Is it really any different?

Seth Godin’s latest post makes the case that the future really is different, thanks to technology.  I don’t know.  Isn’t it just the same, but smarter/faster/better/cheaper/etc?

-Isn’t the DEMO conference, where we just launched at, just another trade show?  I doubt they would dare use those two words in any place associated with that “elite” high-technology conference.  But trade show is the only way I could get across to my own father what it really is.

-Seth uses the music industry as an example of something that is fundamentally changed.  The phonograph is only 120 years old.  The music industry, as a distribution system, is a very, very young industry.  Even so – the very first commercialization attempts, before distribution was even an issue, involved the sale of special concerts and premium content, in Mozart’s case his manuscripts and biographies, which is where things are returning.

-My roommate is a general contractor and has been building his website for the past month.  Just through maintaining this and his Google listings, he is able to get a handful of calls per week.  This is still just advertising.  Thanks to Craigslist (just classifieds), $4.95/mo hosting plans (just a brochure), and Google (just a phone directory listing) he is able to participate in the industry at little or no cost and compete with entrenched players that can afford the old ways of doing things.

At the least, what these new tools and technologies do is help us to focus on the fundamentals – great products, content, and service.

Your undergraduate business degree will burn your career into the ground

I haven’t been back to the business school at UT for over a year now and haven’t regretted the decision to leave for a long time.  I had written some about why I left, and thanks to some recent experiences I am even more confident in my decision.

I work at http://infochimps.org/, where I do business and customer development.  Recently I have been bringing in more help, from technical programmers and data mechanics, to internship roles to help me in my position.  We are doing some of this through on-campus recruiting and the students that listened in Business Administration 101 are the worst applicants that I get.

Their resumes are boring and bland.  In BA101 you are taught how to write a three paragraph cover letter saying that you look forward to this ____ position.  That you’re a hard worker, your GPA shows it, have great communication skills, and you look forward to working in an office environment.  And then include nothing else, because employers do not want to see that.  I know they do, I was there.

I get these applications, with good GPA’s, some work history, and my first question is always “Have you been out of the state of Texas?”  In the interview, their most important answer is the one to “Tell me about a project or experience that you’ve had that was self-directed.”

The directors of the business school programs somehow don’t see that these are the most important qualities any excellent employer is looking for.  I want to know if you were born in Panama and spend 2 months a year there.  That’s COOL.  That means you may see things differently than everyone else.  When a business school disencourages the inclusion of this on a resume, and even the three years you may have spent living on a sailboat in the Caribbean, they are seriously fucking you in the ass.

Preparing an application for Capital Factory

I work with a startup in Austin and we are preparing for the Capital Factory application deadline at the end of the week.  I wanted to take a minute to pull together most of the things that helped us get it all on paper. 

Business Plan

Forming the business plan was really all about putting the idea of the company into a communicable form.  I was late to the game, with the other two partners having worked on the project for a year.  They are also tech guys and deeply involved in the problems we’re solving – I was not.  By having the responsibility of putting the business plan together I had to rely on notes from all of our conversations and put my brain to work.

Here are some resources that helped write the business plan:

http://mbatoolbox.org/ – The business plan template helped bring the traditional structure of businesses upon a funky startup.  

http://www.paulgraham.com/vwplan.html – Paul Graham’s business plan doesn’t have the lengthy template but still hits the target: getting the idea on paper.

http://www.bizzia.com/startupspark/business-plan-series-part-1-framing-your-plan/ – is good and breaks down different business plan types.

Numbers

Getting the qualitative marketing stories was easy, we are solving a legitimate problem for which there are many examples.  Guaging the sort of bite we would take out of industries, and the size of industry we would create, was much harder.  These resources helped:

http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/10/glenn-kelmans-f.html

http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/10/financial-model.html

What’s important?

http://www.paulgraham.com/investors.html – This is probably the most healthy guide to what to think about in the application and video.

 

Share what’s helped you in the comments.

