The Business of Games

I realize that a lot of folks who work in games aren’t game designers. Their job isn’t to “create fun”. Their job is to make sure the developer survives, and in that respect, the folks who optimize for $ and retention and all those metrics – their jobs are often more important than the folks who are trying to give the players a great experience.

Because it’s often fairly easy to make fun. It’s really, really hard to make fun that people will pay for.

Similarly, as you “move up” in the development chain, the more you have to be concerned with survival, and the less directly involved you are in the player experience.

So it’s natural that, as someone who’s been in and around game dev for 24 years, most of what I hear is folks talking about how to get to financial success. Why Monopoly Go is hot shit, or why this one weird trick will double your retention/conversion/ARPDAU/whatever.

And holy mother fuck, I hate it.

On LinkedIn, I see a bunch of investors’ posts, a bunch of VC’s posts, a bunch of people “deconstructing” the “fun” of games’ posts, and they’re just mercenary shit.

And so even with all the earlier stuff acknowledged, I was wondering why I hate it so much. Why hearing someone breaking down the economic mechanics of Monopoly Go pisses me off. And I think the thing is, when I was making games, the economic (out-of-game) engine of the game and the *specific fun* we were trying to provide to people were deeply interlinked. To put it another way, trying to “deconstruct” Monopoly Go and apply lessons about its economy wouldn’t make any sense unless you were building Monopoly Go.

Because the core gameplay was the main driver of everything, and the economic engine was what you did with that code gameplay to generate money. But these days, it seems like a lot of people end up talking about the economic engine, and then trying to reverse-engineer mechanics that will allow folks to ape those economies. And then they call it “fun”.

I made games for 20+ years. The one thing that was consistent through all twenty of those years was that a smash hit was never, ever, ever a direct clone of another smash hit. Zynga made a hojillion dollars by cloning games and then out-marketing the original and crushing them under their boots. But they didn’t clone hits, they cloned games that were not yet hits. Not that that’s better (it’s much worse). But so many people seem to think that if they just ape the last smash hit – if they make the next Clash, or Genshin Impact, or whatever, that they’ll have a similar-sized hit. They won’t. That game already exists. People don’t need Fortnite 2 from some unknown bullshit developer. They already have Fortnite, and Epic knows so much about how Fortnite works that you can’t anticipate their next step. So you’ll never beat them.

You have to build a different game. You have to create an economic engine that suits that game. Yes, you can learn about the mechanics of other games. But if you’re not learning about those economic engines by playing the games, you’re fucking up your job. If you’re learning about those games by listening to podcasts about techbros analyzing the economies of smash hits and thinking you’re going to imitate those features without deeply understanding the mechanics of the source… fuck off. You’re going to fail.

And I know some folks think that has value, but I don’t. I think it has anti-value, because it tries to circumvent the understanding that you gain through experience to someone telling you “hot tipzzzz” about how to squeeze money from people without actually understanding the experience of the player. And these kinds of discussions put the economic engine first, but I have yet to see any kind of game I’ve ever loved that started by trying to figure out the hot new monetization trends.

It sucks that this is what a lot of games has become. And it’s frustrating to see a lot of really smart people devoting their mental bandwidth to this bullshit, instead of trying to come up with new, original things that create unexpected joy in players, who love it enough that they’re happy to spend money on it. Instead, they’re satisfied smashing a derivative parasitic version of success onto a photocopy of something someone loved, and believing they’re building something new.

Fuck that shit.

The Perils of Positivity

I often hear that startup founders need to have a kind of unreasonable positivity in order to succeed. The belief that this impossible thing will work carries you through the pain and obstacles to finally achieve success, or something like that.

I think this is total fucking bullshit.

I mean, yes – you need to believe the thing will work. There are going to be ridiculous obstacles in your way, and the most likely outcome is failure. But so often, I see people espousing this, “I have to be confident it’ll all work out!” and there’s two ways I see that play out, one alright, one terrible:

Way 1: I look at the thing we’re trying to do and with clear eyes, dive into the potential problems. I may not have all the answers, but I dive deeply enough that I can understand the relative risks involved, and make a clear assessment of whether we’re likely to be able to overcome those obstacles, tackle them in risk priority order, and make things work. It looks daunting, but I understand it as well as I can, and believe we can get through it, even if it’s not clear exactly how yet.

