Business

A more powerful form of networking is just to find and make best friends like we used to on the playground

The image of networking is often that of collecting business cards, following up, having lunch meetings, going to parties and shaking hands, that sort of thing. But there is another kind of networking that may be more useful, not necessarily at making yourself super-connected, but for achieving the ultimate aims of networking, which are about creating unexpected opportunities. This alternative form of networking could be called the "best friend" method, where instead of collecting many leaves, you have one or a few best friends. When you visit a city where you supposedly have a lot of contacts, instead of "making the rounds," you continue and deepen your friendship with one signal friend there.

The introvert's experience with socializing could be called networking, even though it doesn't look like it. The continued deepening of interactions with a single friend can often lead to many more epiphany-like moments of collaboration that can fan out with the same exponential network effects than being a glad-handing politician.

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A penny saved is a penny earned, until you reach the next financial class and find your old aphorisms do more harm than good

Financial skills in one class don't transfer from one to the other. The skills that enable you to move from the lower-class to the middle-class won't necessarily get you from the middle-class to the upper-middle class. For example, let's say that to get to the middle-class, you focused on your studies and lived within your means. You listened to adults, such as your counselors, who urged you to consider going to a good school. You didn't think twice about getting a student loan because everybody was doing it, and it had the blessing of the adults in your life.

The people in your income class were nearly always broke, and so everything you bought was a core necessity. Your edge against your peers was that when you got a little extra money, instead of blowing it in a bar, you spent it on something you needed, whether it was to fix the radiator on your car or to buy schoolbooks. All of this helped keep you in school and out of trouble.

All of a sudden, upon graduating, you get a job as a junior paralegal at a law firm. Upon receiving your first paycheck, you then apply it towards all of the things you've wanted to buy: maybe a new car, maybe health insurance for once. You still live within your means, but you justify the new expenditures because these are the core things you need. However, after a few months, you find yourself living hand-to-mouth because you never learned how to save.

What's worse, is that a whole new set of expectations have come up. Your peers are different, and they all live in a different zip code. At a mixer, you meet a real estate agent who encourages you to buy now. Eager to reap the rewards of your newfound success and fulfill those dreams you always had, you get the largest house the bank is willing to mortgage. The numbers on these term sheets are so alien to you that you just space out when you sign the paperwork. But you trust this process, because, after all, you went through the same thing with student loans, and look how far that took you.

A housing crunch happens, or the job market unsettles, and now this fairy tale has a tragic ending. What people fundamentally don't understand is that growth and achievement are much like the cycle of scientific revolutions: Phlogistons no longer make sense in the theory of atoms. Likewise, going from one class to another requires re-thinking every aspect of one's life, not just money. Even the notion of "financial goals" may only apply to people in one band of financial standing.

Moving from middle-class to upper-middle-class extends the above example. At that level of wealth, concepts from Ramit Sethi's I Will Teach You How To Be Rich would no longer apply. Controlling your spending and maximizing your income don't quite make sense when you're dealing with $100K+ tax bills. All of a sudden you need advisors, but the ones pursuing you are often sharks. The Goldman Sachses of the world are sharpening their knives, excited to skim from the nouveau fauna. Without the flexibility to adapt and reinvent oneself after a significant financial break-through, one may find themselves batted back down to where they started.

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As the rate of invention goes down, the rate of innovation must rise to take its place, leading to a rise in entrepreneur-obsessives

Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office in 1899, once said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Even though this sounds foolish in retrospect, and even though the quote is probably apocryphal, that doesn't mean it can't be true, or at least partially true in the future. In certain categories, like the airplane, the rate of invention plateaued decades ago.

That's not to say that innovation will taper off, but rather, the future for growth will be depth. The future belongs to the obsessive entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. Smartphones existed before Steve Jobs, as did electric cars before Elon Musk. Airplanes existed before Richard Branson turned them into the affordable flying nightclubs of Virgin America, which he sold for $2.6 billion.

The history of business has been about catering to human's five basic senses and their few basic desires. History going forward will be about staying within those confines and finding something new to offer.

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Companies can't really say they're serious about happiness in the workplace until they fire all the managers

Imagine a world of zero managers. Such a company could exist if it followed the philosophy of motivation espoused in Flow and Drive. Daniel H. Pink (author of Drive) suggests that workers are happiest when they have control over three "Ws": What, When, and Who. Happy, autonomous employees, are happiest when they can control what they work on, when they work on it, and who they work with.

