Thursday, September 21, 2017

Reverse Engineering my Goals

The year is 2075.  I’m on my deathbed.  I’m surrounded by family and friends.  My son and his two children, and several of their children.  Along with my closest friends collaborators in my business, Breath of Life Art Studio. They are a diverse bunch.  I took a lot of risks in hiring people based more on the shared value of propagating love than on raw talent.  I’m about to breathe my last and I’m content.  I feel like I accomplished just enough to have met my life’s goal: to make the world more loving with stories.  I know I can’t quantify that.  But I have evidence. The wall of my bedroom is covered with print-outs of letters from people who claim that their lives were changed for the better by the work my company has done.  I’ve highlighted the ones where a person has claimed that they respect and love others more because of the stories that Breath of Life has created, the characters that inspired or challenged them.  The metaphors they’ve drawn from the adventures and world of Talifar.  I’m especially proud of the letters from people who don’t care for the work that Breath of Life produces, but have been positively impacted by the community of fans who have formed a kind of family around the work.  A family that values love and acceptance in a fiercely self-sacrificial way.  They are finding new and creative ways to manifest that Love in the ever-changing technological landscape that the world has become.  

My death is not painless.  I want to be lucid as I slip away.  I want my last words to carry the weight of a life lived in the pursuit of noble goal.  A hush falls on the room as the cyborg doctor detects the immanent last breath.  I summon my remaining strength to hold my head off the pillow and look at everyone in the room.  “I love you all.  Keep it going.”  

As the white light subsumes my vision I fade, content, knowing that truly passionate, energized people will carry on the work of Breath of Life Art Studio.  They all share the vision of making the world more loving with stories.  
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I have NO problem coming up with goals for myself.  But I ran across this interesting concept in a business podcast called Story Brand with Donald Miller.  The idea is pretty simple.  Start with your final perfect goal or scenario, then work backwards from there to implement a path to getting there.  Of course nothing ever goes according to that plan.  But the more specific your goal is, the more you can marshal what resources you have to accomplish it.  I mean, in regards to my deathbed scenario above, it’s far more likely that I’ll die of pancreatic cancer at 54 and my last words will be a fart.  That’s not the point.  This is not about making a prediction.  It’s about shooting for a clear target.

What this exercise has done for me is alerted me to several areas I need to start investing at least some cognitive overhead.  Just laying the tracks for what I hope to be able to create later, when I have the resources to put something ON the tracks.  For example, I’ve always had this hazy notion that I’ll need to find people with a very specific set of talents AND values in order to find collaborators with my vision.  Reading my deathbed scenario I’m reminded that finding those kinds of people is hard to do by interviewing random candidates.  Instead, I should be scouting right now for people I want to keep my eye on for recruiting 10 or 20 years down the road.  Nothing reveals character better than seeing how a person operates over an extended period of life.
Another aspect is the nature of the fanbase/community/family I want to cultivate around the work that my company does.  All the IPs I know grew a fan base mostly before social media.  The fans they attracted had to do with the aesthetic or themes of the IP.  For example, Star Trek fans tend to be introverted intelligent and philosophically oriented.  Marvel fans have a different profile.  Tolkien fans another, Star Wars another, Harry Potter another.  There’s a lot of overlap in the venn diagram of these fandoms, of course, but my point is that the communities are more an accidental organic growth than a purposefully cultivated garden.  Since I’m working on building a platform from which to launch this IP, I’m already thinking about how one might go about cultivating a fan community that embodies the values that I hope to propagate.  A top-down approach is pretty much out of the question in the digital age.  I can’t possibly hope to personally (or with a team) weed out toxicity from a fan community.  But I can be MORE articulate and vocal about it than other IP companies are. There is obviously some financial damage a company will sustain if it specifically prunes certain personality profiles since that can turn away a lot of fans.  Most community philosophy I see is about finding the balance of how MUCH toxic behavior and attitudes can be expressed in their communities, vs. the freedom of expression that inevitably gives space for them to exist.  If you go too heavy towards censorship you lose potential revenue.  If you go too lenient you get a toxic swamp that drives off every decent fan, leaving you with a toxic swamp.  I want to know if there’s another approach.  I need to be doing more research into community cultivation.  I have this (probably dumb) idea of finding a way to convert or drive away trolls with a kind of community sit-in.  Like a virtual group hug.  From what I can tell, trolls operate like predators with lone or weak herd animals.  Their techniques work because they are able to get what they feel they want from a person.  (a good, juicy reaction of pain and anger)  What if, instead, a community was SO organized and principled that they could, as a group, surround all trolling with a solid wall of love and acceptance?  If they could absorb the toxicity with no damage to themselves and smother the troll with loving words of kindness?  I doubt such a consistent community reaction could be coordinated, but if it could….