Way 1 isn’t terrible, and if you’re in a startup, it’s what you have to do. But a shocking number of people interpret this call to positivity in a different way.

Way 2: I look at the end goal of the thing I want to achieve and visualize that we’ll get there. I don’t really need to think about the obstacles in the way, because I know we’ll be able to achieve the end result. Over the course of development so far, we’ve run into a bunch of problems, but they’ve always worked themselves out, and so I know that if we just keep at it, we’ll get to the end goal. I just need to stay positive.

Which, when I write it like that, sounds really stupid. But a surprising number of people in positions of power over the course of my career have mistaken “positivity” for “lack of diligence and awareness”.

And that goes for at least two things. First, they’re not diligent about actually understanding the obstacles, in number or scope, in front of them. Second, they don’t understand how those obstacles were actually dealt with during development – who struggled with them, who overcame them, how, or at what cost. So they also don’t understand what it’s taken so far to get to where they are.

When you have a problem with a startup, someone fixes the problem. It may not be you – hell, often it’s better if it’s not you – but nothing ever, ever, ever “resolves on its own”. And holy shit, the number of times I’ve heard these positive people say “It just works out,” or “The problem just goes away,” makes me want to stab a lot of folks. Nothing “just works out”. Nothing “just goes away”. Someone makes it happen. Someone dives into the complex problem, builds understanding, attacks the weaknesses, and figures it out. What you’re saying when you say the problem “just works out,” is really “I have no idea how it worked out, who put in the work to make it happen, but I don’t really care to give people the credit they deserve.”

And yeah – I’ve often been in the situation where I’m solving critical, urgent, difficult problems and then had someone above me say, “Yeah, these problems just work themselves out! Amazing!”

“Positivity” isn’t something you inject into the process. Positivity is a symptom of trust, understanding, and hard work. Running into a room full of bears with your hands over your eyes yelling, “I believe it’ll all just work out!” is a surefire recipe for being eaten by bears. And that’s the correct god damned outcome for you if that’s your approach.

You want positivity, look at your problems. Assume that no problem will ever solve itself. Figure out who is doing the work to solve the problems, figure out who should be working on them if no one is already. Give them the time and resources they need to take a solid stab at figuring it out, and the credit the ever-loving shit out of them if they make it happen.

As a leader, some folks think that “the buck stops with me,” means “I can take all the credit for everything,” because I’m ultimately responsible. And sure, to some degree that’s technically true. But it’s a really counterproductive, ego-centric, and … well, childish approach to things. A good leader takes no credit. They give away all the accolades for success. They take all the blame for failures. Because leaders get too much by default. People remember Steve Jobs, but Steve Jobs didn’t resuscitate Apple or invent the iPhone on his own. Leaders get too much credit. It’s their job to give as much of that credit away to the people on their team who made things happen.

But that starts with being aware of who’s making things happen. So if you think positivity is that problems just go away on their own, you’re failing as a leader and you’re failing at your job.

Out in the World

A month or so ago, our friend Lindsi had some extra tickets to go see the Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service concert. So we went. Up until the concert, I was fairly ambivalent about it. But it was great.

And throughout the concert, I was reminded of other shows I’ve been to. I saw Pearl Jam & Rollins Band at the Greek Theater in 1993. It might have been the last concert I went to at the Greek, though I feel fairly certain that I’m forgetting something. So it made me think about the various folks I’ve seen live. Radiohead, The Prodigy, Foo Fighters, Cake, Doomtree, Flobots, Bon Jovi, Rush, New Order, Green Day… I think maybe Tool, Helmet, Garbage? But I’m not sure. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are a LOT of bands that I may or may not have seen over the last 30 years, and I don’t remember.

