost. All are either falling or stagnant. Reporting from the Financial Times has claimed that at current levels, the UK will be poorer than Poland in a decade, and will have a lower median real income than Slovenia by 2024. Many provincial areas already have lower GDPs than Eastern Europe.”

    …and, most interestingly, digs into the long historical context that leads up to this point; this modern malaise has deep roots. #

  • Drew Breunig compares AI to a platypus – usefully, as it happens:

    “When trying to get your head around a new technology, it helps to focus on how it challenges existing categorizations, conventions, and rule sets. Internally, I’ve always called this exercise, ‘dealing with the platypus in the room.’ Named after the category-defying animal; the duck-billed, venomous, semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal.

    “There’s been plenty of platypus over the years in tech. Crypto. Data Science. Social Media. But AI is the biggest platypus I’ve ever seen… Nearly every notable quality of AI and LLMs challenges our conventions, categories, and rulesets.”

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  • Lingjing Yin thinks about how to get better at delivering feedback within teams, something that people are generally pretty bad at:

    “How might we treat feedback as an opportunity to learn rather than to teach and go into it with a curious mindset to explore the strengths, gaps and opportunities of each other and the context we are part of?”

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  • An introduction to sense-making

    The first in a series of articles about sense-making, the practice of making sense of the world and making decisions on how to act
  • Clear analysis on the potential upcoming Ukrainian offensive from the peerless Lawrence Freedman:

    “Putin and his commanders cannot afford to get many more of the big strategic decisions wrong. If they do so then they will face the prospect of not only futile stalemate but of humiliating withdrawals. I am less convinced than others that they can continue to brush off one setback after another simply because that is what autocratic police states can do, pretending to their people that nothing seriously has gone wrong. Insouciance and misinformation can take you only so far.”

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  • I went to see the crowds at the coronation this weekend, to see if it felt like history in the making. The mood was hard to gauge; the rain really put a dampener on things. But the crowd felt so much less reverential than when the Queen died, so much less moved, so much less interested. If someone travelled back in time and told me that this was in fact the last ever British coronation, I wouldn’t be enormously surprised. #