Live the Questions

I did an illuminating (to me) interview with the curious and creative Christina Wallace and Cate Scott Campbell for their podcast The Limit Does Not Exist. Here’s how they describe:

As we continue to navigate the changing landscape of this challenging time, we’re joined by Richard Nash, a coach who specializes in helping creatives become more entrepreneurial, business folks become more creative, and all types of professionals become more comfortable with transitions. No stranger to career zigs and zags, Richard brings his range of theater, publishing, and entrepreneurial experience to our conversation. We discuss doing versus being, why it’s smart to ask stupid questions, and how to rediscover the joy of discovery.


Over the years, I’ve offered so very many opinions about so very many things, here on this site, and elsewhere, and I’ve recently found myself increasingly bored by the sound of my own voice. So, a couple years ago, I began a form of training that has come to be, for me, quite transformative. A training that is about powerful questions, rather than answers. A training that echoes a style of editing I was always drawn to, editing by query. I trained and have been certified as a Coach, as a CPCC, to give me my official designation.

I realize, if there’s one thread through all my work—my life as a theater director in the 90s, running Soft Skull Press in the 00s, launching start-ups and speaking and advising and consulting in the 10s—it’s that I loved helping people rock. Whether as actors, or as writers, or as entrepreneurs, I was helping people to be their maximum selves. It’s often called leadership, though that word tends not to be understood to include those writers and artists who do their thing, leading by means of the cultural artifacts they create.

I help people who identify as creative discover how much more entrepreneurial they truly are (than they think they are); I help people who identify as entrepreneurs and businesspeople discover how much more creative they truly are (than they think they are).

I take, as a motto, the Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s last words: “Noli timere.” “Don’t be afraid.” Fear fucks with us all, and I work to help you put your fears in their place, so you can create and succeed according to who you truly are. Helping you rock. Email me at [email protected] to learn more.

Film is Evil, Radio is Good

Sometimes I let myself go out on a limb. The particular imp I go out on here, is anticipating the end of media. Not just books, but all media, all representation. Replaced by? Telepathy.

Of course, I’m not saying it will happen. But the tension between media and utterly unmediated thought, it’s one that will come. And, in some ways, which I do’t address here, but which all my readers can imagine, it is somewhat upon us.

From the always intriguing Books In Browsers.

When Editors Eat Robots

One way of looking at the political economy of publishing is to look at the labor economics and there’s a rather useful new study from everyone’s favorite consulting firm McKinsey on workplace automation (“The Four Fundamentals of Workplace Automation“) from which we might glean some useful perspective on the future of editing.

Capabilities such as creativity and sensing emotions are core to the human experience and also difficult to automate. The amount of time that workers spend on activities requiring these capabilities, though, appears to be surprisingly low. Just 4 percent of the work activities across the US economy require creativity at a median human level of performance. Similarly, only 29 percent of work activities require a median human level of performance in sensing emotion.


While these findings might be lamented as reflecting the impoverished nature of our work lives, they also suggest the potential to generate a greater amount of meaningful work. This could occur as automation replaces more routine or repetitive tasks, allowing employees to focus more on tasks that utilize creativity and emotion. Financial advisors, for example, might spend less time analyzing clients’ financial situations, and more time understanding their needs and explaining creative options. Interior designers could spend less time taking measurements, developing illustrations, and ordering materials, and more time developing innovative design concepts based on clients’ desires.

And, you know, editors might edit. Actually, though, no, I’m not going to go down the irritating “do-they, don’t-they” of whether editors these days edit or not. (I suspect the answer is, they edited less in the past than it is made out to be, and edit more in the present than is made out to be.) However it is true that many editors have been laid off in the past twenty years and shifted to freelance mode, and it may be that that was the most self-defeating move the industry made in the past twenty years. Because the least automatable bit of the entire publishing supply chain is the editor-as-shrink bit. You attend any self-publishing conference and you don’t hear any shit get talked about their editors, no, the shit-talking is reserved for the marketing and business side.

Further to this, you might enjoy Porter Anderson’s account of a talk I gave in 2014 in Stockholm. (Slides here. Quotes courtesy of Porter’s prodigious ability to live tweet a talk.)

“I changed my title five seconds ago from ‘Editors Beat Robots’ to ‘Editors Eat Robots,’ partially because I don’t believe in neat oppositions of editor versus robot, book versus transmedia, print versus digital. I believe in hybridization, which happens when things get combined. In a certain sense, I could say, ‘Editors Fuck Robots,’ and not in the aggressive sense but in the reproductive sense. What happens when editors combine themselves with robots?”

What is key though is that the business model would need to evolve, away from hit-picking, towards talent support.

“When you understand editing as a service, as opposed to a process of picking products that may or may not sell, your value is defined by how good you are rather than how lucky you are. Which suggests that editors, when they eat robots, when they use tools, when they use data, when they embrace a post-industrial mode, can be the entities that are attracting the value.”

Or, you might say, editors beat publishers.

Against Reductionism

Useful admonitions in this article on scale invariance in the brain. The nub of it is:

[T]he brain lacks a privileged scale because its functioning cannot be reduced to component parts (i.e., neurons).  Rather, it is the complex interactions between parts which give rise to phenomena at all spatial and temporal scales...  Like averages, reductionism is deeply ingrained in our scientific thinking.  Water is explained in terms of molecules, molecules in terms of atoms, etc.  If the brain is reducible to simpler parts, it should also exhibit a privileged scale of organization.

I suspect this could also militate against certain recommendation systems dependent on summarizing units of content, as opposed to understanding the relationships between and amongst them. We certainly see power law distributions of units of content itself, cf The Black Swan, and they may even be getting more extreme in the attention economy, or access economy as Alex Danco describes it. I’m not sure how to identify power law distributions within a novel, say, but I do know that any methodologies we might have for summarizing around scale with any level of automation as very poor. (Nonfiction, on the other hand, can be readily subjected to scale variance.)

The Alex Danco piece on Taylor Swift et al. I’m going to try to write about soon.

Publishing Eats the World

So I’d love to tell the assembled technorati at South by Southwest about all the great writing and publishing being done by non-publishers (or at least entities that are not [yet] aware they are, in fact, publishers.) Herewith my spiel and, if you think it worthy, give me a thumbs-up?

For centuries the world outsourced narrative and knowledge distribution to publishers—scientists, storytellers, doctors, chefs all. Now that “publish is a button,” content is abundant. But its abundance had been abused, like fossil fuels’ and foods’ abundance. Print is a button, but how can content be used effectively. Drawing on examples raging for the pervasive (Red Bull) to the unexpected (the personalized medicine start-up Cure Forward) we explore the world beyond content marketing, understanding where content transforms onboarding, creating all the motivations needed to discover, learn, and engage with any given product, as publishing becomes insourced.

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