Book summary: The Fate of Rome

Climate is both an enabler and disruptor of human endeavors. Nature balances the population it supports. Technology enables increased rate of energy extraction from environment to further human purposes.

Conducive climate results in bountiful yield and has allowed Rome to rise. Land is cleared and trade networks flourish during the rise of the empire. Clearance of wild lands unlocked microbes into the human civilization.

Microbes evolve to utilize humans and other mammals as vectors of infection. Dense population and connected trading network serve as a multiplier. The worst pandemic is the white pestilence (Black Death). This wiped out more than half of human population.

Trading network collapse as a result of the decimated population. Military rank diminishes both as a result of population decimation. Problem is further compounded by collapse of financial system which makes it difficult to sustain an army.

Grounds are fertile for spread of monotheistic dooms day religion like Christianity. Emperor Justinian converts to Christianity. Classical Greek school of thoughts gets displaced.

Climate change for the worse force nomads with superior military power to migrate westwards into Roman territory.

Roman Empire with decimated population gets further crippled.

Insights from dinner with Yuan

Conversations with Wang Ji Lei (Google)

China’s 996 practice has allowed China to close the 30 years technology gap between China and the US within the past 5 years. Some segments like cashless commerce have already surpassed US. The norm is some labor regulations are considered formalities and adherence is not necessary.

China’s distribution path starts from Beijing, 1st tier cities, 2nd tier cities, 3rd tier cities and finally remote villages. While double digits growth has been the norm over the past five years, market saturation has been achieved within the Chinese digital space and most apps are having problems growing.

Baidu’s Ads revenue model via search is increasingly being disrupted by Tic Toc. They have lost 50% ofvtheir search revenue last year. Similar trend is being observed with Google’s Ad revenue model which is bring increasingly disrupted by Amazon in the below USD75 consumer goods segment, Facebook between the USD75 and USD2000 consumer goods segment.

Tic Toc and WeChat dominate the bulk of the mobile usage bandwidth in China. Tic Toc with string positions within the short video entertainment segment while WeChat in the social conversations segment. Both companies face significant challenges encroaching into the other’s territory.

Tic Toc is the only Chinese mobile entertainment app that has made significant headway out of China. They have a well defined playbook which specialized tiger teams follow to gain traction in new territories. Maintenance is transferred to local team once penetration threshold is achieved. Due to fickle nature of users, retention remains the number 1 challenge. Position can be easily displaced by new entrants. Thebunderlyimg thesis is that city dwellers have lots of fragmented time spread across a day. Each video is restricted to 45secs to reduce anxiety that user has to stop watching between engagements. This also helps induce the habit of chipping in between engagements.

Typical engineer’s salary in Beijing is USD50,000 per year while a house cost around USD2million. While typical engineering salary in Silicon Valley is at least USD100,000 per year while house cost at least USD1 million. Wealth is mainly retained at the upper levels in China. Given the ratio of salary to house price as well as the comparative working hours, there is significant pull of talents to Silicon Valley.

Average green card waiting time for EB1 is now five since it’s been expended to include executives.

Major housing development is occurring in South Bay given huge influx of population and hiring by google (50,000 people) and other giants. Heavy recruitment is happening as Google continues to build out its cloud team.

Google cloud’s market share continues to lag with Amazon leading, Microsoft Azure in Second and AliCloud 3rd. Google cloud organization is facing an inflection point as upper management faces difficulties with zeroing in on a clear strategy. The symptoms are the dilemma between engineering culture (Google Default) versus customer culture (Amazon) and SMB versu Enterprise. Google’s traditional engineering culture has the effect of causing company to drift towards heavy engineering solutions which might be an overkill for SMB needs coupled with a lot of wastage which no one needs. This opens up a gap for customer focused companies.

Societal comparison between our current day and age versus the era of communism’s rise

In Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, I see huge similarities between the society during his time of writing and our current day. Corporations well optimized for profitability while workers work long hours without making enough to sustain themselves.

