A Collaborative Self-Energizing Meta-Team Vision

Originally written October 19th, 2020 as a few tweetstorms—slight edits here. My vision has evolved since then, but this remains a beautiful piece of it and I’ve been linking lots of people to it in google doc form so I figured I might as well post it to my blog.

Wanting to write about the larger meta-vision I have that inspired me to make this move (to Sam—first green section below). Initially wrote this in response to Andy Matuschak’s response “Y’all, this attitude is rad”, but wanted it to be a top-level thread because it’s important and stands on its own.

Hey @SamHBarton, I’m checking out lifewrite.today and it’s reminding me of my app complice.co (eg “Today Page”) and I had a brief moment of “oh no” before “wait, there’s so much space for other explorations!” and anyway what I want to say is:

How can I help?

screenshot of LifeWrite landing page

Because I realized that the default scenario with something like this is that it doesn’t even really get off the ground, and that would be sad 😕

So like I’ve done with various other entrepreneurs (including Conor White-Sullivan!) would love to explore & help you realize your vision here 🚀

Also shoutout to Beeminder / Daniel Reeves for helping encourage this cooperative philosophy with eg the post Startups Not Eating Each Other Like Cannibalistic Dogs. They helped mentor me+Complice from the very outset, which evolved into mutual advising & mutually profitable app integrations.

Making this move, of saying “how can I help?” to a would-be competitor, is inspired for me in part by tapping into what for me is the answer to “what can I do that releases energy rather than requiring energy?” and finding the answer being something on the design/vision/strategy level that every company needs.

» read the rest of this entry »

Relationship Panarchy

“Relationship Panarchy” is a term that I coined to talk about a model of relationships, that can function both as a lens through which any relationship dynamic can be viewed (including retrospectively) or can function as an explicit intentional way-of-operating. Actually operating in accordance with this view is something that no humans I know are yet masters of, but there are an increasing number of us trying. So to some extent, at this phase it can function as a kind of placeholder, similar to how “Game B” is a placeholder for “whatever transcends and outcompetes the Game A cultural operating system that has been running the show for 10,000 years”. And, like Game B, we can say a few things about it even while it’s in the process of coming into view.

The one-sentence summary is “Relationship Panarchy is a model of relationships that’s like Relationship Anarchy, but instead of being individualist, it’s oriented to caring for the whole systems that support the relationships and people in them.”

So: there’s this concept “polyamory”. For some people, it tends to come with a bunch of structure implied, such as “primary partners” and terms like “metamour”. For others, it’s basically a synonym for “non-monogamy”.

“Non-monogamy” is able, by being a negation, to imply less structure, but it isn’t sufficiently general because:

  1. it doesn’t allow for Game B operating-system relationship configurations that read as monogamy on the old map because they involve two people being sexually exclusive
  2. it still over-emphasizes romantic relationships as primary, by negating them

One model that seems to be more open-ended is known as “Relationship Anarchy”. From Wikipedia:

Relationship anarchy (sometimes abbreviated RA) is the belief that relationships should not be bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree upon. If a relationship anarchist has multiple intimate partners, it might be considered as a form of non-monogamy, but distinguishes itself by postulating that there need not be a formal distinction between sexual, romantic, or platonic relationships.

Relationship anarchists look at each relationship (romantic, platonic or otherwise) individually, as opposed to categorizing them according to societal norms such as ‘just friends’, ‘in a relationship’, or ‘in an open relationship’.

I really liked this idea for awhile, but eventually I realized that the imagery of anarchy as such evokes a rather individualist orientation to relationships, to a degree that from my perspective is not only undesirable but technically not even possible. Autonomy is important, and so is connectedness, and the two are not at odds but fundamentally made of each other. Each limit creates new freedoms and each freedom creates new limits.

» read the rest of this entry »

Dispel your justification-monkey with a “HWA!”

Justification—ie a normative explanation, as opposed to a causal one—is sometimes necessary. But, for many of us, it’s necessary much less often than we feel it is.

The reason we justify more often than we need to is that we live in fear of judgment, from years having to explain to authorities (parents, teachers, bosses, cops (for some people)) why things went differently than they “should have”. This skill is necessary to avoid punishment from those authorities.

We often offer justifications before they’re even asked for: “Wait I can explain—”

With friends, though, or in a healthy romantic partnership, or with people that we have a solid working relationship with, it is quite apparent that this flinch towards justification is actually in the way of being able to effectively work together. It is:

  • unhelpful for actually understanding what happened (since it’s a form of motivated cognition)
  • an obstacle to feeling safe with each other
  • a costly waste of time & attention

And yet we keep feeling the urge to justify. So what to do instead? How to re-route that habit in a way that builds trust within the relationships where justification isn’t required? How to indicate to our conversational partners that we aren’t demanding that they justify?

