“This divide between [the Smithian and Schumpeterian model] can be placed at around 1800, the nominal start date of the Industrial Revolution, as the ideas of Renaissance Science met the energy of coal to create a cocktail that would allow corporations to colonize time.”—
“There was something beyond sort of what you see everyday. It’s the same thing that causes people to want to be poets instead of bankers and I think that is a wonderful thing. And I think that the same spirit can be put into products and those product can be manufactured and given to people and people can sense that spirit.”—Steve Jobs talking about the spirit of the 60s from minute 29 in this video
Site owners often A/B test the design of their websites with the goal of increasing the conversion rate of sign ups or sales or some other metric. Site owners often can encounter local maxima. Local maxima are, as the photo demonstrates, like the peaks of small mountains when there are larger mountains surrounding the point that you are at. One interesting feature about local maxima are that in order to leave one, you have to make steps backwards for the chance to get to a better point. In the real world, you can not be sure whether a local maxima is also a global maxima (the highest of all possible points) or not. Even with the possibility that a local maxima is also a global maxima, it is often still worth testing a handful of divergent design ideas and then trying to refine them so that you may discover a higher peak and increase the conversion rate for your site.
This concept is metaphorical to many things in life. We may be stuck at local maxima and will need to explore to potentially find higher maxima. Unfortunately unlike in the world of A/B testing web designs, it takes a serious amount of time and effort to test different possibilities in your life. While it does take significant resources to test out different directions in your life, I think it is well worthwhile to do so. The experience of testing out different options can be an adventure in itself and life is long and you will have the opportunity to seriously pursue many things in your life.
If you are completely satisfied with your current path, by all means, stay the course. Though, if you are not sure, do not be afraid to explore. While exploring, it may be best to focus on one thing at a time so you can really delve deep in a subject rather than merely reaching the foothills of many subjects. Part of the adventure is to explore many different possibilities and who knows, you may reach new heights.
Chris Dixon recently wrote about the importance of founder/market fit. This concept doesn’t only apply to founders, it can be very helpful in choosing which startup or company to work for. Whatever industry you choose to work in, you begin to develop expertise in that industry and thus more opportunities will open up and you will start to achieve “founder/market fit” in that field should you choose to found your own company. Be careful when choosing which market to focus on. Chris Dixon encourages founders to choose a market “because you love it — and will continue to love it as your product and market change over time.”
So when thinking about which job to take or which startup idea to pursue, think is the company or idea in an area that excites you because you very well may be spending many years working on it. Being passionate about the market isn’t a prerequisite but being passionate about the market and problem you are trying to solve can help propel you forward and make the whole experience all the more worthwhile.
Salman Khan Presents His Vision of The Ideal University
Salman Khan in his recent talk at LinkedIn was asked how he would reinvent higher education and what he thought about Peter Thiel’s 20 Under 20 Program. In response, he shared his image of the ideal university for the modern world. He shared his vision for a university complete with students that get paid for real-world work, self-paced learning fashioned after the Khan Academy and advisers that include some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent. Watch the question and answer on video here or read the transcription of the answer below.
To give you all background, Peter Thiel, one of the founders of PayPal, he runs Clarium Capital, another hedge fund guy. He’s been pretty vocal about this bubble in higher education. He has been pretty good at spotting the previous bubbles, the housing bubble, the tech bubble, and all of that. It is a bubble because people are willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money on the perception that it is a good investment when it really isn’t. Which is what a bubble is, right. That’s true of the housing bubble and that was true of the tech bubble.
And so his kind of contribution beyond just talking about, his attempt at kind of disrupting it, which I think is in the right direction, but I don’t think it goes quite enough, is he started this program where he is targeting the same kids that would otherwise go to Stanford or MIT or Harvard or whatever and saying look, I will pay you 100 grand if you drop out of school and come start a business. And he is trying to make it so there is something very desirable, like a very prestigious to have, and will probably help your career that doesn’t cost money. That you would give up that other thing, you would give up the college degree. And this might become more desirable.
I think what would really work, to take his thing to the natural edge. I have thrown it out as a crazy idea three or four weeks ago and now it is getting little less crazy idea. I think it would be awesome to start a University, for lack of a better word, in say Mountain View. And this first university, I don’t want to make it sound elitist, but it would focus on the best and the brightest. It would focus on the same kids who are applying to Stanford and MIT and Harvard and all of this right now. And I will tell you a tangent on why I say that, I think that is the only way that you can disrupt. Because if you can, so the goal here is instead of these students paying 50 thousand a year and going into debt, they would be paid. And The reason why I say that is if you can make the best education have negative tuition, I am going to make a geeky calculus analogy, by the squeeze thereom you know literally how can anyone else justify charging anything? If the best education is negative tuition.
