Weaving the Social Fabric (VIDEO) (1)

The following is a work-in-progress, but gives a pretty good overview of what’s in the book. It’s kind of a lecture: 28 minutes long.


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Weaving the Social Fabric

New Intro

Everyone builds social things. We all make up social events, and family or community structures. Most of us make other things too: organizations, policies, products, services, workflows, rituals, and so on.

And there are two ways we can think, when we make those things.

In one way of thinking—very common—we think how to move people along through whatever we’re making.

  • How can we smooth out the experience?
  • Reduce the number of choices they have to make
  • How can we incentivize them to do it satisfactorily, or entertain them as they go?
  • How can we make it easy for them to take little actions, so they stay engaged?


I have a name for this approach. I call it bureaucracy. Because it treats people like documents traveling through a mailroom. Or like waste water, passing through funnels and tubes. Inside bureaucracy, it doesn’t matter how people want to live—what matters is that they get through the process as smoothly as possible.

Bureaucracy is sometimes necessary. But there's way too much of it.

These days, almost everything social that anyone makes is a kind of bureaucracy!

  • UX, mechanism design, and incentives design are all about making bureaucracies.
  • The web3 people—supposedly reinventing democracy and community—are busy building elaborate new bureaucracies.
  • Schools are bureaucracies.
  • With the rise of dating apps, even love is now designed as bureaucracy. Our love lives are now a matter of putting profiles in piles, going through messages .
  • Our “productivity apps” are bureaucracies we make for ourselves—checklists and forms to fill out every day. What a silly way to try to make our lives better!
  • And we also turn to increasingly bureaucratic solutions for social problems like racism and homelessness.

Most people sense this is a problem. But knowing it’s a problem doesn’t help. To fix the problem, we’d need to know what else to build—what to build that’s not a bureaucracy.

We don’t know that.

For now, here’s a vague term to represent this opposite. I’ll call it space, or spaciousness. I’ll get more specific later.

A core claim, which I will defend in this talk, is that this space or spaciousness is what holds society together. It holds together friendships, loves, and democracies. Space is similar to bureaucracy in that it needs to be designed and built by someone. But we’ve been building too much bureaucracy and not enough space. And that this causes a diverse social problems—increases in ideological thinking; declines in social cohesion, trust, and everyday meaning.

Many of our social ills come from having too much bureaucracy, too little space.

So, this talk will be in three parts.

  • The Infection. I’ll start by saying what exactly I mean by bureaucracy and by space. I’ll show when bureaucracies are needed, and when we should be making space instead. I’ll go into why we can’t stop making bureaucracies. The problem is that we’ve made a bureaucracy inside ourselves. We're infected with bureaucracy. We trap ourselves and all of the people around us in bureaucracy. I’ll say exactly what I mean by that.
  • The Cure. Next, I want to help people make spaces, rather than bureaucracies. That means curing ourselves of this infection. That’s a tricky thing to do. Bureaucracies and spaces represent fundamentally different ideas about what it is to serve people. Everyone wants to be of service, but people get trapped in particular models of service. I’ll discuss my own migration to a new model of service, and how it led me to see other people differently and to see design tasks differently. That’s what I’ll cover in the middle section.
  • The Practice. And in the last part of the talk, I'll show what it’s like to build space, once one gets free from the bureaucracy infection. I’ll share the day-to-day practices of a spacemaker, focusing on what it’s like to make spaces at large scales.

The Infection

Bureaucratic design focuses on making certain kinds of things. I’ll call them funnels and tubes.

I like to call something a funnel if it gets everybody to do the same thing, or work on the same goal. By this definition, the checkout area in a supermarket is a funnel. So are many organizations. There's one goal for everyone.

Similarly, I'll call something a tube if it gets people from where they are to their own goal. So Amazon, and all marketplaces, are tubes. So are Google searches. Tubes accelerate everyone to their own goal.

Both are goal-driven spaces that everyone involved would accelerate if they could—to get the goal accomplished more quickly.

