Monthly Archives: December 2023

Even if people already know the plot, they appreciate the way you tell the story

This is something my former colleague, Trent Brunson, told me on Twitter once that I’ll never forget. I tweeted earnestly how there were many things I wanted to share, but was concerned that everyone else knows these things already.

Trent’s (now-deleted) reply was:

I can’t think of a single time where I haven’t learned something from you. Keep sharing! Even if people already know the plot, they appreciate the way you tell the story.

So go forth, share freely, and don’t worry if the topic has already been covered, or if people are already familiar with what you’d like to share.

Accept the constraint and deal with the consequences

I deal a lot with decision paralysis and this has been a helpful mental tool. Decisions I might get stuck on:

  • Which product do I buy of these options
  • Which apartment do I move into
  • Which travel itinerary do I book

Decisions are effectively constraints on your life path. At one point, you have N options open to you, but after the (permanent) decision, you now have only one, the one you chose.

The paralysis comes from worrying about making the wrong decision and suffering because of it. But at a certain point, the decision process saturates. You run out of time and energy, and spending more of them doesn’t create a better decision. (It might worsen it in fact as you second-guess a previously good decision.) But even at this saturation point, you still might be unsure what to do.

Here, I find that it helps to just:

  • Recognize that moving forward is more important than making the “best” decision
  • Pick a promising option and accept that I’ll deal with whatever future consequences
  • Move on

Creative potential energy

Creative potential is to potential energy as creative output is to kinetic energy.

I feel strongly that everyone has potential in them to be creative in some form โ€” “creative potential”. When someone creates something, the potential is released into some kind of output โ€” “creative output”. (This applies even to ephemeral creativity like a live performance.)

Just like how electric potential energy (voltage) is converted to tremendous kinetic energy (current) with lightning, or via a short in a circuit, creative potential can be violently converted into creative output when the conditions are right (a “channel”). Another name for this process is “creative flow”.

The trick is finding the right conditions for a person to unleash their creative potential. The space of environmental conditions is vast with infinite parameters, including:

  • Art form
  • Instruments available
  • Time & place
  • Solo or with others

While I firmly believe people can discover their medium at any age, I think it’s important to focus on finding at least one pre-adulthood. Unfortunately after that point I think people lose confidence in themselves and resign themselves as “uncreative”, which can be a tough hurdle to get over.

I’m happy to say I’ve personally, finally found a channel for my writing practice, right here on this blog. More on that here.

Unpublished content is like cash under your mattress

I think a good reason to publish art sooner than later, and to default to creating in public, is so your art can start accruing interest as soon as possible. (“Art” used loosely; think content & projects also).

If you make art but only ever keep it private, there is a zero chance of it ever being discovered or enjoyed. In that sense, there is some wasted potential, like cash in the mattress.

But if the art is published (not necessarily promoted), there’s a non-zero chance of it being discovered and enjoyed by other people (potentially many others) with no work on your part. That’s what I mean by interest โ€” some potential upside, at no cost to you.

I’ve been practicing this with this very blog. I write a lot and tell no one because that feels good at the moment. However, I already did spot some interest accrued: The “Nixers” newsletter #221 included a link to a recent post where I did zero promotion. Thank you!

P.S. Another advantage is that the work is readily available to be shared if you ever choose to at any point in the future โ€” no need to dig it up and upload it.

Learn to build your own tools

It’s worth it to learn to build your own tools. If you don’t, the only tools you’ll be able to use are those that someone else made, created a company around, then brought to mass market (henceforth, “the song and dance”).

That’s a herculean task, even for software tools which are the easiest to do all that with.

But just because someone didn’t do the song and dance (or failed at any of the infinite points to do so along the way, possibly even due to sheer bad luck) doesn’t mean that tool couldn’t exist today and be actively improving your life, right now.

There is a mind-boggling effort difference between making a prototype product that provides value today, and productionizing that product for the mass market and doing the song and dance.

