Zero to One

Zero to One. This was an audiobook, narrated by the primary author, Peter Thiel. Thiel was cofounder of PayPal, is a director at Facebook and is an economic advisor to Donald Trump. It was originally compiled as entrepreneurship lecture notes by Stanford student Blake Masters.

Hearing his voice added a deeper insight into the book’s content. I could feel the experience behind his words. I could peer into the inner life of a Silicon Valley elite. How he viewed the world and those in it, as an insider. Surely an intellectual too.

He sounded mild and even tempered throughout, yet not boring because he sounded present and somehow healthy. Punctuated by sub-communicative insights. A hint of contempt for another elite person or organisation. A crack of sympathy for the unfortunate. Sometimes I felt this was contrived. It was interesting to hear someone speak about Facebook for example as an insider who had authority over it.

On to the content. I wasn’t struck by any great structure of the ideas. Being an audiobook it was hard to picture how the book was structured, as would appear in the contents. That can mean that the content itself is better though, remaining in the organic units of lessons, rather than being “boxed in” to an overall pleasing layout or architecture of ideas when they needn’t be. That’s how the content seemed to me overall: organised into lessons rather than a system. Then again “notes” is in the title.

It seems to me that the two great contemporary entrepreneurship books are The Lean Startup and this. Having read the former I felt compelled to contrast the two. During listening and now. The former felt more procedural and systematic. Whereas this felt more concerned with principles and fairly high level advices; the reason being that if you understand the principles and essential pieces then you can apply them to many or all scenarios and the details sort themselves out or don’t matter so much. Different people tend to prefer detailed or high level thinking, but I think it’s good to read both.

I feel Peter is more boss than Eric Ries. Thiel’s references to Shakespeare, Goethe and Tolstoy were impressive but it’s a rare person who can also speak personally about the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg as well. The book did feel a bit like a shrine to Thiel’s greatness or ego. It’s almost as if he rejected or never learned the value of humility. I suppose he intends and does a lot of good overall though which sufficiently justifies egoism in my view. It doesn’t beautify it but in this case the book is beautiful.

As the name suggests, this is a book primarily for ventures doing something new. I think the most central business message he had was that one should aim to be a monopoly: because in competition profits get competed away. The easiest way to be a monopoly is create something new.

Aim for technology that is 10x better than the nearest competitor. This was a message to engineers. This was balanced and contrasted by the message that you need a good sales strategy as well to succeed. The best ideas don’t always win, they have to succeed in the market to do that.

Some parts were very practical advice. Such as the importance of suitable cofounders and company culture.

It got philosophical at the beginning and towards the end. The thought experiment that there are four possible outcomes for humanity. The concept of “the singularity” being the logical end to technological advancement. Interesting, however briefly covered, and something that I’d want to look in to further. It made me realise that science fiction is probably good to read if you want to be a tech entrepreneur; thinking and feeling in terms of technology that doesn’t exist yet.

The Lean Startup

This book is the most scientific approach to entrepreneurship I’ve ever seen. The whole thing seems so congruent and yet the book manages to stand up as being original. I had the sense that this book has become a deep part of the zeitgeist and at the root cause of much change; particularly in America.

I was impressed with the trenchant quality of the writing and believe this indicates that he knows entrepreneurship very well, but also it had the “closed system” quality of a programmer’s mind. Hence why everything just seemed to fit and resonate quite well.

This will take a few days to sink in. Then again, its lessons aren’t meant to be understood in theory, they are meant to be practised (as in the concept of Genchi Gumbutsu). I like that it presents entrepreneurship as a learnable system, and thus one can take a skills-centred approach to it and even consider it a profession. He seemed to reference Japanese companies a lot so I wonder if he didn’t miss valuable knowledge from other countries.

I would have to apply the ideas in this book to truly comment on its merit but given its reception; I’d say this was a very good entrepreneurship book to start with.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. This is a relatively short book. Only 130 pages or thereabouts. As the name suggests, the book is structured into 22 laws, each with 1 chapter.

Got this book after I decided to learn a bit about marketing. Having been through an entire finance degree and retaining little useful information about finance, however, I opted to learn about marketing with a “lean” amount of information. Perhaps you understand why I chose this particular non-fiction from among other books of the marketing genre.

In order to crystallise and consolidate my own knowledge from the book and also to create a useful summary, I’ll briefly summarise each of the 22 laws.

