Socratic Questioning

Socratic Questioning

In a stunning and ironic twist of fate, I hereby offer a rambling and prescriptive solo podcast on utilizing Socratic questioning in elevating the thinking of both employees and coaching clients.

As someone who is prone to being – let’s say – argumentative and potentially even bossy, I’ve had to learn to back off from telling people what I think that they should do.

I’ve learned this lesson with coaching coaches at South Loop Strength & Conditioning, since I used to dominate our coaches meetings with long theoretical lectures on advanced topics in fitness coaching.

While I’m sure that some of this stuff was potentially interesting and occasionally valuable, it resulted in very little change in the actual daily actions of our coaches when they were coaching.

Based upon that, I’ve completely retooled how we run our coaches meetings to focus on creating opportunities for our coaches to present problems that they are struggling with and for us to work through the assumptions and thought processes necessary to solve them as a group.

Sure, I can still sometimes jump in and tell everyone how I think something should be done. And I’m sure it’s also occasionally obnoxious when I keep asking leading and clarifying questions to try to get a specific answer that I’m looking for, but I’ve seen massive changes in our coaches’ abilities to think through complicated problems based upon these meetings.

For anyone who is looking to teach something complicated or create behavior change, learning to back off and instead facilitate an environment for others to come to conclusions on their own is a crucial skill.

Check out the full episode to hear:

  • Why some people build mental models and others form collections of rules – and how to push everyone to create more robust mental models
  • How to help people recognize their own sticking points and problems – since people only work to solve problems that they know that they have
  • How to cultivate a genuine curiosity – since this is crucial for your Socratic questioning to be authentic

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Show Notes

  • [00:00] How to become an obnoxious person who people don’t want to be around in social situations
  • [05:45] How some people build mental models of the world – and how they constantly check their models against both their real life experiences and theories from experts
  • [13:52] People only work to solve problems that they know that they have. Everything else is just intellectual entertainment.
  • [21:57] How to cultivate a genuine curiosity to guide questioning rather than being a pedantic blowhard

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Another frustrating podcast on low carb diets

I had a bunch of other stuff written for this week…but then I heard another frustrating podcast on low carb diets and felt compelled to act! By writing a newsletter!
Now, to be fair, I did a business course that Ben lead and found it very valuable and I usually run into him a few times per year at various competitive fitness related activities. So there’s no bad blood there.
While I fully support Ben in recommending avoiding sugar, flour and vegetable oil in most people’s diets, I was upset by some of the factual errors in his explanations (ie salad dressing is not made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – that’s reserved for things like peanut butter, margarine and baked good; both white bread and wheat bread have gluten; weight loss is not based upon carbohydrate balance).
This brings me back to a concept that I’ve discussed before in this newsletter:
Metaphorical vs Literal Truth
In this case, if you follow Ben’s recommendations of avoiding sugar, flour and vegetable oil in your diet – as well as being skeptical of “health-washed” foods like wraps and smoothies, you will probably have good results from your nutrition program.
So, his recommendations are “metaphorically true” in that they achieve the ends that they intend to produce. 
And, they may actually achieve these ends more effectively than more rigorous explanations which would potentially confuse and overwhelm people with too much density and conditionality since the real world rarely has a tight narrative of causality that translates into easily memorable rules.
In this case, literal truth may be less “true” than the metaphorical truth because it may not produce results as effectively.
Sounds a lot like some debates about religion amongst popular contemporary public intellectuals. (This is also very frustrating to listen to and I do not recommend it).
From my general disposition as well as the fact that I’m in two death metal bands, you can probably guess what my religious beliefs are.
However, I have been teetering on being convinced that religion is actually a net positive for society.
This doesn’t mean that I think that religion is “true” per say, but I think that it achieves a group organizing impulse that is fundamental to human biology and that it creates a framework that allows many people to more effectively pursue their goals.
While I used to rail against anything that I thought was inaccurate by doing things like arguing inappropriately with authority figures or writing polemical articles in my high school zine, I suppose my perspective has tempered with age – and I’m much more willing to allow people to be inaccurate as a trade-off for better long-term outcomes.
Still, there is a negative side to some metaphorical truths.
Religion begets fundamentalism.
And the insulin hypothesis of obesity begets CrossFitters who train at high intensity several times per week cutting carbs in an attempt to lose body fat – and ending up messed up and overtrained.
If you just want to look good, feel good, and improve long-term health – avoid sugar, flour and vegetable oil and explain it to yourself however you fancy.

