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foxwizard ☾

🦊🧙‍♂️ // Belated Glimmers & An Odd Request

Also: a musing about The Museletter.

Ahoy friends. I’m ‘on the road’ at the moment; betwixt leadership events. I brought my beans, grinder and goose-neck pourer to the hotel room, as I do. But I forgot to bring the filter paper. And so, for a few minutes I fancied myself as a kind of modern day ‘macgyver’—but the mess I’ve made is heinous. I’m going to pretend it didn’t happen.

In this museletter:

◊ I subtly promote the masterclass we have happening with MBS next week via reflecting on the notion of ‘Working Relationships’ (less than 10 tickets remain)

◊ I characteristically overshare My Current Turmoil (instead of maintaining the air of quixotic yet iconoclastic mystique I otherwise aspire to)—resulting in ‘An Odd Request

◊ I provide some ‘Belated Glimmers’—worthy reads, and notions worth contemplating

Later this week I shall be giving my (adapted) ‘Artificially Intelligent’ keynote to an audience of advanced lawyers. I’m personally curious as to how this will land; much of the world is still deep within the misty-eyed honeymoon phase with AI. But perhaps this group are ready to think a few more steps ahead? We’ll see.

Oh, btw—if a friend forwarded this museletter to you (how nice!) you can join the many thousands who subscribe.


New Game Plus

A common theme acknowledged across many of my clients is: we’re in ‘difficult mode’, now.

In video game land we call this NG+ (new game plus). In most instances, it’s a very similar game as before—only you must confront greater challenges with fewer resources (other than the talents you have already unlocked).

NG+ is meant to be fun. And it can be—if we approach it from the right perspective. If we learn to relish in the heightened challenge.

Events, offsites and immersions are a chance to refresh, revitalise and renew perspective. Without such interventions, we run the risk of a negative flywheel effect—the opposite to questing. We become myopic, insular, incremental, self-serving and narrow in our focus. Our tolerance for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity diminishes, and we instead obsess over stability, certainty, simplicity and clarity.

Rather than rise to challenges of our times, we attempt instead to reduce reality to meet our seemingly diminished capacity.

But it’s possible to cultivate the sensibilities for challenging times (tightened belts, increased efficiency, ‘entrepreneurial hunger’, etc) whilst also preserving the creativity, curiosity and empathy that all great teams share. And whilst also paying people well and not having them burn out.

It just takes some intentionality and knack.

A key element in all of this—probably the key element—is the quality of the relationships we maintain.


Working Relationships

I have my ways of tending to the intrapersonal relationships I maintain amidst the messiness of meaningful progress amidst the unknown.* But I also know: there’s much this wizard could learn on the interpersonal front.

* The Ritual of Becoming is a part of this.

Hence why I am so very much looking forward to the masterclass with Michael Bungay Stanier in Melbourne next week. We have fewer than 10 tickets remaining. If you work with people in any form, I think you’ll enjoy what it to come.

(And, also, if you don’t work with people but rather, ‘ideas’—you’ll love part two of the masterclass, too).

Here’s a still from a video Josh Janssen made for us a while back ♡

We would love to have you join us. Tickets and details at drjasonfox.com/mbs-masterclass

Much gratitude, as ever, to Kearney Group for being gracious friends, sponsors and hosts. The team at Kearney Group offer integrated financial advice for businesses and households. Kim and I are long-term happy clients.


And now...

My Current Turmoil

I worry that my public persona is becoming that of a grumpy wizard. It’s not my favourite form.

I suspect the reason I’ve been so grumpy—accelerating mass extinctions and economic/monetary/energy/biosphere/climate/food/societal collapse aside—is because of phantoms. I’ve been arguing with phantoms. Spectres. Straw-man apparitions manifested to make a point.

