Best of 2022 + What's Next?
🎧 An audio version of this article is available below and on Spotify, Apple Music, and beyond.
2022 is drawing to a close. It's been intense. My family and I started the year in a new home, in a new town, with a new baby boy — scaling multiple steep learning curves in parallel. We figured it out.
I am grateful for being able to make a living by doing what I love— reading, writing, and meeting incredible people. Thank you for reading, sharing my work, and sharing your thoughts. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.
Quote of the Year
In a network economy the hubs must get bigger as the network grows.
This is from Professor Albert-Laszlo Barabasi's Linked, a book published 20 years ago. The book provides an introduction to network science, drawing on early data from this new thing called The World Wide Web.
Two decades later, the core insights from the book are still under-utilized and under-appreciated. Chief among them is the inherent tendency of networks to breed inequality. I wrote briefly about it here and here. This is a theme I plan to spend more time on in the coming year — figuring out the correct policy responses and personal strategies to help you make the most of it.
The runner-up Quote of the Year is:
A participant in a complex system controls almost nothing but influences almost everything
This is a paraphrase from Professor Scott E. Page's lecture series Understanding Complexity. It highlights another aspect of how our connection (via the web) turns all of us into participants in a giant system that no one controls but that everyone affects.
Online, every action we take affects what we and others see. Every strategy we employ triggers an immediate adaptation from customers and competitors. Every "like" and "share" impacts the success of a variety of products, both online and offline. More broadly, every behavioral change that the internet enables contributes to reshaping the physical world. I wrote a bit about this here and here. This is another theme I plan to spend more time on in 2023.
Book of the Year
It's usually hard to pick one book, but it was easy this year. Melanie Mitchell's Complexity: A Guided Tour drew more of my attention than anything else. This is a book I have read before, but I re-read it this year and found myself spending months down various rabbit holes that it opened up.
The study of Complexity focuses on the patterns and order that emerge from the simple interactions between interconnected and interdependent "agents" — people, ants, cells, cars, companies, anything. As Mitchell points out, complex systems can be thought of as machines that process information (in the same way that a city "decides" what shows people should see, what color of clothes most of them should wear, and which types of food to serve at 7 pm on a Tuesday on the corner of 34th and Madison Avenue).
It is an accessible, not-too-long, but very dense book spanning computer science, biology, physics, economics, sociology, game theory, and beyond. It defines many terms relevant to the study of markets, cities, and any system involving intense interaction. It highlights ideas that are the building blocks of any intelligent conversation about the future. For example:
A linear system is one you can understand by understanding its parts individually and then putting them together.
This seems simple enough. In the 20th Century, most human work was linear. We "produced" things. Inputs — labor, capital, raw materials — went in on one side and output in the form of consumer goods came out on the other. But these days, most human work is non-linear: It's becoming harder to understand the relationship between what we do and the value that it creates. This has immense implications for how we spend our time, how companies are structured, how ventures are funded, how cities are shaped, and more.
I will publish a long list of recommended books and articles in January — exclusive to Premium Subscribers (more on that in a moment).
My Most Read Articles of 2022
In Praise of Ponzis: Why pyramid schemes will be the dominant marketing method of the next decade and beyond.
The Meme Leak Theory: Contrasting China and the US's approach to information (and viruses), and why the latter might prove less risky over time.
Keeping NYC On Top: A playbook for how cities should adapt to a post-Covid world.
The Money is The Message: Distorting the cost of money messes up all economic and social communication. But it also conveys an important truth.
Perpetual Gamma Squeeze: How coordinated crowds are turning the economy and society on their heads.
Housing Is the New Office: How an oversupply of offices can create an oversupply of housing.
No Floor, No Ceiling: The internet gives more people an opportunity to win. But it forces everyone to play the game.
Rise of the 10X Class: Why the "robber barons" of the 21st Century are the people who used to sit next to you at the office. (and how AI and the internet will contribute to inequality)
Abrogation Theory: In a world with unlimited information, thinking for yourself is irrational.
I am using the quiet week between Christmas and New Year's to freshen up my website. Check out the updated layout and design. Is anything missing or broken?
You may have noticed the new membership section on the site. To welcome 2023, I am adding a Premium Subscription tier. Premium members will receive bonus weekly posts, digests with recommended articles and books, access to comments, and join exclusive Ask-Me-Anything webinars.
Your support enables me to dive deeper into the technologies, strategies, and ideas that will define the coming decades. If you find it valuable, consider a premium subscription. It costs like two cups of coffee, but it lasts longer. Get yours here. 🙏🏻
Another way to support my work is by inviting me to give a talk at your next corporate offsite, board meeting, or event. Over the past few years, I spoke at gatherings by Bank of America, Indeed, Boston Consulting Group, UBS, CBRE, and dozens of other companies and organizations. Learn more about my speaking work here.
What will I be writing about in 2023?
I am 42. My father still asks me what I do for a living. And even when I say I am a "writer" or "independent researcher," it doesn't get any easier.
I often struggle to provide a clear answer when people ask me, "what do you write about?" When I ask my readers, they tell me I write about "the future of work," or "cities," or "tech," or "real estate."
These topics often seem unrelated, but they have a clear professional and personal theme. The way I see it, I write about the evolution of complex systems — markets, cities, social networks — and their impact on our lives. From a personal angle, my work is about survival. It is an effort to figure out what comes next and how to make the most of it.
I am a descendant of people who have the habit of being born in one country and dying in another. Who tend to get their property confiscated and relatives killed by whoever happens to be in power — Nazis, Fascists, Communists, and, in earlier times, good old-fashioned princes and landowners. Keeping track of how things change and how they might change is a compulsive habit that I have turned into a full-time job.
So what will I write about in 2023?
- The unfolding future of work — where it happens, how it happens, what organization structures it creates, and who gets most of the rewards
- The adaptation of cities and buildings into a world beyond offices. Not a world without offices, but a world in which the "workplace" is no longer the main anchor and where the workplace is no longer an empty box in the middle of a larger box.
- Technology's impact on income inequality, human dignity, and freedom.
- What networks do. Despite the hype, we still severely underestimate the internet's impact on anything and everything. Once we are all connected, many things start behaving very differently.
- Relevant strategies, theories, historical analogies, and ways of thinking about the above — drawing on anything from biology and physics to the history of music and memes.
One thing I want to do more of in 2023 is to be more practical and optimistic. I want to explore more solutions and practical ways for individuals, communities, and governments to make the most of these crazy times. I also want to do more interviews with people that interest me, similar to the ones I've done with Kasey Klimes, Dalit Shalom, and Nicholas Bloom over the past few months.
Once again, thank you for your support. Here's to a happy and healthy 2023!