A frustrating podcast on low carb diets

I was super excited to listen to the debate on the Joe Rogan Experience between Stephan Guyenet and Gary Tabues. But, as anyone who has listened to the episode knows, it got pretty bogged down in personal animosity and didn’t have a lot of great content.
Taubes is a science journalist known for his tome “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and is a low carb diet advocate.
He posits that obesity is caused by dysfunction of the storage process of body fat – which is mediated through excess insulin secretion. He also argues that energy is “partitioned” more favorably to body fat in high carbohydrate diets. Through these arguments, Taubes also attempts to discredit the current science of obesity research, which has settled on a largely “brain-based” model for regulation of body fat stores.
Stephan Guyenet is a neuroscientist, researcher and author of “The Hungry Brain” – as well as a former guest on my podcast.
Guyenet’s model of body fat regulation focuses on the brain – with a hormone called leptin being the primary modulator of energy intake and expenditure through interaction with the hypothalamus. 
While both Taubes and Guyenet agree that body fat storage is a complicated interplay between central regulation (through the brain) and peripheral regulation (through the actual mechanics by which flux is mediated in and out of fat cells), they come to different conclusions surrounding which of these is the dominant player in terms of controlling body fat stores in individuals.
While this may seem like an academic debate or like something that’s “deep in the weeds,” I find that this type of information is surprisingly impactful on the actions of every day folks trying to lean out, look good and feel good.
If my biases aren’t clear, I’m very firmly in the same camp as Guyenet and I think that the carbohydrate model of obesity has been pretty thoroughly discredited.
But, as a CrossFit gym owner and a coach, I am regularly interacting with people who are eating carbohydrate-restricted diets while engaging in high intensity training – which I think is not just a potential impediment to their progression over time, but also a health hazard based upon the demands on the system of a difficult training program.
So, the vague notions floating around about insulin, carbs and keto do have an effect on real people, and I think it’s important that the conversation in the fitness subculture change to recognize the actual state of the science. 
Insulin is obviously a key aspect of body fat storage – no one who has read a text book on metabloism would dispute that.
However, the key aspect of body fat regulation is not just the mechanism by which energy is either stored or released from body fat.
Instead, it’s the entire flux of energy relative to the organism. This flux is controlled by our hunger – which is modulated by a complex series of factors including leptin signaling, NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), inflammation in the hypothalamus, sleep (which has a direct effect on impulse control), and the reward/palatability of the food in our environment.
This is not to say that low carbohydrate diets are ineffective. For many individuals, low carbohydrate diets result in significant body composition changes. These changes, however, are probably not due to the exact mechanics of insulin signaling. Instead, they work by:
•eliminating a huge percentage of hyperpalatable and highly rewarding foods (aka “junk food”)
•creating rules and awareness surrounding food consumption (almost any intervention that brings awareness and accountability to consumption results in body composition change)
•causing a reduction in overall calorie intake by restricting significant numbers of commonly consumed foods
•increased satiety through increased protein intake
And, in individuals with significant insulin sensitivity issues or altered glucose metabolism, restricting carbohydrates can be a crucial aspect of regaining blood sugar control.
So, as a coach, it’s not that I’m opposed to low carbohydrate diets. I am opposed to a lot of the mythology that surrounds them, though, since I think it pushes a lot of people toward unsustainable attempts at lifestyle change.
For more info from Dr. Guyenet, I wouldn’t recommend listening to the Rogan show, but I would recommend checking out these resources:

James FitzGerald (OPEX)

James FitzGerald + Todd Nief

Isaac Newton discovered the physics of classical mechanics and essentially invented calculus – but also spent a huge percentage of his time fiddling with alchemy and digging around in scripture looking for numerical codes.

Many brilliant scientists put a lot of effort into quirky, eccentric theories – some of which turned out to be paradigm-shifting insights, and some of which turned out to be crackpot level buffoonery.

So, how do you pattern match in chaotic scenarios? How do you know if you’re on the right track to having an insight or if you’re doing the equivalent of Linus Pauling obsessing over Vitamin C?

