You’ve heard about it everywhere, but what does AI have to do, if anything, with living a good life? With how you live and work and play? With the choices you get to make, and the choices that might be taken from you? With the ability to do more of what you love and less of everything else? And, beyond AI, what are some of the big levers to live by? The simple bits of wisdom that actually have a giant impact on everything from work to play, love to health and beyond?
These are just some of the big questions and ideas I’m exploring with none other than truly visionary thinker, Kevin Kelly. Kevin has played a pivotal role in shaping the discourse around technology and its potential impact on society for decades. He was the founding editor of Wired magazine, has written for many of the biggest media outlets on the planet, and is a bestselling author, with an impressive array of books, including What Technology Wants and The Inevitable. His latest book, Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier is an ideal companion for anyone seeking to navigate life with grace and creativity.
As Senior Maverick at Wired and co-chair of The Long Now Foundation, Kevin is currently spearheading an ambitious project to build a clock in a mountain that will tick for 10,000 years. In addition to his writing, he hosts a daily blog and weekly podcast about cool tools, as well as a weekly newsletter, Recomendo, that curates recommendations of cool stuff.
In today’s episode, we dive deep into the fascinating world of emergent technologies, with a focus on AI, and get to some both exciting and unsettling, but important truths (or at least guesses), unearthing some the most groundbreaking ideas and insights that promise to redefine the very fabric of our existence.
We talk about:
- The role of artificial intelligence in shaping our lives.
- How decentralized systems are revolutionizing industries.
- The potential of biotechnology to unlock new frontiers in healthcare.
- The rise of virtual reality as a transformative force.
- The impact of green technologies on our environment and the global economy.
And we also dive into some of the fun, surprising and wise and, in his words, excellent bits of advice for living.
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photo credit: Christopher Michel
Kevin Kelly (00:00:00) – Then you will entail your faults as well. And part of that is owning up into and owning your faults and understanding that they are embedded in the kind of things that make you great at the same time, in kind of dealing with them, taking responsibility for them and ownership and all that kind of stuff. But they aren’t going to go away. I mean, we’re not perfect. This is not a path to perfection. This is a path to distinction, which is very different. So fully becoming you doesn’t mean that you become a saint. It means to become an individual. You become realized in your fullest. And that’s my hope that every person alive, born and yet unborn would have the opportunity to fully become themselves.
Jonathan Fields (00:00:42) – Okay, so you have heard about it everywhere, but what does AI, artificial intelligence actually have to do, if anything, with living a good life with how you live and work and play with the choices you get to make and the choices that maybe you won’t get to make with the ability to do more of what you love and less of everything else and beyond.
Jonathan Fields (00:01:02) – AI. What are some of the big levers to live by? The simple bits of wisdom that actually have a giant impact on everything from work to play, love to health and beyond? Well, these are just some of the big questions and ideas that I am exploring with none other then truly visionary thinker Kevin Kelly. So Kevin has played a pivotal role in shaping the discourse around technology and its potential impact on society. And I’m talking about on our day to day lives. For decades, he was the founding editor of Wired magazine, has written for many of the biggest media outlets on the planet for a very long time and is a best selling author with a wide array of books, including What Technology Wants the Inevitable, and his latest book, Excellent Advice for Living Wisdom. I wish I’d Known earlier. It’s a fun, short and sweet companion for anyone seeking to really just navigate life with grace and humor and creativity. And as a senior maverick at Wired and co-chair of the Law Now Foundation, Kevin is currently spearheading this ambitious project to build a clock in a mountain that will literally take for 10,000 years beyond his writing.
Jonathan Fields (00:02:11) – He also hosts a daily blog and a weekly podcast about cool tools, as well as a newsletter recommended that curates recommendations of cool stuff. And in today’s conversation, we dive deep into the fascinating world of emergent technologies and how it relates to life, with a focus on AI to get some both exciting and maybe unsettling, but important truths, or at least guesses to unearth some of the most groundbreaking ideas and insights that promise to really redefine the very fabric of our existence. We talk about things like the role of artificial intelligence in shaping our lives, how decentralized systems are revolutionizing industries, the potential of biotech to unlock new frontiers in health care, the rise of virtual reality as a transformative force in our lives. The impact of green technologies on our environment and the global technology. And we also we just dive into a whole lot of fun, surprising and wise and in his words, excellent bits of advice for living, because this is a person who has not just gone deep into technology and the way it relates to life, but has truly said yes to living an extraordinary life moment by moment, day by day, year by year.
Jonathan Fields (00:03:24) – Which is why I was so excited to have this opportunity to sit down and really get his take on this thing that we’ve been talking about for it seems like months now. I but also then expand further and talk about his broader insights on what it really means to live a good life. So excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project. Just excited to dive in. You know, you have been writing and thinking about the intersection between tech and humanity for many, many years and love so many of the thoughts in the new book. And I certainly want to dive into a whole bunch of those. Before we get there, though, I think I’d be remiss if we didn’t spend a little bit of time talking about what everybody is talking about these days, which is the world of AI, or as I know you prefer AIS in plural, you know, generative AI, and in particular, you’re a writer. I’m a writer. A lot of listeners to this podcast consider themselves creative professionals or just creative on the side, and they like to generate things.
