Adventures #49: New Wine, Old Oak
Embracing the old, and exploring a smaller world
It had been weeks since Xavier left the confines of his home.
Restless, he decided to disregard the strict set of rules the government had placed upon him. He packed his bag, put on his favourite travel outfit, and headed out on a journey.
It would be a journey like no other.
The year was 1790. Xavier de Maistre was 27 years old, and a member of the army of the Sardinian Kingdom, which covered large parts of modern-day Northern Italy and Southern France. An impetuous young soldier, he’d been placed under house arrest in Turin for fighting an illegal duel.
His escape was not a literal one. Instead, he took a trip around his bedroom.
Over the days that followed, Xavier gazed at the room’s furniture and engravings as if they were scenes from a strange new land. He wandered its thirty-six paces like a seasoned traveler bouncing around a bustling city:
"I rarely follow a straight line: I go from the table towards a picture hanging in a corner; from there, I set out obliquely towards the door; but even though, when I begin, it really is my intention to go there, if I happen to meet my armchair en route, I don’t think twice about it, and settle down in it without further ado."
And it was in this same room, during the 42 days of his confinement, that he wrote a manuscript called “Voyage autour de ma chambre”: A journey around my bedroom.
Xavier vaunted his voyage because it cost him nothing. It was for this reason he later recommended it to the poor, the infirm, the incapacitated… and the lazy.
But the manuscript gathered dust. Xavier didn’t even think to publish it until his older brother printed it - without his consent - in 1794.
Yet some 200 years later, the resulting book is still referenced by modern authors and critics for its ability to play with a reader's imagination; to take them somewhere they didn’t realise was available to them.
Xavier needed a few innovators and early adopters to help his work become noticed. They were those who embraced the new; desired change; chased the novel.
The same holds true today, of course.
And this is the time of year that our culture encourages us to look forward, think about what’s next; think about what’s new.
But in the cacophony of fresh ideas and information, it’s easy to get that feeling of being behind the curve - of having the dreaded FOMO.
For 2021, it’s compounded with a sense of our own house arrest, and growing imbalances. FOMO will be prevalent.
To get ahead, it feels like it’s all-important to constantly be at the cutting edge of what’s new.
A lot of us like to think of ourselves as early adopters - me included.
But what about taking another path?
In Derek Thompson’s book Hitmakers - an exploration into why things become popular in an age of distraction - he hits upon the concept of new wine and old oak.
Most consumers are both neophilic – curious to discover new things –and deeply neophobic – afraid of anything that’s too new. Whether it’s Star Wars or the Mona Lisa, the best hitmakers are gifted at creating moments of meaning by marrying new and old.
So, a hit is effectively new wine aged in old oak. It’s a familiar surprise: a look to the future with more than a nod to what came before. We all need early adopters and innovators to propel, promote, and platform - but the new just doesn’t work without a sense of the old.
There’s value in searching for and spending time with ideas, works, and lessons from the past. And maybe being an early adopter is just a little overrated. Besides, the life of the neophile is tiring: always having to jump from one to the next; with your value inextricably tied to the currency of novelty. And now’s not a great time to be tired.
Our world today looks very little like the one Xavier de Maistre inhabited in the 18th century. Most of us haven’t been picked up for illegal dueling (unless that’s another new trend I’m late to), and we now have riches that he could only dream of: magic technologies that allow us to learn anything, and connect with almost anyone in the world.
But there are a couple of things we have in common with that impetuous soldier holed up in Turin: we feel confined; yet there are discoveries to make in what’s hidden up close.
Take a journey around your room.
And in a world that can’t stop supping on new wine, don’t be afraid to seek out the wisdom and wonder of the old oak.
Thanks for reading, and as always, I’d love to hear what’s got your attention right now.
PS. I’m trying out a few things in this month’s edition: a summary from last time; more music; and an instant feedback meter. Let me know what you reckon.
1. Stand out in a Zoom world
Most work and career-related interactions happening online - whether courses, conferences, strategy sessions, or just a simple team meeting - still leave a lot to be desired.
Creating and running these with style and finesse is now a bona fide superpower. But there are very few places to get good at it. And no one wants to crash and burn in public.
To bridge the gap, we’re back with another edition of our workshop workshop (yep, very meta). After two hugely successful editions last year, we’ve upped the ante with refreshed branding, program design, and resources. Check it out.
2. A place for your next project
We’re going to see an increasing shift towards work and careers revolving around projects.
(Seth Godin has known this for a while - here’s his bit on 35 years of projects)
The project-based approach can be a game-changer; but developing, launching, and marketing something new can also be really tough (I know this first-hand).
So, we’ve created a community-driven workshop for you to build your next project.
