A deep dive into the mind of Packy McCormick. If you collect this post as an NFT, 75% of the funds will go to Packy.
On my crypto/web3 journey so far, I’ve focused on learning about what we can do with the technology; what builders and creators are doing now, and what they’re dreaming of. With each new project I explored, my understanding of the value of web3 grew. Bit by bit, I started to see the promise of web3 for different applications, and who would benefit from every new experiment; whether it be creators & fans, or consumer brands & their customers.
But recently, I realised I might’ve been ignoring something more important and relevant to us all - web3 makes our lives better. I’m not talking about what it lets us do, like being able to make cheap, instant & global payments or own digital assets. I mean, web3 gives us the tools to design a life that’s more meaningful, and more aligned with our interests and values. It lets us have more fun, work on what matters to us, tap into our unique superpowers, gain more flexibility & optionality, and create meaningful change in the world.
I know that’s a bold and optimistic statement, but bear with me, and I’ll take you through why it may be true.
To do so, I’ll draw upon the writings of Packy McCormick*, who’s known for his entertaining deep-dives into all things tech and web3. A common thread throughout his writing is that we’re living in a world that’s increasingly like a video game.
I’ll pull on that thread to tell you a simple bull case for web3: our lives are better with it, than without it.
Since this is a long read, here’s the short version:
Now to start, here's some background on Packy:
He grew up outside Philadelphia in the US, studied Economics at Duke University and ended up working in finance, at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
In 2013, he became the first US employee of Breather, helping them convert office spaces into meeting rooms. ~4 years in, the company wasn't doing too well so Packy and a colleague wrote up a detailed plan on what Breather needed to do to save itself. It worked for a while, but more importantly, it got Packy hooked on writing.
Shortly after, he signed up to David Perell's online writing course: Write of Passage. As part of the course, Packy wrote a piece called The Best of Ben, summarising and curating Ben Thompson's work. He didn’t think his work was any good, but he remembers that David called out his piece as one of the best from the class. With this piece of encouragement, he gained the confidence to pursue and commit to writing.
Packy started by curating and summarising content and eventually launched Not Boring in April 2020. Since then he's shifted his focus to writing essays on business strategy and trends, and more recently, has been writing more and more about crypto/web3.
Before we dive into his ideas, it's worthwhile understanding how Packy sees the world:
Packy chooses to approach new ideas with openness & curiosity.
He says that Not Boring is "for the optimists, and for the skeptics who are willing to keep an open-mind". Fittingly, in the first issue of Not Boring, he opened by saying: “If you’re looking for doom and gloom about everything that’s going on, you’ve come to the wrong place. We only do optimistic takes here.”
In today’s post, we’re going to be talking a lot about crypto/web3, which is full of craziness. So, to prepare ourselves, it’s best if we can step into Packy’s mind, and adopt his openness & curiosity.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
Packy regularly refers back to two posts from Chris Dixon:
Packy believes the world will "continue to get exponentially crazier." In Compounding Crazy he explains that:
Packy McCormick: "Previous generations’ hard work makes it easier to build new things. That’s what powers the increasing pace of innovation. Discoveries become inventions become building blocks become inventions become building blocks, ad infinitum." (source: Compounding Crazy)
And finally, Packy's most important piece of advice is to go and get your hands dirty by using things, even if they look like toys, so that you can make up your own mind about it.
That way, rather than blindly believing what others are saying, you can see for yourself whether something valuable is being built, and learn new things along the way.
Packy McCormick: If you haven’t jumped in yet, as always, my advice is just to get involved and start learning, experimenting, participating, and building. Realize that things that might seem like novelties now, like tokens, NFTs, DAOs, and DeFi, are building blocks that future generations will build on, and that you have the potential to put your skills to work wherever they can do the most good. (source: Sc3nius)
With all of that in mind, we’re finally ready to dive into Packy’s ideas, and figure what’s so good about web3.
Packy talks about how we’re living in a world that’s increasingly like a video game. He calls this The Great Online Game.
The idea is that people all over the internet are playing a game online, as themselves, with real-world implications.
In this game, you’re rewarded for your online contributions - like learning, sharing and collaborating with others, or helping and teaching them something. Packy says that all you need to play is "some knowledge and curiosity." Playing the Game could be as simple as replying to people you respect on Twitter, or talking to like-minded people. Over time, you may start to share your knowledge through writing or videos, or even build your own projects.
