Why I Love Las Vegas

I don’t play slots or gamble outside of house card games with a few buddies.  I don’t really enjoy the nightlife party and drinking scene.  I don’t do strip clubs.  I’m not a fan of musicals and shows.  Yet I love Vegas.

The first time I visited Las Vegas for a conference I was blown away by how much I loved the atmosphere.  Yes, it’s cheesy and ridiculous and lewd and in your face.  But it has in extreme measure that thing you find more in most American cities than just about any country in the world: customer service.  America has a deep and strong culture of entrepreneurship, hard work, and (partially) free-markets.  This results in a relentless drive and competition to please customers.  “The customer is always right” is a powerful adage that drives business, whether the owners like it or not.

Ludwig von Mises described the situation of producers in a capitalist economy well:

“Descriptive terms which people use are often quite misleading. In talking about modern captains of industry and leaders of big business, for instance, they call a man a “chocolate king” or a “cotton king” or an “automobile king.” Their use of such terminology implies that they see practically no difference between the modern heads of industry and those feudal kings, dukes or lords of earlier days. But the difference is in fact very great, for a chocolate king does not rule at all; he serves. He does not reign over conquered territory, independent of the market, independent of his customers. The chocolate king — or the steel king or the automobile king or any other king of modern industry — depends on the industry he operates and on the customers he serves. This “king” must stay in the good graces of his subjects, the consumers; he loses his “kingdom” as soon as he is no longer in a position to give his customers better service and provide it at lower cost than others with whom he must compete.”

In other words, the customer is not only right, the customer is king.  The businesses are the subjects, always vying the for approval and happiness of their Kings and Queens.  The truth, of course, is that the producers are also themselves consumers.  Those who work in the hotel, or mall, or diner, or factory are also consumers who patronize businesses.  We’re all serving each other.

In the case of Vegas, the notion of customer service reaches new heights.  It borders on customer worship.  From the minute you step out of the concourse your eyes are dazzled with light, sound, and a flurry of activity intended to delight and amaze.  Every square inch of the famous strip is covered with people and signs and sights begging to make you happy.  The chubby middle-aged guy from the Midwest wearing a cheap Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirt is courted and complimented by beauty and talent all around.  The question that seems to be always on the mind of the businesses there is, “What can we do to make you happy?  How can we exhilarate you?”

You may call it tacky, but there are few places in the world where the commonest of people are treated like royalty 24/7.  There is something magical about it.  That’s what I love about Vegas.

5 Signs You Might Be Too Good for College

From the Praxis blog.

There is a common myth that only Steve Jobs-like geniuses and cheese puff eating flunkies should opt out of college.  For college to be a poor fit, you’ve either gotta be sitting on the next billion dollar startup idea or sitting on your mom’s couch.  This is nonsense.  There is a large and growing group of smart, hard-working young people who are way too good for the rigmarole and time-wasting conformity of even elite colleges.  I’ve met lots of them.

These are what I call “blue collar entrepreneurs”.  They’re quick, curious, eager, and in-touch with their core values and goals.  They want to learn about themselves and the world and won’t wait for permission.  These are the people for whom college is the biggest waste.

The mediocre, the minimum acceptable regurgitators, and the mildly enthusiastic are those who get the most value from college.  After all, their degree signals that they are about as good as all the other degree holders; average.  But the most ambitious young people gain little from such a signal.  In fact, a degree that lumps them in with all other degree holders undersells them.  They’re too good for college, and they have the power to send a much more valuable signal outside of the one-size-fits-all system.  They can create a better credential than the off-the-shelf version that takes four years and six figures.

“There’s no question that increased formal credentials can give you an advantage. The question is, is it the best advantage you can buy with the amount of money and time you’re going to spend?” –Michael Ellsberg

How to know if you’re too good for college?  Here are five signs to look for…

1) Your classmates frighten you.

You look around the classroom and it dawns on you: these people will walk out of here with the same credential as you.  All this time and money just to buy a degree that says, “Hey, I’m at least as good as the snoring sleeper next to me in Psych 101″.  Not only that, but your future accountant, doctor, marketing director, or editor might be sitting in that classroom.  You read the essay they turned in last week.  It wasn’t pretty.  If it’s clear this education isn’t preparing them for the world and the thought of them living and working as adults gives you a start, you might consider separating yourself from the crowd.

