The Inner Game of Startups Issue #7

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Bojangles vs. Bureaucracy

I swung into Bojangles this morning for a box of hot chicken and biscuits.

When I realized the meal I ordered didn't come with quite enough for everyone, I went back to buy a few extra biscuits. The woman at the counter waved my credit card off and said, "I got you honey", and added a few biscuits free of charge.

The error was mine, but she easily and gladly bore the cost and made sure I was happy.

I'm also dealing with the SC dept of revenue this week. Some clerical error has them believing that all of the 2017 revenue for Praxis was to me personally, and that I owe unpaid taxes on it. I can show them articles of incorporation, bank documents, and every other proof that it was company income which was taxed and reported already, but since some form two years ago had improperly been tied to me, they can't just fix it. It's still unclear whether the mistake was on me, them, or Intuit Quickbooks. But even though the rep there knows it's not correct, she's powerless. I can show her stuff but she can't undo the paperwork. I could offer her money to fix it and she still couldn't.

Unlike the Bojangles employee, the woman working for the bureaucracy has no agency. She has no ability to read the situation, adjust, and do the simple thing that gets the spirit of the law right despite errors in the letter.

This is what drives people to madness when dealing with bureaucracy. They aren't dealing with humans or common sense or decency or logic.

Bojangles is better than the government. Why? Competition. Voluntary entry and exit. The need to win customer dollars instead of take them with armed agents.

That's it. All the other stuff emerges out of that ugly fact.

Bojangles doesn't throw you in a cage if you don't buy their product. Government does.

Kids Aren’t Stupid

A bunch of people are clamoring to ban vaping, ostensibly because young people are doing it and it's bad for their health.

Young people aren't stupid. They know it's not good for their health. Neither are sugar, caffeine, alcohol, sitting around all day, or school. Driving a car dramatically increases chance of death or injury. They know all this too. And, just like all humans, they choose a level of risk they are comfortable with.

If you ban one form of risk, they'll make it up with another. People tend toward their acceptable risk level. See the Peltzman Effect.

I tend to think kids do things like sneak off to smoke or vape or drink alcohol in part because they have so little freedom. They are force-fed through a prison-like school system their entire lives. Even using the bathroom freely is prohibited. So they look for ways to flex their freedom. When productive ways aren't on the table - say skipping school to create YouTube videos - they go to the more dangerous or destructive stuff. In fact, the more self-proclaimed authorities tell them something is bad, the more attractive it becomes as a form of maintaining and expressing some small sliver of freedom and rebellion.

I'm particularly surprised by the concern over vaping. Kids mostly do it out in the open. Its negative effects seem fairly mild compared to most risky youth activities. When it's banned, it gets pushed to the shadows, where other shadowy stuff is also going on. This is not a preferable situation if your concern is for kids well-being.

Kids aren't stupid. Your busybody efforts to control them are.

Make Something Real

There's a lot of phony bullshit out there.

Don't underestimate it. You can get a lot of dopamine from building a brand on bullshit social media posts, articles, and PR. You can get fans, followers, and invites to podcasts and conferences where bullshit is the main fare.

But you might become shackled to the shit. You might become a slave to the craving for more hits of social status crack that come from endless bullshit peddling. A caffeine or cocaine high might feel great for a bit, but it's a losing battle. Over a longer period of time, it can't hold a candle to a solid, healthy diet of real nutrients. It hollows you out inside.

At some point, everyone with any modicum of public success must make a break. You get a choice: surrender to the siren song of bullshit, double down on phony branding for endless attention while it boils your innards into jelly, or say screw this shit, it's a little fun, a little stupid, and a lot irrelevant to building something real.

Hating it, or shaping your identity around rejection of bullshit is another form of slavery to it. Transcending it means not being threatened by the bullshit game or lured into full immersion in it.

The best way to do this is to stop looking at the bullshit stream and turn your attention to something you want to build that is independent of it. Something you can build whether or not anyone notices. Something that can win or lose whether or not the bullshit peddlers like or dislike you.

It's the only way to be real in a world of shadows.

Just Sling Some Deals

When there is sand in the gears and things don't seem to be flying smoothly uphill, the best thing to do is sell.

Just get some deals done. Any kind. Making $1 from a customer is better than messing around with ten things that don't make money. Getting a deal done is like daily blogging. It just builds on itself. Winning begets winning. Selling begets selling.

Go close something!

Old Man Basketball Haiku

The crossover move

Is still an ankle breaker

Now my own ankles

Straightforward Communication

The world is wild and zany these days.

Everyone is bombastic. The brands of public figures are extreme and do stuff that would once have seemed shocking. We've learned the rules of the internet and social platforms like Twitter and taken them near their logical ends.

When the three point line was introduced to the NBA, it took several decades for old talent and coaching to master the full implications of the rule change and take the game to its current state, the logical conclusion of spots on the court worth 50% more than others.

People master the incentive structures they're in. But it takes time and sometimes generation shift.

Now that we're fully exploiting the incentive structure of social media, we get what we've got.

Hot takes. Trolling. Subterfuge. Memes. Weird causes. Signaling. Outrage. Counter-outrage.

Every crazy sounding thing can be played as a subtle form of strategy, or a secret code for followers at the expense of noobs.

I don't find this good or bad. But I do find it a bit boring.