Jonathan Fields (00:04:28) – And there’s so much fascinating conversation around what will be the effect of generative AI on things like writing or art making creativity. I love your sort of like a meta lens on that.
Kevin Kelly (00:04:42) – First of all, just to kind of point blank for those who are worried is that you’re not going to lose your your job if you’re an artist. Okay? So to I mean, there may be other reasons, but the AI is not going to take your job. It may change your job description. But that’s the important part, is that these are rapidly becoming tools that artists will use. And you could argue that there’s kind of even a new art in making them. I like the term I just heard recently a synth though synth graphs and a professor, meaning that I’m making synthetic things with the AI and that’s how people are using them in a very creative way. There is like, you know, the early photographers who imitated painters for a while. There are some imitation going on and we’ll continue to go on, but that most of the stuff being generated is going to be generated in places where there is no images right now or is no video is going to be filling in the blank spaces.
Kevin Kelly (00:05:43) – And then the tools will also be used to make whole new kind of art that we don’t have much experience with so far. You know, lots of stuff being generated. Artist’s World is between photography and painting combination, and that’s just talking about the image stuff. But then there’s the entire chat and answers and stuff, and it’s the same thing. I think for me, the best framing that people could take away with is to see them as interns. This is universal personal intern that we’re all getting. We’re all getting these interns. You want to check the intern work? You don’t want to release the intern as your own work because it’s going to be embarrassing. So these are our assistants. These are co-pilots. These are guides. These are going to be used in many ways to generate things. Sometimes they’re generating things that we can’t alone generate or generate easily. So lots of stuff is being done. A human could do it, but it’s just so much trouble that we do it in a very precious way.
Kevin Kelly (00:06:44) – We do it one of whereas the eyes are doing ten in a second and that’s huge. It’s like searching a library, which librarians could do. But now Google, you could do frivolous searches, you could do all kinds of things with it. And I think this idea of having kind of assistant that’s good and sometimes producing things that we could not do alone and sometimes producing things that we could but don’t want to do it a lot. And that’s really going to be thrilling to see. What it’s not very good at is replacing us in terms of our judgment. And we as humans have one thing that we do really, really good that machines have trouble so far is that we have a really good sense of what really turns them on, what they really like. A lot of the stuff produced by these assistants and interns is what I call wisdom of the crowd middle. It’s the average because they’ve been trained on the average, the highest and the best, and they’re producing kind of mediocre good enough to win the jelly bean prize for the right guess the wisdom of the crowd version.
Kevin Kelly (00:07:51) – And they have to be kind of pressed in, pushed, nudged to get out of that. And what we as humans know is as long as the audience is other humans, we’re going to be really good at kind of being able to produce something that wows a human or impresses them or makes them cry. You know, the A’s can tell jokes and they can tell a sad story, but to really touch it, we have we have a much better sense of that. So our half of the job will be continuing to help them move and be capital, uppercase, creative. They can be lowercase, creative, which is there’s a role for that. You know, most graphic artists, most of what we produce every day ourselves is lowercase creativity on that level. Yeah, maybe they are competing with us on the lowercase creativity. Just another logo, just another, you know, brochure put out that’s a little different. But the uppercase creativity, the breakthrough does kind of do a. Require us to appreciate, to guide it, to get out of what’s already been done before.
Kevin Kelly (00:08:57) – And there will be useful with us even in that program. But I so far haven’t seen evidence that they can do it entirely themselves. So I would say in brief that, you know, our job as creators will shift to being, well, like a director Presario, where we have a bunch of interns and assistants working with us to produce something, doing a lot of the work that we don’t want to do, and sometimes things that we can’t do ourselves very easily. But it will continue to be something that it’s a joint work, it’s a collaboration. And those people who learn to work with the eyes well to understand their little language and their quirks and to be able to whisper to them, I think they’re going to have the blazing path. But we always have the option to do something by hand without the assistance. And there will be some people will want that kind of art and that’s fine. That option isn’t going to go away.
Jonathan Fields (00:09:56) – I love the framing as a sort of assistant or a personal intern.
Jonathan Fields (00:10:00) – That’s in fact very much the way that I’ve been sort of experimenting with it and using it. When I write, I often, especially a longer length piece, I often think of it as taking multiple passes. The first pass is just to get the fundamental facts and ideas out right? And then I take more passes for voice and rhythm and cadence and punch and all these things. And I feel like what you’re describing is very much the way that I’ve been experiencing it, which is it helps you get that first pass almost out of the way. But the just rote information isn’t so much what human beings respond to unless all you’re looking for is an answer to a problem. Yeah, you know, it’s the voice. It’s the humanity that’s wrapped around it that really draws people in.