But the show reminded me of what things were like before the pandemic, when I spent more time out in the world. I default to spending a lot of time at home, now. And it’s not that weird – I’ve never liked crowds in any context. Working in a coffee shop is like … not a thing I’ve ever had any desire to do. But engaging with things – going to things like Teamlab: Planets, or seeing artists I love performing live… there’s nothing like it.

I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve wanted to play board games more than videogames recently. Doing stuff with people – making new memories – I think that’s what life is for. It’s why the summer Korea-Japan trip was so good. Time spent not just with family, but with good friends doing new things… I want more of that, and every time I get it, I love it.

I went to GamesBeat NEXT – a conference about a lot of things I hate about games. AI, “Metaverse”, Blockchain… but there were good, meaningful, experience-based talks among a lot of bullshit. I met some new people. Reconnected with old friends. I almost didn’t go – too much work, too far, blah blah blah. But I’m glad I did. And I think it’s basically like that – home has a lot of inertia, but getting out into the world is what makes time worthwhile.

Gear and Persistence

One of the things I struggle with is how much of a hobby is “gear” vs. how much of it is “persistence” and “make do”. This year, I bought a bigger wing for wingfoiling, and it was a transformative experience. I’d been using a 6m wing for two years, and struggling a lot to get up on foil. I always felt like there wasn’t enough power, but had assumed I was just doing things incorrectly because, you know, novice.

But at the beginning of the season, I talked to someone at MAC Kiteboard, which (like Sweetwater for music) has a pretty robust “sales engineer” program. So I talked to a guy, described my gear, the conditions, and where I was at, and he said unequivocally, “You need a bigger wing.” So I got an 8m wing. When I started, 8m wings didn’t exist. It’s only in the last year or so that they started making wings with additional structure to support a deeper chord length, allowing you to have more sqm surface without increasing the width of the wing, which, when it’s too wide, makes it impossible to keep the wingtips out of the water.The moment I got new gear, the whole sport changed. I was up on foil instantly.

I still struggle going goofy-foot, but regular stance, things are rock solid. I need to practice turns next season. But the gear made a tremendous difference, and while I couldn’t have chosen better when I started, I wish I’d gotten one of these wings the moment they released it.

I got a new laptop the other day. In part because the Intel Macbook was starting to struggle with regular web pages (!!??) like – it’s still fine for more basic stuff, but it was starting to get unpleasant for things I actually use. One of the things I wanted to use, and did, but irregularly, was Ableton Live. I have a silly amount of music crap, but Ableton “brings it all together” – if you want to record stuff, Ableton’s the thing. The Deluge and OP-1 both can do that to an extent, but Ableton’s much, much, much easier to use.

But the laptop constantly maxed out on CPU, and when it does that, audio crackles, stutters, and pops. It’s awful to listen to. More than 2-3 tracks, a few effects, and that was all the laptop could handle. So I’d poke at Ableton, run into these CPU problems and give up after a bit.I spent the morning with Ableton on the new laptop, and it’s night and day. It’s not about “How do I minimize CPU usage?” which is not “Let’s make some music!“, and now it’s more, “Oh, I can experiment with music stuff and not worry about overhead.” It’s great.

Sometimes it’s best to struggle with what you have, but sometimes a step up in gear makes it all actually work in a way that it didn’t before.

Game Development In the Future

AI is definitely coming to game development. While obviously, early uses of AI are for business clowns to try to fire all their artists and suck, there’s going to be an eventual stabilization of AI, where it’s utilized with curated training data sets to act as tools that empower developers, artists, and even non-developers to build game content fairly easily. This isn’t going to replace artists. The best art will be made *by artists*, but in order to be competitively *fast*, you’ll have to start utilizing AI tools to “fill in” the less important content, or speed up art production by automating tedious art-related-but-not-art tasks.

I have no doubt this will happen, and become commonplace over the course of the next five years. It’ll happen faster, but it’ll be ethically questionable for another few years, at least, and it’ll take some time to figure out how to draw boundaries that give these tools power, but also deal with protecting human work. It’ll be a weird few years, for sure.

