Automate yourself

When enough people get behind an idea there’s no stopping its inevitable adoption.

If enough people want to build a autonomous vehicles and enough people want to buy them they they will become a reality.

In other words, new technologies don’t happen naturally. They take people and effort.

So, you have two options:

  1. Find new ways to justify the tasks you complete to your boss and clients, or
  2. Figure out how to use a machine to accelerate the things you do and double down on what only you are able to do.

Future utility can’t always be predicted

A discount now for future utility is not money saved.

E.g. You buy a pack of 24 car washes at 25% off today. In your mind you think it’s an investment and all you have to do is wash your car more than twice a month to end out ahead for the year.

The problem is you can’t predict the future. You don’t know when you’ll have time to wash your car or if the weather will permit.

Problems come first

Creating a lasting product or service means first having a deep understanding of a problem.

Unfortunately, clients often call with a solution in mind. This means it’s your job to get them to take a few steps back.

Walking clients through the steps to a solution looks like this:

1. Identify the problem

A problem exits when a goal cannot be reached. When there’s a gap between a person and their goal.

What’s the issue? What can’t be solved or accomplished?

A client may come to you and ask, “we’d like you to install a chatbot onto our e-commerce website.” This is broad and vague. Plus it’s a solution.

You’re job is to get them to tell you why so you can identify the real problem.

2. Prioritize the problem

Not all problems are equal. Some may be a minor annoyance and others a major aggravation.

What’s important to understand is where on the spectrum does client aggravation fall as well as what they’ll currently doing to solve the problem.

If aggravation is low, then the problem is low priority.

If aggravation is high, but if existing solution eliminates aggravation, then priority is low.

If aggravation is high AND there are no (or poor) existing solutions, then the priority should be high.

3. Define the problem

What is the client trying to do? What is their end goal? What does their workflow look like currently? What does success look like?

These are the sorts of questions you need to have answered to fully understand the problem.

Pessimistic spending

People convince themselves that a purchase that benefits them in the present will have extended value in the future.

For example, buying the highest-end PC with the thought that it will outlive a lower-end PC to the point where the return in value is greater than the added financial cost.

Another example is buying an off-road vehicle for all the camping one plans to do in the future but only going a few times a year. At this point, buying a sedan and renting for those few trips would be much more economically sensible.

The perceived utility of a purchase now may or may not extend into the future.

A pessimist will spend to improve today.

An optimist will spend to improve the future.

Optimize your phone for output, not input

Here’s a snippet from Steve Jobs’s iPhone announcement:

Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class.

The first one: is a widescreen iPod with touch controls.

The second: is a revolutionary mobile phone.

And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.

So, three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls; a revolutionary mobile phone; and a breakthrough Internet communications device.

An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … Are you getting it?

If the app doesn’t contribute to one of these three things, delete it.

1. Music. This should be the extent of your entertainment.

2. Phone. This should be used to communicate with friends, family, and customers.

3. Internet communications device. This should be used to learn about your industry, the world, and to communicate with your friends, family, and customers.

Where budgets fail

Money is fungible. A dollar is a dollar.

Since money is identical, there is no limit on what it can be spent on.

If an unforeseen expense arises a budget remains intact. The money is still spent on, say, eating out.

If a budget allows $20 a week to be spent on regular gasoline and then, say, the price drops to $18 a week because of an oil surplus, people will top off their tank or upgrade to premium. They’ll find a way to spend the extra $2. The opportunity to save money is lost.

What happens when there is an oil shortage? Do people stop driving or do they raise the limit of their budget?

The problem with a budget is that it encourages spending. It places the focus on spending vs. saving or making.

Solving for the optimal skill-set

The skills employers and the market value change over time. What was an important skill ten years ago may or may not be useful today. Or, rather, it’s the price required for entry.

Narrowly defined roles are no longer the norm. It’s common for companies to run as numerous small teams rather than a single whole. This means more is expected of each member.