Prototype products which are only ever used by the creator (i.e. expert user) for utilitarian reasons don’t need to have clean UIs, graceful error handling, or intuitive, consistent, and discoverable UX. They just need to kind of do the job.

The unreal effort required for mass market means that the actual products on the market today are only a tiny subset of the actual products possible in the world now without a technological breakthrough.

You, personally, would probably benefit from some of both sets of products; some that exist today on the market, some that could but no one did yet. Some of the latter might have even been game-changing for you.

But if you know how to build your own tools, you can access that superset of possible products today. Even if it’s just prototype quality tools, that might be good enough.

I’m talking mostly about digital tools but argument applies to anything. What I find especially interesting is how trends in technology continually decrease the effort to build prototype software. This used to require code. Then no-code came around. And finally AI generated code is here. People at large already do this today with tools like Excel, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many more people in the future are using bespoke one-off prototype mobile apps, desktop apps, and web software they’ve built for themselves to solve specific everyday problems.

Personally I do this a bunch already using code and no-code solutions:

And a few no-code apps I’ve built for myself using AppSheet:

  • Personal metrics tracking app
  • Simple personal finance and budgeting app

I’ve also created a custom calendar in Google Sheets which has really improved my life in 2023. Maybe I’ll write about that later.

Life is a business; life is a game; life is art

Here are three ways to view your life:

Life as a business

Life is a business, and you are the Founder & CEO.

You have goals, resources, and agency. The idea is to build the strongest business and life for yourself. You do this by making good decisions and generating profit.

The most savvy founders look for holes in the fabric of society, the market, their industry โ€” and exploit them. They seek trends that allow them to be ahead of the curve.

Life as a game

Life is a game, and you are a player.

You are initialized with random parameters that inform your strengths, weaknesses, and initial environment. There’s an endless world in front of you to explore and play in.

The idea is to do well at the game โ€” build points, power, connections. You encounter other players, transact with them, exchange moves, determine if they are trustworthy or hostile.

You learn the rules over time and understand what game you are even playing. You discover that within the greater context of “the game”, there are many sub-games you can play.

Randomness and luck are all built into the game.

Life as an art piece

Life is an art project, and you are the artist.

You have a blank canvas in front of you and an infinite number of creative decisions to make. The idea is to find a beautiful & satisfying creative endpoint for your piece.

There are many creative paths to take, leading to different ends. There is no best end, but some ends are better than others.

Like any other artist, you must apply techniques to manage the decision space. You apply constraints โ€” sometimes artificially, sometimes destructively โ€” to move forward.

Art/Artist Fit

Product/Market fit is when you’ve made a product that people actually want.

Product/Founder fit is when your product is a good fit for you, personally, as a founder.1

Art/Artist fit (something I just made up) is a generalization of Product/Founder given the point of view that products are art and making a product is an artistic practice.

Given that art is a reflection of the artist, it makes sense that certain kinds of art will be more or less natural for someone to make, given their personal inclinations.

A few examples from the wild:

In this episode of the Art of Product podcast (1:11:00), Adam Wathan talks about how a subscription-model content business isn’t a good fit for him, while it is a good fit for a friend. Adam doesn’t like the idea of “being on a treadmill” to constantly create new content for the subscribers but conversely his friend appreciates the continuous dopamine hits as opposed to a longer 4 month long effort to create something like an e-book or course.

Next is from Dan Luu, one of my favorite bloggers:

[Paul Graham’s writing] uses multiple aspects of what’s sometimes called classic style. […] . What that means is really too long to reasonably describe in this post, but I’ll say that one part of it is that the prose is clean, straightforward, and simple. […]

My style is opposite in many ways. I often have long, meandering, sentences, not for any particular literary purpose, but just because it reflects how I think

Dan Luu,

Last is from Kareful, one of my favorite musicians:

“does anyone have tips for finishing a song? these days i can only write the intro and 1st drop, and i can’t get passed this point” – Vavn

Maybe you’re not meant to write long music, I also had this discovery recently, now all my tracks are around 2 minutes, but I find this means I now finish 3/4 tracks a week.


