10 Ways to Not Be Taken Seriously

by Cameron Schaefer on September 9, 2013

The following is a list of ways to not be taken seriously. I’ve had to learn the hard way on many of them, but in the process have become even more convinced of their withering effects on credibility over the long haul.  Hat tips to Ramit Sethi, Ryan Holiday, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Professor Parco and others.

  1. Talk a lot
  2. Whine on social media
  3. Don’t read books
  4. Have strong opinions on subjects you know nothing about
  5. Tell everyone who will listen about your goals & plans
  6. Watch cable news
  7. Take offense often
  8. Say “yes” to everything
  9. Read books on leadership principles
  10. Take part in every fad diet

Add your own ways to not be taken seriously in the comments below. If I like them I’ll add them to the list.


How Amazon Tests New Products for $0

by Cameron Schaefer on September 5, 2013

After reading this Ryan Holiday Reddit AMA I came across a link he provided to how Amazon goes about testing new products.  It led me to Mohnish Soundararajan’s site where he quotes Ian McAllister of Amazon (emphasis Mohnish):

“There is an approach called “working backwards” that is widely used at Amazon. We try to work backwards from the customer, rather than starting with an idea for a product and trying to bolt customers onto it. While working backwards can be applied to any specific product decision, using this approach is especially important when developing new products or features.

For new initiatives a product manager typically starts by writing an internal press release announcing the finished product. The target audience for the press release is the new/updated product’s customers, which can be retail customers or internal users of a tool or technology. Internal press releases are centered around the customer problem, how current solutions (internal or external) fail, and how the new product will blow away existing solutions.

If the benefits listed don’t sound very interesting or exciting to customers, then perhaps they’re not (and shouldn’t be built). Instead, the product manager should keep iterating on the press release until they’ve come up with benefits that actually sound like benefits. Iterating on a press release is a lot less expensive than iterating on the product itself (and quicker!).

Here’s an example outline for the press release:

  • Heading - Name the product in a way the reader (i.e. your target customers) will understand.
  • Sub-Heading - Describe who the market for the product is and what benefit they get. One sentence only underneath the title.
  • Summary - Give a summary of the product and the benefit. Assume the reader will not read anything else so make this paragraph good.
  • Problem - Describe the problem your product solves.
  • Solution - Describe how your product elegantly solves the problem.
  • Quote from You - A quote from a spokesperson in your company.
  • How to Get Started - Describe how easy it is to get started.
  • Customer Quote - Provide a quote from a hypothetical customer that describes how they experienced the benefit.
  • Closing and Call to Action - Wrap it up and give pointers where the reader should go next.

If the press release is more than a page and a half, it is probably too long. Keep it simple. 3-4 sentences for most paragraphs. Cut out the fat. Don’t make it into a spec. You can accompany the press release with a FAQ that answers all of the other business or execution questions so the press release can stay focused on what the customer gets. My rule of thumb is that if the press release is hard to write, then the product is probably going to suck. Keep working at it until the outline for each paragraph flows.

Oh, and I also like to write press-releases in what I call “Oprah-speak” for mainstream consumer products. Imagine you’re sitting on Oprah’s couch and have just explained the product to her, and then you listen as she explains it to her audience. That’s “Oprah-speak”, not “Geek-speak”.

Once the project moves into development, the press release can be used as a touchstone; a guiding light. The product team can ask themselves, “Are we building what is in the press release?” If they find they’re spending time building things that aren’t in the press release (overbuilding), they need to ask themselves why. This keeps product development focused on achieving the customer benefits and not building extraneous stuff that takes longer to build, takes resources to maintain, and doesn’t provide real customer benefit (at least not enough to warrant inclusion in the press release).”

Very nice.


Anti-Fragility System Design Principles

by Cameron Schaefer on August 19, 2013

John Hagel distills some of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s anti-fragility principles:

System design principles

In thinking about system design, it’s important to avoid the temptation to develop detailed top down blueprints for systems.  Taleb observes that “if about everything top-down fragilizes and blocks antifragility and growth, everything bottom-up thrives under the right amount of stress and disorder.” Nevertheless, there are certain design principles that emerge from Taleb’s work that can help reduce the fragility of the systems we design.

(1)    Stick to simple rules
Complex systems do not require complicated rules – in fact, the simpler the rules the better. We must resist the temptation to respond to complexity with complex rules – they have a disturbing tendency to produce cascades of unintended consequences.

(2)    Decentralize
Decentralized systems are better able to learn from randomness because adverse impacts are contained.Decentralized units can watch and learn from each other as each unit improvises in response to unexpected events. Centralized systems are fragile because they make rules that by necessity are more abstract and theoretical so that they can be broadly applicable but at the same time they are removed from the relevant social context.  A small, decentralized political system like Switzerland proves far more antifragile than very large, centralized systems. Taleb repeatedly points to the diseconomies of scale in times of stress.