One way that bureaucracy infects us, is that we begin to see all design tasks as funnels and tubes. But it’s not so hard to see that this is an error.

Some things aren't designed around goals at all. Instead, they are about values, or exploration according to values. I'll call those exploratory spaces.

There are

  • spaces for exploratory thinking like your whiteboard or your journal
  • spaces for creativity, like jam sessions and brainstorms and creative tools
  • spaces for chilling, like your living room
  • spaces for vulnerability, like talks around a campfire, or a catholic confession booth
  • spaces for celebration like dance clubs, street riots, and festivals

These are not goal-driven. You know something is a space if you don't want it to be over quickly. You would accelerate an Amazon purchase if you could, or an uber ride, or an organizational goal. The things you do in a space are things that you would not accelerate.

Most design tasks involve a mix of these three parts. Imagine you're making a messaging app, like Telegram or Messenger.

  • Sometimes you open the app, search for who you want to send a message to, and send it. Then, the app is a tube, getting you to your goal of sending a message.
  • But the messaging app is also a kind of exploratory space—a space for thinking about who you want to stay in touch with, which kind of correspondence you want to have with who, at which kind of rhythm; a space for being thoughtful about your correspondence, for being vulnerable, and more generally for expressing whatever values you have about keeping in touch. In this sense, the messaging app is a space.

A messenger app can be thought of as a tube, or it can be thought of as a space. And there are many, many things like this.

  • Let's say you're doing advertising analytics—it may seem like your customer has a straightforward goal—to have the most people see their promoted tweets. But you could also design an advertising analytics tool as a space—a space to explore your audience, to find audiences who meet you in certain ways, to build up a certain kind of meaningful rapport in a community.
  • Or if you’re building an educational platform. Are students there to pass the test or get a certification? Or are they there to follow their curiosity, to face their open questions, or to celebrate together the beauty and complexity of the world.

Often, it’s up to the designer whether to make a funnel, a tube, or a space.

Why, then, are there so few spaces? Because we are infected by bureaucracy.

Two Questions

Let me show you what I mean.

  • Most of us ask, every day: what do I want to get done, get over, and get through today?
  • Some of us might ask the opposite question: what do I want to avoid today? What painful parts of life can I skip?

    These questions highlight our goals and fears. Whenever we make a to do list, or dream about what to accomplish next year, we practice knowing and naming our goals and fears.

  • Now, how often do you ask yourself: what will I do slower today? What will I make sure to notice, just because it's meaningful to me? What will I linger on? celebrate? really enjoy?
  • These questions would highlight our sources of meaning. What I often call your values. That’d help you practice knowing and naming exactly what they are.

Which question do you ask more often?


If, like most people, you practice the first questions a lot, and the second questions almost never... you’ll know a lot about your goals and fears, but won’t know your sources of meaning as precisely.

This will be doubly true with what you know about those close to you: you’ll know their goals, fears, dreams, but not their sources of meaning. You won’t ask them, and even if you did, since they don’t ask themselves, they’d be slower to answer.

And of course the same thing happens in interviews with customers and users.

Say you interview for “pain points” or “customer needs”—this often means writing down their goals and fears, not their sources of meaning. Bam! You lost the information you’d need to justify making a space, right at the beginning of your process.

This difference—the lack of awareness and articulacy about the second questions, compared to the first—is the infection that I mean to point out.

Someone with this infection will tend to see clearly what they want their life to be rid of, but not what they want life to be full of.

There's something very sad about this. A life that’s about getting things over, getting things done, avoiding certain things, getting through something that’s basically uncomfortable—that perspective misses everything worth celebrating; everything that makes it worthwhile to be alive.

That’s what keeps us making bureaucracies. It makes us into bureaucracy replicators.

So long as we aren't clear on our own sources of meaning, or on the sources of meaning around us:

  • We're not going to make spaces.
  • We're not going to realize that spaces are in demand.
  • We're going to have a hard time funding spaces, or making success metrics for spaces—because these things would require some articulacy about the sources of meaning that the space we’re funding or measuring is good for.

