Dec 25

photo credit: on Flickr

It’s been just over a year since I gave up Facebook and Instagram and I thought I’d share some observations here about the experience for those considering trying a social media fast after the holidays.

TLDR; It has its pro’s and con’s. I’ve treated it as a 1-yr “elimination diet” experiment. My plan is to reintroduce time-boxed deliberate usage on the weekends while retaining the newsfeed blocker plugins. I’ll explain in depth in this post.

What prompted this experiment?

It’s been a year and a week since I wrote this post and ceased using Facebook and Instagram. If you want the backstory of why read that post. The short version is I had (and still have) concerns that social media may turn out to be the cigarettes of our generation- something we thought that was innocuous at the time that later proves to be cancerous to our mental health. After doing some research and soul searching I decided the only way to figure this out was to withdraw completely from it and see how it felt.

What I did

  1. Installed the FB Newsfeed eradicator and YouTube Hide Recommended Videos plugins.
  2. Deleted the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone.
  3. Switched from Chrome to Brave browser and enabled active blocking of all Facebook ad tracking.
  4. Opted out of cross-app tracking on iOS.
  5. Posted a farewell message on FB/IG.

I didn’t do the full-on Facebook Sepuku for a few reasons:

  1. Unfortunately I used Facebook as the login for a number of accounts and haven’t fully unraveled all that. It would require migrating each account to use an email address- not terribly difficult, but tedious and time-consuming.
  2. There are a number of people I met during my travels with whom I’m only connected via FB. I couldn’t bring myself to permanently sever all potential contact with those folks.
  3. Facebook still has utility to me in the form of participating in various Facebook groups in Lisbon and using the Facebook marketplace for buying and selling items. Also I still receive messages from people via FB messenger where that is the only contact info they have for me.

For these reasons I decided to keep my account and just deliberately maim it using the newsfeed extension so it could only be used for practical purposes and most importantly so that I would not be subject to info manipulated via the algorithm.

Instagram I stopped using entirely and login about once per month to check for DM’s from people who message me on there.

What I experienced

After seeing interviews with the early Facebook founders and watching the movie The Social Dilemma, I was most concerned that daily exposure to Instagram and Facebook algorithms was having deleterious effects on eroding my attention & focus, giving me FOMO and just generally allowing myself to be subconsciously influenced by constant manipulation of selective information exposure. I didn’t know what to expect giving up both platforms cold turkey but here are some of the things I experienced:
The Positives:

  • Definite improvement in focus. I’m pretty sure attention is like a muscle and the more you exercise deliberate control the easier it gets. Anecdotally I feel less ADD and more able to concentrate for extended periods whereas this time last year I was prone to distraction. In hard numbers I read 26 books this year which is double my number from last year.
  • More presence. My default in a new social setting when I’m around strangers was previously to whip out the phone and start scrolling. Without that crutch I found myself actually talking to strangers and being more present. Also prior to the social media fast when I had IG on my phone, it was muscle memory every time I used the restroom to reach for my phone and start scrolling. It took about a month before that reflex attenuated and the default became to just be at peace doing nothing.
  • Less FOMO (fear of missing out). I think even the most zen buddhist monk can be mentally hijacked if exposed to enough imagery of friends doing cool stuff. I don’t care how much mental fortitude you have but no amount of discipline makes you immune to FOMO. The only antidote is by throttling exposure. Indeed this had the desired effect of eliminating the window into everyone else’s lives and resulting in again more presence.

