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.

There are always methods to add flavor.

My wife made some animal cookies for my daughter from scratch, they cooked a bit faster then usual and were darker than normal. A strong, golden brown color instead of a light beige. The interesting thing is…

they tasted much better than usual!

A lot more interesting flavor on the tongue.

These cookies are normally pretty bland. They have a slight wheat flavor, and are subtly sweet. The dark color add a light bitterness on the outside that contrasted the sweetness inside and made the whole experience more tasteful.

There is an interesting concept here. To add additional flavor, it’s also possible to add cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, or other flavorings, but the flavor here was added by a method, rather than an ingredient. Just a little longer in the oven is all it took.

This isn’t applicable to just cookies. This is also why a little char on grilled foods is great as well. More importantly this is a concept to think about for a business. Why?

Resources.

“Ingredients” like the right people, equipment, and materials aren’t always available because they aren’t procurable in our timeline, or are out of the budget. However, if we truly reflect on the methods that are already available, perhaps there are ways to get done what we want.

More than a 1/3rd of Frank Lloyd Wrights work…

was done in the last nine years of his life. That’s significant given his career spanned 7 decades.

That means that in his 80’s he was doing producing at least twice the amount of work as in his 20’s. For people doing work that matters, this is the natural progression of things. It takes time, decades, to reach the top of a field, let’s say 60 years old or so. At that point, it’s a time to choose, do you retire, or do you start doing the work you always wanted to do now that you’ve built your reputation. In Wright’s case, that was another 25-30 years of work that accelerated in volume.

Most people will never even see this as an option for a few reasons:

  • They’ve never found anything they actually care about that much.
  • They never consistently stuck to anything for decades.
  • They don’t have the fortitude to think about working past the point they don’t have to.
  • They may not take good enough care of themselves to stay healthy that long.

When I reflect on this, it makes me excited. It shifts my focus from running out of time, to still walking to the starting line. One feels infinitely better than the other, do you know which one feels good?

Getting comfortable with the long-term.

There are forums filled with employees complaining about how long things take at work. Approvals that take a day or a week, that prevent them from doing the work they actually want to be doing.

While I understand the frustration, there is something lacking in most of their approaches. A long-term vision. Perhaps that’s because upper management doesn’t share that with them. Or that they simply don’t think in those terms because their tasks don’t last that long.

My life improved dramatically, when I got comfortable with the long-term. Many employees propose internal improvement projects while failing to take up the mantle for the year or years that it will take to go from an idea to a service, product, or offering. The difference between upper management, and workers is the timeframe both are worried about. Upper management doesn’t care approvals take 3 days to turnaround because their focus is on 5 year timelines. The worker is upset the approvals take 3 days because the task itself only takes 1.

No one is sharing the view from the same spot.

The irony here is that to tell CEOs, especially Fortune 500 CEO’s, that they need to focus on shorter timelines would be comical. Most of them are already making short-term decisions based on stock prices. If they looked longer-term at items that mattered, like hiring better workers, better pay for those they have to increase retention, better training to produce better workers, better work from home options, healthcare, and all sorts of other things that go into making a strong company the world would be a better place for workers.

That means that it’s likely you, as a worker or even a small business owner that has to adopt the longer-term vision. You don’t have the resources to make things happen on short timelines by throwing huge amounts of capital at it. That’s okay because patience, generosity, and creativity can outstrip that in the long run, if you stick to it.

Think in years or decades, small additional efforts sustained over those time periods accomplish a lot.

The end of Cars…

Tells us a lot about life.

I’m talking about the Disney movie. In it, Lightning McQueen, the hotshot rookie, is about to win his life long dream of a piston cup. Instead, he stops and helps the long-time “King” of racing to finish the race by pushing him after he was wrecked by another competitor.

The stadium goes wild for McQueen. The guy that actually wins is ignored and scorned for wrecking “King” in the first place. It resonates with most everyone that watches it.

Yet, we don’t see this kind of generosity often. Perhaps it feels like there isn’t a wreck everywhere, there isn’t an opportunity to do this, that we’re all waiting. Of course, there is opportunities everywhere.

Every business struggles to sell more work, to pay their workers better, to do better for their clients. I started a people doing great work page, so that I could post more great businesses who are generous, patient and creative because these are the businesses we need to thrive.

Perhaps your own marketing needs more sharing for others than it does for you to share how great you are.