The rules of such a hypothetical company would be the following:

  • Employees can show up whenever they want
  • Employees can fix problems however they want
  • Employees can choose their teams

What, then, would be left of management? Instead, managers would be replaced by people who simply give feedback. Feedback is the critical component of flow, in that people need to see measurable results of their efforts to learn and feel a purpose to their striving. These feedback-givers wouldn't be called "managers" anymore, but rather the more aptly-named "critics."

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Finding an investment strategy that backtests well proves just as much as publishing a scientific study the one time it works

What if I told you that I had a stock-picking strategy that beats the S&P 500 80% of the time? You might ask for some evidence, and so to bolster my claim, I might mention that I backtested the strategy over the past 25 years and in four out of five years, it out-performed the benchmark. Since only 10% of mutual funds beat the S&P 500 in any given year, this might be compelling evidence.

But I'd be withholding some very crucial information: this is the third strategy that I've concocted. My first two showed promise, but ultimately failed in the backtests.

For example, my first strategy was to pick stocks according to the release dates of game-changing products. So, in the case of Apple, you would have made bets in the days after the iPhone and the iPod came out. I did the same for other companies over the past ten years, but when I backtested this, the results were a wash. (Also, this assumes you can identify a game-changing product before the rest of the investors can, which is nowhere near a safe assumption).

My second strategy was to invest in Fast Company's annual list of innovative companies. The idea is that innovation is the key to growth, but here again, the backtest over the past ten years came out a wash.

My third strategy was to invest in companies that appeared in the Great Place to Work Institute's Top 100 list (based on employee surveys). Not only does it have an interesting narrative logic, in the backtest, it beat the S&P 500 in around 20 of the previous 25 years.

The lesson is that given enough iterations, you will eventually find a strategy that backtests incredibly well against benchmarks. Likewise, the top-ranked mutual funds in any given year will have amazing historicals that show a fairy tale chart of inevitability. And yet, the only thing inevitable is that next year, there will be a different list of funds at the top, and the following year, a different list, and so on.

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Fundamental vs. speculative investing is a false dichotomy; All exchanges are futures markets, and thus speculative

The distinction between a stock's speculative and fundamental value is a false dichotomy. The relationship is hierarchical, with the fundamental value creating the speculation which fuels the share price. One can't be removed or factored out from the other. Even Warren Buffet, the master of value investing, invests in stocks with price-to-earning (P/E) ratios far greater than would be acceptable outside of the stock market. While he invests in stocks with low P/E ratios, they are only low relative to the stock market, which has a base layer of speculation.

The more important question for the investor is, "What is a stock's sustainable value? What price level would the stock return to if everybody panicked?" Identifying bust-resistance, panic-proofing, and unflappability is more practical than chasing a stock's actual value, especially now that it appears that bubbles are coming with greater frequency, and in some cases, never popping.

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Having a catalog of one million songs, books, or movies once required a master-negotiator like Steve Jobs

Now it's a given.

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If an app is popular with teens, it could mean it's on trend just as much as it could mean it's niché

Writers have proclaimed the end of Facebook since the beginning of the service. The biggest threat came from Twitter, which prompted Facebook to add status updates. About a half-year after the patch, though, Mark Zuckerberg admitted that they over-corrected, and Facebook's growth continued unchecked.

The latest threat comes from Snapchat, which has turned down billions of dollars because of its rising popularity with teenagers. Simultaneously with Snapchat's ascendancy, Facebook admitted its popularity with teens has declined. Does that mean Facebook is losing its cool? If so, then does the whole house of cards fall with it?

But what if Snapchat is just a teen phenomenon? The supposed attraction to Snapchat is privacy, and adults probably care about privacy just as much, if not more, than teenagers (If an adult makes a privacy flub, they could lose their job). But adults have much more control over their privacy than teenagers. If you leave your Facebook open on your screen as an adult, it's less likely that someone will snoop and bump into it. Or if you post something naughty online, and your parents see it, nobody is going to ground you.

LiveJournal, 4Chan, and Chatroullete are all services that were and are popular with teens, but haven't achieved widespread adoption with adults. Their rapid growths were simply a reflection of how quickly ideas spread within the teen subculture, rather than a leading indicator for how they spread to the rest of the world.

