Watching anyone do something with skill is interesting

Telling someone 30 years ago, that streaming yourself playing video games would be a profitable venture, they would have laughed at you. Of course, if you were in arcades, people were watching each other play games already, but it wasn’t scalable, millions couldn’t watch a single person, that required the internet. 

The reason why this is profitable today, aside from the scalability of the internet, is that watching anyone do something with tremendous skill is fascinating. It’s a way to stand out. Go to a famous taco stall, and watch the skill of how fast they spit out tacos, I bet it’s mesmerizing. 

In the link below is a gentlemen playing Dragon Force – Through the Fire and the Flames on Guitar Hero 3. It was a notoriously hard song at normal speed, this guy is playing it at 165%, and hits every single note. You can see him playing. You can hear the strumming, you can visualize how skilled he must be at this. It’s interesting just by how skilled he is.

One way to make your project stand out it to show off the skill. Don’t make the skill behind the scenes, put it up front. Make it a core feature. 

A creative, patient, and generous focaccia.

Imagine you were hosting a dinner party, and a bakery in your town made some bread like this? If you needed bread, would you not go out of your way to buy a couple loaves like this to make the evening more special? I’m giving the benefit of the doubt on taste here. It would certainly get me to try it.

It’s important to stand out to break the tension of trying something new.

As Jerry Seinfeld put it in his 23 Hours to Kill special on Netflix, “I’ve seen a lot of stuff.” He was referring to why he doesn’t get excited when someone tells him he has to see something or do something. And it’s true, the older we get, the more special something has to be to excite us. In the age of the internet, if you want people to get excited about what you do, it has to be obvious that it’s different than what people have seen before.

How can you make your work stand out? I work with many different companies in the engineering realm, and most are just going on about their day as they have for the last 30-50 years. However, the tools in that time period have changed drastically, when I go to a customer who are using them to their fullest, it’s obvious that they are going places in the future.

Your company may be one iteration of what an industry looked like. If it wants to be in the second, third and fourth industries, it’s perhaps time to think about standing out.

Do I get to do it again?

One thought when making a decision is, “Do I get to do it again?”

If you’re making dinner for example, and you’re not sure if some lemon juice will go with the pasta you’re making, you can try it. Perhaps if it’s bad, and that was the last of the pasta, you won’t get to do it again, but you’ll do it again after your next shopping trip.

Getting the chance to do something again, reveals the level of importance of the decision. Agonizing over something like a job interview is important because you don’t get to do it again, at least not for that job.

How we approach decision making is affects the decisions that we make. If there is an opportunity to try again, it’s best to simply make a decision and view the results. If it’s something that only gets one shot, it’s best to be thorough.

Of course, this puts us in a conundrum. Wild imaginations may imagine failure leads to not getting any other chances in life. That if you open a restaurant, and it fails. You’ll never get to apply what you learned again.

That might be the case if you’re 70. Not so much if you’re 30.

There is an interesting psychology here. When I was a kid, playing video games, friends and I would fail at the same levels over and over again, and we never thought about stopping. Yet somehow, we lose this as we age. We take a shot, and miss, and think the world is over. Of course the reality is that as long as you’re alive, you can build your way back to getting to do it again.

If you’ll likely get another chance regardless of the outcome, what are you agonizing so much about?

Harvard wants to be exclusive.

I saw a post from Marc Andreeson called It’s Time to Build. In it, he mentioned Harvard could teach 1,000,000 students if it wanted to.

Except Harvard can’t teach 1,000,000 students.

Harvard can’t teach 1,000,000 students because Harvards main offering isn’t education, it’s exclusivity. It’s being part of a small club. It’s the reason rich parents send their kids their and pay a lot of money to do it.

It has a secondary effect too. It creates chips on other people’s shoulders. When a person sees themselves as better than Harvard Alumni, but loses a job to them, they start to work harder in their career. They start to push themselves. They may even think they are missing a piece of knowledge, so they start to pour over old textbooks and new material to find what they are missing.

Of course, what they are missing is simply a story. The story is that Harvard is the best school in the world, so it must produce better Alumni.

The reality is Harvard has built a system based on turning away everyone who isn’t likely to do much in life. Have a super wealthy family, well you’re probably heading for the C-suite, so Harvard admits you so they can brag about how many CEOs they “create.”

Working on a cure for cancer at 15. That’s some uncommon ambition and focus. Harvard will admit you as you are likely to do something with enthusiasm even if it’s not curing cancer. It could be founding a biotech company.

The education system could use a massive overhaul, but it’s not going to start with Harvard. Harvard’s main offering isn’t education, it’s exclusivity, so they aren’t going to be the one to lead this charge.

