A New Things Under the Sun Update
Going Full Time
Change is afoot! Since December 2020, I have been splitting my time between writing New Things Under the Sun and teaching economics at Iowa State University. I loved teaching and Iowa State has been fantastic. But, to use some economist lingo, my comparative advantage is in writing New Things Under the Sun and I have believed for awhile that the project could have a bigger impact if I were able to specialize completely in it.
Accordingly, this is my last day at Iowa State University. Beginning May 22, I will be joining the Institute for Progress (IFP) as Senior Innovation Economist, where my job will be to work full time on New Things Under the Sun and related projects. You may recall the Institute for Progress has been New Things Under the Sun’s partner since January - they are a new non-partisan think tank with a mission to accelerate scientific, technological, and industrial progress. This new arrangement is possible thanks to them and grant support from OpenPhilanthropy.
While I am excited to officially be part of IFP, I will continue to work remotely from Iowa and retain sole editorial control over New Things Under the Sun. I continue to believe IFP is doing great stuff, and being affiliated with an organization that is trying to effect actual change is a good influence on me (and I hope I can be a good influence on them!). Among other things, working with IFP provides a constant nudge to think about how academic work sheds light on questions that matter.
So what does it look like to specialize in this synthesizer/communicator role I’ve carved out? I guess we’ll find out! But here is my preliminary sketch.
First, the most obvious requirement of this job is knowing the academic work well. Over the last years, despite my best efforts, my to-read list has only gotten longer. So I’m going to read more.
Second, part of the job is seeing connections between ideas. This is especially important as one of the things that makes New Things Under the Sun unique is I try to keep articles up-to-date with the academic frontier. That means I can’t write articles and then forget about their content. To keep what I write and read perpetually accessible, I am going to try is to build up a spaced repetition memory system.1
Third, I plan to write more. Well, actually, I plan to at least meet the goal I set for myself in January, after partnering up with IFP, to write three articles per month. I’m a bit embarrassed to say I’ve only hit this goal once, in February. Partly that’s due to covid finally catching up to me and then my kids during April, but it’s also because so far my time has been split and sometimes other deadlines assert priority. I don’t think New Things Under the Sun needs to be a really frequent publication - every original piece is designed to be perpetually relevant, with maintenance - but I at least want to get into a rhythm of producing something every ten days or so.
Lastly, I’m going to try and meet with more of the producers and “end-users” of academic research. What do people whose work is related to innovation wish they knew? What do academics studying innovation think about their own field? I think it’s obvious my work would benefit from more of this kind of tacit knowledge.
I’ve already had a few conversations like this with readers and academics. But I thought it might be helpful to make this a formal invitation: if you ever want to chat about something innovation related, feel free to drop me an email and we can set up a virtual coffee. I can be reached at mattclancy at hey dot com. Now that I’m working fully remote, hopefully this can be a good substitute for some of that serendipity around the water cooler I’ll be missing.
If zoom is not your thing, I also plan to visit Washington DC for a few days every quarter, to work at the IFP offices, and I hope to meet with people in person during those visits. I’m sure most of you are more likely to pass through DC then you are to pass through Des Moines.
Beyond that, I have plenty of other ideas for improving New Things Under the Sun, which I will also incrementally work on. But first, I’m taking a break! I’ll be taking off next week.
Cheers all and thanks for your interest in New Things Under the Sun. Excited about this next step.
This isn’t my first experiment with spaced repetition memory systems. During covid-19, I built an online intermediate microeconomics course using the Orbit platform developed by Andy Matuschak, which implements personalized spaced repetition. Check it out if you’re curious about spaced repetition or if you need to learn calculus-based microeconomics!