85 – Encryption for Everyone, with Henry Boldizsar

Shout-out to the ongoing, excellent work of editing, uploading, adding shownotes, and publishing each and every episode done by the talented Lav Kozakijević!

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that governments have the power to (and do) read emails and texts and monitor online activity in a variety of ways.  It’s creepy.  Even some of the applications we use (and voluntarily agree to terms with) collect more data than we’d sometimes like.

Today’s guest is creating a way for anyone to encrypt any message on any platform.  It’s called Felony, but it’s not a crime!

Felony allows you to encrypt messages, verify identity, and ensure privacy and security over all messaging devices. Henry Boldizsar discusses why he built a program that allows even those that are not tech savvy to access the power of encryption. Besides using Felony and not being one, we discussed making YT tutorials, dropping out of high school, and ending up in San Francisco.

Felony is open source and free. It’s still in beta, but you can contribute to it through felony.io or you can get in touch with Henry via @henryboldi.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

How the World Will Change

When the world becomes free it will not be by the creation of new laws, or the removal of old, or of new political leaders or any election result. It will not be because of a change in government, but because of a change in attitude toward government. It will not be because of legislation, but because of disregard for legislation.

Genuine change will come when the state is ignored, not reformed. It will come not when politicians are better, but when they are irrelevant.

When state-made law is no longer deemed necessary or important it will not be respected. When it is not respected it will not be enforced because it will not be enforceable.

This is how the world will change.

Evidence in the Face of Disbelief

The world can become free of the barbarous relic called the state. The state is a dangerous fiction whose power rests entirely on people’s belief in its necessity, or inevitability. Belief in the state is not insurmountable. It is not hard-wired into the human mind. It is not a given that a state must or will always exist. The state, like so many other superstitions now thought to be outrageous, inhumane and inefficient, can be left in the ash heap of history.

Many once laughed at the notion that an institution as old as humanity itself, the institution of slavery, would or could ever be removed. The prevailing wisdom for centuries, even among those who had discovered the moral repugnance of slavery, was that it was just a part of human nature. Reformers argued the best thing was to work for a more humane version of slavery.

Slavery was an institution that, however evil it may sometimes be and however utopians might imagine a more perfect world without it, was here to stay. Some embarked on efforts to improve the institution, to teach masters to be “good” to their slaves. Some setup rules and mores designed to limit the nastiest outcomes of the institution. But the institution itself was as unavoidable as scarcity and death.

The fatal flaw in this thinking is that slavery and government, unlike scarcity and death, are human institutions. They are, above all, mental constructs. Their physical manifestations are not physical realities humans simply encounter in nature, but realities we create, and humans only create by first imagining. An idea does not become an action unless the individual actor believes that the idea is worth acting on. To subjugate another human being, or to condone or allow the subjugation of one by another, one must first have the idea of subjugation and must believe that acting on it is preferable to ignoring or condemning it. Scarcity and natural death need no such human consent. The old saying about death and taxes turns out to be only half true.

If the state, like slavery, is the result of the ideas held by people it is not inevitable. Some day humanity could look back on the institution called the state with the same sense of shame and wonder that we now have about slavery. How could so many people – many of them good people – live their lives day in and day out surrounded by an institution so inhumane, so nakedly violent and demeaning? Did they really think it was necessary? Did they not understand how degrading it was? It will be hard to understand how so many humans thought the state was inevitable, tolerable and even good. As sure as slavery became a hated relic, so can the state.

How It Happens

When slavery ended it was not by changes in rules or laws or political leaders. Such changes often quickly follow changes in belief and mistakenly receive the credit, but they are never the cause. Slavery ended as people’s ideas about it changed. People began to believe it was not only an evil, but an unnecessary one. People began to believe it so evil that they were willing to tolerate the short-term sacrifices of ending it in order to reap the long-term improvement in the human condition.

The calculation of cost and benefit changed as people’s sense of morality trumped their sense of conservative institutional stability. The unknown outcome of ending slavery became an acceptable risk when considered against the known evil of the institution, which became an unacceptable reality.

Political Reform

Political reform can never bring about liberty. It can on rare occasion expand a bit of liberty for a few, but as long as that expansion occurs via political methods, it means bargaining that often takes away freedom in some other arena, or the long-term furtherance of trust in the state. The political game is about reshuffling and re-enforcing the necessity of the state.

The political game attracts great attention, and as such many suggest using it as a means of educating people about the power of liberty. Politics as education is only valuable in the long term to the extent that it educates people that politics is at bottom bad and government cannot ever be good. If it merely inspires people to advocate that the state do to things better, it is not, in the end, going to make society more free. It is disbelief in politics and in the state that leads to freedom.