Here’s what happens:

  • It comes time to write a museletter
  • I scan the zeitgeist for something I might be able to offer some perspective on*
  • This inevitably leads me to tour the warped worlds of LinkedIn and Xitter
  • Within a dozen or so seconds of scrolling, my faith in humanity drops (it’s relatively low on the best of days)
  • I inevitably snag upon something that vexes me to the point in which I find myself compelled to reply, to remedy the matter
  • I draft a response, attempting to illuminate with erudition, warmth and tact
  • I then contemplate how this draft contribution to the matter might be misunderstood by a bad faith read, and try to mollify it so that it comes across a little more gentle (whilst also being subversive)
  • but no, wait! wtf! I push my laptop away and scoff
  • It’s the platform—luring me in with its dark magics
  • The algorithm wants dissent and discord; it wants us contributing more content so as to attract more eyes to spend more time amidst it all, internet of beefs and all
  • I step away and go for a walk
  • If I’m still vexed—and if I feel it’s important—I transmute this energy into a museletter (oh wait yes, that’s what I was doing in the first place, ha)
  • Rather than make it too obvious a response to a singular person’s strong opinion, I abstract it all into ‘a general sentiment’ to respond to
  • This ‘aggregated perspective’ becomes the ‘straw-man apparition’ I referred to earlier
  • I then write the museletter, doing my best to honour thy sources and generally provide something of value beyond ‘shakes fist at sky’
  • I proof-read the museletter aloud, and edit it thrice
  • The whole affair takes days, sometimes a week or more
  • But if feels also cathartic—the aggregate-apparition phantom is trounced
  • Exhausted, I hit send and whoosh—off the museletter goes to my 11k subscribers°
  • Immediately, an appalling litany of typos reveal themselves to me
  • I remedy them on the actual website and at this point realise I should probably get back on social media and ‘share’ the museletter there, given the effort I just put into it
  • But then I encounter yet more things that vex me, and I realise wait: it’s me—hi, I'm the problem, it’s me
  • (It’s not me: the problem is the multipolar trap of social media†)
  • So I give up and call it a day
  • Next day I realise: it’s probably time to write another museletter hohoho fml and the cycle repeats

* I am not yet at the point wherein I can sprout a constant stream of unsolicited low-grade advice that seems to be all the rage these days. Perhaps when I turn 40 at the end of the year something will click
° My lack of ‘growth hacking” means I have stayed relatively consistent at this level for the past half a dozen years—what new subscribers I accrue is balanced by the subscribers I lose due to my subtle insertion of politics pertaining to egalitarianism and biodiversity conservation.
† I heard one person (on social media) describe the multipolar trap well. Imagine you’re at a theater and the person in front of you stands up to get a better view. Because your view is blocked, you now need to stand up to see. Soon everyone in the theater is standing and the dilemma has worsened—because you’re all standing and still can’t see. Ha. It’s similar with the volume of conversation at a restaurant. We also have this with social media: but I am trying so-hard to not complain about it and to simply do something different.

Much as I love writing—and love writing to you (I really do!)—this doesn’t seem a sustainable pattern.

And yet, we live within the attention/distraction economy now. As a wizard-for-hire, I need to maintain some presence in this plane of existence. But is it via these long museletters? Do I become a peddler of pithy punditry? The ‘mere-exposure effect’ means that just sharing often enough will lead to higher regard, which leads to more work, which leads to more things to share, and so on.° Frequency trumps rigour and depth, and the world (seemingly) wants simplistic platitudes more so than anything complex or fractally-apt. I get it.

* Raising questions as to the mutability of taste and preference in an era of algorithmically curated exposure and manufactured demand.

I’ve been using chatGPT to sense-check my neologisms to ensure they convey the intended meaning.

But does this mean I start sharing my breakfast with you?

Actually, Kim made Julia Busuttil Nishimura's granola recently and it is divine. Textured and subtly sweet, with a hint of salt.

It’s tempting. Genuinely tempting.

Because, if I think about it, the newsletters I enjoy reading are the personal ones. The bloggy ones. Robin Sloan’s latest newsletter—‘What would a wizard read’—is an apt example. I also enjoy Justin Duke’s aracana dot computer, for how down-to-earth it is. And the opening letter Kai Brach writes in each Dense Discovery is always a delight to read (my favourite part). {I’m genuinely sorry these are all white guy examples btw. #grimace}

Meanwhile, though, I recently thought—

Why not respond to questions from you, my dear reader?

