The Insider - July 2022

On the burden of awareness, deconstructionist cultures inside organizations, and the 4-Day Workweek

The Insider - July 2022
Photo by Ryan Hutton / Unsplash

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the July edition of the Insider. Do you know someone who would enjoy the Insider? Forward this email to them and they can subscribe here.

On the Burden of Awareness

I’ve had a few conversations recently where I’ve heard this idea that humans haven’t evolved to be constantly aware of our painful, complex global reality. All the crises, injustices, problems, issues; it’s simply too much for our small minds to deal with. There is no doubt this global consciousness is taking a mental toll, but there is also an undeniable imbalance between the gargantuan capacity of our mind to comprehend, dream, and plan, and the very limited capacity of our time, our energy, our very bodies. What are we to do with the mental capacity to perceive something as complex and large as climate change or economic inequality but the physical capacity of only having so many hours, of only being able to give our attention to one thing at a time, of needing to sleep every night and periodically fold our laundry? What are we to do when our mental capacity outstrips our very physics?

When we’re able to let go of the infinite range of our awareness and accept the finite scope of our capacity, we might realize that the consciousness that has activated us is the very thing that is burdening us. Environmentalist Derrick Jensen, in his book Deep Green Resistance, says “Many people say they hope the dominant culture stops destroying the world, [but by saying that] they’ve assumed the destruction will continue, at least in the short term, and they’ve stepped away from their own ability to participate in stopping it…we no longer have to ‘hope’ at all. We simply do the work. We make sure salmon survive. We make sure prairie dogs survive. We make sure grizzlies survive…When we stop hoping that the awful situation we’re in will somehow resolve itself, when we stop hoping the situation will somehow not get worse, then we are finally free - truly free - to honestly start working to resolve it.”

On Deconstructionism

In the last few years, I’ve noticed a culture of deconstructionism sweeping its way through the social sector. What’s in vogue in this moment are populist ideas around tearing down the legacy systems, rebalancing the old power dynamics, defanging the established institutions of their influence. There is merit in such critique. The established systems and institutions haven’t always been just or equitable, and I haven’t withheld my voice from the chorus of progressive deconstructionists (faithful readers of this Insider will remember my exhortations of traditional philanthropy to take bigger risks and reinvent themselves).

At their best, these critiques are rooted in love, and quickly followed by new alternatives and approaches. At their worst, these critiques are lobbed as grenades and used to brandish a strident ideological purity that is quite content having deconstructed without any consideration for what ought to be reconstructed in its place. For the organizations committed to constructionist building, their ability to make true progress — instead of getting stuck in endless cycles of virtue-signaling — requires strong leadership that acknowledges the value in deconstructionism while also pushing its team not just to run away from what they hate, but to name and chase after what they love.

New Course on the 4-Day Workweek

As the 4-Day Workweek transitions from a fringe idea into more mainstream consciousness, the primary question for leaders is shifting from  “what is it?” to “can it work for us?” The adoption of the 4-Day Workweek depends less on simply knowing what it is and more on how to implement it, often with a 3-6 month pilot as the first step. This was our experience at Uncharted when we piloted the 4-Day Workweek in 2020: success depended entirely on implementation and iteration. Ensuring our company didn’t miss a beat required us to make numerous changes and optimizations to our workweek: everything from improving how we prioritized to how we led meetings to how we set expectations with our external partners to how we course-corrected along the way.

Over the last year, I’ve spoken to dozens of leaders considering the 4-Day Workweek and 99% of their questions center on tactics and implementation, so I built an online course that guides leaders through a comprehensive, step-by-step process to design, plan, pilot, and evaluate a 4-Day Workweek at their company. I’ll be releasing the course to an intimate cohort of companies in September. Do you know a company wondering if they should pilot the 4-Day Workweek? If you share this link with them, they’ll get access to resources and be notified when the course is live. Thanks!

Can you help?

  • What are the most exciting Series A, B, or C climate-tech startups (hardware or software) that you’re just aware of or directly know?
  • Who are best climate-tech (hardware, software, deep-tech) VCs that you’re aware of or directly know?

What I am reading

  • 5 billion tons of carbon flow from plants to mycorrhizal fungi annually (global economy emits 34 billion tons of carbon). How fungal networks are the soil’s microbiome. Here.
  • Do algorithms respond to our desires or shape our desires. Living in an age of algorithmic anxiety. Here.
  • Podcast: The future of the feminist movement after Roe. The challenges of building and balancing a decades-long movement amidst a backlash. Here.
  • Book: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo on her journey to grow from a designer into a manager and how to refine the craft of human-centered, results-focused management.
  • Book: Handbook for an Integrated Life by my friend Sharon Schneider on the ways to align your everyday choices with your internal values.

Something Personal

On the night of a full moon a few weeks ago, we drove through Yellowstone, the moonlight shimmering off the park’s rivers and being swallowed into the blackness of its forests. We came upon a vast savanna occupied with what must have been 3,000 bison, their brown and black wooly coats made a regal blue beneath the moon’s watch. Some stood still as statues and others ambled about, moving as species might have moved before we hemmed them in with our infrastructure, before we killed them with our technology, before we claimed our intellectual and spiritual dominion over them.

Though on this night, they reigned. They had taken over the 2-lane highway, using it for their own purposes, and we were forced to wait. It struck me — as the humans queued their cars on the road — that we were suddenly occupying a position unfamiliar to us…that of being temporarily subordinate to other prowling megafauna. We have elevated ourselves to the top of the food chain, set ourselves apart from the rest of nature, and this has amounted to a convenient view of the world where everything orbits around our primacy. It is a geocentric fiction in a heliocentric solar-system, so it’s good for us to be displaced from our perch, whether by a herd of roaming buffalo or by a photo from the James Webb telescope as it probes beyond us, ever deeper into that peculiar infinity.