The Chinese army fired on their fellow citizens in Tiananmen Square. This massacre was not caused by political leaders and generals saying, “Shoot”; but by men in the Chinese army deciding to shoot. It was not caused ultimately by bad leadership, but by a belief in the necessity of obeying orders. There will always be people with a will to power; a desire to control. Only when the rest don’t believe that power to be necessary and therefore do not obey does freedom reign.

Shift Focus

Humans want to solve problems in the most immediate and direct way possible. We want to know where the problem of restricted liberty begins. We discover the source in a gradual progression. First the focus is on people – the wrong political leaders. This quickly generalizes to political parties or groups, then to policies or laws, then to agencies and institutions, and finally to the state itself.

Here it seems we’re at the core of the problem: the state itself. Not any of the personalities or parties or bureaus or laws under its aegis. But a further shift in focus is required. The state is not the root of the problem. The real problem is not an institution, but an idea. It is the idea that government is necessary. That’s the culprit and final basis for every bad thing the state has ever done.

To a small degree, a shift in focus is happening now. A great many people don’t believe that a particular politician will solve the problems created by the state. An increasing number don’t believe one party is more likely than another to do so. It is more common to hear institutions or the incentives built into the system of government blamed. This is progress. It is, however, still rare to hear the existence of the state itself blamed, and rarer still to hear blame placed on the idea that a state is necessary.

The belief in its necessity gives rise to the state, which by definition is full of bad incentives that attract and nurture bad people in bad parties. To say the people, parties, or policies are the problem would be like blaming the sidewalk for breaking your leg after you walked off a tall building because you were ignorant of the staircase and elevator. Frustration with the sidewalk is useless and ignorant. The proper response would be to question the necessity of walking off the building; perhaps in so doing you would discover other less painful methods of achieving your goal and reaching the ground floor.

There is no form or arrangement of a state that can guarantee liberty. The answer is always peace, markets, and voluntarism. The ring of power cannot be wielded for good, but must be thrown into the fire before it uses good for evil.

Changing Lives and Changing Life

I do not wish to downplay the possible outcomes of attempts to reform the state. By such efforts lives can be changed. A court decision can save an individual or a whole neighborhood from being bulldozed by the state. The removal of a regulation can change the life of an entrepreneur and allow her to pursue her dream. These activities are analogous to disaster relief or soup kitchens; they can genuinely change lives and offer welcome relief. They can change lives, but they cannot change life.

Disasters will still come and go. The conditions that brought about hunger are not ameliorated with the appetite of the person receiving soup. The liberty-crushing actions of the state do not cease when it ceases to crush one neighborhood or regulate one industry for some period of time. The state will – must – continue to seek its own expansion, and it will push at every weak point it finds to do so, ensuring that an endless stream of lives will remain to be helped, but that the conditions of life itself will not be fundamentally altered. Treating disease is noble, but it is different than eradicating disease.

Changing lives is good and fulfilling work. But for those courageous enough to dream, changing life itself is bliss, and can only be done by undermining, not improving the state.

What to Do?

The only tactic worth pursuing is enlightenment. Enlightenment of self and of others, and both continuously. This does not mean telling people what to believe or what to do. It is more akin to discovery than education. A teacher may help you discover truth by providing information, but the discoverer has to have curiosity and openness. It is the discoverer himself who chooses to discover.

Become a free person, and your freedom will be a beacon to others who are searching. Create liberty in your own life, exchange ideas, be open to the power of human creativity. Free your own mind and you will begin to help others to free theirs not by telling them what to believe, but by demonstration and discussion.

The market does not produce new innovations and technologies because smart people tell others what to design; instead it is a constant dynamic give and take, show and tell, creation and imitation, trial and error, the greatest ongoing play of economic exchange.

The building of a free-society needn’t wait until the state is limited or absent; indeed the state will not wither until the free society is first built to replace it. The explosive power of ideas will destroy the foundations of the state as free people continue to live and breath those ideas and demonstrate the life, energy, fun, progress and fulfillment in freedom.

This does not mean everyone who wants liberty must do the same thing. Demonstrating and discussion the ideas of a free society is such a broad and evolutionary task that it opens endless doors. The differences we have in ability and interest lead to numerous efforts, and enlightenment leaves ample room for differentiation.

Our differences will manifest in which “others” we exchange with, and what methods and mediums we use. But it must be an exchange of ideas and the building of a free society. It cannot mean deceiving, cajoling, “nudging”, forcing, bribing, or dictating. These, in the end, will only lead to less freedom.

