Many believe a great social change is coming, and that, if we want the shift to work out, we also need to change somehow as individuals. But there's disagreement about how we need to change:
- Do we need to meditate?
- Do we need to feel through all of our traumas?
- Do we need to get real nerdy about systems thinking?
- Do we need to become "sense-makers" or sovereign individuals?
- Do we just need to pile into crypto, the creator economy, or some other business trend?
I'll add my proposal to the mix: we need to become
responsive rule-benders, and
Rabbit holes, Rule-benders, & Weird-trepreneurs, oh my!
Before I define these terms, some background will help:
An axiom of liberalism is "the rules shall be the same for everyone." In the name of fairness, we are all to play one game, with one ladder of success.
But this depends on an imaginary "ultimate game" — a package deal we could all subscribe to. It turns out there's no such thing! The 20th century economic and political order promised us meaning from sameness—from having the same industrial jobs and climbing the same academic ladders.
But there is no meaning from sameness. No package deal.
This lie viscously structured our lives; it left us with a grim choice: climb a ladder of success by playing someone else's game, or be someone who doesn't count.
It's time to reject the lie and refuse both options. To knock down the one game, and replace it with many.
This demands of us some shifts in our character: each shift is about helping those around us to invent their own ways of living and their own games.
People have been conditioned to play the one game, and they need help getting in touch with their sources of meaning, and inventing their own games. We can't leave this job to specialists, life coaches, etc. We all need to chip in.
One way to chip in is to become a rabbit-hole.
Some people excite a deep curiosity in those around them. Think of the person you meet at a festival with a mysterious smile, with whom you end up on a life-changing adventure. Think of the stranger who's compliment alerts you to something you didn't even realize about yourself.
The first person to rabbit-hole is yourself. You need to recognize how many opportunities you miss, each day, to live by what's meaningful to you instead of according to the things that are supposed to be meaningful.
Most of us have resignation or hopelessness about meaningful experience:
- Resignation: if you've decided you can't live by what's meaningful right now, but have to do something else first, like gain status, achieve goals, or avoid fears.
- Hopelessness: if the coordination required to live by your values seems impossible, so you've decided to content yourself with satisfying tastes, being likable, etc.
You'll need to look into these resignations and hopelessnesses, and free yourself from them.
Next, learn to excite, in others, a curiosity about how they can live differently: more in touch with thier values. Show them another way of living is possible.
In this, never make them feel guilty or pressure them—this doesn't lead someone to living by values, but to a fight over expectations. We have too much of that already.
Responsive Rule Benders
What I'm about to say goes against an idea of fairness. But it's an idea of fairness that's broken! It relies on there being one game that we all play "fairly".
So I will say it:
We must scramble to break the rules, whenever that supports our fellows in living their most meaningful lives.
We must discard our excuses—our "my hands are tied" abdications, our appeals to universality and fairness ("what if everyone did that?").
Instead of being fair, we can be honest: we can notice and admit to ourselves all the regrettable mismatches between the rules of the space we are in, and what would be most meaningful to those who are in those spaces with us.
This honesty leads to another kind of fairness: we should all chip in when the game rules don't fit someone near us. We should change the game.
This is, of course, costly. Bending the rules for each person gets expensive! But we must try to bear the cost! People need slack to move away from one game, and to develop their own—and by being responsive rule-benders, we can give them that slack.
The main sort of leader we have now is an entrepreneur. But we can be more specific: the dominant type of leader is a "same-preneur": an entrepreneur who's job is to get many people doing the same thing. Same-preneurs try to send many people down one funnel, and drive transactions of a certain type.
Same-preneurship is fundamentally opposed to the many-games vision. Instead of helping people find their own games, it reduces them to a player in the entrepreneurs game. Funnels have a simplifying effect, emphasing people's sameness rather than their uniqueness. And transactions keep people isolated, interacting only in a pre-designed way.
There's tremendous waste, when you make things from funnels and transactions. They always miss the mark—they never provide the non-commodified interpersonal connections and deeper satisfactions that really feed our souls. Instead, funnels and transactions keep us moving faster and faster, searching, clicking hunting, but never finding.
The opposite of a same-preneur is a weird-trepreneur. Instead of funnels and transactions, the weird-trepreneur builds playgrounds and open-ended explorations in which each person does their own thing and comes out weirder on the other side, and where their interactions are unpredictable and lasting, rather than "transactional".
The key thing to realize is that explorations and playgrounds are what we were looking for the whole time. They bring us home, rather than leaving us in an isolated consumer rat-race of false promises. They spread agency, rather than streamlining it away. They let us be ourselves rather than a consumer and rule-follower.
Same-preneurship is the root of waste and depression in our society. And weird-trepreneurs will create new kinds of communities, venues, and organizations that will stop that waste and bring us alive again.
Many try to give meaning to others via meta-narratives, social norms or broad social visions. If you think everyone just needs to become more "rational" to find meaning, or more Christian, or more feminist, etc, you are an ideological same-preneur.
We need to help the people around us find the games that support their sources of meaning, not our own big projects and visions.
The last shift comes when you can easily make things life-changingly meaningful for those around you, with just a little information from them. Perhaps you've had a long history hosting meaningful events and having on-purpose meaningful conversations, but these were based on vague ideas about what's meaningful for everyone.
What will happen, when we all become
weird-trepreneurs? Well, the funnels and transaction regimes will fall apart. People will articulate their sources of meaning, and find one another on the playgounds and in the explorations of weird-trepreneurs.
Let the games begin!
responsive rule-benders, and
weird-trepreneursalready exist. If you're one of them, I salute you (and I want you in my discord).
rabbit holescan gather others' sources of meaning in.Chapter 6. Values Elicitation
rule benderscan spot social games and change them in.Chapter 9. Space Jamming
weird-trepreneurscan learn, studyHow to Space Jam, etc.Introducing Hard Steps
This textbook is only the beginning—let's collect links to other materals that help!
There are many open questions about weird-trapreneurship.
- What's the weirdtrapreneur's alternative to advertising and marketing?
- How should large-scale weirdtrapreneurs monitor their operation, to ensure they really make people different rather than the same? Or that they don't accidentally create transactional funnels?
- Are there funding structures they can encourage weirdtrapreneurs over samepreneurs?
- Are there regulations?
I have some ideas. But clearly, most of the territory remains to be mapped.
Weird-trepreneurship is a deep shift in society. A shift from a society where ethics is universality and fairness ("what if everyone did that?", "my hands are tied", "level playing-field", "everyone plays by the same rules") to one where ethics is hospitality. Where you treat your neighbor like a guest, and change the rules to fit them—rather than making them play by the same rules as everyone else.
- Finally, weird-trepreneurship seems to require a change in how designers treat time: a screen in an app or an advertisement is designed to encounter an instant in the user's life. I doubt we can design playgrounds and explorations for such an instant. Weird-trepreneurs must design for a larger chunk of time, which we do with an exercise called .Introducing Hard Steps