Kevin Kelly (00:10:40) – Yeah, I think we do have progress, and I think even our storytelling has progressed. I think the complexity of the stories that we tell, like, say, and in the 110 hours of lost was far more complex than even The Odyssey was or anything in Shakespeare.
Kevin Kelly (00:10:56) – And so that connecting with humans in the human situation in an artful way is continuing to evolve. And we are experts at that. You know, we get satiated with the simple, easy stories. Now. We want something that’s more complicated and complex and nuanced, and there’s nobody better at detecting that than a fellow human right now. That could change over time. But that’s that’s where we are right now. I think that idea of using them as part of the crew that were using it and that’s the thing, is that for a very long time, you know, a single person could write a novel, greatest story in text that millions of people could read and appreciate and could change their lives. But you need a teams and teams of people to do it in video or make a game. But I think what’s going to happen is that that bar is going to be lowered through the eyes to enable a single individual to make a movie as they see a very personal movie using the team of the eyes to work with them to produce feature length movie that they have concocted out of the brain like a novel.
Kevin Kelly (00:12:06) – And that’s going to be hugely impactful because, you know, there will be thousands of really bad movies made, but that’s the cost we pay. And but nonetheless, some real geniuses will work in this. To me, that’s the super power that’s being unleashed, is that we’re going to kind of like unleash individual humans to work in these areas where it did take a crew of other humans, but now will take a crew of assistants and interns, AI versions to work together to produce a new kind of work. So in addition to like, people like me, just helping with the first draft, the empty page, which is really hard. There’s also this sense of like, they can help us complete things in a way that we as individuals would have great difficulty doing. It was like possible for an individual to do this over their lifetime. They can make maybe a movie, but now again, the tools just lower the availability of that to individuals. And I think that’s tremendously liberating.
Jonathan Fields (00:13:09) – Yeah, the distinction you make between lowercase creativity and uppercase creativity is interesting to me.
Jonathan Fields (00:13:14) – Also, when I think about their entire industries of prescriptive content, like in the business domain, personal development domain in a wide variety of domains where the ethos is largely get the information out in no small part because there’s some business slash positioning value to that’s going to benefit the individual, the organization from in a business context. And I wonder about that domain of sort of prescriptive content that is not focused largely on the creative element of it, but more just the pure information element of it. To me, that feels like the. Heart of this that is more subject to taking ahead.
Kevin Kelly (00:13:54) – Yes, absolutely. So that lowercase creativity where you are generating things again, where there are just blanks. And so it’s really clear that one of the best use cases for this stuff is going to be used in the medical realm, right? And the diagnosis and interactions with doctors and what we know so far, which is that by itself, the eyes are not nearly as good as a human. But at the same time, we also know that increasingly human doctors are using the eyes to help them because they’re getting smarter that way.
Kevin Kelly (00:14:27) – And so the result seems to be that the AI plus human, that team is the best combination. It’s better than an eye and it’s better than a human. But there’s one thing that we also want to remember, which is the, you know, the entirely solo eye doctor is not as good as a human doctor, but it’s better than no doctor. And there are just vast areas of the world where they don’t have access to doctor. So having access to an eye doctor is a step up. So there’s two things happening, two different dimensions. There is this that’s the prescriptive center where you’re like, Yeah, it’s going to be kind of rote. It’s not going to be that creative, but it’s serving something where there’s a blank already, it’s already there is no doctor, so it’s better than no doctor. And then it’s helping the best doctors become even better. And that’s the same thing that creativity is like, Yeah, it’s going to generate a lot of things where there is no image right now or there is no text.
Kevin Kelly (00:15:20) – It’s going to be prescriptive and fill in that and it’s going to enable the best to become even better, the best humans.
Jonathan Fields (00:15:26) – And it sounds like also like those who may be, quote, getting by, functioning on the level of lowercase creativity now will find themselves both freed and pushed to not function at that level anymore.
Kevin Kelly (00:15:40) – Exactly right. Right. In the 80s that say when computer world would start, there were librarians who did searching. They were paid to do searches on this system called dialog, which had all the scientific literature. And it was so expensive and so obscure and so technical that you actually needed a professional to search. And because they were charging you whatever it was, $60 a minute or more, you couldn’t have frivolous searches and you had to kind of lay it out. You have a plan and you had to go in. And they had very obscure ways of searching for things. It was not at all like Google. There was no way they had page ranking and all that kind of stuff, so that versions of librarians did lose their jobs to Google it.
Kevin Kelly (00:16:21) – When Google came along, everybody could then search with the same power. You had a personal librarian now, and a lot of that was kind of was we wouldn’t understand it now, a very prescriptive kind of searching. They were literally doing keyword search for things that we don’t even think twice about doing 100 times a day. So that job, that task will say that task went away. Librarians are still needed because there’s this you’re still power searchers on Google. They’re not that many who make their living doing that, although there was in the beginning, there were there were power searchers who are still being paid to research things. But the tools for that keep increasing. So so that that task is certainly not something that we do. And for those few people who that was their task, that that job did go away. And if your task right now is in the kind of the rote creative world where you’re producing things and the more formulaic, that task is liable, very liable to be passed on to the lowercase creativity of an AI.