Ralph Ellison Quotes

Ralph Ellison is most well known for writing Invisible Man, one of my favorite books.  If you liked that book, then I recommend reading his book of essays Shadow and Act.  The collection contains a few interviews and speeches, as well as essays on the Negro during his times and Jazz music.  The essays betray an extremely deep thinker.  Ellison pierced the American fabric and what it feels like to live in it with Invisible Man.  Shadow and Act elaborates further the themes of the book and how he got there.

From That Same Pain, That Same Pleasure, an interview on being a Negro writer:

Sometimes you get a sense of mission even before you are aware of it.  An act is demanded of you but you’re like a sleepwalker searching for some important object, and when you find it you wake up to discover that it is the agency through which that mission, assigned you long ago, at a time you barely understood the command, could be accomplished.

If the writer exists for any social good, his role is that of preserving in art those human values which can endure by confronting change.

From the essay Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity:

For while objectively a social reality, the work of art is, in its genesis, a projection of a deeply personal process, and any approach that ignores the personal at the expense of the social is necessarily incomplete.

From his acceptance speech for the National Book Award:

What has been missing from so much experimental writing has been the passionate will to dominate reality as well as the laws of art.

From the interview The Art of Fiction on Invisible Man:

The three parts [of the novel] represent the narrator’s movement from, using Kenneth Burke’s terms, purpose to passion to perception… After all, it’s a novel about innocence and human error, a struggle through illusion to reality.  Each section begins with a sheet of paper; each piece of paper is exchanged for another and contains a definition of his identity, or the social role he is to play as defined for him by others.  But all say essentially the same thing, ‘Keep this nigger boy running.’  Before he could have some voice in his own destiny he had to discard these old identities and illusions; his enlightenment couldn’t come until then.

The major flaw in the hero’s character is his unquestioning willingness to do what is required of him by others as a way to success, and this was the specific form of his ‘innocence.’

In the Epilogue the hero discovers what he had not discovered throughout the book: you have to make your own decisions; you have to think for yourself.

The hero’s invisibility is not a matter of being seen, but a refusal to run the risk of his own humanity, which involves guilt.

Ellison was a brilliant essay writer and an eloquent speaker.  Pick up the book and you will find sentences critiquing Hemingway that are 200 words long.

Are you stuck?

I have a small yard with a 6ft fence around it.  I live with a 7 year old cat that I let out there because I have never seen her jump 6ft high.  I am sure she could get over the fence in her younger years, but she is too big now so she has never tried.

I let her out this afternoon without thinking like I normally would.  I had forgotten that my roommate had set up a workbench right next to the fence to make some cuts.  The bench is 3ft high, an easy clearance for the cat.  From there she could get on top of the fence and onto the other side, freedom.

When we first started living here she poked all around the fence to try to find a way out.  It was never there and she could never find one if she looked until today.  She gave up at it and that’s why I don’t mind letting her out.  But she is so conditioned now to knowing that there is no way out of the backyard for her, that even when the opportunity presents itself she is blind to it. 

Sort of makes me wonder how many realms in my life I am only conditioned to feel are dead ends when there could be an opening at any time.

Step 1: Measure Exact, Step 2: Cut Perfectly, Step 3…

I recently started doing contracting work.  It’s helped me learn more lessons of business but during recent projects I kept catching myself falling into the same trap.  It’s a trap of thinking leftover, I believe, from how easily a bright adolescent can succeed in school plus the typical hormonal cocktail involved in that age’s mindset.

The easy confidence that “things are just going to work out.”  The person I had the hardest time getting along with my first year at college liked to say, after he had done no work just before a big project was due, that “I always pull clutch.”  But the evidence was to the contrary.  His speeches sucked.  His work and ideas sucked.  He was bright, no doubt about it, but nothing original.