The Negatives

  1. Isolation: the flip side to the above is that not having this exposure makes you feel less connected. This is an interesting one because when you look at it logically you’re not truly connected with the passive exposure of seeing pics in newsfeeds- it’s purely the feeling of connectedness, even if it’s a false feeling. I can’t deny that I feel less connected and aware of what all my friends are up to without social media even if it’s an absence of a false sense of connection.
  2. Obscurity. This is a weird one but it’s the other side of the “seeing and being seen” coin. In the same way that I’ve lost visibility into my friends’ lives by failing to consume social media, I’m also not producing surface area in the form of photos and posts that would allow me to occupy mental real estate in the minds of others. As silly as it sounds that periodic confirmation of a like or a comment gives you the affirmation that you still exist in the minds of your friends.
  3. Loss of spontaneous meetings. Having done Remote Year, Wifi Tribe, Nomad Cruise and a number of different conferences and events, I’m lucky to have a diverse group of friends spread across a number of locations. A good chunk of these people still travel and pass through Lisbon. Failing to be on these platforms means that I’ve missed a handful of people who came through my city this year. You could argue this is like losing something that was unnatural to begin with but I do like seeing when someone’s in town and reaching out to grab coffee and meet up. This is something you lose when you go dark on social media.

Overall assessment

In spite of the negatives I think overall it was a net win and good in the way that doing a full elimination diet then allows you to consciously add back in foods and test your reaction now knowing your baseline without them. Some random observations in no particular order:

  1. There is so much power in the hands of these companies in how they dictate exposure to information for so many people. I don’t know the silver bullet of what constitutes optimal regulation of the platforms but I tend to err on the side of freedom in these questions and given the incredible gatekeeping positions they hold at the very least I believe there needs to be transparency in how their algorithm’s work, how one’s personal information is sold and used and the right to make informed decisions as a user of these platforms. BTW this is an excellent podcast interview on this topic. I imagine as more research is done we’ll see the equivalent of “surgeon general’s warning labels” on these platforms to at least advise of potential harmful psychological effects as they are better understood.
  2. Parkinson’s Law at work: My Twitter and LinkedIn usage expanded in absence of Facebook and Instagram. LinkedIn I feel is disposable at this point and its real utility is in the networking features, not the content syndication. Twitter is more useful with 10% gems, 60% noise and 30% filtered news curated by people I like so I don’t have to read mainstream news daily. My “social media fast” wasn’t a complete fast across the board given that I still used LI and Twitter but of the 4 platforms I believe IG & FB were the right two to eliminate.
  3. Quitting a substance like sugar or alcohol cold turkey is unarguably a good thing. I’m not so sure with social media. It’s become so pervasive and a form of social connective tissue that’s so embedded that outright abstinence carries its own detrimental psychological effects. I think there may be a responsible healthy way to engage with it and I’ll explain that in the last section here.

My plan going forward

As before I’m not intending to kill off either my FB nor Instagram accounts going forward as they still have utility to me and I’m at least aware of the trades data privacy-wise and psychological impact-wise now. My plan instead is to keep the feed blockers in place, to keep the apps off my phone and to continue with the current plan indefinitely with one exception: I’m allowing a 1-hr window of time-boxed usage on the weekend to scroll mindlessly and get a window into my friends’ updates. I’m also giving myself ability to make one post per week during that time. I feel like by having a deliberately time-bound constraint for consumption & production it should mitigate the downsides while still upholding most of the upside of this experiment.

For censorship resistance and immutability I’m looking at using something like Mastadon as an intermediary and having that push via Zapier or IFTTT to Twitter/FB/LinkedIn.

I intend to slowly De-Facebook and De-Google my life in terms of account logins. The convenience of single sign-on is not worth being inextricably coupled to these services so I will be using email logins exclusively going forward and migrating off of single sign-ons for past accounts as I find them.

On my Christmas visit to Phoenix I reached out to a number of friends scheduled lunches, coffees & dinners with about 15 different people. It doesn’t take the excuse of a physical visit though to give you permission to reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in ages and just catch up over the phone.  I started scheduling catchup calls before the holidays and I’m hoping to loosely continue slow playing that trend throughout 2022. Weirdly I actually like audio calls more than video calls for the purposes of catching up. It has a different tenor and you can really focus on what the other person is saying when it’s just audio. Time will tell but I plan to keep up that tradition of reaching out to a few people per month.

If you want to do more research on the effects of social media in our lives I listed a few resources in this post and highly encourage watching the documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix.

What are your thoughts on this stuff?