Jonathan Fields (00:17:24) – And at the same time, if you’re somebody who’s inclined to say, well, if voice and texture and phrasing and the uppercase, creativity actually is what matters most now I get to now spend so much more of my time in that world, which for a lot of people I think is going to be a lot more fulfilling and satisfying. I know for me that’s the bent I’m taking. There’s one other aspect of what’s happening now that I’ve been curious about that I haven’t heard a lot about, but I have a feeling we’re going to hear a lot about in the coming year, which is this notion of, you know, another element of what’s happening around eyes in the domain of audio and video especially, is the ability to create human sounding voice and video. And also that literally is close to indistinguishable from real life human beings. I know we use this technology already in the production side of podcasting and audio production to great benefit, and because it eases certain things, we’re heading into a year where the potential for audio and video to proliferate around the world and become just an onslaught of things where it’s very hard to detect reality from what’s fake.
Jonathan Fields (00:18:40) – I’m curious whether you feel like there is any potential for almost like an existential crisis of digital gaslighting where you just you don’t really know what’s real or fake anymore.
Kevin Kelly (00:18:50) – So here’s my my rough guess. When I’m watching a movie these days, I swerve. My assumption is that it’s all entirely CGI. I just assume that’s everything. And the thing is, is that I don’t really care. I don’t care if at that moment the actor is there or not mean. Even if I mean even if it’s a full face. I literally don’t care if the creators are happy and they’re doing it and I can’t tell, then I’m perfectly fine. I care if I can tell that’s a different matter. But you just said we get to the point where we can’t tell, so let’s assume that we can’t tell. And in that case, I don’t care about in the movie. And I think the default that we’re going to have is that we’re going to assume for the most part that any image has been created by an AI unless we’re told otherwise.
Kevin Kelly (00:19:42) – Where I do care is in the news.
Jonathan Fields (00:19:45) – Exactly.
Kevin Kelly (00:19:45) – Yeah, I care tremendously there. And there’s going to be the explicit, you know, promise from the news organizations is that the default for us is going to be it’s a real thing unless we tell you otherwise. And then it comes down to when you see something is like, where did it come from? Did this come from a reliable source? Because that’s the only way. You can’t tell by looking at it. You can only tell from where it came from. And so that’s that’s what we come down to is and we might have systems where we can kind of embed that kind of provenance. Right, right, right. Things to say this as you pass along and it’s like this is a believable source or not, there’ll be people who want to spoof the source, of course, for ill. But again, they’ll be waste. And coming back to something else. What they didn’t say is that there always will be ways to tell. We can make eyes to look at things to determine whether this was made.
Kevin Kelly (00:20:37) – There will always be it’s usually a matter of money, of how much is it worth and so how bad do you want to know? And there will be ways to verify that this is true and we’ll have an instrument for verification if we care about it. And so for news sites, they’ll be constantly people testing them to say, you know, to verify that that they’re keeping their end of the promise. Then it comes down to like individuals where you’re going to have to. And I think this idea of disclosure is going to be something and I’m all for it. Yeah, you should disclose whether or not this has been altered and if it matters to people. So like when I have a photograph and I issue a photograph, I don’t disclose how much Photoshop I used on it because it doesn’t matter for what I’m doing, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter me, It made me or someone else. If I was trying to do something where the actual degree of Photoshop mattered, then I would have some kind of disclosure about it.
Kevin Kelly (00:21:41) – Or I should have some kind of disclosure about, you know, I’m I’m using it not just to affect tweak the color, but I’m moving things around, okay? Whatever it is. So I think with both with disclosures and with a provenance and sense of provenance, maybe that they are tracking that. I think that’s how we’re going to do it. And I think the default is going to be for most people is to assume that these tools were involved. Just as I see a photograph today, I assume there’s been through Photoshop to some extent, some level. It’s touched it in some way. And, you know, if it’s a news photograph, I expected that touching will be very minimal. That’s a promise they’re making. You probably look it up. If it’s an artist in a museum, I would assume it’s pretty high. The involvement of Photoshop.
Jonathan Fields (00:22:32) – That makes a lot of sense to me. I guess the middle ground is you’ve got news on one side and you’ve got the individual on the other side, and then in the middle we’ve got these giant social platforms, which is where so many people, especially of certain generations, get their news.
Jonathan Fields (00:22:47) – And and then there’s I mean, right now, as we’re talking literally, there’s arguments going on around legislation about how much responsibility the platforms have around the accuracy, the legitimacy of the content that appears on them. And I think that’s going to be a really interesting domain. Yeah.
Kevin Kelly (00:23:03) – Should the platforms take the role of journalism as media that they have and while at the same time, you know, I post my art on it. So there’s the vehicle for art. I think holding the platforms to that is giving them the wrong job. I don’t think they possibly can. I think it’s much better to try to educate people to assume that anything they see is been, you know, manipulated or fixed or whatever, unless there’s an outfit claiming otherwise and proving it. And so if you see something forwarded by someone else or retweeted, you should just assume that it’s not real.