Packy McCormick: We now live in a world in which, by typing things into your phone or your keyboard, or saying things into a microphone, or snapping pictures or videos, you can marshall resources, support, and opportunities. (source: The Great Online Game)
So, what’s the reward? You can:
This game is being played out across nearly every aspect of our digital lives - whether it’s for work, learning, investing, creativity or play.
There are many examples of this:
However, from my personal experience, it can be hard to get started. You may think: I don’t have anything valuable to contribute. What if I say something wrong? What if my work isn’t good enough? What if this ends up being a waste of time?
One of Packy’s key points is that there’s asymmetric risk and reward to playing the Game. Limited downsides, but unlimited upside. Lawrence Yeo’s article The Day You Decided to Take the Leap also illustrates this well. He explains that whenever we’re doing anything, it’s easy to lay out our concerns, but hard to predict all the future benefits we may gain. This is exactly the case with The Great Online Game.
Lawrence Yeo: While you can easily predict the concerns of making any leap, there is no way to predict the numerous rewards that await you on the other side. As long as that chief concern is one you think you can manage, the most rational thing to do is to actually make the jump. By not making that leap, you are voting to give up all unimaginable future rewards for a single concern you can predict and prepare for today. (source: The Day You Decided to Take the Leap)
Ultimately, the Great Online Game is a quest that opens you to new opportunities that you didn’t even know existed. It’s up to you to get your hands dirty.
Packy McCormick: The Meta Game here is your life and your career. The more you evolve and level up, the more opportunities you’ll have. If you build up a following, meet the right people, and get involved with the right projects, you’ll have put yourself on an entirely new trajectory. (source: The Great Online Game)
Understanding that we're all playing The Great Online Game in some form, gives us a helpful frame to explore the implications of crypto/web3 for our lives.
As with most games, we can either choose to play solo (single-player mode) or play with others (co-op mode). I’ll take you through both, and help you see what that experience could look like.
One way to think about crypto/web3, is that it provides an inventory of power-ups for individuals playing their Great Online Game.
With web3, we can all have more fun and make more money while playing The Great Online Game.
In Pareto Funtier, Packy explores how we often make trade-offs between making money and having fun. Rationally, we wouldn't give up more money if it meant we didn't need to have less fun. The optimal choices are Pareto efficient - meaning that any alternative choice we make will require us to sacrifice either money or fun.
As you can see from the diagram below, the set of optimal / Pareto efficient choices sits along a curve - typically called the Pareto frontier. Given we're talking about money vs fun, Packy punnily calls this the Pareto Funtier.
He argues that web3 pushes the Pareto Funtier outwards - it lets us:
This is most obvious with the creator economy. In The intersection of crypto & the creator economy, I explored how crypto can help us realise Li Jin's Passion Economy thesis at scale - "a world in which people are able to do what they love for a living and to have a more fulfilling and purposeful life.”
However having more fun and doing what you love isn't limited to creators. web3 makes this a possibility for all of us. It lets us work / learn / invest / play / create along the new web3 Pareto Funtier.
Packy McCormick: This is a great time to be alive, and if you’re reading this, you’re one of the early ones. If you don’t see anything that aligns with your interests, it’s never been easier to pull together some friends and spin something up. If you’re building already, think about how your product can push out the Pareto Funtier for your users or members. If nothing else, take a second to think about whether you could be making more money having fun, or having more fun making money. (source: The Pareto Funtier)
For example, you can :
There's asymmetric upside to playing the web3 Great Online Game, because it's an ecosystem that rewards participation with ownership and value. We said that when you play the Great Online Game, you earn points, gain new skills & attributes, and unlock new levels over time. web3 adds additional layers of rewards:
The tokens (both fungible and non-fungible) we hold in our crypto wallets allow us to signal who we are, what we care about and what we're capable of; to maximise our social capital.
Eugene personally defines social capital as "capital that derives from the networks of people". This bit from Eugene may help bring that definition to life:
Eugene Wei: Some people find status games distasteful. Despite this, everyone I know is engaged in multiple status games. Some people sneer at people hashtag spamming on Instagram, but then retweet praise on Twitter. Others roll their eyes at photo albums of expensive meals on Facebook but then submit research papers to prestigious journals in the hopes of being published. Parents show off photos of their children performances at recitals, people preen in the mirror while assessing their outfits, employees flex on their peers in meetings, entrepreneurs complain about 30 under 30 lists while wishing to be on them, reporters check the Techmeme leaderboards; life is nothing if not a nested series of status contests. (source: Status as a Service)
web3 is simply a much more efficient and fun way for anyone to maximise their social capital, particularly in an increasingly digital world. It lets us show, rather than tell.
