Expedition Signals: Episode 1.
On Working in Public, Framing Design Problems, Scale and Function, and Other Crazy Stuff.
Greetings from Alicante.
This is our first report from the expedition, and I’m psyched to get on with you in this new and exciting adventure.
Last week I finally started working in public. This is something I have been struggling with for a long time.
I’ve been too focused on working inwards, learning, reflecting, and building stuff…but hardly ever sharing. I think it’s high time to turn my attention to the outer side of the equation.
In this vein, I managed to consistently publish on Twitter every day.
Also, I submitted an article to “Start it Up,” the Medium publication. Titled “Escaping the Microservices Wormhole – Why a Distributed App Can Quietly Break Your Business When You’re Starting Up,” it was an essay I wrote by the end of last year but never published. I got stuck into other stuff and never managed to do it. Hopefully, now will be the time for it —better late than never, right?
And to top it all, today I’m launching this newsletter!
Public-facing matters apart, I also re-adjusted the scope for my email course on product engineering for indie tech-creators. Now, with a narrowed-down scope, I’m considering whether to keep pushing this project further or apply the circuit breaker for now and shift my attention to something else.
Definitely, the last week’s been a giant leap to be proud of.
Now, turning our sight towards the future, this week I’ll be keeping up with sharing and engaging in communities. My main goal is to stay consistent to get used to it and what it takes. As I keep learning, I’ll also try to optimize and free up as much time as possible for other stuff.
If nothing happens, I’ll publish the article I submitted, either in “Start it Up“ —if it gets accepted— or in any other place.
And finally, I’ll refine my note-taking system. It’s an essential part of my system for doing creative work, but lately, it’s gotten a bit chaotic.
Coolest things I learned.
As I told you above, working in public has been burdening me for a long time.
If you’re like the old me, you’re always trying to craft a masterpiece before publishing. You want to sound smart, so you feel you need to make your creation the last word. Otherwise, you feel like an impostor.
It’s overwhelming but also a common situation to be in. As are its results: you publish nothing, ever —or if you do, it happens very sporadically.
But you don’t need as much to start sharing your work.
There is no last word. Share your journey as it happens. When you see what you publish as a work in progress and make everything about sharing what you’re doing, learning, finding, and thinking at the moment, the road gets easier and more joyful —that’s what I’m actually feeling as I’m writing this newsletter.
It’s like doing a retrospective but in public.
I was practicing retrospectives as part of my journaling process before. And I was practicing them in development teams even before that. But I never saw them this way.
When done in private, definitely a fantastic tool for accountability and reflection that brings clarity to your mind.
But when done in public, it’s a bomb. Now, I can make the most out of my time simply by sharing what I’m already doing. I’m just picking the low-hanging fruit, so it makes it a great return on investment. And logically, it demands a bit more effort than working in private, but the benefits are outstanding.
I’m not working in the shadows anymore, and you neither have to.
I learned this from David Perell in his revealing appearance in Nathan Barry’s Show. This is what he calls “burnt-ends content.” You can have a look at the shortened clip where he talks about that here.
Or if you want to watch the full episode, you can also do that here.
You don’t have to craft an extensive and profound essay to start sharing. You look for consistency first. Quality comes second.
Start by sharing just small pieces —like this one. That will help you stay visible to the outside world and begin making crucial relationships while building and connecting your thoughts into broader, more whole concepts.
Just one channel.
When you start working in public, there are many things you don’t know and many moving pieces to fit in.
You have to learn and practice skills like writing or speaking—depending on your chosen medium.
You’ve got to get into the dynamics, culture, language, and peculiarities of all the communities you’re trying to get into.
If you’re trying to syndicate content, you’ll have to understand their contribution policies and learn their submission processes.
You’ve got to learn the right tools, strategies, and tactics, often specific to each platform…
The list is daunting.
And if that wasn’t enough, you also have to keep up with the rest of your life and work.
It’s a very ambitious move. But also a hazardous one. Trying to reach so many channels, communities, and formats can be over-killing.
Instead, simplify. You’re trying to build a habit and learn what’s needed. When you’re starting, pick just one channel and master it. Once you’re comfortable, expand.
This is what I’m doing right now by focusing on Twitter alone.
Things I’m thinking about.
Problems need to be concrete.
As Ryan Singer commented on Twitter the other day, “What sounds like a problem often isn’t concrete enough.”
That’s a common trap with evil results.
You think you understand the problem, which often makes you underestimate what it takes, which in turn leads you to commit prematurely to it, and waste your precious resources on the way.
When will it be ready?
