Trust is first.

Discussing the why, and the how, of running my business.

I shot this at a recent  Fort Co.  wedding, and I use it here with the newlyweds’ permission. Their grandfather made these wedding bands, by hand, with no prior knowledge of ring-making. He told me it was all a labor of love.

I shot this at a recent Fort Co. wedding, and I use it here with the newlyweds’ permission. Their grandfather made these wedding bands, by hand, with no prior knowledge of ring-making. He told me it was all a labor of love.

You know the why, from before — Locksmith is bedrock, solid and predictable, upon which we build. That’s the goal.

Pulled from that same page on our wiki, here’s the how:

Trust is first. I trust you to own your responsibilities. I trust you to manage your resources (time/brain/etc) in a way that lets you fulfill your responsibilities well. I trust you to communicate, to make sure that I know the relevant parts of your state/status, so that I can help you. I trust you to trust me to do all those things as well.

Trust takes care of the “solid” part of the bedrock definition. To take care of the “predictable” part, these are the rules:


Use mentions (e.g. @isaac), guarantee that you’re consistently receiving yours, and always respond to a mention, for the sake of the mentioner and also for posterity.

  • In explicit terms: An acknowledgement represents a transfer of responsibility. If I mention you, I’m asking you to take responsibility for something, even if it’s just ownership of information. Until you respond, I am holding that responsibility for you, in escrow, and I make room for it in the back of my head so that I don’t forget to make sure that you receive it. Your acknowledgment, when you choose to deliver it, represents your acceptance of responsibility. Literally, you have taken receipt of the information, and are giving me a receipt for it.
  • This leaves room for you to choose when to acknowledge. If you see an alert fly by, addressed to you, but you’re not in a space (mentally or physically or whatever) to properly process/handle/receive the information, don’t respond. This leaves the responsibility with the sender, for the time being (which means they can nag you if need be). When you can process/handle/receive the information, do so, and respond to the mention.
  • But regardless of timing, do respond to every single mention. Literally. This is to establish zero ambiguity around which messages warrant a reaction, and which do not. (This means that everyone should be intentional about when mentions are used, for they are tools in their own right.)
  • Reactions-with-a-capital-R (a thing in GitHub and Slack) count. The point is to acknowledge that you saw the thing.
  • Hint: Try to keep your usernames consistent across GitHub, Slack, and Trello. It’s not super important, but it (a) helps with the whole muscle memory thing, and (b) might make it easier for Slack to highlight your mentions in the #locksmith-logs channel. ;)


It’s for support conversations with our customers. Each Intercom conversation should be treated like an in-person conversation: with respect for states and needs of everyone involved.

⭐️ Guarantee a 24-hour response time, by having one teammate at a time responsible for it. Schedule that responsibility flexibly, but with absolute clarity.

  • This responsibility does not mean that you must respond to all incoming messages. Be aware of who else is working on support, and let the normal cadence of conversation-handling hold. You’re responsible for the final defense of timeliness, that’s all.
  • In practice, this means watching the “All” queue, and making sure that all messages received within the last 24 hours receive a real, considerate, human response.
  • This is a response time policy, not a resolve time policy. Don’t stress over it. :) The responses can be as simple as “Hey, I hear you, and x will be getting back to you today with an update.”
  • This is partly to guarantee that customers receive consistent, responsive empathy. It is also to guarantee that pressing issues can and do surface — actively paying attention to response time gives you a chance to call for reinforcements if need be.
  • Conversations are alive: they have rhythm and a next step. Close them when that stops being the case. If there are actionables or long-term followups, take it to Trello.
  • For a conversation in which everyone is currently online and participating, do not allow surprising radio silence from your end. If you have to step away, set expectations for the other participant(s).


It’s for actionables that are not conversations. The test: Do we care if a thing gets done? If so, it goes in Trello.

