Outlier Economy

In Malcolm Gladwell’s novel “Outliers”, several examples are given for individuals who significantly outperformed their peers. Detailing all of the aligned elements in their lives from social economic factors, well in place before before their birth, to extremely well timed technological innovations, which all together gave the individuals an advantage for success which would only become apparent years later when every little margin of advantage added together turned into one extremely valuable constellation which would in turn enable them to achieve feats, and take advantage opportunities that are only available once in history.

The concept of outliers is not just a phenomenon of successful individuals. It applies to success in general in a society, and in the present labor economy which is more competitive than any other time in history.

As the factory model falls apart to a new technology of efficiency, we can’t just learn a skill to prosper. It is not enough to simply learn something valuable. It is just too easy to learn new skills. Anyone can learn the expertise of another from some Youtube videos in just a few lessons totaling less than a couple hours of learning and experimenting. The technology is not difficult to acquire, as technology becomes increasingly affordable, anyone can own the tools necessary to do the work of the pros.

In order to get the top 10% margin of benefits in this economy, you have to be your own outlier. Standing out beyond your peers in all ways possible. This includes all forms of minutiae in presentation, social etiquette, timing, experience, and specialty. You can’t just be good at learning, and motivated. You need to be sharper than the competition, have as much or more experience than the competition. Follow up better than the competition, keep a cooler head and speak with the vocabulary, make every moment perfect, and still somehow appear to be a killer deal as far as monetary commitment is concerned.

Communication Hacking

Communication Hacking

Was it always difficult to stay in touch? Or is this a new thing?

Perhaps it’a byproduct of the Internet. Email, texting, chat, video messages. It’s moving ahead so rapidly, the protocols are evolving faster than we can memorize the terms.

If you value keeping your relationships fresh, as I do. Then it can be a bit troubling to feel like it has become harder to just write a note to a friend or colleague and trust they’ll respond.

Lots of testing and analysis on this subject has concluded that people are too distracted. You can’t send an email with more than 5 sentences and expect a response. Chances are it was too long to read, so the recipient set it aside for later, and then 80% of the time the recipient forgets to reply. Probably because they got another 30 emails since they first opened yours, and there are already new emails to read later which will mostly be forgotten as well.

What a wonderful world.

This being the case, the best way to get a response to an email if a response isn’t received within 48 hours of sending, is to send a follow up. And if the follow up doesn’t get a response, or perhaps it does, but the response is just a “yes I plan to get back to you today” kind of message, then after 48 hours another follow up message can do the trick. And so it goes. After the 4th or 5th follow up an “ok I’ll assume you’re not interested or are in some serious trouble, should I call for help?” is probably an acceptable bow out.

See, the way people process the messages they receive is fragmented. If they get a message that requires more than a basic response like “[Message] ‘do you like ice cream?’ [Response] yes I like ice cream”.  The recipient will need to take more time to think about it. They will look at the email many times, even up to 20 or more if question in the email contains conditional issues.  And the more time that is needed [the more that is asked in a message] the greater the chance the message will never be responded to.

An email like “Do you want to meet for drinks in a couple weeks?” Is simple. This can be responded to almost immediately, spare maybe a glance at the calendar. It might take the recipient 3-5 views of the email to reply. Once to see it, once more after checking the calendar, but not yet ready to respond. And then finally a third time (we’d hope) to say yes “I am free, what day works for you?”.  If the recipient has multiple calendars, and possibly pending engagements with other people, the amount of views before being able to response increases, as does the likelihood they will ever reply.

Add more layers on complications, and the number of views increases, to the point where, unless the recipient is highly motivated to make the plan, you may have just overwhelmed them, and you won’t hear back unless they are worried about offending you, which generally might just create a “sorry I’m way to busy right now, let me get back to you”. This cop out, is really just a way of saying “It is too difficult for me to analyze your request and provide a respectable response back”. Sadly many people are too busy these days too, but they’ve just defaulted to not replying if it isn’t super easy to do so. Apparently, not responding to emails just doesn’t count as a diss in the modern world. It’s not a diss to ignore someone if we like their photos on Facebook right? (sarcasm)

In work settings: when dealing with these situations, there may be motivation to respond and work through complicated requests via email, from colleagues and potential partners out of the sheer desire to keep their jobs/business positive. But this context doesn’t automatically generate immunity to failure, and if the recipient has nothing obvious to lose by ignoring your message–even if they have nothing agains’t you–then you may also be out of luck, simply because they will have more time for other pressing issues by ignoring you.

