Monday, 6 February 2023

Saturday, 7 January 2023

Earthed

I’ve always enjoyed the environment message within ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ it’s like a kid-friendly version of Harrison Ford is the Ocean.

Nature can reclaim the earth. The world will continue on without us.

It’s happened before:

  • Singapore, Michigan (swallowed up by sand dunes)
  • Casabre, Bolivia (swallowed up by the Amazon rainforest)
  • Zaiku, Iraq (swallowed up by the Tigris river)
  • Doggerland (swallowed up by the North Sea) this is my personal favorite as I’m continually delighted imagining walking from England to Norway.

Thursday, 5 January 2023

Is This a Good Idea?

7 Questions to Determine if You’re onto Something Big
After decades of working with entrepreneurs, product executives, and creating a few of my own products (a few modestly successful and many absolute duds), I’ve developed a short checklist for whether an idea is worth the significant time and effort to develop into a product. Far too often these questions are left unanswered and the founding team plows forward continuing to build (hell, I’ve done that myself) but the questions don’t go away just because you’ve build around them. They get more problematic. The earlier they’re answered, the easier the next steps are.

0. Why do we care if its a Good Idea?

  • Our time here is finite, so we need to prioritize;
  • Solving meaningful problems is fun. 
  • Helping more people is better than fewer.
  • Making money is fun.
  1. What frustration are we eliminating, and for whom?

State it in a one-sentence MadLib, e.g.

It’s for [hyper-specific customer segment] frustrated by [an acute, persistent problem]. “

As the adage states, “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it.”

If we’re going to have any measure of success, we need to identify an it that’s broke. It can be very difficult for anyone – even those directly experiencing the problem to fully, clearly, and accurately, articulate the broke it – they can more easily articulate their frustrations, demonstrate when these frustrations occur, and describe the outcome they’re struggling to achieve. It’s that frustration we want to articulate in a single sentence.

Consider this an initial hypothesis. Personally, in early stages of idea development, I like to have 3 of these sentences – each with a distinct potential customer. This helps to ensure you’re casting a wide-enough net an thinking creatively about all the ways your idea can help people

2. Why will the number of people with this frustration exponentially grow over the next 3 years?
There are a number of trends flowing right now – some mega, others not. Knowing which emerging trends amplify the idea will suggest how big and how fast the customer base will grow.

Exponential growth over the next 3-5 years is needed to support a growing and maturing company. If the frustrated customer base isn’t predicted to grow in scale, the idea can’t support a company. Then, we should act like the frustration has already been solved, and move on to what comes next.

3. Are we (the founding team) currently experts in this frustration?

Signs of our expertise include;

  • We have this frustration currently and have already tried multiple ways to eliminate it – including spending money, and we’re currently using this solution.
  • 20 other people/organizations have told us they have this frustration currently and they’ve tried multiple ways to eliminate it – including spending money.
  • We know 10 different ways to eliminate this frustration and all the (non-obvious) reasons they don’t actually work.
  • We can make a logical argument on why more exponentially people will have this frustration in 5 years.
  • We could give a TED Talk, start a YouTube channel, etc on this frustration.
  • We can identify the precedent (the player, in any market, validating our highest risk)

4. What’s our unique insight that everyone else has missed?
Here we’re looking for the characteristic that sets us and our solution apart from the other available solutions.

Some examples:

  • We’ve eliminated something everyone thinks is mandatory (this is my personal favorite)
  • We have exclusive access to a technology, material, process, expertise, or customer segment

5. Can we demonstrate the idea right now?

I don’t care how rudimentary the demonstration is, I want to see the frustration solved leveraging our unique insight. This demonstration means the idea is real, tangible, and usable – verses simply theoretical.