So, we end up with an ecosystem where funnels and tubes do well, and spaces—when they happen to get made—are unacknowledged.

That’s the infection.

It’s very important that we rid ourselves of it, because more spaces are needed, urgently.

Spaces are needed, because they hold society together. Spaces hold together the best friendships, the best loves, the best communities, the best citizens. Shared values and spaces are the social fabric. Shared spaces ties us together, in conviviality and trust.

So this infection—what might seem like a little detail, about which questions we ask ourselves daily—this infection has enormous consequences.

The lack of spaces means we try to hold society together by other means. We turn to ideologies, to incentives, and to various forms of social pressure. But these are weak substitutes for meaning and spaces. They don’t work. The elderly are isolated; politics becomes a big funnel to make us angry; trust declines everywhere.

  • Some of us go individualistic — we “hustle” to save ourselves. We think: if I can only get my goals finished, and gather enough money, I can escape the bureaucracy; I can hide from the war of norms. Then, somewhere far away, I’ll build a space.
  • Others sense what’s missing, but fall prey to businesses promising ”community”, “sharing”, “adventure”, and “love”—words that suggest a space is just around the corner. But these turn out to be mirages—funnels and tubes that are falsely advertised as a space.


So, this feels like an enormous problem. What can anyone do about it?

Well, you can do something about it: you can start to ask yourself—and your friends—those other questions. The ones about sources of meaning.

The Cure

When I started to do this, it caused a big shift in me. A shift in my whole concept of how to be a good person.

See, I was used to thinking of myself as serving people by accelerating them towards their goals. I didn't know what it meant to serve people by making room for their sources of meaning. This was an entirely new way to serve people.

So, for me, starting to recognize people sources sources of meaning meant dramatically reevaluating my purpose in life—reevaluating what it meant to be of service.

This was very disorienting, and actually quite a deep thing.

But it was the cure, for me: asking these new questions; getting clear about this new way of serving people; and dedicating myself to it.

And that's what I will focus on in the next part of the talk.

I'll focus mostly about the “asking new questions” part. But at the end, I’ll discuss the deeper reorientation that I found often accompanies it, and how this deep reorientation leads people to form new communities—communities where spaces are made, recognized, and rewarded.

The Challenge of Articulating Values

So, let’s start with some vague, non-rigorous values, and sharpen them up.

Imagine you're making a space for vulnerability, or an exploratory app for creativity. Or maybe you are expanding a network of farmers markets, and you want them to be good spaces for people to explore localism in food systems.

Well, you have two big problems in orienting your design around vulnerability, creativity, or localism.

  • First, these terms are vague. Different people in your team will disagree about what 'localism' means, what 'vulnerability' means, etc.
  • And this leads to a second problem: these terms are also untestable. How do you know whether vulnerability is working out? How do you avoid tricking yourself into thinking it is, or at least picking whatever definition of vulnerability is easiest, rather than what would be most meaningful?

Our solution is to make these values-cards:

  • The cards are specific. They drill down on a vague word like vulnerability, creativity, or localism. People care about distinct kinds of vulnerability, and you'll pick one or two to focus on in your project.

The cards define values in two parts.

At the bottom of the card, it says what kinds of meaning people feel, when living by the value. And in the middle of the card, it says what people pay attention to, when they’re living by the value.

To show the power of this, here are some examples.

  • Let's say you're into this kind of vulnerability—about speaking up when you have mixed feelings. People who practice it must attend to certain things. For instance, their feelings, or the people they are with, and how they’ll react to their admissions.
  • Contrast that with another kind of vulnerability. If you value this vulnerability, you’ll focus on how people support each other in your group or community. You’ll look for friends who notice your struggles, and for moments when people care for you, etc.

Even though these are both kinds of vulnerability, they call for different designs.