If your goal is to be educated, you can find learning materials anywhere, likely for free. If your goal is a credential, a sense of belonging or a club, it’s likely you’ll have to pay (a lot) for it.

The difference between pirates and the Navy is solely worldview.

You can’t sail a ship without being in sync or obeying a captain. So while pirates think of themselves as rebels, they still fall in line incredibly well. There will always be people that behave similarly to others but see themselves as an outsider. This is what makes the human sense of self so interesting, we can trick ourselves easier than anyone.

I remember reading Steve Jobs biography years ago, and when he was young, one of the questions he would ask in interviews would be, “Would you rather be a pirate or join the Navy?”

Here’s a list of things a pirate does:

  • Contributes to the sailing of a ship.
  • Uses force as necessary to achieve goals.
  • Obeys a captain or authority.

Here’s the Navy list:

  • Contributes to the sailing of a ship.
  • Uses force as necessary to achieve goals.
  • Obeys a captain or authority.

With that in mind, what do you think Steve’s question was trying to get at?

My personal opinion is he was looking to understand if someone is constrained by social norms in their methodology. While the lists above are similar, pirates may loot a town with force because one of their goals is to get money to survive. Navy men can’t do that. It’s against the values.

Another thing about the Navy vs. Pirates, is the Navy men are selected and recruited, they generally reject people who don’t fit their standards. The pirates are more likely to be a bunch of misfits. Steve may have been trying to sort who has a chip on their shoulder, and is looking to prove something. This is the Computer Science major who is extremely skilled, that went to Arizona State because he came from a poor background and got a scholarship there, yet is treated like something less than peers of equal skill who went to MIT.

He’s out to prove the school doesn’t matter as much as his mind. He’s motivated by it.

Worldviews are a powerful thing. They motivate people. They provide a sense of self. It’s worth it to understand the worldview of the person you’re talking to.

A laptop completely packed in paper cranes.

Below is a link to a story about a gentleman who ordered a laptop and received it with origami paper cranes as the packing medium.

In this case, I don’t believe it was marketing. Perhaps they had them laying around the house. However, this could be marketing. This was obviously interesting enough for this person to post it on the internet, which always earns some attention, or questions, like “Where did you order this from?”

Here’s the thing, it’s not a practical way to ship things. It could break something, from not being sturdy enough. It would cost too much to do on every package.

The latter is the most important. Since it can’t be done on every package, large companies won’t do it on any package. They are about standardization, processes, each task looking like the last.

However, even though it costs too much to do on every package doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done on every 10th package, or every 100th. The random surprise aspect of it makes it interesting for people opening up their boxes!

Things that don’t scale well are the secret sauce of small businesses, use it to your advantage.

To make a connection to a physical good…

It needs to have human characteristics.

In the tale of One Piece, the author made a scene where the Strawhat Pirates had to leave their first ship, Going Merry, behind. It was an emotionally powerful scene, as moving as any scene showing someone losing a person they care about.

How did he do it?

He gave the Going Merry human characteristics. Up until that point, it had simply been their ship, but a normal one. Then as the story got closer to the departure, the ship became more and more damaged. The pirates started to notice repairs finished, but didn’t remember doing them, they assumed the other crew members must have done them.

The story reached a point where the pirates were trapped by the government up on a tower above the ocean with guns pointed at them, and the ship sailed itself to come get them, saving their lives as they were able to jump down into the ocean and climb aboard the ship.

One of the crew members saw a mysterious looking person repairing it on a dark and cloudy night, who then disappeared. After sharing the story with a shipwright, it was revealed the spirit of the ship had been repairing itself, in order to be able to keep traveling with them. It was a legend amongst shipwrights that this happens when ships have been well taken care of. The Going Merry loved being on their adventure.

Finally, the ship was in such disrepair it was given a Viking funeral and burned, as the crew mourned their inability to take care of their ship, the ship spoke to them and said it was treated well, it couldn’t ask for better, and that it’s only regret was not being able to take the crew further on it’s journey.

For most of the story, the ship was just a ship. However, the author turned the ship into a character. He made it repair itself. He made it speak. He gave it an ambition. He gave it emotions. He connected it with the other characters.

If you want someone to feel something about a physical good, this is the work to be done. Human characteristics are the only characteristics humans connect with.

Being small, not thinking small.

There is a need for businesses with strong principles. Things like patience. Treating workers fairly. Growing at a proper place that doesn’t place them in over-leveraged situations.

These decisions will tend to lead to a small business based on employee count.

The problem I see is many small companies compete on price as a result, they have to sacrifice things like worker pay to compete with bigger companies. They don’t invest in systems that would make them more profitable like big business does, or allow them to deliver faster. I’m not thinking about multimillion dollar enterprise software, that would require raising capital after all. I’m talking about simple task automation, creating a follow up email tool in excel for salespeople that may require a couple hundred of dollars to a programmer for setting it up.