Jun 22

I just got back from hiking the Grand Canyon with five friends. We did 30mi in 3 days leaving from the South Rim with full packs, camping out at Bright Angel campground, visiting Ribbon Falls and hiking back out via Indian Springs. Here are some photos:

Friday was one of the most physically demanding days I’ve ever had (2nd only to hiking Cotopaxi back in ’95). Before I jump back into the grind I want to take a few moments and preserve some of the “afterglow” of this experience. I don’t have a structured post in mind here but there were a handful of little things that stood out that I want to jot down for posterity:

  • It’s mind-blowing. Pictures (even amazing ones) don’t do justice to the sheer hugeness of the Canyon. I know that sounds cliche but it literally robs you of your breath when you first step to the edge of the Canyon from above. Hiking into it yields a whole next level of appreciation of how huge this thing is. I had just watched Episode 8 of “The Cosmos” where they talk about how the Canyon offers scientists “chapters of an open book” for being able to look back to the formation of the Earth. It’s one thing to watch this on Netflix and hear it academically but to put your hands on rock that’s been around for over 1 billion years is just surreal.
  • Bullfrogs at night sound like crying newborns. We stayed a stone’s throw away from a running creek and at night on the walk back from Phantom Ranch you hear all the night sounds of the creek. The bullfrogs have this eerie cry they make that messes with you because nowhere at the bottom will you see a newborn baby yet at night there’s this constant sound of like 20 crying infants. It’s weird.
  • Speaking of the creek: both days we were there we would just lie in the creek and let the water rush over us. Zoning out with friends just staring up through the cottonwoods at the high walls of the Canyon was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
  • Appreciation for mornings: I am not (and never have been) a morning person but due to the extreme heat there (113F deg the day we left) we had to wake up at 3:45am. As jarring as that was, once you get over the grogginess it’s absolutely gorgeous in the early morning. I’m planning to try and morph my sleeping habits to become more of a morning person. I feel like after dark I gravitate to time-wasting activities while in the early morning it’s just more geared towards time-appreciating activities.
  • We went when it was a new moon so it was pitch black at night. I was the only one who didn’t have a tent (I had a hammock instead) so I slept in the open under some of the brightest clearest stars I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it was satellites or UFO’s or whatever but there’s a lot going on up there we don’t normally see. I wish I had a better camera that could have captured the night skies down there. It was amazing.
  • You’re capable of far more than you think- physical limitations are largely mental. It took us 3hr30min to hike down and 6hr15min to hike back out. On the way out I was out of gas shortly after the halfway mark so for another three hours I was running on some alternate fuel source. Chris, Tyler and I hiked as a unit most of the way and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have made it on my own. But that’s weird if you think about it. Hiking as a unit you become part of a larger organism that has more energy – you cannot underestimate the power of others to help summon this elusive “mental fuel source” that is always there buried within you.
  • I forgot how much Motley Crue kicks ass. Chris had thought ahead and brought a little bluetooth-enabled boombox. At one point after some particularly grueling switchbacks we were all exhausted but he fires up “Kickstart My Heart” and instantly we all get our mojo back. Crazy how music (like friends) can summon that alternate fuel source.
  • Hiking poles are essential. I (stupidly) thought I’d save the $20 rental fee and just go without them. That was a mistake. I’m 6’7″ and my height makes my knees extra-susceptible to impact – they were blown about 75% of the way down. We then had a 12mi hike the next day and still had to get back out. Fortunately Chris loaned me one of his poles on the way back out but the damage by that point had already been done. Ace bandages and Ibuprofen helped but if you’re considering doing it just spend the money and get hiking poles for reducing the impact on your knees. Also, don’t buy new hiking boots the day before the trip. That was just idiocy on my part and I’m paying for it with a blister the size of a 3rd big toe right now.
  • Social media fasting feels good. I’m too wired-in and slave to the dopamine hits of checking my phone for useless stuff in situations where I should just look up. Man it was nice to not even have the capability to use the Internet down there. I slept for 17hrs straight when I got back home. Granted, most of that was paying off a sleep deficit and physical exhaustion but I think some component was also the reduction in ADD from being unwired for a few days. I need to make a more concerted effort to ditch my phone in daily life above the ground.

