Oct 20

Of the twenty books I read recently I would put this one in the top three as being a must-read. I have a bunch to say about this book but let me just hit the main points:

  • It provides a much-needed does of optimism in the face of constant doom & gloom predictions about climate change, population explosion, terrorism, drought, food shortages, epidemics, nuclear proliferation, etc. It’s presented in a credible and evidence-supported way (exactly half the book is footnotes and references to other sources). And it gives a prescriptive path offering ideas for things we can do to positively affect outcomes.
  • The first part of the book addresses the cognitive biases that explain why each successive generation tends to believe that calamity is imminent. Two biases in particular (anchoring and loss aversion) lead folks to blind spots that stem from fear and inability to think beyond the current reality frame. A great example of this was the widespread fear in mid-1800’s that the town was doomed to drown in horse manure. Given the situation it was a rational conclusion but they couldn’t have foreseen the advent of the automobile and the fact they’d soon be concerned over polluted skies rather than polluted streets.
  • The mechanism for this unforeseen, quantum leap type progress is what Diamandis calls the “adjacent possibles” or “doors that immediately lead to more doors.”  This was one of my favorite paragraphs explaining this concept:

“Twenty years ago, most well-off US citizens owned a camera, a video camera, a CD player, a stereo, a video game console, a cell phone, a watch, an alarm clock, a set of encyclopedias, a world atlas, a Thomas Guide and a whole bunch of other assets that easily add up to more than $10,000. All of which come standard on today’s smart phones, or are available for purchase at the app store for less than a cup of coffee. In this, our exponentially enabled world, that’s how quickly $10,000 worth of expenses can vanish. More importantly, these things can vanish without too much outside intervention. No one set out to zero the costs of two dozen products, inventors set out to make better cell phones, and the path of the adjacent possible did the rest.”

  • The author gives his definitions of some fundamentals:
    • what is abundance? everyone maximizing talents
    • what is prosperity? saved time “true measure of something’s worth is the hours it takes to acquire it”
    • what is culture? ability to store, exchange and improve ideas
  • He then goes on to discuss the “Eight exponentials” which are the eight fields that they chose as curriculum for Singularity University:   biotech, computational systems, networks & sensors, AI, robotics, digital manufacturing, medicine, nanomaterials. He posits these fields uniquely have the capacity to compound the effects of the others and yield impossible leaps.
  • He maintains that the “abundance backbone” consists of four disciplines: literacy, basic math, life skills & critical thinking. These four fundamentals provide the essentials necessary for one to then use the internet to attain other  knowledge to make advancements. It made me think of the analogy of a computer BiOS for being able to call a bootloader and load the rest of the OS. As long as you have these core skills you can fetch everything else later. So the challenge becomes to deliver these core skills to more people who currently lack them, along with the means to get the rest from the internet.
  • He says that “creative ideas are the ultimate resource yet our current educational system does little to nourish this resource” and then quotes Sir Ken Robinson. I strongly recommend his TED talk on the subject of education. I’ve written at length on my ideas for how we could revamp education and agree that we need to fundamentally rethink the system from the ground up prioritizing creativity.
  • Apparently the author co-founded Singularity University with Ray Kurzweil. I saw Kurzweil’s “Transcendent Man” film last year and highly recommend it.
  • It’s core premise is that Artificial Intelligence + computing power + Moore’s Law means we’re approaching an inevitable shift where AI will soon blow past the human brain in performance capability. The author points out “whether the lightning fast search results of Google or the speech recognition of Siri like it or not we are already AI codependent today.”
  • Having  Jeff Hawkins’ book “On Intelligence” recently I found it interesting there’s no mention of the Numenta technology.  To me that’s the most intriguing advancement for AI (essentially biomimicry of the human neocortex).
  • He cites the the “lab on a chip” innovation as an exciting synthesis of sensors, AI, and network which dematerializes the HIV test: “What once required long doctor visits, a vial o flood, and days or weeks of anxious waiting now needs no visit, a single drop of blood, and a fifteen-minute read, all for under $1 using a microfluidic optical chip smaller than a credit card.” When combined with geo-awareness via GPS and machine learning it opens up the possibility to catch and contain epidemics at an earlier stage, which is especially relevant given the current frenzy around the Ebola scare.
  • There are four major motivators driving innovation: curiosity, fear, desire for wealth creation, desire for significance. In addition to founding Singularity University the author is also creator of the X Prize which leverages all four of these motivators.
  • He makes the case that incentive prizes do a couple useful things, namely: 1) raise visibility of big challenges and 2) pave the way by creating a public mindset that the challenge is in fact solvable. Also 3) in areas where market failures or entrenched incumbents have thwarted progress, prizes like the X Prize can serve to break up otherwise impassable bottlenecks.
  • The irony of this is that a fellow company at the last incubator where we were a tenant, Paraslice, had solved the genome sequencing X Prize just before the prize was revoked and the contest canceled.