  • Think about someone who finds meaning in the first kind—speaking up. They’d be well-served by an environment that lets them reflect by themselves, and then share what they find, with an assurance that people won't flip.
  • But someone who values the second kind of vulnerability would need a more social environment. Where people take turns caring for each other.

Put Person B in environment A, and they won't be able to pay attention to those friends, possibilities, and social events. And vice versa: put person A and environment B, they won't be so aware of their discomfort.

That’s an important fact. The attentional paths that are written on these values cards let us differentiate one kind of vulnerability from another; one kind of creativity from another, and one kind of localism from another.

And they let us be rigorous about whether a kind of vulnerability (or whatever) is happening in our designs. It’s simple: for a value to really be happening, people must be attending to what’s on the card, and choosing by it.

If, in your design, people can attend to these particular types of things, and make their choices by them, congratulations—people are able to live by their value within the space you made.

Emotions and Values

So, values can be clear and testable enough to guide you. And, once you can write out values with this sharpness, you’ll learn a lot. You’ll see where the people around you can live by their values, and which values they struggle to live by.

One source of this information is in people's emotions. Emotions point to values that are working out, or not working out.


  • If I'm angry, one way to interpret that is that something important to you me—a way I want to live—is blocked. The thing that's blocked—that way I want to love—can be written as a values card.


  • if I'm sad, it might be because some terrible thing has placed me far away from a way I want to live.
  • If I'm grateful, some fortunate event has brought me in contact with a way I want to live.

In each case, the way I want to live can be written as values card.

Whatever I'm feeling, whether it's a positive or negative emotion, will point to something important to me, something that can written as a values card.

Feelings are just one way that you can learn about the values of the people around us. You can also ask for stories about their meaningful moments, or when things have felt empty and meaningless. You can listen for the details in these stories and make values cards.

Listening for people’s sources of meaning gives you a new sense of how to serve them. You’ll know what’s important to the people around you, and you can build the spaces that are missing, to help them live as they’d like to live.

Doing this changed my sense of how to serve other people.

It also changed the kind of community I could form. When I find other people that care about my sources of meaning, we start to recognize one another for making good spaces for each other’s values.

We form a group with deep, articulate respect for spaces and space-making, a group capable of weaving the social fabric between us—making this other, better kind of social glue.

The Collection of All Values

There’s something sacred, in this community. Something which is revealed to us, only once we’ve collected many sources of meaning, many values, from many people.

The sacred thing is not this value or that value. It’s the collection of all values. And it’s worth describing, for a moment, what that collection is like.

It’s interesting! The collection of all values isn’t the same as the collection of all preferences, or the collection of all goals.

  • The collection of all goals includes, for instance, a lot of far-off goals. Goals like “get rich like Elon Musk”. It includes goals people only have because they hope they’ll lead to something good down the line. Goals like “impress so-and-so at the bar.”
  • The collection of values doesn’t include that stuff. Because values cards are limited to things you’ve actually paid attention to, and found meaning in paying attention to, they always cut right to what’s real, and meaningful, where you’ve already had the experience.
  • The collection all preferences includes taste preferences, like a preference for chocolate cake, or wide-cut jeans. It includes ideological preferences like the preference of Trump or Biden.
  • The collection of values doesn’t include those. We are limited, again, to basic ways of living, choosing, and attending, which a person finds meaningful. Values cut right to what’s precious and immediate about being alive. The things you wouldn’t want to accelerate. The things we need spaces for.

It may sound—from what I’m saying—that the collection of values is small and universal. While it is smaller than the collection of goals or preferences, it is still actually very large. What we find, when attend to the emotions around us, and the stories of what people find meaningful, is that there’s a great diversity of them.

Different people have discovered different ways that life can be meaningful. When you are gathering values, you’ll be learning all the time. You'll be admiring people, every day—seeing a kind of meaning they're clued into, that you didn't see before.

The collection of values is beautiful and always growing.

And our ultimate responsibility, as spacemakers, is to this universe of values.


We're now about halfway through the talk. It might be a good time to take a break, do some stretching, high five your colleagues, or just walk around and look at the building you're in.