This has been something I have offered friends of the foxwizard* since moving to ghost. But I would like to do the following:

  • Open up questions to all (whilst still giving priority to friends of the foxwizard)
  • Answer questions earnestly yet casually, in both video and podcast form (this time without someday deleting it all, maybe)
  • Share these, along with glimmers, in the museletter—but lightly so

* Munificent folks who kindly support my writing with the offering of a tribute..

I’m not sure if this plan will work. But I think it will have me less grumpy.

Because I know that I cannot write to The Void, lest I descend into complete solipsism. I must at least conjure some form of apparition as a focal point—‘someone’ to write to.

Perhaps that someone can be you?

Ergo: An Odd Request

Do you have a question—large or small; serious, whimsical or otherwise—that you’d like to ask Dr. Fox, Archwizard of Ambiguity (most fantastic)?

This is a delicate and precarious thing; I don’t want to turn this into an obligation or a burden for myself—I am very good at building myself ever more interesting cages. But I also know: I am enlivened by questions. And I’d much rather respond to real people over the phantom apparitions I’ve conjured.

So: let’s see how this goes.

If you have a question on your mind you’d like me to explore—please leave it with me over at drjasonfox.com/questions

Thank you!


Glimmers ✨

Against Automaticity

An explanation of why tricks like priming, nudge, the placebo effect, social contagion, the “emotional inception” model of advertising, most “cognitive biases,” and any field with “behavioral” in its name are not real.

If you pause to think of it, the insights shared within this article are heretical to top selling business books and much revered leadership programs and change management consulting.

I admit: as a younger wizard I was swayed by the published works of established authorities in much of this domain. But—as I alluded to in my ‘mindset’ museletter and in my attempts to rekindle intellectual honesty—it turns out most of them are either non-replicable or non-significant at best. “It’s not just that the relevant science is fabricated, or p-hacked, or uses meaningless measures or flexible measures, although the prevalence of such things does cast doubt on their evidentiary value. It’s that we should have been more skeptical from the start.”

What I find fascinating—and perhaps alluded to in my last museletter on Gentle Opinions—is that, once someone publishes a book, makes a program, and builds a reputation around a certain ‘belief’, they are then incentivised to defend it. Even if it turns out there is no evidence to support it. This is perhaps why I like Dr. Tyson Yunkaporta’s way of going about it (as quoted in The Perils of a Neatly Defined ‘Purpose’). Avoid naming things; particularly if doing so binds you to incentives that may one day turn perverse. For then, as Upton Sinclair puts it—“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Instead, keep it gentle, tentative, light, fluid.

Speaking of...

Why You Should Cultivate a Fluid Sense of Self

“What you want to do is challenge yourself to integrate the various elements of your identity into a cohesive whole. This allows you to emphasize and deemphasize certain parts of your identity at different periods of time. The result is a fluid sense of self.”

In this article Brad Stulberg promotes his new book called ‘Master of Change’. The lessons within this seem to share a great deal of parallel to the concepts within The Ritual of Becoming this past dozen or so years. Brad is also a fan of the ‘complexification of self‘. He also recently tweeted a pleasant thread on non-dual thinking, quite apt.

How to Disagree with a Friend

“Many people are wrong and need to be disagreed with. However, most people do not actually disagree with one another. Disagreeing is not happening in the culture war; what is happening is insulting, signaling, shaming, canceling, censoring, trolling, harassing, and gaslighting. I do not think we should be naive and assume people addicted to social media, trying to win in the attention economy through culture war hot takes, and being unwittingly steered by various PsyOps will be interested in disagreeing well.

However, we are interested in disagreeing well. Those of us interested in being a friend of virtue, which is to say, being a person who orientates another person to the good, are concerned with disagreeing well. If our friends are wrong about many things, we do them a disservice by pretending otherwise.”