Liberty not inevitable, but it is possible. A state that does not trample liberty is not possible. So long as the state is deemed necessary it will exist, and the state will always grow beyond its originally desired limits. The state will prey upon society until it destroys it, and then destroys itself. But if the belief in the necessity of the state remains, the deposed state will soon be replaced by a new one and the process will begin again.

The only foundation that society can be built on without collapse is a belief in statelessness.

It must be belief. Consequential (practical) and deontological (moral) arguments against the state miss the point. People will accept an inefficient and immoral system if they believe it necessary. Once they find it unnecessary, they will abandon it and give moral or practical reasons for doing so, but the belief in the necessity of the state must go first.

Imagine Liberty

Ludwig von Mises described three preconditions to human action. An individual must have dissatisfaction with his current condition, a vision of something better, and a belief in the ability to achieve that vision.

Everyone has dissatisfaction with government. Almost no one has a vision of something better. People have visions of a differently structured “necessary evil”, but their lack of imagination makes them keep the modifier, “necessary”. The Proverb says that for lack of vision people perish.

If we open up our imagination there is abundant evidence of order without the state. Non-state norms and institutions produce the majority of the world we see around us. Historically, society precedes the state, and there is ample evidence of stateless solutions to problems we are taught to believe only the state can solve.

Beyond past or present evidence, an application of our knowledge of human potential can also help us envision what could be. Science fiction writers imagine unheard of technologies by looking at technological advances in the here and now. They extrapolate and predict where human ingenuity, if it continues on its present course, may go. The best social thinkers do the same with society.

Some advocates for liberty do have a vision of something better. They can imagine multifarious social arrangements without the state. But most still lack the third condition of human action; a belief in the ability to get there. After so many vein attempts at revolution and political activism it seems there is no answer. But in some ways, the second condition of action is the answer to the third. If enough people can imagine a better solution, they will cease to support an inferior one (even in the face of the unknown, if they believe it to hold promise) and cease to prohibit new experiments. People with imagination too small to envision an automobile may very well accept restrictions on road building. But people who can’t envision the specific manifestation of the automobile, but can imagine human progress and invention capable of surprising them will be reticent to restrict the construction of something with unknown promise.

This is why we needn’t all share the same, or even a very specific, vision of a stateless world. We must, however, be brave and broad-minded enough to see in human relations the potential of order without the state.

For those who can imagine such a world, the task is to open others up to the same possibility. Show them, intrigue them, inspire them. Where imagination is wanting, so is liberty.

When It Happens

Perhaps the beginning of the end of the state will be gradual. Maybe state efforts to restrict minor activities will be increasingly ignored. Bans on food and drink may be laughed at and become unenforceable. Perhaps it will slowly extend to ignoring bigger and bigger restrictions.

Perhaps it will start with a bang. The prohibition of drugs may simply come to an abrupt end, and sooner than anyone expects. Public schooling may suddenly become so little used and so uncompetitive in the face of educational innovation that it disappears.

It may happen without a big production. The visage of the state may not even die with its function. The royalty of England still exist, but they are longer relevant in regulating daily life. They exist as reflection or memory of what was once believed. Some Native American tribes perform rain dances not because they believe, as they once did, that they will bring rain, but as an homage to their past. The state may transform similarly. It may never “go away”, but it may cease to have meaning except as a tradition. Parades and pomp may remain while power over our lives withers.

Fast or slow, big or small, conscious or unconscious as it may be, the world will change. The state can be a relic of the past, harder to understand as time moves on, like slavery in America today. In so many ways the trend is well underway and we are already in a mostly stateless world, though it is little appreciated or understood. It may be a matter of merely realizing what is already true: the state is not, and never has been necessary.

Realistic and Radical

The dissolution of the state doesn’t rely on people to become better or morality to change, or for the next step in evolution. It is a fallacy that government is inevitable and necessary. It could wither away in no time. It is only a matter of us changing our beliefs, paradigms, and theories of world. It only requires that we realize that it is not necessary. I say only, but the power of imagination necessary to see that the state is not is no small thing. Opening our minds to this possibility is the greatest and promising intellectual and practical adventure.

Excerpted from the book Better Off Free

How to Build Social Capital

Not enough saving, way too much spending.  Willingness to go deep into debt, a demand for instant gratification, and the inability to defer consumption.  I think these problems are real, and far too common.  But I’m not talking about money.  I’m talking about social capital.

A lot of young people, eager to carve out a career and life path, burst onto the social/professional scene looking for favors.  Every new person they meet might be able to help them get a gig, a contract, an interview, or a check.  I don’t think most realize that approaching people with a, “What can you do for me and my career?” mindset is the fastest way to burn through social currency and end up broke.