(3)    Develop layered systems
This is in many respects an extension of the second principle. Taleb points out that the antifragility of a system often comes from the fragility of its components, whether we are talking about the failure of firms that drives the overall success of entrepreneurial regions like Silicon Valley or the death of individual organisms that contributes to the antifragility of nature. By differentiating into layers, systems can once again contain adverse impacts and increase the potential for learning by watching what happens to constituent units in the lower layers.

(4)    Build in redundancy and overcompensation
Redundancy in systems is a key to antifragility.  As Taleb suggests, nature loves to over-insure itself, whether in the case of providing each of us with two kidneys or excess capacity in our neural system or arterial apparatus. Overcompensation is a form of redundancy and it can help systems to opportunistically respond to unanticipated events. What seems like inefficiency or wasted resources like extra cash in the bank or stockpiles of food can actually prove to be enormously helpful, not just to survive unexpected stress, but to provide the resources required to address windows of opportunity that often arise in times of turmoil.This perspective helps to put into context the praise of inefficiency in Bill Janeway’s important new book, Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy.

(5)    Resist the urge to suppress randomness
Taleb warns against the tendency of planners to try to eliminate volatility or unpredictable disruptions to a system.  Sure, they are messy and upset the best laid plans but, as mentioned above, he stresses the paradox that efforts to eliminate this randomness will only intensify the vulnerability of systems to damage from disruption. As he observes, “. . . if antifragility is the property of all those natural (and complex) systems that have survived, depriving these systems of volatility, randomness, and stressors will harm them. They will weaken, die, or blow up. We have been fragilizing the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything . . . by suppressing randomness and volatility.” Randomness is the root cause of serendipity – a theme that Taleb comes back to repeatedly as a source for most of the great discoveries that have moved our society forward. Without randomness, there can be no serendipity.While I believe we can shape serendipity, the underlying force is the randomness and unpredictability that makes life so interesting.

(6)    Ensure everyone has skin in the game
Systems must ensure that all participants have skin in the game – participants must face the consequences of their actions and endure failure as well as enjoy success. This will ensure that each participant will be motivated to learn as rapidly as possible and not take unwarranted risks.  Danger arises when a select few – especially those with an abundance of resources or power – are able to capture the upside for themselves while exposing others to downside risks of losses or harm.  In other words, bail-outs are highly dysfunctional. As Taleb points out, capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.

(7)    Give higher status to practitioners rather than theoreticians
Taleb is eloquent in his contempt for theoreticians and his admiration for practitioners. He believes that a lot of society’s troubles come from the fact that we over-estimate the role of research and analysis and downplay the role of practice and experimentation in driving advances in knowledge and material well-being.


The Best Indie Workout Playlist of All Time (100 Songs)

by Cameron Schaefer on April 17, 2013

Since Levi & I put our brains together for 25 Albums You Should Own On Vinyl we’ve been on a bit of a music-list kick. We know, we know – listicles are the death of writing & critical thinking, etc.  Yet, we love reading them ourselves, even when we vehemently disagree with the author’s picks…and we love making them ourselves.  Thus, we decided to do one more (we promise…probably) that would hopefully be useful to a lot of people – a workout playlist.

For quite a while both of us have been asked by our friends for good indie workout music, i.e. non-Top 40, stuff you don’t hear on the radio everyday. Thus, we present you with 100 songs (50 from each of us) that we think deserve a place on your workout playlist. Is this the top 100? Best workout playlist ever? Possibly, but you can decide.

What you WON’T find is Powerman 5000, Drowning Pool, Metallica – so if you’re a power lifter and that’s the music you’re looking for don’t bother reading on. However, if your workout includes more than A.C.-Slater-curls, things like running, biking, CrossFit, etc. then you may find some good stuff here you may have otherwise never discovered.  Enjoy!

1. Alexander – “In the Twilight”


2. Animal Collective – “Peacebone”


3. Animal Collective – “Today’s Supernatural”


4. Arcade Fire – “Keep the Car Running”


5. Arcade Fire – “We Used To Wait”


6. Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor”


7. Arctic Monkeys – “Old Yellow Bricks”


8. Atoms for Peace – “Ingenue”


9. Band of Horses – “The Great Salt Lake”


10. Band of Skulls – “Light of the Morning”


11. Beastie Boys – “Gratitude”


12. Beirut – “Postcards from Italy”


13. Big Boi – “Back Up Plan”


14. The Black Keys – “10 AM Automatic”


15. The Black Keys – “Strange Times”


16. Blitzen Trapper – “Fire and Fast Bullets”


17. Broken Bells – “The Ghost Inside”


18. CHVRCHES – “Recover”


19. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – “The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth”


20. Cloud Nothings – “Wasted Days”


21. The Cribs – “Men’s Needs”


22. Cut Copy – “Need You Now”


23. Daft Punk – “One More Time”


24. Daft Punk – “Harder Better Faster Stronger”


25. Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr – “Simple Girl”


26. Das Racist – “Michael Jackson”


27. The Decemberists – “Calamity Song”


28. Deer Tick – “Easy”


29. Deerhoof – “We Do Parties”


30. Deerhunter – “Desire Lines”


31. Dirty Projectors – “Just From Chevron”


32. Ducktails – “Timothy Shy”


33. The Dutchess and The Duke – “Reservoir Park”


34. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes – “Home”


