This time is different: 70s airlines

This time is different is an attempt to understand when this time is different rather than when it’s not. Our working model is that TTID when the system changes.

In the high jump, things were different because the landing area went from wood chips to soft foam, allowing athletes to land on their back.

In startups like Uber, things were different because the technology costs like AWS and GPS fell. Similarly is Ben Thompson’s question: what happens when marginal costs are zero?

A systemic change was the case of airline deregulation in the 1970s:

“Something else happens and you can see it in the airline route maps. Look at one in 1978 and you don’t see that many red lines but in 2017 it’s an explosion of red all over the country and there will be these spots where they’re very dark: Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis. These are hub airports. Hub and spoke activity really takes off after this (airline deregulation) legislation.” – Bruce Carlson, My History can Bear up Your Politics, August 2021

Prior to deregulation, the average flight was 55% full and a ticket from New York to Los Angeles cost $1482 in inflation adjusted dollars compared to $268 in 2021. Carlson points out too that a number of companies like Pan Am went out of business after the deregulation.

Pan Am

Those idyllic phots are temping. Those were the days. But that’s like someone fifty years from now looking at Instagram and thinking that was life. Hey, everyone was beautiful and always on vacation.

These posts are an attempt to categorize when TTID. So far it’s when a fundamental aspect changes how a business creates value and captures value.


In 2019 one billion people flew in the United States. One in six 2019 flyers were on a Southwest flight. One in twenty went through Atlanta.

“Going for the no”

Mike Maples Jr. worked for a software company that enabled telecom companies to offer broadband service. Mike’s job was sales.For many telcos it wasn’t even a buy or build? question because they were in the hardware business: driving tucks, laying cable, and climbing telephone poles.

But not every company was a potential client. “I started” each pitch, Maples said, “by saying, ‘This many not be a good use of your time.'”

“I would start to make body language like I was going to leave because my goal was to have them reach out, pull me back, and go, ‘No, I’m screwed I’ve got to have three million subscribers in the next eighteen months, my CEO just committed to that on their last Wall Street call.” – Mike Maples Jr., Founder’s Field Guide August 2021

It wasn’t just customers Maples wanted, but the right customers. In high-cadence systems, the wrong customers slow a business’s innovation cycle. “They’re going to ask me for requirements that don’t matter for building a different future” Maples said, “because they’re conventional thinkers who live in the present.”

Traditionally we think of CAC as customers per dollar spent, but customers are heterogeneous, that’s a two-dollar word we learned during Covid. Maples is a venture capitalist so he wants to invest in things that are small now but will be huge later. In the current circumstances that means technology. So Maples restricted his customers because the product he sold (or, wanted to sell in the future) was very specific.

The opposite case can work too: expanding a customer base by offering a more generic product. This is the American Picker case. People browsed the antiques but bought the t-shirts.

A business model is not static. It’s more like a philosophy combined with a Bayesian formula. It has to change with the conditions, but that starts with an awareness of one’s system.


Systems and CAC are two of my favorite ideas. Read them all in a daily email drip on Gumroad. Find it on Amazon too.

They’re not waiting on a phone call from Paris

One strength of L’Oreal is a focus on cosmetics. Rather than a breadth of products like their competitor Unilever, L’Oreal has a tighter focus. That’s not all they do well according to Aoris Stephen Arnold:

“Another part is how they have organized internally, the company works very hard to have a decentralized model. The people running the Lancome brand in Australia or the people running the Redken brand in Brazil own it and are in control of it. They’re trying to get the benefits of their size and scale but have the flexibility, agility, and entrepreneurial feel of a small company and it is hardwired into their DNA, it is how they have operated for a long time. It has benefitted them as markets change, as they have in the last year, because they aren’t waiting for a phone call from Paris to tell people what to do.” – Aoris Stephen Arnold, Australian Investors Podcast, July 2021

Decentralized command is the idea that problems should be solved by the person closest to them. Sometimes Penn Jillette and his partner Teller are hired for private events. These events are good, but Jillette writes, his agent will warn the group ahead of time. “They’ll get a better show if they let us make all those decisions (what jokes, what volunteers, etc.), which is true and they usually understand that. But if they insist, we give them what they ask for, and they’re happy with that, too…but we know we weren’t as good as we could have been if they had just let us do our jobs.”

Hire people, advised James Mattis, who can “unleash their initiative”.

The decentralized command is not a complicated idea but to see it in an organization as far-ranging as L’Oreal can inspire other organizations. It’s worked on Seinfeld and The Simpsons. It worked for Alice Waters at farm-to-table Chez Panisse and for every-meal-is-the-same-at-McDs founder Ray Kroc. Spotify’s discover weekly came from a decentralized command. So did the iPad keyboard.

The decentralized command approach isn’t a panacea, but for organizations pointed in the right direction it can sure make them better.


A couple other L’Oreal figures. The company accounts for 12% of the beauty market globally, and turns up in 50% of the beauty queries on YouTube. L’Oreal also spends 60% of its advertising dollars online.