  • If a task is important, it must have an owner who can be responsible for it. In Trello, that takes the form of card membership. If you’re a member of the card, you’re the/an owner.
  • Keep your cards placed accurately and honestly. “Active” should really mean “Active”. If you’re an owner on something in “Done, but needs customer followup”, get it to “Done” as soon as possible.
  • We should all be able to glance at the Trello board at any time, and know what we’re all up to. The board reflects reality, and therefore is a source of truth, whenever you need to catch up on the reality we all share.


It’s for our conversations. :)

  • Err towards using the shared channels whenever possible, especially for problem-solving. Everything in those is searchable, and that is useful.

The document closes with this, addressed to employees present and future, and I now address this to you, my reader, as well:

I feel lucky and proud — it is a massive privilege to be doing what we’re doing, and I aim to execute incredibly well, to drive health and freedom and impact along the way. Thank you for being a part of this. :)

❤️ 🆙

Locksmith is bedrock.

Discussing the why, and the how, of running my business.

This is my wedding ring. #relevant

This is my wedding ring. #relevant

Core motivations are everything. They inform the choices you make subconsciously, which in turn inform your results long-term. (This idea is suuuper important to me.)

With that said, let me introduce Locksmith. On one level, it’s a security app for Shopify (viz. It’s a neat piece of engineering and product design both, and factoring in the reach of the merchants who use it, it’s easily touched a few million people.

Which is awesome, and I’m really proud, but this is not the point. Locksmith isn’t a love song to the world about storefront security and segmentation.

Locksmith is bedrock, and bedrock is for building.

When I went independent (having worked at Apple for a few years, with engineering management and platform development before that), I wrote a document called “Why, and How” for me and my two employees. It lays out my core motivation for running Locksmith, and then describes the core methodology for seeing that motivation played out.

I’ll discuss the “How” bit later this week; let’s begin with “Why”, pulled directly from our internal wiki:

This project is bedrock, here defined as something solid and predictable, upon which one can confidently build something interesting, without the ground shifting unexpectedly.

This project is bedrock for:

… our customers and their businesses. By relying on Locksmith’s solidity and predictability, they are freed from a certain set of problems, so that they can better focus on the interesting aspects of their own business.

… us, as a team/group/unit. By operating Locksmith in a solid and predictable manner, we are freed to work on interesting aspects of the project, heading for new and better futures, or to work on interesting new projects.

… you, as an individual human. By having solid and predictable responsibilities to Locksmith, you are freed to devote more of your energies to whatever is interesting in your life.

My goal for this project: to get us each closer to what we are each uniquely built/equipped/excited to handle.

In a sense, this really is security after all — the exciting plot twist is that it’s situational security, the kind that lets you focus because you’re well-rested and have been fed properly and you’re in a safe place, and all of these things mean you can forget about the tedious minutiae of life and get on with the stuff that makes you feel really alive.

This is the why. There are things I want to build — really interesting things — and Locksmith is the bedrock upon which I am building them. And I’m establishing it as bedrock for me, by ensuring my customers can build their worlds safely and securely atop this thing that I’ve made. And I’m keeping that situation stable by ensuring my employees can build worlds of their own, using their employment with me as foundation. (The order here is unimportant: everyone is inextricably tied, and we become more stable together, not less.)

Why: It’s all about building, and being able to trust the bedrock.

Now go read about the why: Trust is first.

Everything is the same, and everything is story.

Preface: It’s tough for me to explain how important this is. There are ideas that get my heart pumping and fingers shaking, because they’re so fundamental that they touch everything. You’ve maybe seen me step away from the piano, shaking slightly — same thing. Everything is the same. I don’t have any idea what to do with this, but to chase it.

If you could reason perfectly and infinitely (the logic goes), and if you had perfect knowledge of every particle in existence, you could sort out what Dick Cheney had with his eggs last Sunday.

Because physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and a perfect machine could trace everything back. (I assume quantum-something-something has disproven Newton’s laws, or will, but let’s roll with this for the time being.)

You and I are not perfect machines, in that sense — but, we are very very good at pattern-matching. You don’t need perfect knowledge of the universe and a legal pad to hash out why your roommate is crying, because you can see the TV, and can thereby conclude that Moana’s grandmother is the spirit guide your roommate didn’t know he needed, until tonight.

