[Link] On Form vs Meaning

Scott Aaronson, with some assistance from GPT-3:

There is a fundamental difference between form and meaning. Form is the physical structure of something, while meaning is the interpretation or concept that is attached to that form. For example, the form of a chair is its physical structure – four legs, a seat, and a back. The meaning of a chair is that it is something you can sit on.This distinction is important when considering whether or not an AI system can be trained to learn semantic meaning.

Key Ingredients

Drowning in a sprawling new project, a team spins in trial and error, fumbling around and trying to discover the shape of the desired outcome. Realizing they need to ground their work, the leads come up with a simple principle. “Whatever we ship, it needs to have these ingredients: speed, stability, security, and simplicity.” These key ingredients can come in many forms, but they must be present. This simple formula energizes the team, giving just enough organization to retain individual agency while providing enough structure to keep everyone is on the same page.

There is power in framing fluid, ambiguous, and flexible environments in terms of a few key ingredients. Especially in organizational cultures that trend toward being non-hierarchical, capturing the essence of desired outcomes can provide a valuable organizing technique. Chosen well, key ingredients can become a team’s core values. Finding the right set of ingredients is definitely a challenge — though veterans of your domain can provide you with a good starting list.

Taken too far, though, this approach falls into essentialism. We are tempted with a quest to find the ultimate key ingredients: the essence of it all. Essentialist adventures tend to end badly. They shift focus from the utility of a loose categorization to the inflexibility of finding the perfect one. If you’ve ever spent too much time arguing about the names for phases of a process or the one true way to refactor code, you’ve experienced essentialism’s gravitational pull.



[Link] The Third Space

Rob Miller on “third spaces” or Non-Offices as an alternative to the office:

In the old world, going to the office was a source of important social capital; it provided you with autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and with human connections and friendships, too. If you can get those things just as readily from other physical places, what does that mean for the future not just of offices, but of conventional employment?

[Link] Remystifying Supply Chains

Venkatesh Rao’s post on the complexity – and more – of contemporary supply chains is a fantastic read:

Many engineered artifacts can be viewed largely in terms of their designed function without much loss in understanding. If you’re designing a truss, material properties and stress/strain calculations tell you almost everything you need to know about how it will perform in the field. You can go from paper-napkin sketch to CAD design, to prototype, to production artifact, via a largely one-way flow, with very little iteration, and not go too wrong.

This is not true of supply chains. Even though many of the pieces are designed and put together the way other engineering artifacts are, the effects of those behaviors are different. And they evolve over time.

[Link] The Truth About Open Offices

Like many others, Ethan Bernstein and Ben Waber question the value of the open office in this article in the HBR from 2019.  It’s particularly relevant when several companies are nudging their employees to return to the office, ostensibly for ‘collaboration‘ or ‘valuable human interaction‘:

When employees do want to interact, they choose the channel: face-to-face, video conference, phone, social media, email, messaging, and so on. Someone initiating an exchange decides how long it should last and whether it should be synchronous (a meeting or a huddle) or asynchronous (a message or a post). The recipient of, say, an email, a Slack message, or a text decides whether to respond immediately, down the road, or never.

Interestingly, the article also has this nugget, months before the pandemic driven remote-working enforcement:

If team members need to interact to achieve project milestones on time, you don’t want them working remotely.

[Link] The Spread of Improvement

Anton Howes in this excerpt from 2017 describes why innovation accelerated in Britain, what he attributes to:

the emergence and spread of an improving mentality, tracing its transmission from person to person and across the country. The mentality was not a technique, skill, or special understanding, but a frame of mind: innovators saw room for improvement where others saw none. The mentality could be received by anyone, and it could be applied to any field – anything, after all, could be better.

But what led to innovation’s acceleration was not just that the mentality spread: over the course of the eighteenth century innovators became increasingly committed to spreading the mentality further – they became innovation’s evangelists. By creating new institutions and adopting social norms conducive to openness and active sharing, innovators ensured the
continued dissemination of innovation, giving rise to modern economic growth in Britain and abroad.