Perfection is a pursuit of only the simplest tasks.

Perfection is only obtainable in simple tasks, and that’s only when measuring with “normal” metrics. For example, if I said chop these squash into 1/4″ cubes. If I measured everyone with a ruler and they were all 1/4″ cubes exactly, the task was done perfectly. Of course, if I measured them with a laser to the 0.0001″ tolerance it would likely be seen none of them are cubes at all.

Beyond that, when the tasks have multiple steps, requirements, and stakeholders, how is perfection even graded?

Design the perfect home.

For who?

For which lot?

For what budget?

There isn’t a perfect solution, it all depends. And there will be tradeoffs.

When people say that perfectionism holds them back, I say, “The problems you’re working on are likely too simple.” This coming from a person who used to be held back himself.

Molasses vs. Brown Sugar

A story about subtlety or boldness.

I’m surprised that many people don’t know brown sugar is cane sugar with some molasses added back to it.

It’s not surprising since molasses looks black, and syrup like, while brown sugar is brown, and grainy. It’s hard to see the relationship.

I also know that plenty of people love brown sugar, and hate molasses. Brown sugar is sweet, with a little smoky character. Molasses is dark, heavy, and has a black licorice quality.

Of course this is a story about subtly and boldness. The people who like brown sugar, like a hint of molasses, sweetened up with sugar. Those who like molasses itself, like powerful, heavy flavors. Brown sugar is for the masses, and molasses for the extremes. Knowing which one you’re serving is important.

TIL that when quirky theatrical producer David Merrick got bad reviews for his 1961 musical, he found 7 random denizens of New York with names identical to those of 7 top theatre critics. He asked the civilians to talk ecstatically of the musical, then published an ad with their praises and names. – todayilearned

TIL that when quirky theatrical producer David Merrick got bad reviews for his 1961 musical, he found 7 random denizens of New York with names identical to those of 7 top theatre critics. He asked the civilians to talk ecstatically of the musical, then published an ad with their praises and names. – todayilearned
— Read on www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/g79qrw/til_that_when_quirky_theatrical_producer_david/

Taste doesn’t sell through a screen.

That’s why the look of food matters these days when there are so many choices and yelp reviews are just a couple clicks away.

People can usually find the pictures of food from a particular establishment online. For me, if I can’t, I assume it’s bad. Why wouldn’t they post it if they were proud? Better yet, why wouldn’t customers post it if it was great? I’m at restaurants all the time where people are snapping pictures of their food.

This isn’t always fair. For example, a great restaurant, in a small town, that serves an older clientele may not get the amount of yelp pictures and reviews as one that sells to a younger clientele. That will change in another 20-30 years as there will be few demographics that aren’t tech savvy.

All of these pictures miss the point if the food doesn’t taste as good as it looks. The taste is what people are after, the look is just the first indicator. The second is the smell when you get to the restaurant and finally the taste comes when your meal is served.

This is the case for plenty of businesses outside the restaurant industry, if you don’t conjure the right imagery, you may not get a chance to show people how great the experience is with you.

Low hanging fruit.

When sales is running behind their goals, there is always discussion of “low-hanging fruit”. Of course, if it was that low-hanging it likely would have been picked.

And also, the higher fruits, will never be picked without some advanced preparation. Without getting a ladder, or cherry-picker in order to reach new heights.

The problem with low-hanging fruit in general is that it’s the only fruit most people see. They aren’t asking is it abundant? Is it tastiest?

It’s possible if the focus was moved from the low-hanging fruit, bigger markets and deal sizes could be found. The struggle is that you need new approaches, tactics, and insight to reach it, and it may require wandering a bit to find the right tree. Have you baked any of that in to your approach yet?

The role of emotions in decision making.

The coronavirus came on quickly, and required a lot of decisions to be made with not much data. People had to weigh not only the data, but how they felt about the data. Would it change? Is it over-inflated because the early numbers aren’t reliable since things such as test availability, number of people infected, mutation, regional differences, and death rate are all changing or uncertain.

This is why we have emotions. To respond in the absence of data.

If you were unaware tigers existed, and one was snarling at you, taking the time to look tigers up on Google, the chance that it will maul you, and what the outcome of that mauling would be whether injury or death in the case of running vs. fighting isn’t practical. In fact, it’s fatal. This is the reason society hasn’t lost emotions through natural selection, often times they save our lives through triggering fight or flight.