Small business needs systems in place that can make it profitable enough to compete with big business that will allow them to live their principles without sacrificing their business. Small companies need to be small, not think small.

The conversation you weren’t invited to.

Watching the news lately, I’m hearing a lot about “the conversation we should have had” in reference to the coronavirus and the economic shutdown.

The thing is, I’m sure there were conversations balancing exactly this topic based on available data from doctors and economists. The problem is 300-400 million people can’t have a conversation, it’s logistically impossible, and it’s why we elect representatives. This conversation likely took place in the congressional chambers of the United States.

Somehow though, when people are left out of a conversation, they believe it never happened. Their world doesn’t go past them as a person. At work, this is especially true. It constantly amazes me how many times someone assumes a certain product offering, marketing strategy, or other business endeavor has never been considered, and in fact it has, they just weren’t in the meeting for it.

This is the struggle of any organization dealing with constituents, employees, or customers. Relaying information and communication is a difficult task. It often requires repetition to make sure everyone is informed, yet that repetition causes those who listen closely to tune out, as they’ve “heard it before” and those who don’t pay much attention, still don’t see or hear about it.

It’s a tricky balance and perhaps the biggest struggle in growing a business.

Planning vs. Action

Experience is the only teacher that gives you the test before the lesson.

Not sure who said it

That’s a quote that I read recently. It rang true with me because I’ve met people on both sides of the spectrum. I’ve met people spending their entire life preparing for the test that experience will give them, never actually starting anything.

I’ve also met plenty of people who only learn by being smacked in the face by reality, after coming into an easily avoidable problems that a little research could have solved.

How do you find the right balance of preparing and taking action?

It’s not apparent there is a perfect balance, but one way to start is to ask, “What is the risk?”

If the risk is minuscule, less than an hours wage that can be made up by skipping a luxury during the week, action is the correct choice.

If the risk is medium, something like a week to a month’s wage, it’s not insurmountable to come back from in your life. It basically just delays retirement that amount of time if you don’t succeed, then perhaps it’s worth at least 1/2 that amount of time in preparation (1 month’s wages = 1/2 month preparation).

If it’s high risk, your life savings after 20 years of working, it’s likely worth as much preparation as you can do. Leave no stone unturned before starting, assuming all of those stones take less that 20 years to turn over..

Finally, if the risk is unknown, then more preparation and research is necessary. There is always risk act accordingly.

How to be put in charge.

The best projects at work. Running a huge division of a company. Organizing a community. Being a CEO. No one is going to put you at the head of any of these things because you don’t have experience. You’re not old enough. You don’t have the right education. You don’t have the right history of leading up these sorts of things.

That will always be true until you decide otherwise.

When you hear about these 20 year old tech startups raising millions of dollars, how is it that they can do that when in a traditional company, they would still be fetching the coffee?

They put themselves in charge.

They planted their flag and said, “This is what I’m working on.”

The world resonates with that attitude because the world right now is so fast and so quick changing, that no one knows for certain what we should be working on. Some people just tell the rest, “I’m smart, I’ve learned this so far, and I have a pretty good hunch this will work, so join me.” They say it much more flowery, probably with a pitch deck, and also some personal psychology thrown in, but you get the point.

I’ve mentioned marketing as a filter, but in this case that’s exactly what the people with money are looking for, a good idea with some market value and a person who has picked themselves to lead it up. By reaching out to an investor, these young kids have already shown the latter, they just have to get a meeting to convince them of the former.

While I don’t think the Silicon Valley crowd has everything right about the way they start businesses, certainly valuing people who pick themselves is a principle that is consistently valued anywhere.

Are you ready to put yourself in charge today?

What a good idea can do.

Electric vehicles impacted oil production. One of the reasons that oil prices bottomed out was because no one is cutting their production significantly, the coronavirus pandemic has decreased people’s travel and demand for gas, and there is nowhere left to store the oil that is being pumped.

In the past, production was always cut with major demand shifts, so what changed that?

The threat of electric vehicles.

It’s believed by some countries and economists that peak oil demand has been reached. That we’ve already consumed more barrels of oil per year, then we’ll ever consume again since electric vehicles are increasing in adoption rates. Now countries are in a rush to sell as much of their oil over the next 20-30 years as they can before oil demand drops drastically.

This is one way change can happen. Not through pure politics or complaining, but through pressure from a good idea.

That’s always been my goal for this blog. I want to show people perspective on those who are doing great things, treating people and workers well, growing, and putting pressure on others to do the same. Some good ideas can make unfathomable changes. In this case, the electric vehicle (and maybe growing green energy technology) are causing an entire economy to shift what has been its backbone for a century.

