The Virtues

Scripture for business.

The Virtues

When we killed god, we all had a choice.

Pray to him still, worship ourselves - or find something else to believe in.

You probably know all these people. Those who lean on faith, their fate guided. Others for whom life is a chase, to find more good, less bad. Others still who create something else entirely, a credo made from patchwork morality. Some people chase jhanas, others call activism a religion.

I believe them.

If you don't choose an alternative, of course, by default your beliefs are inherited. Your religion is work. Through the annihilation of community, we've made money the only currency of value, so whatever part you play, you're part of Moloch.

Is it bad? Perhaps. Yuval Harai would have us believe that servants of old deities were like Google employees, administering their abstract wishes, just trying to make a living. Bit by bit, we dismantle old social bonds, turning interactions into apps, gleefully watched by all those benevolent economists who would love to see us atomised, so our needs can be served more efficiently by the market. Until we reinvent god (AI), we hope to be blessed by the algorithm.

The gap, of course, is quality.

Cathedrals were built to impress; offices are built to a cost. Prayer books for the working man are lacklustre; most business heroes childish, callous or in prison. Worst of all, commerce has such shitty scripture. Jehovah had Thomas Aquinas writing him up, Saint Augustine. What do we have? Fields of thinkpieces.

I've read much of it. Business books focused on radical truth and productivity, telling me that I should make friends, lean in, don't be afraid to ask stupid questions, listen to Elon, don't listen to Elon, meditate, and subtly not give a fuck.

And let me tell you: I'm not sure what really stuck.

Peter Thiel telling me to build a monopoly? Maybe. Nils Leonard at his best on the commercial arts, Riva Tez calling out scams...

But too much is simply offensively bland. Recently I read something from a man in my industry, 15 years deep. Oh wow, I thought, similar to me - I wonder what advice he has for the youngers. And the truth was, it was platitudinous mid-management bullshit, dissembling bollocks like 'make friends' and 'don't be afraid to try new things'. The kind of fake wisdom that does nothing to further your cause but keep you on the treadmill.

Instead of precious tribal knowledge - insider secrets passed between confederates - he chose cliché. Advice is just a point of view, but still... to take the pulpit and share banalities is an attack on the commons.

No, I thought when I read it. No no no no no no no no no no.

If we're going to sacrifice ourselves to Mammon let us at least do it with brilliance and grace.

Friends don't let friends dose up on Sheryl Sandberg. Don't let them fawn over Musk or huff Vaynerchuck. Do not settle for Brené Brown as the only thing you need.

Don't let yourself be tamed: be wild and free.

Share the things you were never taught but fought hard to learn as right.

For me, The Virtues.


Virtue the first, or Laziness

Laziness isn't what we think it is.

Traditional workplaces are built around a factory mindset where you are accountable for your presence and hours and where deviation from this norm is frowned upon.

In Western culture at least, its origins are Protestant - the providential belief that you are destined for heaven or hell from birth, and hard work simply a sign that you were favoured. Soon, working hard became an actual means towards salvation; later, we trashed the idea of heaven and just kept the long hours.

Real ones know that effort is meaningless, the only thing that matters is the outcome. Unlike in school, there are no badges of merit for simply trying hard.

In that light, doing things the slow right way is drudgery. Like a high-pressure kitchen, things ought to be done once, done fast. The smart lazy person knows that energy is best expended like a crime, a meticulous bankjob where time is precious, movements are smooth, excess is eliminated, there is no step that isn't strictly necessary, every effort focused on high leverage. And after that? Just laying low.

Laziness isn't about avoiding hard work but avoiding unnecessary work. Because even revolutions can be chill.

Susan Kare designed the modern UI but was still chiiiiilllll

If you're working obscenely long hours, truly consider how well your time is being spent.

For this reason, General von Hammerstein put his smart hard workers in the middle ranks. The smart lazy ones? Right to the top. He knew they'd find the lean way to get things done. (In the space race, the Americans invented a zero gravity pen, the Russians just used a pencil, etc. etc.).

Laziness for us might have perverse consequence. It can mean going a little bit further so mistakes don't need to be corrected later. It might mean making things clearer so that further explanatory work is eliminated.

Laziness isn't what we think it is because unfocused hard work is a lie designed to keep us from reaching escape velocity.

The trick you might be missing is five star general shit. Be lazy.

Virtue the second, or Impatience

I've worked with demanding people. The difference between chaotic bad planning and vibrant mesmeric energy is carefully cultivated impatience.

Impatience is about dissatisfaction with slow progress, slow outcomes and the status quo.

Great businesses are restless. To win, you need to keep that momentum. Great leaders know that timing is huge and well-timed generally means soon soon soon soon soon.

There is always an excuse to kick the can down the road, make it tomorrow. The founders I know to have an outsize advantage tend to be the ones who don't dawdle. Because we know how tasks expand to fill allocated hours, and even shitty project managers understand how timelines fight you, eluding every countermeasure.

So always invest in speed.

One cannot tolerate sluggish execution, just as we must have no patience with shitty outcomes.

Don't live your life waiting on a spinning wheel, don't let business buffer. When you agitate for change, tomorrow is way too slow.

Impatience is virtue.

Virtue the third, or Pride

If you don't believe you can change the world, you're right. Don't even try.

You don't have to be a dick - ever - but to thrive, one needs a certain... protagonist spirit.

Main character energy.

The unreasonable beliefs through which you are compelled to succeed by any means necessary. Pride is valuable; a reality deflector, the hubris that keeps you alive and motivated through doubt.

Pride fuels semi-delusional (semi-realistic) beliefs around what you can accomplish. It spurs exceptionalism in a society riddled with a traumatised, victim mindset.

I'm great, I know I am, might be arrogant. And I think you're great too. That's meaningful pride. Narcissus with a mirror on you.

Pride keeps you in games worth playing and believing you can really make a dent. Creates a space where instead of waiting for utopia, we build dope shit in the world anyway.

Honest to the outcome, we're accountable for doing it right, because we must.

She takes pride in her work, they'll say.

Damn straight.

It need not come before a fall.

. . .

The Virtues aren't meant to be soft.

They're truths wrapped up in wrongness.

Beliefs that the feckless will use as an excuse for shitty behaviour, but which you, the righteous, will elevate to art.

Perfect? No. A start.

How committed am I to The Virtues?

I stole them all.