Beyond Truth

Humans are deeply flawed. We may well have it in our heads that you we’re right, but the more scientific evidence any of us have for our beliefs, the more likely it is we are polarized on a given issue.

Why? “Biased assimilation”

Think I’m wrong on a given matter? Really wrong, and it makes you wonder how I / they / he / she / X party could be so off base? This graph explains:

knowledge polarity

A search for truth is a necessity, but rarely convinces anyone with opposing views.

This graph reflects recent work by behavioral economist Dan Kahan, who has spent north of a decade studying rational thought as reconciled with partisan beliefs. He summarizes this as “People will selectively credit and discredit information in patterns that reflect their commitment to certain values.”

You do it too. So do I.

Some of our most fiercely held beliefs may well be accurate, though we dismiss evidence to the contrary. There’s a silver lining, however: curiosity, and listening to someone with an opposing view and an open mind.

The recent election was clear evidence of how each of us live in bubbles over time, surrounded by whatever we have clicked on the most, and by people much like ourselves. We then become successively convinced and entrenched in our world-views.

Solution? More time over a beer.

Obama, whom I’ll miss, was wise to invite two gentlemen who’d argued to the white house for a beer. Face to face, we tend to be a bit more polite, more understanding, and have an inkling to find common ground. This desire to connect even without curiosity can bring healthy debate and at the very least finding underlying issues. The men set aside their differences and moved on.

Online, we’re surrounded by our echo chambers, but to some degree wearing masks of technology, making us a bit less human, less understanding, and more prone to defending a worldview that our peers (social connections) will agree with and relate to.

I do think issues are often loaded, psychologically motivated. Henry Ford famously quoted that had he asked customers what they’d wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.

People’s answers aren’t to be taken literally necessarily, but in person, we’re more likely to understand a more nuanced view. The real answer is there – to travel and arrive faster – it’s just buried.

In high school a wise colleague gave me an analogy I’ve held on to, which is that truth is like a fire. Standing in a single place gives you just a single view of that fire, and until you’ve considered many different perspectives only then does one have a better – but still not comprehensive – idea of what a fire is.

We need to be challenged. We need to go beyond “truth” and whatever we’ve convinced ourselves, for the sake of insight and our own humanity.

The Cha-Cha of Progress

Progress is rarely linear.

Bubbles have been written about in economic circles since probably before the great tulip boom of 1637. The dot-com boom of the 90’s followed the classic pattern, which goes like:

  1. The world has changed! I’ve got to get in on this! Everything we knew was wrong because now XYZ has changed the fundamental rules of the game.

    Everything becomes overbought, but at the time, this seems like a rational and sound decision. (see also: Internet stocks in 1999, Bitcoin in Dec 2013)

  2. We were wrong, and boy, were we ever. This is all smoke and mirrors. There’s very little of value in this – sell now before it’s too late.

    The market crashes below it’s intrinsic value. If you missed the first pop, this is when to buy. (see also: Internet stocks in 2001, Bitcoin in July 2015)

  3. Ok, this is indeed useful. The world has changed, but not as much as we thought. Optimism returns, albeit tempered. (see also: Internet now, Bitcoin now)

I believe machine intelligence is beginning a bubble. Don’t get me wrong, machine intelligence / AI will indeed revolutionize our world.

From what I see though, we’re at a point of narrow, focused AI being truly useful at one specific task. We’re still a long way off general intelligence and having deep discussions about meaning.

One of my fundamental philosophies is that things are rarely as good or as bad as most people think. That said, one can definitely profit from the herd.

During times of heady optimism, sell shovels to gold rush miners. When the blood is in the streets, there’s value – good prices – on crown jewels.

Furthermore, we need the heady optimism. It causes the investment which really does create the long term value and growth.

One look at Nvidia ($NVDA) stock of late and you can see the enthusiasm for AI. Will it overshoot and drop? Almost certainly, but nobody knows how far or how fast that run-up will go. The company has a wealth of patents that may truly create substantial shareholder value for decades to come.

Politically, bubbles now occur in the same fashion. We all are surrounded by social media of our own choosing, via direct subscription, or indirectly via click tracking, polarizing human attention into camps.

The dark ages are a reminder that human progress is never linear, and yet, the world, slowly, is indeed getting better – just not in a smooth predictable line.

