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Monopoly is the opposite of capitalism

If you believe in the benefits of the free market, then the logical conclusion is to oppose policies that a market-dominating monopoly decides are in their best interest.

Adam Smith and his descendants all understood that monopolies undo the benefits of the free market.

Data portability, open marketplaces, net neutrality, campaign finance reform–all of these steps make it more likely that innovation occurs and that people have choices.

Free markets work because ideas and processes can quickly evolve. When the system gets stuck, it doesn’t get better.

Without choice, we’re left with bullies and whatever is on their agenda.

People who don’t care…

…doing things that they don’t understand, for managers who have no sense of strategy, in an organization that measures all the wrong things.

Everyone involved unable to honestly answer the simple question: “Why?” Why are we doing it this way? Why is it like this not like that? “Because I said so,” is no way to lead.

This is the unmistakable symptom of a bureaucracy that has gone too far.


PS back in the old days, I used to incorporate a PS in blog posts about Daylight Savings Time. A public service because we didn’t have computers that automatically changed all of our clocks. But it’s still up to us to spring forward. It won’t happen automatically.

Everyone and no one

Rarely true.

“Everyone loves it.”

“No one wants to be my friend…”

More effective and accurate to replace these words with, “someone.”

Embracing externalities

The world is better because industrialism made it better.

The world is worse because industrialism made it worse.

When a factory makes something that people want, they buy it. When a competitor improves it, it gains in market share. When a third competitor becomes more efficient and lowers the price, even more is sold.

And so we have safe, clean, cheap food that can sustain us. We have antibiotics that can save a life. We have transportation systems that just a hundred years ago would have seemed like a fantasy.

The ratchet of industrialism is tied to the fast-moving cycle of the market, fulfilling needs and wants and making a profit.

That same system, though, is insulated from the damage it causes. When a factory makes a product but pollutes the river that flows by it, the factory doesn’t pay for the pollution unless required to. When a marketer seduces people with short-term delights that cause long-term health problems, the marketer doesn’t pay for it, the customer does. And when the weapons manufacturer produces ever more lethal weapons, it’s the person who stepped on the land mine who pays the price, not the person who made it or purchased it.

The opportunity is simple to describe but requires real effort to achieve: the community must enforce systems that build the external costs into the way that the industrialist does business. Faced with an incentive to decrease bycatch, waste or illness, the industrialist will do what industrialists always seek to do–make it work a little better, a little faster, a little more profitably.

Industrialism can’t solve every problem, but it can go a very long way in solving the problems that it created in the first place.

When facing a long-term, chronic challenge, we can look for a ratchet, a long-term positive cycle that helps us overcome that challenge.

Externalities aren’t external, and we shouldn’t treat them that way.

Time and money

“I can’t afford it.”

“I don’t have the time.”

…almost always means, “this is not a priority.”

When we care, it’s amazing how much we can get done. One way to choose to care is to be clear about your priorities, which means being clear in your language.

And so we can say to ourselves, “I’d love to do that, but it’s not a priority.”

Remarkable work is usually accomplished by people who have non-typical priorities.

Concept cars

Every year, Audi, Ford, GM and the rest of the auto companies bring concept cars to the big shows. These swooping, modern, magical cars are in stark contrast to the cars that are actually for sale.

Why do they bother? It’s not a form of market research.

Begin with the fact that car companies need their product to be stylish. By making older cars seem ‘old’, they create social pressure to get rid of your existing car (even if it’s running fine) and keep up with the trends. And so, every year, cars are a bit different. Not in performance, really, but in the way they look and feel.

At the same time, though, consumers are really hesitant about buying a car that they’ll regret. It’s such a big purchase, it feels very different than buying a pair of purple uggs that might only be in style for a month or two.

Concept cars, then, are an assertion by the company: here’s where we think we’re going, thanks for paying attention, car nerds! Tell the others. We’re here to entertain you, have fun. We know it’s outlandish today, but by exposing you to these features over and over for five or ten years, by the time the cars actually arrive, you’ll say “of course,” not, “what’s that?”

