One year, 58 posts, and a different country ago I began blathering right here whilst holed up in a Bangkok hotel serving a 16-day quarantine that would allow me to re-enter the country.
While celebrating the first birthday of Word.Image.Design, I've also achieved something else of note: I have COVID-19 for the first time. Sometimes, things in life just align.
So, how did 2021 go?
What did I read?
What thoughts do I have going into 2022?
Good of you to ask dear reader, otherwise this post would have stopped right here.
Further down I'm sharing some customary lists because, well, people love lists. It's also a useful exercise to go back and remind myself of what went into my brain last year.
But first, let me begin by opening my spreadsheet...
Best laid plans
A year ago I had exactly zero people signed-up to the newsletter and also zero COVID. My aim was to hit 100 subscribers by the end of year and no COVID.
I achieved the magic number of 100, but sadly failed to not get COVID.
And this is what I really should have started with: thank you. Thank you, to you. I mean it.
I don't entirely know why you're reading these words but if you've ever taken a moment to skim an email of mine or visit my site, I say this: thank you, may a trillion mandolins be plucked together in joyful harmony to sing your name through the ages.
Anyway, with the icky metrics and an awkward thank you out the way, how did the year actually go?
Well, it progressed as planned: unpredictably and chaotically.
Forcing myself to write regularly, I reasoned, would lead me to develop a healthy writing habit, to read and learn outside of my quotidian, and to push me to step outside and try new things.
Looking back, you can probably best describe my writing as 1) scatterbrained and 2) typo ridden.
I skipped between reflections on screenwriting one day, to musing on vulnerability in storytelling the next, while switching to ramblings about expensive jpegs and productivity on other days. Quite the melange and I'm clearly still en route to somewhere.
But it strikes me that a melange is what is actually needed nowadays. We should all melange it up.
I could give you a template for planning a communication campaign, but that will only ever skim the surface of what I think is both interesting and important. I could give you a 'how to write' book but, honestly, that won't help.
The truth is many of us work in fields that are trying to improve people in one way or another, and this means connecting with brains - the ultimate melange of ideas, opinions, experiences, and we probably don't want to know what else.
We have to stop fooling ourselves that there is a book, a template, a course, or a website that will help unlock that chaotic lump of tissue. The brain is messy and our work to connect with that will also be messy.
Messy is ok.
I just stumbled on this quote from grumpy old genius Hayao Miyazaki which I think captures what I am getting at:
"There are so many things we can’t do anything about if we think about generalities. Things won’t go well because there is a huge gap between the generalities and the particulars. If we see generalities from the top of a mountain or from a plane, we feel it’s hopeless, but if we go down, there is a nice road running about fifty meters, we feel this is a nice road, and if the weather is fine and shining, we feel we can go on… Since the people in the community are cleaning up the river in my neighborhood, I join them when I have the time. A human can often be satisfied with the particulars. That’s what I like best these days." - Hayao Miyazaki
My interest lay in particulars and less so in pretending there's a way to grasp the generalities. So, allow me to start with some lists of my particulars, so to speak.
Below you may be inclined to skim my most popular posts of 2021 based on made up metrics, my favourite reads of 2021 based on which books are in front of me right now, and my top 3 COVID-induced thoughts for 2022.
Top posts from 2021
My metric here is 'reading time', making the assumption that 10 people reading for 5 minutes is better than 1000 people reading for 5 seconds. I then sprinkled in some other informal criteria to choose the top five because, well, this is my newsletter and I can do what I want.
1. Talking to people, not algorithms: "'Social media' is a very apt name, yet it's surprising how often we forget to socialize. Instead, most organizations push information into the trough hoping it will be eaten up indiscriminately."
2. Book notes: Influence by Robert Cialdini: "The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct."
3. The Socratic Fish Tray: "Start with those who are the hungry customers, not the people wandering around outside. And then think about what can be done to maximise their experience to mutual benefit. Having them through the door and sat down is only part of the job."
4. Money, Memes, and Myths: "Gamestop is the title of a new myth for millions of young people."
5. Imperfect Shells: "The sooner we understand that perfection is holding us back and is something we shouldn't strive for, the sooner we can start creating things that at least speak to us."