And so you get people to come in and their curriculum is literally 6 months at LinkedIn, 6 months at Google, they work in software engineering, they work in product managment, they work in marketing, they work in p.r., they work in accounting. 6 months at Apple, 6 months working for a VC firm, 6 months developing Ipad apps or whatever. And they are paid. Some of the money goes to the students, maybe 30 grand a year and then some goes to the University to set up the environment that you should have. So it is not this purely commercial thing. You have all of the things that we all liked about college. You have a campus, you have pretty trees to read books under, you have venues to meet your future husband or wife.
And you have a scaffold of truly academic material that you can do at your own pace, something like the Khan Academy. And the faculty. And you have seminars, “hey I have a project at LinkedIn but you know what, this is going to require some signal processing, but I don’t know signal processing.” I go back to the campus. There are either other students there, there are Khan Academy [type] resources or there are mentors in the Valley who are willing to work with me on signal processing. And then I learn it. And you go through this and what is going to happen is that these students are going to end up finishing not with debt, they are going to have money saved. They are going to be way more desirable by, you know, this whole slew of companies.
And they kind of have this downside protection because they still have a little bit of an academic scaffold. They will do well on the MCAT, the GRE if they decide to become a doctor or lawyer, they can still do that. I think if you do that, it will be pretty hard for Stanford to justify charging. You know the other thing is that we could go right out the gate ‘cus if you can get the employers involved, especially these sort of marquee employers, and maybe even the Khan Academy because we have a brand in the right place. You don’t face the difficulty of starting a University that no one has ever heard of. People will hear of this university on day 1. And so I think something like that, and if that is successful, then all of a sudden, the tuition inflation becomes very hard to justify. And then you can start more and more of these across the country at different levels with different specializations.
Salman Khan is then asked a follow up question about Olin in particular.
I think the problem with Olin, I actually know Olin pretty well, my advisor at MIT actually ended up becoming a professor at Olin. I think the problem with Olin is the reason that people are paying $200,000 right now is to have a signal to send to the job market that I kick butt. And even though Olin, I haven’t gone to Olin, but I can imagine that it is probably a very good education. That is not the reason that people are spending $200,000, people are spending [is because] they want that signal, “I went to MIT”, “I went to Caltech”. It’s the brand.
And so Olin has a problem with that, and it also has the problem with the connections. I don’t know if Google, maybe Google does, but I don’t know if Goldman Sachs recruits at Olin even though maybe they should. They don’t know what Olin is. And so I think the key thing is to have some type of partnership with very marquee recruiters, because if you get an ecosystem of ten of the top tier, the companies that everyone wants to work for, the other companies, the other companies, next tier of companies are going to say wait, if Google is getting, if LinkedIn is getting all their talent their, we better get our talent there too. We (the second tier companies) don’t want it to look like [they] are getting the scraps.
I think it is very important to build a whole ecosystem there and actually the big difference is that the projects would be stuff that actually matters. If I were to have recommended this 50 years ago, people would have said, “oh my god, but you are making people do vocational stuff. That’s horrible. It’s commercial.” But the reality is that the stuff going on inside LinkedIn, the Software Engineering, the analytics, the marketing is, the stuff that is going on at Google is more intellectual than the software engineering projects that we worked on as undergrads. It is more intellectual than almost anything then the kind of made up projects that the university gives you right now.
So I think if you build a whole ecosystem and I think Silicon Valley is the perfect place to do it. The one thing that I learned at Khan Academy is that there is a lot of people that have made it who are super smart that are just kind of orbiting the valley looking for someone to mentor. Looking to kind of disrupt things a little bit. You can imagine instead of this school showing off about how many Nobel Laureates on their faculty, no we have the CEOs of this company, this company, these are our people that are entrepreneurs and have done amazing things that are our falculty. These are the people who you have access to as mentors. I think it would be very hard to compete with this.
A Video Summary of Robert Cialdini's "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion"
I recently listened to an interview of Salman Khan where he encouraged people to share their knowledge with the world in the form of short, easily digestible videos. Listening to that interview made me decide to create this video, a summary of one of my favorite pop psychology/business books. It is a combination of a review and a summary with the weight on the latter. Enjoy!