I’m still convinced, however, that web3 is useless. Hearing folks at a conference today talk about how “Player ownership is inevitable!” and “Now is the best time to really dive into blockchain because the hype has disappeared!” It feels like a bunch of guys who found a tool that they really, really want to use, but still genuinely have no idea what it’s for or why any player would want it, but boy, it’s valuable, so just keep saying so as loud as you can and one day someone else will believe it, too! It’s bullshit.

“Player ownership” isn’t ever likely going to be tied to blockchain or NFTs. It’s never going to be interoperable. And listening to vets who’ve worked in early genuine “metaverse” iterations who sincerely believe that interoperability is a boondoggle, I’m more interested in their opinions about the validity of interoperability than I am in listening to the web3 bros, who are espousing some sort of utopia that they’re sure will materialize one day, even though it’s been technically possible since the beginning of gaming and yet no one’s ever, ever done it with any scale or success.

So yeah. AI yes. Web3 no. Development process, team structure and size, are all about to change pretty radically. I’m not sure for the better. It’ll make content creation easier, for sure. Which will undoubtedly reduce iteration time and help people make better games. But it’ll also make it much, much easier for there to be MORE games – so many that quality is really going to be the thing, not just “can you make a game”, but “can you make a game that stands out over the now-extreme level of trash noise.

It’s gonna be weird.


I loved making games. It’s a hugely creative endeavor, full of challenges. Wrangling a lot of peoples’ visions, managing a tremendous amount of complexity, trying to understand how players will receive what you’re building, and whether you’re building the right thing.

I was gifted a pass to GamesBeat Next by a friend, and have been thinking about whether to go or not. The timing is kind of a pain, and getting into SF is always a little bit annoying. But a lot of people I know will be there, and it might be fun to catch up with some of them if they have a few minutes to chat.

But look at this agenda:

Pacific Hall

  • 10 AM | Build Beyond: The future of game development with cloud and generative AI

  • 10:30 AM | Are You Ready for the EU’s Digital Markets Act?

  • 11 AM | AI and gaming: Shaping the future of interactive experiencesReimagining beloved IP: how to get it right

  • 11:30 AM | The right and wrong way to do blockchain games

  • 12 PM | Building and operating a game with a symbiotic bridge between Web2 and Web3 gamers.

Landmark Library

  • 10 AM | Keys to survival in Web3 Games
  • 10:30 AM | Practical steps to making the metaverse

  • 11 AM | The changing world of games by the numbers

  • 11:30 AM | Navigating the challenges of AI in gaming

  • 12 PM | Using AI to personalize games

There are a few potentially interesting tidbits. Detail on what the Digital Markets Act entails, but I could read up on that in 10 minutes and probably be just as informed. The changing world of games by the numbers is probably an interesting demographic breakdown of what modern gaming looks like that would have data I probably *don’t* have easy access to.

But everything else… who the fuck is giving talks about “The future of game development with cloud and generative AI”? Experts who’ve shipped content using those tools? No. Because no one’s *done that* yet. So it’s a bunch of people who have experimented with it, but built up no meaningful genuine experience. Which goes for *every fucking AI talk at this conference*. And the talks that aren’t AI? Metaverse and Web3.

Who gives a fuck.

I absolutely do not just not want to know about the Keys to survival in Web3 Games, I don’t want anyone in the goddamn industry to give a shit about it either.

But more, this is a conference whose content is essentially directed either at “business bros” who need to know about the “hot new buzzwords”, and fucking no one else.

Everything I love about games is people. It’s the vision for the art. It’s the complexity of interesting systems. It’s the elegance of paring down what a game is into something simple and expressive, or the complexity of systems interacting with one another. It’s an expression of feeling, emotions, or evoking them in players.

Everything I love about making games is people. It’s being surprised and delighted by concept art that is both exactly what I asked for and something magical I never would have imagined. It’s about working with engineers to find clever solutions to things that do 80% of the work in 5% of the time. It’s about trying to take this big, squishy, out-of-control monstrosity that only exists in our collective imaginations and do the difficult work of pulling it out of our heads and making it work in the real world.

