Principles for 21st century living


80 Responses to “Principles for 21st century living”

  1. alex says:

    Oh for pete’s sake.

  2. ldobe says:

    About #8:

    That seems awfully dangerous at times.

    Sure the crowd is great for free advice right this second. But the cultural consensus is not to be trusted in narrow fields.

    For instance, a huge percentage of the American population mistakenly believes in the absurdity of creationism (or ID which is the same thing). If you’re doing a project on evolutionary dynamics, you’re much better off using the expertise of people trained and active in the field than you are polling a shitton of laypeople.

    Crowdwisdom is quite useful in certain classes of problems. But it’s equally if not more important to know when to rely on those who actually know what they’re talking about.

    • Jorpho says:

      I guess you’re supposed to look at the crowd and then disobey them?  But you want to take risk, so I guess you should obey them after all.  Focus on the system! Moreover, resilience.

      • ldobe says:

        IknowRite?! I was working on a formula that I know works but didn’t know why, so I polled a bunch of people. They said it was magic, but I wanted to rebel from the mainstream so I said it was The Flying Spaghetti Monster instead. The statisticians took a guess instead, said the objects the formula described were unimportant and decided that whenever the system did something unexpected they’d make a wrong supposition that the bell curve was being pulled out of shape by magnets.

        It’s okay though. They’re resilient, amd will make another rebellious prediction tommorow. But we’ll still crowdsource the risky answer anyway

    • rhonan says:

       Using the crowd does not mean that the majority rules. You still have to use judgement and reason.

      • Thorzdad says:

        Judgement and reason don’t arrive fully-formed out of a vacuum. They have to be informed by a solid background of knowledge in any particular area. Knowledge built from, yes, experience, but also, more often than not, the teachings and instructions of those that have gone before. Experts.

    • SumAnon says:

       Would you like to use your Ask The Audience lifeline?

  3. . says:

    Waiting for the grammarians to appear presently…

  4. Doppel Frog says:

    What a load of crap.

  5. Sarge Misfit says:

    Bookmarked this to keep up with and to think about further

  6. Treat the over as the mathematical term and you might actually have reality (as in systems divided by objects, practice divided by theory, emergence divided by authority). Insert keanu meme here.

    • Marc Mielke says:

      Reminds me of: loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding × guilt × shame × failure × judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side

  7. Whit Knox says:

    Curiosity over Fear

  8. paulj says:

    This is a nice list of things that worked for Joi Ito. YMMV. Maybe this is just a teaser for an upcoming book, but I don’t see much in the way of deep principles here. I’m sure the creative readers of this blog will come up with plenty of counter examples to these sayings, maybe something like this list:

    The point is that proverbs or pithy sayings may be useful in specific contexts, but it’s more important to understand the context that you operate in, and base your actions on that. You would need to learn or develop effective mental models (or maps) which can be continually updated based on your experience.

  9. #3 is extraordinarily bad advice. #3 is the kind of advice the leads to ordering drilling rig workers not to wait for the cement to set, that leads to nuclear power plant construction workers ordering their inspectors to falsify seismic records, that leads to White House counsels just asserting that things are legal because they want them to be.

    Almost every major disaster of the last twenty years has in common one recurring theme: someone who wants something to be true, knows there’s a risk that it might not be true, but chooses to risk going ahead in hope that what they want to be true is — and not only that, but to make no fallback plans, no recovery plans in case what they wanted to be true turned out not to be true, in case what they hoped would work didn’t work. From the dot-com bubble to 9/11 to the Iraq War to the housing bubble to Deepwater Horizon to Fukushima, people in charge chose risk over safety — and they kept being wrong.

    Know the risks: know what’s at risk, what the odds are, what you would lose if you’re wrong, and whether or not you could survive being wrong and how you would recover; if you don’t know those things, choose safety over risk every time. Because if you’re a plunger, if you’re someone who chooses risk over safety, you will eventually be wrong — and you’re likely to take someone else, someone who didn’t know the risk and didn’t choose the risk, down with you. Maybe lots of people. And, frankly, some of us are really fed up with that.

  10. nilsey says:

    curiosity over cats. wait, i meant *cats* over curiosity.

  11. Richard Smith says:

    Here’s a link which fairly accurately captures the source of the sentiment and the origin of most of this set of recommendations -

  12. robuluz says:

    Now, nobody likes taking the piss out of terrible corpspeak powerpoint bullshit slides more than me, but, if you read the interview from which this is taken, it is fairly specific to tech business innovation, and does make sense in that context. I mean, I can see what he’s saying, but I’m not sure I would have tried to summarise it in a pithy slide.

  13. liquidstar says:

    Some of this makes sense.  Seems like working notes really.  Couldn t help thinking :  Congratulations!  You have re-invented Situationism!

  14. SedanChair says:


  15. BobbyNewbell says:

    Trite generalizations from the 1980s.

  16. Jon Bakos says:

    As someone who’s nearly done with a doctorate, becoming an expert on something is freaking hard. And time consuming. And requires constant upkeep. There’s no way in heck any human being could have intimate, intricate, broad-spanning knowledge of more than a few things before they grew old and died. I don’t mean being well-versed – I mean full-on mastery.

    The cloud is great for surface-level stuff, and the cloud is great for things *experts have already figured out.* A simple Google search will tell you that the Piraha language of Brazil doesn’t use pronouns. How do we know this? Because a dude named Daniel Everett went and lived with the Piraha and studied their language, and happened to have a clue on how to do that.

    On its own, this looks like a little tiny fact snatched up from the cloud, but it took a *lot* of skilled work and knowledge to discover and prove. Pardon my French, but the ‘crowd’ didn’t know *merde* about this until an expert went and looked.

