The Insider - April / May 2024

On entitled fundamentalism, the void of strategy, the errors of climate tech, and morning routines.

The Insider - April / May 2024
Photo by Chris Briggs / Unsplash

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the (belated) April/May edition of the Insider. Do you know someone who would enjoy the Insider? Forward this email to them and they can subscribe here.

On entitled fundamentalism

In the midst of recent campus protests, I’ve been thinking about the words of the wife and husband writing duo Ariel and Will Durant: “Nothing is clearer in history than the adoption by successful rebels of the methods they were accustomed to condemn in the forces they deposed."

It’s tempting to assume the position of moral superiority and dismiss such rebels as hypocrites, but I’ve been wondering if what the Durants describe is actually less of a moral failing and more a phenomenon of entitled fundamentalism: a form of naivete that combines dichotomous thinking, maximalist language, and sanctimonious intolerance. Often, it seems to stem from a lack of experience in having one’s spiky idealism sanded down by the frictions of tough tradeoffs and rock-and-a-hard-place responsibilities.

To fight polarization today, we are quick to prescribe dialogue and “bridge-building across lines of difference,” but such approaches are often premised on an expansion of empathy, not a softening of dichotomous thinking or a chiseling away at entitlement. Nonviolent communication can be powerful, but we must also counteract entitled fundamentalism by inviting people to take responsibility, assume leadership, and accept compromise.

On the void of strategy

It’s not immediately obvious that an organization is missing an actual strategy, but I’ve noticed two clues:

  1. Without a clear strategy, it’s easy to mistake busyness for progress. When I was in charge of business development at Uncharted, I scheduled my calendar with nonstop meetings to try to generate opportunities for the company. But being busy is more likely to be a symptom of a strategic void than the product of a strategic direction.
  2. The absence of a clear strategy creates a marketplace of ideas. An enterprising team cannot be faulted for buzzing with ideas and attempting to fill the void with a buffet of possibilities, but such behavior suggests a deeper problem: without hard trade-offs and clear direction, the team will meander between endless possibilities.

The essence of strategy, according to Richard Rumelt in his book Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, requires three elements: 1) a diagnosis that defines the challenge to solve, 2) an approach designed to overcome the challenge, and 3) a coherent set of actions that dictate how the approach will be carried out.

On everything else

An article in MIT Technology Review on how to decarbonize the rail system with hydrogen trains ended with the following:

“But in a country that has invested little in passenger rail over the past century, new technology can only do so much, Taraszkiewicz cautions. America’s railroads all too often lack passing tracks, grade-separated road crossings, and modern signaling systems. The main impediment to faster, more frequent passenger service ‘is not the train technology,’ he says. ‘It’s everything else.’”

This is a poignant summary of a common mistake: obsessing about a headline-catching technology and ignoring the human and political conditions to support it. Like in medicine where the newest and most expensive technology has little correlation to positive health outcomes, we’d rather claim the technological breakthrough than follow through on delivering its results. It is not just wishful thinking to prematurely congratulate ourselves for technological fixes to climate change that are orphaned from reality, but hubris.

What I am reading

  • Gaslighting was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2022. An article in The New Yorker explored what happens when a niche term goes mainstream, the concept becomes more expansive, and suddenly everyone is gaslighting everyone.
  • “I have a theory that chasing things that scale makes you need therapy, and the therapy is pursuing things that can’t scale.” Anu’s Substack on pursuits that can’t scale.
  • The global economy is powered by fiber optic cables snaking their way along the bottom of the ocean. An article in The Verge featured the invisible seafaring industry and infrastructure that keeps the internet afloat.
  • For a distracted, unfocused world, “listening bars” demand our full attention. An article in Montecristo Magazine wondered if we’re facing a crisis of attention or a crisis of too many options.
  • We’re in the midst of a startup boom. An article in The Economist explored the reasons why and what the impacts could be.

Something personal

Almost every night before bed, I start to get excited about my morning routine. This is very strange, as I’ve never quite understood what people are talking about when they say they love their routines. For me, it started with falling in love with the details: the sound of the clanking spoon against the mug as it stirs together coffee and oat milk. The feel in my thumb when I turn the heavy switch of the porch light into the off position. The sudden observation that the room has been imperceptibly turning warm with sunglow. The sounds of birds having unhurried conversations in the tree outside. The hushed click of the keyboard keys. The thick rug hugging my socks. The slowness of the passing minutes when one spends the six o’clock hour in solitude. Perhaps this noticing is a luxury only possible in the morning hours before the day has reached full speed and the machinery of a busy life churns into gear.


From my desk,