Imagine what some other good ideas can do.

Charge your true costs.

Disclaimer: I highly recommend reading this once, waiting a day, then reading it again. Repeat as necessary. While this article may seem outlandish to some, I truly believe it’s one of the principles that is breaking the United States apart, and will ultimately lead to an inevitable collapse of the country just like any empire before it.

I know a number of small business owners. In a particular case, I know the owner of a small machine shop. This owner has been in the business a long time 30+ years, and has provided for his family during that time.

In recent times, he even doubled his prices on most of his work after not raising his prices over the decades before and didn’t lose much business at all. Still his prices aren’t at the rates they should be. He’s collecting a medical insurance subsidy from the government.

Why is this important?

Undercharging customers breaks the “efficient free market” system. It relies on government to make up price differences to be competitive. And it’s a negative spiral. Other companies now have to compete with undercharging companies, so they too become undercharging companies leading to more dependence on government assistance.

I see a number of older generations telling me that younger generations have gone crazy. That the world is becoming too socialist. If that is to be avoided, we can’t hide the true capitalist costs and expect the government to fill in the gaps. Companies have to charge the real price that covers all of their bills and expenses for owners and pays a living wage for employees. If there is a shortfall, and the owner is getting a $20,000 subsidy from the government for medical insurance, it’s time to look at the work prices again, and divide a $20,000 increase across all the quotes and a little extra to get ahead.

If business owners don’t set prices at levels that cover their actual costs, how can a country not become dependent on the government? It’s the business owners who controls the pricing doesn’t even it set it high enough for himself to not need government assistance, how can companies pay employees in a manner where they to don’t need assistance from the government?

It’s easy for a small business owner to look at the political climate and say, I’m not responsible for creating those people who are mad that they make so little, I’m just a small player in a big system. Of course, that big system is made up of tiny little gears that are all interconnected. If you’re taking work from someone who is charging rates to cover all their costs, meanwhile you’re on government assistance then you are contributing to the socialism movement here in America even if you claim to be against it.

If you’re a business owner, be the change you seek in the world. Charge higher prices if you need to, let’s live capitalism as it was meant to be.

P.S. I know were in a unique situation for the pandemic here and possible recession/depression. That’s a different scenario that requires government intervention in massive doses. This scenario was taking place in the supposed strongest economy ever.

How to use technology to bring the past alive.

Below is a link to a twitter account that tweets out things that were happening 100 years ago as if they were live. It’s a new way to paint the picture of history.

One interesting aspect of this is that looking around for new ways to tell history was necessary to come up with this. Throughout time people have written articles, books, told radio stories, and made movies. This offers a new format for telling history. This offers something a little different.

Nearly all those other forms of media were consumed, then never revisited. This form is continuous, a never-ending stream. It offers the ability to share history as an unfiltered, uncharted set of data points as historians know it, rather then the fully fleshed out, well-curated presentations that were are used to where all the blanks have been filled in for us. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, as Napoleon said, “What is history, but a fable agreed upon?” Historians come to agreements constantly, but that doesn’t mean their interpretations match reality.

I love this because it’s interesting, it’s something worth consuming and allows someone who feels they don’t have time for history books to consume it in microdoses. We need more people doing interesting work like this. After all, whatever happened to interesting?

Don’t be practical.

A Taco Bell Crunchwrap supreme has a big following. It’s a popular item and people find it tasty. While I ate my fair share of Taco Bell in college, I haven’t been there in years. Recently, someone mentioned making a Crunchwrap at home, and it gave me a reminder of days gone past, and inspired a thought in me.

I treat my home cooking like a chef would. I bake bread from scratch. I make my own pasta sauce. I’ve even made my own ketchup. All of that gives me a good respect for high quality food. As a result, I like checking out new places looking for that “something magical” sort of place. I rarely find it, but when I do, it makes me happy. “Something magical” is generally the term for not only good food, but food that isn’t practical to make at home.

Going to a great bakery, they have breads that may require a couple days of fermenting that you may not have the storage for at home, or breads that weave together 2 or 3 kinds of different doughs which you may not have the ingredients for and certainly making 3 kinds of dough for 1 loaf isn’t practical at all. Bakeries can do it because they want to make 30 such loafs daily, so they would be making 3 batches of dough anyway.

The Crunchwrap isn’t practical, it requires two different kinds of tortillas. A soft flour tortilla to be the wrap and a crunchy corn tortilla for the middle. It would require frying the inner corn tortilla if you didn’t buy it crispy already, then cooking the meat, then wrapping all the toppings and frying again. At home, it’s not likely. It’s easier to take all the toppings, dump it over tortilla chips and call it a day.

