What's next???

And how to unask that question.

Hello, friends!

It’s been almost two months since my last update here. As you probably know, my book Why Are We Yelling? is now out. Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy or three, and extra bonus thank yous to those who left a review on Amazon (91% of the reviews are 5 stars!). There’s a special kind of insecurity and self-doubt that I recently discovered that rears its head when I’m expected to ask people to feed the algorithm when, in many ways, the algorithm is eating me at the same time!

Some fun facts from the last few months:

  • Obligatory self-promotion! Why Are We Yelling? was named one of the Best Business Books of 2019 by Fortune! I really loved No Hard Feelings, How To Do Nothing, and Super Pumped on that list as well. Check them out!

  • Anecdotal publishing trend #1! Now that I can see weekly sales numbers, I was surprised to learn that about 45% of my sales are coming from Audiobook! It’s only $7.49 at the moment, and even cheaper if you have some Audible credits piling up.

  • Anecdotal publishing trend #2! On the other hand, I was also surprised to see that only 18% of my sales are from Kindle. Asking around with other authors, these aren’t very unusual numbers, but in my head I had probably assumed that ebooks would be closer to 45% and audiobook was closer to 20%.

  • Anecdotal data point! One of the reasons I wanted to write a book was to get an inside look at the world of publishing, and to figure out how it all worked. It’s not that easy to get straight answers on whether sales numbers are on track, or lagging, or whatnot. The very informal goal I got from my publisher was to try to hit 10,000 books in the first 3 months, and so far that seems like it could happen. I share it here so that others will have at least one data point to refer to. If you have other data points to add, reply or leave a note in the comments to this post!

  • Podcast tour! My favorite part of the launch of this book has been the fact that I get to be a guest on a bunch of podcasts. I’ve only grown fonder of this quirky and charming new space for in-depth conversations. I’ve probably been on 30-40 podcasts, and continue to do 2-3 a week. I tag the ones that make it to my favorite podcast app, Breaker, in my podcast tour playlist. A few recent ones that I’ve really enjoyed included Brave New Work, Embrace The Void, and Rationally Speaking.

So… now that we’re 16 days into a new year and a new decade, not to mention about 9 hours and 32 minutes into this new day, what’s next?

My own creative process is very cyclical. I can almost always guess what’s next by looking at what was previous (on a number of time scales) and saying “something other than that”. By this logic, I know that I’m not going to immediately do either of the following:

  1. Get a new tech job.

  2. Write another book.

  3. Become a professional podcast guest.

For those doing some mental math in their heads, you may be scratching your head and wondering, “what else is there to life?” A valid question. I once had trouble coming up with other options as well.

It turns out, however, that there are many other options. I started playing piano the last few months, for example. Am I naturally talented at this craft? No. Is it soothing and healing in a way that I can’t quite understand but am fully willing to explore? Yes. Same goes for my continued interest in drawing. And same for my new and quite obsessive interest in tarot cards. This last one is interesting to me because I can sense that it’s a slightly controversial interest amongst many in my normal social network.

But let me clarify this a bit. The reason I feel drawn to tarot right now is 100% tied to my continued interest in disagreement, cognitive biases, and systems thinking. No, I don’t think tarot cards can predict the future. I don’t think it’s okay to pretend that they do and to prey on people who are desperate for answers in their own life. That said, the new tarot community that seems to be springing up (which you can really see happening in real time in popular culture) is not about that slimy tarot tradition at all. It’s a lot closer, if you think about it as a “job to be done” to social drinking. When we want to have a fun, unbounded conversation with a friend, it’s common to suggest that you get a drink. The point isn’t the drinking (most of the time), the point is spending time together and creating a more liberated context to explore ideas, feelings, concerns, and our real lives.

Reading tarot together can fill this same job! Instead of using alcohol or caffeine to do the loosening up, it uses suggestive symbols, weird connections between them, and "mythic mode” to achieve the same results.

