Category Archives: Shit That Actually Matters

Holy cow, I work at Microsoft!

Most folks’ first thought: Wait, whaaaaat?!

Second thought: Actually… that makes sense!

So, it’s true: After nearly three great years back at Adobe, I’ve moved to just the third place I’ve worked since the Clinton Administration: Microsoft!

I’ve signed on with a great group of folks to bring generative imaging magic to as many people as possible, leveraging the power of DALL•E, ChatGPT, Copilot, and other emerging tech to help make fun, beautiful, meaningful things. And yes, they have a very good sense of humor about Clippy, so go ahead and get those jokes out now. :->


It really is a small world: The beautiful new campus (see below) is just two blocks from my old Google office (where I reported to the same VP who’s now in charge of my new group), which itself is just down the road from the original Adobe HQ; see map. (Maybe I should get out more!)


And it’s a small world in a much more meaningful sense: I remain in a very rare & fortunate spot, getting to help guide brilliant engineers’ efforts in service of human creativity, all during what feels like one of the most significant inflection points in decades. I’m filled with gratitude, curiosity, and a strong sense of responsibility to make the most of this moment.

Thank you to my amazing Adobe colleagues for your hard & inspiring work, and especially for chance to build Firefly over the last year. It’s just getting started, and there’s so much we can do together.

Thank you to my new team for opening this door for us. And thank you to the friends & colleagues reading these words. I’ll continue to rely on your thoughtful, passionate perspectives as we navigate these opportunities together.

Let’s do this!

“How Adobe is managing the AI copyright dilemma, with general counsel Dana Rao”

Honestly, if you asked, “Hey, wanna spend an hour+ listening to current and former intellectual property attorneys talking about EU antitrust regulation, ethical data sourcing, and digital provenance,” I might say, “Ehmm, I’m good!”—but Nilay Patel & Dana Rao make it work.

I found the conversation surprisingly engrossing & fast-moving, and I was really happy to hear Dana (with whom I’ve gotten to work some regarding AI ethics) share thoughtful insights into how the company forms its perspectives & works to put its values into practice. I think you’ll enjoy it—perhaps more than you’d expect!

Two quotes worth reflecting on as we go into the new year

One, I swear I think of this observation from author Sebastian Junger at least once a day:

We’d do well to reflect on it in how we treat our colleagues, and especially—in this time of disruptive AI—how we treat the sensitive, hardworking creators who’ve traditionally supported toolmarkers like Adobe. Our “empowering” tech can all too easily make people feel devalued, thrown away like an old piece of fruit. And when that happens, we’re next.

Two, this observation hits me where I live:

I’ve joked for years about my “Irish Alzheimer’s,” in which one forgets everything but the grudges. It’s funny ’cause it’s true—but taken any real distance (focusing on failures & futility), it becomes corrosive, “like taking poison and hoping the other guy gets sick.”

Earlier today an old friend observed, “I’ve always had a justice hang-up.” So have I, and that’s part of what made us friends for so long.

But as I told him, “It’s such a double-edged sword: my over-inflamed sense of justice is a lot of what causes me to speak up too sharply and then light my way by all the burning bridges.” Finding the balance—between apathetic acquiescence on one end & alienating militancy on the other—can be hard.

So, for 2024 I’m trying to lead with gratitude. It’s the best antidote, I’m finding, to bitterness & bile. Let’s be glad for our fleeting opportunities to do, as Mother Teresa put it, “small things with great love.”

Here’s to courage, empathy, and wisdom for our year ahead.

Check out my MAX talk on the potential of Generative AI in education

I got to spend 30 minutes chatting with educator & author Matt Miller last week, riffing on some tough but important questions around weighty, fascinating stuff like what makes us human, what we value around creativity, and how we can all navigate the creative disruptions that surround us.

Hear how Adobe generative AI solutions are designed to continually evolve, develop, and empower educators and students from kindergarten to university level. Generative AI is expected to have a significant impact on the creativity of students. It has the potential to act as a powerful tool that can inspire and enhance the creative process by generating new and unique ideas. Join Matt Miller, author and educator, and John Nack, principal product manager at Adobe, for this exciting discussion.

In this session, you’ll:

  • Learn how Adobe approaches generative AI
  • Hear experts discuss how AI affects teaching and learning
  • Discover how AI can make learning more personalized and accessible

Introducing Adobe Firefly!

I’m so pleased—and so tired! 😅—to be introducing Adobe Firefly, the new generative imaging foundation that a passionate band of us have been working to bring to the world. Check out the high-level vision…

…as well as the part more directly in my wheelhouse: the interactive preview site & this overview of great stuff that’s waiting in the wings:

I’ll have a lot more to share soon. In the meantime, we’d love to hear what you think of what you see so far!