Here are two things you can think about, if you want to walk around:

  • Which parts of the building are designed as tubes? Which parts are funnels or spaces?
  • Or think about your own feelings—do they point to a way you want to live? Could they be written as values cards?

The Practice

Okay, let’s resume. This is the last part of the talk, and the most concrete. Say you’ve decided to focus on spaces, and to take on the responsibility of designing for people’s values.

What daily practices will let you live up to this responsibility?

  1. You’ll begin by trying to find the right balance between spaces, funnels, and tubes in your project.
  2. Often, when we're designing a space, we need a funnel leading in. Or we need to connect to other spaces via tubes. You’ll map this out, but then focus on the parts that you would not accelerate. The parts that could be spaces.

  3. You’ll then gather values to serve as your design criteria.

These will happen at the beginning of your project, but your daily work will also be different. In two ways.

  • First, you’ll work to understand what's hard about living by the values you’re focusing on.
  • It may seem like vulnerability or creativity is just something that happens, but if you look at the details, you can see that there's many steps involved. Finding these “hard steps” let’s build with compassion and understanding, to make spaces that support a value well.

  • And second, you’ll prototype things socially, without putting paper or screens between the people who are testing your prototype.

Hard Steps

Living by our values is tricky. We don't always manage to do it.

For a hint about why it's tricky, look at the attention part of a values card. It covers the things you have to attend to, to live by the value.

Implicit in this idea, is that there needs to be information in the environment that you can gather as part of attending to the value. If you're in an environment where it's hard to get the related information, you won't be able to live by the value

So, with this one, you’d need information about potential friends and potential moments, so you can choose good friends and good moments.

That’s one kind of hard step—information gathering.

Deep Work

There are two more kinds. To show what they are, and our technique for finding them, I’ll tell a story about a value of mine. Deep work.

One of my values is deep work. Working for many years to make something—something which may not even be successful in the end. There’s a kind of ‘mentorship’ relationship, which helps with this value.

If someone asked for my backstory for ‘deep work’, I’d tell them about my friend Bret, a mentor of this type. Without Bret, I’m not sure I’d be able to do deep work.

I’d tell them about how Bret came to invite me to dinner, saw some potential in me, invited me to present to his lab. About how I gave a really bad presentation, but Bret took me aside and gave me really good feedback. About how I took that feedback seriously, and followed up, improved my talk, and that this led an ongoing mentorship.

A designer could then break this backstory into the components needed to build such mentorships:

  • information we needed to learn about each other
  • moves we needed to make
  • various scenes and settings and transitions we needed to be able to create

Imagine I wanted to support more people in doing deep work. Since this mentorship thing is important for it, I should understand how people build that relationship. I should make sure that, in my design, the information needed to build the relationship is accessible, the moves are easy to make, the transitions are possible, etc.

In general, we use stories like this to find the hard steps of whatever value we’re designing for.

And these hard steps become part of our problem formulation. A space for this kind of vulnerability, will make this kind of information available, will make these kinds of relationship building activities possible, these kinds of mood-setting or transition-making actions, etc.


That’s an example about how values don’t happen in an instant, and have various requirements or hard steps. Here’s another:

"Jury duty". This is a practice in the US and UK where ordinary citizens form groups of 12 to decide on a criminal case—often whether someone accused of a crime goes to prison or is freed. Jury duty is a container in which people put aside their everyday goals to practice values of discernment, deliberation, and justice.

Thankfully, jury duty is not designed as a flow. It’s a thought-out container that helps people put aside their incentives and goals, and focus on values. A variety of transitions and ritual elements make it work:

  • It is separate from daily life in place and in time.
  • Participants swear an oath.
  • The consequences of their decision are front and center, and quite serious—often, imprisonment or freedom for a fellow citizen.
  • A set of new relationships, built around the gravity of the situation.
  • There are multiple rounds of deliberation in a closed room, a grave setting, reporting to a judge.

