Muting

One of the most poisonous elements of modern technology is the ability to mute both content and people. 

On the surface, it sounds perfectly acceptable. You grow tired of a certain topic or the exhaustive sharing habits of certain friends, and, without going all the way to remove them from your day-to-day experience, you simply quiet the portions of noise that bother you the most.

In a world of highly-curated opinions, deeply polarizing and heavily-politicized views, and rampant tribalism in the consumer sphere, however, the ability to simply remove certain opinions that are not adherent with your own is irrefutably dangerous. 

You ought to know — and embrace — opinions divergent from your own. Moreover, if you respect someone, you ought to listen to all that they have to say, rather than selectively censoring them.

On a more trivial level, muting discussions during a conference or live event is marginally palatable. But, in my eyes, it's still troublesome. Is it really so difficult to contend with a flowing river of collective discussion over a mass-consumption event? Surely not. 

Knowledge is frequently defined as a justified true belief. The justification portion is one of the most important, as it requires you to have circumstantial awareness of opinions both supportive and conflicting.

Without apt justification, we can easily fool ourselves into a false sense of knowledgeability on a vast spectrum of topics. In the technology world, for instance, we can pay attention selectively to analysts, writers, or publications — all of which skew toward one brand or another — in order to seemingly justify our particular allegiances and habits.

The danger is, obviously, minimal. Nevertheless, it does pose significant damage to intelligent and measured discourse.  Without circumstantial awareness, it's far too easy to succumb to extremist opinions and flagrant unintelligence regarding certain — frequently important — topics.

For all of this I mean to simply argue that when you're next confronted with an opinion you disagree with on Twitter, a website, or another such outlet, do not simply tune it out. Equally, do not reflexively attempt to counter. Instead, simply absorb and consider. Keep it in mind. 

Obviously if someone's expressing outrageously offensive opinions, this does not apply. But, in the realms of business, politics, and artistry, I cannot stress enough how important and conducive such tolerant and rational behavior can be. 

Removing people and opinions from our daily experience for the sole purpose of alleviating our own anxieties and insecurities of our own opinions — or, worse, for the sake of expressing superiority over someone else — is destructive. And, in a world of highly-curated content, it can result in us missing important information and circumstantial awareness, thereby fostering disjointed beliefs and ever-worsening extremes in opinion.

Muting ought to be used extremely sparingly, rather than as a means to support your comfort.  If you don't like what's being said, I daresay there's plenty more constructive means for you to contend with such rhetoric. And if you don't appreciate an event that's happening, just avoid Twitter (or similar) for an hour.

We have more power than ever in terms of shaping the way we comprehend our world — business, media, politics, or otherwise — and, although it might take more work, I'd say opening yourself up to opinions outside of your own is of the utmost importance.

Hierarchy

Amid reflections of the technical prowess, foresight, and innovative spirit of Valve, Michael Abrash revealed an utterly wonderful nugget of information regarding his employer in his widely circulated blog post. Remarking on the unique hierarchical structure of the company, Abrash writes:

Anyone can just up and work on whatever they think is worth doing; Steam Workshop is a recent instance of someone doing exactly that. Any employee can know almost anything about how the company works and what it’s doing; the company is transparent to its employees. Unlike many organizations, Valve doesn’t build organizational barriers to its employees by default; it just trusts them and gets out of their way so they can create value.

Without delving into an excessive amount of detail, this excerpt — particularly the concluding sentence — is deeply resonant with my sentiments regarding the working world.

Contrary to the petty, controlling interests of insignificant middle managers, individuals may thrive without constant and unpalatable attempts at guidance. Regardless of any misconceptions of managerial pedigree, the vast majority of educated individuals are cognizant of the basic building blocks of productivity.

With tatters of insignificant authority in hand, managerial staff frequently embrace delusions of grandeur, thus sabotaging the work occurring beneath them. Narcissistic efforts to control, impress, and progress act solely as stifling agents of innovation and careful work.