6. What does this look like at >$10K/transaction?
All businesses have a price floor below which it’s not worth the time and effort to pay the invoice. In my experience, that floor is $10,000/transaction. Founding teams either don’t think about price early or price far too low ($<10). Imagining how the idea could support a >$10K price tag is helpful when trying to imaging all the different customers the idea could help at scale. Yes, B2B customers enthusiastically paying >$10K are all that matter as they’re the fastest way to profitability.

7. Where’s the opportunity for network effects & zero marginal costs?
Two of the biggest costs a young company has are; the costs to get the next customer (customer acquisition costs) and the cost of producing the next item (marginal costs). Finding ways to leverage network effects – where the value of the product increases as more customers use it – is one way to structurally counter those headwinds and position the product for zero marginal costs. This also compliments the earlier question about exponential growth in the customer base.

Grab the Keynote of this blog post

Friday, 8 April 2022

Staying On Track 2022

  1. Every Commitment is in the Calendar.
    For personal and family commitments, I use Apple Calendar. I’ve set up calendars for each person in the house w/ a phone (currently 4 people) + an overall ‘Family’ calendar. All these calendars sync across (at least) nine devices in hopes an up-to-date calendar will always be right at hand. Every commitment – whether with to yourself, or others – goes in the calendar. A sampling:
  • take down Christmas lights (repeating annually)
  • install Christmas lights (repeating annually)
  • Monthly Goal Review (monthly)
  • take out the garbage (weekly)
  • Weekly (P)Review (weekly)
  • each run of my marathon training plan (daily)
  • the next logical, atomic, step for each active project (e.g. Grade Beer 4 of my current BJCP Tasting Exam step, start pizza dough, make yeast starter for saison, the ‘Now’ across the Trello boards)
  • and the usual smattering of kids’ instrument lessons, sporting activities, and social commitments.
  1. “I would be thrilled if…” in Apple Reminders
    In addition to shared shopping lists (Groceries, Costco, etc) in Apple Reminders, I’ve recently moved all of my Goals and Aspirations into a series of nested lists in Apple Reminders. The different timeframes help me maintain focus because I know the other stuff is coming up next month, next year, etc.

Yes, I frequently move stuff between the lists. Often kicking a given item from month to month to month. No worries, it’s the ‘I would be thrilled if…’ list not the ‘I must list’.

Here’s how it’s currently structured:

  • Backlog (default)
  • “I would be thrilled if…”
    • (the current month) in April 2022
    • (the upcoming month) in May 2022
    • in 2022
    • in 2023
    • Before I’m 50
    • Someday Maybe
  • My Life was Unsuccessful Because I Didn’t…
  • Waiting for: (Stuff on hold until a pre-requisite is fulfilled)
  1. Tactical Backlogs in Trello
    For big, complex, ongoing projects (e.g. family vacations, new applications I’m building) I create a project-specific Kanban board in Trello to breakdown the aspirational outcome (#2) into bite-size tasks for the calendar (#1). Each Kanban board has the following four columns:
  • Backlog (all the things)
  • Next (3-5 of the most significant, riskiest assumption things)
  • Now (the most significant, riskiest assumption thing – this is likely in my calendar)
  • Completed
  1. Weekly (P)Review
    Every Sunday afternoon, I grab a pen, a notebook, and two devices. I scan the past week’s calendar looking for key accomplishments and highlights for the family Jar of Awesome, and I preview the next week. Looking for key commitments in need of additional preparation, resolve potential conflicts (e.g. my running schedule w/ early work meetings), then once the core calendar is in place, I scan through all the Reminder lists, and Trello boards looking for things to fill out upcoming week’s capacity. This takes 45-90min.
  1. Monthly Goal Review
    Additionally, the first of each month, I take 30-60 minutes and review all the aspirations in the Reminders lists. For each one of them I ask the following:
  • Am I making progress on them?
  • Do they still resonate strongly?
  • Are they currently in the right time horizon?
  • Are there things that should be removed or added?

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Don’t Reschedule; Commit or Cancel

The world doesn’t actually care if you do the things on your calendar.