What can we learn from my mentorship story about deep work, or from jury duty? We learn that values have hard steps, and that we ignore this at our peril.

Imagine I didn’t understand the hard steps of relationship building: I might make an app with a ‘mentorship request’ feature, and ‘mentorship acceptance’ feature, and buttons and queues for each.

I might build flows or point systems that drive people to click those buttons—to “make mentorships”—so to speak. But note, these wouldn’t be real mentorships. These are just button presses! Mentorship has been redefined as a data structure within the app.

In my investor reports, I could show that “mentorships” were going up and to the right.

This is just the situation we have with social media today. We get “influencers” with thousands or millions of “friends”.

Deleted part

The only way to support people in building real relationships is to look at how real relationships are built.

Or imagine, making something like Jury Duty, using a bureaucratic design approach. Asking: “How can we give them a smooth experience?”.

It would be disastrous.

When you think about jury duty as a flow—there are certain stages. One for finding out about the case; another for making a preliminary judgment; a third for hearing others’ perspectives; a fourth for revising your judgment. Then you can go home.

As soon as you think of it like that, you’re led in the wrong direction:

  • It pays off to keep each user isolated, because that will get them through quicker.
  • You try to manage formation of the initial judgment in a few simple screens
  • You simplify and streamline information, to make revising judgments painless.
  • The gravity of situation seems like a liability, not an asset.

A smooth experience turns out to be bad for the values. This is almost always the case!

Transition to Legit

So, looking at hard steps flips your design paradigm:

  • In the case of jury duty, you flip from thinking in flows, to thinking in supportive containers—places where you set aside your goals and live by your values.
  • Thankfully, life is full of good containers we can learn from, like jury duty. Other examples of good containers are funerals, weddings, parties, and games. Whatever value you're looking at, you can find containers where people put aside their incentives and personal goals, and live by their values instead.

  • In the case of mentorship, you flip from thinking of lightweight connections or engagements to thinking of the moves that build relationships.


There's one more perspective shift I want to cover. That’s the shift away from thinking in incentives. When you think in incentives you think people are externally motivated. If you want people to do something, you gotta incentivize them.

An alternative is to see that making a contribution is hard. People have an innate drive to contribute! But the hard steps can stop them from doing it.

Of course, it can be good that contributing is hard! If you’re at a breakdance battle, the difficulty of making a good contribution can be part of what motivates you, gets you train up, to develop a real style, to up your game.

So it’s not that we want to make contributing easy.

So it's not that we want to make contribution easy we want to make it hard in the right way

  • You ask how can I make it easier to contribute or at least align the difficulty of contributing with what's difficult about making a good contribution in the first place so that the effort that people spend in preparing a contribution or in getting it accepted or seen; is effort that also coincides with the values that make a given contribution good—for instance, in scientific publishing with part of what a paper what makes a paper good is its epistemic humility or part of what a paper makes a paper good is. Its capacity to open up a new field or subfield of exploration. In that case, you would want to make sure that most of the effort that goes into preparing a paper or making sure or ensuring that it was that it's accepted and seen as effort that furthers the papers episode epistemic humility our field opening up potential this would be a way to make scientific publishing values aligned space for epistemic humility and for subfield pioneering.

We can study whether that's the case by looking at the hard steps of these three things, what are the hard steps of epistemic humility? What are the hard steps of opening up a new subfield and what are the hard steps of publishing a paper? To the extent that there's a lot of overlap and then scientific publishing as a space makes all of these hard steps easier. It will be a good step for these states for these values.

✅ Legitimation

So, that’s containers. Let’s move onto the last kind of wisdom that hard steps can help you grow—wisdom about legitimation processes.

Science Example

To show what I mean, here’s an example from scientific publishing. What makes a legitimate paper?