“Emotional” is a term often used to deride bad decision-making. In certain things, the stock market for example, it may be true. However, in cases where there will only ever be one data point, like quitting a job to start a business, it’s the only tool available. You can’t know for certain all the sales, earnings, profits, risks, in advance of starting the business. Some projections of those things are possible, but you are still weighing those against the feeling you are correct about them.

My wife put instant coffee in her coffee.

There are actually 3 kinds of people in the world, rather than the normal suggestion of 2. Those who don’t like coffee, those who like a nice coffee, and those who are extreme about coffee. My wife put instant espresso in a brewed cup of coffee. She’s the extreme coffee lover.

I love a good, balanced cup of coffee, but that wasn’t always the case. It was being around my wife’s extreme love for it that made me a coffee drinker. That daily fresh brewed scent in the house. That warm, steamy cup on a winter morning. Eventually, it led me to drinking coffee and it became a habit of mine too.

One way to serve people is to offer them a perfect, shining example of whatever it is you make. The best breakfast cup of coffee in town. The other option is to offer an extreme version, one that turns off everyone but the most extreme consumers of your wares.

Being seen as the best vs. Being the best.

They don’t always align.

This was a lesson shared by Warren Buffett to a person who won an auction for a lunch with him for an exorbitant amount of money that was donated to charity.

It wasn’t elaborated on, but Warren still lives in his house from the 1950s. He’s not a flashy guy. He doesn’t do risky investments and he’s been patient.

There are a ton of young men hoping to get rich like Warren on Wall St. However, they are also following a different culture than Mr. Buffett did. They are interested in fancy cars and houses. Things that take a lot of investable resources out of play.

This is the story for many people. The architect who pours all of his savings into a flashy office before he can even pay his bills and has a clientele is an example. If that shortens the architect’s “runway” for his business, and he goes under, he’ll have to go back to working for someone else. Never getting a chance for his “vision.”

Our ego is in the way at times. Sometimes it’s better to simply be the best, then be seen as the best. That means something different to everyone, so take time to think about it.

How did the conversation get here?

A solo podcast is hard. It needs to feel like a conversation with the person on the otherside, who doesn’t get a chance to speak back. So, if a conversation was like this in real life, how would it have got there?

What would have been the question that you were asked to start your monologue? Think that through at the beginning because how you start is going to set the tone for the rest of the episode.

This doesn’t apply just to podcasts, but also to essays, forum comments, emails, etc.

Is there artistry in this?

Above is an article about social distancing. However, the words aren’t that important. The imagery alone shows something. That’s not something often found in newspaper. There is some artistry here. When you do your work, ask yourself, where is the artistry?

Noneofthisisright.com is an art in progress. I’m not happy with the homepage, but I still haven’t landed on what it should be. Art takes time, practice and patience.

Should rules be in the negative?

Certainly laws should if we are to believe we have a lot of freedom. After all, a free people should only have a small number of things they can’t do, the rest is open for debate.

For businesses, for our culture, we should encourage rules written in the positive. It’s much clearer for someone on what they should be doing. It makes them feel better about following the rules since they don’t sound depriving.

“Drink your coffee outside the server room,” rings psychologically different than “Don’t drink your coffee in the server room.”

This practice can be used to write handbooks, operating procedures, etc.

To build a positive culture, a positive tone is a necessity. This helps reinforce both.

Acting on data or emotion?

I was reading some commentary about the Coronavirus and the political response to the aid package (CARES Act) right after passing (3/27/2020). An online commenter was questioning whether the U.S. was acting on data or emotion.

That’s quite the question.

In this context the commenter was implying, it’s considered better to act on data. Of course there are two problems with that:

  1. In the case of the Coronavirus, the data isn’t (or wasn’t at the the time) available.
  2. In every case, the data chosen is a story.

For #1, consider that the data is still coming in. What if the virus affects different nationalities differently and has different mortality rates for them. What if the lifestyle patterns of different countries affect the rate of spread. What if by waiting for the data, you kill your opportunity to survive?

Isn’t that why our brain runs on emotion in the first place? To help us survive an unknown threat. A threat lacking data.