If you’re working in or around the world of media, arts, and entertainment - whether it’s creating a podcast, marketing a client’s new virtual gig, or setting up your own consulting business - there’s something here for you.
You’ll get access to curriculum, coaching, and community, plus a treasure trove of resources and tools.
3. Going beneath the surface in a new podcast
The first four episodes of the new podcast are live, with new ones hitting the digital streets each week.
‘Under the Current’ tells the stories behind the life and work of creative people coming at the world in interesting ways.
In keeping with this month’s theme, this week’s guest Taneshia Nash-Laird talks about Newark’s community revitalisation initiatives. The inspiration? The movements started as the US began to recover from The Great Depression. Old oak.
Let me know: Who would you love to hear talk in-depth about their work and career? I’ll try and cajole them into an appearance
Jerry Seinfeld on the Tim Ferriss show: I tend to avoid bigging up the big names, but this Jerry Seinfeld podcast has some gems.
Inside the mind of one of the best - and most humble - of the big-name tech founders - Tobi Lutke of Shopify
*NEW* From last time…
The theme of last month’s edition was comparison. It seemed to hit home as I got more replies than usual, including: “…a reminder of so many elements that I share often with others but don’t always hear myself”. Likewise.
As serendipity would have it, a couple of days after publishing I stumbled upon this nugget from Stanford professor Michael Ray:“comparison is the primary sin of modern life”. Ouch.
Holla: if this edition sparks an idea/question/irritation, let me know and I’ll include it here next time around
Japan’s centuries-old ‘shinise’ businesses take the long view: There’s plenty of food for thought here: from making pivots; to instilling ‘kakun’ family values; and being happily parsimonious with expenses.
Opportunity for Adventure: Add just the right amount of new wine into old business oaks starting to creak. But don’t 'disrupt'; partner and augment.
Expansion of the micro gym: This looks a good bet - repurposing some of the huge swathes of empty real estate into micro-sized exercise spaces. I reckon the same will happen in education. Which reminds me - I really must finish that blog post on education mirroring fitness…
Lessons on the Journalist-as-Entrepreneur life: A nice batch of bitesize tips from someone who was there the first time around. For what it’s worth, I’ve made peace with this newsletter not fitting in with the new wave of writer/creators. Speaking of which…
The Missing Creator Middle Class: I’m a little torn here. Part of my whole reason for being is to help the underdogs, unremarkable, and underrated find a way forward (not to mention the positive social effects of having a middle class). However, is following your ‘passion’ (as is often the case here) actually a misguided path?
Media & Entertainment
The Internet is for Porn: Same as it ever was. The other side of this coin is that the porn industry has been at the cutting edge of technology for over two decades.
Opportunity for Adventure: There are clearly some very smart engineers and marketers lurking in the crevices (behave!) of the business…
Streaming Music Growth is Stalling: My incredibly reductive summary: TikTok absorbs young peoples’ time; podcasts absorb older peoples’ time; music (in its current guise) gets stuck in the middle.
The Universe of Miles Davis: ‘music is the space between the notes’ - or words to that effect. Here’s a lovely data viz of Davis’ work, courtesy of those kool kats at The Pudding.
Another update for Adventures… in 2021: more music.
As I’m stepping into becoming a historian rather than a neophile (aka I’m getting old), I’m shooting for three bits of music to share each month. They come from the Front (the new wine), the Middle, and the Back (the old oak).
Front: Four Tet - Parallel: the latest studio album from Four Tet was released on Christmas Day. Linked to Bandcamp to keep indie artists moving.
Middle: MF DOOM: The trailblazing rapper & producer passed away recently. This link taps his final full-length album. If you’re unfamiliar with MF DOOM’s work, ‘Mm..Food’ is a great start point.
Back: Sasha & Hernan Cattaneo in Buenos Aires: January in Argentina (usually) means huge summer parties. This 2003 session of vintage progressive house comes complete with Boca Juniors levels of crowd noise. The second hour of Sasha’s set is especially good. Vamos!
Other things I’ve been up to this month:
Watching Rosa Island: a wonderful story of an Italian iconoclast setting the world to rights by building his own world. Jacinta gave me a few wry smiles as we watched this. Gray Island: coming to a peninsula near you soon…
Cooking: at a surprisingly consistent standard. I’m buying a new vegetable peeler to celebrate
Refueling: I’ve felt very burned out the last two weeks. Last year was heavy. A better quality recuperation period may be needed
Replaying: While I have a huge backlog of new stuff to read and listen to, I’ve found myself returning to some classics: Marc Andreessen and Chris McQuarrie on The Moment; Steve Martin’s autobiography Born Standing Up. Old oak…