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Observations & Insights

Accelerating progress interview

Mark Zuckerberg talks to Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen about accelerating progress.

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Observations & Insights

Intellectual dark matter

HT: Samo Burja

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Observations & Insights

Infrastructure bake time

Sam Lessin posted an interesting observation that the speed of execution on new infrastructure innovations may actually create some of the technical debt long-term.

With fast execution, we roll out the first design and then pay for it long-term. The money has been spent and the infrastructure has been laid. We see a tangential version of this when emerging countries (who roll out infrastructure slightly later) get more advanced technology and are able to take advantage of more bake time.

What are some ways to offset this? Should set a pace (a bake time) for rolling out new infrastructure that takes this into account?

Type 1 vs Type 2 Infrastructure

One way to categorize innovations in order to estimate bake time would be to break out innovations into two types: 1) easily upgradeable and 2) nonupgradeable infrastructure.

Type 1: Nonupgradeable Infrastructure

With nonupgradeable infrastructure, the infrastructure would take extraordinary effort and cost to upgrade. This is the infrastructure where bake time matters a lot. And, a phased approach may be preferable.

Type 2: Upgradeable Infrastructure

Upgradeable infrastructure may be a design pattern goal for infrastructure. In other words, perhaps pay a little extra in order to create an infrastructure that you can upgrade easier. Also if the infrastructure is upgradeable then we can lessen the impact of bake time.

This is a spectrum, so we would want to figure out whether infrastructure is more like type 1 or 2.

The other thing to call out is that people often assume that speed is almost always good, especially when discussing progress. But, it isn’t. And, we need discussion and discovery around how to most sustainably create progress – to balance against the assumption of speed.

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Resources

Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Thinking in Systems is about using systems thinking for problem-solving – from personal to global.

I think that as we study the science of progress here, we should include systems thinking as I think that the solutions lie in better systems.

Some of the biggest problems facing the world―war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation―are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking. – Amazon

Get it here

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Past

The streets of Manhattan (NYC) in 1911 (In COLOR)

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Observations & Insights

Why study progress?

I’ve been studying progress for over a decade. As an alumnus of a corporate innovation lab and a few startups, I’ve been curious about innovation for a long time. I felt like it was part of my job to collect and understand how organizations and individuals can create better systems that inspire, encourage, and not block innovation. I also think my interest, and subsequent degree, in economics stemmed from a natural interest in societal innovation. For example, how do we measure progress? GDP? Is that enough or do we need more indicators of progress? (Which we do.)

First, let’s look at a proxy for progress and innovation (we’ll cover more in future posts, but this is the one we all know) – Global GDP throughout history:

Source: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/world-gdp-over-the-last-two-millennia

There are several factors that have contributed to this. One factor is the exponential growth of the number of people in the world. Another is the compounding of innovation via our tools. This compounding includes things such as communication capabilities, access to information, and building the next layer of the tech stack – as many of us in the tech industry have been participating in and witnessing for decades first hand. Pretty exciting!

My interest was piqued when Tyler Cowen and Patrick Collison wrote a piece about progress. Both of them are purveyors of progress. I’ve follower Tyler for a long time and Patrick since he started his company. I recommend reading the entire piece, but a couple of sections stood out to me.

First, a definition of what they were talking about:

By “progress,” we mean the combination of economic, technological, scientific, cultural, and organizational advancement that has transformed our lives and raised standards of living over the past couple of centuries. For a number of reasons, there is no broad-based intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress, or targeting the deeper goal of speeding it up. We believe that it deserves a dedicated field of study. We suggest inaugurating the discipline of “Progress Studies. [link]

This is so true. 
In relation to the concept of “innovation,” it’s poorly defined in many people’s minds and, beyond narrow discussions within economics and within business innovation and design groups, I don’t think anyone has spent time holistically putting together the frameworks. (Note: I do think that there is some thinking in the fields of Design and Innovation that does match models that we’re looking for under the banner of “progress studies,” it’s just been explored by such a small group of designers, corporate innovators, and partially startup entrepreneurs). I think there are some things we can bring over to progress studies to think about how to accelerate progress.

Then, they covered a general definition of success:

The success of Progress Studies will come from its ability to identify effective progress-increasing interventions and the extent to which they are adopted by universities, funding agencies, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and other institutions. In that sense, Progress Studies is closer to medicine than biology: The goal is to treat, not merely to understand. [link]

I believe that we can develop systems that can improve our capability for innovation/ progress. In future posts, I’ll dive into ideas about defining progress, ambitions, past patterns, and future potential.

I believe that we can develop systems that can improve our capability for innovation and progress. In future posts, I’ll dive into ideas about defining progress, ambitions, past patterns, and future potential. 

It should be fun! Stick around. Also, if you’re around San Francisco and you’re working on something related to progress, let’s chat!

I believe that we can develop systems that can improve our capability for innovation and progress. In future posts, I’ll dive into ideas about defining progress, ambitions, past patterns, and future potential. 

It should be fun! Stick around. Also, if you’re around San Francisco and you’re working on something related to progress, let’s chat!

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News

Hello Universe

Welcome to ProgressNext. This is a blog dedicated to the science of progress.