I wrote a while back about pattern recognition, and how the ability to derive patterns from the world is probably our truest strength. Nothing about that idea has changed, but I need to refocus it again, because most of my thinking there has been on passive applications (reactivity, observation, sensing-when-something-is-wrong-or-right), and explicitly not on active ones.

I’ve said forever that programming feels the same as photography and music. I’ve known forever that this has something to do with finding balance in what you create, weighing the pieces and the whole and poking at it and rewiring and redefining it until it feels finished, where “finished” here means “complete enough that you can forget it’s a fabrication and can lose yourself inside of it, because its internal consistency is such that your subconscious can take over navigation”.

This holds for any creative work, I think, but let’s work with storytelling as a specific example, because everyone knows and tells stories.

When you tell a story, you’re using a plot and characters and whatnot, delivering to your listeners bits and pieces of a universe that you hold in your mind, with the intent of moving an entire universe from your mind to theirs. This is a nontrivial exercise, in three parts:

  1. With every word, your listeners are ingesting and recombining everything you say and have said, tuning their mental model of the world you propose.
  2. This model is mostly subconscious (go back and read that pattern recognition writeup), but data about how well that model is holding up does make it to the conscious level. In practical terms, this means your listeners can tell when your world is inconsistent, when it’s not plausible.
  3. You’re taking an imaginary world, an internally consistent universe in your mind, and are pulling from it a storyline it contains, choosing and delivering evidence from what you imagine to be an internally consistent universe, despite you not knowing that universe in full. (Pointedly, because your brain is made of meat, not silicon. You can hold patterns in your mind, not an uncountable set of details.)

So here’s the trick, then: you, who think in patterns because you are human, are trying to move an entire world from your head to someone else’s, using only bits of information that your listeners can use to set up imaginary world-patterns of their own, because they don’t think in pure physics any more than you do. And the hope is that they arrive at a world that they can explore for themselves, because it’s consistent enough — real enough — that their subconscious can write the map ahead based only on the patterns you’ve created in their minds.

This is craaaaaaaazy. And we can do this in all kinds of media: music, stage, paint, literally anything that can be sensed.

But to bring it home, I’m not talking about storytelling for recreation, because you know how that works already — I’m talking about the much more mundane acts of creation, the ones that we usually think of as purely functional. Programming, for example. Financial planning. Interior design. Every act of creation is, at some level, suggesting a universe into existence. (Here’s the test: have you set up a system such that you’d know if something added to it was either out of place or in harmony with its surroundings? Yes? You builder-of-worlds you.)

And if you think about it this way, you can see how story plays into this. When someone uses a program that I write, they’re taking in all the cues that I give them and constructing in their minds the system I’ve imagined, that I’ve tried to make real as a program. The system is complete and internally consistent in my head; my job is to lay down the mechanics in code, effectively telling the story to the computer, and then to ensure that its plot and its characters are communicated to the user so well that the system they thereby imagine is the same that I imagined when I first sat down at the keyboard.

This holds everywhere. You know that everything we take in, every tiny detail, is subject to pattern-matching. Your brain is constantly sorting and reconciling the evidence. The idea I’m trying to create in your mind is the inverse of this — what does it look like to take a pattern in your mind and make it real as a detail in the world, to be shared, to be picked up by other minds again?

Or maybe not — maybe nobody need pick up that detail again, and maybe the question is, simply, have you added something to the world that is consistent with the true nature of the world, allowing things to flow and life to move? Or have you injected chaos, an anti-pattern, a plot hole, a chair out of place? The audience for your stories may be your fellow human, but what if you decided your audience was the world itself?

(Bonus questions: as an artifact of nature, could you act but in consistent accord with it? Would you want to?)

You can tinker with the world.

… and that is why learning to code is important. In part because the money is there, sure. In part because it’s a hook into the bleeding edge of human development.

But mostly because the world is malleable, and I don’t care how you learn that, but code can help.