As the quality of products and services in the market continue to accelerate at an incredible rate, it means the baseline for what a client demands is rising.

If the foundation of your job rests on reproducibility then someone somewhere is trying to automate (or more likely, accelerate) you out of a job.

But there are things employers and the market need that will never change.

Reliability. Connection. Persistence. The ability to activate a group of like people.

These will always be rewarded.

Knowing when to optimize your skillset vs. knowing how to make an impact should not be conflated.

Interruptions vs. Invitations

Interruptions are never welcomed. Invitations are a welcomed surprise.

Interruptions aggravate and annoy. Invitations make you smile.

Interruptions divide people. Invitations gather like-minded people.

Interruptions pull you away from what interests you. Invitations notify you of interesting things.

Interruptions steal time from your present and future. Invitations give meaning to your present and future.

$100 off

Most people would not travel 30 minutes out of their way for a $100 off a new car. But they would for $100 off a TV.

Why is this? The savings is the same as is the level of effort.

Is it a question of valuing ones’ time? Or is more about the value returned by a purchase?

If you value your time, you think in terms of how a product or service can improve your future.

If you don’t value your time, you think in terms of how a product or service can improve your current standing.


In Average is Over, Tyler Cowen notes that twenty year olds used to prove mathematical theorems. Now it’s the thirty year olds.

As problems get harder and harder, the need for experience and wisdom is increasing. There is no longer the advantage of starting from scratch.

While this means more opportunities for those with experience, what does it mean for those just entering the market?

Knowing how to code a simple app used to carry a lot of weight. Now the price of entry is fluency in a programming language along with its associating stack.

Will wisdom someday become a requirement?

A 96% employment rate means there’s scarcity in the market so perhaps this is not a concern.

Turning the endowment effect inside out

Once people take ownership of something, sporting event tickets for example, they are generally unwilling to part with it unless they are offered 2-14x its cost.

Behavioral economics call this the endowment effect and the willingness to accept (WTA). It’s the adding of value people assign goods simply because they own them and amount of money they are willing to accept to abandon a good.

This mindset becomes a problem when there is an external need to assign an accurate value to goods we own. For example, during spring cleaning or when making an exchange.

What ends up happening is we hold onto things not because of the value they return but the baseless price we assign. In some cases we even ignore the harm a good is causing, such as added clutter and the effect on wellbeing.

To break out of this mindset, what if you were able to get you mind to a place that sees things for what they are? What if you were to think in terms of NOT owning something?

When spring cleaning, rather than thinking, “should I get rid of this?” you think, ” if I didn’t own this would I buy it today?”

The answer is almost always “no.”

Refusing to learn

When the money’s been spent and things aren’t working out the way you intended or hoped it’s easy to think that by pushing through you’ll force success.

This is a refusal to learn.

You’re saying, “things are set in stone. There’s nothing I can do about it. I just need to forge ahead.”

But when the wrong path is chosen brute force doesn’t work.

More often than not we should be saying, “I was wrong. Let’s stop this madness before it gets worse. Let’s find the right path forward.”

The true price of things

What is the true price of a $100 watch?

If your tax rate is 30% then you’ll need to earn $142.85 to receive $100.

100 / .7 = 142.85

And what about the interest lost on that $100 over, say, 10 years? That’s $164.70.

100 * (1 + (0.05/12))^(12*10) = 164.70

Of course, price doesn’t equal value. If a watch brings greater than $164.70 in value, then you’re in the black.

$100 in the bank is not $100. It’s $142.85 in earning power.

$100 in the bank not earning interest is $164.70 in missed returns.

People don’t want cheap labor


This sign may have been posted by the most reliable and highest quality light-hanging team. But it is shortsighted and will not get noticed by the customers they want.

What if instead it was a large photo of the team? What if they were decked in Christmas attire?

What if rather than being the cheapest they were the elaborate or glamorous or creative? What if they included a few photos of their most over-the-top work?

What if rather than stapling the sign to a phone pole they strategically taped them to the windows of local shops?