For #2, consider that when the cases first started popping up, a number of live TV personalities started telling people, “18,000 people die from the flu every year.” They selected their data to create a story. The Coronavirus is a virus, the flu is a virus, they are the same. Here’s how many people died from the flu, so we shouldn’t overblow this. They picked their data to fit their story. A story that backed up an emotion of confidence.

Also for #2, it may sound as though I’m saying all data is useless. I’m not. I went to college for engineering. I believe in science. When we are measuring specific variables in controlled in environments, we can be more objective about our analysis. An example would be if the government set up testing for all US citizens over a week, and after testing you were quarantined based on contagion, or free from the virus. Then we have controlled most or all the variables. However, testing randomly, or not testing as has been criticized, leads to an uncontrolled environment. One where the data has to be chosen to support whatever story someone is trying to tell.

To give an example, in this case the commenter was asking if the government stimulus could be better spent on cancer research to save more lives long-term as a question we should be asking, and basing it on data. Of course, that’s an example of another story being told with data. Is the story we’re writing about saving the most lives throughout history, or saving the lives of people on this planet at this moment?

There is a reason society has evolved a mix of people who run on emotion and thinking, so that society has both bases covered. People worried about the instant ramifications on the long-term and people focused on the optimal response once the data is in. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of tension throughout that process of getting both to see eye-to-eye.

The First Comment…

is the holy grail online.

Why is that?

Well, if you’re like a thread I just saw a few days ago, in the first comment it mentioned reminding them of Mortal Kombat, and then the next 20 comments riff on that idea. After readers are done reading, they all suddenly want to play the game.

That’s great for Midway Games.

And this is a tactic that social media marketers use. Find posts where you can interject a thought about your product without seeming like a shill, and people who used it in the past will be reminded of it as so many people share their thoughts on it. This works best for products that have been around a long time and people loved.

Naive vs. Idealism

I see the possibilities that someone is trying to gain power over me. That they may mislead me. That they may not care about my well-being. If it only costs me a few extra dollars, or a meal that I don’t enjoy as much because they were forced to recommend the highest margin items for one reason or another, I’m okay with it.

This isn’t the same an naivety. Naivety is not seeing the scam. Not recognizing what is happening. Being manipulated easily.

Instead of squeezing every dime out of every transaction. Or calling everyone out on every single indiscretion, I work on idealism. Unless we start behaving ideally, it’s hard to have an ideal world.

Will you ever see a stock rise circuit breaker?

In the last few weeks, the stock market has hit a “circuit breaker” where stocks fell 7% in five minutes of opening so trading was halted. This is to prevent total collapse of the market as sell offs trigger sell offs due to panic. The initial sell off was due to panic over the coronavirus affecting supply chains.

My question is will you ever see a circuit breaker on stock rises? The answer is obviously no. Isn’t there a danger present? That we’re pumping a stock market higher than rational analysis dictates. At multiples of profit that we would never pay to buy a small business?

Shouldn’t there be a trigger in place that stops the hype from getting too out of control? After all, if you don’t overbuy then there is much less to crash.

This is a system that has one-sided protection. Like many of these systems, it creates something that people can exploit because now that my downside is covered, pumping the upside far more than rational analysis dictates is safer because if things spiral out of control without me noticing in just a few minutes, I’ll be notified that things are bad and be given a break period to correct it.

The systems in place dictate behaviors. Never forget that.

Seeing company culture

Purl is a twelve minute Pixar short about company culture and how it happens. Nearly everyone that joins a company likely doesn’t fit the mold exactly, then they conform a little to it. If someone is radically different than the company culture, they either change, as Purl does in the movie, or leave, reinforcing the culture that exists.

There is tons of writing out there about company culture:

Purl illustrates what is meant to be a bad culture like employees shunning the new hire and uncooperative departments (finance must hate these guys!). How can you fix that, or if you have a good culture how can you make it continue?

I firmly believe in marketing as the ability to make change happen, but as a tool I believe in marketing as a filter. One filter that you can put in place is the principles you want the new hires to uphold in the job posting. That way, the applicants more closely align with how you want the company to operate. In the past, this would have been tough. Pre-internet job applicants were fewer in-between. Now, with online applications, the average job posting gets 200+ applicants, so it doesn’t hurt to add a filter that takes that down to 50 anyway. It’s a better filter than throwing half in the trash, as I’ve heard before.

The bigger problem is not knowing what culture you want. That’s something you’ll need to think about closely.