In all, I found this book hugely encouraging and thought provoking. We are deluged with such negative and substance-less information daily, it was so refreshing to get a glimpse of an optimistic (yet realistic) potential future. For more info see the author’s blog or .

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Oct 08

As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve been reading a ton lately. I’m going to do a brain dump series of posts on various random observations and thoughts from the last twenty books I’ve read.  There will be some random meta digressions but all of it with the intent to share the most useful things I’ve learned lately.  I figure it’s best to do this as a series of posts (otherwise this will devolve into a 10,000 word monster post that nobody will read). So here’s the full list and I’ll start tonight with thoughts on the first one:

    1. A Guide to the Good Life

      A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy was my first exposure to the stoic philosophy and came as a recommendation from my friend Bryan Kirch. It provides a solid overview of this philosophy. Rather than taking an academic/theoretical approach it places an emphasis on actionable, practical advice for putting the concepts into practice in one’s life.  Random thoughts that struck me while reading it:

      • “Negative visualization” is the antithesis of the technique of “positive affirmation” espoused by life coaches and books like “The Secret.” The idea is that you essentially immunize yourself against habituating the positive things in your life and taking them for granted. Internalizing the reality that one day you will lose everything makes you more acutely aware and appreciative of what you have today. “Hedonic adaptation” is the term for never being satisfied as you gain more and more luxuries. Negative visualization is the antidote to Hedonic Adaptation.  Instead of thinking positive you basically imagine the worst possible scenarios happening. I’ve dabbled with this since and while I can’t speak to the effectiveness of the “hedonic immunity,” one byproduct has been that it snaps you into the moment and makes you more mindful.
      • On tranquility as the ultimate goal: I have a fundamental issue with the belief that the ultimate goal is to dampen the high’s and low’s of life. I picture a sine wave of up’s and down’s in life’s roller coaster journey and the author seems to be advocating reducing the amplitude of one’s sine wave as the primary goal.  I just don’t agree with that. I actually believe experiencing the full breadth of human emotion to widest possible extent is arguably a better goal.  “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all…” Maybe I’m misinterpreting things but the author’s advice of seeking tranquility seems to run directly counter to a core value I believe.
      • Not surprisingly I also disagree with the notion of embracing a fatalistic view that life is pre-determined and one lacks the ability to affect the outcome. I suppose if tranquility were the ultimate goal having a fatalistic belief system would help the practitioner abdicate a lot of responsibility and feel more at peace, but given that I feel the fundamental premise upon which the fatalistic recommendation is based is faulty, I don’t agree with the recommendation.
      • I do dig the idea of having a codified life philosophy that serves as a filter through which every decision becomes obvious. In the same way that having business process documentation or automation helps reduce cognitive load and uncertainty around decision making for workers, I get the value of having a well-defined life philosophy like stoicism.  There are some useful components but (at least for me personally) trying to adhere to orthodox stoicism would be as futile as my attempt to strictly adhere to David Allen’s GTD todo philosophy. In the end I’ve pulled bits and pieces of his task management framework and developed my own system that works for me. I believe the same is probably true with stoicism- that the optimal framework will be person-specific and folks will be best served gaining exposure to many different philosophies and then making their own Mr. Potatohead philosophy of the components that best serve them.
      •   The Obstacle is the Way: <- I read this book subsequently as another recommendation from Bryan and while Ryan Holiday is a great author and speaker (he narrated the audio version of his book) I didn’t have nearly the number of epiphanies or insights with his book. It’s probably useful to reinforce the stoic ideas but if you were going to read one or the other, definitely read the Good Life.
    2. Abundance

