Some of my museletters arrive damaged—through no fault of my ravens. For the best reading experience, view this epistle in your browser. Also, whilst I have you, relish in my latest podcast interview wherein I join The Occupational Philosophers for a warm and mirthful wander. More below.
The dangerlam and I have an odd set of House Words—our family motto, if you will. Words that would be stitched unto our house banner (replete with its own tinctures, charges, lambrequin and so on). Our House Words are:
Hoho, I know. It’s not terribly ‘on brand’, and neither of us particularly like it—yet I suspect there remains a perverse part of us that does. 😈
These words were epiphanic—they emerged in a conversation in which we were both lamenting a friend whom, when asked their preferences about what to have for dinner said “anything! I’m easy; whatever works for you”—yet, when at our chosen restaurant, they proceeded to complain about how they don’t like the particular cuisine. It was exasperating.
Later that evening we waxed churlishness, which is oh-so wondrous at mollifying any lingering indignation. In the course of this conversation I think we landed on the principle that: “Fuçk it! Punish the unspoken.” If someone does not make their preferences clear; they ought live with the consequences.
The phrase ‘Punish The Unspoken’—punire id quod tacitum manet—didn’t rise to prominence as our House Words immediately, in that evening. But over the following months and years we increasingly (flippantly) used the horrid words in response to any perceived lack of preference-assertion. It felt ironically liberating.* Then, somehow, over time, it became our House Words.
* Oh what’s that? You are feigning a lack of preference in an attempt to virtue-signal obsequiousness? Well then—we will go to that fancy café with the long queues and exquisite coffee, despite my knowing you don’t like coffee anyway. Ha!
They are such awkward House Words. But that’s the key: House Words are an emergent property, and an element of what Venkatesh Rao and others might call ‘lorecraft’.
But, like all good things, these emergent sensibilities can become crushed by the serious, dense and/or earnest. Or rendered all-too-hollow by the cynical and snide. The disposition thusly ought be metamodern—that is: sincere in its irony, and ironic in its sincerity. Venkatesh’s lorecraft series has already provided a far better explainer than I could ask chatGPT to succinctly plagiarise here, so lets instead hone in on a mere subset that could become an emergent element of your own lorecraft: your House Words.
As you know, I take Words quite seriously. I have an online program consisting of over 70 videos on how to Choose One Word. I call it “The Ritual of Becoming”—friends of the foxwizard gain access for free. But this is an ~annual practice of deep reflection, introspection and projection. What I am talking about with House Words is something a little less, uh, reverent.
You may be familiar with the Words of various Houses within the Game of Thrones series; the most popular being House Stark’s “Winter is Coming”. What struck me when I first read the book—well before it was ‘cool’—was just how subtly lame some of the House Words were. Yet still, kinda cool. House Greyjoy: “We Do Not Sow” (they are pirates; they raid). Here’s a more comprehensive list—you’ll note that most of them are boring and a bit lame; and that’s okay.*
* And, sigh, here is a ‘motto generator’. I guess that would make it an automotto?
What are your House Words?
At about the 2-3 pint/dram/goblet/flute/horn mark, I will often ask new friends what their House Words are. They usually look at me bemused, and so I share the notion that House Words ought attend to the following:
- They ought be ‘emergent remarks’—in-jokes or obscure references that are contextually bound and hold a deeper meaning to those who know. IYKYK—and thus, by sharing the backstory behind House Words, others get a glimpse into some of the ‘lore’ that underpins it.
- They ought be slightly weird/odd/lame and not particularly ‘cool’. House Words are not a flex.* Neither are they ‘branding’—they’re ‘anti-marketing’, as Venkatesh Rao suggests. You might want your House Words to be “Big Dirk Energy”° but maybe this is a bit too insecure-aspirational.
- They ought be five words or less. It needs to fit on your banner. And people need to remember it. This number is arbitrary; point being: “It Ought Be Short”.