There are lots of ways to do this—here’s one. » read the rest of this entry »

How I Learned to Stop Hurrying and Fall In Love (with a project)

I’m flexing my blogging muscle again, for the first time in nearly 2 months. It feels a bit weird, and kinda nice. The break I took also feels both weird and nice.

There’s a trope or something about blogs where half of their posts are just the author apologizing for not posting more often. This isn’t going to be one of those—instead, my absence from this space is something that I want to reflect on, in a similar manner to my normal blog posts. How does it relate to my own growth? How does it relate to motivation? To metacognition?

This reflection ends up spanning 5 years and touching on a lot of what’s core to me (and what was core in the past). » read the rest of this entry »

5 Things I’ve Learned from Extensive Couchsurfing

Over the past few years, I’ve spent about 7 months staying with friends while traveling. Here’s what I’ve learned from the experience.

1. Offers can come from surprising places

One of the main ways that I’ve found people is just by posting to Facebook that I’m going to be in town and I’m looking for a place to stay. (I suspect this works better for me than other people, since I have a fairly engaged feed.) This is a nice approach, because it lets me cast a wide net without anyone really feeling like I’m putting pressure on them.

At any rate, apparently I still feel a bit weird about posting this or something. I’ve known for quite awhile I’d be traveling to the Bay Area again this August, and yet I still didn’t manage to get around to making a simple post until yesterday. I think it’s that issue again where not getting what you want feels immensely worse if you can’t pretend you didn’t want it.

Anyway, offers to stay, both on facebook and from people I’ve talked to in person, have often come from people I didn’t actually know very well at the time, which I wouldn’t have expected. Although of course I got to know them better via staying over, so we’re closer now 🙂

» read the rest of this entry »

A laptop employed as a nightlight

This post is kind of from two years ago. I got thinking about it again last night when I was reading Wait But Why’s The Cook and the Chef, an article describing how Elon Musk does what he does, which is a lot. The author, Tim Urban, is using an analogy of chefs as those who actually do something original and cooks who just follow recipes. He remarks that most people think that most people are chefs and then some chefs are just better than others… but that a better model is that most people are cooks (some better than others) and then the main difference between most people and Elon Musk isn’t quantitative (“he’s smarter”) but rather qualitative (“he does things differently”).

It’s like a bunch of typewriters looking at a computer and saying, “Man, that is one talented typewriter.”

Imagine a laptop.
What can you use it for?
That laptop can be used as a paperweight.
It is, in fact, better than some objects (such as a pen) at being a paperweight.
But that’s probably a waste of the laptop.
What else can you use it for?
It can also be used as a nightlight.
It has quite a lot of comparative advantage at being a nightlight—most objects don’t emit light, so a laptop works pretty well there.
However, it’s still a huge waste.
And, if you’re a human, not a computer, it feels terrible to be wasted: to not be used for your full range of capabilities.
» read the rest of this entry »

Announcing the Effectivity Habits Project

In 2014, instead of trying to change 50 things at once for New Years’, I decided to try a serial approach, changing one thing each week. I made 47 such attempts (took most of August off) and had 13 wins and a bunch of other good stuff come out of the not-wins.

This inspired my friend and collaborator Brienne Yudkowsky to do her own version of this for 2015. She came up with a number of changes that I really like, and so I’m going to merge most of her fork back into my branch. But with one key change: a focus on effectivity.

I’m deliberately calling this project “effectivity habits” rather than “productivity habits” because I want to imply a focus on achieving important results, not just on producing a lot of stuff. Productivity is a really key component of effectivity, but loses sight of the end result in its heads-down focus on the process of d. Which is fine! Process is important. But I also want to deliberately install some habits that will make me pay more attention to whether or not what I’m doing is truly moving towards the goal. Nate Soares, in the linked article, writes:

My advice, if you want to be effective, is always be solving the problem.

Note that he says “effective,” not “productive”.

My original Habit-a-week project was totally random. That was fun! Each week, I chose a new habit to install based on whatever felt most juicy. » read the rest of this entry »

Growing a Garden with a Broken Bodum

the corner of the room where the bodum fell. Framed by a wall on the left and a chest freezer on the right.

It didn’t occur to me to take the picture until after I cleaned up the broken glass.

This post isn’t about gardens or bodums. It’s about thinking and mindset.