Jonathan Fields (00:23:40) – Yeah, it’s going to be an interesting couple of years coming our way, as it always is.
Kevin Kelly (00:23:44) – Sure.
Jonathan Fields (00:23:47) – Switching gears a bit.
Jonathan Fields (00:23:48) – We’re having this conversation on the eve of your next book coming out. Excellent advice for Living. And it’s fascinating because it sounds like, you know, you hit a moment in your life where you start writing down advice for your adult kids and what starts out as well. Let me just jot down a couple of things. Turns into almost like a year long project.
Kevin Kelly (00:24:07) – Yeah, we weren’t normally we as parents, I have three kids, all adults, young adults now, and we’re in that really usually in the habit of giving a lot of advice and certainly not writing it down. But I was writing it down for myself in terms of trying to jot down little things. I could remember that change my behavior. And so I got in the habit of writing them down like an example would be if I was looking for something in the house and I couldn’t. I knew I had it but couldn’t find it. And I finally found it. Then when I went to put it away, I would tell myself, you know, don’t put it where I found it, put it where I first looked for it.
Jonathan Fields (00:24:43) – Which, by the way, I love that advice.
Kevin Kelly (00:24:45) – Right, exactly. And it’s really works. And so I remind myself, you told. No, no, no. Put it where I first looked for it. And that helps me change my behavior. So this reducing that down to putting where you first looked for it is an example of me kind of jotting these down. And then I came to the conclusion that actually, you know, I really wished I’d known about this earlier, which just made my life easier. There are probably things that I know that my son and daughters don’t know that I should be letting them know since I now know this. And so it kind of transferred into an effort to kind of sit down one evening and trying to write down as many as I could think of. And I decided to do it on my birthday, which I was 68. So I said, I think I can get 68 of these. And when I did that, shared it with them. They really loved it.
Kevin Kelly (00:25:33) – They shared it, shared with my greater extended family, and there was a great reception and they kind of ricocheted around a little bit the Internet. And I was encouraged. I thought, well, I should I have more of these. And the more I did it each year, the more I realized I had more to say. And for me, there was a thrill in trying to reduce the whole book of stuff into one little sentence that the editor, the editor and me enjoyed that process of telegraphing it down into a tweet. Although I didn’t realize there were tweets until after I was done. And that idea of compressing these things into this little handle that you could hold and remember became the main creative act for me that I enjoyed and why I kept going because I was I was like, I know something here. I’ve learned something. I can describe it, but can I compress it down into this one little sentence? And, you know, if I could do a phrase, that would be even better.
Kevin Kelly (00:26:31) – And that was what the creative process for me was about. And that’s why I came to that one little piece of advice in the book, which is art is what you leave out. So this idea of trying to leave most of it out was the assignment that I really delighted it.
Jonathan Fields (00:26:48) – Yeah, I love that. And when I read that one little quip also, I was taught by somebody years ago that similar phrasing they said or it is deletion. Yeah. And it really powerfully and this was like classic Hemingway style also like brevity and deletion. It’s like it’s what you leave out, you know, Hemingway’s famous six word story. I’d love to sort of just meander through a handful of these with you, one that actually shows up later in the book. But I think so speaks to the moment that we’re in in the workplace right now. You cannot get smart people to work extremely hard just for money. And it seems like individuals know this, but organizations are really struggling with this at this moment in time.
Kevin Kelly (00:27:29) – I mean, I think this is true and I think this is like kind of a late stage in our moral progress. Our development is that we have as a society in general, there are a lot enough people who have reached a level where their basic needs can be met. And once you get there, because there are people who are working just, you know, to make enough to get by. But if you can get beyond that, then you have to have additional motivation. And Dan Pink, of course, is famous for his drive ideas about what really motivates people. And it’s very clear that it’s way beyond money in terms of getting the best out of people. And so we’re operating many of these companies at the thing where we don’t just need the minimum of people, we need their best to kind of go forward, innovate, beat the competition, be remarkable, all those kinds of things. Then you’re left with the question, which I didn’t say, which is what are they going to work for? Right? It’s not that.
Kevin Kelly (00:28:27) – And it’s going to be the mission. It’s going to be quality of the people that they work with, often kind of like the reason why soldiers keep fighting. It’s actually not the enemy is to keep their band of brothers alive. So there’s there’s a sense in which, okay, that you’re working for the the pleasure and the good of the. People that you work with and the nature of the work, what it is that you’re producing. The overall mission, how people, how you’re felt, how you’re treated by the management, all those things come into play and the thing that you know you want or just remember, as you said at the organization, is that it’s way beyond just the dollars.
Jonathan Fields (00:29:07) – Yeah. It’s sort of you have a bit of a corollary to that. Well, not a Kali, but a compliment to this also where you say work to become, not to acquire.
Kevin Kelly (00:29:14) – Right? So that’s the corollary means to the individual. So for you, nobody’s another one is no one’s as impressed with your possessions as you are.