2) You feel a little annoyed being treated like a burden instead of a customer.

You might begin to feel most of your professors don’t see you as a customer, but a hindrance they’d like to get out of the way with minimal interaction and deviation.  Sure, there are always some good profs, but how many of them act annoyed at a teaching load of a few classes per semester, or give minimal and inconvenient office hours, or don’t seem to care if their lectures are boring, or get angry when you challenge their ideology or assumptions, or shame students on Facebook for asking questions about the syllabus?  You’re the customer and are right to wish to be treated as such.  You can always take your business and walk.

3) You learned more about how government functions from watching ‘The Wire’ than an entire year of political science classes.

The cat’s out of the bag.  Pandora’s box is open.  Whatever metaphor you use, the university is not the font of wisdom it once was.  Books have always been there for the curious, but with online courses, podcasts, audiobooks, eBooks, streaming videos, and social networks, you might find yourself eagerly consuming information relevant to you everywhere but the classroom.  The learning method at universities is older than the wheel, and it’s a crap-shoot whether you’ll get a decent teacher.  If you get your learn on outside of the graded conveyor belt already, why keep taxing yourself with class?

4) Your degree is the least impressive part of your resume.

If you’ve already done a lot of things, or you’re capable of doing a lot of things, that are rarer and more interesting than getting a BA, why get one?  If you’ve started a business, worked for a year or longer at a good company, traveled the world on your own steam and your own dime, built a website, written some articles, sold products, learned a foreign or programming language, or any number of interesting things, those will be more valuable on your resume and in building your network and reputation than a generic degree.  Ask yourself what you’d want an employee to bring to the table if you owned a business.  Can you get those things right now, without school?

5) You’re happy when class is cancelled.

What an odd thing that students pay up front for a university education and then get excited when the service is not provided.  What other product is treated this way?  If classes are a distraction from running student clubs or newspapers, working, blogging, hobbies, startups, or other things that make you come alive, why not get it out of the way?  The idea of a degree as a fallback is pretty weak.  It’s not going to magically lift you out of poverty or aimlessness.  You’ve got to do that yourself.  Why not start now with all your energy and not have nagging classes and exams hanging over your head?

If you see yourself in these signs, you might be too good for college.  Jump off the conveyor belt and create your own path.  Fortune favors the bold, so break free.

If you know you’re worth more than college but you’re not quite sure how to plot your own path and discover what makes you come alive, we can help.  That’s what Praxis was created for. Contact us or Apply today!

Screenless Retreat

I’m joining the rest of the Praxis team this week for a three-day screenless retreat.  We’re spending tomorrow through Friday at a friend’s beach house in North Carolina without laptops, tablets, TV’s, or smartphones (except for emergencies).  I’ll have some books, an old fashioned pen and pad, and good company in a beautiful setting.

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time, and I thought, what better way for the team to get some time together?  We’re spread out across the country and we all travel a lot, so when we’re in one place it’s usually for a work-related event or Praxis seminar where we’ve got a lot going.  We have a very anti-meeting culture and we all work on our own schedule, so even though we are in constant communication, we don’t get much time to just be together and let ideas flow.  Rather than a work-related retreat where we do some kind of brainstorming or team building or structured activity with specific goals, I wanted to just force us all to shut down reaction mode and take some time to contemplate or just relax.

To be honest, it’s going to be hard.  Just in preparing I’ve realized how much harder it will be than I thought.  The pre-scheduled blog posts (which will continue every day, per my commitment), the handling of communications and social media, and all the tasks to check off the list before going off the grid are a good reminder that I probably live a little too close to the moment.  My goal is to always have space for opportunities and activities and ideas that spring up unexpectedly, and if the daily work-flow is too high, that won’t happen.

I’m sure I’ll have some stuff to write about after our time away.  If I can remember it without my digital devices!

(We have a few amazing interns who will be monitoring the Praxis accounts and communications, so if you see us active on the web, just know we’re not cheating.)