One thing I worry about is that my cause and effect meter can be dialed a bit low. I think everything is chaos and no one knows anything – but James FitzGerald has certainly taught me a lot about what we can know in fitness.

In this conversation, I wanted to dig into how James pattern matches, how he tests and discredits his own ideas, and how he creates systematic thought both for his own internal mental organization and in order to communicate his thoughts and beliefs to others.

Check out the full conversation with James to hear:

  • How to develop the skill to “notice your noticings” – which allows you to move up the layers of abstraction and build more complex systems
  • How to balance content consumption for “learning” vs content consumption for “pleasure” – and how James thinks about updating his mental frameworks based upon new information
  • What creates fatigue in mixed modal settings – at what separates the best from everyone else at the cellular level in terms of how they create energy

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from James, OPEX & Big Dawgs here:

Show Notes

  • [2:03] Special Newfoundland pronunciation of vowels and consonants – and how to build and extract systems from reality and reason from first principles.
  • [9:27] How James builds and updates his mental systems based upon both thoughts and experiences – and how to build the metacognition to “notice your noticings”
  • [15:37] How James goes about confirming or disconfirming his beliefs. And one thing that James has changed his mind on over the years: the role of muscle endurance in mixed modal sport.
  • [24:11] The role of chaos in mixed modal sport – and how to systemize mixed modal sport as a whole in terms of monads, diads, triads, etc.
  • [34:03] How to pattern match in a chaotic environment like mixed modal sport – and finding the appropriate amount of variance in the skill acquisition process for mixed modal sport
  • [48:13] How do you know when the patterns that you’re seeing are real? What is the application of something like peer review in fitness? What incentives would pull people out of silos as far as best practices in fitness coaching?
  • [56:54] When did system building behavior start for James? And what resources have helped him in building mental models and systems?
  • [01:05:38] How does James approach content consumption? How does he balance consuming content for fun vs trying to solve a specific problem?
  • [01:13:24] The balance of giving people what they want vs what they need – especially in the context of fitness vs sport
  • [01:19:09] What is happening in individuals who are resistant to fatigue in mixed modal sport? What would the process look like to truly do research on the various fatigue models for how people utilize fuel in a mixed modal setting?

Links and Resources Mentioned

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What problem does your product actually solve?

In saturated markets with a lot of high social proof players, many people are confused about what game they are actually playing.

Coaches can get easily frustrated when they see people following stupid programs pushed by Instagram celebrities (who got famous by an understanding of how to manipulate social media algorithms and a deep intuitive understanding of signaling behavior) or famous athletes (whose athletic success has everything to do with freakish genetic potential and almost nothing to do with their actual training program).

Musicians can get easily frustrated when the most popular bands in a genre rarely write the “best” songs.

People think that these things should be a meritocracy, and that consumers are looking to find the highest quality goods and services to meet their coaching and music listening needs.

Instead, think about what “problem” a product solves.

In online fitness coaching, the problem that people want solved is something like:
“I want to do the same thing that my Instagram idol does”

Note that it’s not:
“I want to follow the best and most appropriately designed program for my fitness goals, training history and genetic potential.”

Nor is it:
“I want to look and feel my best without sacrificing too many other aspects of my lifestyle that are important to me.”

Nor is it:
“I want to maximize my performance relative to my own potential.”

“I want to do the same thing that my Instagram idol does.”

Or it’s:
“I want to get my ass kicked every day by training and be able to signal to my own followers on Instagram that I am a certain type of athlete.”

If you’re confused about the actual problems that people are trying to solve through their purchases and their behavior, the world can be a very confusing place.

But when you realize that the problems that people are solving through their behavior may not be the problems that you think they should be solving, things make a lot more sense.

Heather Gabel & Seth Sher (HIDE)


“I just want to make heavy brutal shit that makes people feel anything at all.”