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One of the problems I’m running into with this visualization of my life goal, is that, as mentioned, the world is an ever changing technological landscape.  And that technology isn’t just going to be transforming the world around us with cooler devices and more efficient ways to live.  It’s going to be fundamentally altering what a human IS.  Cyborgism is here for the disabled, soon to be for enabling enhancements. Genetic engineering is here, soon to be applied to enhancements.  Truly deep AI is around the corner.  (Whether it gains the same kind of consciousness as us or not, it’s going to be indistinguishable to our perception at some point.)  XR is going to fundamentally change our perception of space and the value we put on our consumption of physical goods.  Robotics is going to put almost everyone out of a job and that cornerstone of civilization ‘you are worth what your job pays you’ will crumble.  And that’s just what I’ve heard LATELY from those who think about the future.  It’s all going to keep changing.  And as it does, our values will change.  They will NEED to, or we will drive ourselves into oblivion.  I think that sense is something that has subconsciously driven me deeper and deeper to find a sort of bedrock for values.  Something that doesn’t NEED to shift as what it means to be human changes.  That’s why I put a flag in the ground at Self-Sacrificial Love. It’s not a perfect foundation.  Like every other concept, it’s composed of words that can be twisted and perverted. (Like an abusive partner convincing you that you need to keep taking the abuse because your love should be ‘self-sacrificial’)  And I think that’s where the stories come in.  They demonstrate the way a value like Self-Sacrificial Love manifests in lived scenarios.  And people extrapolate ways to live out those values from there.  I don’t know that human psychology will ever be changed so much that stories won’t still be the primary conduit of values.  

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So that’s what I’ve got so far.  There are my life goals with a very specific end point, and a very nebulous middle, and a quickly cementing foundation.  If I had to guess at a middle, it would be something like this.  

  1. Release the first three Tales From Talifar books to a mostly uncaring world.
  2. Launch The Cutscene Subversion Project, which has just the right amount of controversy to pull in a massive audience. Demonstrate my community cultivation theory to see how it holds up to a divisive topic about videogames on the internet.
  3. Convert 20% of that audience to fans of Breath of Life Art Studio in general, and Tales from Talifar specifically.  
  4. Grow that TfT fanbase by releasing regular videos and blogs about the worldbuilding and involving their thoughts into the design.
  5. Release more TfT books at about one or two per year.
  6. Attract a business partner who shares our values and goals.  They help me figure out how to split our resources/profits in a way that allows us to grow toward the remaining goals, while also demonstrating the company's values such as giving to charity, supporting/respecting our collaborators, etc.
  7. ???
  8. ???
  9. Create the first TfT video series.  (probably the Scarred King trilogy)  The format will be episodic, probably divided by book chapter, and can be any length.  This can only happen once the Uncanny Valley has been solved and there is no difference between a CG animated film and a live action film.  (The lines are already getting blurry)  
  10. The huge success of the video series attracts a huge amount of talented artists who are all knocking down the door to work with us. They think the idea that their stories will be canon in such an exciting IP is worth the price of suffering through the heavy scientific vetting and story consistency edits they will have to endure.  Leveraging their fresh takes on the world of Talifar we proceed to create more media of every type that exists.

So there you have it.  A simple 10 step plan to world domination.  How could it possibly fail?

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