Post title image: On the Road

On the Road

Why cars are the second best space for creativity (after Ashores).

Desk Notes

Investors often talk about something called founder-market fit.

This obsession often centres on the big things. Does the founder have domain expertise? Can they build the product? And can they sell it?

However, there are also often a whole other, much more mundane, set of skills a founder will need to build a certain company. For Ashore, one of those skills is the ability to enjoy driving.

Whether it’s scoping out a new location, couriering an extra bit of kit a guest has requested, or doing a six hour round trip in the dead of night to install an extended Starlink cable in the middle of a field, I’ve done it.

Fortunately, I absolutely love driving.

Not throwing-a-car-around-a-circuit-pretending-I’m-Lando-Norris-going-up-Eau-Rouge driving. But the general rhythm of day-to-day driving.

Whether it’s slowly meandering through London at night. Or whizzing down a clear motorway. Or carefully navigating through a country road in the deep Highlands.

Ashore-mobile #1. Somewhere in Skye. Early 2023.Ashore-mobile #1. Somewhere in Skye. Early 2023.

I often find myself wondering why. When people are asked why they like driving, they normally say something vague about freedom.

That makes sense - growing up in rural mid-Wales, a driving licence represented an end to reliance on parents, buses, and taxis.

But for me I see driving as the ultimate space to think. In particular, do a very specific type of thinking.

We often talk about the need to be present, and focussed, when doing something that really matters. We also talk a lot about the need to switch-off, and step away entirely.

What hardly ever gets a mention is the awkward middle. When you’re doing something else, and your mind is wandering. Thinking about a problem. An idea. In an unintentional way.

I think that’s because this having two different things battling for your attention at the same time is often a negative.

Particularly if you’re starting something new, having that thing that needs to be done constantly sitting in the back of your mind can be exhausting.

And we should know - solving that problem is at the heart of our mission at Ashore.

But there are moments where focussing on two things at once is positive. moments of absent-minded creativity. Spaces to think without overthinking.

I’ve heard it described as dishwasher time. The thinking that comes during the mundane moments. Cleaning up the kitchen. Wandering to the shops.

I suppose if you were a psychologist you’d call it the incubation effect: when you think deeply about something, forget about it, and the answer comes to you in time.

"Peggy, just think about it deeply. And then forget it." "Peggy, just think about it deeply. And then forget it."

And driving (alone) is - for me at least - is the ultimate environment for this kind of thinking.

First, you’re massively constrained. There’s no calls, Slack threads, or emails to distract you. You also can’t write anything down, limiting how granular you can go with your thinking.

It’s also time-boxed - you know how long the journey will take, and that’s how long you’ve got.

Second, you’re alone. There’s a weird kind of privacy that comes from being in a car: hence drivers often behaving in ways they never would outside the safety of their air conditioned two tonne box.

But what is normally a negative, also works positively: the isolation and anonymity can also provide a degree of psychological safety when thinking.

And finally, the rhythm of driving - 90% monotony, 10% some weird thing happens that you have to react to - ends up pulling you in and out of what is sort of a trance state.

The machine does the work, and your brain enters oversight mode.

As described by academic Lynne Pearce:

“It’s now widely understood that the reason we can safely day-dream, work through our thoughts, or have a conversation at the wheel is because the brain’s central executive remains alert throughout – and it will return our attention to the road in an instant as and when needed.

And it’s that balance that I find so powerful - your brain is occupied just enough that you’re able to think uninhibited; in broad strokes; and constrained by what you can remember when you reach your destination.

But ultimately it’s a mode of thinking that’s on borrowed time. AVs - and the way they’ll change the nature of the car - will mean we’ll ultimately lose this space for thinking forever.

We can see the future of cars already.

If you want to be seen as a big deal in China, you don’t drive a 911 GT3 or a Ferrari Roma, you instead (get driven) in a people carrier on steroids.

The Zeekr 009. In the desert. For reasons unexplained.The Zeekr 009. In the desert. For reasons unexplained.

One of the newer models is something called a Zeekr 009. The seats are in the style of what you'd see in business class in an aeroplane.

There’s a place for your laptop, a sixteen inch monitor, cameras for video conferencing on the move, and the middle seats can be used as beds.

Already the market is beginning to pivot - Volvo just released the EM90, built on the same platform. The tagline? Make yourself at home.

Obviously autonomous vehicles (and the shift to cars being more home-like) are - on the whole - a good thing.

Not only from a safety perspective, but the ability to work-from-car, and the opportunities it unlocks.

But the loss of another avenue for the kind of absent-minded creativity we all need a bit of from time to time, is something I think we should mourn.

And enjoy the last years of cars as a space to truly think differently.

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