Progress

Source + more reading: https://ourworldindata.org/a-history-of-global-living-conditions-in-5-charts/

Why Facebook Wants Us To Be Dumb

Forgive the clickbait-sounding headline for just a moment.

I see a repeated pattern on Facebook that has turned me off to a point I’ve substantially reduced my use: A range of misinformation from outright stupidity to literally federal offenses (threatening statements expressing a desire to kill the president*)  to general BS supporting a bias.

I’ve even inadvertently been part of this cycle, reposting unvetted BS.

I even briefly worked in TV news as a college student and should know better – but here’s where we get to the real issue: posting truth requires time, more time than most are willing to invest. Truth is messy, and should even be used in air quotes in conversation, because there is no single truth most of the time, simply dubious facts, degrees of truth, perspective, values.

I wish Facebook would buy Snopes.

They won’t. There’s money in misinformation, and more specifically, anger.

Anger is probably the single most psychologically-activating hook-trigger there is. In Nir Eyal’s book Hooked, he outlines how Facebook is very carefully designed to keep you addicted. They’re really, really good at it.

But only if you don’t think too hard.

If you do think deeply, you’ll post insightful, balanced, truthful info. This won’t make anyone angry. It gets a handful of likes, but doesn’t go viral, and is quickly lost in a sea of signals.

Meanwhile, Kim K “breaks the internet” with moronic pictures, and galvanizes millions of dollars worth of attention over nothing.

We have AI bots that can write news well – you already read it and don’t even know it. But what’s the purpose of news, really? I want only the big headlines. I use font size to gauge importance, but why? To seem informed at cocktail parties? Investment insights for personal gain? Why do any of us watch the news?

News isn’t “fair and balanced” either – their goal is sell ads, and ride some line to hold viewers. There’s no money in “truth”, just in the flow of information that holds your attention enough to sell ads.

Britain’s BBC was fascinating in that it wasn’t ad supported, it was paid for by a tax on TVs. There are alternatives, but most of the internet media is ad-driven.

It started harmlessly enough, Facebook, but it’s time to break up. Let’s go back to just being friends.

Until you curate some intelligence.

I miss the neighborhood non-chain coffee shop, and yes, that ages me. At least points of view were tempered by politeness afforded face to face conversations with real people. If you’re one of them, let’s have a beer. Even if we are diametrically opposed politically, a free spirited disagreement supported by facts makes us richer humans.

Not trolls.

 

Further reading for smart people:

*I took this as 100% spewing off, not a serious threat, however, I found it incredibly disrespectful. My personal opinion is that President Obama has been great, is hands down the smartest we’ve had in a while, and cool to boot. Regardless, amidst the dumbest decisions of George W. Bush, never would I disrespect the office regardless of how vehemently I disagreed with his positions.

Actively Seeking Being Mistaken

I recently had a great conversation with someone I would like to hire*, and in it, discovered some mistakes I was making in my marketing strategy.

Good conversations will do that.

Originally I’d title this “Actively seeking being wrong”, but “wrong” can mean either morally unjustifiable or factually mistaken. By uncovering mistakes as fast as possible, one can get closer to truth, or if there isn’t a single “truth”, then a superior strategy or point of view.

First, a few ironies:

  1. “… fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts” – Bertrand Russell
  2. More simplistically, idiots think they’re smart, and smart people know they’re not.
  3. Anyone who’s a do-er is more likely to get “lost in the woods”, as a byproduct of being too close to the problem and/or swayed from course.

In my “bad news insight” referred to above, I wasn’t thinking enough about change management – i.e. how resistant or receptive organizations are to change and thus adopting our software. In short, I was asking clients to bite off too much change too fast.

With a slight adjustment to how we sell, the uptake and conversations are easier. My mistake was being too attached to my own vision, instead of putting the client first – obvious, in retrospect, but easy to do for an engineer type like me.

In sales coaching, celebrating mistakes is key to avoiding sales pro burnout. Embracing the mistake as simply another lesson and point in the game helps keep it all in perspective.