The Flaw of The "I can turn it on whenever I want" Excuse
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best is now.” Chinese proverb
There are many excuses that people have for not doing what they know they should and what they really want to do. One especially dangerous excuse I call the “I can turn it on whenever I want” excuse. I know, the name needs work but it gets the message across. Whether it is starting to exercise and eat healthy, learning to program or whatever other activity/habit, many people delay taking action thinking that they can just start whenever they want. The good news is it is not too late, you can start whenever you really want to if can muster up the will power and apportion the time to do so. The bad news is that most people will never start, let alone keep it up.
Of course the best time to have started something would have been in the distant past but unfortunately the past can not be changed. Duh. Thus, the best realistic option is to start now. If you can keep up the desired activity for a decent amount of time, the activity can turn into an automatic habit and it will be easier to keep up after that point. Depending on the activity, there may also be a steep learning curve in the beginning and being in the middle of a steep learning curve is oh so frustrating. Therefore, the hardest part is to start the activity and keep going for a long enough period of time so that it becomes habituated and that you can conquer the beginning of the learning curve. But once you conquer the learning curve, you can begin to see results and your work can begin to feel like play.
Yes, starting is hard. Yes, you can think of many excuses. Yes, you can keep putting off action. Though if you do not start now, time will pass you by and no progress will be made. You will one day look back at the past (the current present) and will wish that you started then (now). So what are you waiting for, start now and go and get yours.
P.S. Even though this blog post is written in the second person view (the you view), I am the intended audience of this post. I have had trouble starting things and keeping them going but I am trying to change that. I decided to share this post because I think it is possible that some other people could possibly benefit from this message as well. Thanks for reading.
In the 1960s a series of experiments were conducted on young children, now known as the “marshmallow test”. The young children were each offered a marshmallow and told that if they could wait a few minutes they would be given another marshmallow. The videos of the experiments make for great entertainment and the results have had a large impact on the success of peoples’ lives. For more information on the experiment, read this delightful New Yorker piece by Jonah Lehrer. In brief, the reason why this experiment is able to predict so much of one’s future success is because it conveys whether one has the ability to delay gratification, the ability to focus on greater future gains at the expense of immediate gratification.
I never took the “marshmallow test” when I was young so I am not sure whether I have an in-built nature to delay gratification, but now having the conscious knowledge of the importance of delayed gratification I plan to further cultivate this ability and to apply the concept to my life.
In the real world, the test is not of delaying the eating of delicious desserts(1) but of ignoring the abundant distractions that surround all of us so that we can focus and accomplish meaningful work. Paul graham describes how distractions have evolved and have become more addictive then ever. The challenge is to overcome these distractions and in the words of Mark Suster, to JFDI.
I am not advising one to never goof off or relax, focusing on enjoying the present is important too. Though if you want to accomplish great things, it is important to on some level to sacrifice the present for the future. Or sacrifice may not be the right word because that word signifies giving something up and in a way, it is more of an exchange. I have experienced the fulfillment of accomplishing good work and the state of flow while doing so and I have also experienced the hedonistic enjoyment of lounging by a tropical beach during the day and partying at night. Both are enjoyable in their own way, but I prefer to focus more on the former. Of course hard work is not just a state of flow and a feeling of accomplishment. It is hard work. It is struggle. It is finding ways to continue when you may not feel like it. But in the end, I think it is well worth it.
For a while I was focused on living the 4HWW ideally designed lifestyle(2). I tried out living abroad briefly and backpacking around Costa Rica and Nicaragua. While I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and plan on doing a lot of traveling throughout my life, I want my work to more than finding out how to spend the minimum amount of time to bankroll my lifestyle. I want my work to be meaningful and engaging to me. I want to swing for the fences and to repeat the Silicon Valley cliche, I want to change the world. Maybe at some point in the future I will change my mind but at the very least, putting in the hard work now is the way to stay upwind and to keep my opportunities open.
So remember, don’t eat the marshmallow.
(1)Though eating healthy is another test of will power
(2) I am still a big fan of many of the concepts in the 4HWW and have applied the work principles to be more productive in learning and at my former jobs. The problem in my view is that it implies that the goal of a “lifestyle business” is to minimize work and in doing so, maximizing free time and then recommending that that time should be used primarily for traveling and living abroad. I think Tim’s own choice of how to spend his time is a better example, working hard to write quality content and engaging in advising innovative startups. THe other problem is that Tim down plays the importance of working hard, especially in the beginning of a business. He worked 80 hour weeks to build BrainQuicken and only afterwards did he find a way to decrease his weekly work load. It may be possible to only spend the mythical four hours a week but it may be better to rather think in the mindset of what you can accomplish with hard work.