Personally, I find short, several-paragraph posts about a specific thought very much a fit for me right now. This blog started in a very different way, doing long, deeply technical researched pieces which were a fit for me at the time (gap year) but no longer are.

Musically, I loved hyper-technical electronic music production ~2020 (also during my gap year) but recently have been doing simpler, more “beatsy” music.

Personal projects are like free weights

I thought of this 7 years ago and I still think it rings true. In my experience, school projects were tightly scoped and had things like a basic build system and boilerplate runnable code (e.g. main) already provided. Maybe even some tests. It trains a specific muscle in a certain way.

With personal projects, you do all of this yourself and incidentally also train the equivalent “stabilizer” muscles. Things like: making the repo, writing the main and boilerplate code, setting up unit tests, setting up CI, setting up dependencies and their management.

And in my experience, it’s all these “stabilizer” activities that define what it means to be a senior engineer. Junior engineers work within an existing project; senior engineers own the entire thing, including these “little” (critical) parts.

The point here isn’t to necessarily criticize CS education; there are good, practical reasons for setting up such project structure to ensure all students have a good experience, given the time constraints. The point is that students should be wary of not doing any personal projects at all throughout a CS education. Maybe it would be possible so students don’t have to do this in their free time, and build it into some kind of flexible course. I suppose this is the point of final capstone projects, but I think senior year is far too late to be doing this for the first time.

Creativity is like gardening

I see a strong parallel between creativity and gardening. Like a fruit, growing from seed to ripe, ideas do the same.

Idea seeds are those vague, half-formed thoughts that quietly appear in your mental space. They occupy a strange state where you are aware of them, but would struggle to write them down or explain to someone else coherently. That is the defining characteristic of an idea which is not mature yet.

Slightly more mature ideas are in the growth phase. They form of the idea has started to emerge, and you can half-express it, but there might be logical errors as you still haven’t fully thought it through yet.

Ripe ideas are fully developed and can be coherently expressed with the fewest words necessary.

Ideas can grow along this path explicitly or implicitly. You can explicitly grow ideas by sitting down and trying to write them. Or they can grow implicitly in the background as you live your life and expose yourself to experiences and other ideas.

Sitting down to write an idea is like trying to harvest it. It’s easiest and works best when the idea is ripe โ€” the idea will almost pour out of your brain onto the page in this case. If you try to harvest an idea before it’s ripe, it will be harder.

The analogy might break down slightly here. With ideas, the act of trying to harvest them actually accelerates their journey towards ripeness. Trying to express an idea forces you to understand it better and clarify it. This is one way of growing an idea: the explicit way.

Ideas can also grow implicitly. They can quietly sit on your mental back burner as you live your life and expose yourself to experiences and other ideas. Maybe another idea acts as a bee that pollinates the first idea and together they form a complete, ripe idea. But in order for them to be able to safely sit on the back burner as long as it takes, they should be still captured in some kind of way, or else you’ll probably forget them.

Note that an idea’s state of being written down vs in head, and public vs private are each orthogonal qualities. Ripe ideas aren’t the only ones that can be written down and published. Idea seeds can still be attempted to be written down (although it will be hard), and also published.

A lot of my friends have been sucked up into UFOs lately

A lot of my friends have been sucked up into UFOs lately
I’m happy for them
at least i try to be

I want to be sucked into a UFO too
Iโ€™m working hard at it
at least i try to be

we didnโ€™t think it could happen
but then it did
took about ten years

then again
and again
it wasnโ€™t a fluke

iโ€™m happy for them
at least i try to be

itโ€™s not always easy
but i try to be more proud than envious
more inspired than jealous
but i have a confession

i write this from a UFO
yes, i got sucked up too
in my own special ufo, in my own way

i once dreamed of it
but now itโ€™s not enough
i want a bigger, newer one

maybe I should be more grateful
iโ€™ll try to be

This poem was inspired by watching people in various areas of my life achieve incredible success. Y’all rock and I look up to you.