Currently, blue collared workers are either unemployed or getting paid close to minimal wage. With the growing prevalence of trend 996, where overworking gets glorified, even knowledge workers are working increasingly long hours while stuck living in areas paying ever increasing rent.

The only distinct between what is observed now and then is the promise of upward mobility through hard work, some call it the “American Dream”. Based on my observation even that is getting slaughtered.

Based on the current trajectory, I foresee a day majority of our population wakes up to realize the dream is in fact just a dream and a set of ideology similar to Karl Marx’s gain widespread popularity amongst the masses.

Related references

Book summary: George Orwell’s 1984

George Orwell

Key take aways

  • To control a population first control the language and supported concepts. This helps frame and thus restrict the thoughts of its users.
  • The further up the hierarchy the increase the need to process contradictory ideas
  • In a totalitarian state, even harboring a thought with no corresponding action is considered a crime
  • The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Control over the past allows control of the future. Control of the present allows control of the past
  • Tiers of control and effects
    • Control body without the control mind will lead to martyr – Romans and the Christians
    • Control of body and superficial control of the mind leads to a brittle regime – Soviet Union
    • Control of body and absolute control of mind through history leads a long lasting regime – Missionaries and the catholic church.

Related Readings

Book Summary: Lost and Founder

Radical Candor/Transparency

It is hard but it works – needs to be tampered with empathy

On being product focused

  • Consulting is limited by time and people – not scalable
  • Effective Product-focused business
    • reach
    • scalability
  • Start with a product informed by your consulting – real life problems others face

Impediment to shifting focus

  • Too comfortable
  • not enough time
  • difficulty finding the right customers for the product

On being a founder

  • Great founders enable a vision
  • forget about being hands on most of the time
  • job scope changes every six months – for any road block encountered focus on sufficing the requirements instead of perfecting it
  • you rarely get to do what you love to do
  • be cognizant on when to lead and when not to – have the specialist do the job
  • Cultivate self awareness in strength and weakness – structure company to work around them
  • Attribute of founder is instilled with near-permanence in the organization while those of supporting team fluctuates
  • the hardest parts of the business is less a reflection about the business than about the person experiencing them
  • Build expertise before building network, build network before building company
  • Focus on and reward the behavior, let the outcome take care of itself

On Values

  • Authentic values force hard decisions – held to be more important than money
  • have real costs: Impede certain behavior and strategy
  • Values are discovered instead of set
  • Used as a yard stick for recruiting new members to the cause. Helps get pass the competence versus cultural fit dilemma

On recruiting

  • CTO should be those that should be oriented towards education instead of shielding you from the nitty gritty details (black box)
  • Use your value system as a yard stick
  • Hiring for diversity will make the mental model of the organization more holistic
  • Great managers / coaches might not be great individual contributors

On markets and pivots

  • Pivots Are expensive don’t make it a habit – only resort to this tactic when the original hypothesis is not longer valid
  • focus on the market and then find a field ignored by others because it appears unsexy. From there craft a solution
  • Err on the side of execution

On investors

  • Need to take money for the right reason
  • Investors interest will tend to get out of alignment overtime (return multiples and investment horizons)
  • 80 percent of returns are by 20 percent of investments
  • They need at least a 10X to break even in a position for all the other losing positions they took
  • They don’t bring much value to the table
  • follow up with CEOs they invested in to understand how they react in a shit storm
  • Can help provide information on salary ranges

Choosing a market

  • If you can keep your ego in check you can chase after smaller markets and don’t need VC money
  • Great ideas are born of mediocre ideas that become better by
    • time spent iterating
    • humility learning
    • surviving
  • look for searches that indicate problems
    • Google Adwords
    • Moz’s keyword Explorer

Knowing your customers

Defining your user base

  • Call 3 different types of users
  • Find out why they subscribed and stayed
  • Craft messaging toward this group of people

Discounts are a doubled edged sword – while they might attract signups, these folks tend to have a higher churn rate

Schedule regular interactions with your user so that you can understand their habits. It helps you get to an empathetic position with them.

