The Accursed Thing.

I probably owe bhorowitz most of a sandwich, and if you give me a few minutes, I’ll explain why.

See, I got into tech on a lark. I had nearly sworn the stuff off when back in the 90s, I remember it was early, but my dad brought a DCMA letter into my room.

“Son,” he said, dropping his tone.

“When they come for you,” he paused “and they will come for you,” I’m not going to say a word.”

That was enough to keep me away…almost.

A few years later, I found myself in the midst of it. It didn’t happen all at once, and for the sake of authorial transparency, even though I should probably spend a few paragraphs sharing a story with you, I wouldn’t know where to start.

That’s what I want to talk about.

I still pick the fastest route sometimes, and I’ve got to be honest with you, when I stumbled into a need of a copy of Hard Thing About Hard Things at 12:30 at night in the middle of an Iowan midsummer, a few hours before I needed a justification for an argument I needed to make in the morning, I didn’t really bother with the formalities, I just got a copy of the audiobook.

The trouble is, the copy that’s been circulating around the parts of the internet where such things dwell* is only like 3/4ths of the book. I was one of those english majors that had strong feelings about getting through texts efficently anyhow.

I got what I needed, but because of it, I may have a bit of skew on the parts that stuck — forgive me, it’s oft missing context.

But that isn’t actually what I wanted to talk about.

See, I can sort my friends into three categories.

  1. the ones who are wondering when they’ll get welcomed into the world with roadmap and circumstance.
  2. the ones who wonder where everyone went.
  3. the ones who resist broad categorization in overly wrought linguistic thought exercises.

I had a chance a little while ago to spend some time thinking about the first group.

I think a handful of more eloquent folks have said better things than I could about how there really isn’t anyone standing over your shoulder waiting to approve the plans you might have for doing something, or going somewhere or for that matter making something new show up out of thin air like it’s been there all along and how could we ever live without it?

there’s a real sense of calm that comes when you realize that, and I think after you’re supposed to recognize that that’s one of those insights that comes with an obligation.

what would be the good of knowing what was going to happen next, if you couldn’t do anything to influence it? it wouldn’t be any good at all. it’d be a torment, really.

can you imagine?

that’s why I think that it’s so important people recognize the power of engaging with what’s going on right in front of you. it isn’t always easy, and it’s a roller coaster of feelings — but aren’t the things that really matter in life supposed to be? don’t you measure the shine of a good day by the somberness of a bad one?

so, even though I should probably dust off my shelf copy and find some quotations from the chapter that starts around page 85, I think I’m going to point you to the relevant blog article, here.

if a CEO hears that engagement for her application increased an incremental 25% beyond the normal growth rate one month, she will be off to the races hiring more engineers to keep up with the impending tidal wave of demand. On the other hand, if engagement decreases 25%, she will be equally intense and urgent in explaining it away: “The site was slow that month, there were 4 holidays, we made a UI change that caused all the problems. For gosh sakes, let’s not panic!”

Both leading indicators may have been wrong, or both may have been right, but our hypothetical CEO — like almost every other CEO — only took action on the positive indicator and only looked for alternative explanations on the negative leading indicator.

So if you read this and it all sounds too familiar and you find yourself wondering why your honest employees are lying to you, the answer is they are not. They are lying to themselves.

he’s right.

the stories we tell ourselves are powerful.

they’re almost as powerful as the stories the people we surround ourselves with tell us. (I think some people call this mentor whiplash?)

but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years I’ve spent working to make sense of our media landscape, I think there’s one more powerful influence we aren’t talking about.

people have spent a lot of time trying to sort out what a story is. the contemporary excitement, though at times irksome, is all together understandable. but struggling to describing a thing that isn’t easily understood? people have been doing that for a long time.

it’s not always exciting, and it doesn’t always make sense.

but it’s what we’ve got, and it can work alright if you let it.


  • *I have recently become an Audible Customer**
  • **I have even more recently paused my membership.

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