They’re normalizing design progress. Making it safe over time.

As you’ve probably guessed, this doesn’t only work for cars.

Any idea that needs to move from early adopters to the masses can benefit from a preview that simultaneously delights the nerds while warming up the masses for what’s to come.

Loud voices vs. important ones

Broken systems get worse when we confuse the loud voices with the important ones.

Spend a lot of time listening to the loudest complaints and you will elevate those voices to importance, because you’re no longer carefully listening to the more easily overlooked constituents.

A persistent typist with a keyboard might be a cranky critic, but is this the person you set out to serve?

If an airline makes 84% of its profit on leisure travelers, it’s not clear that the person who flies once a year on a last-minute first class fare is the person they ought to be paying the most attention to.

We can acknowledge that someone is upset, we can see them, respect them and help them. But we shouldn’t get confused that there’s a correlation between their ALL CAPS EFFORT AT ATTENTION and our agenda to serve the people we seek to serve.

“We meet all Federal regulations”

The excuse made by large corporations for the impact of what they produce is that they simply follow the rules.

Of course, at these companies, there’s often a different department in charge of lobbying to change the rules so that they can increase short-term profits while being less beneficial to customers and communities.

It would only cost the car companies a dollar per car to prevent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, which kills dozens of people. When you can run the car without the key (most modern cars), it means it’s easier than ever to pull your car into the garage and accidentally leave it running, which can kill everyone in your home before morning.

When the government worked to put in a regulation requiring this fix, the car companies lobbied against it.

Why would they do that? (Now, due to outrage, they’re fixing this particular problem. But in the past, the car companies fought seatbelts and other safety measures).

Why does any organization actively fight to lobby to lower its costs when it might benefit customers and their communities? The rules are not going to lead to lower industry sales. All the standards do is raise the bar for all the competitors. I don’t think many of us want to live in the world of Sinclair Lewis.

The restaurant industry fought a smoking ban, and the baseball bat industry fought one on aluminum bats for kids…

Sooner or later, humans are involved. And when someone says, “not on my watch,” they commit to making things better, not simply more profitable. The rules are one thing, but what if you’re better than the rules?

“We can make it better” is a far better motto than, “we meet all the regulations.”

Truth in bots

All day we interact with others.

And sometimes, they’re bots.

Perhaps you’re in a chat room, and after a few Eliza-quality backs and forths, you realize that this helpful voice isn’t actually a voice at all, it’s simply a bot, here to interface with a tech support database.

Or you’re talking to a next-generation bot on the phone, and it’s only a minute or two into the interaction that you realize you’re being fooled by an AI, not a caring human.

Wouldn’t it be more efficient (and reassuring) to know this in advance?

But we can take this further. If you’re on the phone with American Express and the person you’re talking with has no agency, no ability to change anything and no incentive to care, wouldn’t it be helpful to know that before you had the conversation?

Or what about the publicist or direct marketer, sending you an email that purports to be personal but is in fact only personalized? Spam decorated as human interaction is still spam.

The problem with not labeling bots is that soon, we come to expect that every interaction is going to be with a bot, and we fail to invest emotional energy in the conversations we could have with actual people. I feel bad for all the actual customer service professionals (doctors, bureaucrats and others who help) who have to deal with impersonal interactions simply because their customers have been fooled one too many times.

The bots should announce, “I’m not a person, or if I am, I’m not allowed to act like one.”

Or, if there’s no room or time for that sentence, perhaps a simple *bot* at the top of the conversation. That way, we can save our human emotions for the humans who will appreciate them.

To vs reply vs bcc

How much of your inbox activity is initiated by you? What percentage of your email threads started with an email you wrote?

And how much is spent replying to others?

And finally, how often are you bccing or being bcced?

I hope we can agree that the percentage for the third category should be close to zero.

But for the first two, the simplest way to change your day is to dramatically alter the percentage of the first two categories so that you’re adding way more value for others. In whatever way works best.

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