I wouldn’t call Taco Bell one of my “magical” places, it’s simply lacking the quality. However, the concept of making something that isn’t easy for the home cook is something to be inspired by if you’re looking to be in the food business. Other businesses can benefit from looking at things this way too.

Why write a book today?

There are plenty of topics of significant complexity, that someone needs more that a few seconds of talk time to get their points across. That all their beliefs, arguments, and data isn’t well-suited for a back-and-forth conversation because when taken and discussed individually, it’s hard to get the full-effect.

I recently heard that 58% of adults in the US never read another book in their lives after high school. Studies seem to show that reading overall is on the decline. I like to think about issues like this in several different ways, walking through the history of literacy, to peak book reading, to today.

Here are some factors that affect literary consumption:

  • Literacy rate
  • Books published and accessibility to them
  • Alternate forms of media available

There was a point in history where literacy was low. If a person can’t read, they won’t consume books.

Before automobiles it was much harder to distribute goods. When something new was released, it didn’t instantly become available in every store. If the amount of newly published books was less than the demand for them, then that was limiting the amount of books read. Due to stores like Barnes and Noble having more books than you could read in a lifetime, we know that at some point in history supply exceeded demand and allowed peak consumption to be reached.

Finally, with the rise of other forms of media like radio, television, internet, newspaper, podcasts, and video, the way that people consume their information has shifted. Obviously, when books were the only choice, they had more demand to themselves, now there are many alternatives.

Today, what is a book for?

Let’s see what each form lacks:

  • Radio and podcasts lack visuals.
  • Newspapers lack depth.
  • Television and video are expensive to produce.

If you have something important to share that requires a visual element, with depth of content that is cheap to produce, a book is the media you’re looking for.

Why do shopping carts have 4 wheels?

3 wheels and their point of contact define a plane with the floor and are enough to create a stable rolling shopping cart, yet every shopping cart has 4 wheels, and the 4th one is nearly always spinning wildly if you look at all of them while pushing. This is a result of fabrication and wear. Even if manufacturing could hold tolerances tight enough to keep all the wheel in an even level plane, eventually the wheels get bent, or wear down from the asphalt outside.

Yet no one stops making 4 wheeled carts. Even if they cost more than necessary. Even if they don’t provide anything better than a 3 wheeled cart would.

The world is filled with problems like this. Problems that don’t make sense to tackle because no one is suffering as a result of fixing it. No one sees this as being a defining problem that will allow them to break into a new industry. Basically, there isn’t much incentive to solve this kind of problem.

Which means that if you are into problem solving, it’s best to make sure the problem you’re solving, isn’t in the same category as making a 3 wheeled shopping cart. Make sure it’s valuable and worth your time.

Legislation banning advertisements in outer space.

There were companies that wanted to build floating billboards in outer space that would have an appearance the size of the moon in the sky and the world’s biggest brands would pay to have their advertisements on them. Legislation had to be crafted to prevent such monstrosities.

I’m proud to be part of a society that passed such legislation.

When thinking about the individual logistics of such a project, it really seems like something pretty cool, even though it would create a problem.

  • Space
  • Huge Structure
  • Engineering and Design

However, the problem is obvious, where does it stop? One company does it and gets a good return on their investment. Then another wants in, until we can no longer see the sky. Until plants are dying because the sun is blocked out. This could have disastrous effects if it kept going on unchecked which is why I’m sure in this particular case, the politics didn’t follow the money. Or they did, except the money lost in other areas could have been significantly higher than the money generated from this endeavor.

This is a good case study for understanding systems. The world is full of them, and some conflict with others. In most people’s minds, systems that self-regulate are ideal. Your bathtub for example most likely has an overflow drain near the top, if the water reaches it, it starts to drain automatically, not requiring your input. This could prevent your bathroom from being flooded from a few minutes of absent-mindedness or distraction.

In capitalism, competition is the self-regulation that people believe in. If we have three restaurants and three clothing stores in town, they will all charge appropriate prices since there is competition. They will all work on providing the best products they can so that people want to go there.

We’re losing competition as smaller businesses sell or close, making way to larger ones. The ability to self-regulate is being lost. As a result, we’re ending up more and more with lackluster products. We need the competition back, to regulate the economy and push interesting products.

After all, whatever happened to interesting?

How to measure success.

In our society, it seems societal success has become equated to GDP.

Of course, there are any number of things that could be used to measure success:

  • Health
  • Education and Intelligence
  • Equality
  • Happiness
  • Social Mobility

I’m sure it’s possible to add more to that list. Here are some numbers based around GDP:

$1 from 1865 (around the Civil War era) is worth roughly $15.83 in 2020. That equates to roughly 1.8% annual inflation until today. The US GDP back then based on estimates I’ve seen was somewhere between $9-11 Billion dollars, I’ll use $10 billion for easy calculation, for roughly 31.5 million people.

