Philosophical Foxes - https://opensea.io/collection/philosophicalfoxes
The Following is an amended transcription of the conversation with Mario Gabriele from March 11th during the Hyy.pe Artist Spotlight.
Makers, Engineers, Writers, other types of Creatives tend to need big blocks of unbroken time to do their best work.
Anaroth: Good Afternoon, and thank you for joining us today. To get us started off, could you please share a little bit about who you are, and what you are currently working on?
Mario Gabriele: Happy to be here, as you mentioned I am the founder of the Philosophical Foxes and The Generalist. The Generalist came first, I started writing it on the side while at my last job in venture capital back in 2019, but transitioned to full time in 2020. Prior to that I had a bunch of different careers in tech and beyond. The one constant was that I always liked to write, and was super interested in storytelling. Before I was ever writing about tech or anything like that, I was working on my novel for about 8 years, and that’s still something I often spend my mornings doing. I’ve always been interested in how to make stories for people to tell. Philosophical Foxes ended up coming out of those two interests in technology and stories. After studying the NFT space and writing about it in The Generalist I started to have an idea for what I thought could be a different type of project, and a very different kind of story than what we have seen so far. I’m obviously super excited about the things that are yet to come.
Anaroth: You shared how you had this moment to invest in yourself and The Generalist back in 2020. Can you share a little bit about the thought process as you made that choice?
Mario Gabriele: Reflecting, I am not sure that I knew it was going to be a success, at the time it definitely felt like a bit of a leap of faith. I also think that we tend to be risk averse, or at least I used to be. It seemed like such a massive risk to leave my job to continue building a newsletter. Thinking what are you doing leaving this nice job to do something that at first glance might seem trivial. I certainly didn’t know it was going to work when I left, and it wasn’t until I turned on an actual business model in 2020 that I got a little traction. In June of 2021 the business was in a self sustaining place, and to me that was the moment that I was like wow you know I think I can do this indefinitely and it feels very much like this is part of my life’s work. I think it is really easy to self gatekeep in a way, thinking that you won’t be able to do something, or perhaps that you might need more experience. I believe there are plenty of other people who can do that for you, but I think it is very important to not do it for yourself.
Anaroth: Collaboration plays a large role in the space for creating. Can you share how you have learned to collaborate effectively, and what advice you might give to others?
Mario Gabriele: It’s a topic that I am very interested in, last summer I wrote a piece articulating a theory I had around multiplayer media. The idea was that creativity is increasingly becoming a team game, just like open source software projects can be created relying on hundreds or thousands of contributors. I think we are now entering an era in which coordination of that kind is possible for creative works. I really think that NFTs are the best instantiation of that. There is no better way that I have found to align an ethos with a group of people so quickly and create the resources and enthusiasm necessary to do that kind of storytelling.
Reflecting on lessons learned, I would say they have mostly come from The Generalist so far since I have been doing it for a longer time. One of the unique parts of The Generalist is that we often do multiplayer pieces. There are times where instead of me just writing a piece , I will instead bring in as many as 20 other contributors. We all write a different section, I edit for clarity and concision, but the result is something relatively unique. A piece that feels like one, but has the thinking and the brain power of 20 different people. In terms of the lessons learned from that, I think it’s really the need for an orchestrator who can pull those different strands together. Otherwise, I think it’s a little tricky to take it from exploration to a finished product. It doesn’t have to be the leader of the whole project either, a lot of the best NFT projects have these emergent leaders. One of them in the Philosophical Foxes has been Chris Gage, and he is doing what I would consider our first universe extender as an experiment.
The other lesson is that you have to define the parameters of the game that you are playing. It is not useful to say to someone “Create Anything” that is a very hard thing to act on. I do think that it is very useful to say, here is the game we are playing, here are kind of the rules of this game, and here is what you might want to do. Here, that statesman figure / orchestrator acts almost like a Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons. Where you’re saying, here’s the story I hope we tell together, but really the decisions are yours to make.
Anaroth: How has your time at The Generalist changed the way you think about creating?
Mario Gabriele: I would say that there are a lot of direct applications on the business side of things. The fact that I get to study great high performing companies most days of the week is very useful while trying to build a company. I would say there are some lessons that I am constantly trying to apply. In terms of creativity, the biggest thing The Generalist has taught me is the value of a strong shipping muscle. The fact that I was working and continued to work on a novel that I started in 2012 is perhaps an indication that by default my shipping muscle is weak. The thing that forces you do it is having essentially public schedule and building the accountability mechanism of other people that expect something from you. I would also say how important it is that you share your thoughts and ideas publicly. There is so much learning, connection, and opportunity that opens up the moment you start to do that, and it only compounds as your audience and influence grows. When you find a way to lower that barrier to create, you really start to see some interesting things happen.