On Products

  • Feature set needs to be coherent enough to be able to deliver value
  • Early adopters
    • have very different expectation as compared to early majority –
    • hence more forgiving
    • ok accepting MVP
  • Retention triumphs acquisition any day

Marketing

  • Optimize for acquisition loops that reinforces the UVP instead of linear acquisition channels

Focused Execution

  • Practice the discipline of focus.
  • Important to Focus and not waver around unnecessarily. Its a waste of resources
  • A very focused and simplified product offering will help users to more easily understand and adopt it
  • Helps keep teams lean as a by-product
    • ROA improves dramatically
    • helps avoid future layoffs
  • Focus on what will not change in the next 10 years

Related references

  • Lean Startup, Eric Ries
  • Sprint, Jake Knapp
  • Venture Deals, Brad Feld

Book Summary: Contagious

Contagious

On Word of mouth

  • versus advertising
    • it is more persuasive since the messenger has no monetary incentive and is a trusted person.
    • It is directed at the immediate context of the recipient
  • Only 7% of word of mouth happens online. Most still happens offline
  • Types of word of mouth
    • immediate word of mouth
    • ongoing word of mouth
  • Big forest fires aren’t caused by big sparks. Lots of individual trees have to catch fire and carry the flame

Word of mouth principles

  • Social currency
    • people want to feel special about themselves. When they get to share something extraordinary, they get the chance to Wow others.
    • Categories of currency
      • scarcity
      • exclusivity
  • Triggers
    • Ideas strongly associated with items frequently found the environment gets triggered more often. Pick common objects in a user’s environment that is not already laced with other meanings.
    • The more specific a trigger the higher the likelihood of triggered action.
    • Choose trigger right close to the proximity of the intended action
  • Emotions
    • Emotions that excites will be more likely to drive the recipient towards an action than those that.
      • Useful emotions: Awe, excitement, anger, fear
      • Not useful emotions: sadness, hopelessness
    • Associate the idea with emotions
  • Public
    • Monkey see, monkey do. Figure out how to make users activities more visible to those around them so that they could copy his action. A private action is unlikely to get copied
    • Choose stimulus that others can’t help but notice.
  • Practical Value
    • Useful things tends to get shared more frequently. While there might be less initial word of mouth, there will always be on going word of mouth.
  • Stories
    • help transfer huge amounts of contextual information to recipient
    • helps suspending judgement – using proof by analogy
    • story must be designed such that storyline falls apart when intended idea is removed from it
    • For dramatic purposes, interesting and novel points often get exaggerated as story pasts from one person. As such the story gets more and more remarkable as it is past along.

Related theories

  • Prospect theory: the WoW factor of an idea is often taken in association with the denominator its associated with
  • Rule of 100
    • for items below $100 present discount in percentage
    • for items above $100 present discount in absolute dollar figures

Reflections on organizational observations

On the benefits of being under resourced

An organization that is under-resourced is similar to an individual who regularly practices intermittent fasting.

In the case of the individual, weaker cells are cannibalized by the body to produce new cells. Studies has shown decreased probability of developing cancer and Alzheimer, coupled in some cases with increased longevity.

In the case of the organization, operations are forced to be focused and only opportunities backed by stronger market signals prioritized and pursued. Wastage and distractions are structurally curtailed. ROI improves as a by product.

On organic growth

An organization that is organically grown tends to be happen-chance and exhibit somewhat illegible and opaque structure.

In contrast, an organization that is deliberately designed tends to exhibit a legible and transparent structure.