Kevin Kelly (00:29:25) – Just remember that when you think about buying expensive car. Yeah. Experiences Trump possessions is another one. That’s. I didn’t say it that way but that’s the the gist of it is that your character also the thing I say is good to attend as many funerals as you can stand and listen to what people say about The Departed and what they generally will say will have very little to do about their actual achievements and certainly not what they possessed and more about what kind of person they were with their character was how they made other people feel. And that was a wake up call for me.
Jonathan Fields (00:30:05) – Were there times if you reflect back on your own working life, are there times where you feel like you reverse these in your own life, reversed them in terms of working to become versus working to acquire?
Kevin Kelly (00:30:15) – Oh, well, that was not one that I necessarily changed my mind about. I think it was only something that had increasing clarity about. I think Iowa naturally was sort of moving in that direction. But I didn’t could not have ever articulated that because I kind of signed up by dropping out of college when I did.
Kevin Kelly (00:30:34) – At the time, when it was not done, I was signing up for basically like, I’m, you know, going to be poor all my life, have a lot of time to do stuff. But my, my imagine thing, I’m living somewhere in the house that I built with with not very much in a lot of time to do stuff. That was sort of what I was signing up for, the kind of the experiences and not the possessions. But I don’t think I could have said it that way. So what I came over time was the clarity about that. If we’re talking about things that I changed my mind about, there might be a couple. And I would say this the very first one in this book, as is ordered right now, which is learn how to learn from people you disagree with or see if you can see the truth in the what they believe. I think that took me kind of a while to. Embrace. And it’s still a challenge as it is for everybody, because I think there’s something we find disagreeable.
Kevin Kelly (00:31:29) – And so we don’t even be around them to kind of get to the heart of what they believe and have them help. You see, things require some effort and it’s difficult, painful sometimes actually to be around. And so for me, what I found is that it’s kind of worth it. I don’t think that you can do this all the time. I think that’s just a natural thing. You’re going to hang out with people that it’s kind of like focusing on your strengths versus your weaknesses. You do want to deal with your weaknesses, but you don’t want to have that be the focus. You get a lot more of expanding your strengths and developing your strengths in the same thing with like, I’ll ultimately get more from working with people that I am in alignment with than not, but I need to occasionally, sometimes on a regular basis, deal with things that I disagree with, just to be sure to test myself. Do I still believe what I think I believe we’re taking? This is a question I ask myself.
Kevin Kelly (00:32:30) – What would it take to change my mind? What What would I need to hear? And that’s the question I like to ask other people is like, what would you need to hear to change your mind? So like, what do I need? What am I looking for to expand my thinking in that direction?
Jonathan Fields (00:32:44) – Yeah, I feel like we live in a place where it’s become so much easier to silo yourself. Sure. That it becomes that much more important. And as you said, like you’re a realist, this doesn’t mean that do this all the time with every person, every circumstance. But if if there’s a way to do it, at least some of the time, like it expands your world rather than shrinks it. Right. You know, one of the other things that I think a lot of people struggle with and I was going to say earlier in their lives, earlier in their careers, but I honestly don’t know if anyone really gets better at this unless you practice. Getting better at it is something that you share, which is rather than steering your life to avoid the unexpected and directly for it.
Kevin Kelly (00:33:22) – Yeah, yeah. I mean, this is kind of a general bias I have towards not getting in a rut. Not repeating yourself, I think somewhere else has said, you know, it’s like when you’re a student, you know, basically imitate your masters, imitate the people, copy those, that intrigue you and stuff and literally copy them, you know, that’s the best way to learn and then to get that out of your system. So copying is a great way to start, but it copying yourself is a terrible way to end where you’re just kind of repeating yourself. So that’s sort of one of I wouldn’t say my fear, but one of the things I’m trying to work against is just doing the same thing over again because it’s easy to do. It’s not a laziness thing. It oftentimes the audience is demanding that, you know, it’s like Joni Mitchell play from both sides now, right? I mean, it’s like they want you to do the same thing in a certain way. Your customers want you to be utterly reliable.
Kevin Kelly (00:34:22) – They want you to give the same dish. The taste is exactly the same as it did last year when they were visiting. So there is a kind of I wouldn’t say artistic, but there is a there’s a valid demand that you keep doing it and you have to balance that with your own growth and also with the fact that the customers don’t know it, but they actually need you to keep improving and changing. They can’t see how that could be possible. But that’s part of what you’re doing as a creator is sort of doing this impossible thing of becoming even better than you were. And so it’s it’s difficult. It’s difficult to see how you how can you make it better than both sides now, right? I mean, it’s like that’s the perfect song. So that’s the this challenge of not getting into those loops that ruts. And I have another bit of advice about that trade off between exploiting and exploring. So exploiting is what we’re just talking about, where you are figuring out what you’re doing. You’re doing it more efficiently, more better, deeper doing what you do, do well, and maximizing that versus exploring where you’re trying something new that could fail and doesn’t work and looks embarrassing and the fans don’t like it and all that kind of stuff and or you’re getting lost and it’s very inefficient.
