Two challenges facing the human race.

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I see two challenges facing the human race.

Water shortages

The current potable water crisis in California is a foreshadowing of the unforeseen consequences of climate change and population explosion. Simple conservation will not be enough. Our planet’s natural water cycle is struggling under the burden humans have placed upon it in their unflinching quest for water. We can survive without oil but we cannot survive without water.

Short-Term Thinking

The second is more subtle, but I believe Western society has discarded and forgotten the importance of the softer attributes of what it means to be human. Our quest for progress has pushed aside anything that does not immediately contribute to short term goals and profit. We esteem this pursuit in the media and the “have-nots” are left with two choices. They either resign their drive to succeed and “coast” through the rest of their life, or consciously object and pursue a life at the edge of traditional society through other means.

This is catching up to us as the current trend of press around “Why aren’t millennials <fill in the blank>”. I’m a millennial myself (born in 1982, so at the top end) but see this distinction clearly between my social group.

Society will be forced to repay and repair the rips to our social fabric that have been created. Humans aren’t ready to face this, but I believe I will see the pendulum swing back during my lifetime.

How much of the world will software eat?

I stepped into a fun riff on Twitter where Marc Andreessen published a 15-part tweet-blog on his thoughts on the limits of AI and Robots and their effect on society.

The concept captures my imagination because the media is quick jump to the inevitable end depicted in the Matrix where our machines come alive and Human beings become biological battery power in a post-apocalyptic world.  Once singularity is achieved, humans fall to the dark side of evolution as we slowly welcome the ascension of our new robot overlords.

While that makes for a good Hollywood screenplay, it doesn’t work for two reasons.

First, computers systems will never replace Humans because they lack judgement. Machines can easily distinguish between good and bad options, but they cannot predict taste and style.  Judgement is the result of a lifetime’s experience of constantly making choices, choices where there are multiple positive outcomes. This doesn’t translate to the world of machines where basic rules and logic make up a computers brain.

Second, artificial intelligence falls far short in creativity. They cannot “muster up” the next Mona Lisa or replicate Shakespeare through an digital force of will.  Creativity is the ability to transcend tradition, moving beyond the known into the unknown. If a human programs a machine by transferring its “known” knowledge into instructions, how can the machine ever move beyond it’s own reality into the unknown? The answer? It can’t.

So how much of the world will software eat?

Machines are making a monumental impact in every area of society and as the generations pass by, they will become more and more accepted as a sub-class of steward, albeit more intelligently with each iteration. I believe the impact of this shift won’t be a replacement of what it means to be human, but an amplification of the amount of time we have to focus and spend on the things that truly make us human.

The inevitable end is not the singularity of machines, but the self-actualization of human beings in a beautiful chorus of individual creativity and art.

Optimistic? Maybe. But, that end would be much more interesting then the drab and hopeless background of the Matrix, even if you could learn Kung-Fu in 5 seconds.

Maker Time

My friend Joe McCann was riffing on a busy meeting schedule this upcoming week. I could relate and shot back a response on Twitter. I’ve fought this for years and thought I’d write a quick blog about it.

One of my favorite habits that I’ve followed from time to time is scheduling what I call “Maker Time”. After starting appendTo four years ago, my day to day work is filled with meetings, writing emails and generally solving problems of all shapes and sizes.

The transition to this role from being a full time software developer left me wishing for the days where I could sit and code all day long without interruptions. I loved software development and I loved the challenge creating something new. Even though a long day of coding could be exhausting if I didn’t keep up my caffeine intake levels, it never felt like work because the act of creating something was motivation to keep going.

Paul Graham wrote an amazing essay that describes the differences between managers and makers and the schedules they each keep. I read this early in my career and was influenced by it quite a bit. However, I always thought managers and makers were mutually exclusive roles.

It’s only as I’ve stepped into more full time management that I’ve discovered that building in “Maker Time” has been foundational to keeping my sanity. Rather than choosing between being a “Maker” OR a “Manager”, I realized I needed to choose both to stay balanced.

Maker and Manager

I’ve solved this by forcing myself to make time each day to “Make” something. Anyone who’s in a management role knows that if you don’t make time for it, it won’t happen. So, I generally schedule my own “Maker Time” for the first two hours of my day. This is when our virtual office is most quiet and I can easily focus.

I view this Maker Time as foundational to my role as a Manager, managing people who make stuff. Putting in the effort to make something every day makes me a better manager and helps keep the priority level high for “Maker Time”.

Maker Time Rules

Along the way I’ve developed a short list of rules to keep myself accountable to my “Maker Time”. I’m not a very religious habit person and I view life more like jazz music then a line dance, but guidelines like these help keep me pointed in the right direction.

  1. Schedule “Maker Time” first to keep it a priority. I generally find 2 hours a day works for me.
  2. Shut out all distractions to keep focused.
  3. Ship something by the end of each session. It could be a blog post, piece of code or an update to a contract template, but create something new and SHIP IT.

That’s it, it’s literally that simple. Sometimes, my maker time feels like the most productive part of my day. Other times I feel like I get nothing done. What matters to me is that I am keeping my creative muscles strong and focused. It is a discipline that I feel makes me a better manager, but to really measure that you’d have to ask my team.

If you’re a manager, do you make time to make something? If you’re a maker, what do you think of a manager who prioritizes “Maker time”?