But this is not about code.

When I was a small thing, I was terrified of the unnatural. Barney, and — more broadly — televisions. My parents would put a sheet over the hotel room TV, a ward against it coming alive in the night.

My mother is an illumination. (And oh my goodness I love her dearly…) A couple of years ago, over a very emotional lunch in Chicago, she told me that she and Dad were always careful to praise us kids not for what we did, but for who we were. They loved on us hard, and while our accomplishments were cause for celebration, they were not point of it all, at all.

This is because they aren’t. There is a fundamental truth of life, here: the accomplishments aren’t the sustainable thing — you are. The grades and the medals and the instruments and whatnot, they aren’t alive and won’t be made new tomorrow — but you will.

And I think that’s why she was able to help me with that TVs-shouldn’t-be-alive-why-are-they-alive thing.

She cured my terror-of-the-unnatural by showing me stop-motion animation, under the hood. Tools: the family VHS camcorder, some wooden blocks, and the kitchen floor. We made the blocks assemble themselves into towers, walk themselves back down again, and march in step on the floor.

A simple thing, just pulling the curtain of illusion back to see the process behind, but in adulthood I chalk up most of my current worldview to this idea. For just as a childhood soccer win is an artifact of me being me (not that that happened, I was terrible), she demonstrated that visual effects are just an artifact of very real, very sane, very natural processes. The unnatural was just a combination of the natural that I had not yet understood.

There is no magic: everything has an order. Everything has its own physics, if you will, and if you can understand the physics, you can play with them.

You are subject to few absolutes. The systems you are a part of, the laws, the schools, the paychecks, the way we eat, the way we love, all of them are patterns that existed yesterday and have carried into today, but it does not mean they cannot change, and you being within them does not mean you cannot change them.

Pull back the curtain, of all of it. When I do so, I see love reverberating through the universe — energy, beating and vacillating and living and dying and being reborn on the other side, because energy is a constant. That’s the root of it all, at the very core.

Everything else can be rewritten.

And if you care to join, you have the invitation. ❤️

I wonder if story-telling is the soul making a backup.

This occurred to me yesterday when I found myself telling someone new the same stories that I’ve told every other someone-new in recent memory. This is perhaps just me choosing the same well-worn introductory tracks as a time-saver, here’s who I am in a hundred words or less, but that’s a non-starter if I’d rather talk about how I’m pretty sure none of us are only ourselves. So!

I posit that we are, more truly than we normally sense or experience, a network, and that love is another word for flow within that network. Also that the story-telling instinct exists to spread around the only things we truly have ourselves — our particular time- and context-bound experiences, and the impressions they’ve made on us. So that, when we as individuals are gone, we as deltas will live on.

Abe’s dad is here for the weekend. He’s actually the “someone new” that I mentioned earlier; I went with that descriptor seeing as how yesterday was the first time that he and I had any meaningful amount of time together. The guy’s incredible. Or (and? because?), he gets out of the way of Jesus. I’m sitting here typing and looking at a pad of notes that I was jotting down during our conversation — all variations on a theme, that it’s just God, and us, and freedom in love. For there is now no condemnation. We are all created different, with different flaws — yet God wants to have a relationship with us all. And can. (And that’s the proof, I think. Love wins, across every single combination of flaws and faults, because love is the act of connecting without regard to flaws and faults. It can do nothing but win.)

Anyway though, Rudy gets it. “We may not understand each other,” he said, “we may not be the same … ‘but hello!’”. Hello, my friend, hello person that I don’t understand or agree with. Hello, how are you?

Here’s a thing he’s realized in this last decade: “Jesus created me, for this moment. And the more in tune I am to Jesus, the more peace I have but alsothe more I fit in to His plan. […] Acknowledge His love, and that His love has us here.”

And that’s not a thing I’d registered before, in those terms. There’s almost an urgency to it. If you assume the perspective that your particular combination of flaws and faults has significant potential in the presence of love, and further that love is omnipresent, then every moment becomes manifestly purposeful. You are here, unavoidably; from there, you can be merely yourself, or you can choose love, and be the network. The family, the village, the love, the kingdom, I don’t know what word to use here. In love, in connection, there is more than just me. Thankfully.