AI is a tool. At best. Web3 is scammy bullshit that provides literally nothing of value, even in the best possible scenario. And it’s funny, because it feels like whoever approved all these talks thought, “Yeah, this conference is gonna be on the bleeding edge!” and in the year it took for it to all come together, it already seems hopelessly stupid.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the AI talks will be about finding ethical training sets for AI tools that empower artists and designers, and not just ways to suck the joy and fun out of gamedev and replace it with profit to enrich the Bobby Koticks of the world. But I doubt it. Maybe the web3 talks will be reflective sessions about how to not fall for baseless claims of “interoperability” and “ownership” without actually giving any consideration to how any of that shit would actually work, or why players would ever even care about it in the first place. But I doubt it.

I dunno. Maybe I’ll go to this, because there will be people there I respect and admire (100% guaranteed), and maybe some of the talks will not make me want to burn the whole industry down.


But I doubt it.

Resume Book

One of the things I’ve enjoyed over the last few years has been helping folks write effective resumes. I started out just helping friends, but then helping friends-of-friends, and then randos through LinkedIn. And over time, a few things became pretty clear:

  • Everyone makes the same mistakes
  • I was repeating myself a lot

Every time I’d sit down with a new resume, my criticism was the same. My approach was the same. I assumed that for different people in different industries, with different backgrounds, I’d end up with more varied approaches. But no – almost everyone made the same mistakes with their resume, and because of that, the advice and perspective I tried to impart was nearly identical for everyone.

The tl;dr version that’ll get you halfway there in one sentence is this: Your resume isn’t an advertisement, but it should be. Most people don’t really think too much about what a resume is trying to do, or who’s reading it. It’s not a historical record of your work, even though you’re told that’s what it should be. It’s an ad. It’s purpose is to get you an interview. That’s it.

This message seemed to surprise nearly everyone, and the consequences of it were things people just didn’t ever consider when writing their resume. So I finally decided to just write it down. You can read the doc here, totally for free. If you do read through it, comments and feedback on the doc are totally welcome.

If you find that doc useful, or if you just have different preferences for format, you can also check it out here, where you can pick it up for a few $ for your Kindle, or in paperback form.

At some point I’m going to write a second version of this with more detailed examples, but this version has all the perspective and wisdom I’ve acquired from working with dozens of folks over the last few years.

If you know anyone whose resume could some help, or someone who’s sent out a lot of resumes but hasn’t received a lot of calls for interviews in return, please pass this on to them.

Recent Media Consumption

Arcane – This is one of the most surprising things I’ve seen recently. It’s based on League of Legends, a game I’ve never played, but I think it might be better if you don’t know the game, because you won’t know who’s “important” or “expendable” going in. There’s a lot about the show that’s great – the music is written for the show, to the show, and because of that, the non-soundtrack songs are exceptionally impactful. The animation is genuinely mind-blowing. It’s not “Spider-verse”, because it’s trying to do something quite different. But it’s one of the most beautiful shows I’ve seen. The quality of the animation, not just the art, is incredible. Facial animation, how specific shots are framed, etc. – every bit of detail is really well done. And the characters aren’t one-note, even if they seem that way at the start. Good characters are flawed – sometimes even kinda dumb. Bad characters have recognizable, often sympathetic motivations and depth. There aren’t clear good guys and bad guys, though there are definitely people with different moral alignments and tolerances.

It’s a show that wormed its way into my mind in a way that doesn’t happen very often. There are things about it that aren’t great – some of the political stuff is slow & frustrating, for instance. But a lot of stuff is really neat – it starts out fairly slow, intentionally. There’s a nice sense of worldbuilding and pacing, and when things take off, the change in pace feels different, because of the setup. But the structure of it – the basic themes that echo through the show again and again are really nicely done. I’d highly recommend it, and if you’re interested, please stick with it through the end of Ep. 3.

One Piece Live Action – For a completely un-adaptable, utterly insane original manga, the Live Action version of One Piece is surprisingly good. The cast does a great job, and some casting is just spot-on, particularly Zoro and Buggy. I’m still getting used to Luffy – Inaki Godoy’s accent is so divergent from my internal voice for Luffy that it’s taking a long time to get used to. This may be one big thing re: folks who’ve read the manga vs. folks who are coming to the show fresh.

