Issue #33: My Thoughts on the Startup Industry

Read it and all other issues here.

Relative Tragedy

We live in strange times. Or perhaps all times are strange.

Giving something a name grants magical hypnotic power. "Coronavirus" or "Covid" are names that immediately occupy all attention and short circuit normal brain function.

I imagine newsrooms today:

Editor: "Any tragedies to report?"

Lackey: "A few sir"

Editor: "Shoot"

Lackey: "An airplane suddenly veered off course and crashed into a mountain killing all 200 people aboard"

Editor: "And..."

Lackey: "None of them tested positive for the Coronavirus"

Editor: "Meh. Not a tragedy. Run of the mill. Anything else?"

Lackey: "An elderly disabled war hero was driving home from saving his daughter's kitten when he got stuck on the train tracks and suffered a horrible collision"

Editor: "And..."

Lackey: "His car burst into flames and he died a very terrible death as onlookers couldn't reach him in time despite heroic efforts"

Editor: "And..."

Lackey: "He tossed a hand scrawled will out the window just before he perished, revealing a secret fortune he donated to the poor"

Editor: "And..."

Lackey: "We can't be sure because we can't verify he was tested, and the tests are ridiculously inaccurate, and he had no symptoms, but he may have had Coronavirus"

Editor: "MY GOD THE HUMANITY!!! Why didn't you tell me we had a lead story!"

Sociopaths, Clueless, Losers

I first came across this Hugh MacLeod illustration in a booked called, The Gervais Principle, by Venkatesh Rao.

Rao's book is one of my all-time favorites and it's packed with cunning. It's a breakdown of workplace and social politics using this pyramid applied to the show The Office.

Sociopaths know the game is all made up and rules are for suckers. They also know they must perpetuate the illusion of rules of the game. They need the Clueless to believe fully in the rules and carry them out as they manage the Losers. Losers are cynical and streetwise enough to know the game is bullshit, but lack the motivation (or perhaps have the scruples) to try to change it by becoming Sociopaths.

This pyramid applies to political reality as well as corporate.

The Sociopaths aren't often in the limelight and can be hard to identify. The Clueless encompass nearly every politician, pundit, protester, or activist. They rally and debate endlessly about details of the political and legal process, sincerely believing it's not all just made up. They believe in the Myth of the Rule of Law, and treat justificatory pieces of paper as if they are truly binding on anyone. The Losers are the great mass of people who know politics is bullshit, roll their eyes at the Clueless, but lack the ambition (or have the scruples) to try to become a Sociopath.

Losers may be cynical, sometimes nihilistic. But they aren't being played for fools. They have the ability to carve out some scope of a day to day life that puts up with the game, sometimes bending or breaking the rules. Sociopaths may do things that harm or benefit others, but their main drive is winning. Clueless are used and made fools of by both Sociopaths and Losers. Losers put up with them because they would rather not have the terrible jobs that the Clueless take such pride in. HOA board? Township Supervisor? Losers laugh. Clueless treat them as solemn duties and take pride in acting out what they fail to see as a farce.

I can't tell you what it's best to be. None of these options sound very appealing to me, so I try to imagine somehow being outside the game entirely, whether or not it's possible. But the framework is useful and entertaining. Once you get it, you can't unsee the world this way.

Philanthropy and Force

If your philanthropy involves the use of force, it's not philanthropy. It's force.

Sometimes Measurement Doesn’t Mean Anything

I've never been a big fan of detailed measurement and data tracking.

Not because I don't think it's useful. It can be incredibly useful. But it is by far the easiest way to be deceived. Bringing about a desired end in a complex world of autonomous individuals requires the ability to recognize patterns. Patterns in motivations, words, behaviors, actions, and reactions.

Gathering data does not reveal patterns. Analyzing it rarely does either. But it's almost impossible to not think you see patterns from the data. Data tends to make people draw conclusions and most of the time they aren't warranted.

At its best, measurement is done based on a pattern already spotted by some other, more direct and less aggregated means. To measure the veracity of the pattern, or check its conditions, data is gathered and assessed. Ideally, the data is used to falsify a hypothesis. It works better at falsification than verification.

Case in point: I had a strong hunch recently that users of Crash were dropping off because of where the signup page was in the product flow. But we looked at the numbers and what I thought was the biggest roadblock was stopping almost no one, and they trailed off later in the flow. The data was only useful once I had a specific - falsifiable with data - hypothesis. Note the data did not tell us whether we needed to improve the signup page. It can't tell us that. It only revealed that my assumption about the signup page being the most frequent hurdle was incorrect. The signup process may be flawed in myriad ways, and no data can reveal exactly how and why.

Data can work well as a way to narrow in on insights, as long as the data gathering is a genuine effort to increase understanding and not just a way to slap numbers on a decision you've already made.

It's exceedingly rare to be collecting data for no particular reason, scanning it with no particular question, and discover a genuine and valuable insight. But we all kind of pretend that happens, which is why data can be dangerous.

It's important to be able to recognize and admit when the data don't provide any clear patterns or insight. This is most of the time. Just because you have numbers doesn't mean they tell you something and you need to act on it.

You Haiku

Doing things you want

Not what you're told people need

Is best for the world

It’s Most Important When no One Cares

The least popular freedoms are the most important.

When liberty is the most feared it is the most needed.

The time to fight slavery is when slavery is most appealing.

Inner Game of Startups #32

Read it here.

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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Breaking the Rules

Sometimes I have a cigar for breakfast.

Just to remind myself that my life is my own and the distinction between weekend and weekday, work and play, relaxation and focus, is entirely up to me.

I have a pretty normal, productive routine. But sometimes I act it out without thinking. Just go with the motions. Can forget that it's designed and chosen by me. To refresh my sense of agency, I try to mix it up sometimes. Stay up late doing work. Read a book in the middle of the day.

Sometimes the purpose and power of self-imposed rules is forgotten, until they are bent or broken.

I want to be efficient, but I don't want to live on autopilot.

Simplicity and Adventure

The older I've gotten, the more I appreciate peace and quiet. Most of the time, I like having few things to think about and few things going on.

I also get bored easily and I like adventure.

In search of it, it's easy to say yes to everything, and be occupied by lots of stuff. But instead of one hero's journey, the result is tons of spectator sideshows. The best way to get the adventure I seek is to go harder at the one or two really big things worth my energy, not to add on lots of little things.

But there are exceptions.

If I'm in a rut with my few big focus areas, sometimes a sensory shotgun can shake me out. Immersing myself in a lot of ideas and information and following random rabbit trails can dislodge me when I'm stuck on the bigger journey. Like a level in a video game you can't get past, sometimes you need to play some light-hearted side-quests before you return with fresh focus.

Working Haiku

Taking a day off

To relax the mind can be

So very stressful

“We All Know” – Three Dangerous Words

Anything that "We" all know for certain should be questioned.

The most dangerous beliefs are those considered "settled" or "consensus". Those are the ideas that close minds, kill curiosity, and end exploration.

Those are also the ideas that have people supporting the harassment, caging, and killing of dissenters.

It doesn't matter whether the consensus idea is true. What matters is not shutting down those who disbelieve it, no matter how crazy they are. It's cowardly, unbecoming, and evil to do so. It reveals a thoughtlessness and lack of imagination, curiosity, and compassion.

As Milton said,

And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.

Inner Game of Startups #35: User Phases

All about how to get new users from the wild and morph them into product masters.

Read it and all issues here.

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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