The Insider - January 2023
On fast-food work cultures, the art of quitting, interest rates, and invisible supply chains
Welcome to the January edition of the Insider. I started writing this monthly letter five years ago this month, making this the 61st edition of the Insider. Thanks for following along.
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On fast-food work cultures
Despite its many benefits, remote work will lead to the fast-food-ification of company culture where the experience of being on a team begins to look the same no matter where you work…bland, unremarkable, and homogenized through video call technology and arms-length relationships. If you’re in the business of ingesting calories, fast food gets the job done. But if you’re looking to understand the origins of your food, build connection with others in a warm ambiance, or slowly taste a dish’s complex flavor profile, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Vibrant, unique organizational cultures don’t happen by accident. Like a restaurant making intentional choices about space, food, and service, companies operating in a remote world need to consider the ways their culture is distinctive and proactively ensure this DNA isn’t lost over screens and across time zones.
On the art of quitting
Leaders need the ability to quit things they’ve previously committed to. This is a struggle for me, even when the stakes are low. But I’ve noticed that some of the best decisions I’ve ever made were ones when I mustered the courage to just stop—deciding to abandon my major in Chinese language halfway through college opened up entirely new academic horizons for me.
As Annie Duke writes in her book Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away, “Quitting is the tool that allows us to react to new information that is revealed after we make a decision.” Good quitting takes practice, starting with the small stuff and beginning to develop the conviction and the confidence, while shedding the stigma, to know that not every started endeavor needs to be completed.
On invisible forces
There is perhaps nothing more human (or American) than giving ourselves outsized credit for our personal successes when the forces that conspired to produce a particular outcome had very little to do with us. This is one of my takeaways from Howard Marks’s recent letter, "Sea Change." Marks, a renowned investor, describes the massive impact of transitioning from a multi-decade period of low interest rates to one defined by high interest rates.
What we thought was our knack for picking winning stocks was actually a product of a low-interest rate environment that pushed asset prices up. The successes we attributed to venture capitalists or entrepreneurs was—at least partially—made possible by favorable economic conditions with low costs of capital. They say real estate is all about "location, location, location." But for those who were able to become homeowners in the last two decades (and then watch their home’s value go up), it was also about interest rates.
Interest rates are but one invisible force in our midst. Though it’s tempting to believe that I am solely responsible for the outcomes in my life, when I reflect on the multitude of contributing factors, it feels like putting on my glasses: suddenly I see the world in all the accurate, humbling detail that my own ego was obstructing. When we pierce through the fiction of our own self-importance, new ways of understanding the world open up to us that are grounded in the truth of our small but mighty role.
On climate technologies
I’ve been sinking my teeth into all things climate technology at Ezra, and I wanted to share one learning: all the technologies needed to achieve the necessary reductions in global emissions by 2030 already exist, and 80% of those technologies are either mature technologies (like solar and wind energy) or emerging technologies already on the market (like heat pumps). To hit net zero by 2050, we’ll need to invest in a long list of moonshot technologies, but we can make dramatic gains by focusing on the deployment of what already exists. This is where Ezra is laser-focused.
Can you help?
- Do you know of a team considering the 4-day workweek in 2023? I’d love to connect with them.
What I am reading
- “This is what we do while we’re waiting for the world to change.” The story of one doctor’s human-centric approach to providing care and tackling homelessness in Boston. The New York Times.
- The profile of the FBI’s most successful undercover FBI agent who infiltrated far-right extremists in America over 25 years. Rolling Stone.
- From following your passion to quiet quitting, how different generations think about their relationship to work. The New Yorker.
- We’ve convinced ourselves that progress is a function of those eureka moments that are embedded in our mythology of innovation and progress. But to make real progress, we need to focus more on implementation than innovation. The Atlantic.
- A beautiful, sweeping article featuring the progress, challenges, technology, humans, and politics connected to climate change. The New Yorker.
- Higher interest rates will lead to the next generation of great tech startups. A history lesson on the business cycles of technology and the biggest drivers of the next decade. Chamath Palihapitiya.
Every January since 1906, the stock show and rodeo come to town, and most years I try to go. You can walk amongst the pens where sows are nursing squealing piglets, and perfectly-coiffed cows, waiting to be auctioned off, stare back at you with their bovine innocence. There’s a rodeo with calf roping and barrel racing and standing ovations for war heroes, and you can wander through booths selling everything from industrial-grade farm equipment to overhyped products peddled on late-night infomercials. I’m always humbled when I go to the stock show because it reveals how little of the full picture I see: all the steps and people and orchestration needed to produce a package of glistening beef in the supermarket or an Amazon package at our front doors or the gas pumped into our cars. We’ve specialized and compartmentalized our way into a modern-day nearsightedness that consistently misses how interwoven our world is. Wendell Berry says we need to start by returning to the soil: “The soil is the great connector of lives,” he writes. It is “the source and destination of us all.”