Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Greg McKeown writing for the Harvard Business Review:

Why don’t successful people and organizations automatically become very successful? One important explanation is due to what I call “the clarity paradox,” which can be summed up in four predictable phases:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

Curiously, and overstating the point in order to make it, success is a catalyst for failure.

McKeown primarily focuses on jobs and jobs searches, but the bigger picture is more interesting. The more we keep clutter in our lives, the tougher it is to obtain success. Everyone may recongize that the bigger something is, the tougher it is to wield, but most can’t separate what’s truly important from what doesn’t matter.

via Daring Fireball

The Politics and Philosophy of Racism

Alex Tabarrok and John Sides (via the Economist) on Chris Hayes’ claim that “It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other”:

…identification with the Democratic Party tends to decline, and identification with the Republican party tends to increase, as attitudes toward black become less favorable—at least when attitudes are measured with two different racial stereotypes. However, the relationship is far from deterministic: substantial minorities of those with unfavorable attitudes toward blacks identify as Democrats.

Reihan Salam (also via the Economist) comments on this study:

[F]or many of the people “in my world”—that is, professionals who attended selective colleges and universities in the English-speaking world—the notion that racist Americans are almost entirely in one coalition (the center-right coalition) is an article of faith that is really central to center-left political identity. Those of us who do not share this view thus find ourselves arguing from a position that is seen as intrinsically morally suspect.

But perhaps most interesting is the Economists author’s take on his libertarian view of racism/sexism:

Racism and sexism have come to matter more to me in that I have come to see them in terms of the political value that matters most to me: liberty. And so I have become much more sympathetic to policies that would limit individual liberty in order to suppress patterns or norms of behaviour that might pose an even greater threat to freedom. So I’ve become fairly friendly toward federal anti-discrimination law, affirmative action, Title 9, the works. I have found that this sympathy, together with my belief in the theoretical possibility and historical reality of structural coercion, releases me almost entirely from the liberal suspicion that I’m soft on racism (even if I do wish to voucherise Medicare). Phew!

I’ve been trying to articulate this for a long time. Two parts to this:

1) The problem is that people refuse to weigh issues; any violation of any belief is unacceptable.  If I hate racism and I hate government legislation, but only government legislation can get rid of racism, I have to make a choice of which I hate more. 1 (racism, in case you’re wondering) I may have to violate my political beliefs, but isn’t it worth it?

2) But if the opposite is true (legislation to decrease racism actually makes it worse), I would be considered morally suspect to come out against something that is perceived to solve for racism. No one would ever admit to it, but some people consider the perception of solving an issue just as good as solving the issue. Oddly enough, there may be an argument for that.

All of us have biases that prevent us from seeing the larger picture. Sometimes these biases are good; most of the time, they’re bad. You may end up exactly where you started, but before giving a knee jerk reaction to something, consider why you think that way and why someone else thinks otherwise. You may find yourself staying quiet or– gulp–on the other side of the road more often than you think.

  1. I know there’s a point where this isn’t true, but anything can be taken to extremes. If carrots are getting stolen from the grocery store, one way to prevent that is for the grocery store to stop carrying carrots.

Luhnow’s letter to Astros Season Ticket Holders.

Astros General Manager (and former Cardinal Scouting Director) Jeff Luhnow on the Astros current season:

Since [May 25] we have underperformed everyone’s expectations, including our own. We ran into a combination of bad luck, injuries and a lack of depth that led to our deteriorating record through the midsummer months.

We want the Houston Astros to be a winning franchise that can compete for division titles year in and year out and ultimately bring multiple championships to the city of Houston and to Astros fans across the globe. Our promise to you as a fan is to work as hard and as smart as we possibly can to achieve this goal quickly. We have made significant progress towards this objective in 2012 and that progress will accelerate in 2013.

Luhnow once said that running a baseball team is like basic strategy in blackjack: the best way to win is to play the odds for long enough. (Nevermind that even with playing perfect basic strategy, the house will still win in the long term) It’s refreshing to see such a forward-thinking and honest general manager. He’s got the right ideas, let’s just hope he can get the edge on the house.

The Implicit Meaning of Advertisements

Dalton Caldwell on his latest creation, App.net:

App.net is a different kind of social platform.

We’re building a real-time social service where users and developers come first, not advertisers.

We believe that advertising-supported social services are so consistently and inextricably at odds with the interests of users and developers that something must be done.

Help us create the service we all wish existed.

It’s no secret how much I love Twitter and what it does. App.net looks to do a similar thing, except this time you pay up front for it.

There’s essentially two routes of monetizing something on the Internet today:

1) You pay an up-front fee for the service or product.

2) You access the product for free with the understanding that you will see advertisements at some point.

I like the first model better. Not because I hate seeing advertisements, but because what seeing advertisements implicitly means. Everything that is sold is slave to to who or what is paying the money for it. If I pay, that means the product is slave to me. If advertisers are footing the bill, it means the product will adhere to what the advertisers want.

In the instance of using ad-supported products, what the user wants and what advertisers want are inherently at odds. Users want to enjoy the product. Advertisers couldn’t care less about that; they’re more interested in you buying what’s being advertised. Because advertisements without people seeing them are useless, it then becomes the job of the product providers to strike the right balance. Within reason, product providers are going to first look to the needs of who or what is providing the funding.

I want to be explicit here: some people don’t like advertisements because they don’t like being the product sold. This doesn’t particularly bother me. Yes, I understand that Facebook and Twitter essentially advertise products that they think I’ll buy based on personal information that I’ve given them. I’m saying I’m OK with that as long as Twitter and Facebook put my wants and needs above those advertisements. The problem is that this is not the world in which we live.

There are a ton of arguments against App.net. (The one that worries me the most is that the majority of people won’t buy in, thus rendering what makes Twitter great–its ubiquity– null.) But, if I truly like the first model better and I feel a well-designed Twitter-like service is something that adds value to my life, it’s my job to fund it.

You’ve got about 17 hours to throw in your $50.

Update: I assumed the App.net alpha would be private for those who funded it early, but it looks like you can join anytime.