No dress code as a filter.

Power dynamics exist in the workplace whether you are aware or not. When people hire programmers, they offer no dress code as a benefit. Come in as casually as you would like. In some cases, this is used to measure their ambition outside of the company. Most people dress up for interviews. If someone who comes in casually everyday suddenly shows up in dress clothes, they know something is up.

Do they need to retain them. Offer them more money? If they are ready to lay people off should they be the first to go?

It creates a power dynamic. Why does anyone care about that?

These workers are the hardest to find, longest lead times to fill, and require the most pay. If they are desperate to fill a position, again the power shifts to the seeker.

I hate this kind of power mongering and politicking, but it’s out there. Not every company is abusing it in this way, but some certainly are.

The struggle with covering news about coronavirus

I’m always trying to see both sides, a side that tells the story of a cruel, calculated work filled with bad intent, and the story about how negative results could be the effect of good intent.

The coronavirus news coverage is getting a lot of criticism, saying the media is whipping people into a frenzy. That’s a story that I can believe because fear creates ratings for news as people tune in for updates. That’s the business side of the media.

There is also another side. The fact that to spread a message far and wide it has to be repeated over and over. Ask any business how many times they had to tell people what they do with advertising before they became widely known in their industry. The answer will always be a lot. And that’s the issue. When someone hears about the coronavirus for the 20th time they may start to panic, of course it’s possible others are only hearing the message for the 1st time. Not everyone is a daily consumer of the news.

In cases like coronavirus, both of these can be true. Of course it could also be true that it is bad enough to be this worried, only time will tell.

Where did the artistic details go?

Look at old architecture photos or historical street lamps, and you might ask yourself that question. Artistry used to be part of the product.

Is it because marketing became easier, work didn’t have to stand out? In the past, by styling different than the competition, people decided where to buy what they wanted. That’s important in an era when their weren’t tons of magazines, catalogs, and definitely no internet, tv, or radio.

Is it because competition has shrunk? Back at that time, there was a lot more small companies competing in the same industries.

Is it because the craftsman are gone? Everything is now optimized for machinery to make, rather than handcrafting. This leaves less room for the artistry and the details.

The artistic details have been missing for sometime, but they are only gone, not forgotten. Find a way to add your artistry into what you do, the easy work is already automated.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses leaked when it rained.

I’m talking about this Frank Lloyd Wright. Even though they leaked, he created works of art.

In school I was taught to design ordinary houses. The kind that are water tight, safe, and look like the neighbors.

No one becomes well-known doing the work they are told to do. They become well-known creating something new. Something that people want. Something that people can’t forget once they see it.

A school can’t create a Frank Lloyd Wright. Only someone like Frank Lloyd Wright can. Visionary. Persistent. Deliberate. Doing the work that peers think is outrageous.

5% of a day is…

72 minutes. A little over an hour.

In order to grow your income, skills, or business, it’s likely this is all that needs to be spent. many people struggle with the fact they can’t spend hours a day job hunting, or developing a new marketable skill, or working on their side business.

It’s not as necessary as people think if they are committed. 5% beats inflation, and it’s likely if you spend you’ll see more growth than the amount of time you spend. As a reminder, even 5% annual growth over 40 years compounds compounds into a 700% gain. If you’re young, 5% growth over 70 years is a 3000% gain.

Of course it’s likely in that 40 years it may pay itself off so much that whatever you’re spending your time on, you choose to do more than 5% and that’s okay too. Just don’t stress out over not “developing” fast enough by not spending enough time. Things tend to have a natural flow, and if it’s meant to be it will work out if you’re spending small, but consistent efforts on it.

Progress meters

The purpose of a progress meter is to show momentum to get you to do more of a certain action. They are loaded in games so you keep playing.

Take Mushroom Wars 2, a fun strategy game. It has a progress bar for getting to 6 wins that gives a reward. That reward is on a sliding scale progress bar that gives additional rewards at higher levels. There is also a progress bar on experience that levels your character up.

The goal of these progress bars is to keep you hooked. They each behave on different time scales. The first is short term, play another game today. The second medium-term, come back tomorrow. The last is a longer timescale, comeback next week.

Considering new characters unlock over time, that is another progress bar.

Progress bars are about keeping you hooked, more than the progress itself. A progress bar at 5 out of 6 wins that gets a reward calls for playing another game or two. Progress bars are about controlling behavior more than tracking progress.

