Lesson 79: 🐴 Product is the horse

It does the service no harm for the product to be put together or taken apart

Nature takes substance and makes a horse. Like a sculptor with wax. And then melts it down and uses the material for a tree. Then for a person. Then for something else. Each existing only briefly.

It does the container no harm to be put together, and none to be taken apart.

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 7, part 23

🐴 Product is the horse
☕ Service is the container

You must remember that you are not in the business of product, you are in the business of providing a service. The product is the tool that facilitates that service.

For many of us, our design work is wrapped-up in the discovery and delivery of the tool our organizations use to provide users a valuable service, so it’s no surprise that we conflate and even worship the thing. We put everything into the product, all of our skill, all of our thinking. We sacrifice dearly to it.

But would you worship a hammer?

The product is a thing. And even if a living thing, the product is killable. It is recylcable. The product is only as good as it is an effective facilitator of the service. Over-emphasizing product prevents us from seriously considering the opportunities that might arise if, say, the product were no longer there.

What might be? It’s often sacrilegious to wonder aloud, because companies think they sell products, and so think think they are inseparable from the products. What is Slack the company if not Slack the product, right?

The product is the horse. Remember Sun Microsystems: the clock starts ticking as soon as the thing’s conceived. Whether the organization fails when the time of its product is up is determined only by how capable the org is to facilitate a valuable service in some other way. Its success is determed by whether it does facilitate a service, not how, or with what.

Stoic designers are service designers, because it does the service no harm for the product to be put together or taken apart.

Craft virtuously.


Clicking that ❤ in this issue of Stoic Designer is an easy, no-sign-in-required way to signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a minute of your time. Stoic Designer is also a podcast on every platform.

Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield

Lesson 78: Good Design Work does not mean Successful Product

You must try to decouple your sense of value as a crafts-person from the entity that buys your wares.

Consider the possibility that nobility and virtue are not synonymous with the loss or preservation of one's life. Is it not possible that a person should forget about living a certain number of years, … accepting … that 'no one can escape their fate.'

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 7, #47

We should investigate why we conflate "Good Design" with product longevity, or product revenue, or product hype. A person is not a good designer because they lead design at some mega-dollar company. They are a good designer - or they're not.

And so what is Good Design, then? Sure, there's something about efficacy. But it's also about adherence to principles, about how the design work was performed.

Was your design work performed ethically?

Was your design work performed with integrity?

Are people better now for having done the work?

You do not control the impact of your design, let alone its impact on business success. You must try to decouple your sense of value as a crafts-person from the entity that buys your wares.

Craft virtuously.


Clicking that ❤ in this issue of Stoic Designer is an easy, no-sign-in-required way to signal to the great algorithms in the sky that this writeup is worth a minute of your time. Stoic Designer is also a podcast on every platform.

Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield

Lesson 77: The path's never not in front of you.

When you drift off path, oh well, the path's still right there.

Today's prompt from Ryan Holiday’s and Stephen Hanselman’s The Daily Stoic Journal caught me off guard:

Are my choices beautiful?

To me, this is honestly a little hokey. I wondered at first what, praytell, constitutes "a beautiful choice," before discovering that if your answer is anything but an instinctive "yes," your choices aren't.

Of course there’s value investigating why you’re not feeling so hot about them, but maybe more importantly is just deciding that your next choice — whether big or small — gears you in the right direction.

I said as much on twitter. A friend asked, then:

— and although I can’t suss out whether this making light fun of the hokeyness of all this shit (I know), I think the answer’s sure. Contentedness with one’s actions is the goal.

Any external rubric you measure yourself against is just a sign post. The sign post doesn’t care if you turn left or right. It doesn’t really tell you where to go, it just shows an expedient, predetermined path to a specific locale.

What is the path then to contentedness with one's choices?

Prioritize well 💀, then stick to your guns 💪, then walking that walk until there's no more walking to do. When you drift off path, oh well, the path's still right there. It's never not in front of you.

Craft virtuously.

Letter 76: Shirking routine

How much of what you do routinely matters?

There was nothing easier than to stop writing Stoic Designer regularly. The routine of approaching this as something I do never quite slipped into habit, and although sometime a joy - it’s always been a chore. The shutdown surrounding the pandemic provided me with an excellent excuse to just quit.

Mostly, this has been for good.

How much of what you do matters to you - really?

Routine is the work to abstact your decision making to a to-do list to reduce the aggregate decision fatigue and interaction cost inherent to tasks that just need to get done regardless, but by moving these tasks from conscious choice to a running list, you forget to scrutinize their priority.

All in all, this has been a useful time for introspection, but now it’s time to wrest control from the events of the world and begin again the work of living deliberately. We have shirked routine and perhaps that has made more clear about what mattered - or, perhaps, it has simply made more obvious the time and energy wasted having shirked it.

Craft virtuously.

This is not the worst-case scenario.

The lesson then is that this is not the worst. You can think. You can do. You are not without agency here.

A hundred years after the colony of Lyons first came together, a fire burned it down in a matter of hours. We know now that Lyons recovered and is still purring along some two thousand years later - but when it burned it shook the world. It ended-up a topic about which Seneca wrote, because such a calamity hit a friend of his to the core.

The burning of Lyons is not unlike the situation we find ourselves today in the pandemic: it seemed sudden, it was unexpected, and the ripple effect of exponential damage is breathtaking.

It’s okay to honor the holy-shit of this moment, and allow yourself the kind of awe it deserves. As much as we may have seen or worried about this coming, it is different to be in it. “Strangeness adds to the weight of calamities, and every mortal feels the greater pain as a result of that which also brings surprise,” our boy reminds Lucilius.

Nothing, whether public or private, is stable; the destinies of men, no less than those of cities, are in a whirl. Amid the great-est calm terror arises, and though no external agencies stir up commotion, yet evils burst forth from sources whence they were least expected. Thrones which have stood the shock of civil and foreign wars crash to the ground though no one sets them tottering. How few the states which have carried their good fortune through to the end!

We should therefore reflect upon all contingencies, and should fortify our minds against the evils which may possibly come.

The “lesson” is admittedly bleak: what is it we expected? Everything ends. People, products, services, economies. But while preparing for the worst is pragmatic, experiencing the worst still sucks - right?

The lesson then is that this is not the worst. You can think. You can do. You are not without agency here. There is, in fact, opportunity here.

Perhaps its destruction has been brought about only that it may be raised up again to a better destiny. Oftentimes a reverse has but made room for more prosperous fortune. Many structures have fallen only to rise to a greater height. Timagenes, who had a grudge against Rome and her prosperity, used to say that the only reason he was grieved when conflagrations occurred in Rome was his knowledge that better buildings would arise than those which had gone down in the flames.

As much change as the pandemic may have forced on you, whether you’re now at home with kids, or you can’t work, or you’re working harder, revert to the mean and remember that Deliberate Practice Rewires the Brain and train your perspective.

Are you dead? No. Are you dying? Probably not. Will you die tomorrow? Probably not. Do you have to crunch at work? Good. This is an opportunity to shine. Are you stuck with the kids? Good. Show them a good example of glowing under pressure. Is your startup going to crumble after too many weeks of economic crisis? Good. Go out with a bang, there will be other jobs.

Practice gratitude. Practice perspective. Craft virtuously.


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Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield

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