Every time we interact cordially with another person, we generate some good will.  It’s like putting a deposit into a social bank account with their name on it.  A simple smile and a handshake is worth a little.  A interesting conversation is worth more.  Connecting them to an idea or person of value to their goals, offering insightful feedback, or helping them achieve something can be worth quite a bit.  Being reliable, and doing these things consistently over time can build up a massive balance.  When you consider all the people you know and meet, it’s easy to see how a diverse portfolio of social capital can accumulate.  In the long-term, this social capital is more valuable than money, education, or credentials.

I’ve observed a lot of ambitious types meet a new person, and two minutes after shaking their hand, try to withdraw the tiny amount of capital they accumulated.  Indeed, many try to take out a massive loan without even a down-payment.  Every time you ask something of someone, you’re withdrawing some currency.  If all you’ve done is say hi and tell them where you work, you’ve deposited the minimum balance to establish an account.  When you follow this by immediately asking them to introduce you to someone, or read your manuscript, it’s like setting up a free checking account, dropping five bucks in, then hitting up the ATM for ten grand.  When nothing comes out, you shouldn’t be surprised.  The next move should not be to see a loan officer and beg for credit.

Don’t misunderstand; allowing others to help you can also be a way to accumulate social capital.  If someone really wants to help you, or if part of their job is to help you, or if they want to offer advice on something they are more experienced in than you, let them.  People love to be helpful, and especially love to give their opinion.  If you think of creating social capital only as you helping others, it may come off as condescending.  Often the best way is to ask people about their own life, work, and success.  Tell them your dreams and ask them what advice they’d offer, then really listen and try to take something from it.  Being an eager and grateful recipient of things that others enjoy giving is one of the best ways to achieve a positive balance in their account.

If you spend social capital before you’ve earned it, you probably will get ahead faster than your peers.  If you push and pester every new contact and drop business cards faster than Bernanke prints bank-notes, you will eventually get some interviews and make a little headway.  You’ll have the debt-fueled illusion of prosperity.  But you’ll owe so much to so many.  Your reputation, like a credit score, will scare away the prudent, who are those you’ll most need in the long run.  If you tap your Rolodex for social capital for every new pursuit, you’ll have nowhere to go when the really good idea comes along.  You’ll be a short term prodigy and a mid-long term failure.

Create a relational reserve.  See every person as another place to deposit some social cash, let it earn interest and be accessible when something really worthwhile pops up.  Ask yourself what you can do for people.  Don’t over-strategize how much help to offer based on how much you might value their help later.  It comes off as sketchy, and you’re probably not smart enough to figure out ahead of time who will generate the best return.  Keep a diverse portfolio, but deposit more where returns are consistent and solid over time.  Think about people that you would be eager to do a favor for, ask yourself what it is about them that earned your willingness, and emulate it.

If you spend your professional life building up social capital by being generally helpful, resourceful, reliable, and likable, you’ll soon have tremendous net social worth.  That pool of social capital can provide more knowledge, skill, counsel, connection, and even cash than any amount of paper money you could save.  There will come a time to withdraw and spend social capital.  There may even be a time to borrow some on credit, but you’ll need a good credit score and a down-payment in the very least.

Make it your goal to help people, listen to people, generate goodwill, and deposit a little more each day in your social bank accounts.  Someday soon, you’ll be glad you did.

Check out the Praxis blog for why social capital is more important than mentorship.

————————————–

Originally published June 14, 2013.

The College Dropout’s Guide to Getting a Job

Praxis intern Amber Grubenmann put together this great infographic on how to get a job without the need to purchase paper prestige.

And, of course, you can join Praxis and we’ll give you the job straight up!  We provide a three month professional bootcamp, help you build a personal website and populate it with projects that demonstrate your value, give you a paid apprenticeship at a startup, and at the end you walk away with a job offer.

Graphic

84 – You Can’t Teach Entrepreneurship (but You Can Squash it), from RP Radio

Kevin Geary (previous guest of this podcast) brings me on his Revolutionary Parent Radio to discuss raising kids who have entrepreneurial know-how.

You can’t teach entrepreneurship. Attempts to do so are silly. But, you can provide an environment that allows the entrepreneurial spark we all have to grow. School and authoritarian structures do just the opposite. The best thing is to first do no harm.  Get out of the way.  Remove the things that artificially increase the cost of failure, dampen curiosity and experimentation, and provide too-quick answers from experts to be memorized and regurgitated.

Even if your kid will never start a business, the traits being crushed through the conveyor belt mindset are the very traits needed to succeed at any form of employment in the near future.