Recognize that and behave accordingly.

The iPass issue

I recently was traveling and had a personal iPass for tolls in the car along with a business iPass that was in my work bag that I use for rentals. It turns out they charged both. So my wife decided to call and get a refund.

They wouldn’t have it.

“No one travels with two IPasses” is what they told her. They believe she was trying to scam them.

While it’s certain this could be a scam, it’s also got next to no incremental cost at the number of people going through that toll daily. Giving a refund here doesn’t cost much. This is about the least generous way to go about business I can think of. It’s also a symptom of a business who has few alternatives for their products. Is there another road in the same place that I can take?

Just imagine if this happened every once in a blue moon, but they had captured it down in their system, and said 0.005% of our tolls accidentally have two iPasses in the car. We should redesign the transponder to have an off switch that way in the future people won’t have this issue. Then they would have a solution to a problem. A generous thought for their customers.

The way they are behaving is greedy and they get away with it because the amounts are so low. How much time should my wife spend on a couple dollar refund?

It’s not good business. Don’t be like them. Be generous.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture was also a social revolution

He didn’t like attics, and hated the small bedrooms that hid behind dormers so he removed them. His clients were mostly the affluent, so this is where the household help (maids, butlers, cooks, etc.) resided. By removing that space, the help had to have rooms in the main portion of the house. This made them more “equal”.

In this case, I think Wright’s motivation was purely architectural, even if it did have some social impact. However, it does illustrate the power that we have at times. That even when being hired for something like designing a house, we are actually given the opportunity to change people and their beliefs perhaps utilizing different motivations than expected. In this case, Wright wasn’t saying, “You should give your help better rooms.” He was saying, “I can make you a better looking house if we don’t do things this way. The help will live in the main floor.” The impact on the help was the same.

This is a clear look at motivations, and that sometimes to get what you want, you may need to find an alternate motivation for the person you’re seeking to change.

When common knowledge is misinformed

Most people think making bread is hard. They think of endless kneading, and a bunch of measurements.

It’s not.

Here’s a simple bread recipe for you.

  • 400g flour
  • 80% water to flour – 320g of water
  • 2% salt to flour – 8g
  • 1 packet of dried yeast.

Put the water in the microwave for 30-45 seconds until just warm. Pour in the yeast stir, set aside to let it activate. Measure out the flour and salt in a bowl. In about two minutes pour the yeast and water into the bowl and mix roughly with a large wooden spoon until it forms a shaggy dough.

This is where most people think you have to knead the bread endlessly. You don’t. That’s misinformation. There is actually a change happening in the flour as the water hydrates it. That takes time to happen. The extreme kneading is just you doing work that is actually happening as the hydration takes place.

Instead of kneading, Cover the bowl and let it sit for 1 hour in a room temperature location. After that hour it will be slightly sticky, but take your clean hands and fold it over 5-10 times. Then cover and let it rise again. Until it doubles in size or you are ready to bake. The longer you let it rise, the better yeast flavor it will have.

At this point, there a couple options. I prefer baking it at 500 degrees on a pizza stone that has preheated for 30-60 minutes it gives a nice crust. To do this, a peel is necessary to place the dough on the stone. Otherwise, simply flour a baking sheet and place the dough on it and bake. Both of these options require scraping the dough out of the bowl onto a heavily floured surface, trying not to knock the air out. Then lightly roll the dough around the flour to cover it’s whole surface and shape it to your loaf form.

You can put it in straight away, or if you want bigger air pockets cover and let it rise for 30 minutes before putting it in.

After a couple times, the amount of your time, not counting waiting, this takes you will likely be about:

  • 3 minutes measuring and mixing.
  • 1 minute kneading and washing hands.
  • 1 minute flouring and rolling it out.
  • 2 minutes pre-heating and checking on bread in oven.

7 minutes of your time = cheaper and better bread than you can buy at the store. It probably takes you longer to read this.

It’s almost like bread companies want you to believe it’s hard to do. And bread machines makers too. It’s always worth trying things out yourself because common knowledge is often misinformed. At least if you try this, you’ll truly know whether making your own bread is worth it or not rather than relying on the default that’s been told to you.

Patience is a form of tension

When we’re impatient it’s that we believe it’s not going to work. Or that the plan is changing. Or that we’re not good enough. It’s not one tension it’s many.

