Happy 2022! Welcome to the January edition of the Uncharted Insider. Do you know someone who would enjoy the Uncharted Insider? Forward this email to them and they can subscribe here.
- Economic Inequality Initiative: We are in the final stages of our first cohort of 10 ventures of our Economic Inequality Initiative.
- Co-Lab: After receiving 344 applications for only 10 spots in the Economic Inequality Initiative, we are launching a shorter accelerator that democratizes access by supporting more entrepreneurs. Today we announce the Uncharted Co-Lab, a program that will accelerate 38 ventures this spring. Learn more here.
On Imperceptible Change
I’ve been reviewing past editions of the Uncharted Insider, and I’ve noticed that I’ve written more about the topic of patience than I have about anything else. It’s a truism that the advice we give or the topics we explore most are the things that we, ourselves, most need to hear, and I am no exception. It is not a coincidence that I write so much about patience because I am an impatient person: impatient for social change, impatient for funders to respond to my emails (aren’t we all), impatient for the traffic to ease as I drive across town. I grew up talking about patience around the dinner table. To this day, whenever I sit down for dinner with my parents, my dad prays for patience. He is a more patient man than I, but I’ve noticed that many of us in the social impact space are naturally impatient. Our impatience leads us to bravely act, to be sure, but it also leads us to design our organizations and approaches to not only produce quick results but perceivable ones. We must see it. We must be able to measure it. If it’s not visible, it’s not there.
Recently, I’ve noticed myself saying things like: “Given the upheaval we’ve lived through in the last few years, I’m surprised how little has actually changed. Same divisiveness, same dynamics, same everything.” But as I’ve heard these words coming out of my mouth, I’ve begun to question the notion that if I can’t see the change, it’s not happening. Change metabolizes slowly. It moves nonlinearly. It lurks imperceptibly. I think about Uncharted’s ventures who are working on long-term policy change, or the impacts of the great resignation in a few years time. What small, creative endeavors have already been hatched that will become household names? I wonder if all the companies that are piloting a 4-day workweek will somehow move the radical idea of not working on Fridays into mainstream work culture. I’m reminded of the story of mRNA research and how it was perceived as a failure of medicine for decades until it became the foundation for all vaccines. If we are in the business of social change, we grow in maturity and humility when we loosen our grip on knowing exactly what change will look like or when it will happen.
Implications of Remote Work
I’m convinced our societal shift to remote work is a bigger shift with more wide-reaching implications than the shift from a 5-day to a 4-day workweek. Here are a few implications and trends related to remote-work (sourced from this post and from many conversations).
- Loss of wage and price arbitrage: when *some* people can work anywhere but are paid based on expensive urban markets, every place gets more expensive. Local prices and local conditions will be less of a determinant in wages as we move away from location-adjusted pay. Our affordable housing crisis gets worse when companies choose to pay people the same, regardless of location.
- Work and location are being unbundled: Some workers can now make the “work decision” and the “location decision” independently. This shifts the balance of power from company to employee where talent used to follow jobs but now jobs follow talent (cities are no longer only recruiting employers, but are now recruiting employees). This unbundling also enables workers to locate themselves around important features (near the beach) or family and infrastructure (near extended family for childcare).
- Inequality between workers: Location-independent workers are choosing where to live. Location-dependent workers follow where the location-independent workers have chosen. The differences between remote vs. essential worker and the location-independent vs. location-dependent worker will reinforce class and wealth divisions between groups of people and between tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 locations.
- Work is bound by physical infrastructure: All workers (remote or otherwise) are bound by physical infrastructure (housing, transportation, childcare, etc.). Mountain resort communities have seen an influx of remote workers, but have struggled to build the physical infrastructure needed to accommodate location-dependent workers like those in food, retail, and service. The challenges of physical infrastructure will exacerbate inequality between workers, drive up prices, and upend local politics.
- Employers under pressure: The cultural experience of remote work will reduce cultural stickiness for employees to stay loyal to their employers, leading to higher turnover and switching costs. Employers will be under pressure to create strong culture in remote spaces. There will be a shift away from standard 9-5 working hours and towards a focus on work-product and deliverables. Remote work means increased geographic freedom, and this freedom will expand to freedom around hours and flexibility.