  • Papers have authors.
    • These authors have institutions. Part of what legitimates the paper is that the authors got past some kind of admissions or hiring process.
    • When a paper has multiple authors, there’s an additional legitimation there—because the authors decided to collaborate. And often, a scientific paper is a collaboration between more experienced and less experienced scientists.
    • Furthermore, each scientist had, in the past, some kind of thesis advisor, who signed off on their work at the start of their career, and was part of giving them a degree.
  • Next is the methods section of the paper—it needs to contain methods which are easily checkable, and common in the field.
  • Also important are the references, and the related work section, which act to show the author has engaged with the field, and prove they have done their background reading.
  • A legitimate paper will also have a relationship between its claims and it’s references. Big claims will either be supported directly with data or argument in the paper, or will have footnotes attached linking to support from other authors.
  • Finally, the cherry on top is acceptance by a journal, and peer review.

A legitimate paper is one that has all these qualities. Or let me say it another way: in order to contribute a paper in science, you need to go through a process of legitimation.

The legitimation process is the whole sequence, the whole backstory, that makes the paper itself a legitimate contribution. What I’ve sketched here is just a summary. We can zoom in on any part. For instance, before you’re hired by an institution, you likely needed to have letters of recommendation, and a body of work.

Scientific publishing may look especially bureaucratic, but almost every part of social life has a legitimation process associated with it.

  • Do you want to sit next to a stranger at a bar or restaurant? There’s a sequence of gestures, eye contact, or inquiries that can make that legitimate.
  • Do you want to have a stall at a local farmer’s market? There’s a series of applications and approvals that will make it a legitimate stall.

You can ignore the legitimation process—by starting your own journal, sitting next to someone without asking, or setting up a stall in the market without approval. But usually, illegitimate moves are ignored or will get you ejected from the system.

Legitimation Process of Science

So, returning to my topic, if people in your system aren’t contributing, they might be blocked by the legitimation process.

To see why, let’s go back to the idea that living by a value has hard steps—that sometimes it’s impossible to live by a value because you can’t get the right information, set the right settings, or make the right moves.

Imagine I’ve collected stories of people living successfully by the value of epistemic humility, and used these stories to identify some hard steps of that value.

And suppose that one hard step of epistemic humility involved ♟️ making embarrassing revelations. Admitting that you were hasty, or that you don’t know the answer to a trivial question. To do so, you may need to ℹ️ recognize a subset of peers who will ♟️ support you in your admission and reevaluation; you may need to ℹ️ see how others make these admissions with grace; and you may need to ℹ️ estimate how people will respond to your admission, once you make it.

By looking at the hard steps of epistemic humility alongside the legitimation processes of science, we can see some mismatches.

First, there is a mismatch in the information landscape of science. Although there’s a great deal of information available in academic publishing, it’s not so easy to find peers, or to estimate how people will respond to admissions of failure or confusion. The necessary information is not in scientific publications.

Second, the two moves that people need to make here—to make embarrassing revelations and to support others in them—are not themselves publishable via these methods.

This is an opportunity to redesign science communications, by researching which other legitimation processes would better support embarrassing revelations.


After Legit Wrap-Up

So, I just covered three perspective shifts that come from looking at hard steps:

  • the shift away from aligned incentives; towards the hard steps of contributing (aligned legitimation processes)
  • and the shifts away from flows and engagements, towards containers and relationship building

If you practice making these perspective shifts as you design, it’ll help you get away from designing bureaucracies, towards designing spaces.

But you'll still need to test the spaces you come up with. And that's what I'll cover in this last section of the talk.


Now, most designers will sketch or prototype on paper or using a tool like Figma, and then put it in front of one user at a time.

This is a useful thing to do! But we found that jumping straight into paper or Figma leads people to miss social possibilities and consequences.

So we encourage designers to put down the paper, step back from their laptop and start somewhere else.

At first, we encourage them to sit with one other person. Someone who has the value they're designing for, and to come up with an activity they can do together that supports whatever the value is.

Once you're happy with how your activity works between you and your friend, you might want to know how it works for a broader array of people over a longer amount of time—people who have different strategies for approaching the activity, people who pressure one another to get their way, creating new social norms.