This is the reason there is so much impatience in the world, nearly any doubt can set it off. There is a reason the wise old master is always portrayed as patient. He is confident.

If I had to find an antonym to impatience that isn’t patience, it would be confidence. Think about that as you work. Notice it in people you work with and use it to your advantage. If someone is impatient find out what they need, why they are worried and how you can help.

Disney launches startup accelerator

Everyone is launching accelerators it seems. I just read an article about Disney launching a startup accelerator.

Why?

Because you don’t need them.
Because like the beer industry, young upstarts in huge numbers can chip away at a huge industry. There are 7,000-8,000 microbreweries that are destroying revenues for the major brands since beer drinking isn’t rising by that much.

There is a reason they target young, inexperienced founders mostly. Those founders don’t yet know how business is done, and how simple a SaaS business is in relationship to capital, coordination and scalability compared to other business. If they allow younger generations to get some work experience first, they’ll see they really don’t need an investor, just some skills, a network, and some patience.

These companies are scared of small competitors, so they buy them early in the form of funding through accelerators. Except in most cases they don’t actually accelerate anything. That title is just for show, really they should be called, “Aggregators.” That’s more appropriate. They aggregate companies in the hopes that someone will do good and then they will own a stake of the pie of any who do, ensuring they make decisions about that company, not for the good of the aggregated company, but for the good of the company that invested in it to maintain it’s strong, monopolist position.

You don’t need an accelerator. You need patience.

I love that ahrefs has a paid trial.

ahrefs is a tool for search engine optimization of websites. They claim to be the best at what they do, and there are a ton of people who believe that online. They have a few different competitors, and they cost $99/month. All of their competitors have a free trial of varying lengths. ahrefs has a discounted “7 days for $7 dollars” trial. The psychology of that makes me believe the story of them being the best. Why does everyone else give theirs away for free, while ahrefs can charge?

I’m about generosity here, but I’ve also been in the software world and know that most times people devalue a trial period of software. It’s much different than trials for brownies. If it’s free they request it, get busy and don’t use it. Do you think they will waste that trial period if they had to pay for it?

Not as likely.

The paid trial offers five things:

  • Confidence in the product. The fact they can charge for a trial and it doesn’t seem to be hindering their growth means they must make a great product.
  • Value. Paying for a trial makes it valuable. The customer has literally put a price on it. They will use it in that period or suffer wasting their cash. It makes it more likely that they’ll see your products full usage.
  • Story. That you’re the premium product, the one to beat.
  • Innovation/Differentiation – Why can they have the confidence to do a paid trial when no one else can?
  • It also acts as a filter. I’ll bet they have a higher conversion to full paid accounts than the other brands because the people who did the trial have already paid before. They aren’t just tire kickers, they’re looking to buy.

P.S. If you’re interested, I talk a bit more about story and differentiation in the guide to marketing I’ve been working on for a while.

The Hustle of Disruption…

talk about a myth.

For years, I had messaging from Venture Captial blogs I followed and tech news that disruption is happening at an unprecedented pace. Perhaps it is in the number of jobs replaced, but it’s also happening incredibly slowly too.

True disruption of manufacturing, design, is incredibly slow. Whenever I had a unique business idea I was disheartened assuming someone else would finish before me since I couldn’t devote full-time to it. After 7 years selling technologies, I can tell you, adoption of disruptions isn’t that fast unless it’s software or something “cheap”.

Companies, the ones that will purchase from you, just don’t move that fast. Sure, a company may create technology that fast, but the market doesn’t respond that fast. My company sells 3D Printers, not the kind that can be purchased for hobbyists for a couple hundred dollars, but higher end ones that have strength, or they ability to produce large quantities overnight. Markforged and HP in particular.

While there are plenty of applications for these printers that offer huge returns-on-investment (ROI) for companies, they need to talk about it internally, plan it for next years budget, get a consensus that is on-board, and generally wait to hear about someone else who has actually bought and done their exact application first.

It’s a long process. Your hustle in development won’t speed it up. It’s called an adoption cycle for a reason. It has a cycle time to it, and it’s probably not set by you.

So relax, set a clear vision, then work steadily and have patience, if you’re making something great the market almost always comes around after waiting long enough, but like coronavirus or the flu, products that work tend to spread at their own pace regardless of what we want.