I’m fascinated by the S-curves that seem to emerge everywhere in nature. The growth of populations, the spread of pandemics, the adoption of technologies: all show up as S-curves.
One interesting such curve is the rate of progress on a successful project. At first, progress is slow as different potential solutions are tried out and discarded. Eventually, a breakthrough is made, a winning idea gets traction, and lots of progress happens very quickly. And finally, progress slows again as the point of diminishing returns is reached.
Kent Beck has a really interesting view of these three distinct phases. He calls them the three Xs, for “Explore”, “Expand”, and “Extract”. Each one requires a different mindset and has different measures for success, and being able to spot which phase you’re in is a great way to avoid missteps. That’s what this week’s article is about.
Kent Beck identified three phases of product development: Explore, Expand, and Extract. Knowing which one you’re currently facing changes how you approach your work – and your chances of success.
I saw Tom Critchlow tweet earlier this year about the idea of “rewilding” your attention. That means escaping algorithmic decisions about what you read or view, avoiding both mainstream, popular creators and your own little filter bubble. Instead, you can choose to give your attention to more off-beat and interesting things.
Clive Thompson writes in more depth about why that’s good and what it involves:
“Big-tech recommendation systems have been critiqued lately for their manifold sins – i.e. how their remorseless lust for ‘engagement’ leads them to overpromote hotly emotional posts; how they rile people up; how they feed us clicktastic disinfo; how they facilitate “doomscrolling”. All true.
“But they pose a subtler challenge, too, for our imaginative lives: their remarkably dull conception of what’s ‘interesting’. It’s like intellectual monocropping. You open your algorithmic feed and see rows and rows of neatly planted corn, and nothing else…
“The metaphor suggests precisely what to do: If you want to have wilder, curiouser thoughts, you have to avoid the industrial monocropping of big-tech feeds. You want an intellectual forest, overgrown with mushrooms and towering weeds and a massive dead log where a family of raccoons has taken up residence.”
As someone who writes off-beat things for a tiny audience, I am of course biased, but this is an approach to the internet that I’ve always subscribed to – literally, in the form of a groaning “newsletters” email box and countless RSS feeds. #
David Chapman is writing a book on the meaning of life, called Meaningness, in public on the web. This chapter, on the deceptive lure of nihilism, is particularly interesting.
The particular attitude that Chapman takes issue with is the idea that, because death is certain, life must lack meaning:
“In the end, everything is meaningless. Your death is certain, and final. No heaven awaits; you just cease to exist. Life is but a spark in the infinite blackness, a spark that appears, flickers, and dies forever. What meaning could that have? You will soon be forgotten, nothing you do can make any difference in the long run, none of it matters.”
His thoughtful dismantling of this is neatly summarised towards the end:
“Yes, nothing really matters in the end. But people forget that things often matter quite a lot in the beginning and the middle.”