It’ll keep spinning either way.

In fact, in many ways it would prefer that you just didn’t.

For, every time you do – the world changes a little bit. ‘Doing’ starts an chain reaction of cause and effect unsettling the natural course of things – entropy.

There are consequences to inaction. If you don’t pay your rent or mortgage for long enough – eventually you’ll lose the roof over your head. Stop improving the relationship with your spouse and eventually you won’t have one. Stop filling up the gas tank in your car – and eventually you’re stuck.

These are hyperbolic examples, yet their lesson can be applied to both smaller more banal tasks as well as your most meaningful projects.

If you don’t work on them – there’s very little immediate downside. Long-term? That’s a completely different question. But, short term – likely nothing.

Right now, admit to yourself that there will be commitments you made, commitments that are clearly identified, well estimated, perfectly aligned with your energy that you simply don’t do.

Instead, you end up running errands, talking with co-workers, taking an extra-long shower, cleaning your office, resolving some completely unexpected emergency, or attempting to capturing some unexpected opportunity. Or you’re simply binge-watching ‘Nailed It’ on Netflix.

So, what do we do now that we we’ve admitted we’re not doing the thing we committed to?

First stop and take a breath.

Next consider why you didn’t.

What about the activity wasn’t compelling to you enough to simply start at the designated time? Most likely, it was an activity you weren’t fully committed to, that you didn’t fully see the outcome of the activity fulfilling one of your most meaningful goals.

In short, it’s a commitment you made for someone else – not for yourself. And because it wasn’t for you – anything, absolutely anything was more fulfilling and more significant than this thing you scheduled.

So, why did it end up on your calendar in the first place? At what point in the history of the commitment could you have made a different answer – said ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’, delegated it, resolved it in the moment – to prevent it from ever being scheduled in the first place?

Think of that moment, visualize it like it’s happening again. Feel yourself agreeing to the commitment. As you do, ask, “What negative outcome am I trying to avoid by saying ‘Yes’?” followed by “What part of my identity is afraid of this activity?” (For it’s your identity that kept you from starting in this moment).

Once you have these answers, you’ll know which of the following actions to take:

1. Delete the activity off your calendar and completely forget about it. That’s right, you’re obviously not excited about this activity enough to start – so, say ‘No’ to it now and forever. Just delete it, write in what you did instead – and continue on with your day. If it likely will return, take a moment and determine who you’ll delegate it to. This is ‘When as a trigger’ that Patrick and I talk about in ‘The Power of When’ – When this task returns – I’ll delegate it to John.

  1. Reschedule it. If upon revisiting the significance behind the task and your reasons for not starting it this time you realize that this is still of value, your punishment is to reschedule it. This punishment is felt three ways; going through the next two weeks and finding a spot for this activity you didn’t do the first time, re-evaluating and rescheduling all the other commitments in its way, and running the risk of blowing it off a second time.
  2. Do it with whatever amount of time remains.Yea, rescheduling it is a horrible option – you’re moving a bunch of other commitments around to squeeze in one you obviously don’t want to do in the first place. So, rather than have Future You pissed at you (again!) take this time, whatever remains, and crank it out. Complete as much of it as you can, knowing that this is all the time you have, whatever value you can create in the next 14 minutes – that’s what this commitment gets. This stress, urgency, panic, is the price you paid for committing to something you shouldn’t have. Wherever you land when time is up that’s where you land. If by some miracle you complete it – you are not the hero. You are the villain – you took a commitment you shouldn’t have, you added greater stress to your life, and you crowded out something else that far more meaningful and significant, while delivering a low quality outcome.

Pick one.

Rescheduling the commitment is the worst of three options.

The easiest option is to simply admit the commitment wasn’t actually significant in the first place and delete it from your calendar.

“Rescheduling kicks off a chain reaction of comparing all the upcoming commitments by their significance, energy, and time to find the next best date & time for a commitment that obviously wasn’t the most significant thing when it came around the first time.”