List of books - with bonus list!
It was a good year for reading, a bit too good.
I had decided to drastically up my reading game in 2021 and I did that to the point where I was in competition with myself to get through as many books as possible without actually letting my brain soak in what was being read.
For 2022 there are two things I want to change. First, aim for quality, not quantity. Second, read more fiction.
For the start of 2021 I went on a non-fiction binge. It was fine at first, but slowly I felt like 80% of the books were structured like this:
1. The central thesis.
2. The cherry-picked example to back it up.
3. Another cherry-picked example to back it up.
4. Another cherry-picked example to back it up again.
5. You see where this is going.
And while that was happening I wasn't reading fiction, stories which carry timeless lessons and ideas from one generation to the next in the most creative of ways. Silly me. I'll change that this year.
Anyway, here are five books I read this year and liked. You might like them too.
1. Rock, Paper, Scissors: And Other Stories by Maxim Osipov: reignited my love of Russian literature in short form. Thrilling.
2. Alchemy by Rory Sutherland: Sutherland is a great storyteller whom I assume does much of his work half cut. Maybe I just like to imagine it like that. But he makes his case as entertainingly well as anyone.
3. Wanting by Luke Burgis: an exploration of how mimetic theory explains our desire for what others want. We don't want what we want because we want it. We want what we want because other people want or have it. With me?
4. Three Body Problem Trilogy by Liu Cixin: I can't even begin to explain this strange and remarkable series. I'm not usually one for science fiction but dived into this after hearing so much about it. I can honestly say there is no other book I have read which is so abundant with creativity and originality.
5. How to Think Like Shakespeare by Scott Newstok: grateful to the author and WID subscriber Scott for sharing his book, I loved it and wrote about it here.
Top 3 thoughts for 2022
Based on my blatherings over the last year and a COVID-induced fever, here are three thoughts I wrote down to take forward into 2022.
1. Stop basing marketing plans on giving Facebook a sack of cash
I just finished the current season of Succession and I sat up when I heard these lines from billionaire tech-bro Lukas Matsson.
“In ancient Rome, they wanted to make the slaves wear something so they could identify them, like a cloak. Then they decided not to do it because they realised if all slaves dressed the same, they would see how many of them there were, and they’d rise up and kill the masters.”
That says it all really.
Facebook and Google did well in monetising us, so much so that entire budgets focus on swerving their tech (ask yourself: if you've paid for a video to be produced, is it because you need it or because the platforms need it?).
It doesn't need to be like this anymore.
2. Stop saying short is better. It's not.
"Keep it short", "don't go over 600 words", "people only have 0.01 seconds to read your entire website".....
There's been a lot of that going around for a long time.
I wrote last year that simple does not mean simplistic, an important point I feel is often missed.
'Being simple' is regularly misconstrued as having to take a complex subject matter and whittle it down to a headline and 140 characters because that's all people want.
Actually, that's not what all people want.
My longest post of last year by a huge margin was a whopping 15 minute read and it featured in my top 5 above. Many people are willing to spend time reading if it interests them.
There are plenty of long form writers out there now with tens of thousands of followers. Good writing is good writing, no matter how long, and there is a market out there hungry for good prose.
I'm optimistic that people are reconnecting again with proper writing, no matter the length, and that means you - we - have the opportunity.
3. How do we make the wacky stuff serious?
There's a lot of strange stuff happening in the area of Web 3.0 right now, such as ape jpegs selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars and creating billion dollar ecosystems.
That's all fine, but it'll be interesting to see in 2022 how this stuff can be applied in a way that'll help the world solve some of its big problems.
I believe it can. Web 3.0 might still be for pixel creators for now, but it's time to see how the technology can address molecular problems like health care and climate change. It'll be interesting*.
So, that's it for now.
Thanks again for supporting me and for not blocking me. Please feel free to share any of your favourites of 2021, I'd be happy to hear about them.
Here's to 2022 and doing things we can't today imagine.
*If you're waiting to learn about my NFT adventure, have no fear. I have a big write-up coming, hopefully next week. If you're not waiting and trying to avoid learning about it, don't open your inbox for a week.