Available for pre-order now, launching Nov 19th.

43: All in & with the flow

My year in review.

I’ve been doing a review of my life every year around my birthday since 2006. You can last year’s reflection about digging deeper, and the other 12. The primary formative event of my last year was changing careers and re-entering the world of independent creator living.

My 40s

Large & small

One way to see this is as a cycle I’ve now been through twice of moving from large companies to small companies. This year I oscillated back to independent creative work after 6 years at big tech companies. A brief history of my career is: I joined Amazon in 1998 and left in 2003. From 2003 to 2012 I co-founded several startups (Robot Co-op, McLeod Residence, Habit Labs). Technically Robot Co-op became part of Amazon during that time, but I left before it was re-absorbed into the mothership. From 2012 to 2019 I spent another six years at Twitter, Slack, and (briefly) Patreon.

My career Green is when I worked at these companies. The y-axis represents approximate number of employees at the company, on a logarithmic scale.

And here I am back on the 1-human rickshaw. Honestly, when I joined Twitter in 2012 I didn’t think I’d last more than a year or two at larger companies, but I think I underestimated how meaningful and creative the work there would be. I’m ready for another year of independent work, but at this point I see the trade-offs at both ends of the pendulum.

It’s tempting to always rationalize why our current position is optimal, but as I get older it’s a lot easier to see how things …

Added to the Self-reflection pile.
May 31, 2019

Pocket Biases

Keep your friends close and your cognitive biases closer.

You can have every bias in your pocket by adding this website to your mobile phone’s homescreen.

This app is built using a really cool new service from Glide that lets you turn any spreadsheet into an app. 99% of the awesome here is thanks to their great work.

Since I get this question a lot, I’ll answer it pre-emptively. “What can I do to be less biased?” My answer, after thinking about this for many years, is that the best we can do is to reduce the time and energy we expend trying to defend our biases and blind spots when they’re challenged. I call it developing honest bias.

Some tips on how to use this app to develop honest bias:

1. Focus on the strategies more than the biases

You don’t need to remember all 200 biases, because you can look them up here any time if one’s on the tip of your tongue. Instead, it might be easier to remember the 13 strategies. They represent the shortcuts we take in order to make decisions and take actions.

2. Consider what causes the anxiety that leads to bias

  • 🧠 Information in your head: there’s too much information in the universe to process, so we filter most of it out.
  • ❤️ Beliefs in your heart: everything is confusing until we make sense of it by telling a story. This is where we get our meaning from.
  • 🖐 Plans in your hands: time is short and we have to get things done, so we jump to conclusions and take actions with what we have.

3. Notice bias in our brains and in everything …

Added to the Cognitive Biases pile.
Part of the Pocket Biases and ✨ Book! projects.
May 10, 2019

Going Critical

An interactive essay on how things diffuse through networks. Way more interesting than it sounds!
Added to the Systems thinking pile.
May 10, 2019

Well that backfired

History of a bias that got ahead of itself.
Added to the Cognitive Biases pile.
Part of the ✨ Book! project.
April 12, 2019

$1/month early bird special ⛅️

Join the inner circle.
Added to the Being A Creator pile.
March 22, 2019

Oakland schools are struggling

A 1–pager outlining evidence of the problem, diverse perspectives, and existing initiatives that attempt to address the problems.

Evidence of the problem, diverse perspectives of the problem, initiatives proposed to address the problem, and next steps.

Added to the Dialogue pile.
February 26, 2019

The Green New Deal is a 1-Pager for America

It's meant to spark a conversation, so let's talk about it!

Evidence of the problem, diverse perspectives of the problem, initiatives proposed to address the problem, and next steps.

Added to the Dialogue, Critical Thinking, and Policy piles.
Part of the Fruitful project.
February 26, 2019

Guidelines for Fruitful Dialogue

A work-in-progress. Feedback encouraged.
Added to the Dialogue pile.
Part of the Fruitful project.
February 26, 2019

History of my name

A lot of people ask me if Buster is my real name. Here's the answer.

I have a pretty weird story to share about my name.

I was born with the name Erik Keith Benson.

My parents told me that Erik is a Norse/Swedish name meaning king or something, loosely hand-waving to my father’s side of the family that is from there (though we have no known family that’s still over there). My mom said that the “k” was also convenient because it maps to the hard “k” sounds in Japanese. My first name in Hiragana is:


And is pronounced eh-ri–ku.

Keith was my father’s middle name and my grandfather’s middle name, and my grandfather went by Keith. Another call out to that side of the family, but I don’t know if it had any significance past that. Looking it up on family search, none of my grandfather’s other 12 (!) siblings had the middle name Keith, and I don’t see it showing up in generations previous to that either. I remember some kid making fun of my middle name when I was super young… he said it was a nerdy or otherwise awkward name, and I often made fun of my own middle name for years, probably as a self-defense mechanism to that. It’s weird how that is still attached to my relationship with that name.

And Benson also comes from my father’s side. I wish I had some connection to my mom in my name… that K at the end of Erik isn’t really a whole lot to go on. Benson was given to Sven “Swanty” Johan Bengtsson when he immigrated to the US on September 27th, 1875, having been converted by Mormon missionaries (I think).

Now for the fun part.

In …

Added to the Self-reflection pile.
February 6, 2019

The definition of “emotional labor” has changed

The original meaning was about the work of hiding emotions from your job.

Arlie Hochschild coined the term in her book, The Managed Heart, to describe a component of some service industry jobs in which workers must project a different emotion than the one they are experiencing.

The new common usage is super valuable for us, and probably more valuable than the original intended meaning. But I also really like the original intended meaning and think it too is a phenomenon worth understanding.

The new usage of “emotional labor” has gained currency as a way to describe the myriad unpaid jobs and responsibilities that people (many of them women) take on in families, offices, and communities.

In families, the term refers to the mental work required to keep a household running—all that scheduling and bill-paying and research—as well as the anxiety of being in charge of those thankless and largely invisibly tasks.

“Emotional labor” had a narrower meaning as it was originally conceived. In 1983, the Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild coined the term in her book, The Managed Heart, to describe a component of some service industry jobs in which workers must project a different emotion than the one they are experiencing. The most often used example of this is a flight attendant tasked with maintaining an air of friendly calm, even amidst passenger complaints or turbulence (a notion that inspired an entire genre of Saturday Night Live skits). It’s a useful term, to describe a real phenomenon.

The original definition of “emotional labor” is the work of …

From Annaliese Griffin.
Added to the Fuzzy pile.
January 20, 2019

Buster Benson (@buster) is a writer and builder of things. If you're new here, check the about page or see my entire life on a page.


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