Check out Kevin’s stuff at revolutionaryparent.com.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

83 – FwTK: Live in the Hive with a 20 Minute Rundown and What Grinds Our Gears

TK and I only had twenty minutes today so we ran down a few things that grind our gears, discussed the good side of being bad, why trying to be what you’re not is the greatest evil, why the NBA’s Eastern Conference is a big joke, why Thomas Hobbes is the root of all bad social theory, and more.

Recommended in the episode: Anarchy Unbound, Sex, Drugs, Einstein, and Elves.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Get an Apprentice at Your Business

"There is no try"
“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Over on the Praxis blog I list four areas in which apprenticeship has a big advantage over traditional talent identification and acquisition processes like resumes, internships, and entry level hires:

  • Expectations
  • Mindset
  • Flexibility
  • Insight

Check out the post and consider the ways adopting the apprenticeship model could help your business with one of the hardest and most important keys to success: talent.

Praxis can help!

82 – Passion Driven Education, with Connor Boyack

Connor Boyack is a busy man.  He speaks, he writes, he leads a think tank, and he’s an advocate for home education and self-directed learning.

His ninth book, Passion Driven Education, walks through the foundations of genuine learning. One of the core insights is that any learning environment you wouldn’t enjoy or find genuine interest in is not one you should impose on your kids.

Education should be based on letting children discover new passions through creativity and a resource and opportunity rich environment – same things that are chronically absent from mainstream education which deals with aggregates and not with individuals.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Don’t Do Stuff You Hate

don't do stuff you hate

A new book project is almost done!  I’m pretty excited about this one.

Don’t Do Stuff You Hate is not just the title and theme of this book, it’s the philosophy I have striven to live by for the past decade.

Mitchell Earl, someone who has made bold, risky decisions to removed hated stuff from his life, joins me in putting this collection together.  It’s a welcome relief for those who feel overwhelmed by the idea of “following your passion”, finding purpose, or carving out a calling.  Forget all that.  What makes you come alive might be unknown to you and it might not even exist yet.

Instead we argue that the best way to build a great life is to break down a bad one, piece by piece.  What obligations, activities, relationships, and mindsets are draining the sense of life from your daily experience?  How many things do you do that you don’t actually enjoy?  Stop doing those and the rest will come into focus.

The best part about this approach is the mystery.  It’s exciting to think that the best life is one you can’t yet imagine.  You won’t find it by trying to plot a perfect path to some defined point called “success”.  Remove the dross and be surprised every day by the cool stuff that emerges when you make space for it.

Thanks to Julia Patterson for the awesome cover design.

Get a free preview of the book and get updates as soon as it’s up in Kindle and paperback on Amazon.

81 – FwTK: Sweatshops, Parents, Podcasts, Biz Ideas, and Live Q&A

Today is another FwTK/Ask Isaac combo where we take questions submitted via the website and live questions from Facebook.

Covered in the episode: TK admits, “I’m angry at everybody”, we answer a few tough questions about choosing alternatives to college and dealing with skeptical parents, as well as how to build a network outside of school.  Plus an assortment of other great questions, including:

  • What ideas are we wrestling with?
  • What can a 12 year old do to earn money?
  • Should sweatshops be banned?
  • One-on-one basketball matchup predictions?
  • Should people who love liberty be more vocal about racial issues?
  • What podcasts do we listen to?
  • The WNBA?

Thanks to Vake, Tim, Morgan, Cameron (and Derek), Edward, Billy, Walter, Danny, Simon, and Don for questions.

Recommendations: The Most Dangerous Superstition, by Larken Rose, The State is Out of Date, by Gregory Sams, the brand spanking new discoverpraxis.com and the video there!

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Get Experience with an Apprenticeship Before You Consider More Costly Credentials

Over at the (newly redesigned!) Praxis blog I lay out five reasons an apprenticeship beats more classroom time chasing paper.

  1. A better context for learning
  2. A better signal of real ability
  3. Smaller downside
  4. Bigger upside
  5. More fun!

Check out the post, and browse the new Praxis website.  Including this cool new explainer video:

80 – On Public Schooling

The purpose and result of state supported and mandated schooling is a reduction in the supply of education.  More school = less learning.  That’s the whole point.

Education is too important to have the clumsy ham-fist of the state and its bureaucracy get involved.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Let Me Know What You Think of Our New Praxis Video

We’ve made some awesome updates to the Praxis program.

Professional bootcamp + paid startup apprenticeship = full time job. 

No debt. No degree required. Nine months. 

Check out the new video:

79 – FwTK: Why Haven’t You Auditioned for American Idol?

This Friday TK and I are taking a break from live discussion…but you still get to hear his ideas!  This episode is a chapter from the audiobook version of Why Haven’t You Read This Book?