I’m a fan of Peter Limberg’s writing. I originally came across his work in mapping out the memetic tribes of the culture wars, back in 2018. Then, during the pandemic, he did an incredible job of holding a tenuous yet exquisite confluence-nexus of perspectives in ‘The Stoa’. He continues to share insights that I’d consider to be quite wise.

How to Disagreee with a Partner? Conversations with Nati

“In this recording, I'm trying to convince Nati that she should write more of her ideas in public, and we talk about the gender dynamics that affect how people communicate. I think the content of the conversation is interesting, but also "how" we communicate: we have a lot of fun disagreeing with each other and giving each other increasingly honest feedback.”

This was such an intimate piece of audio. I felt like I was eavesdropping on an private conversation at a cafe. No, even more perverse—it feels like a lovely couple are having a conversation on a picnic rug and never realised I was sitting behind the tree close by. I feel ‘rude’ listening to it, because there’s something so ‘real’ about this; so refreshingly genuine and non-performative. And it echoes a conversation I myself have with Kim every year or so. Although it seems now I find myself deeply empathising with Nati—and eventually warming to some (but not all) of Richard’s perspectives.

“R: ...I'm just saying though, that your position as an enthusiastic late stage beginner, that's actually quite conscientious about how you communicate, is extremely valuable. That's the bit that makes you screw up your face, but it's the truth of the matter.

N: I mean, it's not that information is not out there. The information already exists. That's how I found it.

R: (growling) The beginner experience is so fucking valuable because the experts always lose touch with where the beginners are.”

Hoho, it me. Curse of knowledge.

This conversation tours themes I’ve been concerned with in regards to intellectual honesty—honouring and attribution, epistemological humility and a duty of care as to how ideas are communicated (doing no harm, reducing overreach, etc). The conversation also tackles the paradox of intellectual honesty versus commercial efficacy.

“R: The point is like, you can optimise for truth or you can optimise for memetic fitness? And I optimise for memetic fitness, because there's no point writing something incredibly true if no one reads it! You need to find the sweet spot between it being true, and it being attractive. That's what rigorous thinkers really fine unappealing, because they're like, "no I must just give the unvarnished truth", but it's like, yeah, truth doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's always a communication. It's always a relationship between people. And so your job is to attune with where people are, and try and give them as much accuracy as you can while holding their attention. And like most academics are not willing to do that, they're just like, no, I'm going to give as much accuracy as possible.”

[Btw: it feels perverse of me to extract these transcript snippets of a conversation from the full context with all of its warmth and love.]

I eschew optimisation. And I feel it is my duty, having had to privilege to accrue knowledge, to ensure it is shared wisely. But wisdom is not attractive in this economy, and all of the incentives skew towards that which garners and holds the most attention—accuracy be damned.

And yet... there are ways to approach this. Through story and myth, perhaps, we can stumbled across the fractally-apt. That is: principles that hold mostly-useful and mostly-true across different domains, scales and orders of complexity. Maybe there’s a way there?

Ha. Or maybe I am overthinking it and I should just leverage the relative knowledge asymmetry for commercial gain, paving over any gaps with charisma, confidence, and a healthy disregard for truth. Hahar! Bah. I don’t know.

Welcome to the perpetual challenge of this wizard. Probably need to bring back gentleman pirate trickster mode at some point.

Anyways; I found this conversation between Rich and Nati—both of whom I have admired for many years—to be sublime.

Frantic Inertia

“You can say our addiction to certainty lies at the heart of immunity to change and the failure to address our big issues. That’s why I want to invite people to give up control and enter into unfolding.”

In this post, complexity practitioner Bonnitta Roy interviews Ivo J. Mensch about his essay ‘The Solipsistic Society’. I don’t know but there seems to be a pattern to what I am drawn to in my research and readings. Something needs to change; the systems and structures that have emerged within our society have become cancerous to the self and planet. “So we have this whole self-help industry, but what it all points to is the self: it's all you, it's all your responsibility. That means we direct all our agency and our power to ourselves, like it's the only project that we can meaningfully change. The object is mostly the body – our bodies. What it [the self-help industry] doesn't do is say, wait a minute, maybe we should just try and change the structures of the world that are driving us into this coping.”