Packy calls it Investment-as-a-Status - “social capital with skin in the game”. For example:
Beyond who you are and what you care about, your holdings can also signal what you’re capable of. These can be earned through your journey of playing The Great Online Game. For example:
As you can see, your crypto wallet becomes an increasingly important part of your Great Online Game over time. Why does that matter? Well, it’s impossible to predict what new levels it’ll unlock for you - in terms of the opportunities that may emerge, and the people you may meet.
Perhaps most importantly, in Power to the Person, Packy argues that that power is shifting to individuals, and we'll eventually reach a point where individuals matter more than institutions.
Packy McCormick: We’re on the precipice of a creative explosion, fueled by putting power, and the ability to generate wealth, in the hands of the people. Armed with powerful technical and financial tools, individuals will be able to launch and scale increasingly complex projects and businesses. Within two decades, we will have multiple trillion-plus dollar publicly traded entities with just one full-time employee, the founder. (source: Power to the Person)
At the core of this argument is the idea that "people follow people, not companies". This is because individuals have a natural advantage over institutions. We have unique skills, experiences, stories, personalities, interests and more - and when we put that together, we can differentiate ourselves, and tap into niches.
The easiest way to understand the power shift is through the lens of the creator economy:
This has been supercharged by crypto which has created new earning opportunities for creators. The introduction of digital scarcity through tokens means we can now represent digital assets online as NFTs. Now:
In the future, Packy believes that companies and projects in all industries may start to look more creator fandom today. It'll be increasingly viable for individuals or small teams to build and scale complex projects and businesses to compete with large companies and platforms for attention and profit.
If you think Packy is being too optimistic, remember that the world is getting exponentially crazier. We’re not quite there yet, but there are early signs of this happening.
For example, with a full-time team of 4, Moonbirds raised ~$60m from their initial sale, and over ~$15m from secondary royalties in their first week. Their success is arguably driven largely by the reputation, impressive resume and network of their founder (Kevin Rose).
Here’s what Kevin had to say about being able to raise that much capital:
Kevin Rose: It sucks to be an ad business. At Digg, when we were on top, with something like 30 million or so monthly uniques on the site, we still couldn’t make money. The fact that we can now use this capital to go out and build, it’s a beautiful thing because it sets the creativity free. (source: Alexis Ohanian and the Seven Seven Six Announcement)
It’s important to note that playing solo is hard, and for some, possibly less fun. The good thing is that we don’t have to play solo.
web3 is creating more opportunities for us to tap into our unique superpowers and play with others.
Packy McCormick: Just because we can do more on our own doesn’t mean that we should. (source: The Cooperation Economy)
Those who choose to play and work with others are part of what Packy calls The Cooperation Economy. It’s the multiplayer mode of the Great Online Game. Let’s see what it looks like:
Packy McCormick: The Cooperation Economy is emergent; if companies are planned top-down, collaborations form and dissipate as needed. Individuals will come together -- formally or informally -- to create Liquid Super Teams, formed of people with the right set of combined attributes for the task at hand. They might last a day, they might last three years. Then each member will go their own way, until they find the next quest to join. If we’re playing the Great Online Game, these Liquid Super Teams are our squads. (source: The Cooperation Economy)
Packy argues that one of the downstream benefits of power shifting to individuals, is having greater "freedom to choose how, and with whom, to work." He calls this Liquid Work.
Packy McCormick: What Liquid Work provides above all else is optionality. That may mean working for a couple of companies simultaneously, but it might also mean working for yourself, teaming up with others for time-bound projects, investing as a group, and contributing to a DAO in an area of interest. It’s fluid. (source: The Cooperation Economy)
With Liquid Work, we'll see the formation of Liquid Super Teams - groups of individuals who choose to work together to achieve some goal - whether it's to build products, invest, learn or do something fun.
Liquid Super Teams are like The Avengers. Unlike a company, each person can come and go as needed. When they're together, they each bring their unique superpowers and networks.
The value of being in a Liquid Super Team is that you can enjoy the optionality and flexibility of Liquid Work, to focus on what you’re uniquely best at, while tapping into a larger network and community.
Liquid Super Teams aren't exclusive to crypto/web3. However, decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs), the web3 version of companies/communities, do make it easier to form web3 Liquid Super Teams; especially as our world becomes increasingly digitised and globalised.
