Doing hard things

February 2022 Retrospective

Business is humming along. Unfortunately, my attempts at “impact” are not.

In this retro, I talk about the latest Pegasus wins, then try and unpack why it’s been so difficult to make any progress on my “do-gooding” project goals.

This is one of those times where I used the retro process to try and work through a problem, so it’s a bit longer-winded than normal.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Last Month’s Profit

Project Profit Monthly Change
SaaS Pegasus $8464.90 -1.89%
Place Card Me $1028.03 30.67%
Chat Stats $122.33 -47.74%
Total $9615.26 -0.35%

Another solid month in what I think of as a slow period of the year. All I have to do to meet my financial goal for the year is keep this trend up.

So far, so good!

Last Month’s Goals

# Goal Grade
1 Ship a substantial Pegasus release A
2 Come up with a few big-ticket plans for Pegasus in 2022 D
3 Start the next Griffin project C

Not my best report card. Ah well.

Ship a substantial Pegasus release: A

Technically I shipped two major releases this month. But the big effort was adding a new theme/skin to Pegasus.

Here’s a demo:

Demo of the new Pegasus theme

As often happens, a thing that seemed pretty simple at the outset ended up taking much longer than I expected. But I’m really happy about the finished product—both in terms of how it looks and how it’s put together.

I’m also excited about how it improves Pegasus and my customers’ lives. I’ve gotten more positive feedback from customers on this release than any I can remember so far. And people upgraded faster than they ever have—basically dropping everything to get on the new version. This is very validating that it was a good idea!

From my perspective this change is also a huge win, because it allows me to outsource one of my biggest technical weaknesses—CSS and design—to someone else. It lets me focus more on the things I—and Pegasus—do well, and less on the things that are easily solved by other tools. I’m never going to be able to code up my own front end that looks as good as one of Creative Tim’s or Tailwind UI. And now I don’t have to!

By offloading this part of the problem to someone else I can focus more on making Pegasus the best possible experience from a Django perspective, and let someone else solve the front end problem—doing it better than I ever would have, with less effort to me.

So I’m feeling good about this change. I probably should have done it a long time ago—possibly even from the beginning.

Come up with a few big-ticket plans for Pegasus in 2022: D

I… completely forgot about this goal.

I was so busy trying to get the release out before the end of the month that I didn’t think big picture at all really.

That said, I’m not worried about it. I have a huge list of stuff I want to add to Pegasus at the moment and the main constraint is my own development speed, not ideas.

I do think it will make sense to think more big picture when things start to feel like they’re stalling or stagnating, but that’s not the case at the moment. So, I’m going to drop this goal for the time being and focus on making/keeping Pegasus awesome in the ways that I already know about.

Start the next Griffin project: C

Project Griffin—my code name for projects designed to help change minds and behavior related to the pandemic—has stalled out.

I think there’s a few things happening that are all contributing.

The first is that the core thing I cared most about seems to be changing everywhere. Mandates are being scrapped, public opinion is moving, and generally it looks like the world’s course is going to move much closer to what I personally believe is the right one. Thank you, Omicron!

In “Coming Clean” I wrote:

The world is standing on a knife’s edge right now. As parts of the world (and even parts of the US) declare the pandemic over and move on, other parts are increasing restrictions, mandating further shots and tests, and deepening a strong political and ideological divide among us.

Now we are faced with a crucial decision. Do we continue pushing harder and harder down the path of coercion and dehumanization, with ever-increasing harm and ever-diminishing returns? Or do we take a beat, admit that the picture has changed, and try to find ourselves back to acceptance and sanity?

It appears now, that we are mostly on the latter path. Phew!

At the time, “Coming Clean” felt urgent to me. It felt like there was an important moment where consensus was wrong and we needed enough voices pushing back to move the consensus to a better place.

Now things don’t feel urgent. It feels like the Covid boulder has started tumbling down the hill, and there’s enough momentum for it to get to the bottom without me continuing to push. Plus, now we have a war to worry about.

That then leaves me in a funny place with Project Griffin. I wrote in my 2022 review that Project Griffin was “what the world needed”. Now the world has gone and changed out from under me, and I’m no longer sure that’s true. The value of continuing to push on Covid, specifically, feels a lot less clear.

