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Today’s Not Boring is brought to you by… Masterworks. Don’t miss the (life) boat.
All-time great scene, but let’s stay focused…
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If you’re new to the Not Boring family, Masterworks, the fintech unicorn from NYC, makes million-dollar paintings investable via shares. I’ve been talking about Masterworks for over two years now. I invest with them for two reasons: 1) I like the art but can’t afford the whole pieces. 2) Their track record.
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Hi friends 👋,
Happy Monday! Welcome to the last Not Boring essay of 2022.
This has been a rollercoaster year. On the one hand, it’s been the best: Maya was born and is already becoming a happy little human, Dev is growing into an incredible little man, Puja is the best mom a dad could ask for, and our family is filled with amazing grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Not Boring has grown well, Dan, Elliot, and Rahul joined the team, and we’ve invested in and written about companies that will change the world for the better. On the other hand, markets have been brutal, the vibes are off, and all of my accumulated bad takes have come home to roost.
More than anything, this year feels like a reset, a turbulent intermission between the last act and the next. And I couldn’t be more excited for what’s on deck.
I’m taking the next few weeks off — I’ll be back in your inbox January 9th — and the time off for the new year means a chance to pause, read, reflect, and kick off 2023 with a fresh blank page. This one’s about how I’m going to fill it in.
Let’s get to it.
During nearly every week of the past three years, at some point, I’ve stared at my laptop and my laptop has stared back at me, like this:
Not to brag, but I’ve become somewhat of an expert in staring down blank pages.
Here’s what to do when one faces you:
Panic. This is an unavoidable part of the process, so embrace it.
Type. You might not know what you want to say. That’s OK. Start typing.
Delete. Whatever you just typed was probably shit. Delete it. It’s OK, too.
Scroll. Twitter, TikTok, Substack, Reader. Wherever you find ideas, head there.
Read. You found some interesting stuff. Read it. Save it. Highlight it. Take notes.
Sit/Walk/Run. Let the ideas simmer in a clear head, free from distraction.
Listen. OK, maybe throw on a podcast related to your vague idea and half-listen.
Title. You might have the beginning of a topic now. Write the title down.
Immerse. Soak in as much as you possibly can on topics related to your title.
Talk. Talk to people who are knowledgeable about what you’re thinking through.
Skim. Skim your notes/highlights/whatever from what you’ve read and listened to.
Intro. Like picking a line on a ski slope. Nail it, and the rest becomes easier.
Keep Typing. If the intro’s momentum carries you, type as much as you can.
Read More. Fill in your knowledge gaps by reading to answer specific questions.
Sit/Walk/Run. You need a break. All that skimming, reading, and typing. Whew.
Type More. Get back to your keyboard, open your Doc, type. Try not to edit yet.
Edit. OK, edit now. Read for flow. Cut things that sound dumb. Find holes.
Rejigger. Fill in those holes, move things around, rewrite sentences.
Art. Add images where useful. Note: this is also a good way to procrastinate.
Share. Send whatever you’ve written to someone you trust to give hard feedback.
Polish. Take that person’s feedback and incorporate the good bits into your piece.
Sleep. Sleep on it. This whole thing may take days, you may sleep a few times.
Re-read. Go over everything once again. You’ll find things that no longer work.
Re-intro. Given everything you’ve done since Step 12, your intro might be stale.
Tweak. Make those last adjustments. Confirm it’s all as just-right as it will be.
Send. If you’re going public with the piece, hit send. Otherwise, squirrel it away.
Tweet. Let the people know you defeated the blank page and wrote a thing.
Hide. Try not to read too many of the replies.
Rest. Get away from your computer. Read. Drink. Watch a dumb show. Sleep.
Restart. Go back to Step 1. Stare down a brand new blank page.
Everyone’s process is a little different. The pro bloggers, the ones who do it every day, skip steps, just bang it out. The true writers might take months or years and end up with a beautifully-written novel. There are many flavors in between. That’s the process that I unintentionally follow most of the time, and it works well enough, as much as I would like it to work better.
A blank page can feel like a curse. It often feels like a curse. But a new one can also be a relief. By the time you’re finished whatever you filled that last blank page in with, you might have come to hate it, or at least gotten sick of it. I can go so deep on a topic, get so far into it, that halfway through I wonder if it’s the best or most important or most interesting thing I could be writing about, but by then, it’s too late. I’m in too deep.
And so the blank page is a chance to start fresh, to really write the best or most important or most interesting thing I possibly can, free from the sunk cost and (ever-so-temporarily) relieved from the pressures of a deadline.
This isn’t an essay about writing an essay, though.
It’s a *metaphor*.
Every new year is a blank page, a chance to start fresh with new ideas and new sources and new energy. Of course, January 1st isn’t actually any more different from December 31st than December 31st was from December 30th. But the collective time we all spend away from the daily routine during the holidays feels like a reset. And we’ve all tacitly agreed that the new year is a different thing than the old year. So it’s close enough to actually different.