The episode includes the book’s introduction as well as a chapter, read by Mitchell Earl, that tells TK’s story of throwing caution to the wind and traveling cross country to audition for American Idol.

Next week we’ll be back taking listener questions, so send them our way via isaacmorehouse.com, email, or social!

Enjoy, and download a free chapter of the audiobook at whyrtb.com.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

My Kid Learned More from Mario Maker than I Did from a Marketing Major

Mario Maker teaches marketing
Image courtesy my iPhone. Weird mustache courtesy Nintendo.

I’m not kidding.  I just watched my kid grasp basic marketing truths that took me years in the professional world to get. (I might be a bit daft, but that’s another story).

I didn’t end up graduating with a major in marketing, but it was my major for several semesters of useless university.  The only things I remember from those classes are the words “target market” with no real context.

That’s just it.  I needed a lived context.

So my son builds these levels on the WiiU game Mario Maker.  He’s posted some of his favorites to the network so others can play them and, if they like them, give them a star.  He checked in the other night only to find two of his favorite creations had been removed from the network because they did not get enough stars in a given time span.

Here comes the pain.  And the learning.

I watched him go through all the stages of grief.  “That can’t be right?!”…”How dare they!!”…”Maybe if I tweak it and change the name I can re-upload it?”…”It’s hopeless.  What’s the point of building levels”…and finally, after a long grieving process lasting almost minutes, acceptance.

Unaware of how enthralled I was with watching this unfold (because I pretended to still be reading) he repeated the entire situation to me, making a point to vent his frustration because of how hard he worked.

“The worst part is, that’s the level I worked on the longest and it was my favorite!  Some of my other levels are just silly and were easy to build, and they have more stars than this one.  I wonder why?”

Big Important Marketing Lesson #1: The labor theory is bunk

Karl Marx and a lot of other confused social scientists with bad beards (Adam Smith gets a pass on this one…no beard) like to claim that value is derived from the cost of production – the amount and difficulty of the labor that goes into it.  This is clearly false, and my son now knows it.

Even if you know this from a (rare) good economics teacher, you probably don’t really know it in your gut and know how to plan around it until you’ve experienced it.  Some of my favorite, most labor intensive blog posts get no love, while some silly Haiku I tap into my phone in a few seconds might get…well, a little more love at least (I guess my example isn’t that dramatic after all, since my readership isn’t that huge…Hi mom!).

This is an important lesson.  Sure, content is king.  Yes, build a better mousetrap.  The problem is that what you think great content and better mousetraps look like mightn’t be the same as what customers think.

There are two potential solutions: the product solution and the marketing solution (best used in tandem).  The product solution is to learn from what people do like and make products more like that.  The marketing solution is to learn what feelings people want to experience when using your product and do a better job of attaching those feelings to it, finding the niche of people who will “get it”, and getting the word out to them.

My son, a very stubborn and independent creative type not keen on compromising his design, immediately went with the marketing solution.

Big Important Marketing Lesson #2: 1,000 true fans, social proof, list building…

This is really a lot of lessons piled into one, but it all happened so fast it was like a single epiphany for my son.  It took me a long time to understand the value of building a “tribe” of loyal fans or customers (Hi mom!).  It took me a long time to see the value of capturing leads, doing personal one-on-one outreach to influencers and early adopters, and touting the real stories of happy customers to help draw in the more risk-averse with social proof.

My son had the epiphany less than ten minutes after his teary explosions during the second and fourth stages of grief.  Here’s how it went down.

He jumped onto some sort of chatroom type thing in the game and posted a question asking if anyone else had been frustrated by having a level removed for too few stars.  In minutes he was conversing with three or four others.  He checked out their profiles and levels.  He followed them.  They followed him.  Then they somehow came up with an agreement.  They would give each other the name of their newest levels and all play each others and give them a star, ensuring three quick stars, pushing it nearer the top of the newly added levels, raising the profile and keeping it from getting removed.

It was late and I was going to bed.  He doesn’t like to be the last one up, so he begged me to wait a few minutes while he dutifully played and starred some of their levels.  He double checked and verified that his new coalition had done the same for him.

Damn.

He went out and talked with people, built a tribe around a shared frustration, collaborated to find a solution, and engaged in what MBA douchebags might call “synergistic strategic partnerships” (I don’t know if MBA’s would actually say that, but I imagine they would and this is my article).  He added them to his followers so that there could be accountability, followup, and future collaboration.

As a dad one of my solemn duties is to always think my kid too quickly plays the victim and doesn’t take things into his own hands.  It’s the kind of self-righteous worry a parent feels entitled to.  Except this time he robbed me of the opportunity to start waxing about how in my day we had to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and mustached plumbers didn’t get any stars from anybody.