This last topic, communicating with people who don’t have a strong motivation to respond, in fact we can say, they are the recipients who stand to lose time by responding to a pitch email, is the most difficult and a really big focus for me. A fool proof solution does not exist, however repetition, simplicity, and a positive manner can go a long way.

How do we keep the 2 way messages flowing? If single sentence emails are the most response friendly, yet least able to carry the information needed to get the next step.  How do we pitch and not scare?

I’ve taken to experimenting with automatic reminders. The idea is basic, I track all emails I’ve sent in the last two days. If I haven’t gotten a response on day #2, I write a reminder, or continuation of the last email, but always maximum 1 sentence in length, and the reminder shouldn’t somehow add information, this would add complexity, adding additional time for the recipient to process or decide not to at all. Then I schedule the reminder email to be sent in 2 days or less depending on the urgency of the communication, only if the recipient doesn’t respond to the original message first. 

This works. It probably wont work forever, in an ever evolving world of communication, we adapt to stimuli by decreasing our tolerance for interruption. And if too many people use the same method, the results will have diminishing returns. So then what?

What ever it takes.

 

The Conflict of Online Social Networks

With this new year rolling out, I find myself coming back to a topic of personal improvement that has been on my mind for a while: Social Networks. How they appropriately can support relationships and communication, and how they detract from relationships and communication.

It’s been said a number of times that people actually find themselves isolated from a physical social life when using online social networks, in some cases, even doing so in place of interacting with people in the physical realm. While there is a bump of excitement when friends like or comment on an update we posted to our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. (and in some cases strangers or exclusively virtual acquaintances), the long term value really doesn’t work out to much more than this little emotional bump. And then it’s gone, with nothing left, not memories, no stories to pass along. Quite an empty social interaction really.

Personally, I haven’t read about any studies on the effects of using social networks versus spending time with people face to face, but recently I began to look back through all the time I’ve invested into social networks, the people I have connected with there, what I get out of it, and then I looked back at my face to face world; similar to the social network parts: the time I invest, the people I connect with, and what I get out of them. Turns out, from the online social networks, the biggest value has been that people know what I’m up to, and I know some of the things going on in their life too. That’s about it. Aggravating this, turns out, with all the algorithms managing the things we get in our social network “feeds”, we’re not even getting all of the updates from our friends, just those programmed to meet our ‘expectations’ for things we would like to see, based on some programmers work. In the face to face realm, the people that I spend time with is far fewer compared to the online group, but those that I do see and speak to, provide more important moments for me. Turns out, there’s a lot of people who will take time to connect and communicate with me online, but have never once made the effort to do anything with me in person. No coffee chats. No parties. No help with work or personal life issues. That’s something I seek to change.

I just finished a year off from work and when I got back I pursued finding work aggressively, online and offline. The online efforts got me one small job, but the offline efforts, even those like walking up and down the street talking with businesses, got me multiple jobs, which have been worth easily 8-10 times more value than the one job I found online. That’s right, the return on investment in face to face time got me more work than the efforts I made online. And believe me I spent a lot of time generating some opportunities online. I guess the people who I could meet in person had a stronger impression and really focused on my needs. Those online, might have been too distracted, or I wasn’t communicating properly through the text and updates, etc. Who knows. The results are still obvious.

This wasn’t a scientific experiment, surely there are many opportunities for people to explore online alone, with no need to leave their computer. But there are just as many people baffled by the dependance of others to online networking and communication dependance. And those people trust a face they met in person, and would rather discuss important topics than spell it all out in an email, or schedule a video chat.

I know I’m not alone, many folks feel the pain of the rush to be online, some are just over whelmed with all the things that can be done online now. Many get by still just fine with brick and mortal style, it’s nice to see. But then there are all the others who I know I will not stay in touch with unless I stay online. And that’s the thing that’s on my mind the most now. How offline can I be and not fall out of touch? Should I just go 95% offline, saving the few moments I do login, to reply to email and respond to a Facebook message or some other online only activity? I would like to stay offline. In my own experiment, I will focus in doing more offline. We’ll see how it goes. I hope I can offer some more insights on that.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

The Greatest Change to Communication and Relationships in History

As far as changes to the way people interact, how friends are made, how privacy is thought of; nothing over the entire course of the human species has made as significant of a change to human communication and relationships as social networks.