This particular upcoming new year feels even more different, like a decadal reset.
Markets have crashed (optimistically) or are in the process of crashing (realistically). The wave of momentum that the tech industry has been riding since the early 2010s has crashed (optimistically) or is in the process of crashing (realistically).
The past few years have been chaotic and weird, and it came to a boiling point in 2022. The things that made sense a couple of years ago, the sure things, don’t make as much sense, are no longer sure. You might be experiencing the weird as a general vibe or very specifically in your life and career.
So Step 1: Panic.
But if you’ve been reading Not Boring this year, or the two before it, you know this isn’t really about how scary things are, or how scary they’ll be. It’s just a blank page, and blank pages are opportunities, if you take them to be. We’re optimists here, so let’s take them that way.
One of the inspirations for this piece – Step 4: Scroll, Step 5: Read – was an essay I came across in Noah Smith’s interview with Ezra Klein. Klein said of the post-Elon-Twitter-internet-landscape, “Maybe it’s also an opportunity. I’m inspired by Robin Sloan’s call to make this a season of experimentation in how I use the internet, and what I use my energy to help bring into existence on the internet.” Click.
“Here’s my exhortation,” Sloan exhorted:
Let 2023 be a year of experimentation and invention!
Let it come from the edges, the margins, the provinces, the marshes!
THIS MEANS YOU!
I am thinking specifically of experimentation around “ways of relating online”. I’ve used that phrase before, and I acknowledge it might be a bit obscure … but, for me, it captures the rich overlap of publishing and networking, media and conviviality. It’s this domain that was so decisively captured in the 2010s, and it’s this domain that is newly up for grabs.
It is 2003 again. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram haven’t been invented yet … except, it’s also 2023, and they have, so you can learn from their rise and ruin.
Sloan is calling for experimentation in how we relate online, not how we do everything (although the two are moving closer and closer).
If Twitter is toxic, great, go play with smaller communities. If it’s too shallow, start a book club. If Facebook has gotten too crowded to be fun, cultivate smaller group chats with friends new and old. If you scroll Instagram too much, stop.
My personal opinion is that the next decade in online experiences will be driven by smaller, more niche, more tailored products – we won’t see a social media app born this decade cross a $1 trillion market cap, like Facebook did, briefly – but that’s just my opinion. If re-reading the past two years’ year-end posts have taught me anything, it’s that predictions are hard and mine are often wrong. If you want to build products online, bring your own opinion and influence the outcomes of your predictions.
I’d go wider than Sloan, though. I think 2023 is the start of something entirely new. If I could add a personal exhortation, by subtracting, I would exhort:
Let 2023 be a year of experimentation and invention!
Let it come from the edges, the margins, the provinces, the marshes!
THIS MEANS YOU!
More boldly: Choose Good Quests. Click.
In the most simple terms possible: a good quest makes the future better than our world today, while a bad quest doesn't improve the world much at all, or even makes it worse.
The essay’s co-authors, Trae Stephens and Markie Wagner name a bunch of Good Quests:
Reversing aging, going to Mars, curing cancer, building a supersonic plane, creating AGI, or founding a new country…
semiconductor manufacturing, complex industrial automation, natural resource discovery, next-generation energy production, low-cost and low-labor construction, new modes of transportation, general artificial intelligence, mapping and interfacing with the brain, extending the human lifespan.
These are massive, humanity-altering things, and there are more besides this, some of which I listed in Decentralization. Everything is up for grabs.
These are the quests that bend that oscillating sine curve upwards. A big theme in Not Boring in 2022 is that those quests, while still painfully difficult, are more possible and financially viable today than they have ever been.
Why? I’ve become enamored by the exponential curves that drive industries.
There’s the OG, Moore’s Law:
And the declining cost of solar:
And the declining cost of sequencing the human genome:
(Hint: if those curves don’t look exponential at first glance, look at the y-axes.)
You’ve probably seen these charts. I’ve included all of them in Not Boring posts at one point or another, and other people talk about them a lot too. What’s most fascinating to me about them is that while they look inevitable, like math, they require the efforts of thousands or millions of people to stay on track.
Albert Einstein said that “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world,” but with all due respect, compound interest just happens. It’s contracts and math. The curves above are the real eighth wonder. Somehow, over the years, the invisibly-directed efforts of a bunch of people, each contributing their unique and varied skills, somehow, wondrously, resulted in smooth, exponential curves.
In The Invisible Hand’s Visible Swarm, I tried to square that emergent mystery:
Individual actions matter deeply, but given enough time, the free market is shockingly good at directing those individuals’ actions and money at tackling the right really hard problems.
Somehow, and thanks in no small part to the government, those efforts persisted even when their outputs hadn’t yet reached commercial viability. Solar benefited from subsidies. The government spent $3.8 billion on the Human Genome Project.