35. Electric Six – “Gay Bar”


36. Fatboy Slim – “Weapon of Choice”


37. Felice Brothers – “Run Chicken Run”


38. Flashy Python – “The Lady is a Ghost”


39. Fleet Foxes – “Grown Ocean”


40. Four Tet – “Locked”


41. Foxygen – “No Destruction”


42. Franz Ferdinand – “The Dark of the Matinee”


43. Fugazi – “Waiting Room”


44. Gil-Scott Heron – “New York Is Killin Me (Jamie XX Remix)”


45. Gorillaz – “Stylo”


46. Grizzly Bear  - “A Simple Answer”


47. Handsome Furs – “Repatriated”


48. Heartless Bastards – “My Maker”


49. The Heavy – “How You Like Me Now”


50. Hot Chip – “Flutes”


51. Jack White – “Sixteen Saltines”


52. Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built”


53. Jeff The Brotherhood – “Staring at the Wall”


54. Justice – “D.A.N.C.E.”


55. Kid Koala – “2 Bit Blues”


56. The Kills – “Sour Cherry”


57. Kings of Leon – “The Bucket”


58. The Knife – “A Tooth for an Eye”


59. Kurt Vile – “Jesus Fever”


60. LCD SoundSystem – “All My Friends”


61. LCD SoundSystem – “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”


62. Little Dragon – “Ritual Union”


63. Local Natives – “Sun Hands”


64. The Long Winters – “Scared Straight”


65. Luke Temple – “Ophelia”


66. Lykki Li – “Get Some”


67. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes”


68. Metz – “Wet Blanket”


69. MGMT – “Kids”


70. The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”


71. Palma Violets – “Best of Friends”


72. Panda Bear – “Tomboy”


73. Parquet Courts – “Stoned and Starving”


74. Passion Pit – “Moths Wings”


75. Phoenix – “1901″


76. Radiohead – “Morning Mr Magpie”


77. The Rapture – “Sail Away”


78. Rage Against the Machine – “Testify”


79. Ratatat – “Seventeen Years”


80. Sia – “Breathe Me (Four Tet Remix)”


81. Solange – “Losing You”


82. Spoon – “The Underdog”


83. The Strokes – “The Modern Age”


84. The Strokes – “You Only Live Once”


85. Tame Impala – “Be Above It”


86. Tame Impala – “Elephant”


87. Temper Trap – “Sweet Disposition”


88. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – “We Don’t Call”


89. TNGHT – “Higher Ground”


90. Tune-Yards – “Bizness”


91. TV on the Radio – “Wolf Like Me”


92. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark)”


93. Wavves – “Demon to Lean On”


94. White Rabbits – “Percussion Gun”


95. White Stripes – “Blue Orchid”


96. White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army”


97. Wolf Parade – “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”


98. Wolfmother – “Woman”


99. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Heads Will Roll”


100. Yeasayer – “2080″


Variations on a Theme – Keith Richards

April 11, 2013

via Roo & The Howl… What I found out about blues and music, tracing things back, was that nothing came from itself. As great as it is, this is not one stroke of genius. This cat was listening to somebody and it’s his variation on the theme. And so you suddenly realize that everybody’s connected […]

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25 Albums You Should Own on Vinyl

March 25, 2013

This is part 3 of of 3-part series Levi & I wrote on the joys of vinyl records.  See Part I: “Let the Vinyl Spin: My Journey Into Record Collecting” -AND- Part II: “A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Your First Turntable” as well as the supplements “The Top 5 Beginner Turntables for Vinyl Enthusiasts” and “Must Have Vinyl Accessories”. —————————————– Below […]

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Top 5 Beginner Turntables for Vinyl Enthusiasts

November 8, 2012

Since starting Vinyl + Cocktails this past summer, Levi and I have had quite a few people ask us about the best turntables for people just getting into vinyl.  Our “Beginner’s Guide to Buying Your First Turntable” is up over at the Art of Manliness, but we wanted to provide some additional guidance for those wanting specific turntable recommendations.  As […]

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My Journey Into Vinyl Records

October 11, 2012

 Some of you may remember that I used to write for an excellent blog called The Art of Manliness.  I just wrote the first of a series of posts for them on my recent foray into the world of vinyl and the first post is now up.  Please go take a look when you have […]

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Wylie’s General Theory of Strategy

October 7, 2012

So it is proposed here that a general theory of strategy should be some development of the following fundamental theme: The primary aim of the strategist in the conduct of war is some selected degree of control of the enemy for the strategist’s own purpose; this is achieved by control of the pattern of war; […]

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Seeking the Right Questions

September 14, 2012

“We ought to be seeking tentative answers to fundamental questions, rather than definitive answers to trivial ones.” – James H. Billington *From the first chapter of Colin S. Gray’s War, Peace, and Victory: Strategy and Statecraft for the Next Century Tweet

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