ProdPerfect Value Spotlight: Impact

 

The singular most important concept is purpose. This is a fractal of considerations, as purpose means asking the purpose of each individual thing, and purpose can mean the overall purpose of everything. It’s hard to build a cohesive concept with a fuzzy picture of the whole. And I suspect it’s impossible for me to tell you what the purpose of everything is, however I can tell you a sufficiently satisfactory answer for this moment as to my own take. My purpose is to prevent burnout. This applies to the world itself and it applies to every person and every action within it.

Cascading Burnout

Not to be too grand in concept, but let’s look at the world first. The world as we’re living it is slowly burning out. We do, in fact, have limited resources on this planet. And those resources aren’t exclusively carbon-based. We have limited political and psychological resources as a species. Each person and resource we burn out then increases likelihood of burnout on the next resource and the next person: burnout means fewer resources or people to carry the burdens of the world, so the burdens fall heavier on the next, accelerating burnout in a cascade. And as a species, we have the capability to burn out the entire Earth itself at our collective wills. While we can bury our collective heads in the sand and make believe that all of our safeguards will be perfect forever, the truth is that the world ending has a non-zero chance every day. It’s just a matter of time. Some days, there is a greater chance than others, and the more we burn out our political systems and integrate extremists and reactionaries into our mainstream, the wider the burn spreads, and the closer we get to an all-encompassing collective burnout. 

The traditional answer so far has been to pray that cooler heads will prevail or that someone else will do something. This is a bad answer, but the worst answer is to minimize our own personal complicity in the universe’s machinations — to wash ourselves of our own complicity in the larger human impact and aim purely to retreat from the world. But, we are all in fact parts of the world. We cannot assume that the world will solve itself or that someone else will solve it rather than us. We can’t just close our eyes or aim merely to be a tiny bit better in isolation and expect it to work out. The world is playing a losing game and we cannot win by just betting the small blind and folding every hand. We need to be bigger and we need to be much better.

Specifically, to save our world from burnout, I think we need to be much better at 4 things: truth, intelligence, energy, and exploration beyond our planet:

Truth: We too frequently allow conversations to get caught in bullshit, lies, or misunderstandings. 

Intelligence: Similarly, we need to be collectively much smarter to better understand ourselves and the truth in the things around us. We can have all the facts in the world, but unless folks understand not just how climate change can occur but how our political system has incentivized misunderstanding it, knowledge of scientific fact alone remains ineffective. 

Energy and Exploration: To me, space and energy are conceptually linked. The necessity for space exploration should come as no surprise. The way to avoid having a singular point of world failure is to have more than one world (in the words of former NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld, “single planet-species don’t survive”). While terraforming Mars is a long way off, a lunar colony, human habitation in space, and asteroid mining are within reach in our lifetime, and they will all serve as critical infrastructural and economic launching points for going further. 

In order to do even the minimums of space habitation, we’ll need to do and build a lot more. We’ll need to create a lot more. Our current mechanisms for production are not enough to achieve this. We need exponentially more than what we’re doing right now to permanently house individuals in space. Solar helps on earth and in space but it’s not sufficient for the dramatic escalation in production needs. It’s beyond the scope of this document to define the energy plan for the next 100 years but suffice it to say we will need something along the lines of nuclear fusion. Sadly nuclear fusion or its ilk are certainly not going to arrive in the next couple of decades.

All the Pieces Matter

Now let’s get smaller in the fractal. How does this apply today? Well, the model for right now is analogous to “fusion vs solar.” Solar has its place now because it’s easier to manufacture *right now*. That’s an important consideration. We can’t just build a fusion plant right now, and we need solutions now. We have many big problems we need to tackle with immediacy. We have to solve for and act on what is possible right now while building up to what will become possible solutions for the 2030s and 2040s. This is where impact comes in. 

True AI, universally respected truth, permanent space habitation, and fusion aren’t possible right now, but we need to make the world that makes them easier to create. Not everyone can be a fusion engineer or an AI researcher. And while I’d be willing to gauge that those projects are on the critical path for humanity to overcome our one-planet-burnout problem, without the world continuing to spin on, nothing those projects could do would matter. This means that every job matters, and every piece matters: it all adds up to enabling the big leaps forward we need. The teachers helping a kid successfully complete their math homework. The counselors helping individuals to recover their lives. The accountants that make sure businesses don’t fall apart. The maintenance staff that keeps our world livable. The lawyers that complete mind-numbing immigration paperwork. Every job has meaning in it. Some keep the world spinning, and some make the incremental steps forward we need to get to the big stuff. And even when it feels like a job is “pure money” and yields no greater global value, an individual can always contribute that money to the charities or causes that can feel more tangible. 

“Why” in Creating ProdPerfect

Now let’s get to the tiniest part of the fractal. I’m not an AI researcher, a politician, a nuclear engineer, or an aerospace engineer. I wouldn’t do a good job at these roles if I tried. I can’t even say that I know many of them, much less have experience working with any of them. But, I’ve found my purpose in building the tools that they could use, tools that anyone can use to make the world a little easier and avoid each of us collectively burning out in our own spheres of influence. The first phase of ProdPerfect exists to remove from the human burden a large and ongoing task of drudgery from every software project on earth, in order to lessen the burnout at each of these projects and unleash them to have just that much more societal impact. The next phases of ProdPerfect will continue to escalate developers’ ability to make much greater impact, much faster, as they build the tools the world needs to sustain itself or to take the great leaps forward. I can’t imagine anything more important I could be doing right now.

Not everyone needs to agree with me on this. I couldn’t make that happen if I wanted to. But I am here to state that I believe that it is possible to find meaning in your job, no matter what it is. I do not accept that the only notable value in the world is to minimize your negative impact on it. I believe instead that we must each do our best to maximize our collective positive impact upon the world. 

This value—impact—is a venerated obsession at the business I’m currently leading. We recruit for it, we celebrate it, and through that each of us walk into work with our own global impact in mind. Holding that value close to our hearts, and knowing deep in our tissue that everything we do can have real impact, leads us to do everything we do with a loving quality. Whether it’s cracking open the toughest data science challenge facing the business, getting customers excited about working with us, or filling out our darned expense reports, we know it all trickles back up the fractal into the big picture, and so it is all imbued with that quality that makes it just that much better work. Each action does that much more for the whole. If you’re up for that, if you want to work on tools that make the world less frustrating, if you want to be part of this mission, then come find me. The world needs you.

Dan Widing
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