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Innovation is like a virus. Principles like "always on" or "in the cloud" only have to be proven once before disrupting everything

One strategy for coming up with new high-tech products or services is to concoct superlative hypothetical situations out of existing technology. For example, a budding entrepreneur could look around at his office, point to something, and add the prefix "always on." "What would be different if we had an always-on camera? What would be different if my microphone was always on? What if the screen on my phone was always on? What if unlimited data was a genuine promise, and one could have always-on file transfers on their phones?"

Other exaggerated modifiers could be, "on your wrist," "the size of a pinhead," or "in the cloud." Given the inexorable trend of technological growth, this seemingly amateur parlor trick generates business ideas that reliably anticipate future trends. What one component gets, every component eventually gets. If something is "on your wrist" or "in the cloud" today, why couldn't everything else be that way tomorrow?

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Nowadays, it takes an epidemiologist to tell the difference between fads and lasting products

The wild valuations for budding social networks, like Snapchat, are puzzling because the services alternately seem like fads and like nuclear reactors about to explode. After all, the consensus in Silicon Valley is that Facebook's billion-dollar purchase of Instagram was a bargain. Before social networks, fads only lasted for a season. Pogs, Magic cards, wrist slappers, Tamagucis and other toys for adolescents usually lasted a school year, enough time for everybody in the class to go through the cycle of excitement and boredom, in sync with everybody else.

While social networks resemble phenomena that come and go, they exist atop a cascade of fad-like events happening in pockets. In the original, single fad model, excitement rises and falls collectively. In a fad wave, as the excitement is about to crest, an external force injects excitement back into the wave. In the case of Myspace, there was an initial three-month honeymoon, when a new user tried all the features and posted on their friends' walls. As their excitement died down, a new group of friends joined, changing the experience of the social network. They then went through their excitement cycle, trying new features, and posting on everybody's walls, meanwhile renewing that first user's interest. By the third month of the new group's cycle, another group of friends joined, extending everybody's cycle by a few months, and in tandem the original user's, until everybody found themselves using the network for a year and a half.

Because the phenomena outlast the typical timespan for a fad, many social networks seem like they are going to last. But every time the fad is renewed, the length of the renewal period for older users invisibly shrinks until everybody gets bored at the same time, no new groups join, and the network crashes.

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Pursuing your dreams isn't just a cliché, but practical advice, as dreams are a free and renewable source of hope

Aspirations are goals, but they're the best kind of goals because they give extra emphasis to two important features: time and personal attachment.

Time - Aspirations are wants that have festered in your heart for a long-time. Because of this time component, aspirations have survived the ebb and flow of your moods and the cycle of seasons. This is important because those same ebbs and flows will greet you on the path to achieving your goal, and one of the most common reasons goals fail is because of a lack of true, sustained interest.

Personal Attachment - You can set a goal to anything. You could say, "My goal is to make a 100 sales this month." In this case, goal-setting is a form of remote-control, whereby you dangle a carrot in front of you to give you an extra boost of motivation or to work a few extra hours. Aspirations, on the other hand, come from deep-seated longings. They're not arbitrary or invented. Rather, they emerge from accumulated life experiences. They are fantasies that have gained increased resolution over time.

What's great about aspirations is that you will always want them. Even if you fail in an attempt, you're likely to still want the goal, and this will summon the perseverance necessary to try again.

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Thanks to microtransactions, entrepreneurs, instead of wearing many hats, could start companies by giving out microhats with microshares

Entrepreneurs wear a ton of hats initially because it's hard to recruit people at such a small scale, especially without revenue. Perhaps by offering small shares as bounties for little bits of work, then perhaps entrepreneurs wouldn't be needed, and everybody could just wear the hats they want to wear. Such is one possible promise of microtransactions and cryptocurrencies: the ability to administer small pieces of value efficiently and fairly.

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The logical conclusion of inexorable GDP growth is full unemployment

At some point, our society has to outgrow its obsession with low unemployment numbers. If perpetually increasing GDP is the goal of all modern economies, and if such increases are sustainable—which they have been, when taking the long-view, and including all nations—then the logical conclusion is full unemployment. At some point, the time it takes to create enough GDP for every single human being on earth to have the basics of food, clothing, and shelter should be trivial.