Scaling the 1865 GDP by the 1.8% annual inflation yields $158.30 Billion in 2020. However, that was for a population of 31.5million. Today, we have between 330 and 400 million residents in the US. Scaing things up appropriately using 400 million residents that equates to a GDP of $2.01 Trillion. Yet the GDP today is actually about $22 Trillion. About 11 times the amount suggested by inflation and population growth!

Why is that?

Things like automobiles, computers, cell phones, software, roadways and electricity weren’t part of the economy back then. These things add to growth that wasn’t accounted for in the scaling from 1865.

There are plenty of things that people ask, “How are we going to pay for that?”

No one had an electric bill in their household budget in 1865, yet here we are, with all of society paying for electricity, a consistent line item in nearly any budget. Considering the costs in a system where the products or services and the associated revenues from them don’t currently exist won’t produce a model that shows things ever panning.

As a result, GDP is a story used to make a case in any direction the person telling it wants the story to go. For example, a person who eats every meal out, then suddenly starts becoming diabetic, and having health issues decides to start cooking for themselves. Spends less on food, saves money, and becomes healthier, yet GDP drops.

“We can’t have people cooking at home, that lowers our GDP.”

It’s true because he spending less on groceries than paying the restaurant. The difference is lost GDP if he doesn’t spend that money on other things and instead saves it. It’s a story that shows the absurdity of putting GDP above all else. If we measured this persons health, he would be improving that metric by making the change.

GDP is not actually a measure of societal success at all. Instead, picking another one of the categories would be much better and make things much harder to spin.

Connect and strengthen.

Coffee shops serve people who already like coffee. A coffee shop is a connector of coffee lovers, and if they make really good coffee, they strengthen that love. Occasionally, someone brings a friend who thinks they don’t like coffee, convinces them to try and converts them. That’s the audience doing the work of growing by itself. In other industries it’s harder to know and grow your audience, so there is a “mystique” about it, but it functions the same.

The tension of your customers needs

It’s obvious what a small business wants, they want to increase sales, get attention, and grow the business. In reality, it’s at odds with what they need. They need to solve problems for customer, be generous, and show up in the right places for opportunity to happen. 

Focusing on wants, businesses tend to look for “low-hanging fruit.” Of course, as time goes by that low-hanging fruit has all been consumed and even the lowest fruit is high up there. Not having trained your business to get that fruit and you’ve ended a good run. 

Low-hanging fruit is looking at your existing customers and thinking about raising the price. It’s looking at existing business and thinking that you can recycle what worked for a different group. It’s not wanting to put the effort in to solve new problems. Or to be generous in understanding the issues someone faces. Or to even understand where they hang out.

My most recent position has been marketing and selling engineering software and 3D Printers. No one wants what we sell. They need it. Why do they need it?

  • They have to turn around projects faster than their customers.
  • They burn through money quick when mistakes are made.
  • They do highly complex, highly technical work and they need tools that can predict physical behavior.

Make no mistake, they want to go on vacation, to get a raise, to be recognized for their work, but needs are how those things are actually accomplished. 

The tension between wants and needs is what creates opportunity. A business owner says, “I want to go on vacation, but I can’t find the time.” is a strong opportunity for someone who has a solution to the top 3 time sucking tasks the owner has. All of a sudden he’s not paying for software, he’s paying for being able to take vacations.

The benefit of talking to your audience.

It’s easy to assume what an audience wants and needs, actually being sure is an entirely different story. I’ve been into hundreds of different companies and the amount of times I’ve been shown that my initial assumptions about what they want and need were wrong are astounding!

That’s the benefit of talking to your audience directly. Every conversation, every question is a chance to check your assumptions. You’re not going to change your audience, so if you misunderstand them making something they need becomes impossible. If you can understand your audience, more money and impact will follow. It also means more comfort, happiness, or success for your customers.

Is this an economic cycle and what to do about it?

Watching Ray Dalio’s How The Economic Machine Works it’s clear that cycles are created by human nature, or at least by the taking on of debt.

Dalio mentions productivity increases being linear, and then small short-term debt cycles, and long-term debt super cycles. The long-term cycles are 80-100 years in length, so roughly a lifetime. That means, it won’t feel like a cycle, or be noticeable as one. The smaller ones, that happen 5-10 years apart, will be noticeable as cycles because a person sees 10 in their lifetime.

We’re at a period in history where it feels as if the superrich class and politicians are hurting everyone. Taking as much as they can from the working class. The question is, “Is this just part of the super cycle?”