That’s the gist of it. If you’re considering hiking the Canyon I highly encourage it. You can hike down to whatever depth you’re comfortable with. If you do though please respect the people coming up with full packs who are running on fumes. Towards the top we encountered a lot of day tourists who were oblivious and didn’t respect the right of way to the people coming up. That was pretty infuriating given how zapped we were. Also if you go, do it with friends and be conscious of ensuring constant water consumption and add electrolytes. Apparently someone died down at Indian Springs this Thursday. Your decision making becomes cloudy as you get dehydrated so it’s a vicious spiral once you hit that point (I know because on the way out I failed to fill at the last water stop although I stopped to wet my hat, stupid). Anyways the Canyon is amazing. Go experience it.

Oh and lastly, go check out the band The Lone Bellow. We were fortunate to catch them at the Tilted Earth Festival in Cottonwood this weekend after the hike. Magical performance. Just check out these harmonies. Rarely do songs give me goosebumps but this one did:

UPDATE 7/16/15: Chris from our group had a GoPro going most of the time in the Canyon and just published an _awesome_ montage video from our hike. Check it out:

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


May 30

This post is part of an ongoing series entitled “a post a day every couple days for the month of May.” It’s an unfolding exploration of the concepts from the book “Get Lucky.”

Neo, sooner or later you're going to realize just as I did that 
there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. 
-Morpheus from Matrix

If the skill of Preparation exists on the “can you?” side of the equation, the skill of Divergence sits squarely on the “will you?” side. The book covers some interesting stories in this chapter (the Cornell anti-creativity uncertainty study, the cautionary Borders Books vs. Barnes & Noble tale and Jeff Bezo’s bet on AWS, a business which would single-handedly trailblaze an entire industry now called cloud computing). The main message with Divergence is that it does us no good to practice the other skills if we confine ourselves familiar territory. It’s only when we break from the well-worn path and explore the side streets that the magic occurs. I want to share two personal stories of Divergence but first I want to talk about a guy who embodies a concept of Divergence: Iceman:

Wait a minute, not that Iceman. This Iceman:

This was by far the coolest Marvel comic character. His super power was his ability to shoot ice crystals out of his hands and manifest an ice platform wherever he went allowing him to skate anywhere he chose. We’re entering borderline foofoo metaphysical territory now but Divergence (from personal experience) seems to endow muggles like ourselves with a bit of this same super power to “pave our own roads as we go.” Here are two personal stories that illustrate what I’m talking about.

The Great SF Roadtrip of ’07

In November of 2007 I embarked on what would prove to be an epic 31-day road trip around Silicon Valley. You can read the series of blog posts from that trip here. This trip was one massive case study in Divergence. It was largely unplanned and with the primary goal being to increase our surface area and compensate for JumpBox’s lack of contacts in the Bay Area.

In the course of that trip one thing led to another and I wound up meeting people who have since become friends and extended family of the Phoenix startup community- people like Jeremy Tanner, Andrew Hyde, Jasmine Antonick and Sarah Blue. I would end up staying on seventeen different couches during the course of that trip. Through an ex-relationship of a sister of a friend I would wind up having beers with one of my startup heroes, Mark Fletcher from the book Founders At Work. And then lunch with author of the book and wife of Paul Graham, Jessica Livingston. And then… you get the point. In the end we found ourselves in talks with seven different top-tier Sand Hill Road venture capitalists (having not one meeting planned in advance of departing).

When I examine what worked on that trip and try to identify the secret sauce I’m left with a dissatisfying answer: chance. But having now read Get Lucky I realize that I inadvertently practiced most of the skills advocated in the book. Each day I scouted for some peripherally-related event that might have a group of likeminded strangers in attendance and purposefully put myself in foreign situations. I accepted invitations to dinner from folks I had just met. I never stayed in one place more than three days and always I was open to changing the plan and going wherever the next encounter led. In short, I decidedly diverged from my element and in so doing paved an ice bridge in realtime that carried me wonderful places.