How much more would it have cost them to make these few changes? Could it have earned them the privilege of charge TWICE their normal rate?

People don’t want cheap labor. They want the best lights on the block. They want to be the envy of all their neighbors.

Solving for information gaps

It may be tempting to think of services such as AirBnB, Lyft, and eBay as nothing more than a layer between customer and supplier. That all they’ve done is created tools that allow for more efficient transactions between members of a marketplace.

E.g. Suppliers get payment processing taken care of and easy access to customers. Customers get an instant, unified browsing experience and/or consistency in service.

But these services do much more than that. What they’re really doing is solving information gaps.

Let’s look at the vehicle-for-hire industry:

Taxi drivers have little information at their disposal to help them determine whether a potential fare will lead to a mutually beneficial transaction. When they pull up to someone hailing them from a curb, the only information they have about that person is based on location and demographics. Nothing else. What can they possibly do with this information.

They certainly don’t know whether they’re putting themselves in a position to be robber or harmed, let alone duped. What they needed was answer to the question, “who is this person I’m picking up?”

Lyft does this for them. The more ratings a passenger gets, the more informed drivers will be.

This specific information gap is important to solve for one-off transactions. It’s not important for transactions that are build over time.

For example, a grocery store does not need to know what other grocery stores think of a new customer who’s about to walk through their doors. They’re in the business of building relationships. They offer specific products in a specific environment to a specific type of customer. Their information gap is more around desires and hopes and outlooks.

Markets tend to work best when information is as even as possible. When all parties involved have an understanding of what is necessary for a successful transaction.


Passion is unchecked, uncontrollable emotion.

Being passionate about a craft, for example, means having an unwillingness to let go and allow room for anything else. It means being blind to the world around except for the one true love. An attraction that is uncontrollable. It’s selfish and potentially destructive.

Here’s an example:

Say someone is passionate about knitting. It’s something they do everyday at any moment they can find. Then one day all the yarn in the world disappears. What would happen to that person? Is it unreasonable to think they could fall in to a deep, dark depression?

But what if they where indifferent to knitting. What if as they knit everyday they reminded themselves that it could disappear at any moment. They’d certainly be ready for it should that day come. They would even be in a position where they’d continue to thrive.


Because the act of knitting is not what brings them joy. It’s the act of giving the scarf to their nephew or the new sweater to their wife. It’s the joy of the first sale or the thanks someone expresses in a thank-you letter.

If knitting were to disappear the true knitter would move on to the next thing knowing that as long as they get to pass along joy they too will be satisfied.


Payless shoes recently opened a popup store under the brand “Palessi,” positioned as a luxury an elite shoe store founded by fictional designer Bruno Palessi. Shoes that would have cost $30 were relabelled and priced as high as $1,800.

At an private, invite only event, shoppers were given the opportunity to be the first to experience the store. People went nuts. They loved the store and loved the shoes.

‘They had us fooled’: Inside Payless’s elaborate prank to dupe people into paying $600 for shoes – Washington Post

It’s easy to think that the stunt shows how easily people can be duped. And sure, the event wasn’t genuine but it doesn’t mean people are foolish.

What Payless did was interact with a specific type of person in the specific way they wanted.

These people were not Payless customers. They don’t care about a deal. They don’t care even if shoes are of higher quality. They’re buying the experience of being the first to own what they believe is an exclusive design.

They’re early adopters. They want the world to know that they value being first or that they’re affluent.

Payless’s goal was to attract new customers. They felt that by presenting their inventory in a new light would make people realize that the shoes they sell are so good that people would be willing to pay $1,800 for them. Unfortunately, they’re missing the point.

The people who would buy shoes at Palessi are not the people who would buy at Payless. They sell completely different things.

All iPhone users should read this

From How to Game the App Store:

Because the iPhone home button serves as a sort of universal back button, a panicking iPhone user is likely to hit the home button when trying to get out of something. Unfortunately, on iPhones with Touch ID, the home button is also how you confirm a purchase. So if the payment view is randomly triggered, many users will accidentally confirm the purchase while trying to exit.