Many of us feel like there’s an upheaval happening in the world today. The symbols and archetypes and myths of tarot are one way of tapping into that feeling and finding ways to talk about it. The Tower card is often considered to be the most dRaMaTiC in the deck. It’s a signpost pointing to the direct experience of upheaval in and around us.

And yet, upheaval is just a part of the narrative. It’s not entirely negative, and can be interpreted as a necessary upheaval just as easily as a traumatic one. We provide the interpretation. Regardless, it creates space for what comes next, the Star:

Tarot will let you get into the weeds of symbolism, if that’s your thing (it’s my thing). There are layers and webs of meaning related to the two vessels, to the water, to the earth, to the stars. It’s perfectly ambiguous, while also being very specific about its ambiguousness. I feel like this right now. I know what I don’t want, and I have hope that by quieting down a bit and listening and tending to little seeds of inexhaustible creativity and inspiration that the next season will have a chance to arrive.

What’s next will be a little quiet for a while.

Instead of yelling at the void, I’m planning to listen to it. This online course by Dr. Jason Fox called Choose One Word is a wonderful way to begin listening to quieter things.

Instead of prioritizing productivity, I’d like to prioritize creativity.

Instead of looking for meaning in it all, and resolution, I’ll be exploring what feels paradoxical and weird. I recommend booking a reading with Jessica Dore’s if you’re in the mood for one (or just following her card of the day for a while).

Thank you for joining this bumpy rickshaw ride. You can of course hop off anytime you like. Or, stay on and we can listen to what happens together.

Into the dark forest we go…

We Now Know Why We Are Yelling!

O. M. G. My book is finally out! In the beginning, it was like this:

Image result for why are we yelling"

And now, I do know know why I’m yelling, at least. Because I’m excited! It’s been so rewarding to talk to people who have read the book that I’ve poured 3+ years of my life into. It feels genuinely productive. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, etc in hardcover, audiobook, and ebook. Requesting it at your local book store or library is also an option!

If you want a signed copy, I’ve been telling people to just mail the book to my house with a note about your address and I’ll sign them and mail them back to you. Hand-delivery also works. Obviously this doesn’t scale, so it’ll be a limited time thing that starts now and eventually ends. Just DM me on Twitter (they’re open) and I’ll let you know the address to mail them to. I’m also willing to do this for multiple books at a time, if you wanna do a bunch for gifts or something. (Am I crazy?) (Don’t answer that.)

A token of thanks

I’d like to give you a few free reference guides that you can print out and put on your wall, or fridge, or by your desk. Thank you for the time and attention you gave for this book. Download the printable references and templates here.

There are also instructions on how to get even more bonus stuff if you do buy the book. See instructions here.

  1. Disagreement Template w/ Examples. A simple template for having productive disagreements with several real examples from the book and from life.

  2. Printable Reference Guides. You'll get some downloadable PDFs with all the guidelines for productive disagreement and the cognitive bias cheat sheet.

  3. Companion Reading Guide. A series of emails with additional insights that complement the 8 tips given in the book.

  4. Cognitive Bias Desktop Wallpaper. Get a light and dark mode downloadable wallpaper version of the popular Cognitive Bias Codex.

A favor to ask

Do thank yous always come with favors trailing? In a world of being an independent creator, sometimes it does seem like that is part of the package. And so does constant apologizing for the one-two-punch of gratitude and requests. So let me just get it out of the way.

  • The time is now. My book and ebook are both 40% off at Amazon. I’m not sure how long that lasts, but it’s there now. If you think you might buy my book sometime, this is the best week to do it. For whatever reason, publishers, book stores, reviewers, etc all look to a book’s first week as a gauge of its future success. Ugh.

  • Reviews help! But of course, read the book first.

  • Spread the word! Sharing the book with people who you think will like it would really help me. I don’t have a big budget for promotion and rely mostly on word of mouth to get noticed. But don’t feel obligated.


The real mission, tho

The real mission and change in the world I hope to impact is helping stuck and frustrating conversations get unstuck. Let’s stop arguing at the gate and start working on problems even if we disagree about exactly how important they are.