Which means the rescheduled thing is never the most important thing. Why would it be? To add to the problem, the commitment has already been canceled, forgotten, or ignored once, so the chances of it being canceled, forgotten, or ignored a second time are more than double. Then there’s the issue of ensuring everyone has the new meeting details.

Don’t reschedule without adjusting the nature of the appointment to be aligned with the level significance for everyone involved.

This can be done two ways:

  • increasing the significance (stronger positive outcomes, greater risk minimization) of the effort
  • decreasing the resolution of the meeting. For example, if the initial meeting was a 60 minute face-to-face, propose a 20-minute phone call. If it was a phone call, propose addressing the entire issue via email, or suggest request an introduction to someone in a better position to fulfill this commitment.

Both of these methods of changing the effort’s nature transform it into a new substantially different thing. So it’s not a reschedule – it’s a more accurately-sized commitment that can be better judged against the rest of your scheduled commitments in terms of significance, energy, and time.

Of course, this assumes the change in nature still passes the significance threshold for you and your collaborators. It could be that you’re secretly relieved the effort isn’t important. In which case – delete it happily and ignore the reschedule request and determine how you’re going to maximize this newly found time.

All of this leads us back to where we started: Don’t Reschedule; Cancel or Commit

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Sunday, 22 March 2020

In the Days After

I’m grateful for all those – medical professionals, emergency workers, school administrators, governors, etc – working continuously to contain the COVID-I9 global pandemic we’re currently in.

With so many activities, events, and businesses shuttered indefinitely, in the back of my mind, I’ve been wondering, “What does the world look like after containment?”

Which takes me to one of my favorite tools for thinking through effects and consequences, McLuhan’s Tetrad. While McLuhan developed the Tetrad tool to think through how media changes us, I’ve found it works for anything phenomenon impacting society at large. Like the Myers-Briggs, it’s more effective when statements are articulated in their most positive manner.

The Tetrad asks four questions;

What does it enhance?
What does it make obsolete?
What does it retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
What does it flip into when pushed to extremes?

What does COVID-19 enhance?
– Depression and anxiety disorders related to lack of face-to-face social contact.
– Brand-name universities offering online high school curriculum
– Corporations’ level of comfort with the majority of their labor force being remote
– Companies no longer providing computers to their employees
– Depression in commercial real estate – esp office buildings.
– Tribalism and mistrust of others
– Tightening of pre-existing social networks
– Delivery services
– Corporate adoption of robotics and automation to ensure higher sanitation standards & reduce variable labor force availability.
– Climate change advocacy (sudden drop in global pollution levels creating higher air and water quality)
– Solo hobbies & sports – esp inside sports (e.g. knitting, playing music, homebrewing, yoga, cooking, yo-yo-ing, karate)
– Membership- or subscription-based business models
– Home exercise equipment sales (e.g. Peloton)
– Self-stable and freezer-friendly food sales (maybe the US now gets shelf-stable milk)
JustWalkOut by Amazon
– Demand for box seats at stadiums and theaters
– Single-payer health care in the US
– popularity of eSports
– Disney divesting ESPN

What does COVID-19 make obsolete?
– Casual physical contact with strangers
– Business models based on confining strangers for a period of time (stadiums, theaters, cruise ships, airplanes, public transportation, professional sports)
– Business models based on individual, retail sales
– Globalization
– Social pressure to attend events that you’d rather not attend.
– work from home is no longer a differentiating HR benefit, it’s an expected part of the employment contract.
– The decline of church-going (esp Catholic) in the US, and by extension the Boy Scouts.
– General seating at stadiums and theatres.
– Minimalism
– checkout clerks
– Co-working spaces