Facebook and Twitter are marketplaces and you’re the product


Facebook and Twitter are built around the truth that attention is limited and so therefore it can be sold, bought, and traded. When someone opens the Facebook or Twitter app they’re saying that this is the best possible way they can be spending their time right now. This strengthens their product.

But there’s an opportunity cost in terms of lost time that could (and should) go to things that return significantly greater value at a disproportionately less amount of time. The value these platforms have is immediate but short lived.

Infinite scrolling means stretching out the present at the cost of the future. Reading one more tweet means five more lost seconds that could have gone towards time with family or the creation of a new recipe or finishing up that proposal you’re behind on.

Pessimism vs. Optimism

Pessimism means wishing you’d do things that will make your future better. Optimism means wishing you’d do things to make your present better.

If one thinks there is little future left, that they may die soon, or if the reality of death is top of mind, then they will look back and wish they had done more with their life. Travelled more. Met more people. Had deeper connections. Had more experiences.

If one thinks they have more time left, that death is inevitable but not in the equation yet, then they will look back and wish they had done more of the things that make their present and future better. Pushed themselves harder. Taken more responsibility. Faced bigger challenges.

The 94% failure rate of MOOCs

Here are some dire facts about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC):

  • The average rate of completion is 4%.
  • Most people fall off in first two weeks.
  • 50% view only a single lecture.
  • 80% who sign up have college degrees.
  • Even though there is no academic credit for completing a MOOC, people still cheat and plagiarize.
  • You can hire someone to complete an online course for you. The current rate is between $775 and $900.

But these numbers don’t tell us anything. Or, rather, they can be used to tell us anything we want:

“Look at the appalling completion rates of MOOCs! They’re a complete failure! If their foundation is rooted in the idea that education should be accessible to all, then what purpose do they serve if in practice only a few people are helped?”

Or the misanthropic view:

“People are lazy.”

The problem is these stats say nothing of who completed them let alone how much 4% is.

A closer look at who completed MOOCs reveals an accurate picture of their importance. That brilliance and change and impact will come from the most unexpected places. They accelerate learning, they don’t eliminate it. This is critical for pushing world economies forward, bringing greater wealth to the farthest edges.

There’d also be a realization that persistence, focus, and determination are still, and will continue to be, the easiest way to separate from the herd.

Here is what Robert Greene says about the importance of learning and mastery:

“In the future, the great division will be between those who have trained themselves to handle these complexities and those who are overwhelmed by them — those who can acquire skills and discipline their minds and those who are irrevocably distracted by all the media around them and can never focus enough to learn.”
― Robert Greene, from his book Mastery.

Affirmations vs. Acceptance

Affirmations say, “you’re amazing.”

Acceptance says, “you have everything you need to become amazing.”

Affirmations say, “you’re rich.”

Acceptance says, “work hard and you’ll become rich.”

Affirmations say, “you didn’t fail the exam.”

Acceptance says, “you failed the exam but you’re going to figure out why and figure out how you can ace the next test.”

Affirmations say, “you’re going to live forever.”

Acceptance says, “you’re going to do everything in your power to live a full and meaningful life.”

Affirmations say, “you’re a success”

Acceptance says, “you’re going to do what it takes to succeed.”

Affirmations say, “good things happen to you.”

Acceptance says, “you’re going to put yourself in a position where good things happen to you.”

Affirmations say, “you don’t fail.”

Acceptance says, “you’re not going to fail because of a lack of trying.”

Protecting messages, stories, and ideas

Is this copyright infringement? What if 524 other people each photograph and independently share online a different page from the same book? What if someone then shares a link on their blog to each of those pages?

If an author’s main goal is to make money from their work, then this may incense them. If an author’s main goal is to spread their message would they care if their work is shared without their permission?