They’ve made a lot of smart decisions about what to keep and what to cut in order to condense things into a manageable season. I’m not a huge fan of all the Garp/Koby content, and I’m finding Koby, while they *look* perfect, the constant, “Oh, oh!” kind of character, while consistent for Koby, is annoying at scale. Which is why they weren’t this critical in the OG. But it’s not Vicious in Cowboy Bebop bad (which was unwatchably, offensively, laughably awful).

But I dislike the writing and direction. The writing for almost everything that isn’t a direct adaptation from the original dialogue is flat, lifeless, and predictable. The direction and editing is slow and awkward, and their reliance on wide-angle low shots is, once you see it, comically overdone. I get that they’re trying to mimic certain shots from the manga, and those frames are often quite extreme. But as a show, there’s so much warping at the edges of the frames that it looks cheap. And for a show that was like a $100M project… it’s a decision that has a pretty big negative impact to me.

That said, it’s an impressive adaptation overall. And it’s such a huge step *up* from Bebop (again, offensively awful) that I’m hoping w/ S2, Tomorrow Studios can take another positive step forward. Better writing, better pacing, better framing. The set design is great. The cast is pretty darned good. The structural choices have been mostly good. Here’s hoping.

Red Team Blues – Cory Doctorow’s book about an old cybersecurity guy who finds a McGuffin that causes him some problems. It’s a fun, light read – mostly takes place in the Bay Area in places I’m largely familiar with, which was nice, and “in tech”, so that was another layer of familiarity. But not in the Silicon Valley way – in sort of an anti-SV way, which was more refreshing. I’d read a followup, and apparently there’s one coming.

Three Body Problem – I just started this, so it’s hard to say how much it’ll stick with me, but the opening chapter, even though it’s a translation from Chinese, has some of the most vivid imagery I’ve read. It’s haunting and beautiful and terrible, all at once.


There was once a time when I felt like if I worried about something, I’d somehow be easing the situation in some way. I think it was this sense that the paranoid hyper-alert feeling that comes with obsessively worrying about something would help me catch some important detail or not let something slip.

Sure, there are things I worry about, still. But it’s a lot better than before. And I think a lot of it comes down to understanding that worrying doesn’t actually do anything.

That sense of hyper-alertness isn’t real. It’s like being super buzzed on caffeine. You feel awake, but you’re not. You feel like you’re sharper, but you’re not. It’s all a delusion. I think the same is true when you’re worrying. Yes, when you’re worrying, you often sweat the details. You try to cross every t and dot every i. But you can also be diligent and calm, and do the same thing even better. Being calm isn’t “not caring”, it’s simply not being worried, and because you’re in a more focused mental state, it’s actually easier to understand and react to things.

In some ways, the way I think about a lot of things now is, “Everything has already happened.”

A friend recently had cancer surgery. It was big, invasive, scary, life-threatening as any large surgery is. But in some ways, everything that needed to happen had already happened. They’d found great doctors. They’d done the necessary scans. The cancer was already there. The doctors had already practiced as much as they possibly could, and whatever preparations would be made… nothing I could think or do would make any difference. Ei-Nyung stepped up to be the “in-person” support, and so she had a lot of things she could do, and then did.

But for me? In the past I’d have been incredibly worried. But now I realized there was nothing for me to do, nothing I could do, and worrying… would simply not do anything. Everything (that needed to happen) has already happened.

There is a time in the past where I’d have been utterly wracked and useless with worry. I’m sure there will be times and situations in the future where I still am. But it’s not just this one incident – it’s showing up more and more in my reactions to things, and it’s not that I care less. It’s not that I’m detached from the situation. It’s simply that I have a better awareness of what I can and cannot actually affect, and the realization that me twisting myself up with worry over what might happen not only doesn’t make things less bad for anyone, it often makes it worse. Not just for me, but for everyone I come into contact with.

(Don’t) Trust Your Gut

Trust your gut.