What was novel and wild is now kind of tiring. Everyone sounds the same to me now. And they sound the same while not really saying anything. Or at least not anything interesting. They are shouting and flashing big neon lights but my senses are adapted to a noisy, bright environment.

It feels like a lot of pretend ideas, pretend concern, and scripted formats for communicating them for maximum punch. Which ends up having the reverse effect.

Maybe this is one of those "medium is the message" things, but I don't think it likely. I think the message feels lost in the medium. I'm hungry for interesting messages, not just mastered mediums.

I'm not sure exactly what a less boring stream of discourse and idea would look like. I only know that I'm getting more bored by what's considered controversial or provocative. Supposedly polarized people all sound the same to me.

Isaac Morehouse

Isaac Morehouse is the CEO of Crash, the career launch platform, and the founder of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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Opportunity is Everywhere, but not Always Legible

There is so much opportunity all over the world.

Whatever you do, whatever skills you have, there is a place where it's valued more than you realize. The problem is those opportunities aren't always legible. They exist outside your sphere of information, or they exist in a form you don't currently recognize, or both.

I think it was Chesterton who said, "The world is not wanting for wonders, but for wonder." (Paraphrasing) It's a mindset shift within the individual, not a change in the world at large. Likewise, the world is not wanting for opportunities, but eyes to see them.

It's a lot of work to untangle the mess of information and see opportunity in the patterns. It takes time to improve the skill. The best way is to start treating everything as if you had to find an opportunity in it. What would you do? How would you? This leads you on a question quest that trains your brain to get better and seeing opportunities the way Neo saw code in the Matrix once his eyes were open.

Introduce Some Chaos

I'm very type A.

My inbox is always at zero, my tasks lists are neat and consolidated. I'm great at saying no and removing clutter. I get things done very fast.

But there's a downside. I can clear stuff off my plate so often and so quickly that I run a bit dry on ideas and eurekas. I'm so minimalist that sometimes I lack a sufficient stream of new ideas and information to have energy for progress. Sometimes my life lacks sufficient chaos to generate creativity.

When that happens, I have to get a little more reckless. I have to say yes to more stuff, let my inbox get a little crazier, ignore tasks for a while, start multiple things at once, open more tabs, and generally inject chaos and disorder into my work.

It's very hard for me to do. But I know when I need to. I need more raw material, more scrambling, more time-pressure, less clarity and quiet and simplicity. I need more signals, but the only way to get them is to open my receptors to a lot more noise as well.

Hidden Yardage

I'm one of those people who gets mad at stat worship in sports. I believe what my eyes tell me way more than stats.

Greatness is a mental state, and a way of responding to specific situations when responding any other way could've sent things in a terrible direction. You can see moments in games where players make great plays that change the game more than anything else but don't show up in any stats.

One of my favorite examples is "hidden yardage" in football. When a play is blown and a running back is about to be tackled for an 8 yard loss, but instead they break a few tackles and make it a one yard loss, that's 7 hidden yards. It goes down as -1 on the stat sheet, but it might have been both the most difficult and most important yardage of the game. It might be the difference between field goal range and not, or go for it on fourth down or punt. It might just be an emotional gain that takes the fire out of a defense ready to erupt after a major tackle for loss. Games turn on these things.

Some players are quietly amazing in the hidden yardage department. Whether or not they make big stats, they rack up hidden yards where and when it counts most for their team. They turn a huge loss into a forgettable one. Or they take a knee five yards early to stay in bounds and keep the clock running, or go out five yards early to make it stop. Or maybe they turn a blown coverage into a pass interference penalty, preventing a touchdown. All of these show nothing or negative on stat sheets. All of them are regulars for great players.

Visible success gets all the credit, but avoiding invisible failures is just as important.

Close Call Haiku

Almost forgot post

Depressed by Detroit Lions

No solace in blog

The Weather Channel is the Pinnacle of Journalism

I was sitting in a coffee shop the other day and the Weather Channel was on for some reason. I don't imagine the coffee shop crowd overlaps much with the Weather Channel crowd, but it was on.

In the corner of the screen as it cut to a commercial I noticed it said "The most trusted news network in America."

Not "weather network" but news network.

I mean, isn't that kind of unfair?

How much trust does it take to tell me it's raining on my head when I step out into the rain?

Imagine the All Day Gravity Network bragging about being the most trusted source of news. "Every day we provide hard hitting and accurate journalism pointing out the fact that heavier than air objects fall toward the earth."

And yet...

Somehow, despite the odds, the Weather Channel manages to be untrustworthy. It's quite an incredible story of overcoming the odds. The power of professional journalism is so great and so resilient that it manages to break trust even when the only job is to tell me what a radar shows. This is really something!

I live in a hurricane area. Every fall, the Weather Channel manages to show me the radar while at the same time telling me stuff completely at odds with it. "Here you can see this dying tropical storm 500 miles off the coast of nowhere with 20MPH winds doing nothing. In other words, board up your house because you will probably die."

I think the Weather Channel should win every award in journalism. They have the hardest job. True professional journalism is all about creating narratives that ensure people are appropriately misinformed about the world. That's not too hard when you're reporting on some skirmish in some country no one's been to. But to misinform people about the weather right outside their door day in and day out is next level journalism!

Hats off.

Isaac Morehouse

Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program making degrees irrelevant for careers. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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