    3. Turn the Ship Around

    4. The Divergent Trilogy

    5. Zero to One

    6. On Intelligence

    7. Shantaram

    8. Art of Racing in the Rain

    9. Ghost in the Wires

    10. Patriots & TEOTWAWKI

    11. Power Questions

    12. Snowcrash

    13. Thinking Strategically

    14. Lean Startup

    15. Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman

    16. Diving Bell & The Butterfly

    17. Thinking in Systems

    18. Pitch Anything

    19. The Power of Now

    20. Start With Why

^ Here’s the book list. I’ll post thoughts on each of these in the coming weeks and use this as an excuse to get in a rhythm of writing again.

On a sidenote: if you read on a kindle device, they now have it so the audiobook typically syncs with the text. This means you can be reading on your laptop, hop in your car with your iPhone and have it continue reading to you from where you left off. Then when you get to the store and are standing in line, you open your phone and the kindle phone reader now picks up where the audio left off. It’s this pervasive reading experience where you’re able to keep plowing through books and not get in a reading rut. They call it WhisperSync for Voice and it’s enabled on many kindle books – super useful.

Up next: a fantastic book I read recently called Abundance with a refreshing positive prognosis for our future amidst all the doom & gloom predictions of climate change, pollution, epidemics, natural resource depletions, species extinctions, etc.

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Sep 21

It’s been a 2-year writing hiatus for me. I used to post multiple times per week and had an endless supply of ideas, techniques, observations and insight to share here. And then something happened one day and that inspiration evaporated. If you’ve ever experienced writer’s block you’ll know the heartache of wanting to swim back to that space of creativity and flow but being too tired to do so.

I’ve reflected a ton on this period. For the benefit of anyone else in the same position I’ll try and open up and share what I believe to be the source of my writer’s block and what is slowly chipping it apart and restoring me. I believe it was a confluence of burnout from a company I started eight years ago along with due to overwhelm from tweet-sized social media blurbs. I started this blog end of 2005 and wrote faithfully here for the next seven years. To date it’s seen half a million visitors and served 3/4MM pageviews:
scrollinondubs stats
I’ve made friends because of it, poured hundreds of hours of thought and energy into distilling the stuff I’ve learned and endeavored to make powerful concepts more accessible to others. I’ve shamed a few bullies for nefarious practices, given extra exposure to people and companies I love. And in the end, I’ve enjoyed writing because it clarifies my thinking and gives me perspective. With this blog being such a positive force in my life, why did I stop? Let’s dig into what happened and look at what’s resuscitating my writing…

Straight up: I failed in my duty as CEO of JumpBox to make that company work. After a seven year run my co-founder and CTO left abruptly and the company was in imminent danger of a shutdown. I don’t blame my co-founder for leaving- his was a Sisyphean task to keep that company alive given the surface area of the technology stack and the nature of the challenge making 50 different OSS apps stay updated and working in any computing environment. It remains a difficult challenge in the hands of a good friend who miraculously made a diving catch in the 11th hour and saved the company. And oddly, you’d think I’d be thrilled that the company was rescued but instead his incredible skill at saving it had the unexpected byproduct of creating resentment in me for highlighting my inability to do the same. That created a whole unanticipated negative spiral of emotion. My friend and I have since mended our friendship but the experience zapped my reserves after JumpBox. And yet even the consternation from that isn’t what created the writer’s block…

I do a bunch of stuff. My friends think I have ADD because I run four different user groups, help mentor at three incubators and speak on panels when asked. I launched a volunteer effort called Charity Makeover this past year as well as an “Ocean’s Eleven talent experiment” called Automation Gurus. So I’m all over the map with my attention spread admittedly across too many endeavors. Having come to the place of being moderately respected as an entrepreneur in Phoenix I realized the businesses I had built weren’t all that successful relative to where I want to be. And I began to feel like a charlatan for advising other startups on Lean, CustDev, marketing automation, strategy, etc when my own startup was floundering and on the verge of collapse.

