Operating in Narrative Time, Ephemeral Advice, and Brand vs. Reputation

💌 The Roundup // 022

Welcome to the latest issue of The Jungle Gym – the newsletter that helps you build a fulfilling career by integrating work and life.

If you’re a new reader, thanks for stopping by. Here’s an introductory post that explains what this newsletter is all about.

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I am implementing some long-overdue changes to The Jungle Gym. Instead of cramming an essay and recommended reads into the same newsletter, I’m giving the two sections their own separate issues (you should have gotten this month’s essay in your inbox last weekend).

Why the change?

  1. The old version of the roundup took too long to read

  2. Length restrictions made it hard to fit all the content I wanted to recommend

  3. I rarely had enough space to include the kind of personal updates I used to share when this newsletter first started

What kind of personal updates you might ask?

Yup, we’ve got a baby on the way.

Currently, the little guy doesn’t have a name, so we have taken to calling him Brussels Sprout.

Given this newsletter is about work-life integration, don’t be surprised if I start dipping my toe into parent-related content (though I’ll try to go easy on the baby photos).

Okay, let’s get into it. Today we’ll be discussing:

  • 🤳 The gap between reputation and personal brand

  • 👨‍👩‍👧 If Zoom will bring us closer to our families

  • 🕓 Operating in narrative vs. clock time

  • 🤔 When to avoid outsourcing decisions

  • 💡 The tyranny of ideas

  • 🛠 How craftsmanship builds character

Riffs & Recommendations

Some reflections on the best content I’ve been consuming lately.

🤳The Gap Between Reputation and Personal Brand

10-minute read from Cedric Chin

There’s a subtle difference between reputation and brand. While reputations are built based on what others say about you, brands are built through the image you choose to project.

In the age of mass media, companies often projected brands that were mismatched with their actual reputations. Back then, companies had lots of control over what information was publicly shared about them, while reputational data could only spread slowly through word of mouth.

Social media changed that. Now, a single customer or employee can share their experience with a company to the whole world through channels like Twitter, Yelp, or Glassdoor. As a result, the gap between company brands and reputations has closed.

A slightly different dynamic is playing out for individuals. Before the internet, most people had little ability to shape their personal brands. Thus the impressions they left on others were mostly built through first-hand encounters and reputational gossip.

In our age of social media, people have a much greater ability to shape how others perceive them. However, reputational information about individuals can also spread much faster and further.

Both companies and individuals will find it increasingly difficult to project brands that are misaligned with the reality of their reputations.

👨‍👩‍👧 Can Zoom Save the American Family?

13-minute read from Katherine Boyle

The past century has lured Americans from their hometowns and extended families to seek opportunity in coastal cities. While this migration has given individuals more freedom, it has made families fragile. In the words of David Brooks:

We’ve moved from big, interconnected, and extended families, which helped protect the most vulnerable people in society from the shocks of life, to smaller, detached nuclear families… ultimately [leading] to a familial system that liberates the rich and ravages the working-class and the poor.”

As remote work gives us more options for where to live, many will return to the hometowns they left to provide and receive the vital support that many families have lacked in recent decades.

🕓 The Consultant Out of Time

22-minute read from Tom Critchlow

One striking difference between individual contributors and executives is their relationship to time.

While individuals tend to operate under the safety and predictability of clock time, confining their work to normal working hours, execs don’t get that luxury. Instead, they must respond to events as they unfold, operating in narrative time.

Executives already understand that productivity measured in time is meaningless - there’s no hiding behind “I did the work you asked on time”. It’s about progress, momentum, outputs, and results. And those things don’t work on clock time - they come in leaps and bounds, fits and starts.

When delivering work to a stakeholder who operates in narrative time, there’s always a risk that some event or meeting has taken place that’s shifted what’s needed out of the final deliverable.

What’s the solution to this?

Don’t spend two weeks polishing a deliverable before getting feedback. Instead spend two days doing the most important piece of the work, and get quick feedback on it.

🤔 How Timeless is Advice?

13-minute read from John Luttig

Much of the best advice has an expiration date.

The wisdom once that propelled your Boomer parents up the socio-economic ladder may now lead to bad outcomes in the information age. But how do you figure out when to follow advice vs. defy it?

Luttig shares some signals for when a decision may be too important to outsource to the advice of others:

  • Compounding: If the outcome of your decision will compound, insource. Your personal financial strategy, for example: the dollars in a given financial decision may seem small, but the compounding effect of finance makes the outcomes highly consequential, such that the seemingly small benefit of insourcing is larger than it appears.

  • Irreversibility: Can the decision, once made, be reversed? If not, insource. Career paths and partners are hard to reverse.

  • Stereotype: If you’re making a decision because it’ll help you fit in, you should think twice about it. People often travel to fit in, and they subconsciously understand this: if you didn’t post on social media about your trip to Cabo, did you really go? Not all cultural consensus is bad, but stereotypes are a form of ill-supported consensus, so they’re worth questioning.

  • Iteration: If you do something repeatedly, like reading the news, you should think more deeply about how and why you’re doing it. Sleep, diet, and entertainment also fall into this category.

  • Magnitude: This one is most intuitively obvious. If the decision you’re making is obviously big, like your choice of career, it’s worth insourcing.

As a rule of thumb, when there may be asymmetry in the outcome, it is probably best to insource the decision.

💡 The Tyranny of Ideas

6-minute read from Nadia Eghbal

In the information age, ideas have more power than ever to shape our reputations. A well-received insight can launch a career while a poorly-received idea can end it. But this tendency to attribute ideas to individuals gives people far too much credit.

In reality, none of us are individual independent thinkers. We catch ideas from others like viruses. Once our minds are infected with an idea, it might mutate or be transformed by another insight. While that doesn’t necessarily make us responsible for the ideas that infect and spread through us, they can still leave indelible marks on our reputation.

⚒️ Shop Class as Soulcraft

34-minute read by Matthew B. Crawford

As remote work becomes more accessible, knowledge work roles are becoming increasingly desirable.

While digital jobs certainly offer workers considerable leverage and economic opportunity, they have also deprived us of the many gifts that came from manipulating the tangible world.

The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, who has no real effect in the world. But craftsmanship must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away.

Stuff you may have missed

Here’s what I wrote about since the last Roundup:

  • Audience as a Career Moat – an essay about how and why you should build an audience that aligns with your career goals.

  • A creative founder shares the tools, habits, and routines that helped launch his new food startup – an interview with immi co-founder, Kevin Lee, about the tools, habits, and routines that have helped him transition into a founder role.

  • Untethered Knowledge Management – a Tweetstorm that shares my toolkit for annotating information and taking notes on the go.

  • Prioritization 101 – a “Tweet syllabus” of the best concepts and resources to help you decide what to prioritize in your work and life.

You can always search the back catalog of this newsletter by topic, or find a curated list of the best essays I’ve written.

Thanks for reading. Do you have a friend or a co-worker who would enjoy this issue? I’d be honored if you shared it with them.


Until next time,