Issue #29

Issue #29

Welcome to another edition of Idea Surplus Disorder. I’m Matt Homann, the founder of Filament, and I’m glad you’re here! I'll be off in California wine country next week, so there won't be a newsletter. Don't worry, though. I made this one extra long with two weeks' worth of content to tide you over until I'm back. ;-)

In this edition: Filament's September programming, a non-stupid strategy test, AI-fueled creativity, big change, managing hybrid work, sleep, spaceships, paper airplanes, and more.


  • September 5th | Bookstorming: This month, we're reading three different books by Seth Godin. It's not too late to sign up, as our next Bookstorming is on September 5th.
  • September 8th | Filament Friday: Back by popular demand, join us Friday, September 8th, to work in our space, meet some innovative folks, and play some bocce!
  • September 13th | NSFW – Your Meeting Muse: A lot of people have asked how I'm using ChatGPT, Claude, and other AI writing tools. In our next New Skills For Work on September 13th, join me as I share ways Filament is partnering with our new robot overlords to work faster, think smarter, be more creative, and make meetings better.

Ideas + Insights

I've been reading a bunch of stuff Roger Martin has written about strategy and stumbled upon this simple test for what is (and isn't) strategy:

Since strategy is the act of making distinctive choices that position your organization uniquely to win, by definition a choice the opposite of which is stupid on its face is not a strategy choice.
For example, the opposite of the choice to be customer-centric is to ignore customers entirely, which is stupid on its face. Only a regulated monopoly — like the Department of Motor Vehicles — can ignore its customers entirely and survive. Similarly, either being operationally pathetic or disinvesting in talent is also stupid on its face. The only positive thing that can be said about those choices is that they aren’t stupid. And as such, you can be highly confident that all your consequential competitors will be making that same choice — i.e. to be customer-centric, operationally effective and to invest in their talent.

How might we think about the overlap of creativity & AI?

The ancient Greeks gave the gods too much credit when discussing creativity and maybe our current generation, down the line, will be giving too much credit to AI. However, seeing what’s available with the tools now, it boggles the mind to think about what the future holds

One of these days, I'm going to write one of these lists. Until then, check out a few of the gems from Mari Andrew's:

  • Playing is the opposite of fighting. If you’re in an argument that’s going in circles, suggest switching roles: “I make your point, and you make mine.” It helps with empathy, yes, but also brings humor and levity to a strained situation.
  • Don’t marry anyone you can’t laugh with or dance with.
  • “I don’t know” is a full sentence.
  • Kids love absurd questions. If you’re trying to connect with a kid, ask them an adult question like “What kind of car do you drive” or “What do you do for work?” They will crack up and the more you continue the bit, the more they will loosen up with you.

Thinking about "change management" in your organization? You've got to make sure the change has huge benefits:

A simple rule for the decision-maker is that intervention needs to prove its benefits and those benefits need to be orders of magnitude higher than the natural (that is, non-interventionist) path. We intuitively know this already. We won’t switch apps or brands for a marginal increase over the status quo. Only when the benefits become orders of magnitude higher do we switch.
We must also recognize that some systems self-correct; this is the essence of homeostasis. Naive interventionists, or the interventionista, often deny that natural homeostatic mechanisms are sufficient, that “something needs to be done” — yet often the best course of action is nothing at all.

Speaking of change, moving to hybrid work might require managers to change most:

“Here’s the harsh reality: Most of your managers are not equipped to embrace flexible working arrangements or lead distributed teams,” the authors write. “Managers need to shift from gatekeepers who conduct status checks to coaches who lead with empathy.” Asking “What’s one thing I could be doing to make your life better this week?” is a question they recommend that managers ask each team member.

From the same article is this example:

Royal Bank of Canada decided that “Proximity still matters” was one of its principles for flexible work. “For the majority, this means residing within a commutable distance to the office,” it told employees. But it left it up to teams how often they gathered and up to employees what distance they could tolerate to commute.

Humans produce more novel ideas but GPT-4 produces more valuable ones:

Results showed comparable quality between human and AI-generated solutions. However, human ideas were perceived as more novel, whereas AI solutions delivered better environmental and financial value.

This is a fun icebreaker: “What feels like play to you but work to others?”

Do you keep "falling into" your device's screen for far longer than you'd intended? Air Force pilots had the same problem:

Extensive testing and a body of anecdotal evidence showed that “crew members often become enthralled or ‘drawn into’ their display,' so that it becomes difficult for them to interrupt or change the focus of their attention. The lure of the display could potentially present problems during operations. The air force was worried that it took test pilots consistently longer to redirect their attention from the display to the real world than from the real world back to the display. It was as if the operators would default into the machine.

What if you looked outside your organization for talent with the same lens you use inside of it?

The more I learned about recruitment, the more convinced I became that talent allocation isn’t as good as we think. People have incredibly narrow recruiting criteria. Their intuitions guide them more than any empirical information about talent. And they are inconsistent. When organisations make use of their existing employees, they move them around and let them work more broadly than their job description: when they hire externally, this is all forgotten. People are locked out because they lack certificates, years of experience, the exact right sort of experience, and so on. Unless you are young, lacking a track record makes you less and less interesting in recruitment terms. That causes us to miss some very interesting people.

I feel the same way about Twitter as John Scalzi:

The site has never been what you would call perfect, but there was a good run there when it mattered, and mattered to me. I mourn the thing that mattered. As I mentioned elsewhere, it seems sort of silly to grieve a brand identity, but it’s not about the bird, it’s about the fact that Twitter was a place, with people, and now that place is gone. Musk took a city with thriving neighborhoods and decided to run a f-ing interstate through the most interesting parts of it, and the interstate doesn’t actually go anywhere good; it just runs from Bitcoin Town to Fascistburg.

Steward Brand is writing his next book using an interesting public platform called Books In Progress. I wonder how this might be repurposed around an organization's strategy or change initiative? Check it out.

Fun Finds

Design inspiration from the internet archives. There is so much to browse and borrow here!

Fifteen ways to get back to sleep.

Try to move away from this idea that being awake in the night is a dreadful thing that’s going to lead to terrible consequences.” Camilla Stoddart, a sleep coach, advises smiling, which may stop or slow the spiralling. “Smiling releases serotonin and dopamine, and triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the opposite of the system that controls your fight and flight response. If you can disengage from the struggle, you’re more likely to get back to sleep.”

I love these prints of 33 spaceships for another planet.

The physiological sigh is the fastest hardwired way for us to eliminate a stressful response in our body quickly in real-time.

A living history of the paper airplane.

Words of Wisdom

“Never block the road to inquiry.” – Charles Sanders Peirce
“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” – Zig Ziglar
"Writers have a rare power not given to anyone else; we can bore people long after we are dead." — Sinclair Lewis
"Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an action and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny." – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Creativity is a wild mind and a disciplined eye.” – Dorothy Parker
“In order to write a book, do a deed, paint a picture with some life in it, one has to be alive oneself.” – Vincent Van Gogh
"Know what you want. Go after it relentlessly." – James Clear
"A graceful taunt is worth a thousand insults." – Louis Nizer
Don't let where you are become a ceiling on where you can go. – Shane Parrish
“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator. But among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.”​ — W. H. Auden
"The capacity for joy is also the capacity for pain. We soon find that any increase in our sensitiveness to what is lovely in the world increases also our capacity for being hurt. That is the dilemma in which life has placed us. We must choose between a life that is thin and narrow, uncreative and mechanical, with the assurance that even if it is not very exciting it will not be intolerably painful; and a life in which the increase in its fullness and creativeness brings a vast increase in delight, but also in pain and hurt." – John Macmurry

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