Looking through history at each of the technological advances to communication: the telephone, fax, email, post, word of mouth, and written language. None has enabled the human species to communicate to the world and receive information back passively, with such great efficiency, as online social networks. Consider a photo from a family vacation. Before online social networks, an email could be sent with an attachment to intended recipients. Before that this photo would have to be sent by fax or post. If recipients liked the photo, they couldn’t click a ‘like’ button, or leave a thumbs-up icon on your door. Some would send back a thank you note, or return a similar photo of their own loved ones in kind.

It is now possible to have a presence in the lives of hundreds of people without ever having to directly communicate with them. As my brother put it while describing the very early stages of the publicly accessible Facebook: “it allows you to create the illusion of staying in contact with people, without actually having to do so”. And so it is, those peers from high school, who we mostly wouldn’t have stayed out of touch with, now occasionally grace our feeds with a baby photo, opinion, or shared news clipping. The family members who before the Internet only crossed our desks with holiday cards, family dinners, and reunions, suddenly can keep track of our whereabouts, and tell us what they think of our lifestyles, without having to gossip with other family members.

The title “social network” is both very accurate, and a paradox. For while those networked by their social connections can now keep tabs on each other with almost no effort, each person is less connected to their friends and family than ever before. As it is no longer necessary to invest time to maintain individual relationships, the lack of having to stay in touch leaves every person with fewer personal moments shared with the people they care the most about.

On the one hand it’s great, we can all stay better informed, not lose touch, and are more likely to be able to recall a face to a name if we bump into each other by accident. We’re more likely to follow up and make plans, or wish each other happy birthday. The main net result is we have a certain amount of surface knowledge about each other, that we wouldn’t have had without our virtual ‘what I’m doing these days bulletin board’. Where in the past an update on what we are doing, where we are working, etc., would have required talking to a mutual connection, or directly communicating – now a short search on the internet, LinkedIn or Facebook will do.

The negative argument is this diminishes social expectations of relationships. As we – people existing and getting information from social networks – become more used to tracking our peers on Facebook and sharing moments in our lives on Facebook, we’re taking away the natural inclination to do so in the conventional way, the one where we choose who receives the update, and we send it out showing intention. Sharing news about your life on the internet certainly makes it possible to share your news with the world, but it doesn’t have a personal touch like a phone call, postcard, or even, yes, email might have. Perhaps the latter for many is also too impersonal, but at least a specific recipient had to be chosen in that case, which is not the same when it comes to Facebook.

Additionally reducing the quality of a communication on Facebook, the software logic which decides what appears in our so called ‘personalized’ news feed, dictates what we actually see in our feed. Multiple factors up-vote and down-vote the likelihood of a friends shared moment even appearing in our own feed.

So what can we do about this?

There is no going back, I’m afraid. No social revolution will take away this new way of staying connected. Though some dilution is inevitable; certainly as the number of Facebook registered users continues to climb, other social networks pop-up taking away entire generations, and still other camps find the Internet medium for sharing life events isn’t the right one for them – they deactivate or delete their account. Those people condemn themselves to a world where the only information others know about them, is that which others shared albeit the old fashioned way. But at least there is a more genuine nature and quality to the old fashioned way, one can know who they’ve kept in touch with, and one can focus on building relationships without the Internet, where things may be slower, harder, less informed, but at least you know who is making effort. Somehow this is even a strengthener, for while sharing, tagging, and ‘liking’ each others content online is some lightweight method of indicating interest, a physical or 1-to-1 gesture of direct communication now has more weight than ever before.

 

 

 

The Good Old Days, and the Crazy Crazy Future

The Good Old Days, and the Crazy Crazy Future

The year was 2003, and with the help of some dialup (in the United States) one could post an ad on Criaglist.org, for well, anything. This was useful because if one suddenly decided he wants to start a new company, it was an easy way to test the interest in the product or service he had to offer. After posting the ad, in the next 24-72 hours you could sit back and to see who would bite. For me this was a regular pastime, exploring possible business ideas. The ad’s ranged from web site development, landscaping and moving companies, to drives on request (hello Uber yes I had the idea first).

GMC_Craigslist

Compared to today, it was too easy. Back then, Craigslist was where people went for everything, buying and selling stuff, renting apartments, buying houses, hiring dog walkers, ride shares, dating, events, and job openings. But it wasn’t to last for long.