If story-telling is making backups, it’s a sign that we’re subconsciously, fundamentally, oriented upward, into the larger stream, which I think is all we ever were.

Onward and upward.

Pattern recognition

This is what I’ve come up with so far.

1. Consistency will get you the farthest.
2. Your subconscious is better at detecting inconsistencies than you are.

And therefore,

3. Operating by instinct is generally a pretty good plan.

2009 was difficult. Depression on the whole is un-fun, and while year six of it didn’t feel particularly different from year one (in the sense that feeling is a departure from baseline), the amount of time and energy I put into work and classes had finally killed off my stamina.

Which was only a problem insofar as it was not sustainable. In the years leading to that point, I had made the best decisions I could with the information I had: given an interest and existing background in web stuffs, I chose a school and a degree program and a series of jobs to get me further down that road. When I ran out of interest, I stayed the course because it made sense. Momentum. And when that ran out, in the absence of interest and energy both, the only thing left was to curl up in a safe place, and sleep.

(This is why my education summary starts at a tech university in Chicago and summarily ends at a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. The principle feature of the small liberal arts school in Wisconsin was my best friend from high school. I could trust him, and rest.)

When I came to, it was with a very clear sense that people are what I needed to be about (inverse Stockholm). I had no interest in career for its own sake, and every interest in continuing to make the kind of connections that had brought me back — in creating generally, and in humanity genuinely — and following them wherever they go. Which, bonus wordplay aside, really just means finding honest connections with people, and seeing what we can make together.

And that’s it.

My declarative memory has always been terrible. Birthdays and names and valence counts — totally unreliable.

Patterns, on the other hand, are my jam. Derive the pattern, and suddenly everything’s deterministic. Internalize the pattern, and your next move becomes automatic — the next note played, the next word spoken, the next step taken. Facts are committed to memory, patterns are committed to instinct.

This suggests the potential for forming active instincts, which isn’t anything new. Personal trainers and AA sponsors alike are all about owning your behavioral automata.

What’s equally interesting to me are the passive instincts — a musician hears when a note is out of place, and knows where it should be; a designer sees and cares about that extraneous pixel. In a similar vein, everyone has social instincts that tell them when something isn’t quite right, and where things should be. There’s an uncanny valley for interpersonal interactions, and instinct can steer us through it; I hold that this can be the case for nearly every area and scale of substance.

1. Consistency will get you the farthest.

The strongest and truest connections happen between people who are, to each other, wholly and earnestly themselves. This could be an encounter in a moment, or a friendship over years. In the space of that connection, they are only and honestly the patterns that define them.

That’s one application.

The other one I care about is the complement of the long-term career plan. Whether it’s 10,000 hours or not, any desired outcome to a pattern will require time.

I posit that the desired outcome is optional. Choose a pattern that you are comfortable with now. Follow it, consistently and for the long run. You have no idea where it will lead, and choosing a specific outcome now, when you know the least about where you’re going, is not required.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” — Douglas Adams

2. Your subconscious is better at detecting inconsistencies than you are.

I think of this generally as aestheticism. (Tracing the noumenal?)

We all come pre-packaged with survival-oriented preferences (warmth over cold, sweet over bitter) and we can tell when something is awry. As we layer in patterns that aren’t defaults, developing preferences that are more abstract, the adventure-choosing becomes more nuanced, and the notion of right is less cognitively straightforward. It becomes a matter of taste.

(Much of art hinges on this. I have a friend who spent days in an architecture class adjusting the visual weights and contrasts of an abstract print. There was no conscious formula; she was looking for the right balance.)

3. Operating by instinct is generally a pretty good plan.

My dad calls this “sticking to the plan”. I call this “wiring up your instincts to reflect what you want to be about, then relying on them fully”.

I’ve been running this as an experiment since returning to Chicago in 2012.

I will keep you posted.