Case #472

What to do when something someone says causes you to doubt what you are doing.

Example

You finish a webpage and ask a family member for feedback. They respond with a torrent of confusion and criticism. You spent hours on this and it made you feel awful that they are hanging onto easily fixed details. They don’t see the beauty of what you’ve done, and you start to doubt that beauty exists.

Response

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Remember that everyone around you is an idiot. No one gets your vision because you’re better than everyone else.
  3. Then after your ego has rubbed the wound for a bit, remember that your critic said that for a reason. Go and figure that reason out. Do some opportunity cost analysis to see if it’s worth fixing or if their criticism should be treated as anomalous.
  4. Then go and seek more criticism by being brave with the publicity of your ideas. Develop a large ego-callous until you don’t need steps 1 and 2.

Note: This is not actually from a real book. Although maybe if I can think up enough of these it might actually become one.

New employees are invaluable because of their objectivity. They haven’t seen all of the product, development, and marketing yet. They aren’t indoctrinated into the culture. Their questions can point out the blindspots the involved worker can’t see by virtue of his position. Considering this, I’ve adopted the policy of making every employee a consultant in the company for the first two weeks they are there.

Since saying something about business practice without creating structure is just hot air, I’m going to implement this thinking by assigning an anomaly list to the new employee. At the end of their first two weeks they have to come with a list of things they’ve found strange and didn’t understand. Most of these items will have answers that are explained by historical circumstances. But some of them will not be explainable, and we will have to account for them.

Simultaneously, this task will welcome the new employee by giving them a license to poke around. They will be on a mandated search of investigation. This will plunge them into areas they would not have gone in, had they immediately plunged into the work they were hired for.

A Prototype of my New Site

November 6, 2007

I’ve released a prototype of my competition site. Here is the competition to name my site. You can win a book.

Please tell me what you think. It is obviously a work in progress.

In reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, The Post-Capitalist Society by Peter Drucker, and Critical Path by Buckminster Fuller, I have absorbed a sense of history encapsulated in the following summaries of power structures.

Societal Structure versus The Characteristics of Wealth

  • Hunter Gatherer – Ability to find, kill, and pick food
  • Peasant/Lord – Land and muscle to farm
  • Worker/Industrialist – Machines and electricity
  • Service Worker/Knowledge Worker/Venture Capitalist – Information and the people to manage it

What strikes me is the tipping of the scales of power. In the beginning, we have power concentrated in each individual. Then it tips sharply to the Lord who has God-like mastery of his people, as portrayed by the Egyptians. And then to the Industrialist, but as powerful as the captains of industry became, the Industrialist never had the power of feudal lords. Now power lies with the person who can configure knowledge either through the management of knowledge workers, or directly so.

So what does this mean about revolt? In the Hunter-Gatherer world, you could simply leave the tribe, take your direct family and start a new one. In the Feudal period, you had to rise up and kill the lords (and it had to be all of them or other lords would come for revenge) like in the French Revolution. For the Industrial example, there is the labor strike. But what about the knowledge worker? One problem of revolt is the blending of classes through increased mobility. But to think that leads to the annihilation of social discontent is naive. Perhaps the knowledge society’s revolt is passive resistance, such as tax revolts and civil disobedience.

This my be why civil liberty is on the decline in the United States. People are not aware of a new means of fighting injustice.

Pivotal Moment Stories

June 19, 2007

Doesn’t it seem like you can have two stories in your life? There is the story you had before your success, which has its own rhythm and set of characters. And there is the story you have after the success.

I was thinking of heavily celebrated entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, JP Morgan, and Disney, who were normal people before they succeeded in business, and suddenly became mythologized super beings.

I think an alternative story needs to get heard more often, at least this new story is more inspirational to myself:

There was this guy who had a vision of doing things a different way. He was actually pretty poor at transmitting his vision, largely because the conceptual components necessary to transmit the vision easily would not come into full existence until the vision had been realized. Most of his friends encouraged, but did not believe in him. His parents always believed in him, but even they did not understand him very well.

Eventually the protagonist changes the world when everyone catches on to his good idea. The story is still the success story, but it is heavy enough on the unpleasant reality of being viewed as slightly insane and going in the wrong direction.

Success seems to me a lot like surfing, where wave after wave appears to come and you have to paddle every time, even when the wave does not materialize. If you look out at the ocean, and you see people doing this, but you only look for five minutes, you may just think the people are crazy because the purpose of their paddling is not obvious.

I think the worse part of it is that in creating ideas to drive companies there is not even the advantage of seeing a swell. It is more like you are paddling in the middle of entirely calm water. Of course, the people who are successful are paddling all the time, moving from place to place, claiming a big wave is coming.

This is why it is good to surround yourself with people who have a similarly distorted view of reality. It makes it easier to keep going. You all believe the wave is coming.

The auspicious goal of my company is to provide all education to all those who want it, for free.

It started off as a project to create a dynamic share system for groups of people on the Internet to start companies. Goals and work would be assigned value by groups, and based on that value you would earn smaller or larger shares of the company. This idea was ultimately impractical and we had to think of a new one.

I walked around with an uncertain feeling in my stomach after realizing the idea was not viable. But after quick discussion I blurted out the new course, to provide all education to all those who want it, for free. And more specifically, through a decentralized, non-institutional mechanism where people were in charge of educating themselves, rather than being educated by others.

Many prototypes have gone by as we have tried to figure out how to do this. I’ve created a lot of crap, especially when we headed toward content generation. Finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that people will generate content in whatever way they prefer and the real goal is to find that content in a truly convivial way.

It is for this reason that we’ve recently decided to distribute our idea as a Facebook app. This means we don’t have to bother with social network infrastructure. It also means we are part of an established network. Facebook’s reaction over time to third party developers will ultimately be the decider of whether we stay on an external platform or migrate to our own.

Currently, we are still working on the app. But I expect to release a version of it within the next week. This version will entail a way to put up learning quests were you establish the goal and parameters for its pursuit. Your friends can see the quests you are currently on and can aid you in your quests by giving you information and links to more. This first version is highly simplified, but right now we are focused on providing immediate utility.

I’m hoping this very simple idea will have a synergetic unpredictable effect. Ironically, no matter how it goes in the pursuit to help others learn, I will have learned something myself.

I was over at Chipotle’s a while ago, and their simplistic menu inspired me to think of a new type of restaurant. There would be only three things on the menu:

  • Random(Vegetable)
  • Random(Meat)
  • Random(Drink)

Vegetable, meat, and drink are the different seed values you use to get a random dish. So if you order Random(Meat), you would get a random item from a list of meat dishes not available to the consumer.

Immediate objections to the lack of specific choice were raised. To answer that, your receipts would have the dish number. So when you come back, you can order specific dishes you liked or assuage picky eaters.