The Gardener’s Rules of Life

Profoundly moved by this essay. I think I’ve re-read it a dozen times now since last week. Go check it out.

Go create something. But choose carefully. Build something that increases our chances to survive, even by a tiny margin. We desperately need to think not just about a zillionth social sharing gizmo. Maybe you will start building something like that, useful, but a bit futile. That’s ok. You may even get rich. The majority of people are working hard to fulfill other needs, without getting fame or great rewards. If you are reading this, you must already be part of the most privileged people in the world. And so you have a special responsibility. Money will just give you the means to build something bigger, to make a bigger difference for those who don’t have your chance. Keep your eyes on the target.

Look at your life. When you have children, you understand the brevity of life. You can remember vividly your infancy, yet you are not anymore a child, you are a father or a mother. Don’t you want your children to live in a better world ? Not just for the sake of comfort, but because otherwise, what would be the meaning of your life ? Just to reproduce what existed ? What’s the point ?

Finally, look beyond this small planet: life is rare, intelligence is rare. You have a responsibility to preserve it and make sure it will expand through the inert and indifferent universe. Not to conquer it, but to make it flourish. We all should be the gardeners of this universe, because we don’t know if we are the only ones to be able to. And obviously we have to respect our own planet, it’s the bare minimum we can do. Would you start by burning a garden when you’re supposed to grow other ones ?

Valve’s No Management Culture

Loved this essay.

Valve is one of the most successful independent game developers, and they’ve consistently pushed the form out to the edges, right to the point where you can feel a new art emerging. (See 1998’s release Half-Life for the origins of this approach.)

If most of the value is now in the initial creative act, there’s little benefit to traditional hierarchical organization that’s designed to deliver the same thing over and over, making only incremental changes over time. What matters is being first and bootstrapping your product into a positive feedback spiral with a constant stream of creative innovation. Hierarchical management doesn’t help with that, because it bottlenecks innovation through the people at the top of the hierarchy, and there’s no reason to expect that those people would be particularly creative about coming up with new products that are dramatically different from existing ones – quite the opposite, in fact. So Valve was designed as a company that would attract the sort of people capable of taking the initial creative step, leave them free to do creative work, and make them want to stay. Consequently, Valve has no formal management or hierarchy at all.
— Michael Abrash, Valve: How I Got Here, What It’s Like, and What I’m Doing

In my own experience, the best work outcomes have happened in just these kinds of environments, ones where teams of creative people (across disciplines) are entrusted to do what they do best, and where management mainly works to support the playing field for the team. These situations are only possible when there’s massive trust in the capabilities and judgment of every person on the team, which Abrash also writes about.

Hardest of all to believe is the level of trust. Trust is pervasive. All of Valve’s source code is available to anyone in Perforce, and anyone at Valve can sync up and modify anything. Anyone can just up and work on whatever they think is worth doing; Steam Workshop is a recent instance of someone doing exactly that. Any employee can know almost anything about how the company works and what it’s doing; the company is transparent to its employees. Unlike many organizations, Valve doesn’t build organizational barriers to its employees by default; it just trusts them and gets out of their way so they can create value.

I think this perspective only works in practice if the leadership of a company operates from a view that every employee in their organization merits this kind of trust and respect — and this perspective itself presumes a baseline positive orientation towards human possibility that I see emerging in many new companies.

That’s huge, and exciting.

How to spend 35 years working together

“We are artistic and business partners, not primarily friends,” Teller says. “When we look at each other, we don’t think: ‘Now there’s a likeable chap!’ We think about the projects we are doing and how we will get them done. When we were first working together, we didn’t have such thick skins. But we recognised how useful we were to each other. And that prevailed.”
Teller explains his long-lived collaboration with Penn in the Daily Telegraph