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💥 Unpacking 2020’s chaos
December 2019 feels like it was a long time ago, and just yesterday. Then again, that’s my perception of any given moment of 2020. A year where many of us probably went through different stages of grief in a more-chaotic-than-usual way. I know people who’ve suffered. I know people who’ve found consolation. I know people who re-discovered what they really wanted to do. I know people who’ve died.
It’s hard to say it’s been a “good” or “bad” year, because I have to believe that even in total darkness our eyes learn to see things we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. And so here we are. Consider this, then, a year’s end special edition of Salmon Theory, where I want to try and unpack the chaos of 2020 in three parts:
20 ideas that gave me clarity
20 people that made a difference
20 habits that I hope stick around
I refuse to think of this as a year to forget. There’s too much I want to remember.
💡 20 ideas
Straight from, and to, the heart.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
I grew up idolising autonomy. 2020 has taught me to respect loyalty.
“We see the world as we are.”
Assume whatever you see is already biased. Take it from there.
“Everyone’s weaknesses of character are linked to counter-balancing strengths. Rather than isolating their weaknesses, you look at the whole picture: yes, someone is rather pedantic, but they’re also beautifully precise and a rock at times of turmoil. Yes someone is a bit messy, but at the same time brilliantly creative and very visionary. You realise (truly) that perfect people don’t exist – and that every strength will be tagged with a weakness.”
Book of Life
Most bad things are good ideas taken too far. Same with people, I think.
“In the war against the cult of speed, the front line is inside our heads.”
Speed, like cost, is a flimsy competitive advantage.
“We are bathing in mystery and confusion on many subjects, and I think that will always be our destiny. The universe will always be much richer than our ability to understand it.”
There’s more to life than having all the answers.
“The role of philosophers is not to guide, but to assist in integrating the practice of philosophy into our individual and social lives; in this way they can help us to think through questions related to ourselves, our communities, and the world we live in–no matter what answers we ultimately settle on.”
The best questions are about three things: framing, framing, framing.
“If one were to order all mankind to bring together into a single pile all that each individual considered shameful, and then again to take from this pile what each thought seemly, nothing would be left.”
If you can hold paradoxical views without going mad, you’re onto something.
“My ambition is to say in 10 sentences what everyone else says in a book.”
S̶h̶a̶r̶p̶ words contain s̶h̶a̶r̶p̶ worlds.
“To see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”
We don’t truly know things until we can feel them in our bones.
“Like many philosophers, I am of the school that what goes without saying often goes even better with saying.”
Kwame Anthony Appiah
What we think of as obvious or natural, rarely is.
“Let each thing you would do, say, or intend, be like that of a dying person.”
Extreme principles can lead to extreme clarity.
“Cynicism often masquerades as nobler faculties and dispositions, but is categorically inferior. Unlike that great Rilkean life-expanding doubt, it is a contracting force. Unlike critical thinking, that pillar of reason and necessary counterpart to hope, it is inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive. Life, like the universe itself, tolerates no stasis — in the absence of growth, decay usurps the order.”
Pure cynicism is all heat, no light.
“You should care about things in a way that makes it a possibility that tragedy will happen to you.”
Deep care = high risk, high reward.
“More information does not mean more knowledge, just more confidence.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
But also: everything has a cut-off point, after which you get diminishing returns.
“As human beings, we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times, the stress of trying to find solid ground — something predictable and safe to stand on — seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not.”
We can choose the illusion of freedom, or the illusion of control.
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation.”
Play is serious business.
“Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going, no feeling is final.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
Nothing lasts forever. This sounds scary, before it can sound beautiful.
“Being poor is not having too little, it is wanting more.”
Comparison culture is as old as Humanity. Social media just made it easier.
“Every interaction will have brought us to where we are today.”
Avoid regrets, embrace lessons learned.
“If you don’t feel at home in your body, you will never feel at home in the world.”
Yuval Noah Harari
It’s taken me 30 years to appreciate this. Here’s to the next 30 applying it.
💁 20 people
I appreciate the following souls in my life.
Alessia Clusini. Because I can talk to you about anything, from my deepest childhood experiences to the latest fringes of popular culture. You’re damn good at what you do, and I’m proud to call you a friend (even if we’re thousands of miles apart).
Alex Smith. Because there’s always something in our video or phone calls that gets me to think more incisively about the world, or strategy, or business, or just life. Plus, you write a bloody damn good newsletter that more people should subscribe to.
Amy Charlotte Kean. Because you generally kick ass in your writing, your thinking, your fighting for diversity in the creative industry, your calling out of ad bros, and way beyond. I still need to read your books, but I promise I will sooner rather than later.
Bruce McTague. Because you’re probably my most active replier on the newsletter, and always get me to ponder on things. Your writing and thinking send across a cool mix of intense energy and intense calm, and this is something I aspire to as a person.
