The Season of Great Works
|Venkatesh Rao||Nov 4, 2016|
Here's a truth few are willing to admit: in modern societies, ambition is an unseemly thing. There is a vague sense that the itch to do big things, important things, things that matter beyond your own life, is somehow indecent. We have the sneaking suspicion that all ambition is at best clueless aspie-techie "solutionism," and at worst an unbridled hunger for power, recognition, and personal gain to fill a personal void. Nice people don't harbor big ambitions. We may admire those who succeed at big things after the fact, but we don't approve of people trying to do big things. For those who want to try, the social disapproval can be so high that even admitting to yourself that you want to take on something big can be a challenge.
Yet, in my experience working with people with ambitions ranging from proving a major theorem to attempting a technological moonshot, this is simply not true. Buried beneath layers of inevitable human fallibility, and the perennial confusion of base motives, there is a always a genuine seed of wanting to take on what I call Great Works for their own sake, simply because they are possible and worthwhile, not because they alleviate immediate pains or deliver immediate pleasures.
Whatever the outcome of the election next week, one thing is clear: not since the aftermath of World War II has there been a greater need for Great Works in the world, and people willing and able to take them on. In a confused, reactionary way, Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan actually acknowledges this deep need, even if the promise rings completely hollow. The Great Works needed are those that build out the potential of software eating the world, not doomed attempts to retreat to a romanticized pastoral utopia that never was.
Which brings me to an announcement and an invitation. This is the 50th and last issue of Season 1 of the Breaking Smart newsletter. I will be taking an 8-week break until January 6th to thematically and aesthetically retool the Breaking Smart Factory for Season 2 operations. When we return, it will be with the first issue of the Season 2 newsletter, chock full of new ideas, a new illustration style and perhaps even a new format.
The invitation? Well, it's only for those of you who are making cunning plans to take on a Great Work in 2017, and could use some help getting it off the ground in the next 8 weeks. If that's you, read on.
Making Cunning Plans during The Season of Great Works
The invitation is this: Between Nov 10 and Jan 6, I will be offering a block of heavily discounted and pro-bono 1:1 consulting hours to work with those of you who want to take on a Great Work in 2017 (you can also bring a small team to the video call if you wish).
Currently, I've set the limit at 10 discounted and 5 pro-bono hours (limit 1 per person, so basically 15 spots), but I may increase it depending on demand and how my normal work shapes up. To sign up for a slot, go to the Eventbrite page for the Season of Great Works and sign up. Ticket sales will close in 1 week (on Thursday Nov 10). There are some conditions and restrictions, which are listed on the event page.
Why am I doing this? The main reason is that Season 2 of Breaking Smart will be all about institution/organization building. Great institutions and organizations are usually the byproduct of people taking on Great Works, so this will be helpful for my ongoing research.
Whether it is building a billion dollar company, passing a major piece of legislation, getting to the moon, solving for clean energy, or writing a big fat novel, the demands of bigger ambitions call for more sophisticated thinking than your typical personal New Years resolutions. Everything we've talked about over the 50 newsletter issues in the last year comes together in a Great Work attempt. Every philosophical idea laid out in the 20 Season 1 essays of Breaking Smart is put to the test.
From the tension between agile and waterfall thinking and the perils of goal-setting under ambiguity and uncertainty, to the challenges of building trust and cultivating skills in teams, there is no aspect of breaking smart that a Great Work does not stress. If you will forgive a bro-metaphor, a Great Work is an attempt to recruit all the muscles of your life to set a new one-rep-max personal record. An unprecedented effort that will either break you or make you stronger.
Big means bigger than a 4-hour-workweek lifestyle business. Bigger than the next clever blog-post idea. Bigger than a modest artisan cookie business that aims to remain a small indie darling. Bigger than the next canny career move, summer-long gofundme scheme, or month-long nonprofit funding drive. Not that there's anything wrong with modest ambitions, but that's not what interests me personally, what I'm studying, or what I'm trying to encourage and support with this newsletter. There's plenty of good information and support out there already if you want to pursue modest ambitions limited to your own life. What's missing is support for Great Works.
So if there's an itch in your life that more modest ambitions won't satisfy, and you feel like 2017, with its guaranteed ambience of weirdness and anomie, will be a Great-Work-or-Bust year for you, check out the Season of Great Works eventbrite page.
Perhaps we can actually help make the world (not just America) great again.
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Check out the 20 Breaking Smart Season 1 essays for the deeper context behind this newsletter. If you're interested in bringing the Season 1 workshop to your organization, get in touch. You can follow me on Twitter @vgr
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