Helping artists control whether AI trains on their work

I believe strongly that creative tools must honor the wishes & rights of creative people. Hopefully that sounds thuddingly obvious, but it’s been less obvious how to get to a better state than the one we now inhabit, where a lot of folks are (quite reasonably, IMHO) up in arms about AI models having been trained on their work, without their consent. People broadly agree that we need solutions, but getting to them—especially via big companies—hasn’t been quick.

Thus it’s great to see folks like Mat Dryhurst & Holly Herndon driving things forward, working with Stability.ai and others to define opt-out/-in tools & get buy-in from model trainers. Check out the news:

https://twitter.com/spawning_/status/1603126330261897217

Here’s a concise explainer vid from Mat:

George Orwell on your self-delusional product metrics

Okay, not directly, but generally dead-on:

We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” – George Orwell, 1946.

“…or at reorg time.” — JNack

Come help me design The Future!

I’m incredibly excited to say that my team has just opened a really rare role to design AI-first experiences. From the job listing:

Together, we are working to inspire and empower the next generation of creatives. You will play an integral part, designing and prototyping exciting new product experiences that take full advantage of the latest AI technology from Adobe research. We’ll work iteratively to design, prototype, and test novel creative experiences, develop a deep understanding of user needs and craft new AI-first creative tools that empower users in entirely new and unimagined ways.

Your challenge is to help us pioneer AI-first creation experiences by creating novel experiences that are intuitive, empowering and first of kind.

By necessity that’s a little vague, but trust me, this stuff is wild (check out some of what I’ve been posting in the AI/ML category here), and I need a badass fellow explorer. I really want a partner who’s excited to have a full seat at the table alongside product & eng (i.e. you’re in the opposite of a service relationship where we just chuck things over the wall and say “make this pretty!”), and who’s excited to rapidly visualize a lot of ideas that we’ll test together.

We are at a fascinating inflection point, where computers learn to see more like people & can thus deliver new expressive superpowers. There will be many dead ends & many challenging ethical questions that need your careful consideration—but as Larry Page might say, it’s all “uncomfortably exciting.” 🔥

If you might be the partner we need, please get in touch via the form above, and feel free to share this opportunity with anyone who might be a great fit. Thanks!

“What do you want ten times more of?”

This simple but excellent question was put to me once by Merlin Mann. I’ve reflected on it many times over the years, and I’d ask it of promising candidates in job interviews. I’m asking myself now, as I mark one more revolution around the Sun.

Some people say “Money.” Okay, sure… but why?

Others say “Time.” That’s maybe closer to my heart—but again, to what end? What are you/we doing with the time we have now?

For me the answer has always been “Impact.” I don’t know whether that’s “right” (if such a thing exists), but it captures my eternal desire to make a positive dent in the universe, as Steve Jobs would put it. I want to leave things better than I found them—happier, more beautiful, more fun—for my family, friends, and the creative world at large.

Maybe better answers exist—Love, Courage, Wisdom; I want them all in great abundance. From those things would flow impact & all other goodness.

I dunno; how about you?

Five Golden Rules For Building Unsuccessful Products

One nice, cheeky quirk of Google is the ability to write one’s own epitaph upon departing, slapping a few words of sometimes salty wisdom on the out door. My former colleague Hodie Meyers bugged out just ahead of me & dropped a sarcastic fistful of Despair.com-worthy gems:

  1. Do things because they are possible
  2. Do many things at once and try to spread yourself thin
  3. Build the complete system before evaluating the idea. Call it MVP anyways
  4. Never let client feedback or user research distract you from your intuition
  5. And remember: It’s always more important that you launch something than that you create true value for your users and customers

“No One Is Coming. It’s Up To Us.”

“Everyone sweeps the floor around here.”

As I’ve noted many times, that core ethos from Adobe’s founders has really stuck with me over the years. In a similar, if superficially darker, vein, I keep meditating on the phrase “No One Is Coming, It’s Up To Us,” which appears in a sticker I put on the back of my car:

It’s reeeeealy easy to sit around and complain that we don’t have enough XYZ support (design cycles, eng bodies, etc.), and it’s all true/fair—but F that ‘cause it doesn’t move the ball. I keep thinking of DMX, with regard to myself & other comfortable folks:

I put in work, and it’s all for the kids (uh)
But these cats done forgot what work is (uh-huh)

Some brief & bracing wisdom:

Happy Monday. Go get some.