Ready, Fire, Aim

Blueprint Series #3



When the stakes are low, I've learned to take a ready, fire, aim approach. It's the fastest way to learn. You have an idea you want to try, you go ahead and fire in the general direction, you see and feel what happens, and then recalibrate and aim. And then you do that over and over.

I think the key is movement. An outfielder in baseball can't point directly to where the ball will land by standing still. It's by actively running and moving along with the ball, your body and mind rapidly recalibrating every second, that you end up in just the right place, at just the right time.  Not only can you not catch the ball without moving – you can't even predict where or when the ball will land without moving and engaging.

Meaning: you can't see the path ahead of you before going down it. It's by engaging, by moving, by questioning, by trying something new, that you discover the path ahead, one step at a time, and where it leads.

I'm in this process with this "Playbook" as we speak. Did I choose the right name? What exactly is it? Do I need to break things up into series?  Did I choose the right title? I didn't have the comments turned on? What do people expect? What am I supposed to do?

In less mindful moments, or when sleep deprived, those questions (and mistakes) can be anxiety inducing. When I'm at my best, they're just points of curiosity I'm trying to figure out.  They're exciting, enticing even – the act of learning, creating, honing. And so I keep moving, trying to catch a glimpse of the ball up high, moving forward, but not knowing exactly where I'm going to land. 

From experience, I do know that when you end up in just the right spot at just the right time, well, those moments can be magic. I've never been able to predict when those moments will come, but I'm learning to trust the process, and to simply keep my eyes open, moving and listening and course correcting as the process unfolds.

Rather than being frustrated by not knowing what will happen (my natural tendency as I want to control everything), there’s a part of me that is starting to look forward to seeing what happens. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation about discovering, like a story unfolding. 

Of course, I'm talking about things beyond this Playbook, too – I'm talking about life. This sense of...having fun on the adventure rather than always being stressed out about it, of not knowing what will happen next, is something newer I'm tapping into. 

I think I've been working on that for a decade now – these last eight years in business have been the most difficult years of my life – but it took getting hit by a bus to fully shatter some frail ideas I still held about life: that it should be fair, that it should be fun, that it should work the way I think it should. 

I am now 100% convinced the world doesn't work the way I think it should. Or DID think it should. 

And while that was very confusing, difficult, and painful to let go of (and I think I'll probably always be discovering ways I still have claims on life and need to let go), it was also quite freeing once I did.

There are countless ways I am grateful for that – being forced to let go of control through the crucible of some good-old pain, suffering and helplessness (I still can’t walk more than a few blocks, and with substantial pain, for reference). This has allowed me to take a step back, to loosen my death grip on the steering wheel, to watch for and feel where life is going, and to learn to have fun again.   

My job isn’t to control the world or what happens in it – I know from experience that doesn’t work! My job is to see and respond to the world, to dance with it—and through that process of interacting with the world, I believe we can actually change it, along with ourselves, into something better.

I believe this is crucial to understand because, as humans, we don’t know where we are going, what will happen next, or the long-term consequences of our actions. But we must move and work towards something, or we, and the world, will wither and die. It’s the law of entropy. We can’t stay where we are; we must press forward.

But in the act of going forward, of trying new things, it is guaranteed we will go in the wrong direction. That’s how we learn. If you are trying to walk straight with a compass, it’s actually impossible to just walk in a straight line. It’s by moving off true north that the arrow guides you back.

Here is how all this ties back to what we are doing at Building Culture:

We talk a lot about wanting to build durable architecture. Not just physically durable, but enduring beauty and usefulness to people, too. Enduring richness. But I don't think we can build a more durable architecture without first having durable ideas.

I can't explain everything I mean by that at this moment (or in this letter), but I will unpack this over time. 

I have said many times that I believe our architecture is an external manifestation of our internal reality. It's a physical representation of our culture and values. It's a mirror, reflecting back to us who we are, and what we believe. 

And to me, the frailty and ugliness of our architecture tells me we have frail and ugly ideas as a culture, and we need to excavate out some cheap ideas so that we can build off something solid. 

Durable ideas = durable architecture. 

I know I had, and still have, my own frail ideas. But I am increasingly motivated to root them out as the more I do, the more solid I feel, and the more resilient and content I am. 

If it sounds like I'm giving advice, I'm actually just reflecting back my own mental process as I walk through life and the act of creating, and now leading, Building Culture. Plus, this writing and podcast thing I'm experimenting with is more public than many of my other experiments, so it's on my mind.   