It didn’t happen overnight, but around 2008 the Craigslist user base had changed, the people became less reliable, more weird. Creepy even. It was on both sides too. As a user looking through ads some were WEIRD, I remember apartment listings that just had a picture of a cartoon dog, and a couple details about the apartment. And when receiving replies to ads I’d posted some people were normal, and others were obviously whack jobs.

Also by the end of the last decade, it wasn’t just the people on Craigslist (CL) that had changed, there were other places to go and spend time on the internet. Ebay had totally taken over the sell/buy space. Sites like Match.com started to peel away users of the personals section.

This also meant things were more difficult too. I remember a NYTimes post about one accountant who stopped paying for advertising because he got all his clients through CL. I doubt that guy still has the same story now. Services like accountants, web developers, painters, and repairmen, who used to get their new clients from the Services section on CL, lost traffic to paid advertising and highly competitive search engine ranking in Google search results. It didn’t happen overnight, but by 2010 Craigslist was only good for long shot job opportunities and sublets, it’s been a while since I checked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those are not useful anymore either.

Fast forward. It’s 2015.

The world changed so much in the last ten years. Getting peoples’ attention requires multi-tiered approach of social network engagement, Google page ranks, paid results in search, email campaigns, paid Facebook ads, quality scores, and so much more. There is no classifieds listings where you can post your capabilities and wait for interested people to connect, it would be a bad test.

Ideas aren’t so easy to test anymore.

unbounce-1
Unbounce.com’s landing page “rehab” program

 

geo-targeting-1
An old screenshoot of a Google Adwords Campaign

A recommended method to test an idea now, is to make a landing page, choose a set of keywords, and then create a Google Adwords campaign to send traffic to the page (since the page doesn’t have built in traffic like Craigslist did).

With some traffic going to the page, you can see how your keywords convert in Google’s Adwords dashboard, watch how many bounces the landing page gets, and most importantly how many conversions you can create. But that process is more complex than the Craigslist post I described above from 10 years ago. Your keywords can be wrong, you location & demographic settings may not be optimized for your target market. Perhaps you’re not bidding enough on the campaign. Your landing page content may be all wrong. And if the landing page isn’t convincing, say, maybe it looks a bit fake, like dummy landing page, people can tell, and if they smell a fake, they close the page as soon as it opens, and then your whole test is a waste. A waste that, let’s not forget, needed to be paid for. Again, unlike the Craigslist test.

More so, there is a feeling that without a website you aren’t legitimate. Without a Facebook page, it’s just a personal side project. Without a good chunk of followers on your instagram or twitter account or “page likes” on your Facebook page your business isn’t legitimate or too young to be trusted.

Imagine how it would feel for an Law Practice with 25 years of experience that cannot get more then 36 likes on their Facebook page. A popularity vote on a platform that has barely existed for 5 years, with a company that barely existed 10 years ago. That’s got to be hard to swallow. All the rules are changing, and it’s making a fool out of everyone. Don’t worry, we’re all in the same boat.

What a lot of people think they need to do when they start a company, or put their business on the internet, is that they should buy a domain name. Unfortunately, the days of just getting a “.com” or “.net” (also known as TLDs) are long gone folks. There are now over 1,000 different TLDs to choose from, with .travel, .book, .biker, .ninja (I puke a little at that one) domain extensions (TLD), there is a universe of possibilities, meanwhile most of the people in the world are still just figuring out the difference between email and the internet. Some still don’t really get setting up their smart phones.

If many people are still just trying to get the hang of a smart phone, will the average person even know that “http://johndoe.restaurant” can be a real website URL now? Think twice before buying that domain name folks, I think the verdict is out on that one. Let’s wait for CNN to do a special on it first to be safe 😉

I digress.

The increase of complexity grows at a rate near Moore’s law with no end in sight.

As a 33 year old, I feel lucky to have both witnessed a time before Microsoft Windows (MS-DOS), when there was only a telephone to communicate, and getting to experience first hand the wave of people using Friendster, then Myspace, then Facebook, and now lots of niche networks to boot. But I meet teenagers and see how they use technology, and think about how much things will change in the next ten years, and nothing seems more overwhelming than this, except perhaps an echo chamber with a never ending loud speaker going off, creating nth degree echoes upon echoes.