* As in, not a LinkedIn humblebrag flex. A ‘weird flex but okay’ flex might be okay, if delivered with evident knowingness. That is: the I-know-that-you-know-that-this-sounds-like-bullshít-yet-still-I-am-being-earnest.
° This reminds me of the dangerlam’s ‘Big Duck Energy’ comic.
At this point, I probably ought share a few examples of House Words I have collected and consider as Noteworthy. Each of these have an individual, a couple, or a small family unit attached to them. And there’s genuine lore behind the origins of each of these; despite how benign they may appear on the surface.
“Ready For Anything” – House Starbuck
“Lock and Load” – House Brown (as in, Brené Brown)
“Relax and Enjoy” – House Lam
“First To Leave”* – House Fox
“Paws and Reflect” – House Jackson
“Prior Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance” – House Cameron
“Enjoy The Passage Of Time” – House Morgan
“Gorge on Sass” – House Carter
“Take A Chance” – House Chin
“More Is More” – House O’Brien
“Squander Time” – House Hendrickson
“Resist; Stubbornly” – House Morgan
“Challenge Accepted”° – House Evans
* These are my personal House Words—though I worry they are a bit edge-lordy. They refer to my tendency to leave social gatherings early, and also my tendency to leave anything that begins to garner popularity. If this sounds too cool, it also refers to my cowardice—I do not fight battles. At least, not directly. Such is my canny.
° Hoho, if there weren’t prudes reading this museletter I would bequeath the origin story of this one to you.
I’d also—genuinely—love to know your house heraldry, motif, colours, etcetera, if you are so inclined.*
* Mine is a fox (ugh, of course) skulking away on an open field under the stars at night. Deep moss, plum, with highlights in burnt sienna.
And now, the crux of the museletter:
A metamodern ‘management science’
Venkatesh suggests that “a millennial management science is being born”, and I am inclined to agree—though I’m not incredibly enthusiastic about generational branding (even if it is convenient and apt). Too sweeping. Yet I am interested in ways of coordinating amidst complexity (at scale) that are most congruent and apt for our times.
And what are our times?
We are living and leading within the hypercomplexity of late-stage capitalism and an attention economy rampant with bullshít,* beefs and disinformation. Trust in traditional sense-making institutions is at an all-time low, and so ‘sense-making’ is something that is left to all of us, in real-time.
* Note: my diacritics are there to enhance email deliverability, as ‘curse words’ are otherwise filtered out by some organisations that want to protect their adult employees from witnessing such an arrangement of letters.
Metrics alone cannot contend with the dynamics of complexity—which is why qualitative feedback is so vital in the ongoing constancy of figuring. Are our goals relevant? Are our actions and inputs conducive to meaningful progress? Does this path make sense—given new information that has recently come to light?
Recently, the Australian Federal Police Commissioner misquoted a study about Gen Z workers needing praise three times a week, following this by stating that his generation only needed praise “once a year”. It was probably meant as an attempt at humour, but it speaks to a kind of ‘sniggering and scoff’ that a large portion of senior leaders have towards younger workers. It’s an ethos that is severely out of touch.
Something I write of in The Game Changer is of how ‘a clear sense of progress’* is one of the most powerful motivators for sustained effort towards goal attainment. The more we reduce the latency between effort and meaningful feedback, the more likely we are to invest effort towards something.* This means that—unless the work is incredibly routine and unchanging—feedback ought be more frequent. This does not mean more formal sessions—it means removing the formality, and providing feedback as and when needed.
* This is drawn from ‘ The Progress Pricinple’ by Professors Stephen Kramer and Teresa Amabile. Alos: you don’t even need to be making progress—it’s simply the clear sense of progress. But if this sense of progress is ambiguous or delayed—if it’s hard to know if your efforts are even contributive or not—it makes sense that you will opt for a more conservative level of effort (or seek feedback and assurance).