Check out the full conversation to hear:
How Seth and Heather use the spirit of their backgrounds in punk and metal and channel it to HIDE’s aestheticThe role of minimalism in HIDE’s songs – and how they find the appropriate balance between repetition and variation
Why Heather uses loaded symbols from religion in her art – and how she subverts their meaning without resorting to “art school” tactics

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Heather, Seth & HIDE here:

Show Notes

  • [01:23] Seth wasn’t into pop punk growing up. Heather was on tour with pop punk bands, but only liked “real punk.” And the value in sitting with albums and listening to them deeply in the pre-internet era.
  • [10:45] The association between live performance and recorded music – and filtering the amount of content you consume through the lens of live performance. How the spirit of HIDE relates to Heather’s punk background and Seth’s metal background even if the surface aesthetics may be different.
  • [27:53] Overanalyzing repetitive watching and listening behavior in viral videos as well as music. And what is the role of repetition in HIDE’s music? And how do Heather and Seth balance competing desires for minimalism and variation?
  • [50:42] Use of symbols and iconography in association with HIDE’s imagery, and Heather’s bizarre and uncomfortable experiences with the way that people react to her body in art, in performance and in daily life
  • [1:08:21] Humans are humans no matter where they go and engage in shitty behavior even in subcultures that ostensibly value more progressive views – and the reaction of creating online “call out culture” is probably not the best response
  • [1:23:00] Check out “Castration Anxiety” and do whatever you want – as long as it is exactly what Seth wants you to do

Links and Resources Mentioned

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Punk Brands

I got a few pretty interesting responses on my recent e-mail on branding and marketing.

I was discussing some of the differences between “branding” and “direct response marketing” as it relates to small businesses and some of the misconceptions that occur when people attempt to take principles of branding that apply to large corporations and apply them to their small businesses.

In thinking through this further, I think it’s important to distinguish another layer of signaling behavior that may be very relevant to “success” for entities operating in smaller markets or subcultures where identity becomes a massive part of how consumers interact with an entity.

I’m thinking of things like music subculture, tattoo subculture, or competitive CrossFit subculture.

In each of these arenas, identifying as “the type of person who [listens to Rudimentary Peni (see below)][gets tattooed by Tim Biedron][follows Invictus programming]” is a significant component of why someone may choose to engage with a specific entity.

These environments are a bit tricky in that the degree to which a punk band or a tattoo artist is engaging in conscious “branding” behavior may not be significant, but – within the larger subculture – fans create an environment in which it means something to wear certain t-shirts or to have certain types of traditional flash tattoos.

Is this a branding environment, persay? I’m having a hard time parsing this out, but it seems to me that success in creating a “brand” in these environments has something to do with capturing a latent swell of enthusiasts in a given subculture (ie people tired of the overblown theatrics of 80s hair metal -> cut off t-shirts, blue jeans, and big sneakers for late 80s death metal) as well as a sound or iconography that these individuals can use within that subculture to identify themselves as belonging to a specific group (ie Misfit Athletics’ distinct purple gear at CrossFit competitions).

So, rather than attempting to globally create a signaling environment in which you can say something about yourself through the shoes that you wear or the beer that you bring to a party – which is the game that Nike and Corona are playing – entities in subcultures instead seek to create symbols and ideology that appeal to a specific “in group” within that subculture.

Then, the acolytes and enthusiasts then use those specific symbols to identify themselves since they want to express that “people like us think things like this and wear these kinds of symbols” – which then creates the larger environment within the subculture such that others start to recognize that they too can say something about the type of person that they are by wearing a Bolt Thrower shirt to a hardcore show, having safety pins covering their denim jacket, or painting their fingernails black.

So, rather than a top-down attempt to create a signaling environment as done by large brands and corporations who have already created distribution for their products and are fighting at the margins for marketshare, smaller entities operating in subcultures are instead creating symbolism and ideology that is ideally picked up by a latent group who then latches onto that symbolism to further their movement. Or, there is a group looking for a leader and they then rally around a specific focal point or individual – which can than result in some top down prescription in terms of the types of symbols that a group should use or how they behave.

As Seth Godin says, “The Beatles didn’t invent teenagers.”