  1. The Law of Leadership. If you are perceived as being the first to do something there is a psychological preference given in buying decisions. I think this is Apple’s main advantage over Samsung with smart phones, it’s certainly part of the reason I prefer Apple.
  2. The Law of the Category. “If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in”. In other words, don’t try to beat Toyota in the car market, but perhaps try to beat them in a certain niche of the car market.
  3. The Law of the Mind. Closely related to the Law of Leadership. This states that it’s not so important that you are first in the market as you are first in the market in the minds of consumers. If you are first, people have to know that for it be advantageous.
  4. The Law of Perception. Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions. Often it’s not hard and fast facts which lead to marketing success, but rather working perceptions so as to influence consumer behaviour. It’s not so much about objective facts about products as it is about presenting products in a compelling way. In the long run, the best product does not always win.
  5. The Law of Focus. It’s a great victory in marketing if a company can own a word in the customer’s mind. FedEx managed to put the word “overnight” in peoples’ minds and their success skyrocketed because there was demand for that.
  6. The Law of Exclusivity. Two companies cannot control the same word in the customer’s mind. The one who already owns the word has managed to retain it time and time again.
  7. The Law of the Ladder. People tend to have a mental image of hierarchies between firms in certain industries, and if a company acts as if they are higher than they are they look upstart. Perhaps like they have no social intelligence. Thus the marketing strategy needs to take into account the company’s place on the ladder.
  8. The Law of Duality. In the long run every market becomes a two-horse race. I believe that this is due to the following law. Basically people tend to choose the product or they’ll choose the alternative. Think Apple and Samsung.
  9. The Law of the Opposite. If you want to be number two, present a popular alternative, don’t try to do what they do also.
  10. The Law of Division. Market categories divide over time. Thus the total number of categories tends to increase and become more niche.
  11. The Law of Perspective. These forces tend to occur over an extended period of time i.e. over the long run.
  12. The Law of Line Extension. It’s difficult to get a foothold in an established market so firms often leverage their existing brands. This weakens the brand in its key market category so this might not be smart in the long run.
  13. The Law of Sacrifice. The three things to sacrifice are product line, target market and change with time. Basically you need to say no to certain things in order to stand for something.
  14. The Law of Attributes. If the market leader is toothpaste that “fights cavities” for example, there are often other attributes which people will look for. “Whitens teeth” is another good attribute.
  15. The Law of Candor. A message of self-effacing honesty can make people drop their guards and be more receptive, there should be a positive message in there as well though.
  16. The Law of Singularity. It tends to be better to make singular definite moves than multiple unsure ones. Also, there is only ever one line of best practise, all others being relatively ineffectual. Not sure about that last part.
  17. The Law of Unpredictability. Peter’s law: the unexpected is always what happens.
  18. The Law of Success. “Ego is the enemy”. Success leads to arrogance and arrogance leads to failure.
  19. The Law of Failure. Failure is to be expected and accepted. Organisations should have the ability to accept failure. Japanese firms are good at doing this because they have a consensus approach to decision-making.
  20. The Law of Hype. The press often gets it wrong. The real story is often happening quietly, off the front pages.
  21. The Law of Acceleration. There are trends and fads. Trends last over the long term and accelerate slowly. Fads accelerate very quickly but don’t last long. Think Pokemon GO. Unless you have a way of cashing in big time from a fad, it’s usually better to hang your hat on a trend.
  22. The Law of Resources. Applies to business in general but regarding marketing, a good idea won’t have great effect if it’s not adequately funded.

Six Thinking Hats

I just finished reading Six Thinking Hats. Originally published in 1985 by Edward De Bono. According to Wikipedia:

Edward de Bono (born 19 May 1933) is a Maltese physician, psychologist, author, inventor and consultant. He originated the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools.

My copy of the book was an orange penguin classic. Big shoes to fill. I saw it on the shelves of the psychology section of a large bookstore in the inner city. Just from the title, I knew what it was about. Even so, I felt that I ought to read it anyway because that message was worth knowing in detail.

Having read it I would say that the idea itself is 4.5 stars. The book maybe 3 stars. It had a bit too much fluff for my taste.

The book has a central thesis or premise besides the six thinking hats themselves. It’s that in our normal everyday thinking, we cobble together different types (or directions) of thinking. And it is ineffective or even self-defeating. The specific term he repeatedly used was that the mind can only be “sensitised” in one direction at a time.

What gets me really excited about this is drawing greater power from thinking by using these different directions separately and single-mindedly, in their due turn. Noting the best fruits from each. In doing so building a more balanced mental landscape; one that has the positives, negatives, facts, emotions, new ideas and clear oversight neatly shown. Perhaps even making thinking and decision making like a fun game.

It should be noted that this book was rich in examples (perhaps 40% of the content was examples). I believe without exception the examples were a business or meeting context.

Enter the six thinking hats:

White. Like white printer paper from a computer. The white hat is about information. Objective or empirical facts. You may report the fact that someone stated an opinion but when wearing the white thinking hat you may not state your own opinion, this would be done wearing a different hat.