To find this out, you still don't need Figma or paper. Instead, we recommend that you make a kind of role-play that can take place in a room amongst many players.

The role-play should create the same kind of container you hope to create, encourage the same kinds of relationship-building, and have the same legitimation rules. When you try it, you quickly discover a whole bunch of social considerations. Because it's all occurring in a room you can watch social norms evolve, watch different people play differently, and see if the game continues to support the value among players with different strategies and skills.


As we prototype and iterate, we evaluate how we're doing using the product framings we came up with earlier in this video:

  • are people able to live by their values, by paying attention to the things in the middle part of the values cards?
  • Are they able to make their choices based on that information?
  • And, are the hard steps of those values easy to take?
    • Is it easy for them to build the relationships, to create the settings and moods, and to gather the information they need to live by the value?

If the answer to all those questions is yes, we've created a space where people can live by their values. This will be a deeply meaningful space, of high agency and self expression. A good space.


So, I set out to explain what the opposite of bureaucracy is (space-making); and why we have trouble making spaces; and how to go about making good spaces.

By making spaces, you’re re-weaving the social fabric—replacing the “bad social glues” of ideologies, incentives, and various forms of social pressure, with a good social glue of values and spaces.

But of course, it’s hard to make spaces. In this talk, I gave a very personal description of why it’s hard. You have to transform your sense of service.

But there are also larger issues.

  • Solidarity. One of those is: space-makers are hard to find, and it’s hard to make spaces when everyone around you’s making funnels and tubes.
  • So, let’s form small communities of spacemakers, joining forces in defense of meaning and values. Inside these communities, we can treat one another, and our design tasks, differently. I’m working on a spacemakers directory and pledge, where you can list yourself and be found by others. I hope there’ll soon be conferences, events.

  • Metrics, recognition, funding. Another larger issue is that it’s much easier to be recognized, and funded, for making a good funnel or tube than for making a space. The values cards I showed in this talk can also help with this. Values cards can be used to gather metrics that show if a space is succeeding. Those metrics can be an alternative to engagement metrics. Eventually, pools of funding can be gathered and awarded based on those metrics, rather than the transactional metrics of funnels and tubes.

But I think the most pressing thing is just to personally recenter spaces—to set them in the spotlight in our own lives. That’s also the way to avoid filling our own lives up with bureaucracy, and the lives of the people around us.

Here’s how you can do that:

  1. When you have a project—even it looks like a funnel or tube. Spend more of your time designing the parts you'd not accelerate. Focus on the spaces.
  2. Design from a different sense of service. Design because you’ve learned the sources of meaning revealed by the feelings of the people around you, and you want to create space for them to live meaningfully, that way. Make values cards to get it precise.
  3. Listen to stories of their meaningful moments, and look for the hard steps: the relationships that were hard to build; the information that was hard to gather; the settings and transitions that were hard to bring about.
  4. Finally, based on your sense of what's hard, sit with a friend and try fostering that meaning together. Then expand that to a role-play; then a scalable system. Make sure it keeps addressing the hard steps, and stays a good space to live by the value.

If you’d like, I wrote a textbook to help with all that. It’s free and online. There are dozens of group exercises, and solo worksheets to help you practice these things.

And, if you want a richer experience, there’s the School for Social Design, a paid program, where our team supports you in the personal transitions, and in making a space by these methods. You can get a free session with me to check it out.

Whatever route you take—I look forward to meeting you, and to re-weaving the social fabric together.

Spacemakers Creed

  1. Focus on what you wouldn’t accelerate
  2. When you build, focus on the parts of your projects that you would not accelerate.

  3. Respond to the values around you.
  4. Understand how the people around you want to live—what they find meaningful but too rare or difficult to arrange, and build spaces for those sources of meaning. Making values cards can help you get it precise.

  5. Find out what’s tricky in relationship-building, containers, and legitimation.
  6. Pull apart stories of people successfully living by values, and use them to understand what's hard to get right.

  7. Prototype together.
  8. Gray text here.


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