What does COVID-19 retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
– “The milkman”, local businesses making regular deliveries in a localized area.
– a need to ‘stock-up’ when something is available, for it may not be tomorrow (pantries, root cellars, and chest freezers)
Victory Gardens
Speakeasys (for dining and social experiences and gyms [1, 2], not just drinking) like this.
– Drive-in Movie Theaters
Party lines (always on video multi-party video conferences)
“Back to the Land” movement
– Offices (as opposed to cubicles or open-plan spaces)

– investing in front yards over backyards

What does cultural phenomena does COVID-19 flip when pushed to extremes?
– Continuous monitoring of individuals’ health in all locations accessible to the general public (e.g. fever monitoring in convenience stores)
– Isolationism at micro and macro levels
– Every neighborhood is “The Village
– Redundancy in supply chains, leading to greater expense and under utilized capacity.

Friday, 17 January 2020

20200114

I can’t snowshoe.
It stays too warm.

Cougars in the county.
I’d like to see one.

Choose Paper

If you wanted to ensure it lasted for 150 years – you’d choose paper.

As amazing as our current electronic technologies are – despite their strengths – terribly, terribly ephemeral. The code the worked yesterday isn’t support today. The processors of – five years ago, ten years ago – are brought to their knees by the computational complexity and presumed processor capabilities of today’s software. The runtime environments required by the digital creations I manifest as a University student not only do not exist – computers of today don’t even recognize the file types.

Perhaps it’s good that my chances of becoming a world-renowned graphic designer are quite slim. For if they were higher, and exhibits celebrating my early digital work were to be held, recovering that early work would be a significant undertaking. Even today. Unlike like my drawings and pastels – for those seem to be holding up just fine. I looked at them just the other day. The same day I went through the box in my office containing 25 years worth of my sketchbooks. All the paper – just as I remembered it. All the sketches just as they were the last time I looked at them.

I didn’t need to convert them into a different file format or upgrade the software before I opened each sketchbook and revisited each page. I simply opened it. I simply turned the page. No need to for anything more. The paper persists.

One story at a time, I’m writing down the stories of my life.

In a book.

A high-quality, hardcover book.

One story at a time, handwritten on paper in the book.

A book I want to exist for a century and a half, if not longer. The book will go into the box with all the other family stories and photos – all of which are on paper. Stories and photos that – while they may not be on their original paper – are on paper.

Sure, I could type out these stories into this site just as I’m writing this. I enjoy writing here. But there’s no chance this site will be around in more than a century. I even have a hard time envisioning it living another quarter century. Even if it does, that will mean countless technology migrations, not just server migrations, but also application layer and database migrations. All of these changes requiring regression tests – however humble.

Somewhere out on the internet there’s a story describing the problem of archiving electronic art. In it, the author describes the process. The process of picking the ideal computer for perpetually running the archived software, completely isolated from the rest of the internet. They described the need to prevent any of the bits of software from ever updating, from the intended application, all middleware, to the operating system, everything. All of which will ensure that this singularly valuable bit of software can continue to provide value for generations to come.

Unless those generations have something other than electrical service expected by the computer’s power supply.

Then – poof. It’s gone.

Last month, I brewed a batch beer. This particular recipe was originally used by a British brewery circa 1868. It was included in a book collecting a number of British and German beer recipes from 1850-1950. Theses recipes were extracted from the actual brewers logs of the time. Brewers logs that were written on paper in books and shared in-house to ensure a consistent product from batch to batch.

Am I using the same ingredients the Tetley Brewery did 147 years ago? Highly doubtful. Today’s grains, hops, and yeast are far more optimized for brewing than they were a century ago. But, since I have the beer’s characteristics; alcohol, bitterness, color, clarity, along with specified grain, hops, and yeast, I can get very close to recreating this beer. As can anyone else.

I don’t necessarily need their equipment or their process for creating fire. That’s all changed. I need the identifying, distinguishing characteristics. The same distinguishing characteristics that were originally written down 150 years ago on paper to help the next brewer on the shift.


Tuesday, 31 December 2019