Drinking Corona means you’re chill AF

Marketing is one of those things like fighting that elicits bizarre, overconfident behavior from people who have no idea what they’re talking about.
Imagine the machismo spewing forth from a huffing and puffing bro as he says something like “Man, if that guy had said one more thing to me, I would have knocked him out.”
How often do these huffers and puffers actually have experience knocking anyone out?
Do they have any conception of how difficult it is to knock someone out? Or the potential consequences they themselves would be exposed to in the process of attempting to knock someone out?
As an owner of some small businesses, I often get marketing advice from people that is just absolutely horrible.
And it seems to come from a similar place as the huffer and puffer claiming that he was “this close” to knocking someone out.
There are some things that are very challenging – like marketing or fighting – that most people have very little experience with. But, they assume that, if they were put in the situation where they had to engage in that activity, they would be successful based upon a bunch of half-baked ideas in their heads.
In the sphere of marketing, the common bad advice seems to fall into three buckets:
•Needing to “get the word out” – potentially through advertising, billboards, etc.
•Having a social media presence – since that’s the future and that’s where everyone spends their time
•Having a recognizable brand – since people respond to branding and slogans
Obviously, each of those things has a time and a place – and for many businesses, one of those pieces is the main element of a hugely successful strategy.
However, for a lot of small business owners, each of those pieces is a huge distraction and will at best have marginal returns as far as bringing in new clients.
As a skeptical person, I’ve never been quite able to square why advertising is so effective for major brands.
Conventional wisdom has it that implicit association with positive imagery and feelings created through advertising and sponsorships will nudge a consumer – staring indecisively at the shelves of Powerade and Gatorade – in one direction or another.
And, for large-scale products where consumers are making impulsive selections between similar offerings (Gatorade or Powerade, Michelin vs Goodyear, etc.), the marginal nudging through advertising is well worth the investment.
Contrast this to the school of direct response marketing, where hyper-niche audiences are spoken to in ways that demonstrate a deep, intimate understanding of their problem and are offered a solution – all while building trust and handling objections through long copy, testimonials, and storytelling.
(For what it’s worth, I think the direct response school is much more helpful for most small businesses, and everyone on this e-mail list has experienced it probably at least once from me.)
I recently read an article that transformed how I think about advertising – and it’s right here if you want to read the whole thing.
The thesis is essentially that advertising works to create a signaling environment in which you can say something about who you are as a person through your use of certain products.
You may identify as the “type of person who wears Nikes, drinks Corona and drives a Ford” – but that doesn’t actually do much good unless the cultural environment as a whole has some recognition of what one may be hoping to signal by wearing Nikes, drinking Corona, and driving a Ford.
So, does advertising potentially create marginal nudges in purchasing of consumer products? Probably.
But, the main lessons from massively successful global brands have to do with creating a cultural landscape in which you can signal something about yourself through which shoes you wear, which car you drive, which soft drinks you drink, which laptop you have, etc.
It’s not simply about creating an implicit association in a consumer’s mind between a product and fun, athletic success, attractive people partying, or suave, risk-taking behavior. It’s about making sure that the entire cultural landscape knows that the type of people who drink Corona are chill AF (or something). This is why it’s important to reach such large-scale audiences through advertising – the fact that everyone is exposed to the message is a key component of creating the environment in which one can signal something about themselves through product choice.
As such, small businesses need to be very careful about which lessons they draw from the advertising, branding and sloganeering of large, mainstream organizations – since the goals are often very different.

Jim Crowell (OPEX)

Jim Crowell

A lot of people have been lead astray by an apocryphal Confucius quote.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Guess what, morons – Confucius didn’t say that and just because you love working out or coaching doesn’t mean you should open a gym.

Most coaches who open up gyms in pursuit of their passion for fitness and to escape the 9-5 grind quickly discover that the business of owning a gym goes far beyond great coaching and programming.

How do they differentiate themselves in saturated markets?

Who should they target to buy their services?

What problems are going to pop up provided that you are actually fortunate enough to have enough clients that you can actually cover your monthly expenses?

CEO of OPEX Jim Crowell joins the podcast to talk about the necessary pieces for succeeding in the fitness industry and how OPEX is pioneering and creating the “personalized fitness” category.

Check out the full conversation with Jim to learn:

  • How to think about competition in the fitness industry – you’re not just competing with other gyms offering similar services (like CrossFit or other group fitness), you’re competing with at-home workout options, large corporations with sophisticated marketing, and laziness and inertia on the part of the consumer
  • How to find the balance between creating systems and structure – while still allowing for the creativity and craftsmanship of the coaching profession
  • How to leverage tribalism in your target audience – and what lead channels are actually effective for finding at attracting good-fit clients

Check out the episode at the links below. If you enjoyed the episode, the best way to support the show is to share with your friends, so send them a link.

