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  • In the brilliant HBO hit Silicon Valley, Pied Piper (the fictional company at the heart of the story)  develops a key innovation called “middle-out compression”. The origins of this concept are shown in an amazing scene that is absolutely not family-friendly, so I won’t link to it here (but it’s easily searchable).
    But “middle-out” goes deeper than either cable sitcom success or actual data compression. It might just contain the seeds of a powerful life philosophy rooted in ancient wisdom traditions and more relevant than ever in our current moment of social, political and planetary crisis.

    “Middle-Out” As “Stable at the Center”

    The first impulse is often to start from the extremes and work inward. Middle-out suggests that we need to start instead from the center and work toward the edges. This has a couple of advantages:

    • From the middle, I can move in any direction in response to circumstances.
    • From the middle, I can rest in stability, harboring my energy for the inevitable moment when I will have to gather my resources and apply them to the needs at hand.

    This principle can be applied in all sorts of contexts. Below I talk about psychological, political, and technological applications, but the same principles work in other domains (including two I care a lot about but won’t discuss here: the aesthetic and the spiritual).

    The Psychology of Middle-Out

    In group situations I find myself thinking of myself as the smartest person in the room, or the dumbest: the “in” guy that everyone loves, or the ostracized loser. What if, instead, I can stay “stable at the center”? I am neither the greatest genius the world has ever seen, nor am I the goat, the butt of all jokes. I am just here in my body, with my experience, abilities, weaknesses and blindspots. Stable at the center, I can lift myself up in the face of blame and root myself in the face of praise.

    The Politics of Middle-Out

    “Stable in the center” is not a popular position in the current American and global political realm. Dylan’s “Which Side Are You On?” is back in fashion, with a vengeance. But the way forward is “stable at the center”. Move right to greet the world with a passion for rootedness in tradition and a vision of unshakeable unity. Move left to meet a passion for justice and a vision of undeniable diversity. Critique equally on all sides (George Orwell has something to teach us about that sort of integrity). Don’t get attached to any side. Stable at the center, move middle-out to respond with truth and clarity to what you see.

    Middle-Out and Technology Development

    Middle-out applies to technology, too–not just with regard to compression, but in the way technology projects get done. Every project has bomb-throwing radicals and hunkered down royalists: those who want to change everything and those who want to protect everything. Strong project leadership is “stable at the center” Move toward the radicals and embraced their passion for finding the best possible solutions. Move toward the royalists and embrace their passion for stability, preservation, and orderliness. Stable at the center, middle-out project leaders balance conflict, forge alliances, form new compounds from the crucible of the day-to-day.

    Middle-Out Was Not Invented In Silicon Valley

    • Inscribed over the ancient Greek temple at Delphi is the epigram “nothing too much.”
    • In the Tao Te Ching the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu wrote that “The great Way is easy, yet people prefer the side paths./Be aware when things are out of balance. Stay centered within the Tao.”
    • And, founded on the same principles, Buddhism has long been known as “the middle way”  between extremes.

    We have reached a point in our evolution as a species where we need to get past our attachment to extremes and take a fresh look at the possibilities of middle-out for our social selves, our work, and our consciousness. Pied Piper has shown us the way there; can we take up this tune?