Packy has a very concise definition of DAOs:
Packy McCormick: More simply, DAOs are a new way to finance projects, govern communities, and share value. Instead of a top-down hierarchical structure, they use Web3 technology and rapidly evolving governance and incentive systems to distribute decision-making authority and financial rewards. Typically, they do that by issuing tokens based on participation, contribution, and investment. Token holders then have the ability to submit proposals, vote, and share in the upside. (source: The Dao of DAOs)
There are few advantages that DAOs and web3 Liquid Super Teams have over traditional ways of organising people:
What does this mean for you and your Great Online Game? Very simply, DAOs are the web3 way of finding your Liquid Super Teams, with some built-in advantages. It doesn’t mean you have to work in a DAO, or even that every Liquid Super Team in web3 is a DAO. It’s just another way for us to work, learn, invest and play with others, with more flexibility and optionality.
Packy McCormick: DAOs, too, are going to be important infrastructure for the Great Online Game. They make it easier for people to float in and out of projects at internet speed instead of committing to climb the ladder within a company, and allow for lightweight and temporary groupings when people want to combine their superpowers. (source: The Great Online Game)
Okay, we’ve covered a lot.
So far, we’ve been focused on what playing the Great Online Game means for ourselves, as individuals. We know web3 gives us additional power-ups if we want to play alone, and makes it easier for us to find our Liquid Super Teams to play with others.
There’s only one last thing to understand now - what does playing a web3-powered Great Online Game mean for our collective future?
One way to look at what’s happening in web3, is to see it as what Packy calls a “digital laboratory for complex problems.”
Packy McCormick: Every time a new NFT project comes together and falls apart, every time people ape into a seemingly worthless meme, and every time a DAO makes a subtle innovation in an attempt to circumvent some constraint, the whole system evolves and it produces new tools and tricks that entrepreneurs and policy makers can use to attempt to solve large, thorny problems, both digital and physical.
The fun part about this is that all of it matters: whether you’re trying to solve world hunger, just fucking around and trying some new mechanism, or aping into a project because you like the art, you’re feeding the simulation, adding tools to the toolkit, and pushing future projects forward. (source: The Laboratory for Complex Problems)
To put it simply, we can take the perspective that every new experiment is a building block for the future; a LEGO piece that anyone can pick up and use. Even if the things being built look silly or stupid, the knowledge we gain feeds into our knowledge base and helps us solve more and more complex problems. Beyond that, one of the great things about building in web3 is the ability to leverage the in-built scalability and composability of blockchains to drive innovation.
Note: By composability, I mean that there’s open code and open data:
Ultimately, this rapid experimentation may lead us to one of the "most productive and creative" periods in human history. Packy calls it WAGMI Scenius. WAGMI as in, we're all gunna make it, and Scenius referring to a period of "communal genius".
Silicon Valley is a good example of a Scenius - it created an environment which sparked the creation of many of the largest companies and most successful builders and entrepreneurs, who've ended up shaping every aspect of our lives.
In Packy's view, the web3 toolkit is sparking scenius that's "global in scale and broad in scope". Here's a few reasons why:
The implication of our WAGMI Scenius, is a future in which we’re better able to rally and incentivise groups of people to solve the most important societal problems. This is what gets Packy most excited by web3:
Packy McCormick: The biggest challenges – disease, climate, space, inequality, and more – attract a swarm of talent and capital that grinds them down until they’re largely solved
The big opportunity for web3 is to provide the tools and incentives to hack the swarm for good, to direct it to work on hard unsolved coordination challenges that we didn’t have the tools to address through markets previously.
Companies come and go, technologies get hyped up and fade away, but eventually, the swarm smooths out problems until the sexiest, most challenging things are just boring, normal industries. (source: The Invisible Hand’s Visible Swarm)
Ultimately, our lives are better with web3 than without it. It’s supercharging our Great Online Game, to make our lives more fun and rewarding. It lets us live in greater alignment with our interests and values - unlocking how much we’re able to do alone, while working on the things that we care about most. If we want to play with others, it makes it easier for us to find and form Liquid Super Teams. And if we choose to, we can work with our teams to solve the world's most important problems. Even if we don’t and we’re just messing around and having fun, it still makes a difference - because in web3, everything is a building block towards our exponentially crazier future.
But remember Packy’s most important piece of advice! Don’t blindly believe what others are saying, including this article. Go and get your hands dirty by using things. Start playing your Great Online Game and finding your Liquid Super Teams, and see if it makes your life better.