10 Feb 2021, 21:19

How Teams will overcome individuals in an infinite world

My Android podcasting app (highly recommended by the way: zero ads, free, and free and open source software) tells me that I have 19 hours of queued content. Virtually all of this is deep enough that I can’t listen to it while doing anything else cognitively taxing, so it’ll likely take me several weeks of beach walks to burn down that list.

As pandemic life rolls on, I continue to explore different feeds and podcasts. Opportunity cost tells us, however, that one also needs to aggressively cull non-optimal feeds, as time spent exploring new content is time that cannot be spent consuming known to be good episodes.

Starting with a couple of podcasts and organically branching out (e.g. by checking out interviewee’s podcasts) is good, but I’m running into the problematic part of the Donald Rumsfeld 2×2 matrix. For those unfamiliar, it goes something like:


Image credit

Two interesting things immediately present themselves:

  • Known Unknown (KU): there are definitely awesome podcasts I’m not aware of

Briefly mulling that over leads to another, perhaps more important question:

  • Unknown Unknown (UU): There may be a better medium than podcasts for the type of content I like

Unknown unknowns are the spice of life

Unknown unknowns might make you uncomfortable. As far as I can tell, eliminating them (turning them into merely KUs) is basically the purpose of DARPA, a unique research organization that probably deserves its own post. I’m not nearly as concerned as the US government, but it’s undeniable that they might hold huge value for me personally. By contrast, there’s big potential losses if I don’t figure out something awesome.

Here are a few securities I’m tracking due purely to word of mouth; previously unknown unknowns to me, but not to my friends:

Needless to say, but this is not investment advice, DYOR, etc. etc.

Wish I knew about these a year ago

Brief intel on these companies:

  • Vegan stocks that several friends “recommended”
  • Blackberry, which someone had told me had morphed into a security company, and a solid one at that
  • NanoX - a radiation technologist told me about this company that does XRay “as a service”, charging by the XRay
  • Vital Farms, a dud over a year

Some will say that this selection is biased, and that’s fair. It’s true that it’s an artifact of my friends and acquaintances. Others will say I only showed winners. I didn’t, but that’s not unreasonable to think.

What’s the point? I had none of this information a year ago - all of this was unknown unknown to me. The only reason I got access to this information was that people in my life brought it to me, almost always on their own volition. It’s likely their priors about me inspired them: my general life strategy involves investment into equities, something that they probably learned about me quickly.

Put succinctly: a somewhat public, unique, and fundamental part of who I am inspired people around me to freely volunteer valuable information to me, without expectation of payment, a cut, or anything else! That’s awesome!

It’s not clear, though, what I should call these… relationships. Some were former co-workers who kept in touch. Some were vegan people I still speak with regularly. It’s weird to call them all friends, as we really don’t see each other that often and rarely chat for an extended period of time.

Perhaps there’s a better way to describe this modern form of quasi-friendship mixed in with hints of professional connection.

Teams are the new individuals

Previous humans had no accessibility to the infinite knowledge and, potentially, opportunity that the internet has brought to us. As farmers, most just worked to get enough food and sell the rest; tradesmen and guild labor largely had sealed fates (Smith is a very popular last name for a reason). With the advent of internet and explosion in tech, there are entirely new careers and disciplines being formed daily, based on some breakthrough or another. It’s useless to try to keep up on your own: even software engineers can only manage to stay abreast of a fraction of all the tech created there, AI researchers less so.

What’s an individual to do? Well, one could hard-commit into a career like law or medicine, trading off freedom for a (hopefully) solid setup. That’s a big gamble at a young age, though, and - at least for law - I’m not even sure if it’s worth it in 2021 (nb: not fact checked).

Alternatively, if you are in technology, you can fairly easily transition into… well, seemingly anything. Want to work on clean energy? Applied biology? Materials science? All of these disciplines could use technologists, and there are way too many of them to traditionally sift through; you’ll need to start with an area of interest.

Or, perhaps you’re happy at your current job and someone tells you about a previously unknown unknown opportunity…

I predict that emerging trends will put the onus of cohesion into small, fairly tight-knit units of “teams” - quotes used due to lack of better term. Hell, there may be a social psychology term for this already, although I kind of doubt it, as it’s an artifact of the 21st century.

Let me set up some predictions for this world-changing entity:

  • Teams will be between 2-10 people. Any larger and the tax of intruders start to take place (“who are they?"). Previous team members need to immediately vibe with new members; teams will easily splinter if mediocre (alignment-wise) individuals are introduced.
  • Teams will play nicely with, but exist on a different plane than, communities, tribes, and other 100-ish human groups. Why? Teams are largely flexible, able to move across a country - or the world - to work on a new opportunity with another member. Communities are inherently immobile and location-dependent.
  • Teams will increasingly make money together while still being friendly. Making money during the day, then hanging out at night, will be commonplace - but not at all required.
  • Gatekeepers need not apply: teams freely share cool info and opportunities without any expectation of repayment. Since many team members will have traveled globally, there’s a willingness to accommodate.
  • Finances and resources are loosely shared. Team members may even set up in the same city - or, more likely, low cost of living area to work on projects together, or take a break between jobs. Think crash at my place but for extended time periods.
  • Critically, teams aren’t companies; inherently ultra-capitalistic motivations such as “I’ll only hire a complete expert so as to maximize output/profit” are anathema to the shared camaraderie and ability to work together on cool stuff.
  • A typical married couple/partnered is a decent proto-team:
    • typically 2 adults living in effective communism
    • The adults typically hang out a lot, but that isn’t mandatory
      • Some may even make money together
    • Unlike (some) partners, teams don’t mind a 3rd member
  • Teams allow individual identities to flourish (he’s our crazy privacy guy); the individual highly regards his identity and membership in the team.

In future posts, I’ll try to show you how I think teams will turn in to the most fundamental social unit of highly educated, largely technical, young workers, and how that might impact the world.