After a brief moment of feeling a victim of the system and being angry with idiot consumers who don’t appreciate good product, he saw his frustration as an opportunity.  Surely someone else felt the same?  Surely there was a way to work around it?  And he did.

He realized that intentions don’t matter, value creation does.  But value creation is not just in the product, but the feeling people have about it, the reasons they have to care, the connection you build with them.  Now even before building a level he preps his loyal allies to reduce the risk and boost the ratings when it is released to the network.  This is what authors do with their emails lists (sign up for mine here, I have another book coming out and you can be one of the early reviewers…you too mom!).

Teachers Aren’t Very Good Teachers

My kid isn’t some kind of special genius.  The world we live in is the most resource, information, and opportunity rich in human history.  If kids freely engage the world and follow their curiosity and intrinsic goals they will encounter a more diverse range of ideas and experiences than we can imagine.  When I try to directly teach my kids this stuff they scoff or sigh or roll their eyes or play dead hoping I’ll go for help so they can finally escape my words of wisdom.

In fact, unless we actively work to suppress it our kids urge to learn, experiment, innovate, create, and adapt will blossom.  That suppression often takes well-meaning forms like direct, mandated instruction from adult “experts” who know almost nothing about Mario Maker or other contexts kids actually care about.  It takes the form of classrooms and textbooks and tests and pressure to careerify interests.  It takes the form of parental worry that if their kid doesn’t learn the same bunch of arbitrary, mostly useless facts they were forced to memorize at the same age they did everything will fall apart and society will crumble.

Relax.  Your kid is going to be fine.  Even if they play a lot of video games.

…………………………………………………………….

Here are a few other examples of learning by doing from my own life:

Why LEGO is more valuable than algebra

How my son learned to read when we stopped trying to teach him

78 – Doublethink Jointasode with Jeff Till

Entrepreneur, podcaster, free thinker and good friend Jeff Till joins me to expand on a Facebook post about “doublespeak” or “doublethink” where a policy idea is mistaken for (or purposefully replaced by) a more genuine objective or desire. Here we talk myths about school, the law, the military, welfare, and regulation.

We do a mish-mash of both of our podcasts – even the intro music!  Huge thanks to Jeff for his sleek editing and adding some relevant and fun sound clips.

The post the episode is based on:

Just about every argument for school is actually an argument for the value of education that proves nothing about the value of school.

Just about every argument for law is actually an argument for the value of order that proves nothing about the value of law.

Just about every argument for welfare is actually an argument for the value of compassion that proves nothing about the value of welfare.

Just about every argument for the military is actually an argument for the value of security that proves nothing about the value of the military.

Just about every argument for regulation is actually an argument for the value of safety that proves nothing about the value of regulation.

Doublespeak is alive and well. Those who succeed in making the name of their pet policy linguistically interchangeable with a basic universal value always get to play offense.

This and all episodes are also available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

The More You Risk the More You Learn?

Here’s a relationship I’m exploring right now:

The amount you learn is proportionate to the amount you risk.

I’m not sure if it’s universally valid.  There are probably exceptions.  Still, the more I think about it the more I like it.

It’s important to note that “risk” is subjective.  An increase in risk is an increase in the probability and/or magnitude of a result that forces you to do something you’d prefer not to.  Risk can be material, emotional, physical, or psychological.

If you work for an established, large corporation you will learn things.  If you work for an early stage startup you will learn more things.  If you start your own company you will learn even more.  Each stage ratchets up the risk, in this case financial and social (status loss in event of failure), and the learning goes with it.

Physical risk seems to follow the same pattern.  To learn new moves on the court or field you have to be willing to try them.  Each new move has an increased risk of failure or even injury.  Adventure athletes can probably attest to this at the most extreme, where loss of life is a legitimate risk the physical and mental knowledge gained is likely tremendous.

Even in pure intellectual pursuits I expect this is true.  Sitting and reading or contemplating seems an inherently riskless activity but it’s not.  What you can learn is limited by what you explore, what questions you’re willing to ask, and how far you’re willing to go for answers.  If you safely examine comfortable, socially acceptable ideas you may learn a few things.  But the real learning comes when you push yourself and explore things with potentially risky ramifications.  If your beliefs were to change how uncomfortable would it make you?

