Uncharted Insider - February 2022

On witnessing distant wars, the challenges of anthropocentrism in the climate fight, the unexpected benefits of the 4-day workweek, and the details of the desert.

Uncharted Insider - February 2022

Hi everyone,

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


Uncharted Update

  • Uncharted Summit. Uncharted is hosting an Economic Inequality Summit March 28-31 that is open to the public. The summit will include a series of live sessions that dive deeper into the issues that exist around economic inequality as well as conversations with entrepreneurs creating solutions. Register here.
  • Co-Lab: We are in the middle of the Uncharted Co-Lab, our largest cohort to date, where we're accelerating 38 ventures this spring. Learn more here.

Witnessing Distant Wars

Tracking the Russian invasion of Ukraine this past weekend was a flashback for me. It reminded me of how closely I followed the news during the Trump presidency and COVID, and how much I've taken a step back from the doom-scrolling in the last year. It all came rushing back: the obsessive podcast listening, Twitter scanning, New York Times app refreshing, the social media tropes of "sending thoughts and prayers" and "their oppression is not as bad as my oppression," the lurid fascination of a news cycle with a duty to inform and a profit-motive to entertain. (The sociology of our relationship to news in the last 5 years deserves serious scholarship.)

But as I watched us watch the news (this is, after all, what social media is: an observance of the observance), I was reminded that the more we grasp the immense size and complexity of the problems we face, the clearer it becomes how small we are in proportion. In the grand scheme of COVID, of war, of climate change, of structural racism, what can any one of us do? It's clear to me that we are a species of doers: we spring into action, we donate our blood and our money, we launch organizations, we subject our social media followers to our newfangled punditry, all the while privately asking ourselves a maddeningly hard question to answer: but what can I do?

Maybe our comprehension of the magnitude of our challenges induces anxiety that only gets worse with inaction. Maybe this is why we shift into over-functioning. I know I personally work out my anxiety by doing more, not doing less, and therefore leave little room to pause and experience a world that might need me to do less, to slow down, to grieve more. When faced with something so big and incomprehensible as war or pandemic, it is our doing that makes us resilient and it is our doing that makes us numb.

Perhaps we ought to learn the art of bearing witness, of feeling the pain that comes when there is no resolution, of sitting with (as in the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva)...maybe this is our spiritual work in a world that will continue to bombard us with requirements for our participation.

But this weekend has also reminded me that there is power in the doing. In the same way that the (first) curve of COVID infections was flattened through millions of individual actions, what we are witnessing now is a story of national power through individual doing: individual Ukrainians making individual choices to stay and protect their homes, to fight for their children, to take action in a way that is as contagious as it is heartbreaking. Perhaps we are never more alive when we are conscious of both how little power we have and how much power we have. Perhaps it matters not how we calculate our power, but simply that we bring our bravery to this harsh world.

Species Narcissism

I’ve been wondering recently about how much progress we can make on climate change from an anthropocentric worldview that regards humans as both set apart from nature and also having dominion over it. Anthropocentrism, or the belief that humans are the most important entity in the universe, has roots in Judeo-Christian texts (Genesis 1:26), in our capitalistic system, in the legal structures that cleave human rights from those of animals'.

It’s a kind of “species-level narcissism,” and like any narcissism, it blinds us to the truth. Our understanding of the intelligence and interconnectedness of trees is impeded by long-held convictions that our intelligence is supreme and conspicuous. Our embrace of the vast, peculiar world of fungi (which are more closely related to humans than plants are) is limited by stigma and fear.

Decarbonizing our economy is possible within an anthropocentric system, and it is both naive and despair-inducing to believe that our only hope for climate progress is pinned on a spiritual awakening where we miraculously realize we are nature. We certainly shouldn’t wait around for it. But maybe we are in the midst of an awakening of sorts where we’re connecting the dots between our food and our health, our policies and our wildfires, our industrial farming and our pandemics, our suburban sprawl and our loss of bumble-bees.

Ezra Klein once said that we reinforce what’s politically possible when we only discuss what’s politically realistic. By pollinating our conversations with radical ideas, we expand the aperture of what’s possible. We plant seeds that might slowly germinate. If we believe this to be true, then it might be worth seeking not only decarbonizing our economies, but de-centering our anthropocentric worldviews.

The Hidden Benefits of a 4-Day Workweek

For those of us who are ambassadors of a 4-day workweek, we tend to stop at the obvious benefits: the extra day off, the improved mental health, the increase in productivity, the advantages in recruiting and retention. But there are deeper benefits to practicing a 4-day workweek that I’ve experienced at Uncharted: benefits directly connected to equity, inclusion, power dynamics, and voice. Shifting to a 4-day workweek led our entire team to open up new conversations about what was important, what wasn’t, and how we might get better at understanding the relationship between time invested and results generated. Over the last two years, our team has adopted a shared language of what's important that held me accountable as a leader. I’ve felt a heightened sense of responsibility when setting strategy and delegating: was I asking our team to do too much? Was I asking people to spend their hours on endeavors that didn’t directly translate into results?

The 4-day workweek challenges vague top-down norms of what a workweek should be with specific bottom-up data about what inputs lead to the most important outputs, shifting power from boss to employee. This is an under-investigated benefit of the 4-day workweek: when you adopt shared vocabulary around the need to prioritize and deprioritize, you flatten hierarchies and create opportunities for expanded voice. The other ancillary benefit to a 4-day workweek is how it shifts the conversation from working hard and long to working smart. Every time we reinforce the belief that working hard is a badge of honor in our work culture, we reinforce our inability to ever break free from working hard. When we shift from a paradigm of working hard into a paradigm of working smart, we set ourselves free from a work culture that subordinates our lives beneath our work.

Can you help?

  • Where do you go to find leadership guidance on the future of work (the best stories, insights, and practical guides (shorter workweeks, remote work, conscious leadership, etc.))? What emails, blogs, websites, and thought-leaders do you follow?

What I am reading

  • The consolidation and distribution of creative talent across cities in a post-COVID America. Here.
  • The disappearing wetlands of Louisiana, climate change, the slave trade, economic hardship, and the oyster business. One of the most intersectional stories I've read in the last month.
  • The post-identity future. How pseudonymous identities in web3 are changing conversations and rethinking representation, equity, and our humanity. Here.
  • Women of color start businesses at 4.5x the rate of the overall population, but only 4% of Black businesses are still open after 3.5 years, compared to the national average 55%. The racial funding gap.

What I am writing

I am expanding my writing beyond this monthly Uncharted Insider by writing additional posts and reflections here on my Ghost site. Here's one post from earlier this year:

Something Personal

I recently spent a few days in Joshua Tree National Park in California with two of my best friends. It's a peculiar, enchanting landscape: a cross between a distant Star Wars planet and a Dr. Seuss cartoonish fantasy. I've always been taken by the desert. It is a setting that somehow wears its history in full display. The record of its sun-scorched days and cold nights is public knowledge: drawn into its dirt, wrapped around its hardy shrubs, collected in its crevasses. The desert doesn’t hide its past, but it does conceal its complexity. Where we think there is drought, there is life. Where we think there is unrelenting harshness, there is fragile adaptation. Where we think there is nothing, there just might be everything. When we slow down to notice the details, we find the truth.


As always I welcome your feedback and ideas.