Listen Here

Check out more from Jim here:

Show Notes

  • [3:21] How Jim’s background as an MBA hedge fund guy with degrees in finance and economics set him up for entry into the CrossFit market as a true capitalist. “I need to build this thing because somebody else is going to build it if I don’t.”
  • [11:18] The winner-take-all dynamics of local fitness businesses – and why you must be the leader in your subcategory
  • [20:48] How OPEX is seeking to create the “personalized fitness” category in the market – and how they are looking to position themselves compared to personal training or group training
  • [26:38] The necessity of targeting a specific audience to reap the benefits of tribalism – versus risking speaking to no one at all. “You don’t create your brand; the market tells you what your brand is…You can just try to influence what that market reaction is.”
  • [32:53] The growing pains of restructuring and the importance of not confusing and alienating your target audience – and how OPEX decided to split out the remote coaching business of Big Dawgs from the work of certifications and licensing.
  • [40:40] Tribalism and the desire “to be a part of something…[and feel] a deeper meaning behind why they’re doing what they’re doing” – and how this relates to marketing and retention in facilities
  • [56:06] Allowing for creativity in coaching while still providing standardization and consistency in processes.
  • [01:04:34] How the start-up cost and business structure of opening a CrossFit gym has changed since 2005 to now.
  • [01:10:25] Differences in managing a gym with 150 members versus a gym with more than that, and attempting to get in front of problems before they happen.

Links and Resources Mentioned

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Having your ideas rudely smacked around

I just spent the last several days at OPEX in Scottsdale as part of an “apprenticeship” that felt a bit more like a “mastermind.”

There were 6 coaches along with OPEX founder James FitzGerald discussing the finer details and ins and outs of coaching athletes to compete in mixed modal sport – aka the CrossFit Games and similar competitions.

James has both won the CrossFit Games (in the early days, just saying…) and coached several elite competitors like Marcus Filly, Mike McGoldrick, Nate Schrader, Amanda Goodman, and others.

Mike Lee has been the head coach at Big Dawgs (the rebranded remote coaching and competitive fitness arm of OPEX) and also coached elite competitors like Marcus Filly (taking over for James), Tennil Reed, Colleen Fotsch, and others.

So, through the experiences of James and Mike as well as the backgrounds of the other coaches present (myself, Ian Kaplan, Carl Hardwick, Whitney Welsch and Kyle Livak), we were able to challenge our minds quite a bit to really clarify our thinking surrounding how to best train athletes for sport.
I’ve made no secrets of how much I dislike social media and the negative incentives it creates for engaging in challenging, long-form content and having nuanced disagreements (without resorting to tribalism and ad hominem).

But, this experience reminded me how much I value detailed discussions with people who can challenge me on my thinking and my ideas.

Back in the early 2000s, the internet was this kind of place for me.

Through involvement in a variety of forums and communities, I was exposed to a lot of people who were a lot smarter, more worldly, quicker witted, and more tasteful than myself.

In this case, the instinct to rank myself in social hierarchies and attempt to impress my superiors resulted in accelerated growth and forced me to get funnier and more insightful, to offer clearer thinking, to be exposed to more music and culture, etc.

Which I am eternally quite grateful for.

My recent experience at OPEX felt similar in that I had to quickly bucket and clarify my thinking on topics that have been a bit half-formed in my head – since anything I said was going to be picked apart and examined by people with a lot more reference experiences and successes than I’ve personally had.
I found this to be hugely valuable in terms of pushing me to level up my own thought processes – and to avoid anything sloppy in my mental models.

Now, I’m thinking about if/how humanity can take the internet back from the algorithm-driven aggregator models of places like Facebook and Instagram which incentivize lazy appeals to “revealed preferences” through catering to our worst instincts – rather than incentivizing deep discussion and fighting to keep up with people who are, quite frankly, just a lot better than you.

I’m not sure if aggregators will ever be displaced due to the robust network effects that they capitalize upon, but is there some way to instead push folks into distributed networks where the incentives are to impress clear-thinking, highly judgmental people who are going to hold everyone to a ridiculous standard of thought?

That would be nice – even if it’s only for a corner of the internet that enjoys such intellectual sparring.