Counter intuitively, it is the former that exhibits more resilience in times of environmental stress. The observed illegibility and opaqueness is attributed to the process of organic adaption to its environment. Chief historical examples are:

  • Military of Carthage
  • Genghis Khan’s Mongolian horde

Related readings

Key take aways from Trust me I am lying

Trust me I am lying

The publication eco-system

  • Every content creator within the publication ecosystem is under immense pressure to produce content under the tightest deadline.
    • renumeration is based on number of articles per period time
    • eye balls are converted to advertising revenue
    • lots of copying happens
  • Media was once about protecting a new, on the web it is about building one
    • well defined scope matters
    • content that dives deep into its vertical matters
  • Headlines are the most important
  • Tools of the trade
    • lavish pictures
    • impostors, frauds and fake interviews
    • support for the underdog causes
    • anonymous sources
    • prominent coverage of high society and events
    • different age but same old tricks
  • On monetization
    • Advertising is the main driver of revenue
    • Subscription model focus on trusted source as opposed to advertising source
    • RSS got killed because it went against the interest of Advertisers
  • On the online medium
    • The demands of the medium forces the bloggers to act they way they are
    • Tim Berners Lee stacked new content on the top and the rest of the internet thus follows
    • Thus the need to constantly create new content

On Virality

  • The most powerful predictor of virality is how much anger an article evokes.
  • The most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger
    • sensationalism
    • extremism
    • sex
    • scandal
    • hatred
  • Things must be negative but not too negative so as to incite action
  • Media needs to get you feeling negative so that you are more likely to share
  • Empty vessels are incline to snark so as to feel unjustifiably good about themselves

On reality

  • Chris Hedges
    • is complicated and boring
    • the masses are incapable and unwilling to handle its confusion
    • In an age of images, entertainment and instant emotional gratification, no one seeks honesty and gratification
  • Cognitive biases
    • we are bad at being sketical
      • availability biases
      • narrative fallacy
    • we are worst at correcting our wrong beliefs
      • social proofing
      • consistency biases
  • First decide what you are intending to do with the information you collected

Related readings

Key take aways from the Blockchain revolution

The Blockchain revolution
  • ensuring the integrity of data exchanged among these billions of devices without the need for a trusted third party
  • allow people that do not have access to the service of these third part into the digital economy
  • easier ability to get compensated for your work or ownership of digital property
  • Ronald Coase on types of costs
    • Searching cost
    • Coordination cost
    • Contracting cost
  • Dimensions of search
    • horizontal search – wide search across the web
    • vertical search – within a specific website
    • sequence – blockchain?
  • Innovation typically comes from the edge
    • monopolies have a lot of resources but lack the culture and will to explore, Yochai Benkler
    • This can be attributed to high levels of bureaucracy within the core

Related references

Key take aways from the guide to a good life

A guide to the good life

Overview

The core of Stoicism as a philosophy is to live a good life (where peace of mind is deemed the highest good) by learning how to manage negative thoughts like:

  • anger
  • anxiety
  • fear
  • grief
  • envy

Techniques

This is done through the employment of these two techniques

Negative visualization techniques

  • Managing against hedonic adaptation by learning to desire what we already have. To do so, we must constantly remind ourselves the transient nature of things.

Focus of attention on what is within our loci of control

  • Totally within our control – focus our attention of these things
  • Partially within our control – internalize goals around parts where we have control
  • Totally out of our control – learn to be at peace with whatever outcome

Deliberate self denial

By deliberately depriving self the luxuries, one builds courage and self-control

Manage needs and desires

  • natural and necessary
    • Food and shelter
    • to fulfill
  • natural and unnecessary
    • Fine wine and luxurious food
    • to fulfill if not too much hassle
  • unnatural and unnecessary
    • fame and social status
    • to shun
  • unnatural and necessary
    • nothing exist in this category

Attitude towards time

  • The past and the immediate present is beyond change – be grateful for all that has came to pass and accept it with equanimity
  • The immediate future is where our loci of control falls – this is where we should channel our attention

Eras of stoiscism

  • Greek Stoics
  • Roman Stoics

The roman empire eventually adopted Christian religion as a the philosophical framework for state craft. This eventually displaced stoicism and other greek schools of philosophy.

Prominent stoic practitioners

  • Socrates
  • Marcus Aurelius
  • Xeno
  • Seneca

Related schools of philosophy

  • The Cynics – see Diogenes
  • Enlightened hedonism – see Epicurus

Related references

  • Meditations, Marcus Aurelius