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Vast vs specific

Try to fit in every general and conceptual detail when describing a very big concept and it’s likely that we’ll be confused. When you’re intent on explaining all of it, we glaze over.

Consider switching gears and sharing the most specific possible example with impact and humanity instead.

If we’re sold on where you’re going, we’ll probably spend the time to learn how to get there.

4 D Chess

Perhaps that super-genius is playing a very well-thought-out long game, anticipating every countermove with plenty of resources and alternatives at hand.

It might be the local business you’re competing with, the publisher you hope to work with or the general of the opposing army.

It’s easy to imagine that they have a view of the competitive landscape that escapes ordinary humans.

But it’s far more likely that they’re simply winging it.

In the early stages of a campaign, winging it is a form of poking the box. A chance to try new approaches to see how the system responds.

But if we confuse a policy of winging it with a long-term strategy of well-planned, strategic 4-D chess, it’s not going to end well. Because winging it doesn’t stay resilient at scale.

You left out the all caps part

If you see a set of rules that don’t make sense, that are overly stern, that seemed designed to be offputting instead of helpful, it’s possible that the poster is leaving part of the memo unsaid:

It could be something like:

THE LAST CUSTOMER WAS UNFAIR AND UNKIND!

And so the list of rules to make sure that this never happens again, even if the next customer isn’t like that at all.

Or:

WE’RE STILL REELING FROM THE UNEXPECTED THING THAT IS PROBABLY NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN, BUT ONE WAY TO DEAL WITH THE TRAUMA IS TO ERECT SIGNIFICANT BARRIERS SO WE’RE SURE IT WON’T HAPPEN AGAIN.

Or:

WE GOT INTO THIS BUSINESS BECAUSE WE THOUGHT WE LOVED BOOKS AND THE PEOPLE WHO BUY THEM, BUT THE REAL REASON IS THAT WE MISTAKENLY THOUGHT WE COULD MAKE A GOOD LIVING WITHOUT ANNOYING PEOPLE BOTHERING US! ESPECIALLY CUSTOMERS AND PEOPLE WHO CAN BRING US CUSTOMERS.

THIS IS MUCH HARDER THAN WE THOUGHT, AND WELL, MAYBE IF WE MAKE A LOT OF RULES, PEOPLE WILL LEAVE US ALONE.

You certainly don’t have to put the all caps part in when you publish your rules, but it might be helpful to write it out to be sure it’s what you really want to be implying.

A paradox of status and power

One can refuse to pay bills, bully employees, steal credit, work the refs and look for shortcuts…

or pay bills ahead of time, elevate employees, amplify the credit of others and take the long road.

While both are modern signifiers of a certain kind of success, only one is a resilient way forward.

Ancient emperors that aspired to power often had their enemies beheaded.

The ones with real power gave them clemency.

An antidote

Gratitude might be the way forward.

So much of what ails us gets a bit better when we say ‘thank you.’

Even when it’s hard.

Especially then.

How long is “never”?

It changes. It changes as we age, and it changes depending on the situation.

A second-grader might think that a boring class is never going to end.

A bad cold might feel endless, unless we have the perspective of someone who has experienced a chronic problem.

Some things actually deserve “never.” But most of what we’re worried about probably would be better categorized as “eventually.”

People problems are complicated problems

Engineering problems are difficult, but they have a right answer.

People problems, by their nature, are on a spectrum, a distribution of possible forward paths. But they’re complicated. A situation might not fit a person, and vice versa. Add a second person and now you have two people, and two people interacting exponentially increase the number of possibilities.

Knowing this takes the pressure off. Because there isn’t a perfect solution to a people problem. Simply an available path forward that helps us get to the next step.

Contracts and power

A written contract benefits the party with the least power.

Power might be in the form of money, access to plenty of lawyers or simply a willingness to burn it all down to the ground.

In the moment before a contract is signed, the lower-powered party momentarily has more power. That’s because the other entity wants what you have. But as soon as they have it, it’s only the contract that offers concrete protection against future events.

Handshake agreements are great when there’s an ongoing, stable interaction. As long as each side is honorable, the other party can continue to do what they said they were going to do. But when priorities or outside factors shift, an at-will arrangement can end up harming the person who can least afford it.

The two things to focus on are:

  1. Is the contract specific enough so that there’s no doubt about who is supposed to do what, even when the world changes?
  2. Are the remedies in the contract clear enough so that if the contract isn’t honored, the lower-power party can easily and efficiently obtain a fair result?

This is why adding a binding informal arbitration clause to a contract is a smart idea. Why it makes sense for there to be worker and other protections in the law. And why we need to reinforce and applaud judicial systems that enforce clearly defined agreements.

No competition

There’s no competition for cookbooks on making food out of soccer balls and hockey pucks.

There’s no competition for software that charges you to find out the temperature on Mars.

There’s no competition for a service that counts how many pairs of shoes you own.

In fact, in every market that’s worth entering, there’s competition. That’s what you’re looking for. It’s a sign that people have a problem that they’re trying to solve through commerce.

The goal isn’t to find no competition. It’s to find a better way to solve the problem.

Micropayments for content

This is a problem that comes up every year or two, but no one has implemented a useful solution yet.

Advertising is a surprisingly bad way for a culture to pay for content, because the kind of content that gets rewarded is often dumbed down for a large audience or is optimized for a small audience of people eager to buy something that makes a profit.

It’s also inefficient, as advertisers can’t know in advance what’s going to work, and creators get a very small share of the ad spend.

An alternative is to pay for what you get, the way we treat carrots, baseballs and clarinets. Instead of buying a baseball, though, you’re buying a chance to watch a video.

Micropayments are a system where you pay a penny or a nickel or a dollar for a piece of content.

It introduces two kinds of friction, though:

  1. There needs to be a tech system that can effectively move tiny amounts of money around.
  2. As a reader/consumer of content, you need to constantly make decisions about what’s “worth it.”

About thirty years ago, I described a simple solution to both problems:

For $25 you can buy a content passport. It’s available for purchase on any website that is part of the content network, and you need one to read the content on their site. The site that sells it to you gets $10 in commission for selling it to you.

It keeps track of every member site you visit (that’s really easy now, with a cookie). And then the coordinator of the system allocates, on a percentage basis, $10 to the sites you visit. It’s all gonna go somewhere, whether you visit one site or a thousand. There’s no friction, because it’s a buffet, just like it is now. Read all you want, no ads, no hassles.

The sites that get visited the most get the most aggregate money from the monthly distributions of royalties.

Each site has an incentive to sell a lot of passports (the commission is significant) and the coordinator of the network is making 25% as well.

It’s really clear who the customer is (the reader) and it’s easy for any site to join the network. Aligned incentives, a simple and resilient solution.

Have fun. (PS this is unrelated to yesterday’s post about federations, just a coincidence.)