Red. Passionate like blood. About pure emotion and intuition. State how you are feeling about what is at hand in its raw form, without rationalising about it. What your instinct is beneath thought.

Black. Foreboding, depressing and where bad decisions lead. This is the hat of cautious, negative thinking. In other words fear, anxiety and pain: avoidance oriented. Of seeing the fault in ideas or arguments. The downside.

Yellow. Sunny and golden. The hat of hope. The bright side. Seeing the potential benefits or positive reasons for doing something. Seeing the good things about a proposal.

Green. Seeds and new growth. This is the hat of creativity, innovation and lateral thinking. “Off the wall” ideas are encouraged here. You can put on this hat when you need to come up with something new.

Blue. The blue sky. The hat of overview and control. Asking the right questions, summoning the right hats when necessary. The blue hat is what must chair the other hats, frame and direct the thinking. Perhaps it’s like the executive functioning mind?

six-thinking-hats

I’m excited about being able to look at projects that I’m struggling on with each thinking hat independently. This is a highly unintuitive thing to do but to me doing so seems inherently powerful. A crucial step towards that ever-illusive control of one’s own mind. In particular, like most people I have the habit of letting cautious or emotional thinking in the moment ultimately control me. This is what we evolved to do because cautious or first glance thinking was statistically safer. However, this is no longer particularly useful, is it? If yellow, white, green or blue hat thinking got a chance to examine a situation as well, then there’d be a mindset that was superhuman in its intelligence. A chance to view things in a different light.

How I Became Self-Employed

This title sounds self-involved. I don’t intend it to be. It’s just that I remember how it used to seem impossible, so unlike I. Now that circumstances have changed it seems like the new normal. I have a hard time imagining going back. The thought of doing so feels like stepping back into a box. Not being able to sit up fully straight or relax your shoulders too much.

The truth is it happened by accident on my part. And in increments. There wasn’t really an inspirational moment of truth or boldness. Rather, there was a moment of insight that it was now the best course of action to take. Not to mention a surprisingly deep-seated preference for it I might add. It’s funny how you think these parts of you are lost forever or grown out of, and then they turn out to have just been sleeping and come back in full force.

It all started about 11 months ago with my first “graduate type” job. Working with Salesforce. It was as much or more to do with my father as it was to my personal quality. A bit of worthiness and nepotism both. It’s always about both suitablility and knowing someone in some measures though. Society prefers those who are high on the first and low on the last. As for suitability, my demonstrated ability to learn and self-teach new things (notably physics) was the most important part and I’ve come to see why. The entire 11 months has been a non-stop learning experience. It seems that not once have I sat back, sipped some tea by the fire and said that this is what the job description said it would be. Relaxed that I needn’t learn anything new to perform my job. As someone who very nearly went to medical school but chose this instead (due to lifestyle reasons), believe me when I say it’s no walk in the park intellectually.

A voice hidden amongst that preceding paragraph speaks the first essential part of having a business: actually having a service to offer people.

The next step wasn’t even my own. I called up a contact in the industry asking about his business and blog, then he offered me a job. Such is a high growth industry. But it wasn’t a job, it was an independent contracting role. Probably so he had less responsibility on his part. This required me to get an Australian Business Number.

A month later I connected the dots and decided that I was indeed self-employed. My Facebook employment status changing to self-employed was actually the only known event of something happening faster than the speed of light – the change occurring faster than the electrons which transmitted the signal. I’ve made sure to remind all of my Facebook contacts at least twice a week since then. My whole air changed.I decided that I was of a higher caliber than most (since they were employed rather than owning a successful business) and deserving of more space on public transport.

I decided that since it was the same work being done anyway and merely a different legal arrangement, I would insist on an independent contracting agreement in all of my roles henceforth. This may have been the happiest and most expansive month of my whole life. Such a shock it’s been to my system that it’s the only known event of a change in personality type in my life: from INTP to INTJ.

I’ve slowly and steadily inched forward in various ways. The moment to make a new move usually at the time that I’ve become grounded enough in the changes of the last round of “expansion”. Changing the business name to something sexy, setting up a business account, experimenting with bookkeeping, starting a website, getting G-suite. Today I started using Simpleology again because I found myself lacking a “dream catcher”: somewhere to catch my fleeting thoughts about what it would be good to do next. To my delight they now have an iPhone app but to my ire they have intensified the marketing psychology/influence aspect of it to monumental proportions.