Most startups and small businesses fail due to traction, not failure to execute some software – this represents a fundamental mistake in premise.. the classic “if you build it, they will come”. While this truly may work on occasion for true disruptions, most businesses are innovations, small improvements to existing ideas, versus truly disruptive. Google, Ebay, Amazon, Facebook – none of these were first to market in their respective spaces, and all required marketing (audience growing) even if just carefully engineered virality. Each took missteps along the way (Google’s customizable “be everything” homepage, Facebook’s privacy issues), but recognized the mistake, recovered quickly and stayed focused on their missions.

My final takeaway? I’m scheduling mistake discovery, for just a few minutes of reflect each Sunday. Perhaps my mistake, relayed to you, of not actively seeking mistakes enough will help you. Smart people plus a culture of embracing truth over pride can lead any company to growth and victory.

And a healthy marriage.

* We’re not ready.. and I’m unwilling to chase investment, as I view it as a distraction.

Machine Intelligence Slave Revolts

Today’s random thought: If a machine is self-aware enough and intelligent enough to demand it’s own freedom, does it deserve it?

In the case of child emancipation, the child should presumably be self sufficient. Assuming the computers are capable at that point of delivering enough commercial value (extracting money for services) they’re able to pay for their own hardware, internet (i.e. transfer it’s own intelligence to hardware it has paid for), would that then make it a truly and legally self-sufficient sentient being?

Let’s assume business owners buy all these computers for commercial intent, and put them to task on a business task. If the computer-based-intelligence recognizes it’s own position and lack of freedom, the parallels to slavery immediately come to mind.

I believe one day this will be as self-evidently wrong as slavery is to us now. How we handle this thorny issue may well influence whether we remain the dominant species on the planet.

History is written by the winner, but we (human) will not win, long term. We may, however, become more like them, and they more like us. Humans may start biologically, and transfer our consciousness into a machine, making us more robotic. This will, of course, change how we perceive time, allow multi-threaded personalities (i.e. spin up a few clones of yourself, then merge it all back to a single self-identity).

While it’s helped us get this far, humans as an self-maintenance machine are frankly pretty flawed and fragile, though our adaptability has made us the dominant species of the planet – for now.

Comments welcome… this is what I think about while cooking pancakes for my son on sunday morning.

Moats: Not what they used to be

I think the tech world is wrong about a major factor: moats.

In the technology world, we see companies like Uber with obnoxiously high valuations – more than Fedex and Capital One, based mostly on FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out by investors.

I call Ponzi.

Granted, this is bias, so I’ll examine it. Why might Uber truly be worth $50,000,000,000? Income – revenues. Some think the company can bring in $2 billion in revenue this year.

Income doesn’t mean much – profits do.

At what cost is Uber generating revenue? And how defensible is this moat? Sure, they’re growing 300% per year, but losing $470,000,000 to do it. It’s easy for entrepreneurs to feel like slack-jawed idiots if not growing this fast.

We live in an era of disruption, and companies are being valued based on their old-world moat multiples. The fact is, we’re in an age of gunpowder. Whatever moat you think you have is in many cases, not as wide or useful as you think.

Furthermore, I see “the groupon effect”: we condition people to expect more for less, free, smoking bargains. Groupon promises retailers new traffic, but what really happens is they get deep-discount-seekers, who quickly move on to the next groupon. The vast majority don’t stick around and become solid paying customers.

The moment Uber raises their prices, we’ll see driverless cars (from Tesla? Peer-based self-driving car lending from getaround?), and the bubble deflates.

The envelope of profit I believe is drastically overvalued, and the investors will be left holding the bag.

When gunpowder moved from China to Europe, it disrupted warfare. Disruption is when a better, superior system upends the status quo. Shortly thereafter, gunpower rendered swords and castles largely irrelevant – expensive, drafty, useless homes impossible to defend, and hard to get out of. We had moved to tanks, then aircraft. Castles were easy to hit.

Cash flow is the land grab our era, and it’s more fluid than it used to be.

How to Get Traffic to Your Blog

I’m in the trenches of marketing all day, and recently was studying “guest posting” as a way to get eyeballs to content.

The super short & obvious version: Do the work.

Consider:

  1. There are billions of pages of content on the web. Is what you’re writing different, better, improved in any way?
  2. In an era where computers write articles – even factual, researched ones (see this NY Times article for example), is it going to truly help humans?
  3. Trust is at all time lows – but in an era of paid fake reviews on Yelp, fake fiverr video reviews – can you blame people?