There’s something about having a new medium without established tastemakers and gatekeepers that makes it a lot easier to speak up and share. In some respects any theory in crypto can be laughed off one way or another, it’s almost like a sector full of heretics, but in a positive way. The fact that there isn’t someone to say that’s a good NFT or that’s a bad NFT from a place of central authority makes it easier to posit new theories or suggest things. The fact is we are all still in the learning phase for all of this.
Anaroth: One of the things that I always like to ask people is to take some time to reflect on something you are most proud of and celebrate an accomplishment. What moment / moments stand out to you in your life?
Mario Gabriele: That is a lovely and generous question to get to ask people. Honestly yea, The Generalist and Philosophical Foxes are definitely the things I am most proud of. I would put the novel in that camp, but with the caveat that I haven’t shipped it publicly, but I have written it now five or six times. I am very proud to have finished it. In some respect, the word pride suggests that the project is over, or at least that’s often how we use the word. I don’t necessarily feel pride as much as I feel a real optimism and drive to keep pushing it forward one way or another.
Anaroth: Inspiration is an interesting topic I like to touch on in these conversations. Who is it and where do you to for inspiration to guide your focus throughout the day?
Mario Gabriele: Guiding your focus, that’s a very interesting way to frame it. I don’t know if I have an answer to that specific part, but in terms of inspiration more generally I would say I take 99% of my inspiration from fiction. I think fiction is just an incredibly rich source material for lessons about life, or for prompting you to think in a way work does not naturally guide you. Within the world of fiction my favorite writer is Nabokov. I think he is the greatest writer that has existed so far, from a sentence construction and craftsmanship perspective. Inspiration for the foxes has origins in the work that Nouns does, Corruptions and then sort of further afield things like Sleep No More which is an immersive theater experience that I think has some great characteristics.
Anaroth: Productivity and creativity don’t always go well together, how do you structure your day to be productive?
Mario Gabriele: The biggest tactic or technique that has been useful for me is mentally adjusting to the idea that I am on what Paul Graham terms a maker schedule, rather than a manager schedule. The differentiation he makes is a manager is not necessarily needing to get into states of deep work that often. The cost to a manager of taking a 30 minute coffee meeting or phone call is relatively low. It doesn’t require a huge amount of buffer time to effectively get into the state in which you can do the deep work that is necessary. Then, Makers, Engineers, Writers, other types of Creatives tend to need big blocks of unbroken time to do their best work. Trying to write a piece and having your day broken up by 30 minute call is not really possible, you will effectively make zero progress.
It’s the same for Philosophical Foxes, when I am trying to think through the next phase of this project, the sort of stories I hope to tease out, thinking about what primitives need to be introduced to the ecosystem; having these one to two hour spells doesn’t do a lot for me. What I try and do is keep most of the day open as much as possible, so I can just go straight into writing, research, and storytelling mode. Then towards the end of the day around 5:00PM or 6:00PM I can get through emails and respond to messages and take any meetings that are necessary. That’s been the biggest shift, and has been a little uncomfortable in the sense that you do often feel guilt or emotional pressure to do things that deprioritize that unbroken time. It can feel really tempting to break it up. As time goes on, I’m able to be a little more disciplined in recognizing that the cost of breaking up that time is not just the time it takes for that meeting that is interrupted. It’s like five times that amount because of the lost productive time such an interruption causes.
Anaroth: What a gem of information to bring my questions to a close, thank you for sharing that perspective. Before we close out our conversation I’d like to give you the opportunity to share anything that you are currently working on or looking forward too.
Mario Gabriele: Philosophical Foxes is one of the things I would say as I had mentioned I’m most proud of, and most excited about. In many respects it feels like the truest manifestation of my interests and passions. It’s an NFT project that is playing with the boundaries of what an NFT can be as a character. Specifically the way that we are doing that is other than focusing on the external traits of an NFT, we’re building around internal ones. Things like what emotional baggage of fox has? What virtues they might have? What philosophy they adhere to? What secrets they might hold? We can use all of that as a jumping off point for on-chain storytelling. It is an interesting place to start in that it already takes you several steps further into actual character building. For people to create stories of their own, I think you need that primitive in the ecosystem.
In the coming months and I very much hope years, the focus will be on introducing new primitives into the ecosystem. When I say that I mean, what are the other sort of story legos that you need to build on chain stories? An example would be a dilemma, so you have these Foxes begin to make choices and accumulate a history or a backstory. Another might be the notion of connections. How do you introduce the idea that one Fox is related to another Fox? Or enemies with another Fox, and how does that play out? That’s one theme, the second is to create these master stories that we are all living out together. Obviously I hope that every Fox creates their own story, but theres also this super story we are living through together. For season one that super story is how Foxes learn to sleep. It culminates in this end of season finale where a hallucinogenic mist spreads across the foxes world and they begin dream. So right now we have Foxes that think we will soon have Foxes than can dream. I think dreams open up an entirely different landscape from a narrative perspective.
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