If we use a sin curve to represent the long-term super cycle and Ray’s 80-100 year estimate on it, that means if we start at the productivity line, where wealth equals productivity, in 20-25 years wealth will have surpassed productivity fairly significantly, but that can’t be, so there is a pull back for the next 40-50 years. The first 20-25 years of that is getting back to the productivity line, the next 20-25 years is dipping below it. Finally, we end with another 20-25 years of getting back to the productivity line and starting all over.

If we assume the Great Depression as being the bottom of the last cycle, we can calculate some periods in time where society was at during this period.

Great Depression Started in 1929, we’ll use that as the bottom of the last cycle. Between the fact that there is a decade of wiggle room in there since the depression lasted all the way through the 30’s and the fact that a cycle can be influenced by a number of factors, they generally last 80-100 years. There is a possible 30 year debate that is happening.

Let’s assume 80 years as the cycle length because that more closely resembles most people’s lifetime.

That means in the cycle, the Great Depression of 1929 is when wealth became lower than productivity. People were poorer than they should be. A 1/4 cycle later, 1949, wealth had risen or should have been close to productivity levels. From there, it increases until 1969, when wealth had surpassed productivity levels to the maximum. It would have started to decline until around 1989 when wealth got back to productivity levels. And finally, bottomed out again in 2009 when wealth became below productivity levels once more.

These numbers seem to align pretty well. In 1949, after the war, the average American was doing well, and also true in 1969. In 1987, in the coming down part of the cycle, there was a major stock market crash. In 2009 at the bottom of the cycle, we were in the Great Recession.

We are currently in the bottom part of this super cycle, and with the decade of wiggle room, and the 2 decades of uncertainty of length, it may be as far as late 2020s until we start to see things on the upswing of the big cycle again. For me, that’s a relief. That means things will be peaking around retirement time, which is preferable to crashing at that time.

What makes great city for a conference?

Is it an exciting city? One full of night life? Great weather?

Or is it a boring one?

It depends on the purpose. If you want high engagement with the audience, the boring city will filter who is coming for the topics vs. who is coming for the vacation.

If the main goal is large turnout, then the excitement of the city becomes more important.

Marketing is a filter. Picking a boring city and adding a long application to make someone have to fill out to attend ensures that only the most engaged are going to show.

After getting a highly engaged audience, the hope is that the conference becomes so great (great people make great conferences) that they come back next year, and tell their friends who are just as excited about the topic as the people that came the year before.

Our world is full of filters, can you see them? Can you apply them?

Chinese Made Junk.

I’ve discussed before that marketing is a filter.

With that being said, let’s discuss “Chinese Made Junk.”

Why does China have such poor craftsmanship?

The answer is “they don’t.” At least not different than any other country. They have their range of companies that provide different quality stuff.

The reason that everything that shows up in someone’s hands in the United States coming in from China seems of poor quality is because the filter that is happening. The U.S. company that has their goods in made in China is seeking the lowest cost possible to either optimize the price point or maximize the profit margin.

These companies aren’t seeking out the high quality in China because that would be against the market they are trying to serve. They are seeking the cheapest labor, cheapest materials, cheapest assemblers, etc. All down the the line, quality isn’t the point, cost is.

Consider a company that markets “Made in the USA” goods as a premium product. Say a wallet for example. One that costs $100 vs. the $10 dollar, Chinese made one. In this case, the wallet doesn’t seek the cheapest material, the fastest stitching, etc because the customer can pay a premium for it. By comparison, it seems that this is much higher quality and it is, but it’s not simply because it’s “Made in the USA” that is just a benefit of buying from your fellow citizen. The real difference is that in one case a decision to choose the cheapest, and receive junk quality was made, and in the other, a premium was paid and quality was delivered.

Collectively, we’ve been choosing a race to the bottom for years for the sake of comparative advantage. That’s what ends with “Chinese Made Junk.”

The tension in “The Natural”

In the movie, The Natural, the main character, Roy Hobbs is at a carnival, throwing at the stacked cups and knocking over every single shot with ease. He’s got a crowd around him, and they are all in awe of his arm power and skill in placement. Then he is approached by a professional baseball player and totally whiffs a throw.

Some tension develops and the managers of the two men make a wager on whether he can strike out the professional player in 3 pitches.

There is a lot of tension in the scene. Why?

  • Roy Hobbs is a 19 year old professional baseball prospect. He’s inexperienced.
  • He’s up against the best batter in the professional leagues.
  • We don’t know how he can withstand the pressure. We just saw him whiff when watched by someone with a reputation.

That last part is what create most of the tension. Based on the movie description, we know Roy is good. However, we don’t know his mentality this early in the movie. That’s the tension creator.

This sort of tension is also created in the Shawshank Redemption. In Shawshank, the police are closing in on the warden after being tipped off about the money laundering and misdeeds at the prison. While they are knocking on his door, The warden pulls out a gun and loads 6 bullets aiming it at the door before killing himself.