    And that’s OK! The whole point of living in a civilized society is that we don’t all have to know everything. I don’t know buggerall about how to pump oil out of the ground, but there’s some folks who know a lot about it. Is my knowledge ‘better’ than theirs? Of course not. But if I needed to pump oil out of the ground for some reason, I wouldn’t consult the ‘crowd.’ I’d consult someone who knew what the heck they were doing.

    • awjt says:

       Personally, I like to do complex Google searches.  More fun that way.  Plus, dolphins over piranhas.

    • class_enemy says:

      There are things one in which one can become an expert by study and practice.  Such as how to pump oil out of the ground, how to brew a superb cup of coffee, and how to surgically correct a hernia.

      There are other things for which no proven method of “expertise” has ever been demonstrated over the long term.  Most of these are the things in which our political systems falsely claim expertise.

    • Fnordius says:

      Look at it a different way: when starting off, ask the crowd first because the expert could have already put the info into the crowd. If that answer is incomplete or unsatisfactory, then you can go look for the expert (and even there, the crowd has a good chance of helping to find the expert)

  17. IamInnocent says:

     Ah sense coming out from experience. Balm over my disbelief.

  18. Sven Oberg says:

    Facinating to see the slew of alpha geek chest pounding this has provoked, rather than any real engagement with the ideas presented. We’re all pattern-spotters, and turn those patterns into tools. Personally, I find it interesting to see the useful tools someone else has discovered during the course of their work.

    • freshyill says:

      These ideas are vapid and everybody here seems to recognize it.

      • Anarcissie says:

        They’re not necessarily vapid, but that have become rather cliche’ed in recent years.  In actuality, the West has been becoming more bought-out and oppressive, so they’re like all those songs about love because there isn’t any.

  19. Slartibartfatsdomino says:

    Obama got a Nobel for doing what he was told, which involved bombing a shit-ton of people for peace. 

    Also, one generally doesn’t get a prestigious MIT position for disobedience.

    • awjt says:

      True, but there’s no way to BUY being Frank Zappa, or Helena Bonham Carter, or Pre-North Korea Trip Dennis Rodman.  The only way to do it is to say fuck all to the insane normal world and make your own brand.

    • class_enemy says:

      Not really, Obama got his Nobel basically for not being George Bush, as did Carter and Gore.  He really didn’t step up the killing until he had the prize safely on his mantel, and the cash banked.

      Hey, that reminds me, I’m not Bush either.  Better get my application in while the going is good.

  20. Frank W says:

    Generic opinion.

  21. Thorzdad says:

    Words to live by.
    If you’re a well-monied tech entrepreneur, who communicates in corp-speak bullet-points.

  22. Joe Vanegas says:

    Just a compass, but no map. You don’t know where you are but you are headed somewhere. You learn from experience as you go rather than preparing and benefitting from knowledge that others have strenuously obtained. 

    For one in a million, this strategy results in pop success. Those with no Bayes knowledge will see the success and not the 999,999 failures and think it is a good idea. The wise pop success will buy a mansion and retire, knowing it was dumb luck. But where would that wisdom come from?

  23. Crashproof says:

    Oooh, I can play this game too.

    Coffee over donuts.

    Shoes over haircuts.

    Trousers over underwear.

  24. Jack Pitsker says:

    Celebrating disobedience is just as blindly stupid as celebrating obedience. Making a list of rules about how to be a creative rebel is ironic enough that I wish this were a joke. Ignore the experts in favor of the crowd? Wow. What is important is that it is working, not why it is working? Double-wow. Who needs education and understanding when you’ve got rebellion and a scorn for safety? I fail to see the advantage in relearning the things those experts already know, especially since some of those lessons are pretty hard. This is the nine-step guide to making human progress grind to a halt.

  25. Russell Letson says:

    Viewed as a set of principles for leading one’s individual life, these come across as bright-adolescent-rebellious (especially, say, 3 and 7). Viewed in the context of the Wired interview in which they’re embedded, they sound more like a set of corrective suggestions for organizations that need to cope with changing environments. (And even so, there’s a big dose of just-rhetoric in them, starting with the fact that it’s a list of binaries.)

  26. GlenBlank says:

    Entirely aside from the “simple rules for simple minds” sloganeering of the list as a whole (ably dissected in the comments above), I’d note that #5, “You want to have good compasses not maps” doesn’t sound like anything someone who’s spent a lot of time using both would say.

    I think what he’s trying to convey, perhaps, is that good wayfinding skills can often be more useful than maps (especially bad or outdated maps).

    Wayfinding skills are a wide-ranging set of techniques that involve ‘reading’ and interpreting a landscape, understanding the nature and form of topography, paths, trails, roadways, and human settlement, and keeping your bearings – even in deep forest on a cloudy day.  Even without a compass.

    But a compass isn’t a wayfinding tool.  It can’t show you “which way to go”, only which way is north or south.  That’s not usually much help unless you have at least a rough map.  

    But wayfinding skills can get get you into and out of places where there aren’t any maps you could orient with a compass – even if you had one.

    Compasses aren’t much use for navigating unfamiliar territory without a map, searching for something of uncertain location, or scouting new trails through previously unexplored territory.

    Which I suspect is the sort of thing he’s aiming at, metaphorically speaking.

    “Where we’re going, there aren’t any maps.”

    But compasses won’t be much help, either. :-)

  27. jenjen says:

    Er, disobedience instead of compliance?  Someone needed to explain that to whoever at MIT decided not to just drop the charges against Aaron Swartz, yes? 

  28. Most of these seem to apply to the 20th century (and possibly earlier as well).

    Also, #7 has a pretty serious typo making it hard to understand exactly what is being advocated.

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