Last July (~15 months ago) I had an interaction in my house’s laundry room, where I moved something on a shelf, which knocked off a bodum (aka french coffee press) which fell to the ground and shattered. I mentioned this to Jean (the likely purchaser/user of the bodum) that it had broken. But… the shelf was in a corner, with a chest freezer making it even more secluded, so the broken glass wasn’t a threat to anyone. So I decided I’d clean it up later.

Of course, as we know, later never comes.

So when it came time in August to leave for a four-month internship at Twitter in San Francisco, it still wasn’t done. I swore to Jean “I need to finish packing, but I’ll do it tomorrow morning before I go.” Not too surprisingly, I was packing basically all night. So morning came and I was running around and she said to me in my stress and frenzy, “Don’t worry; I’ll clean it up.” I was hugely relieved because I had felt an obligation to clean it.

Interlude: Malcolm in San Francisco / Berkeley, then home for Christmas

When I returned to the house in January of this year, I went downstairs to do laundry, and glanced in the corner. Lo and behold, a broken bodum remained. “Huh,” I thought.
» read the rest of this entry »

Habit Models: Routines vs Reflexes

I feel like it’s valuable to distinguish between two types of behavior change: routines & reflexes. Both of these are based on creating a new pattern of action given a certain trigger. The distinction I’m making is that routines occur with a very predictable frequency (usually daily, also weekly/monthly) and so they have a kind of cyclic nature. Reflexes, by contrast, are conditioned responses to triggers that might show up dozens or hundreds of times in a given day, or sometimes not even once.

The reason I think it’s valuable to disambiguate between them is that I find that they are nearly polar opposites in terms of what approaches are effective for intentionally changing them. I’ll explain those approaches in the second part of the post.

Lexical/semantic note: I had been using “habit” to refer to reflexes, but it turns out that many people also use “habit” to refer to daily routines, so that would be immensely confusing. I think there can be value in redefining words, but in this case I’ve opted to concede “habit” as a more general term for behavior change, which includes both sporadic, frequent habits (reflexes) and cyclical habits (ie. routines). Edit: I originally published this as “Routines vs Defaults” instead of “reflexes”, but Brienne proprosed “reflexes” and I like that word better.


The follow examples are designed to help you map out the clusters of concepts, if you don’t already have an intuitive sense of the distinction I’m talking about. While not exhaustive, they might also be helpful starting points for brainstorming some habit changes you’d like to make.

Kinds of routines

  • morning routine: probably starts with waking up; from there, varies widely
  • breakfast routine: for some people, this is tightly coupled with their morning routine… for others,
  • commute routine: the route / mode of transportation, as well as what you typically do during it (read, listen to audiobooks, etc)
  • when-I-get-to-work routine: what you do when you arrive at the place you work/study… not everyone will have one of these
  • lunch routine: where and when you eat lunch, how you acquire it
  • supper routine: etc
  • » read the rest of this entry »

This Post May Contain Traces of Gluten

I’m giving up gluten for a month. Maybe longer.

Many of my earliest posts on this blog are about my 30-day challenges: behaviour changes I undertake for a month. I’ve been on a hiatus for awhile, which initially was for the purposes of installing some new habits but then later was just because I forgot to restart.

Last week at work, I realized that I’d nearly stopped eating gluten. The cafeteria at Twitter (where I’m interning for my penultimate co-op placement) has a lot of very healthy food, including grass-fed beef and many gluten-free options. Since I try to eat a kind of “relaxed paleo”, I gradually started eating fewer and fewer of the dishes containing gluten. I haven’t been a huge fan of bread for years, so this was a fairly easy transition to make.

I hear, however, that for many people the biggest changes result not from severe reduction of gluten intake but from complete elimination. This is obviously true for those with coeliac disease or a wheat allergy, but various bits of evidence (google for this if you care) suggests that there’s a decent probability of having some effect occur for me anyway. New models suggest that there’s a spectrum of gluten sensitivity.

At any rate, since this is an relatively very easy experiment for me to perform right now, with potentially very valuable results, it seems like something worth doing. I’ll decide later in the month if I want to continue being gluten-free or not. It strikes me that most gluten-sensitive people notice a pretty sudden and dramatic effect when they start consuming it again, so maybe I’ll do that just as a further experiment.

The official box for my Gluten-free Challenge:

For all of October 2013, I will not consume gluten.

Small text: I will try very hard to avoid products that say “may contain traces”. I’m going to disprefer products made in the same factory as gluten, but not avoid them outright. I reserve the right to drop this challenge in life-or-death / starving situations.

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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