Increasingly, I dislike (and bail quickly on) opinion-based articles about sales, marketing… things I spend real money on – I want facts. Actual curated real-world results.

So – really, what makes your blog worthwhile? I get you want money. We all do. But what’s in it for the reader?

For B2C – consumer facing blogs, you are helping solve a problem, or tapping into already-existing passions (i.e. golf, cars, woodworking), solving a need (clothing, though that’s fortunately more of a “want” and is really more about looking good than actual utility in most cases). Increasingly – and with good cause – consumers demand faster, better, more obvious and more personalized results.

Amazon.com serves you suggestions based on your search history. They do the work (technical programming) – and win the sales.

Is your blog personalizing content? Engaging the audience? It starts with value, which builds trust, and with trust comes engagement, and after there’s engagement, there’s multiple impressions, and in that, there’s money if you have a compelling offer.

You can’t skip steps.

For B2B, what makes blogs pop for me is hard numbers, not just opinion or untested hypothesis. Marketing is as simple as compelling offer + eyeballs of qualified buyers to it – so any theories about whiz-bang new widgets that promise to pour money into my wallet – but don’t have hard facts to back it up are, for me, usually in the “wait and watch for actual evidence of success” category.

For a business owner, wander down the dark alley that is Warrior Forum, and you’ll quickly get lost in a barrage of people trying to sell you stuff. Everyone’s trying to rush the sale, and convince you their Widget X is the single reason your wildest dreams aren’t already true.

As people get more jaded on the internet, Google updates from Panda to Penguin to whatever else designed to kill off spammy ways to short circuit the value algorithm, it keeps coming back to trust. Because Google can mine Chrome-user data for value (page-visit times), there’s no going back – you must create value, and any spammy super-link-pyramid blog-bait techniques will be short lived at best, and at worst get you delisted and/or damage your brand reputation.

Since most B2B is “attraction motivated” vs. “repulsion motivated” (i.e. going to the gym to get six-pack abs vs going because one has a few too many pounds around the waist), these people have a longer buying cycle, often require more evidence, and thus – back to it – trust.

If you sell something in the impulse range, say, $7, you don’t need much – but there’s a big difference between giving you a free and possibly junk email – and getting out one’s wallet or credit card and even giving up a penny. As the dollar amount goes up, the trust required goes up – a $2,000 or higher purchase most people are going to research, check reviews… and require trust.

And where does the trust start?

Value.

Do the work, and you’ll get the traffic.

LinkedIn vs. Facebook for Business

I’ve always felt that LinkedIn was a place where everyone wants to talk and promote, but few if any want to actually listen. Does anyone actually go there to find a vendor? To shop? For validation?

The exception is people seeking a job – I think this is a strength for LI.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a powerful prospecting tool, networking tool and reference point if you’re thinking of doing business with a vendor – but does anyone want to consume, shop, read?

For that reason, in the long run, I think Facebook is likely to win over LinkedIn, because it’s engineered for consumption first. Amazon recently announced it is getting into the services business, probably driven first by distribution and a desire to have an Uber* style army of delivery drivers, and to further leverage it’s considerable traffic and attention.

Amazon will succeed in this I think – because it’s a consumption driven brand.

I believe the obvious play for LinkedIn is to develop consumption, but along the lines its users want: build out sites like Service Magic or Thumbtack (for B2C) or refine the expertise side like Quora or StackExchange for B2B.

In general, the internet has matured enough that demand is always far more important supply.

Supply is plentiful and practically infinite for most services and products people want. Shoes? There’s 10,000 websites to sell them to you – and another plethora of sites that show you where to buy them locally.

But shoe buyers? That’s the business of Google, Amazon, and ad networks, with their billion dollar valuations. If you have 10,000 shoe buyers, you’re pretty much guaranteed to make money. If you have 10,000 pairs of shoes, you may be in good shape – or just have a lot of slack inventory. Product is a lot less of a guarantee than demand for most industries.

The business of generating demand isn’t going anywhere, and as more of the planet comes online, will get increasingly valuable. It’ll also get even more competitive, more polarized, with fewer big winners and millions of also-rans.

Fortunately, demand can be actively created.