Here’s another story of some friends who are masters of Divergence.

Life at ten miles per hour

Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell weren’t always world class film makers. When I knew them in 2003 they were my roommates in Scottsdale, AZ and co-workers at Initech, ahem I mean Saleslogix. About a week or two after I quit that company they did the same to pursue a life changing road trip of their own. They would drive the length of the United States at 10mph on a segway scooter and film what would later become a film-festival-winning documentary of their journey. Almost a decade later their movie just last month debuted on Netflix’s and held the top slot for viewer’s choice documentaries. Their story was picked up by just about every major news outlet and their trip concluded with them driving their segway onstage to a public speaking event where Segway inventor Dean Kamen greeted them and had them share their story.

Of course at the time they began their journey they had no media connections, no ties with Dean Kamen, no plan other than to head east starting at Pike’s place in Seattle with the hope of getting to the east coast before it got too cold. The uniqueness of their story enabled them to talk with any and everyone they met along the way and manifest an “ice bridge” they would use to ride into film success. They were masters at capitalizing on chance encounter upon chance encounter and building an unstoppable momentum with the press around what they were doing. If you were to ask them today what they attribute the success of that film to, undoubtedly there would be 3 parts hard work but at least one part serendipity. And it all stemmed from a conscious decision to stray the path and do something decidedly out of the norm viewing the world at the uniquely slow pace of ten miles per hour.

The commonality of these two stories is that the act itself of diverging can pave the road in front of you as you go in a way that isn’t possible via planning. Or as my favorite quote of my favorite author says: “When you go after your Personal Legend with all your heart, the whole universe conspires to help you.”

On another note, I was fortunate last week to catch up with Lane and Thor while they were in Phoenix and record this podcast with them talking about their book. Check it out and change your tune: Bassnectar – Lights Remix

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May 13

This post is part of an ongoing series entitled “a post a day every other day for the month of May.” It’s an unfolding exploration of the concepts from the book “Get Lucky.”

We are volcanoes, making new land,
Transcending borders with seeds in our hands.
Natural killers perfectly planned,
But all is entirely out of our hands.
-Sleeping at Last

We’re nearly halfway through May but only 1/4 through the book. In the interest of staying on track I’m declaring posting bankruptcy on this chapter and doing a quick brain dump of my thoughts in this single post. Some random ideas:

  • Diverse vocabulary : rich writing :: diverse experiences : abductive reasoning If you’re trying to become a good writer you’re well served by gaining exposure to the most diverse set of raw materials (unique writing styles and a broad vocabulary). Likewise if you’re seeking to become a serendiplomat and improve the likelihood of making more mental leaps, you are well served to relentlessly seek out diverse experiences.
  • Unearth the meta: I believe an unaddressed aspect of preparedness is developing the instinct to seek the meta in what you’re doing. The authors share a neat story on the genesis of their company Get Satisfaciton and how it emerged from solving support challenges for their Valley Schwag hobby business in a social way. I just posed this question on Quora on this topic and there’s already a few interesting responses.
  • The explained variance of success: if luck truly plays as pivotal a role in successful outcomes as founders credit it, then a framework for courting it more reliably is the modern day philosopher’s stone. It’s a tricky thing to quantify but it would be great to see some studies done that attempt A/B test the impact of implementing the skills suggested in this book.
  • Ideation sans criticism: pondering Thor’s consultant story where he is able to salvage a meeting on a downhill slide and turn it around into a productive session by creating a “Geneva of ideation” – this reminded me something I suggested long ago for why mind mapping works in that a subtle tweak to how we remove friction while expanding on ideas can have such a massive impact on the output.
  • A new accounting system? On this thread of subtle tweaks to systems having dramatic effects, we tend to think of accounting as a fairly well-established practice. But could there be an as-of-yet-undiscovered new form of accounting that satisfies the fundamental financial insight needs while taking into account serendipity costs and value? Almost unquestionably our political system could be revamped with today’s minds and technology to better achieve the original Constitutional values. Could the field of accounting be ripe for such a revamp to emphasize the values proposed in this book?
  • The real value of playtime: the authors point out that the floppy rabbit ear discovery gives us a rare look at the closest thing we have to a controlled study in serendipity. I would say Google and their “20% time” practice gives us a rare opportunity to calculate the ROI of encouraging employees to follow geekish pursuits. Being a public company one could take last year’s financial report, break out profit on the products that can be directly attributed to the 20% time projects (profit of serendipity), divide by 1/5th of the total engineering salary line item (expense of serendipity) and calculate a dollar-for-dollar ROI.
  • No result is a result: the authors’ concept of “arrest the exception” is powerful. This post was in the headlines a few weeks back regarding a project that aims to replicate the results of past published psychology experiments and determine whether they can reliably produce the reported results. The theory is that aspiring scientists are so heavily incentivized to see their work published that they might conduct an experiment nine times with failed results and only publish the tenth iteration because it supports their work, and that this if true, is a very harmful thing for science. What however if scientists were commended for publishing results that disproved their own work and revealed some other truth? One person’s trash is another’s treasure and the absence of my expected finding might be a pearl for you when taken in aggregate with other failed studies.