Where is the line between what an author wants (spread their message, make money, write a best seller) and what a lawyer wants (interpret and defend a legal case)?

When prominent Swedish author Unni Drougge posted her own book available for free on The Pirate Bay, she was saying that the freedom of information is more important than anything else. That her mission is to get her stories into as many minds as possible.

Her approach is in divergence with publishers who spend their time trying to stop works from being shared, viewing people as thieves.

Solving the Gordian Knot. What the path to success looks like.

Alexander Cutting the Gordian Knot (1767) by Jean-François Godefroy
Alexander Cutting the Gordian Knot (1767) by Jean-François Godefroy
The legend of the Gordian knot

According to ancient Greek legend, a poor peasant named Gordius arrived in Phrygia riding an ox cart. Before his arrival, an oracle had proclaimed that the next man to entered the kingdom on a wagon would be made king, and so Gordius was crowned. To thank the gods, Gordius dedicated his cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios, tying it to a post in the most intricately known knot. It was so intricate that the oracle claimed that whoever unraveled it would be the next ruler of all of Asia. Thousands of men tried but all failed.

It was not until the 4th century BC, when Alexander the Great arrived at the city and learned of the knot. He struggled with it for a bit then out of frustration drew his sword and cut the knot in a single blow.

What this tells us about success.

What’s interesting about Alexander’s solution is how simple it is. Why had no one thought of it sooner?

All those before Alexander looked at the problem in terms of unraveling the knot. They thought in terms of figuring out the best way to push or pull or yank or twist the knot so the rope would loosen. They remained stuck, too focused on a single set of tools rather than defining their own terms. To them it was a puzzle. The means mattered more than the ends.

Alexander reframed the problem. Rather than looking at the knot as impossible to solve he realized he would need to frame the problem in his own terms. He realized that the means didn’t matter. It was not a test of strength or even intelligence. It was simply about breaking the cart free.

When you believe something is impossible, you’ll be inclined to look for proof that that thing is impossible. When you’re free of this thought, or even a bit naive, you will be more open and free to see things for what they are.

The point is to have the courage and belief that difficult problems can be solved. That you re the one who is destined to solve them. That if you’re not the one who solves it then no one will.

Doing otherwise would be denying your right to the riches that awaits.

The 5-Step Process to Identifying a Market Need

According to a study by CB Insights 42% of new businesses fail because there’s “no market need” for what they’re offering customers.

“Tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was cited as the No. 1 reason for failure, noted in 42% of cases.” – The Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail

The majority of business fail because they don’t make something people want. It’s absurd. Why would anyone knowingly put themselves in such a position? It’s even more shocking when you realize this can be prevented with minimal effort.

This happens because people think in terms of solutions. They get passionate and motivated around a technology more than the idea of building a sustainable, profitable business. They see something in the wild and try to reverse engineer their way to success. “Hey, chatbots are all the rage. I’ll make a chatbot for coffee shop owners!”


What you want to do is engage with the market and ask them what they want. Not to make something in a vacuum and to then tell them what they want. This unlocks customer insights and reveals opportunities.

Don’t come up with ideas. Get the market to tell you what it wants.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to come up with a new business idea or trying to figure out what features to add to your application there are five steps you need to take to figure it out:

  1. Understand the customer’s situation.
  2. This means becoming familiar with the world around them and how they interact with it. Of course, you’re interested should be confined to a specific area of interest. E.g. being interested in someone as a coffee shop owner not as general consumer of products.

    The goal is to get to the point where you have a complete understanding of their responsibilities and the milestones that are important to them. Don’t stop asking questions until you have a complete image of them and their day.

    This is done by asking them questions that are specific to an area interest. For example, if you, say, are a web designer, you need to get them talking about their current website or online marketing efforts in detail. Here are some example questions you can use to get the conversation rolling:

    “Tell me about your current online marketing efforts.”
    “Walk me through your process for evaluating potential projects.”
    “What options have you looked at?”
    “Could you clarify by what you mean by…”
    “What else have you tried…”

    A bad question to ask is, “Is quality important to you?”