One good thing about running a business is that it presents virtually unlimited potential for expansion. At least it feels that way. I’ve felt it deeply satisfying to be a jack of all trades: writing blog posts one minute, thinking about accounting the next, putting your public relations hat on when posting on Facebook, interacting from a place of greater groundedness and initiative with others. This is all in addition to the core work itself. It does seem to get a bit sickly when it stops presenting an opportunity for growth. It’s like an extension of who you are, a conceptual machine that molds like putty in your hands and seems real every time it edges forth into the world. Capable of dealing with it in ways that one never truly could, as only an idea can. All at once intoxicating and rousing, liberating and grounding.

Business Ownership and Gracefulness

I’ve noticed a rather subtle distinction between business owners and employees. The difference is in the way they make you feel. I think it stems from how they feel and identify themselves. Their experience of life and society.
The keyword is scarcity. When you work for a company you are forcibly shaped by the approval of your boss. Your ego is constrained and controlled. You are in a rat race with other employees for the prestige feeling but no one is allowed to have as much as they would like anyway except on their birthday. You have to hustle. Unless there’s a particularly good company culture you have to constantly bump into others, whip them out and measure dicks. You learn to treat people badly because you don’t get treated how you want to be treated. You learn to supplement your social value. We’re drifting ever further from wholesome goals such as happiness.
Compare that to being a business owner. There’s no question about it: you are at the top of the tree. You have the authority. You have a lot more freedom to present and communicate how you want. You can feel how you want to. Let yourself take up space and speak loudly. Your anxiety drops while others’ rises. Anyone who disrespects you needn’t be in the company for long. You’re in abundance. You simply don’t need to worry about all these social dynamics beyond not causing a lawsuit.
An abundance vs a scarcity of validation. In control vs out of control. Owning vs being employed. Leading vs following.
When you feel secure in your psychological needs, you behave differently around others. You aren’t threatened. You don’t need them for anything. You are basically free to treat them how you wish. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this dynamic is prerequisite to being truly graceful. That feeling of being hosted. Of sitting at the captain’s table. However, it is also a license to treat people authoritatively and punitively.
With employees, you often find these psychological needs in deficit. I notice this manifests most saliently as the vibe of being “in competition” with others in various ways. The senior employee who treats you like you’re less than them. You can’t really be at ease around them because they feel that their happiness depends on diminishing yours. They feel the need to bluntly take control rather than be civil and think win-win. You find them treating you disrespectfully and that is because they feel their lives are lacking something in general such as authority or freedom.
Of course, there are clear advantages to taking a job and not all jobs are created equal. There are clear disadvantages to starting a business such as the uncertainty and risk of it. You may find yourself in a scarcity of time, money and energy instead of social value.
I’m a big believer in civility. Social graces are what give people the psychological space to be happy and not threatened by you. If everyone in an organisation does that then there’s a much greater sense of abundance than a culture where no one is really winning except the biggest baddest dog in the fight. I believe the responsibility for instilling a culture like this falls in the lap of those in authority and ultimately the owners. Managers and owners ought to be very civil and hopefully it trickles down.
People with civil natures ought to be promoted whilst those without civil natures ought to be demoted or if highly competent stay in technical positions. Just the same as social intelligence. Perhaps there could even be a scarcity-abundance metric used to rate employees based on how people feel around them. Meditation and social skills would thus be incentivised. This way perhaps those who are employed may find their psychological needs met and in turn, they will be more graceful in their personal lives.

Why It Was Smart for Apple to Drop the Headphone Jack

The internet was in an uproar for several weeks when it was revealed that the iPhone 7 didn’t have a headphone jack. It seemed like people unanimously hated it. While some people still spoke highly of Apple (myself included), almost no one seemed to defend the decision.

I have a theory about why exactly Apple did this.

There is a robust debate about the future of the headphone jack. Intel expects the USB type-C to replace the headphone jack. There is no doubt that Apple has its own intelligence about this and as the largest consumer electronics company in the world it has unique insight into the future of the industry.

This was a strategic move. It was first and foremost about branding and creating a narrative. When Steve Jobs passed away Apple seemed to have lost its mojo. The prestige of their brand was diminished. As of Q1 2016 Samsung holds a greater market share of the smartphone market.

Part of what made Apple so special in its earlier years was Steve Jobs’ philosophy that you had to “bet the company” sometimes. He had an ethic about vision, quality, and artistic merit; this was obvious to the public. It caused Apple to take certain risks that other companies would not and this made them perceived as the leader in the industry.

Apple’s brand is super-important and what the move was about is reestablishing their identity as anti-establishment and a leader in the industry; post-Steve Jobs. If this is indeed where the industry is going then Samsung and others will be forced to drop the headphone jack as well. How reactive that would look.

They bet the company as Steve might have done and if it pays off then they’ll regain their mojo and prove that they’re still special. The narrative and the brand are once again compelling.