It appears, at the moment, that such a fantasy utopia is simply a goal-post that keeps getting pushed further back. After all, with all the material abundance of America, unemployment is still in the single digit percentages and average vacation time per year is 2-3 weeks. Why is everybody still working? For one, there is the perennial hedonic treadmill. The more money people make, the more they spend, and so they have to keep working to make up the difference. Then there is the continuing economic inequality. Many of these GDP gains are being collected a few individuals, and the actual condition of the average American stays relatively constant.

However, both trends probably have their limits. The hedonic treadmill may only apply to middle-class incomes, but after a certain point, there's more money than an individual has time to spend in a lifetime. The existence of casinos and pseudo-casinos (like the stock market) are evidence of a population that has transcended the hedonic treadmill and instead is just recycling their excess income back into the system.

Economic inequality, despite its seeming infinite excesses in history, goes through corrections. The history of war is often the history of enriched lower-classes clamoring for new powers. The increased leisure time of the middle-class, buoyed by excess GDP, will embolden them to demand more power and a larger piece of the economic pie.

At some point, high unemployment numbers will become a point of national pride.

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The more GDP grows, the lazier consumers get, which means more jobs for those in marketing

If in the future, everything is free, What will people do for money? Maybe everybody will work for marketing companies. One path to this scenario is that excess GDP is making people lazier.

For example, the GPL-published book Dive Into Python is available for free-to-download, and yet people still buy the book. And these paying customers aren't stupid but are instead paying for something else. They're paying the publishers to inform them of the book's existence. They're paying to have the book inserted into their shopping stream (whether at a brick-and-mortar or online). And of course, they're still paying for the ink, pages, and binding, which many consumers still prefer to eBooks. Since the actual text of the book is free, nowhere in the shopping chain, are they really paying for the content. They're paying for marketing.

If you went for the free download, first you would have to have found out it exists in the first place, maybe by constantly reading blogs. Then you would have to engage in an unfamiliar procurement experience, i.e. downloading a PDF from a 3rd-party website, rather than sticking to your main familiar e-commerce sites like Amazon. Then you'd have to grapple with the inconveniences of navigating an eBook side-by-side with your code, which lacks the benefit of the natural bookmarks, highlighting, and dog-earing that paper books have.

Marketing is fundamentally an informative practice. Consumers are rewarding companies for putting products in front of them, attaching a "Buy it Now" button and shipping it to them easily. The consumer is really paying for the curation, procurement, packaging, and distribution of the product. Hardly any money is to compensate for the creation of the actual content.

Despite how much flak Monster Cable gets for selling "premium" HD cables, shoppers clearly don't mind that much, especially when buying a $2,000 TV. Monster is being rewarded for putting the cables in front of them, right when they're making a purchase.

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The most successful businesses today anticipate Moore's Law; the most successful ones of tomorrow, anticipate everybody doing the same

Computer manufacturing companies have long had dynamic business models that factored in Moore's Law. For example, Apple intentionally released an iPhone that the public couldn't afford because they knew the cost of storage and computer chips would continue to decline.

Moore's Law is perhaps an easy trend to anticipate, but increasingly it appears that disruptive businesses need to anticipate secondary or tertiary disruptions that come from exponential computing laws.

For example, the music industry doesn't have a Moore's Law per se, but it's conceivable that the "next BitTorrent" or the "next iTunes" is just around the corner, ready to change the economics of distributing music. This is why when Spotify entered the market, their profit margins didn't just seem marginally lower than the then market leader, iTunes, but lower than a future, unknown market leader. That market leader has yet to materialize or Spotify has stayed well ahead, which is perhaps why they are the current market leader.

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The second, decline phase for Moore's Law takes what were once stellar technological achievements and figures out how to milk them

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Value investing is a thankless job. For a while

The radio program This American Life has an episode titled "Wrong Side of History" about a father who steered his daughter away from Bernie Madoff's multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. All of the father's hectoring, though, strained their relationship, when the daughter's millionaire in-laws enjoyed Madoff's riches for 15 years.

The father-in-law died early, before Madoff was caught, whereas the other father lived long enough to be vindicated. Had the vindicated father died earlier, would he had enough solace on his deathbed knowing that he championed sound investment principles? Would 15 years of strained family ties have been worth it? What if it was 150 years? How long does an investment have to seem to be doing well for it not to matter that it is fundamentally bad?