I still have no idea where I'm going to land with this Playbook, but I have recalibrated my direction rapidly over the past few posts, and now I know why I'm doing this. I know the goal.  My goal isn't a "newsletter" or a "product" or even to "share what I know about masonry and development," though I will.

My goal is to discover

My goal is to piece together durable ideas that can be used as the ideological foundation for Building Culture and how we operate in the world.  That starts with understanding what it means to be human. That will be our north star: how to live a rich and meaningful life – be that at the individual level or the cultural level, permeating every aspect of everything we do. The bricks and sticks and everything else are secondary to this; they’re informed by this, given meaning by this. This is the only way for our architecture to really facilitate human flourishing. We first must rediscover what it means to flourish. It seems we have forgotten.


Each post will discuss one or several observations from a master list of "personal observations" drawn out of my own life, about life. We will explore what it means to be human, to live a rich and meaningful life, so that our external work in forming the human habitat with architecture is born from a place of first understanding who we are and what it means to be human. 

Personal Observation #1: Life is boring - most of life is spent on mundane tasks and daily 'maintenance'.

Personal Observation #2: Life is uncertain – you can’t control life or predict outcomes (as individuals or institutions); you have to move to find out where you're going, act to set off the feedback loop, watch to reorient back to your goals. There are no guarantees, except that not moving and exploring guarantees stagnation and death – be it of the physical or soul kind.  This requires both courage and humility to navigate – courage to move when you’re not certain, and humility to watch for how you’re wrong.  

Don't worry, we are starting a bit dark, but I promise I have a lot of positive observations. I just need to capture all my shattered expectations about life, first.


Podcast of Month: Huberman Lab - Rick Ruben: Protocols to Access Creative Energy and Process. Yes, another Huberman podcast, but I loved this podcast and Rick’s take on finding meaning, living a good life, and what it means to pursue an artistic and creative endeavor.  There are a lot of morsels of wisdom in here from someone who has achieved pretty remarkable things, while living a remarkably unique life. This is another one I plan to listen to again in a year. 

Life Optimization: Opal is a screen time management app for your phone that I personally like quite a bit more than Apple's built in screen time. And I am desperately trying to claw back attention from my phone at all times. Our phones are incredibly useful tools, but also highly distracting ones – the whole world at your fingertips at every moment.

With Opal, you can't even search for blocked apps, or override it by clicking on them. You have to go into the Opal app to snooze for up to 15 minutes. But, what's cool is that if you are really struggling you can up the "difficulty" settings to snooze, making it where you either can't or have to wait a long time to snooze.

I now have Opal blocking everything, including email and news until 10am daily, and then blocking all social media til 12pm M-F. It still takes me effort and I can get sucked in easily, but boy it feels good to be putting my phone down more and more. I'm very motivated to continue working on this and Opal has helped a lot.

Health Exploration: I struggle to sleep. Always have. So, a lot of my health explorations revolve around trying to figure that out. Most people are aware at this point that viewing screens and blue light at night is not good for our sleep or circadian rhythm. I often wear red glasses in the evenings at home, but I learned this new phone hack from Rick Ruben on his podcast with Huberman: On an iPhone, go to Settings > Accessibility [scroll to bottom] > Accessibility Shortcut > Select 'Color Filters' and hit 'back'. Now, triple click the screen/power button on your iPhone. Your screen turns black and white! Super cool and useful. Now, around 7pm every night I just triple click to mute the colors on my phone. As a side benefit of not getting all that blue light, the lack of saturation/color also makes it less attention grabbing and addictive.

Book Recommendation: Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. There are many books out now that explain the real world problems of suburban sprawl, but this is an OG and the first that I read that opened my eyes to the problems. Ultimately, this was one of the first stepping stones of my path to Building Culture.

You absolutely don't need to be in the profession to read this book. That's actually who it's for: lay people like me at the time of reading it to raise awareness about a problem that most people, including myself 12 years ago, had no idea about.

If you've never really looked into the actual problems of sprawl, the measurable health and financial and social consequences, you will look at the world in a new way after reading this.


If our vision to cultivate a more thriving world through people-first architecture resonates with you, and you want to explore supporting the movement financially with a real-world project slated to break ground late 2024, simply hit reply to this email, or send me an email at [email protected].

While one day I hope to open things up to crowdfunding (smaller dollar amounts), our current offering for our Townsend Project here is for accredited investors only, with a $100k investment minimum. And now for the legalese:

The Securities are offered to Accredited Investors only pursuant to Section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Rule 506(c) of Regulation D promulgated thereunder.



That's it for today. You can drop me a line by replying to this email or commenting on the webpage. I'd love to hear from you. I may be slow to respond (and can't respond to all), but I read them all. Until next time!



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