Paralyzed by this hollow feeling of giving advice publicly but not feeling successful in my own ventures I withdrew from writing and speaking and began reading a bunch of books. But books don’t break you out of that funk. Only getting back in the saddle and soldiering on does. Someone told me during this period “you don’t have to be an Olympic gold medalist to be a good swim coach. Get back out there.” So true. The epiphany for me was that I’ve been letting my own insecurity of having not yet hit a homerun company squelch perfectly valuable teaching and writing that I used to do that was helpful other entrepreneurs. No more.

One of the introspective exercises I’ve undertaken during this time has been Simon Sinek’s “Why University.” With the help of a few friends (thanks Courtney, Dave & Bryan) I’ve been excavating myself for my “Why.” The “Why” (capital W) is your anima, your dharma and the essence of your being all wrapped in one. Paulo Coelho would call “your Personal Legend.” You might call it your destiny or core essence. Whatever you call it, it’s the raw uniqueness that you and only you bring as a gift for the world. I’m now questing actively to unearth my Why and all I know is it involves writing again. So I’m writing again.

My buddy Nate Stone is an incredible musician in Flagstaff. I met him a few years ago by coincidence and when I heard his music I got goosebumps. When I first met Nate he was getting over a similar period of writer’s block (or more accurately “performer’s block”). He said, “I felt like music was bullshit and none of it mattered.” I know exactly where he was coming from.

I just a week ago made a move out to Newport Beach, California. I’ve been journaling privately for the past two months and getting the writing wheels turning again in private before coming back here to a resume a public form of journaling. I’m now working in Laguna Beach with a colleague and fellow ex-Infusionsoft certified partner to help artists be able to focus on their own Why’s. Through Artiledge we’re giving artists a way to defer the awkward sales component of their craft so they can focus exclusively on the creative aspects. We think this methodology we’ve developed will bring greater peace of mind to artists, bring art into more homes and unlock latent creativity and passion amongst one of my favorite constituencies: creatives.

The good news is having “kinked the blogging hose” for so long, I now have a TON of material to get out there and share. In the past two years I’ve learned a good amount about Customer Development, marketing automation, WordPress, survival skills, archery, kite surfing, running, game theory, stoicism, persuasion, negotiation and a bunch of other subjects. For my business-oriented writing follow @grid7 or subscribe to the Grid7 blog (do people still use RSS BTW?). I’ll do the personal, non-business stuff here so you can follow @scrollinondubs or this RSS for that. And to watch where we take the Charity Makeover effort and Artiledge follow those sources respectively.

I can’t promise there won’t be dry spells going forward on here. But what I can promise is that I’ve come to realize very deeply the same conclusion with writing that Nate arrived at with music: that it DOES very much matter even when you’re in that dark tunnel thinking it’s all pointless. No matter the ebb and flow of success with the ventures I undertake I’m back for good writing here and squarely focused on my Why. I took this picture at sunset of the jetty that’s a block away from my new place. For the people out there wrestling with mental gridlock and struggle in their endeavors, I hope you find the tranquility and fortitude to power through and get through the valley and on to the next peak. Talk soon


Jan 21

Froma Harrop, your OpEd piece on Aaron Swartz today has brought me out of a blogging hiatus to respond. I feel compelled in the name of combatting the clueless views you espouse in your article.

Ironically today is MLK day- a day to celebrate a man who challenged a population to change, stood up against a crappy system and died doing it. You rest in the cozy assertion that “Aaron committed real crimes.” Guess what: the sit-ins and protests of the 60’s broke laws at the time but they were in pursuit of challenging a broken system and advancing a just and higher cause. Aaron Swartz’s “liberation” of the PACER civil info and subsequently the JSTOR academic docs was an honorable public protest that wound up killing him and he should be revered as a figure like MLK who died in pursuit of pushing this world to be a better place. I wish he would have lived longer to figure out how to fix the software patent system and liberate all the beneficial IP that’s currently imprisoned under an arcane and broken system.