Camila Toro. Because we’ve been able to talk about anything and everything since day one, and that, I realise as I get older, is one of the qualities I most admire. You’re a great colleague, an even better friend. May we have more street market trips in 2021.
Daniel Caeiro. Because you’ve showed me, and continue to show me, that it’s entirely possible to be a good strategist, a good boss and a good friend at the same time. I hope our many upcoming conversations, lunches and rants continue to remind me of that.
Derek Walker. Because I will always respect your relentless calling our of the “tired” ad industry, and the endless pursuit of making things more equal, for more people, in more places. May more of our Twitter feeds follow your lead.
Eric Woning. Because Twitter pals who become work pals and then outside-of-work pals sounds like an awesome relationship template to me. You’re as smart as anyone I know, and create more energy than most people I know – combined.
Gem Higgins. Because our conversations make me feel like we’ve known each other for years, instead of months. You’re an empathy machine, and it shows, and we’re all infinitely better for it. (If you don’t, subscribe to Gem’s newsletter. It’s wildly good.)
Giles Edwards. Because the creation of ISOLATED Talks was a boon to all of us, and a powerful reminder that coming together to do some good is one of the reasons I’m proud to be part of the creative industry. (If you haven’t yet, watch some and donate.)
Grace Emery. Because your ability to switch careers, kick ass, do sick tunes, geek out about anything with me, and plenty more, will always have my respect. I love our 10-minute-audio-message-at-a-time chats, and I consider you my best friend in London.
Heleana Blackwell. Because it’s been an absolute pleasure to keep an open line to talk about work, career and life. Our conversations guide me as much as they guide you. The world needs more strategists who can find the funny side of things.
Matt Muir. Because our conversations always make me feel more energised, but then again that’s what happens when two web nerds (you definitely more than me) get together and go real niche and deep. Bring back Web Curios already, will ya?
Murray Calder. Because I imagine there’s nothing that gives us more clarity in life than the prospect of death. Our conversations make me want to be a better person, a better professional, one day a good father. Always here for you, online friend.
Nick Parker. Because good words matter, and therefore so do the people who live by them. Your thinking always gives me reasons to smile, or appreciate things, or have another go at whatever I’m doing. And isn’t that the point of this creativity thing?
Rachel O’Donovan. Because you’re basically me, but as a woman in Ireland. I have to believe our shared love for the almighty octopus and the world of psychotherapy has something to do with it, but now I’m just deflecting emotion and you know it.
Robert Poynton. Because your writing and thinking are a most welcome reminder that knowing how to pause, and pausing often, is still some of the best life advice I have ever come across. Hard words to follow through, but wonderful ones to aspire to.
Robin Bonn. Because our phone conversations range seamlessly between how to think about life, how to cut the crap when it comes to agencies and their work, and the occasional shared reflection on the wonderful mind and teachings of Esther Perel.
Tiffany Mondesir. Because your enormous knowledge of TikTok memes is a joy to see, and I wish this year had given us more time to geek out about these things. Also, as a long-term lover of scents, I am the number one fan of your travel-inspired candles.
Zoe Scaman. Because you remind me of the importance of building not just blocking, creating not just critiquing, opening our options instead of closing them down. And if there is anyone who needs to read more fiction it’s certainly me, so thanks for that too.
There are plenty more people on my mind, but I had to stop somewhere and I’m way too deep into this “20 things” theme to mess it up now. Maybe I should do this quarterly, like a collective appreciation thing? Let me know if that’s interesting.
🔁 20 habits
Some are mine. Others were sent to me. At least 2 or 3 might be useful to you.
Daily walks in the park. Preferably when it’s foggy. Because atmosphere, yeah?
Making art. It doesn’t matter if it’s “good”. It matters that you did it.
Noticing your neighbourhood’s cats. Giving them weird names and personalities.
Being able to cook without recipes. Or distractions.
No-TV evenings with your significant other.
Swimming. Full body workout, and the closest we have to floating in the cosmos.
Doing some sort of gardening, even if you’re not very good at it.
Music. Playing it, and a far deeper listening to it.
Meditating without rules. Just closing your eyes and letting things surface.
Working in two chairs: one for deep work, the other for the rest.
Talking to people on the phone. It feels old school, but that’s the wonder of it.
Scheduling more time to read.
Frequent “how are you” emails, texts, chat messages, DMs. With no agenda.
Daytime naps. It’s entirely possible to nod off for 20 minutes and feel refreshed.
Learning short functional training exercises you can do anywhere.
Listening to your body, and giving it what it needs.
Writing down hard conversations between young-you and now-you. (Trust me.)
15-30 minutes of playtime with the kids as soon as they get home from school.
Spontaneous dance bursts. Bonus points if with someone you trust.
Reflecting on what “good enough” feels like. It’s harder than it sounds.
Whoever you are, if you’re reading this, know you’re the best and I appreciate the time, attention and presence. I mostly write this for myself, but I’m glad you’re around too.
See ya in 2021,