Kevin Kelly (00:35:43) – And so there is a ratio.
Jonathan Fields (00:35:46) – You know, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Milton Glaser a number of years back, this incredible designer, and he was describing how in the middle of his career he had developed quite a reputation and every client that would come to him, maybe not every but many clients would come to him and say, do that thing that you did, that thing that you’re known for and for literally the entirety of his 91 year life, and much of that was his career. He fiercely resisted ever having a, quote, style. He always wanted to push his own envelope, which is a lot of what you’re talking about here.
Kevin Kelly (00:36:19) – Exactly right. And. You know, the honest truth is and this is what most professional artists will tell you, is that it’s much easier to have a career if you have a style. It’s just economically much better to have something that you can claim as your style, particularly if it’s style that other people find hard to imitate. That is really there’s really an advantage to that.
Kevin Kelly (00:36:41) – It’s much harder to be a creative person than not have a style. So I have the benefit that I’m not trying to do just as a career, and so I don’t have a style. But to the extent that even if you do have a style, if you can all you still have that challenge of kind of keeping it going. The additional challenges keep me going while not losing your style. And so. So it is not not an easy thing to do. Balance and going back to getting stuck in a rut. But we can have ruts whether we’re creative or not, just in terms of our lives. And for me, it’s like I try not to sit in the same chair at the dinner table just to kind of like, okay, this, keep it mixing up. There are lots of things I do without thinking. Wearing the same color shirt, whatever it is, have the same thing at lunch every day. But there are other things about where I don’t want to order the same thing each time.
Kevin Kelly (00:37:37) – And so that’s again, that balance between exploring what works versus exploring what’s new.
Jonathan Fields (00:37:44) – Yeah, I love that. One of the other things which sort of weaves into this conversation, as well as this notion of revisiting why you’re doing what you’re doing. You write, You’re never too young to wonder, Why am I still doing this? You need to have an excellent answer. And this speaks to so much of what happens in business also. But it’s also very personal. You know, it’s a sunk cost fallacy. It’s like I’ve invested so much in this already, so much money, so many years of my life. And yet if you had to make the decision to say yes, to do it today, so many people wouldn’t make that decision.
Kevin Kelly (00:38:16) – Yeah, we have to just, you know, just a general thing of questioning again, what you think you believe what you’re doing. The kind of constant refrain of questioning yourself in a helpful way, not in a kind of wracked by doubt, but more of taking the opportunity to say, okay, I’ve been doing it this way.
Kevin Kelly (00:38:36) – Is there another way that could be doing that? What’s are the possibilities? By the way, this is the point in which you need other people in your life. This is this is so hard to do by yourself. And this is why we have why our lives are full of other people, from family to friends to clients and customers. And the whole thing is to help us in that feedback. So you that’s a curious paradox that in order to become the most individualistic and unique, you need everybody else to do that, become unique on your own. It’s kind of weird. And so you need people around you to help you see who you’re becoming, to help you see what your strengths are, to help you see whether you’re in a rut. And so that’s the curious paradox of the things that in order to become uniquely you and do and whether it’s the business or otherwise in doing those things, you need others around you to help you see and do that.
Jonathan Fields (00:39:34) – Yeah. Speaking of becoming uniquely you, you also write, Don’t be the best, Be the only.
Kevin Kelly (00:39:39) – Yeah, exactly. That’s my favorite one out of them. And we’re kind of taught to, you know, become be the best in things and do excel and stuff. And this is not an argument against Tom Peters pursuit of excellence. This is saying that the ladder you want to ascend should be your own ladder. You want to be the star in your own movie. You don’t want to be an extra in someone else’s movie. And that as good as you might be in that movie. And so this idea that you want to aim for something that only you can do or you’re the best at doing and there are few other can do, it is definitely where you want to aim your life, but it’s definitely an incredibly high bar. It’s easily the most difficult thing in your life will be figuring that out and then doing it and nobody kind of completes that. Nobody is sort of done. Nobody arrives. I have the privilege of hanging around with people who are incredibly accomplished, famous billionaire rich, and they’re still on that path.
Kevin Kelly (00:40:46) – They’re still asking themselves what they might do when they grow up. They’re still trying to figure that out. So it’s a journey. It’s a path that we all know and that you’re kind of on it the entire time. But you want to be on that path, not the path to kind of becoming the best in something because that’s someone else’s idea of success that someone else is already successful in your they want to be like them. That same kind of success. And it’s a very limited choices, very unlikely and it’s probably not you and so headed off in another direction requires confidence, requires bravery in some senses, requires lots of things to do well. But by far it will be the most rewarding thing that you could do because as you’re doing it, one of the things that as you try to become more yourself is that it becomes easier to do things because you’re kind of you’re headed into the things that you do well that other people find difficult and that is easier on you. It’s kind of like more natural.