Sadly, looking at the calendar, my workload and the remaining chapters left to cover in the book I need to limit my writing to exactly one day on each remaining chapter to pull off this project.

With that said, I want to spend the rest of this post exploring one of these frivolous thought experiments that grabbed me awhile back. Very simply my question was this:

Are rain storms good for carwashes?

It seems straightforward. Of course they’re good, without them we’d almost never have a reason to wash our car and car washes go out of business. But as you start playing with the sliders it’s not a black and white question, it’s an optimization problem. If it rained all the time there would be no car washes either. So my geek mind immediately turned it into:

What is the optimal rain storm frequency that generates the most business for a car wash?

I sat down one night with the intent to answer this question and got as far as looking up the NAICS code for car washes (811192), getting the economic census data for this industry nation-wide, downloading the historical precipitation reports from the national weather service and comparing per capita revenue for car washes relative to yearly precipitation by state. Geek. Flag. Unfurled

The result of this effort ultimately was a big dead end. There was no immediately discernible correlation. But I realized some obvious flaws with the experiment methodology:

  • Needs to account for storm frequency as opposed to annual precip amount.
  • Needs to have more granular data at the city level – precision issue by having only state data.
  • Potentially confounded by cultural and SES biases in how much residents of different areas value having a clean car.
  • Prices need to be normalized on cost of living.
  • I ended up dropping the experiment because it mushroomed into challenge that was too complex to justify the effort. But I have no doubt that pursuing it further would be hugely interesting and yield all kinds of unexpected awesomeness which leads me to…

    The Takeaway

    On any given day you can go to Hacker News and find half a dozen geeks publishing posts on their frivolous experiments like this one. These are people motivated out of pure curiosity. Like a detective following a hunch on off-hours, they go out of their way chase down a curiosity. Yet there’s no villain to be caught or bounty to be won. The motive here is just “climbing the mountain because it was there.” And these are the people I would hire.

    Imagine the result if more companies and schools were to follow Google’s lead and embrace this kind of open-ended playtime with their members. Could a microformat emerge that lets these experimenters publish their findings in a more structured way that makes them more immediately discoverable and useful to others? And could that then help recirculate the product of these efforts amongst circles that could then take the torch and carry the experimentation forward in unexpected meaningful ways? What would a Github of frivolous experimentation look like? Kickstarter is doing miracles for microfinancing artistic and creative for-profit endeavors- is there perhaps room for a “Kickstarter for whimsical experimentation” that would encourage and curate this type of side work? Things to ponder…

    Next post we’ll delve into the skill of Divergence.

    Change your tune: Youth Lagoon – Montana

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