Episode 8: Jeff Tucker on Being Personable, Productive, and Playful

International Man of Mystery Jeff Tucker joins me to discuss his approach to life, and how he manages to say ‘yes’ to everything and still consistently produce good work.  Jeff writes 1,500 words every day, and it’s always good stuff.  He is the author of three books, and he speaks regularly around the globe on human liberty, cryptocurrency, virtual communities, economics, philosophy, and more.

My favorite thing about Jeff is that he always seems in good spirits.  Always.  He and I share incredibly similar opinions and outlooks, yet he’s the complete opposite of me in many of his habits and processes.  Conversations like this one always remind me how important it is to find your own rhythm and method.

You can read Jeff daily on his Liberty.me site: tucker.liberty.me.

As always, this and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

Rules Make the Exceptions More Valuable

I shared recently several rules I have for myself that increase my productivity and happiness.  I was discussing these and other rules with my brother, and we both concluded that, despite the value of our rules, some of the most valuable times are actually when we break them.  This is especially the case with time-management and schedule rules.

I try to get 8 hours of sleep every night because I function better.  Yet some of the best flow states are induced when I’m up until the wee hours cranking away on a creativity binge fueled with caffeine.  If I did this often, I’d be terrible.  But it’s so valuable when employed as a rare exception.

This is one of the other benefits of rules.  Keeping to them gives you space to kick it up to “11” when you need it.  Try going without coffee for several weeks, then when you really need to dial-in have some.  You’ll find the boost from a single cup to be amazing in the clutch when you limit your intake on normal days.

Make rules if for no other reason than the value it adds to breaking them.

On Feedback and Data Gathering

Expressing an opinion is free.  Everyone will tell you they think your idea is good.  That’s not the same as giving up something to read it or listen to it or purchase it.  Focus groups, surveys, polls, and research can’t tell you as much as putting a product or idea out into the world.  In a marketplace where people have to trade-off other opportunities to take advantage of what you’ve made, you’ll learn more about its value than any test-case or lab experiment.

It doesn’t mean you can’t gather some facts or be informed.  But it’s more important to have a sound theory, and a clear bet on what gap you’re filling or value you’re creating than it is to have a lot of cost-less expressions from disinterested parties of whether or not they imagine it will be valuable.

Do it if it’s valuable to you and if you believe in your unique vision.  Do it if the process of answering the question, “Is this a good idea?” is exciting in and of itself.  Do it if you’re willing to fail to get the answer.

The Biggest Problems are the Biggest Opportunities

In their book Bold: How to Go Big, Achieve Success, and Impact the World, Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler talk about the fact that the biggest problems in the world are also the biggest opportunities.  Higher education is no exception.

We are by now well acquainted with the myriad problems with the traditional higher ed conveyor belt system.  Student debt is reaching astronomical levels, institutions have become little more than degree mills spitting out graduates unequipped for the world, students are bored and restless, employers aren’t finding skilled workers, and nobody’s happy.  This is a big problem, and therefore a big opportunity.

It’s not only an opportunity for entrepreneurs to create new education models like Praxis, Minerva, Gap-Year, Enstitute, and others; it’s also an opportunity for you as an individual.  You can capitalize on the problem by creating your own path.  The degree is declining in value and the classroom is fast becoming one of the weakest ways to gain relevant information, skill, confidence, network, and knowledge.  This is an opportunity for you to gain a first-mover advantage and step out of the classroom and into the world.

Those who can boldly say, “I opted-out of the stagnant status quo to create my own path”, and demonstrate the value they can produce will have a tremendous advantage over the throngs of young people hoping that BA on their resume will get them an interview.

Praxis is Democratizing the Degree

Above all a college degree is a signal.  People buy one to signal to the world – their parents, peers, employers, investors, co-workers – that they are a valuable, smart, skilled person worth working with.  Yet the signalling power of the degree has been dropping fast.  Ask any employer and they’ll tell you they have less and less trust in a degree to accurately signal a high-performing, value-creating person.  They prefer experience and demonstrated proof of knowledge, but instead they are asked to simply trust a credential that’s supposed to verify knowledge and skill they can’t see for themselves.  The whole system is based on trust, which is why it’s so vulnerable and ripe for innovation.

