I've written before about how crypto feels different than other industries I've worked in. I want to pull on a different facet of that thread. Today, I'm thinking through the challenges of 'keeping up' in crypto.
It's a common experience for those of us in this industry and it's a shame that it isn't put into words more frequently. It seems to come up in conversations with colleagues frequently, usually in the form of anxiety. There are so many things going on at all times in crypto. And it feels like the ground is constantly shifting; the base assumptions of how each layer of the 'stack' works are in flux.
I think this is sorta what makes crypto crypto. The fact that the protocols we're building are transparent and permissionless to build on means that every edge of every system we're building is exposed to the world's ingenuity at all times. It's inevitable that a crypto ecosystem is constantly in flux relative to (say) a web app system or a piece of traditional financial infrastructure.
It's the price we pay for permissionlessness. And it'll ultimately be how (if?) crypto wins. The systems we work on evolve organically at a frightening pace.
Fortunately, many of us in this industry are here because we're a little ADD so this constant flux is actually a good deal of the fun. But it can be overwhelming at times. I've been reflecting on my 'strategies' for dealing with the overwhelm.
First off, it's important to bring some amount of humility to one's interpretation of the industry. When I worked in Machine Learning, I felt like I had a pretty robust 'meta' model for how most research in the space interrelated. I had a graph structure in my head that connected the big ideas pretty consistently throughout my time there. In crypto, the graph changes much more frequently. Ideas in one area can (and should!) break assumptions in others and shift their relationships continuously.
A recent example is the 'MEV' part of the crypto research graph. It's very rapidly become clear that research around MEV mitigation/democratization is crucial for many people in the smart contract protocol r&d stack to think about. It may be the case, for example, that the ideas being pioneered by groups like Flashbots end up making their way into L1 protocols.
For anyone building in the space adjacent to protocol decisions, it's crucial to have the flexibility of mind to incorporate developments like this.
You must have humility about the fact that there are always unknown unknowns that will change how you interpret the world.
Given that the world is constantly changing outside your head, it's important to have mechanisms that feed those changes to you on a regular cadence. The uninspired way to say this is 'have a good network'.
I'll broaden that statement a little bit: make sure you're frequently exposed to great minds from different parts of the ecosystem.
In addition to having an ever-expanding reading backlog, I find myself scheduling 1:1s with folks I respect elsewhere in the space just to talk around the ideas we've been mulling over. Sometimes these conversations have a goal, but frequently the benefits come from thinking publicly about things happening in the space and honing in on incongruities in our language.
The language we use in casual conversation exposes mental models and assumptions more viscerally than well-prepared research posts. I find myself with lists of things to follow up on after most conversations with brains I respect.
One heuristic I think on a lot is network centrality. Part of the game of succeeding in this ever-changing industry is maneuvering your position within the industry to be high centrality as the industry's network evolves.
time for rabbit holes
It takes effort and time to change your mind. More effort and more time if the assumptions you need to change are deeper in your mental abstraction stack. It's unlikely that your mental model will change to accommodate the changing assumptions of crypto unless you make that time and effort.
You need to make time to follow hunches that something is 'off' in the way you think about the industry. You need to have ample time on the explore side of the explore/exploit tradeoff.
For me, this materializes as going down rabbit holes. I think of a 'rabbit hole' as an unstructured exploration of unknown idea territory. It feels fundamentally different from the time we spend doing things we planned to do. It requires openness and losing track of time.
Many of us ended up in this industry because of a rabbit hole, so it's not that unfamiliar of an idea to fall down one. But it's important to continuously make time for rabbit holes given that the rules constantly change.
I think I end up devoting 1 day every week or two for going down rabbit holes that have been in the back of my mind.
Crypto is an industry of unexplored strategies. As alluded to earlier, that's a big part of what makes it fun/meaningful for me! I'm going to use this channel to do more of that thinking (rather than just technical exposition). Let me know if it resonates so that I feel motivated to do so more frequently.
I'm also trying to institute a more regular habit of longform content creation. Let's see if it sticks!