If he loaded one bullet, we know what he is going to do. By loading six, additional tension is created.

I’m writing this because often when writing or making presentations, it’s easy to forget to create some tension in the audience so that they can’t look away. Sometimes it’s about adding an additional detail that creates some uncertainty.

Binging with Babish and feedback loops

Binging with Babish is a YouTube channel where the host cooks food that has been in TV shows and movies. Meals like the cooking scene from Goodfellas, or some of the burgers that have been featured on Bob’s Burgers.

The channel is so popular it has millions of subscribers.

With marketing becoming less centralized, such as actors promoting their new movies on dozens of podcasts rather than simply a couple late night shows, it’s likely that this will create some sort of feedback loop. Binging with Babish makes dishes that were in movies, but soon movies will likely feature foods just so that they get attention from a channel like that. It’s pretty simple to add in a scene at a restaurant or in a kitchen, and if that gets you the attention of millions of people because the recipe is shown on Binging with Babish, it seems worth it.

Becoming something that other artists want to integrate with is a goal that every artist should consider. It’s how you know you’ve arrived.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. (Not the typical take)

The title of this post sounds like a story about nepotism, but it’s actually a story about engineering and making things.

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles about people making DIY ventilators for far cheaper than they are normally produced. Anywhere from 10X-300X cheaper. The problem is that these “ventilators” aren’t actually that. They are simple air pumps. They don’t have feedback loops that prevent the person from taking over breathing themselves AND getting a blast of air, which could potentially put pressure on their heart, or cause damage to the lung from over-inflation.

So why do ventilators cost so much?

It’s possible there are cheaper ways to design and manufacture a ventilator.

When engineers design a component, they may have requirements for weight, strength, wear, or other variables in addition to simply needing the component to be a certain shape to perform it’s task. When taken together, these specifications determine the manufacturing methods. With a simple shape like a long rod with a half circle at the end that needs to be strong, and heavy, machining may be an option. Or it’s possible that the same shape could be cut out of sheet metal, bent, welded and have weights added inside. There are often several alternatives to any design for any component, yet manufacturing is an art.

The vendors that someone chooses or knows may change the way components are designed. Not choosing that sheet metal design is a good decision if lacking a supplier that can do that complex of work, or deliver in the timeframe you need for the quantities needed.

Can a ventilator be made cheaper? Perhaps, if an engineering team, who was well-versed in supply chains came in to look at each component and figure out if they could be produced by more economical means. However, this engineering team isn’t free either, and their cost will need to be factored into these new cheaper ventilators.

Why isn’t their cheaper ventilators, no one has taken the gamble to say, “I know the right people, and I believe I can redesign this thing to be made much cheaper.” While also doing it fast enough that the cost of the redesign doesn’t outstrip any manufacturing savings.

When the world gets down to making things, who you know matters to the design and the final product. Whether that’s engineering, media production, legal arguments, or anything else that can be thought of. If you don’t know someone with the skills, or the tools to do something. then it can’t be done for your project.

1984 was banned…

in the USSR for being Anti-Communist, but also banned in the USA for being Pro-Communist. I’m talking about the book by George Orwell. The book can’t be both anti- and pro-communist, so someone must have misunderstood the book.

This is an example of why most people don’t raise their hand for much of anything. They are afraid of being misunderstood and left without a place to live. They don’t want to be outcast. They don’t want to be exiled. It’s a fear that we are born with, and it’s not something that we come to through rational thought.

I’ve been in plenty of meetings where no one wanted to speak up. They aren’t sure of the repercussions of their actions. Will it get me in trouble? Will it land me more work? Will I be outcast from my coworkers by standing out too much?

If you haven’t thought these sort of ideas through, and how you can mitigate them, perhaps that’s why your company, coworkers, and friends aren’t as engaged as you would like them to be.

Why the baker starts their day at 4am.

I’ve known a few people who were bakers. They all got up extremely early. Why is this so prevalent in the baker culture?

It’s the ratchet of innovation at work.

Once upon a time, it was enough to be the only baker in a small town. People would get up, come over and buy their bread. If it was slightly stale, or not baked fresh in the last hour, too bad there were no other choices.

Then competition came in.

It may have been another small town baker, or a baker starting in the next town over who makes great, fresh bread. This other baker woke up early, so he could get to the bakery and have the bread come out of the oven right as people start arriving, rather than baking the night before and strolling in to unlock the door.

The warm bread, the smell, it gave an entirely different feel to the new competitor. One that was impossible to ignore.

In order to stay in business, the other baker had to adapt to these methods too. Fast forward centuries, and it’s hard to find a baker who doesn’t start his day around 4am. It’s become expected, rather than a delight.