I feel really lucky to have had a chance to write this book. Everyone on this newsletter has played a part in supporting, encouraging, and even contributing to the process. My goal during the entire process of writing this book was to end up with something I felt proud of, and I can honestly say I’ve achieved that. So I can now mark off that item on my bucket list

Write a book I don’t hate about a topic I think is important

Of course, the real mission is that I’m still looking for ways to tangibly improve the quality of our disagreements in the world, and the book is a small part of that. But there are many ways to do this, some involving the book and others going beyond.

💫 I’m donating 5% of the advance and royalties to GiveWell, which is an amazing meta-charity that identifies the charities that use their money to the greatest impact.

💫 I’m looking for ways to more directly improve the quality of conversations happening today… like using the disagreement template out in the wild.

💫 I’m doing a lot of interviews to help bring this call to action to a broader audience.

On that last note, here’s some early coverage, if you want to check it out or share it with people :

Video interview with Rebel Wisdom

If you only watch or read one interview about this whole project, watch this one:

This video interview is probably the most polished interview I’ve ever done. It covers a bunch of my favorite topics: impossible conversations, the metaskill of disagreement, my complicity in problems created by the tech world, the relationship between curiosity, psychological safety, and diversity, and my hope for how we each play a role in improving the quality of our conversations.


Podcasts

The Next Big Idea: How to Have More Productive Disagreements
An amazingly well-produced interview with Rufus and The Next Big Idea Club that has voice actors and dramatization and all kinds of fun polish. Also, really excellent questions and summary of the book’s major points.

The Extraordinary Business Book Club: Why are we Yelling? with Buster Benson
A really enjoyable interview with Alison about the process of writing a book and basically being weird on the internet.

Curious Humans: Eating Knowledge & The Art of Productive Disagreement
Jonny Miller is a truly curious human and asks great questions. We explore the source of curiosity and dive into the topic of the 3 misconceptions about disagreement and the nature of our conflict avoidance.

And more! I have a growing list of all the podcasts I’m a guest on as part of this “virtual book tour” here on Breaker, and will be adding to it as a bunch continue to land over the coming weeks. 👉 Check out my podcast tour playlist.

Articles:

99u: 8 Ways to Flip Your Fear of Conflict

Better Humans: The Best Book I Read in 2019
A hard-hitting interview with Tony Stubblebine, editor of several of the largest publications on Medium, which was the starting point for my Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet post that kicked off this adventure three years ago.

Nir and Far: How to (Finally) Put an End to Pointless Arguments
The catch being that it’s all about creating more pointful arguments. I also loved this question from Nir, “What’s the most important takeaway you want people to remember after reading your book?”


That’s more than enough for this promo-heavy edition of the Rickshaw. Thank you for indulging my excitement during this week. It’s been intense. But these things ebb and flow and I’m also looking for a return to normalcy soon… I haven’t done much thinking at all about what comes next after this book stuff all happens. All I know is that I’ll be processing it out loud, probably here in Substack.

Thanks for everything.

Buster

Testing the disagreement template

If you're in a gnarly disagreement and you feel like the conversation keeps going in circles, here's one way out: tease apart the questions that get raised in the disagreement into FACTS, VALUES, and PROPOSALS. Each category represents a realm of disagreement that get resolved in different ways. You resolve a disagreement about facts by looking them up and doing scientific research. You resolve a disagreement about values by examining core beliefs and sharing experiences that formed your beliefs. And you resolve a disagreement about proposals by making a prediction and then seeing how the world unfolds.

I think of these categories as the realms of the 🧠 HEAD (facts), ❤️ HEART (values), and ✋HANDS (proposals). You can also think of them as the realms of WHAT, WHY, and HOW. This trifecta keeps popping up everywhere I look.

Last weekend there was an argument on Twitter about whether or not Facebook employees should feel proud of their work despite the harm that the company is potentially causing in the world. Some said they should quit unless they wanted to be complicit in these problems. Others said that should be a personal decision, and that staying at the company would put them in the best position to help the company correct itself. My friend Vicki Tan and I mapped this to the 3 categories and collected as many perspectives as we could, to see what would happen.