The result of all of those peoples’ efforts is that we’re living in a time when it can cost as little as $100 to map a person’s genome and when solar is cheaper than alternatives in many regions throughout the world. Look at space, AI, robotics, mRNA, transportation, energy, ZKPs, web3, look at all of the opportunities that Markie and Trae listed, and you’ll find we’re at a roughly similar point. Emergent magic.
There’s this trope that progress stalled in 1971. In Working Harder and Smarter, we talked about J. Storrs Hall’s insight that what really happened is that we matched or exceeded sci-fi’s predictions about the digital world – the less energy-intensive part of the world, the one guided by Moore’s Law – but fell short in the physical world – where we didn’t have the energy or unit economics to innovate.
We do now. The curves don’t lie. We’re living in a time when we can commercialize magic.
My optimistic take on 2022 is that we needed the market to crash, needed the last era to end, in order to redirect attention and resources to these Good Quests. When B2B SaaS traded at 100x revenues in the private markets, when it was easy to launch a token on top of vaporware or a copycat NFT project and reap millions, the incentives pushed people to do those things. Now, I think, the selfish thing to do is to make the world a better place.
We needed to hit Send – Step 26 – on the past decade in order to Reset – Step 30 – with a fresh blank page for the next one.
I’m talking about a high-level, societal-scale blank page, but of course, a blank page that big is a tapestry of billions of individual blank pages.
At that individual level, at least for the 177,000 or so of us here, the time off over the next few weeks is a chance to fill out our own blank pages for the next year or even the next decade.
Given how the world has changed in the past year, and how it might in the next decade, what role do you want to play? What’s your Good Quest? What’s the thing that you would fix in the world if you could?
Having been faced with hundreds of blank pages, I know how daunting the task feels. And I know that it’s particularly daunting when you’re writing your life instead of a dumb essay. I also think it’s really important.
Of the more than 100 billion people who have ever lived on this planet, you’re alive at a time when technology Indistinguishable from Magic is at your fingertips, at the cusp of a period so exponentially crazy it makes everything up to this point look calm, when the plans written down on our collective blank pages will shape the lives for trillions of future people.
You are here:
You’re also alive at a time when the gap between imagination and execution is as small as it’s ever been, and shrinking fast. More than ever before, your blank page is an Enchanted Notebook.
Write a speech, or a story, about the thing you want to create or the future world you want to inhabit. Paint that world in detail so rich, using the present tense, that it feels like you already live there. Imagine the magical technology that has become so ordinary that people just use it every day without a second thought. How do people behave in this world? What’s changed about them? What’s stayed the same?
Then, reverse engineer it. This doesn’t mean you need to build a product or start a company. It might mean starting a new job or creating a YouTube channel or going back to school, to start. I like the way Nadia Asparouhova put it: “I think everyone should just be doing the thing they absolutely have to do, whatever that is. That would make me happy in the world, if everyone was leaning into their obsession.”
Think about what you’re really good at and what you care about the most, and find the overlap. Then work up from there. Fill in the blank page with a story about the future and the things you did to help bring it about by contributing your unique skills.
If the past few years, or just the last one, have shaken your beliefs, shrunk your portfolio, made you feel less secure in your job, made you feel dumber than you thought, or even induced a little bit of panic: good!
Personally, 2022 was the hardest year I’ve had in the very short and wonderful three years I’ve been writing Not Boring. I’ve been telling you all along that I’m an idiot, but this is the first year it felt like a lot of people finally believed me. While I’ve loved some of the pieces I’ve written, I just didn’t feel like I had the same je ne sais quoi in my writing that I had the first two years.
New year, blank page. And like I said, I’ve become somewhat of an expert at blank pages.
See you in 2023. It’s going to be a good year.
If you know someone, or a bunch of someones, who are staring down blank pages:
Thanks to Dan and Puja for editing! Keep an eye on Dan’s twitter for a Create launch announcement at 11am EST 👀.
Thanks for hanging out with us in our optimistic little corner of the internet in 2022. Have a wonderful holiday season and I’ll see you in the new year. It’s going to be fun.
Thanks for reading,
*net returns refers to the annualized internal rate of return net of all fees and costs, calculated from the offering closing date to the date the sale is consummated. IRR may not be indicative of Masterworks paintings not yet sold and past performance is not indicative of future results. See important Reg A disclosures: Masterworks.com/cd
Thanks for providing regular inspiration and opportunities to more deeply think about things Packy. Happy holidays to you and your family.
“Albert Einstein said that “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world,” but with all due respect, compound interest just happens. It’s contracts and math. The curves above are the real eighth wonder. Somehow, over the years, the invisibly-directed efforts of a bunch of people, each contributing their unique and varied skills, somehow, wondrously, resulted in smooth, exponential curves.”
Very well said.