Why is Bitcoin a breakthrough? Because unlike all other methods of payment, it’s a trustless system. You don’t need to simply believe people and institutions, you can have demonstrated proof. It’s s platform for open, peer-to-peer verification.

That’s what we’re doing for credentialing at Praxis. The closed door, black box model asks everyone to trust universities and professors to accurately reflect knowledge and skill through tests, grades, and degrees, yet no one gets to actually see the process.  We’re opening it up to the world.  It doesn’t matter what your professor or institution thinks, it matters what the people who actually want to work with you think.  Let’s let them in.  Let’s let them give the grades.  Let’s decentralize this thing.

We’re not trying to create new and better credential gatekeepers. We’re tearing off the gates.  I describe what we’re doing and why in a bit more detail below.

You can also read and watch more about what we’re doing here.

It’s Not About GDP

I’ve been thinking lately about GDP, and common ideas of economic progress more generally.

I just attended an event about the causes of and cures for poverty in the poorest countries.  So much of the discussion utilized comparisons between countries based on measures of GDP, GDP growth, and the like.  The more I thought about it, the less sense this made.  Not that GDP doesn’t decently correlate to overall wealth, opportunity, and progress – it does – but that it does less and less as technology and markets change.  GDP charts would fail to show, for example, the tremendous progress made in many poor countries by the fact that nearly everyone now has access to cell phones.  In fact, GDP does a bad job at measuring the progress of information/communication/data in general.

Consider MOOC’s and the abundance of free online learning.  Since the education industry is a chunk of GDP, putting it all out there for free can actually bring GDP numbers down, even as human well-being and human capital increase.

Think about other areas of misleading measures.  What you can do with a computer or smart phone in terms of sending data across the globe means fewer freight ships, the things easily measured in GDP calculations, but not less progress and opportunity.

Automation, information technology, decentralized networks, open-source…these make the world better and increase human flourishing, though they don’t do much for old-school metrics like employment and GDP.  Being listed as on the payroll of a company doesn’t always equal being better off (depending upon what else you might be doing of course), and having a larger number of physical objects to count doesn’t either.

For this reason, I don’t take much stock in those who lament slowed economic growth and fear it will bring an end to the complex market systems in countries like the US.  We used to consider farming the only thing that really mattered for economic well-being.  Then manufacturing.  As machines can do more of both of these, we humans can be redeployed in myriad ways previously unimagined.  Think about all the micro entrepreneurship going on today.  Think of crowdfunding for one-off projects.  I know authors who probably aren’t technically “employed” most of the time, if at all, and don’t produce GDP enhancing widgets, but they live wonderful lives by pitching book ideas on kickstarter, raising the money, travelling the world, doing the writing, and selling ebooks.  They may make aggregate data appear we’re economically worse off, but they’d rather not trade their life for one hoeing rows or assembling buggies.

The fact that no one quite knows how to calculate the value of the internet and other information age technologies probably causes us all to underestimate just how well-off we are today, and how bright the future is.  It’s the perfect time to seize the opportunity and do something new.  Carpe diem.

Escape

When was the last time you escaped?  I mean fully escaped into a wonder-inducing, awe-inspiring landscape, or sci-fi, or song?

Humans are meant to escape.  We are driven by the impulse to escape.  It’s what led us to multiply, fill the earth and attempt to subdue it.  It’s what drives us to space travel and interplanetary colonization.  It’s what allowed us to discover mind-altering substances and rituals.  It is not the avoidance of living, it is living.

We all have a deep longing for escape.  Escape is a kind of homecoming.  We all feel slightly out of place; we all have an urge to return home, whatever that might mean.  It is the drive to do this which lies at the back of all of our other impulses.  It’s a beautiful motivation.  It is making peace with life and death.  It is seeing beyond time and space.

I do not mean escape motivated by fear.  That is hiding.  I mean adventure motivated by the desire to escape in and of itself.  Escape requires boldness, persistence, vision, and integrity.  It is not cowardice but courage.

What are you escaping into?  What are you enraptured by?  Do you have the courage to follow it?  Your point of origin is not your destination.  Living is escaping.

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