- Employees under pressure: Remote work can lead to an erasure of boundaries and a pressure to be constantly available. Employees will be under pressure to care for their mental health and draw boundaries when they’re distanced, remote, and feeling the need to be constantly online.
- Placemaking: Placemaking becomes more digital and less physically proximate with remote work. There will be greater erosion of location-defined communities as more people build remote-first communities in work and play (the metaverse). We will grow closer to our colleagues in a different time zone than to our neighbors next door.
- Prepare for the counter-trend: As more teams go remote, other companies will double-down on being in-person as a way to distinguish themselves and create rare experiences and outcomes.
Can you help?
- What startups, researchers, builders, and investors are exploring the intersection of web3 and social change? I want to learn from them (see white paper below).
- What trends and implications do you see around remote work both at an organizational level and at a societal impact level?
What I am reading
- Average annual public spending on early childhood care across rich countries is almost $15,000 per child. In the U.S., it's $500. How the childcare crisis is at a breaking point.
- The big ideas in disruptive innovation for 2022: From AI to blockchain to robotics to genomic editing. Exploring the frontier of innovation and technology from ARK.
- The North American population of bumblebees has been cut in half. How climate change and climate stress are impacting insects.
- Podcast: The History and Strategy of Taylor Swift. A fascinating podcast on how Taylor is revolutionizing the music industry by taking on the biggest power-brokers and connecting directly to her fans.
- Book: Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers by Chip Heath and Karla Starr. An insightful book on why we’re so bad comprehending numbers and what to do about it.
What I am writing
I am expanding my writing beyond this monthly Uncharted Insider by writing additional posts and reflections here on my Ghost site. Here are two posts from January:
In late December, I was driving from Boulder to Denver when I encountered a fast-moving fire just a few miles from my home. This wasn’t a wildfire or a forest-fire, but a suburban fire that was tearing through a major metropolitan area on its way to destroying over 1,000 homes. I witnessed flames leaping off of roofs, panicked neighbors driving to safety across singed fields, and abandoned fire stations, their big doors eerily wide open from when their trucks left in a hurry. This fire was a product of unseasonably dry weeks, high winds, and inexorable warming and stressing. I was in shock; unsure of what to do with my hands, unsure of how to make sense of a fire in a place I knew so well. Something so abstract as climate change became something so visually arresting as panicked neighbors and empty fire stations. Something so big as global warming became something so intimate as homes burned to rubble, their chimneys standing as solemn totems.
Around the same time as the fire, I was reading a book on climate change. The book did everything it was supposed to. It raised alarms by using data and graphs. It cited experts to lend credibility. It had a bibliography that would make my high-school librarian proud. But I felt nothing as I was reading it…I was unmoved. At first, I thought this was because I’m already anxious for us to take climate action. But then I got to the final chapter of the book, where the author took a different approach that hit me unexpectedly. No more stats, no more footnotes. Instead she spoke about how she wrote this book over the span of years when she was trying to get pregnant. She shared about her miscarriage, the rawness of her despair, the pointedness of her sadness, and how she struggled to write a book about “mother nature” when she, herself, was unable to be a mother. She spoke of her ultimate realization that all the research and all the interviews had led her to realize that mother nature is having fertility challenges of her own. These fertility challenges are the decimation of the bee population, the disappearance of birds, the empty oceans denuded of phytoplankton. In this maternal bond between planet and person, she found solidarity. A dry book could not have ended in a more poetic way, and all the data and graphs and quotes were contextualized in not just an abstract struggle, but a human one.
We live in the age of reason where logic and numbers rule the day. We’ve been convinced that we are rational creatures, which means sometimes we feel pressure to cut off the dimensions of ourselves that are not governed by reason. We suppress our emotions, we look past our intuition, we run from our shock. But when we believe that the only acceptable tools of persuasion are those of statistics, logic, and reason, we lose out on a deeper level of visceral knowing and first-hand witnessing. On the spectrum from spreadsheets to poetry, too many choose one of the poles and too few choose the gradations in between, those middle spaces that fuse together the intuitive intelligence of our bodies (and wombs) with the cerebral intelligence of our minds. In between spreadsheets and poetry, there is sacred, powerful ground for us to connect and mobilize.
As always I welcome your feedback and ideas.