The question I keep revisiting is how did we get to where we did on Covid? That is—what is it about the world, society, ways in which we interact online, etc. that caused us to become so divided, spiteful, and misinformed over this one topic? What if our broken Covid discourse wasn’t the disease, but it was the symptom? The symptom of a bigger problem that’s plaguing society and discourse on basically every topic in existence.

I’ve thought about that bigger problem a lot over the past few years. And so have a lot of other people. Tim Urban’s “The Story of Us” remains the best resource I’ve seen on it (I’ve now read the whole thing twice—the first time I’ve ever done that for a nonfiction work).

But there are many arms to the thing. There’s sensemaking, which tries to answer “how can I figure out what’s true in a world where everyone—including myself—is biased?” Rebel Wisdom and The Scout Mindset are two examples of working on that problem.

Then there’s social media, and “how do we fix the fact that algorithms are hijacking our brain to make us outraged and polarized?” Daniel Schmachtenberger, Tristan Harris and The Social Dilemma are working on that part.

I think those are the bigger pieces. But there’s also the culture wars, broken media incentives, media/government collusion, big tech censorship, loss of in-person social dynamics, and about a bajillion other things going on. All building into this hot mess of a situation where we can’t talk to each other anymore or agree on basically anything. It’s exhausting and impossible to think about.

And so now I’m back in this place where there’s a giant problem and anything I could possibly do is just a drop of water in the ocean.

So yeah, it’s all a bit daunting and discouraging.

And yet, if I do care about this problem, then I still should do something. And then the question becomes “what?”

I’ve been thinking about what my unique value-add could be in this situation. And I think it’s no single thing, but rather the intersection of skills and perspectives that might make me useful. E.g. my writing isn’t ever going to be as good as Tim Urban’s, my reasoning isn’t ever going to be as good as Daniel Schmachtenberger’s, my marketing isn’t ever going to be as good as Laura Roeder’s, and my coding isn’t ever going to be as good as Guido van Rossum’s.

But what I can do is something at the intersection of all of those fields without any other dependencies. So I think / hope there is still something there. Something at the intersection of writing, reasoning, marketing, and (of course) code. I just need to figure out exactly what that is.

In a more positive(?) light, one notable thing about Griffin is that for the first time in a long time, I’m really struggling with something. And that struggle feels great! I’m doing something hard and new again. And hopefully that means I’ll learn, and fail, and grow and ultimately be better for it.

If you’re wondering why I’m spending so much time talking about this, that’s why. It’s because I have no idea what I’m doing. And thinking out loud helps me work through that.

I almost wonder if I should be trying to do more of it.

Food for thought…

Time

February 2022 Time

Time breakdown for February 2022

I’m a bit disappointed by the output I have to show for 40 hours into Griffin-like things. But, apart from that this looks ok.

This month also saw an uptick in contracting and Dimagi work as I caught up on a few things post-holidays and work towards an upcoming project deadline. I’m expecting something similar in March, and then hopefully things will slow down.

This Month’s Goals

I’ve got a few external commitments this month, so keeping the goals easy and simple:

  1. Ship a substantial Pegasus release.
  2. Choose the next Griffin project.

I’m worried about the second one, but I don’t think I have a good excuse to not achieve it!

Recommendations

I’ve been really loving longform content about stuff in the space of Griffin.

This conversation between Daniel Schmachtenberger and Zubin Damania was right in the sweet spot of sensemaking and the pandemic, and gave me a lot of ideas for possible Griffin products. Another one between Tim Urban and Lex Fridman was far-ranging, but inspiring. I get a lot of my thinking on society from Urban, but my favorite part of the conversation is his optimism about society and the future.

Also, if you want to hear me talk more, I was on two podcasts this month. The first was Built with Django, where I chatted about Django and indie hacking. The second was The Mind Renewed, where I had a fun chat about Covid, vaccines, and my essay. Be warned, the host apologizes for not being “as forthcoming as usual” about his true feelings on the pandemic response, and I take on the more “pro-vax” role in the conversation, if you can believe that.

See you next month!

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