There’s a lot to be said for batching – saving up similar jobs and then working through them efficiently in one go.
But doing little jobs in free moments – in checking-the-news moments, social media moments, junky youtube moments – has its benefits too:
Doing little jobs can act like a form of mental keepy-uppy, keeping your head in the game and saving time when you come back to the larger job that the small job is part of;
Ticking off small jobs makes you feel good – which helps you do better work;
It may be less efficient than batching, but it reduces the cognitive and emotional friction that comes from carrying around a list of undone jobs – so the job might take a bit longer, but you’re faster once its done;
If you’re a bottleneck for other peoples’ work, your little job can unlock a lot of productivity;
Doing a job in the space between other stuff can create space for doing them in a new way, or for new connections between unrelated things – one of the benefits of having a little slack in the system.
The idea … that we have is that there’s some genius in an attic… cooking up technology and coming up with inventions.
But it started to become clear to me having looked in detail at some inventions is that technologies in a way come out of other technologies. If you take any individual technology, say like a computer in the 1940s, it was made possible by having vacuum tubes, by having relay systems, by having very primitive memory systems… All of those things existed already.
So it seemed to me that technology’s evolved by people not so much discovering something new or discovering, but by putting together different Lego blocks so to speak in a new way. Once something’s been put together, like say a radio circuit for transmitting radio waves, it can be thrown back in the Lego set. And occasionally then some of the new combinations would get a name and be tossed back in.
Things like gene sequencing were put together from existing molecular biology technologies and then that becomes a component in yet other technologies…
If you look at all of the companies that I’ve been involved with and the investments that I’ve made, they are companies that emphasise creativity, communication, connection, collaboration and community.
Caterina Fake co-founded Flikr, where they popularised – newsfeeds, tags (which later evolved into hashtags), followers and likes. She played a key role in the development of Etsy, Kickstarter, and a many others besides.
These five Cs are values that she describes as being key to the success of her projects.
What role do they (could they, should they) play in yours, not just for you and your team, but for your partners, donors, customers, clients?
Or what about a chip in every Lego brick, or every nail?
You tell your AI what you’re building later, and it crawls your child’s Lego collection or your toolbox to collect the relevant pieces… and tells you what’s missing, and orders the missing piece.
Or you’re struggling to find a piece, or the right size screw, so you ask the Lego box / tool box where it is – and it tells you. Or you scan the heap of tiny pieces through augmented glass and see the ones you need outlined red in the display.
You finish your creation, photograph it, and share it with a friend – not just the photo, but an automatically generated instruction set that they can use to build it themselves (or it could self assemble), modifying it and sending it back to you.
And now you’re playing co-op Minecraft in the real world.
Self-finding, self-assembling Lego seems like the worst kind of dumbing down – but what new types of play does it make possible? Which of the purest parts of playing Lego does it sully – and what does it emphasise and augment?
This is a small example of how technology acts as a lens that forces us to identify and and appraise our values. What we do with it is never neutral, rarely unambiguous, and always a choice – like most interesting problems.
… producing books with ease on Gutenberg’s press did not fully unleash text. Real literacy also required a long list of innovations and techniques that permitted ordinary readers and writers to manipulate text in ways that made it useful. For instance, quotation symbols make it simple to indicate where one has borrowed text from another writer. We don’t have a parallel notation in film yet, but we need one.
Once you have a large text document, you need a table of contents to find your way through it. That requires page numbers. Somebody invented them in the 13th century. Where is the equivalent in video?
Longer texts require an alphabetic index, devised by the Greeks and later developed for libraries of books. Someday soon with AI we’ll have a way to index the full content of a film.
Footnotes, invented in about the 12th century, allow tangential information to be displayed outside the linear argument of the main text. And that would be useful in video as well.
And bibliographic citations (invented in the 13th century) enable scholars and skeptics to systematically consult sources that influence or clarify the content. Imagine a video with citations. These days, of courses we have hyperlinks, which connect one piece of text to another, and tags, which categorise using a selected word or phrase for later viewing.
All these inventions (and more) permit any literate person to cut and paste ideas, annotate them with her own thoughts, link them to related ideas, search through vast libraries of work, browse subjects quickly, resequence texts, refind material, remix ideas, quote experts, and sample bits of beloved artists.
These tools, more than reading, are the foundations of literacy.
These are tasks that you can finish and be done with – at least for a time. An annual report, paying a bill, creating a resource, completing a job, trying up loose ends.
Getting these things done closes down options, shuts down possibilities.
We decide the scope of a project – and cut off the possibilities outside it so that we can focus and get things done.
We carry out a project – execute on a task, deliver a result – and it’s done.
We say ‘no’ to an offer or request – and save hours of thought and work down the road.
Executive and decisive work are central to our ability to get things done. It feels good to finish. Closing doors and cutting things away reduces friction and brings us closure. It’s worth learning to execute well.
At the same time, improving at this kind of work only brings incremental gains – you do what you were doing before, only faster. You might change how far you go, but it won’t change your direction.