2024-01-01 2 min read

Notes, 2024-01-01

This newsletter celebrated its tenth birthday recently, an anniversary which came after a year of change. Fifty-three weeks ago, I announced that we would change our name from The Prepared to Scope of Work. Shortly thereafter we changed our entire publication stack, and in the middle of 2023, we began paywalling some of what we published. We do this cautiously (we paywalled sixteen posts in 2023, while also publishing fifty-two free issues), but with the confidence that relying on direct support from readers will improve the quality of our output – and ultimately make us more creative, responsive, and sustainable.

It's a whole different job, though – convincing you not only to spend a few minutes with us but also to pay for the privilege. Moreover, a big part of me continues to struggle with the idea that I am a writer now, and I don't love the idea that when we do paywall something, the audience which reads it shrinks.

There is nothing to be done about this other than to continue – and to, I think, turn a couple paywalls off at the end of the year in an attempt to entice subscribers like you to join us. So here, in ascending order, are the most popular (now un-paywalled!) posts that we published in 2023:

  • Rummage Sale Planet, our interview with Adam Minter about Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. In it, we discuss secondhand electronic markets in Ghana, the Indian textile reprocessing industry, and basic end-of-life planning that could (and should) be done by product designers everywhere.
  • Make Big Plans, our interview with Bent Flyvbjerg about How Big Things Get Done: The Surprising Factors that Determine the Fate of Every Project. Perhaps the single clearest tip from this was that every project team needs one person whose job it is to point out cognitive biases – and if you're working on a big project, to focus on building a maximum viable product rather than a minimal one.
  • On Gravel, my meditation on the shockingly large network of gravel roads (almost ten times as large as the Interstate Highway system) maintained by the US Forest Service. This was followed later by Ford and Macadam, which explained the transition from gravel roads to asphalt – as well as the surprising range of methods that Ford used to distribute Model Ts to customers.
  • On Naphtha, part of my series on the rubber industry, in which I grappled with one of the paradoxes of modern life: The better people get at chemistry, the less any particular person understands about where stuff comes from. I have returned to this idea often since, and continue to find it bizarre and fascinating that we're able to derive industrial solvents from pine trees and dishwasher rinse agent from palm oil.
  • When the Chips are Down, our interview with Chris Miller about Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology. This interview covered two of the most interesting companies today: TSMC and ASML, which together play a dominant role in the semiconductor supply chain (and geopolitics).

We've got lots more in store for 2024; I enter the year excited to understand more of the world, and to inspire as many of you as I possibly can to do the same.

Happy 2024 <3


Scope of Work is supported by our awesome Members, and through generous support from:

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Spencer Wright
Spencer Wright
Spencer Wright is the (mostly accidental) founder of Scope of Work, which he started writing (as The Prepared) in 2013. Today he serves as its editor-in-chief and chief dilettante.
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