Kevin Kelly (00:41:49) – It’s like, Oh yeah, I can do that. This. Why is it so difficult? Well, I think that that path is a never ending long path. It would take most of people like me most of our lives to go along there. And but but there are so many advantages to it. Not the least is that you won’t need to write a resume and then you won’t have much competition if you are there, if it’s something that you are suited for, especially for you, that means most other people aren’t suited for it. And so so that’s so there’s again tremendous advantages in going in that direction. Yeah.
Jonathan Fields (00:42:25) – And no one will be better at being you than you, right? It just doesn’t happen. And along the way, you also suggest to embrace what you call paranoia. If I’m pronouncing that right, the opposite of paranoia, which I think so many of us like, Flip that around inadvertently.
Kevin Kelly (00:42:40) – Yeah. Paranoia is this belief, this certainty that the world is conspired against you to bring you down and.
Kevin Kelly (00:42:47) – Paranoia is the opposite a term I did not coined. That means the universe is conspired to make you succeed. And both of those are stories that we tell ourselves in some ways. And if you can all tell the second story, you’ll just be you’ll be able to go a lot further and be a lot happier. Because what happens is that if you believe if you have this idea that people are conspiring, that means that you can trust them as you trust them, they will give you their best. And so you’re enabling and permitting them to give you the best of them. And you’re going to benefit. If you are suspicious and don’t trust them, then they can’t give you their best with that paranoia belief, their framework of trusting people as that’s the default. The default is, I’m trusting you because you’re part of my conspiracy to help me. You may occasionally be cheated or robbed, but that’s a small tax that you should be willing to pay for the abundance of goodwill and best treatment that people are going to give you is this is no comparison.
Kevin Kelly (00:43:54) – You’re going to be overwhelmed with with goodness. So paying the tax of being cheated occasionally as a small man.
Jonathan Fields (00:44:03) – Bringing it home, in the book you write, your goal is to be able to say on the day before you die that you have fully become yourself.
Kevin Kelly (00:44:10) – Yeah, that’s my goal. And as we just said, it’s a it’s a high bar, but it’s something to worth aiming for. And part of being yourself that we know, I don’t think I put it in the book, but another thing I would say is a greatness is overrated and that most great people that know they’re great are greatly deficient in a very corresponding dimension as their greatness virtues. And so they’re kind of extreme. But it does mean that that being you will entail your faults as well. And part of that is owning up into owning your faults and understanding that they are embedded in the kind of things that make you great at the same time, in kind of dealing with them, you know, taking responsibility for them and ownership and all that kind of stuff.
Kevin Kelly (00:45:07) – But they aren’t going to go away. I mean, we’re not we’re not perfect. This is not a path to perfection. This is a path to distinction, which is very different. So fully becoming you doesn’t mean that you become a saint. It means to become an individual. You become realized in your fullest. That’s what I aim for, for myself. And that’s my hope in making the book. And my own work is to bring tools to people to that, open up those possibilities so that every person alive, born and yet unborn would have the opportunity to fully become themselves.
Jonathan Fields (00:45:41) – I love that. Coming full circle in our conversation in this Container of Good Life project, if I offer the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?
Kevin Kelly (00:45:50) – When I hear that? I hear two things. I hear, What can I do as an individual to live a good life? And some of the things I was talking about are part of that. But I also hear, what do I need to do to help others live the full life, to live a like, what do we need? What and what do you need? And so what do we need to do that everybody has that chance to live the the good life.
Kevin Kelly (00:46:14) – And I think for me, again, I think technology is an instrument of that second part of the way in which we can bring more choices to people. That’s what technology gives us more choices, more opportunities to find expressions to enable that expression to help others. And so that’s sort of one level that I’m working on along now. Foundation is also part of that thinking, long term generational, making generational things that can enable many generations or things that we need more than our lifetime to build that would help that. So that’s one level. I think we need clean water and universal education and the human right of mobility. We need lots of things as a society to enable that kind of life for everybody individually, I think requires a kind of honesty about seeing ourselves, self-awareness and honesty about her own abilities and relying on other people around us as signals about who we’re becoming. And fundamentally, I think it’s an act of a curious thing that that life requires a kind of honesty and the kind of generosity or compassion, gratitude, whatever you want to call it.
Kevin Kelly (00:47:32) – They’re all very late of a kind of a of a trusting in others, empathetic. You’re trusting your understanding, others kind of an openness to otherness is for. Me. All the people that I know that I feel are living that life have some degree of gratitude for the luck. They have a generous spirit of sharing that trusting of others. There is the curious thing of being a giving away and getting all the things to me kind of connected together and people that I see their most successful that seem to have that trait that seemed to be connected somewhere in a way that I don’t have good words for, but there is a sense in which they are understanding that their ride is not alone. It’s only possible because there are so many people around them conspiring to help them be successful.
Jonathan Fields (00:48:29) – Thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode safe bet you will. Also love the conversation we had with Parker Palmer about what really matters in life. You’ll find a link to Parker’s episode in the show notes.
Jonathan Fields (00:48:41) – And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven second favor, and share it maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person. Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become, conversations and conversations become action. That’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.