A thicker-skinned individual perhaps would have better weathered the prospect of a lifetime in jail for this protest. You could argue that he knew the consequences going into it and he chose to accept that risk. The fact he suffered depression and therefore was more susceptible to thoughts of suicide is consequential, etc, etc. The point is that the prosecution saw opportunity to target this kid, “rack him in front of the village” and make him an example to warn anyone else thinking of doing something similar. Meanwhile, the architects of the US financial crisis who committed truly damaging, societal-underming crimes for personal gain at the expense of decimating an entire nation and generation are driving around in sports cars and cashing bonuses from bail out money. It’s an issue of perverted civil punitive priorities and abuses of undue force by government officials. And it’s all sickening.

There have been numerous thoughtful pieces on this kid’s story (here, here, here, here, here, here & here) so I’m not going to rehash any more other than to say, you add nothing substantive to this conversation. Like the typical AZ Joe Arpaio Rambo-fuck-you, small-minded attitude of dealing with issues like this, your stance on Aaron Swartz sweeps the real problem under the table. The fact is flagrant, truly-detrimental crimes go unpunished while a young guy who has the guts to “break the animals out of the zoo” gets the Secret Service sicced on him because he’s a progressive muckraker who challenges authority. I don’t expect quality journalism from AZcentral at this point. Your homepage is a sleazy quilt of Enquirer-type gossip, traffic accident reports, deal chicken offers and weekend party photos devoid of any meaningful though-provoking stories so your level of journalism is to be expected I suppose. But don’t tarnish this kid’s memory by kowtowing to your status quo readership and diminishing what he did in hopes of sounding smart.

If any programmers out there have the wherewithal to create a greasemonkey Firefox add-on that redraws Froma Harrop’s pieces as the pile of monkey poop that they are, I will happily fund that effort.

Nov 21

Below are the slides and video from a talk I did yesterday with the 7th & 8th graders at All Saints’:

Thanks Irene Tseng for the opportunity. I graduated All Saints’ in 1989 and I would send my kids there in a heartbeat today. Happily none of the kids there had the haircut I did back then ;-)

Sep 10

marinate your songs
Soundcloud is a great service that allows musicians to easily share their creations and have listeners leave in-line comments on the music. But I’ve recently discovered an alternative use case of the service that’s very useful: it removes all the friction associated with “marinating” your music.

By “marinating” I mean that period after you’ve recorded something when you sit back and absorb it in different settings hearing the different sounds that present in different environments. If you’ve ever seen the movie Once with Glen Hansard this is “the car test.” Having interacted with a piece exclusively via your recording setup you’ll hear new facets to the song once you take it in jogging with an iPod, driving around via your car stereo or listening full blast on your buddy’s entertainment center.

In the past to get this kind of diversity of perspective one had to burn a CD, save it to iTunes, put it on the iPod, etc. There was just enough friction that you’d only do this once you had mastered the final mix as a sanity check. But Soundcloud has made it so easy that exporting the track and uploading (~2min of work depending on the length of the piece) is entirely frictionless. I find myself using the service to iteratively get more insight into the track I just recorded which helps me incorporate drastic changes. Here’s a case in point:

I was just tinkering with my buddy Nate’s song “Somewhere Safe.” I love the outro to this song so I pulled it into my music editor and started messing around remixing it. I came up with this:

But driving around listening to that I heard the refrain of another song by the band Snow Patrol so I went back, tweaked some things and made this:

This is kind of a silly example but It was only through driving around and letting that song “marinate” that I heard the other refrain. The takeaway here is that Soundcloud operates not just at a “sharing what’s finished” level but also works earlier in the formative stages of constructing songs. And it’s not that it enables anything you couldn’t do before, it just removes enough of the friction so that you will do it. Anyways, neat.

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