The mind is a strange thing. Consciously, you can’t process or hang on to all that much. Trying to come up with a linear, rational explanation for everything you encounter is a slow, strenuous process. You can’t do it on a day-to-day basis for most things. And even if you could, you’d be constructing rationalizations from the things you can hold in “active” memory, which isn’t all that much.

The unconscious part of your brain, the gut, has access to a lot of things that your conscious mind doesn’t. So your “gut” can see patterns your brain can’t. When something feels wrong, but you can’t figure out why, the difference between the information that your conscious mind can access and the amount your unconscious mind can access is often the reason.

So you learn to “trust your gut”. And that can be good.

At a previous job, I first met the team about a month before my start date. And one of the people on the team – I knew instantly that this was going to be a terrible fit, and that this person would likely be why this job would eventually end. And I could point to a lot of reasons why. Obvious misogyny, overwhelming arrogance, etc. etc. These things are obviously bad. But unfortunately, they’re easy to rationalize away. I won’t have to work with him directly all that much (wrong). His work won’t impact my work (wrong). Blah blah blah. Rationalize away. But my gut was right. I didn’t trust it, and it cost me dearly.

So trust your gut.

But also don’t.

Because your “gut” is also a collection of patterns. Habits. Biases. Your gut may tell you “this guy is weird and different”, but it’s actually just that he doesn’t look like a lot of the people you normally interact with. That gut feeling… it’s racism. That indignation, when a woman on the team questions your decisions – I’m the boss, I’m way more experienced than her… that’s misogyny. And at some point or another everyone feels some version of this. The difference between someone who acts in racist/misogynist ways and people who don’t isn’t always what they think, it’s how they respond to what they think.

Trying to understand that certain “gut” reactions are the accumulation of patterns and experience and knowledge, but it’s locked away in a place that is impossible to directly access, and that certain “gut” reactions are the accumulation of biases and social constructs… and they both feel and look the same at first… it’s difficult. It leads to a lot of second guessing. It leads to a lot of difficult contemplation and self-analysis. Most of it’s not all that pretty (and if it is, I’d question whether you’re staring at yourself hard enough).

So trust your gut. But question it. Ask yourself why your gut felt one way, and see if your mind feels another way. In some sense, if I have, for instance, a negative reaction to a [different in some significant way] person in some context, and my gut says, “Hey!”, and my mind says, “Yeah, that’s not a great reaction, and it comes from (relative) lack of exposure,” the gut is me reacting to my history and society. The brain in this case is me exerting my will and striving for something better. Does it always succeed? No, of course not.

But this is one place where I think sometimes when someone screws up publicly initially then apologizes, this is where the difference between and good and bad apology can totally change how I react to a situation like this. Because we all have biases, and many of them are not good. Sometimes people can react “automatically” based on those biases, then they catch themselves, assert that this is not who they want to be. A good apology addresses the damage done, explains where the problem was, and how that person will work to be better in the future. So a good apology to me is the transition between a gut reaction and a thoughtful one. And I don’t blame (most) people for their guts.

A bad reaction (sorry if you felt..) shows you’re saying, “My biases do not need to be questioned,” and isn’t an apology at all.

But the gut/mind problem goes beyond just large-scale prejudices. It also goes to a lot of “how you respond at work” issues. My gut often tells me to get demonstrably angry. My mind tells me to not. I think if folks believe I’m a good leader, it’s because I often go *against* what I want to do based on my gut, and wait until my mind has a chance to formulate the kind of person I want to be.

So should you listen to your gut? Yeah. Sometimes. Is there a clear place to draw the line where you should & shouldn’t listen to your gut? No. But I think it’s still straightforward. You should always listen to your gut. You should question that feeling. You should say, “Is this reflective of who I want to be?” and then make the determination of what to do from there.

I think if that’s the only step you take, you’ll make a significant improvement in your life.

But it’s also not easy. It leads to a feeling of constant second-guessing. It’s a lot of work, and often interrogating your biases is unpleasant. It’s much easier to go with your gut and let it take you wherever. It feels better. It’s cathartic. But it also leads to a life led without improvement or direction, where you’re simply a passenger, with your biases and history driving the bus.

So yeah. Listen to your gut. Interrogate it. And then be the person you choose to be.