In the next 20 years, a time frame anyone reading this can probably expect to live (I’m rooting for you!), the complexity will grow way more than it has in the last 10 years. So basically, a likely startup in the year 2026, could be offering a service with a promo like:

“Internet Simplified”

“Our service takes over your communications, searches, blog reading and all so you don’t have a brain aneurysm. We will call you at the end of the day with a simple summary for you!”

her-movie-still-17Perhaps such a service will be an add on to our personal OS – à la “Her”. Perhaps by then, shopping will be in it’s own division, a “sub-net” of the internet. News/Content/Blogs will be in a subnet. Social & communication will have it’s own subnet. Things will have gotten so complex, the new innovators will just be making ways to compartmentalize.

Until then we’re all the guinea pigs. And those who want to continue to compete for the next big innovation have keep an eye on the changes, while the others sit back and continue to be dumbfounded by all the rapid changes.

 

Singleton

I hear this word all the time from our developers. But I never knew what it meant. I am by no means a well educated technologist, below a certain layer I just don’t understand stuff, it’s too granular, I don’t touch it enough, for which ever of the many reasons. But I’m curious. Today I made a point to find that meaning. Like learning a foreign language, if you’re curious and you keep hearing something, it’s only a matter of time before you have to know. I think that’s how we learned our mother tongue. Repetition + curiosity. It’s the minds way of deciding to cache information for ongoing short term availability.

A “Singleton” can refer to a lot of things. In mathematics, or patterns, in field theory. For me it’s the singleton variable as it’s used in software programming that is important. So here are some definitions I found: as defined in Wikipedia: it is “a variable in computer programming that is referred to only once”. Not so explanatory…

More results found this paper which goes deeper than wikipedia; though less specific, it describes it as a set with only one member, but goes on to speak of world order and governance, right not very relevant.

So zooming out again, I found a documentation of ruby where the use of Singleton is described. Wherein it’s explained that the use of it can ensure only one instance of the class is created. And a similar post here describes the same for C# which demonstrates a Singleton pattern which assures only a single instance of the class can be created.

Cutting this down to a 15 minutes or less exposure of the concept, I’d walk away saying a Singleton is used when you need to get something once, and it won’t be used in other instances…  feeling lost…. I guess I will have to revisit this later.

Technical Debt

I was out to dinner with some new friends at an amazing Chinese restaurant in West Berlin earlier this week when a discussion came up with one of the guests who is an engineer from Ableton and he dropped a new term I hadn’t heard – Technical Debt. It was one of those words I’d never heard but could guess with 80% accuracy what it was about and so we kept going through the conversation. Still, my curiosity was alive and like a catchy pop song that was stuck in my head, I had to look it up the next morning.

Without reposting the wikipedia definition entirely, and saving you the trouble of opening a new window I’ll just describe it as the consequence in software development from cutting corners to save time, money, or better code etc. –whether you know it or not. And also worth adding to that summary is the interest which accumulates with technical debt the longer you let those compromises live on in your code base.

Upon looking it up I realized technical debt basically encompasses the concept behind so many discussions, project outlines, scrums, requirement documentations, etc., over my years of working in technology. It identifies the phenomenon that occurs so often in product development and yet without having a name all this time, I feel like something was lost. Without being able to describe the pain and draw backs that would come with compromises, and also the interest that would compile over time, I think fewer negotiations were won, and more debt was created, and some projects were less successful as a result.

Still glowing from the revelation that this term existed and so elegantly defined a large conundrum in my past; this morning, while reading an interview with Aditya Agarwal the director of product engineering at Dropbox I stumbled over a perfect example of a crossroad so many engineers, product managers, business stakeholders et al. make when choosing to go into technical debt, within the following quote:

“1) You can over-engineer a system for massive scale, putting in time-intensive processes that will make things flow smoothly.

2) You can chase rapid growth with a system constantly stretched over capacity, and accept that it will get messy.”

So what does Agarwal say about this choice? Actually, as with most things in life, he goes for a balance between option one and two, e.g moderation! Simply by saying the following “a little bit of chaos is okay”. And there you have it, use your credit card, barrow some money from mom and dad, but don’t let it get out of control, and keep paying off the balance!

This isn’t a post about what to do or why. But really just pointing out this beautiful weapon that should be in the glossary arsenal of every person connected to project management. By explaining the concept of creating debt when cutting corners you can also draw the parallel that debt creates interest, and the longer you have interest building the more weighed down you will be. So remember to make interest payments on your technical debt!