I do not mean to suggest that leadership is unnecessary, rather, I simply seek to highlight the problems engendered by organizational barriers and the egos therein. Such barriers, in many instances, are indicative of, and directly correlated with, the narcissistic personalities upon which they are built. People progress, gain status, and wish to selfishly emphasize their separate significance from their perceived competitors.

Regardless of whatever culture may be projected upon an organization, such barriers are inherently poisonous and effective for only the most blind of employee. Those who truly seek to thrive, succeed, and aid in the creation of value, will find far greater success in an environment unencumbered by the various bounds of self-conscious inadequacies boasted by their purported leaders.

In the environment articulated by Abrash, all people are leaders, all people thrive upon the efforts of others, and all people are given an equal opportunity to impress and rise within.

Personality conflicts are relatively unavoidable in life but, in a working environment, such divisions are often distinctly magnified. Despite being charged with managing people, the vast majority of leaders are interested only in their self-image. Thus, with exacerbated personal differences, competitive and anti-social progressions transparently at the forefront of the minds of leaders, and barriers in place to stifle broad collaboration and valuable input, a recipe for deep-seated division is firmly supplanted into a purported team.

Hierarchy is, indeed, a cornerstone of the working world. That is not to say, however, that it need be the guiding force for work and productivity. Emphasize trust, allow people to work to their strengths, and embrace the innovations and intelligence of subordinates. In doing so, a leader will generate respect and, evidently contrary to popular belief, firmly instantiate their position as leader.

Abrash’s post is riddled with unique points of interest but, most of all, I recommend reading the portion entitled, “Valve is different.”

Leaving Google

James Whittaker:

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Technically I suppose Google has always been an advertising company, but for the better part of the last three years, it didn’t feel like one. Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers.

Extracting one excerpt was difficult. Read Mr. Whittaker's post in its entirety.

(Via Daring Fireball)

 

Mosaic

Amid this week's discussions of attribution, correct citation, and general Internet etiquette, I’ve noticed a notably unpleasant undercurrent of individuals using this debate as justification for not producing their own weblog. The argument is straightforward: many people already produce widely successful link-centric weblogs, thus the need for further contribution is mitigated by an already crowded space. 

Although I contend that there is merit to the former portion of the argument, I find the latter utterly myopic, pessimistic, and bereft of any semblance of self-confidence. In a community characterized by novel insight and intellectual prowess, any inference leading an individual to regard their potential contribution as discounted by competing personalities is endlessly saddening.

Producing a weblog - whether you choose to contribute substantive content of your own or not - is not a matter of competition, but of self-expression. In sharing even the most barren list of links, you assemble an online persona emblematic of your true personality. Sharing in such a fashion lends weight to one item of news, writing, or media over another. Embossing articles you find to be compelling, in turn, engenders invaluable discussion, context, and discourse.

Imagine you walk into an art gallery and are greeted with an enormous, intricate mosaic. From a great distance, the mosaic resembles a painting - its granular details victim to poor vision and ambient light. Although the mosaic appears beautiful from this distance, it is impossible to comprehend its true complexity. To compensate, you move to within a few inches of it. From this distance, you confine your view to a handful of tiles at a time and, again, cannot perceive the interconnected relationships between aesthetically similar tiles. Retreating to a reasonable distance, however, you are able to suddenly perceive the grand picture without a loss for its individual components. You comprehend how endless, separate shades of blue can contribute to an overarching rich and beautiful image, each component playing its part.

Perhaps there are larger, more eye-catching tiles than others, but even the most infinitesimally small piece contributes to a greater ideal. The same goes for writing.

Weblogs, no matter how similar they are to others, facilitate context and perspective - two fundamental tenets of human interaction we often sorely lack on the Internet. Semantic issues of attribution, via links, and link versus non-link blog methodology aside, the importance of contribution is unquestionable and should not be callously inferred from the discussion of craft.

Writing and contributing online is easier than ever before for a reason and, if you're excuse is that the concept has already been done, then I would suggest you re-evaluate your perspective. What you produce is only as similar to another as you want it to be and, if you dare to do something different, I imagine you will be greeted with a great deal of interest.