It may be fine for older generations to claim they only need praise once a year—but these folk are much more likely to be senior leaders in positions where they have more control over what happens in their work (and more security from the additional decades of lived experience). It may also be that they are operating from their biases, too. Their apprenticeship likely happened before we entered the post-truth epoch of the attention economy. Nowadays, it makes sense to ensure the sense we make of things makes sense.
Ergo: tighter feedback loops.
This precisely does not mean more quantitative measures. Instead, it calls for more qualitative savvy. That is: making sense of things with Words.
House Words for teams
I want for teams to be trusting, tight and strong. Most of the work I do with (leadership) team building comes down to the following elements:
- Removing the myriad unnecessary ‘extrinsic motivators’* that legacy habituation spawns
- Establishing the rituals (sacred routines) that allow for a deepening of fellowship and kinship (as the precursor to scenius)
- Ensuring that our efforts remain efficacious towards meaningful progress (as distinct from the delusion of progress)
* It is amazing just how junked up the motivational landscape is with unecessary constructs (see motivational crowding theory).
The best teams I have worked with are tight crews that have each other’s back. Trust is there because effort has been made to cultivate it. I’m not talking only of senior leadership teams here—this applies to all teams. It is possible for your workmates—your team mates—to be actual mates.* To show up for you, and to care for your wellbeing and flourishing. This is what happens within deliberately developmental organisations (which, honestly, are still quite rare).°
* For those outside of The Antipodean Realms, I am using the term ‘mate’ equivicolly with ‘friend’. I do not necessarily mean a ‘breeding partner’.
° I highly recommend this article by David Chapman for insight into what a working relationship might look like between co-founders in a deliberately developmental organisation.
One of “the five qualities that make a deliberately developmental organisation” are practices that give folks a common language—even if this may be confusing to outsiders. Which brings us back to the lands of lorecraft.
If you are able to create the conditions for team flourishing, you will inevitably brush up against opportunities for lorecraft. Do you have the collective wit to recognise these opportunities, and harness them? Could it be that your team has its own House Words—and its own reputation—which could be somehow illuminated?
How you approach this question is going to be very telling.
The bad way to do it (even if you are the team leader) would be to simply declare your team’s House Words. Because, chances are, you’ll choose something genuinely lame (with no sincere irony), or you’ll choose some obscure reference that titillates you yet confounds most of the team. Or you’ll go all LinkedIn and choose something utterly predictable, quoting Simon Sinek along the way.
The better way to do it—if this appeals to you—is to simply plant the notion into the noöspheric zeitgeist of your team. Tease suggested House Words, with a glint of mirth in your eye. And then wait for them to emerge. You’ll recognise the confluence when it’s there.
If you struggle with this, then you probably haven’t cultivated enough genuine experiences together as a team. You need to have more genuine team hangs and shared crisis moments and triumphs and hardships and grinds in order to accrete enough in-jokes and lore. This is a good thing to realise.
We are entering (or are already within) a recession. Cost of living is increasing, and everyone ought feel grateful to be a part of a team. Not everyone has this opportunity. We are choosing to be here, right now, in the roles that we play.
I have three things to share with you this time:
- I wrote a hefty visual thread of some of the many reasons why I love gmDAO (it’s mostly a generative art collection flex)
- You’re probably already aware of Octopolis and Octlantis but, if not: this thread is wondrous. I also love that it encouraged the original author to update the wikipedia entry, and then for all of us to reflect on Adrian Tchaikovsky’s science fiction novels. I felt cool because I had read these. One day I hope for my eyebrows to rival Adrian’s.
- I am delighted to share that I have made an appearance on The Occupational Philosophers podcast. This was one of the funnest podcast interviews I have ever done—the hosts are curious, creative and wondrously warm-witted. Have a listen (and give them some lovely words on socials and on iTunes, if inclined). I know you’ll enjoy it!
Thank you so much once again! And thank you to the new friends of the foxwizard who joined in the past week. Please feel free to comment or ask questions below; it is always lovely to hear from you. Oh and if a friend forwarded this to you, you can join the many thousands who subscribe to The Museletter.