On Conspiracy Theories and the Yes vote

“Disinformation is the greatest existential threat, because it’s a force multiplier for catastrophic risk,” says the senior lecturer in Indigenous knowledges [Tyson Yunkaporta] at Deakin University and author of a new book on the subject of disinformation: Right Story, Wrong Story.”

Related, —a Professor of Constitutional Law at Monash University—explains why it is legal to tell lies during the Voice referendum campaign. If you are interested, “several media outlets including RMIT ABC Fact CheckAAP Fact Check and AFP Fact Check are publishing articles fact-checking claims about the Voice.” I can’t say my hopes are high but I want to believe we’ll get through this.

On leadership | and interview with Jensen Huang

“We don’t do status reports. I don’t read any status reports.”

I thought I might throw in this more conventional leadership snippet into the mix, so that my executive clients don’t think I’m only interested in intellectual honesty, philosophy, and other unprofitable concepts.

In this video Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of NVIDIA (the tech company well known for its graphic processing units, which has effectively enabled and ridden the mounting waves of the video game industry, bitcoin mining and now artificial intelligence). Here’s a breakdown of their recent earnings.

The video covers a lot of points—I’m not sure how many of which are true, and I am wary of venerating individual ‘hero-leaders’. But certainly there is a refreshing perspective to be found here.

Dan Hock has summarised the video into a compelling thread. Here are some highlights.

40 direct reports, no 1:1s
» Jensen Huang believes that the flattest org is the most empowering one, and that starts with the top layer.
» Does not conduct 1:1s—everything happens in a group setting.
» Does not give career advice—“None of my management team is coming to me for career advice—they already made it, they're doing great”.

No status reports, instead he “stochastically samples the system”
» Doesn’t use status updates because he believes they are too refined by the time they get to him. They are not ground truth anymore.
» Instead, anyone in the company can email him their “top five things” with whatever is top of mind, and he will read it.
» Estimates he reads 100 of these every morning

Everyone has all the context, all the time
» No meetings with just VPs or just Directors—anyone can join and contribute
» “If you have a strategic direction, why tell just one person?”
» “If there is something I don't like, I just say it publicly”
» “I do a lot of reasoning out loud”

No formal planning cycles
» No 5 year plan, no 1 year plan
» Always re-evaluating based on changing business and market conditions (helpful when AI is developing at the pace that it is)

This org is optimized for (1) attracting amazing people, (2) keeping the team as small as it can be, and (3) allowing information to travel as quickly as possible. (source)

I Want a Better Catastrophe

With gallows humour and a broken heart, Boyd steers readers through their climate angst as he walks his own. From storm-battered coastlines to pipeline blockades and “hopelessness workshops,” he maps out our existential options, and tackles some familiar dilemmas: “Should I bring kids into such a world?” “Can I lose hope when others can’t afford to?” and “Why the fuck am I recycling?”

Okay there’s two parts to this. First: Alan Boyd has a new book called “I Want a Better CatastropheNavigating the Climate Crisis with Grief, Hope, and Gallows Humour”. It came out earlier this year, but I am only just seeing this now. I’m going to read it; I need to imbibe this gallows humour.

Secondly: witness and listen to this flowchart unfurl as Alan Boyd paces us through the climate catastrophe.

Success Story, by Billy Burg

I think I came across this comic by Billy Burg via Peter Limberg a while back. I really like it.

Ah, poor Margaret.

Also, what do you do, dear reader?

Me? Oh I spend my days writing museletters complaining about social media, with insights sourced from social media.
ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ


Heyyyy, you made it. Thank you so much once again. Please feel free to comment or ask questions below; it is always lovely to hear from you.

Maybe you have a friend who likes to stay well-read? You can forward this to them along with a short note to say you appreciate them.

Oh and if a friend forwarded this to you (how nice of them!) you can join the many thousands who subscribe to The Museletter.

Much warmth
—fw

PS: I am taking on bookings for Quest Leadership, Narrative Strategy and Motivation Design programs and masterclasses in early 2024. More details at drjasonfox.com

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