How many times have I heard this question? When I worked for others and started working on a new product, they couldn’t stop asking: “When will it be ready?” They wanted a close estimate.
But when I founded my own business, nothing changed. Now it was my partners and myself asking.
I get it. It’s natural. As human beings, we all want to be in control of the future. We don’t like uncertainty, so we have to come up with an answer. How not?
If you are creating a new tech product, perhaps you think you can predict the future.
Or maybe, despite your reluctance to be so daring, you adopt a commitment that deep inside, not even you trust. You do it to get rid of the external pressure or satisfy your ego —or maybe even both.
In the end, experts do estimates so, getting people to trust you as an expert requires you to give an estimate, right?
Please, don’t do that.
Not all stages in product development are equal. Working on a consolidated product in the market at the Scale stage is not the same as starting something new.
Kickstarting a product from scratch have plenty of unknowns. Trying to predict the unknown will only serve you to set unrealistic expectations and unreachable deadlines.
You can try to convince yourself you can finish in three months, six months, one year…whatever, but in a highly uncertain context, nothing will save you. It’s a ticket for frustration and pain.
Like an apple released from a tree, the world does not care if we want the apple to rise to the sky. It will fall to the ground. The reality is that stubborn.
Your work is to reduce risk, not increase it, so embrace reality and act accordingly.
When you’re starting, you’re doing exploration work.
You still don’t know what you don’t know, so be honest:
Work iteratively to walk the terrain.
Bet your time and resources at each iteration but don’t commit to delivering anything at the end.
Let yourself withdraw from the bet when the pieces in your puzzle no longer fit.
Remember, you need flexibility, not a rigid plan.
Gems I found.
The Embedded Entrepreneur.
Founders often build businesses and solutions looking for a problem. That leads to risky products that ultimately serve no one. That’s like going all-in when playing poker. Once your product fails, you are out of the game with nothing left.
However, in this book, Arvid Kahl exposes an approach that aligns pretty well with my view on entrepreneurship in the last few years.
If you want to create a business, do it sustainably. Do it with people from the start. Start embedding yourself in their community. Build “with” people and not “for” people.
That’s what he calls the “Audience-Driven approach.”
If you want to find your future customers, discover how you can help them, and build an audience while growing your business, this might be an invaluable reading.
A very actionable piece that will help you build a sustainable, people-grounded business.
You can check it out here.
Reading speed is a vanity metric. No one cares how fast you read or how many books you read last year. In the real world, what matters is what you absorb. Skim broadly to find something worth reading. Then dive in slowly and deeply.
We often brag about how many books we read last year. But that’s bullshit.
The act of creation is also a fight for attention.
Reading is one of the inputs we take for producing valuable work. But what happens when we are overwhelmed by a tsunami of information on every front?
Those are the times we live in today. As creators, having all the information we want on our screens is a blessing, but it can also become a curse if we can’t process it effectively and efficiently.
Shane Parrish and his content at Farnam Street do not usually disappoint, and in this excellent article, he gives us some keys on how to get the most out of our reading so we can get smarter at it and absorb the most powerful insights.
Function and Scale
A great explanation by Joe Norman in his April 2021 Applied Complexity Science newsletter on the relationship between systems scale and their revealed function.
The problem of scale, especially when reached too fast, is what, in the context of creation and entrepreneurship, we at Freegrowth have been trying to articulate for a long time:
Hyper-growth in businesses and products can lead them to realize the opposite function than the one initially intended and cause harmful effects on the environment they operate in, including their creators and everyone around.
If you’re dreaming of growing a lot and doing it fast, think about that first. Maybe that’s the perfect recipe to end up in a place you don’t want to be.
Here is an article we wrote in 2020 where we already talked about that.
And if you want to keep learning about complex systems, check out and subscribe to Joe Norman’s newsletter. You’ll get plenty of wisdom bites like this one.
“Knowledge without reflection is useless. Reflection without knowledge is dangerous.” —Confucius
If you study something but don’t reflect on it, your effort will be for nothing. But if you reflect without the proper foundational knowledge, things can get worse.
You’ll likely get drawn to wrong, dangerous conclusions, take them as facts, and get on a path that can ultimately make things worse for yourself and your environment.
To make positive progress, you need both. Always be studying, and always be reflecting.
And, of course, don’t take your conclusions as facts before you can possibly know. No matter our knowledge level, when we reflect, we tend to think we know enough to form an opinion —you can call it arrogance. Instead, be constantly aware of your own ignorance.
Thanks for reading Playing the Long Game. Did you enjoy it? I hope you did.
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And that's all for now.
Have a creative time.