This doesn’t mean intellectual risk taking is simply reading people diametrically opposed to your own views.  This is one of the least risky things to do.  More likely it involves reading someone reasonable with a number of foundational beliefs in common but with some unexpected angle or paradigm you’ve never considered.  Imagine a knowledgeable libertarian, for example, reading a radical socialist.  Not very risky.  It’s easy to predict what will be argued and responses are already at hand.  It’s riskier for a libertarian to read an anarchist who builds on the same foundation but extends the ideas into more radical territory – territory that might make one seem “impractical” at cocktail parties.

So what does it mean if the more you risk the more you learn?

The conclusion shouldn’t be that more risk is inherently good.  We all love the word “learning” but there is nothing inherently good about learning either.  Don’t necessarily feel guilt for not risking and therefore learning more.  There are plenty of instances where reducing risk, and therefore learning, is the better path.  I’m sure if I played chicken with an oncoming car I’d learn a lot about myself that couldn’t be learned any other way.  Doesn’t mean I should do it.  I’m not sure knowledge helps if you’re dead (then again, how can I know without trying…)

But I think there are some valuable implications to the risk/learning relationship.  If you know your own goals and are honest about them it can help you make decisions.  If you place a tremendously high value on learning something in particular you might consider higher risk situations that will impart a higher level of knowledge.

This is related but (I think) a little bit different than Nassim Taleb’s powerful concept of “skin in the game“.  Skin in the game is about getting more value out of the decisions you do make by being more invested in the outcome, whereas the risk/learning relationship is perhaps slightly broader and has implications for the kind of decisions you make in the first place.

77 – Slayback to the Future: Technology, Progress, Culture, and Universal Basic Indignity

Praxis colleague, aviation buff, and all around interesting guy Zak Slayback comes back to the show to talk about the future, technology, progress, work, universal basic income, and much more.

We discuss whether there is a “digital divide” between urban and rural populations, whether that has significance culturally or politically, the rate of technological change, how self-driving cars might disrupt the aviation industry, and whether a future of greater wealth and robots means income should be forcibly redistributed (hint: no).

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

The Ever Moving Goalposts of Arguments for College

 

You have to go to college to get a good job and make money

Actually, college grads have an average of $35,000 in debt and 60% of them have no job or jobs that don’t require degrees.  Those silly earnings statistics have the causation backwards.

 

But you still need to learn skills for the real world!

Actually, employers report that college grads are completely unprepared for what’s needed in the real world.  You can learn all the skills you need better, faster, and cheaper through an apprenticeship.  College tends to foster all the worst skills; the type that make humans dull rule followers, easily replaceable by machines.

 

You can’t be so one-dimensional and materialistic.  The liberal arts are important to becoming well rounded person.

Precisely why you shouldn’t go to college.  Student knowledge of liberal arts is the same when they exit as when they enter school, and none of them like going to class anyway.  Anyone who is interested can read books and articles or take classes for free or incredibly cheap and get a far better liberal arts education.

 

It’s not about the knowledge, it’s about the network!

College networks are incredibly limited and uniform.  Anyone can build a rich, diverse network through work, travel, social clubs, or any number of ways that don’t cost six figures or take five years.

 

It’s not about the specific job, skills, knowledge, or network, it’s about the glories of the unique campus environment, the parties, the football, the four year escape to live and grow up!

Anyone can move to a college town and have all that and more without ever paying tuition or registering for classes.

 

Employers still need a degree as a signal of hireablility!

Actually, fewer and fewer require it and even those that do care far more about things that actually signal value creation.  A degree is one of the weakest signals on the market and the most expensive.  There are more ways than ever to get great jobs and stand out without wasted time or wasted dime.

 

Some jobs have mandated legal requirements for a degree!

Yes.  Yes they do.  And they shouldn’t.  Of course, many of those jobs are “prestige” careers that students don’t actually enjoy but feel like their parents need them to pursue like law or medicine.  Even there, opportunity to innovate and work in those industries as an entrepreneur without the costly credential exist and are growing rapidly.

 

But old people and parents might look down on you if you don’t do it!

Yep.  They look down on just about everything young people enjoy, create, and do well.  They’ll adjust.

Whether People are Good or Bad…

I posted a quote by C.S. Lewis to Facebook about decentralized power being valuable not because everyone is so good they should have some, but because humans are imperfect and no one should have a lot.

An interesting discussion ensued in the comments.  It’s easy to misunderstand what I take to be the core insight of the quote; that freedom doesn’t depend on the moral goodness of people.

Here’s my own take:

Markets and freedom work and benefit all whether people are good or bad.

Government control, on the other hand, is unnecessary if people are good and deadly if people are not.

Whatever your views on the goodness or badness of human nature, government is an unnecessary evil.

I happen to think people are self-interested, which is neither good nor bad.  When you try to force them to be good, they become worse.  When you let them freely pursue their own self interest, they become better.