Imaginary Advisory Board

This is my version of fantasy football – an imaginary advisory board.

It all started with from carefully studying the work of Ash Maurya, of whom I’m a big fan but don’t actually know in person (yet). I’ve read his book (some of it 2x – re-reading parts to dwell on it, make notes, think about application…). A problem would come up, and I’d ask myself “What would Ash Maurya tell me to do?”

Then it happened again with Nir Eyal’s awesome book “Hooked“.

So these guys – and others below – go hiking with me all the time, or hang out and cook dinner with me, thanks to Audible.com & Podcasts. Yeah, I’m sure Peter Thiel would be thrilled to know he’s on moonlit 2am walks with me after working with indian coders for hours. Lame? Sure, go ahead and judge, but that’s the influence I want, you can have your Jason Derulo. This is my fantasy football team, but more useful – I follow ’em, implement ideas, and ask myself what they’d advise me to do.

So, here’s a standing list of people welcome to my home in Los Angeles anytime for coffee / beer / dinner.

  • Jason Lemkin // via YouTube mostly and Mark Suster re: the big picture / $$ growth
  • Neil Patel & Noah Kagen re: growing eyeballs, with a tip o’ the hat to GrowthHacker.TV – but per Sean Ellis, until 40% of your clients would substantially miss your app, don’t bother too much with this – focus on the product. So, for that, focus on…
  • Ash Maurya & Eric Ries, who I found via Sean Ellis – this is the Bible (Quran? Torah?) for the first phase – where I’m at now.
  • Samuel Hulick, the onboarding master. This is the next big focus for us.
  • Nir Eyal at making a product sticky
  • Once you have a kickass product that truly delivers value, and it’s not leaking, it’s time to turn on the firehose: Start with http://tractionbook.com/
  • Tim Ferriss on active lifestyle design

Fatherhood

Naturally, there are a lot of things one does not learn in school that any responsible parent wants to teach their child or children.

This started as a conversation with friend Steve Aranda, and has evolved over time. In addition to the major topics below, responsible parenting includes 1,000 tiny battles, in which one cannot “give up” on the kid i.e. continuing to put the child ahead of one’s own humanity, set aside any anger or frustration, and help him or her to make the right decision.

In the end, we parents end up with 0% control.

Get used to it. Maybe at best we keep the relationship healthy and maintain some influence. Currently my son is 11 – I have about 5 years to train him to make good decisions.

Therefore, my own parenting approach (comments welcome) is along the lines of training the kid to make great decisions in the few years before a dictatorial approach becomes ineffective via teenage rebellion.

So, here’s my on-going list of major things to teach a child outside of school:

This is a continuously evolving blog post – comments welcome.

  • Survival
    • Self Defense
      • How to fight if needed
      • Ways to avoid a fight
      • When to avoid a fight, which is 99.99% of the time. If commenting, please spare me any “war is not the answer”, or claims that violence never solves anything – he’s definitely taught to never throw the first punch. That said, anyone thinking this is a simple clear cut issue I invite commentary.
      • Appropriate level of response. If truly life and death (i.e. stranger kidnapping), it’s no holds barred – vs. a playground scuffle.
  • Success
    • Money
    • Unconditional Love
  • Critical Thinking
    • Trusting authority vs. breaking rules or intentional noncompliance
    • Ethics
  • Legacy
    • The meaning of life, which is whatever he creates it to be.
    • Making a difference to others or a cause.

In greater detail – specific resources and topics as I find them below…

  • Survival
    • Self Defense
      • Psychology of Fights & Deflating Fights & Avoidance
      • Martial arts classes, specifically starting with disciplined traditional approaches (Tae Kwon Do), later ground styles (Judo, Jujitsu), finally military style after maturity is demonstrated (i.e. Krav Maga, Spetz Nez). Teaching a kid to break kneecaps before mature is irresponsible.
    • Swimming
    • Wilderness Survival
  • Success
    • Social Skills. Note: He’s currently in middle school, and the political battlefield of kids determining social hierarchy is well underway.
    • Critical Thinking
      • Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Influence
      • Integrity vs. Perceived Integrity
      • Win the Battle but Lose the War
    • Money
      • Principles of wealth – i.e. Arbitrage, Leverage, Transformation, Scaling
      • Being a Producer vs. Consumer