Here’s a link to the full doc if you want to dive deeper.

A couple hours after we posted this, Twitter announced that it was going to ban political ads, which is a step beyond anything else that I had seen proposed in the conversation, and evidence that people at these companies can make a difference internally:

I’m interested in using this template with a couple more disagreements in the coming weeks. It’s a lot easier for me to talk about specific disagreements like this than just constantly ask people to buy my book (pssst it comes out in less than 3 weeks). Have you seen any disagreements online or in the news that you think would be interesting to dissect in this way? Let me know!

An excerpt from the book & more

An alternative to zingers

I’ve noticed a new interesting trend in online discourse that gives me a lot of hope. I’ve already mentioned Change A View a couple times here, which I continue to think is a direction with a ton of promise when it comes to increasing the productivity of disagreements online.

I also recently learned about the Adversarial Collaborations, which are described like this:

An adversarial collaboration is an effort by two people with opposing opinions on a topic to collaborate on a summary of the evidence. Just as we hope that a trial with both prosecutor and defense will give the jury a balanced view of the evidence for and against a suspect, so we hope an adversarial collaboration will give readers a balanced view of evidence for and against some thesis. It’s typically done for scientific papers, but I’m excited about the possibility of people applying the concept to to less formal writeups as well.

For example, a pro-gun activist might collaborate with an anti-gun activist to write a joint article on the evidence for whether gun control saves lives. We trust each person to make sure the best evidence for their respective side is included. We also trust that they’ll fact-check each other and make sure there aren’t any errors or falsehoods in the final document. There might be a lot of debating, but it will happen on high-bandwidth informal channels behind the scenes and nobody will feel like they have tailor their debating to sounding good for an audience.

I LOVE this idea, obviously. And have found someone willing to collaborate with me on an article about gun violence and gun policy. We were beginning to work on this in private when we discovered yet another super interesting campaign for Impossible Conversations.

Impossible Conversations is a competition to encourage difficult conversations in good faith. Winners receive a share of $2,500 in prize money, publication to Areo Magazine, and invitations to appear as a guest on several podcasts.​

To enter, simply have a written conversation on Letter before 3rd Nov 2019.

Letter.wiki is a new product that basically functions as a public pen pal site, where two people can have a conversation in public about any topic. It’s really well-suited for long-form, thoughtful disagreements, and I encourage everyone to sign up.

BJ Campbell is the fellow I’ve been planning this adversarial collaboration with, and we thought it would be interesting to have our conversation about it publicly. You can read it in full here. BJ is pretty well-versed in all the gun data and definitely comes from a different perspective from me, but there are already a couple examples of times where it’s become clear to me that we’re not battling each other, but rather working together towards collective understanding.

One was in letter #5 when he voluntarily corrected his own earlier statement about comparisons between violence in the UK and in the US:

I need to make some corrections to my prior letter. I've been digging into those violent crime rate numbers, which I admit I found unbelievable, and I think I sourced some of them sloppily. It appears that the UK number was based on…

Another was in letter #7 where he pointed out a flaw in my own calculations (where I referenced how the duct tape holding my argument together was beginning to thin) but then offered:

In the interest of offering solutions to the actual primary problem, which is male suicide, I want to hand you some extra duct tape to use, and we're going to find this duct tape from the other analysis perspective…

In my view, these are golden nuggets worth much more than points I might achieve by delivering zingers. A zinger is a pointed witty remark or retort meant to score some points with your own side. They’re less about increasing understanding across divides, and more about making the other side look bad. On the path towards learning how to have more productive disagreements, part of the challenge is finding these small rewards in a conversation that can feed us as we go along. There’s no denying that delivering zingers and gotchas is a powerful emotional motivator, because it feels good even as you push people further and further away from agreement. They’re funny. But they’re not helpful.

For those interested in trying to re-wire some conversational habits towards productive disagreement, I highly recommend testing the waters with an adversarial collaboration or impossible conversation with someone you respect but disagree with. If you do one, let me know about it!

Buster

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