    This encourages a binary and obvious answer which, of course, is “Yes.” The problem is that it doesn’t help you get an understanding of what the customer values.

    A better question would be, “Tell me about the criteria you use for valuing the products and/or services you buy?”

    This activates them to think critically about what’s important to them.

  3. Identify their problems.
  4. As they’re talking they’ll be describing challenges or moments of aggregation. These are the items you need to drill into:

    Customer: Things are crazy first thing in the morning.

    You: Tell me what you mean by ‘crazy.’

    Customer: The line goes out the door and there’s a lot of activity as baristas are trying to keep up with all the orders.

    You: How does this negatively affect the business?

    Customer: People get aggravated and are sometimes rude to my staff. Sometimes they just leave out of frustration.

    When it looks like a problem has been identified you need to confirm whether it’s worth solving.

  5. Learn why they haven’t solved the problem.
  6. If you think you’ve locked in on a single problem that you think you can help them solve, you’ll want to get an understanding as to why they haven’t solved it. Is it a lack of resources? Time? Expertise?

    What’s important to see how much effort they’ve put in to solving the problem as well as get an understanding of the methods available at their disposal. If there’s a gap that needs filling then you’re on the right track.

    You: What have you done to try and alleviate this problem?

    Customer: We’ve tried to speed up the process for taking orders which helped a bit.

    You: Can you tell me a bit about the methods you tried?

    Customer: We limited the options people could get. We also stopped serving snacks that were low margin and took too much time to serve. For example, egg sandwiches.

    Of course, if customers have not bothered to solve a problem then you should question them as to why not. If the answer is reasonable you probably haven’t hit on a problem that is worth solving.

  7. Measure the impact of the problem.
  8. Problems have a degree of impact and it’s important to get a sense of the effect it’s having. If it’s minor or maybe just a necessary inconvenience then you’re on the wrong track. However, if this is major aggravation that keeps the customer up at night then you’re looking good.

    What’s important is to get the customer to think not only in terms of the financial impact but how it’s impacting employees and their customers. Most every problem can be reduced down to a number that impacts the business. Getting to that number and presenting it to the customer in terms they understand can go a long way.

    If the impact of a problem being solved is minimal then it’s not worth solving.

    You: What are the effects that is having on your business?

    Customer: People get upset with staff and baristas. There have been times where they yell. And I’m not noticing regulars as often as I used to.

    You: That must be rough for your staff. What has been their reaction to this?

    Customer: They’ve become cold and sometimes short with customers. The rapport between my staff and customers is not what is used to be.

    You: How is this affecting the business financially?

    Customer: My staff has noticed that tips have gotten lighter during peak hours.

    You: You said that customers sometime come in and leave because the line is too long. How many people do you see in an average day do this?

    Customer: There have been days where I see twenty people or more leave.

    You: And how much is a customer worth to the business?

    Customer: On an average order, people buy one cup of coffee and a small treat, which comes out to $7.50.

    You: At 20 people a day that’s $54,000 a year. That’s a lot of lost revenue.

  9. Measure the impact of a solution.
  10. You don’t need to come up with an actual solution. What you want to do is paint a picture of the before and after for the customer. Give them an image of what the world looks like with their problem removed.

    The principle here is to keep it simple. All you need to do is verify the importance of a solution at an emotional level.

    You: What would it mean to have an extra $54,000 a year?

    Customer: It would be huge. We’d be able to do some light remodelling

    You: And what would it mean if the pace of the line moved at a more comfortable rate?

    Customer: Well, my sense is that customers would be more at ease. They probably wouldn’t drop off like flies.

    You: And you staff?

    Customer: They’d go back to being their charming selves!

    Notice there is no mention of an actual solution? It’s irrelevant up to this point. What’s important is understanding and empathy. In fact, it’s the most important thing you can have for them because it will never steer you in the wrong direction.