At my last job I would catch myself taking measurements that weren’t exact and then expecting the cut to just work out.  It doesn’t.  You have to get an exact measurement or the piece won’t fit.  To get to some sort of success with my projects, I need to respect the same principle.  That just throwing up a webpage and expecting it to work out and be a hit doesn’t happen.  There are certain cuts that need to be made, exact measurements and steps to follow or the piece won’t look right.  Those are all parts of what one would call “work,” an idea I’ve had difficulty separating from “job,” but breaking down the work involved into process and chunks helps.

Two thoughts (okay 3)

From an obscure book (System and Structure, Wilden) quoting Bateson: Self-pity, in the world of human comunication, involves a metacommunication of the type ‘This is play.’

If you were really serious you wouldn’t be pittying yourself.  That is for the realm of games.

*********************

Macro thought: Every person has a comparative advantage, a good or service that they can produce at a lower opportunity cost than any other person.  Specialization in comparitive advantage results in maximum productivity.

Micro thought: Do what you love, find your purpose, blah blah blah…

Interview Question

If I ever have to hire someone again I want to ask this question: “What have you failed at?”  I think their response and how their resume shows they rebounded would give a good indication of their healthy attitude.  Relates a lot to Marc Andreessen’s post about getting out into the real world and failing so that it no longer fazes you.  Two small ventures have failed for me so far, but I am all the more ready for the next.

In my opinion, it’s now critically important to get into the real world and really challenge yourself — expose yourself to risk — put yourself in situations where you will succeed or fail by your own decisions and actions, and where that success or failure will be highly visible.

By failure I don’t mean getting a B or even a C, but rather: having your boss yell at you in front of your peers for screwing up a project, launching a product and seeing it tank, being unable to meet a ship date, missing a critical piece of information in a financial report, or getting fired.

Why? If you’re going to be a high achiever, you’re going to be in lots of situations where you’re going to be quickly making decisions in the presence of incomplete or incorrect information, under intense time pressure, and often under intense political pressure. You’re going to screw up — frequently — and the screwups will have serious consequences, and you’ll feel incredibly stupid every time. It can’t faze you — you have to be able to just get right back up and keep on going.

That may be the most valuable skill you can ever learn. Make sure you start learning it early.”

Re-framing

I did not really go anywhere with my last post.  I just threw it up on here because I thought it was an interesting insight, but I didn’t go anywhere new with it.

After looking at it again though I see how I am stuck thinking that UT is structured much as the organization on the right of the diagram.  Especially in the business school: inflexible pressure to conform, leading me to anger and frustration, to very critical judgment of the students and faculty, to almost zero creativity at the end of a semester, and a terrible if even an existant network.  Granted, any institution that tells me I need to take my time on the sailboat off my resume can go to hell, I think I might need to exercise a better attitude and reframe how I picture the college.  There is not much I can do about how the organization is structured, but I can change how I feel about it and how I picture the bullshit.

A big part of the problem is arrogance.  I let people feed it by telling me my case is different but it should still be kept in check.  Bringing a few years of real world experience with me before starting in undergraduate makes me look at everybody like children.  I have to really stretch my imagination and look at somebody like Ben Casnocha as having huge powers of self-control to keep any arrogance and condescention at bay.  I would be interested to hear whether or not he looked down on a lot of the freshmen around him when he started out at college, or whether he was able to relate to them after his accomplishments before arriving on campus.  I know I will have to practice the latter and stray from the former in order to grow much there.  Arrogance is not what lets you get around in a foreign country and I would never dare bring it with me on a trip abroad.

Fractal Organizations

One of the more interestering topics Taleb’s Black Swan got me onto was the idea of Mandelbrot‘s Fractal Equations.  Part of the idea is that you take a picture and zoom in on its parts, and the parts look again like the whole.

I just read a piece in the first quarter of the 1995 Journal of Creative Behavior by Don Ambrose called “Creatively Intelligent Post-Industrial Organizations and Intellectually Impaired Bureaucracies.”  It was basically about how the innovative organizations of today are structured much like that of a well-operating human brain:

The Creative Brain

 

A creative organization on the whole resembles its individual parts.  Pretty cool.