Numeracy at Best Buy

We note that numeracy is important but it is hard to box in what numeracy is and how to use it well. Generally it is this idea that numbers explain some parts of the world well and we should use those numbers in a world full of people.

Yes?

Maybe an example will help:

“The Best Buy Geek Squad was reporting the mean (repair time) to their customers. A customer walks in to get their computer fixed, the part is on backorder, and the Geek Squad would quote the mean time to repair the computer. Of course, that means plenty of people’s repairs were not the average amount of time. So they changed and reported the 95th percentile time. They ranked the past times and now quote that to the customer – which is what people want!” – Elea Feit, March 2018

Like wet bias, maybe we can’t handle the truth. Or rather, maybe the way we see the world makes more sense one way rather than another.

One thing people are pretty bad at is randomness. We use stories to connect actions to events. Another thing we tend to miss is thinking that what did happen was the only thing that could have happened. It’s not.

We work around this through design. For instance, we know innovation is important but without separate metrics and incentives it’s less likely to happen. Put another way, it’s the framing stupid.

Wet bias makes sense. Being less honest than possible also makes sense. Quoting average waits may be more accurate but it’s less valuable.


Design and framing were two of my favorite ideas. For the ideas vitamin-style in a daily email drip, buy the email-drip on Gumroad. Find it on Amazon too.

Ship Platinum, Receive Gold

Within a system like an office, neighborhood, or team there are two main levers which drive behavior: culture and incentives. Culture, says Ben Horowitz, is what people do when they aren’t told what to do. Incentives are the rewards from actions. Incentives are easy to create but don’t always get the intended action.

One incentive might be fines for thin plastic bags. One potential action is customers switch to re-useable bags. Hey look! That’s was the plan.
Hannibal Loves It
Another potential action is using thicker bags. In this case the incentives led to the opposite anticipated actions: more plastic trash.

A family friend pays his kids for good grades. It works, but it’s likely a combination of culture and incentives. This is an incentive system that could easily go awry.

Another incentive that goes awry is rewarding for gross figures rather than net. This was the case in the record industry said Will Page:

“They would ship a platinum record because shipments were what qualified a platinum record. It wasn’t actually sales, if half-a-million albums came back to the factory gate it was up to the CFO to deal with the cost of returns. Once you create rules to play by people will bend those rules. If bonuses are related to platinum status and platinum status is related to shipments, then what do people do? They ship a million records.” – Will Page

1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack was reported Platinum but was a sales bust. The following year the rules were changed and Platinum meant shipments minus returns within 120 days. That number has crept back down to thirty. It’s incentives all the way down!

A Platinum album is one million units. Gold half that. Album certification – ship Platinum, receive Gold back – feels like a thing of the past. But incentives are not.

The Last Lecture sign

On September 18, 2007 Randy Pausch entered a Carnegie Mellon University lecture hall and gave his ‘last lecture’. Pausch’s lecture was one of a series hosted by the university where varying academics spoke about “what mattered.”

What made Pausch’s lecture so moving was that weeks before he learned his pancreatic cancer had gotten worse. Pausch passed away ten months later.

Pausch’s story is beautiful and someone can join the twenty-million views on YouTube. But we want to think about something different, Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture.

“It’s not the bestseller that interests me,” said John Thompson, “it’s the world that makes bestsellers possible.”

There’s a lot of good stories every year, why was TLL a New York Times bestseller for 112 weeks and not some other book? Part of the reason is the business model.

“How do you value this book? You have fifteen pages of an outline by an author who has never written a book before, how much are you going to pay for it? It went for 6.7 million dollars. I thought that was crazy, who would pay 6.7 million for a book by an author who had never written a book and may not even live long enough to write it.” – John Thompson, Oxford Bookes University, November 2010

Thinking like an anthropologist, Thompson’s first order of businesses was to figure out the business landscape. Every industry has competitors and collaborators. There are explicit and implicit incentives.

A few landscape changes took place through the 1980s. Small independent bookstores yielded to chains. Scale meant changes in bargaining power. In that decade literary agents grew in stature, slightly empowering writers. Publishers meanwhile consolidated in number and power.

By the late 90s and early 00s the book selling economics was like venture capital or film: around 30% of books, estimated Thompson, generated the bulk of the revenue. Along with the need to grow, the incentive was to find Big Books like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2003).

Finding a “Dan Brown” was a dream, quite literally. Instead, publishers looked for new authors with good ideas. Lacking that they tried something we are more familiar with in 2021: platform.

Walk into a 2010 bookstore said John Thompson, and each of those books at the front table were paying $1 in rent to be there. Books had to sell quickly or they were returned to the publisher. Without a “Dan Brown” the next best route was someone with a platform and so in 2004 Paris Hilton became a NYT bestseller.

Randy Pausch had never written a book, but Randy Pausch had been written about. Two days after the lecture, Jeffrey Zaslow featured Pausch’s pronunciations in the WSJ. Following that Oprah and ABC got in touch. After that Hyperion publishing.

This era feels like a shift in celebrity, as least through the lens of book sales. While Pausch’s talk wasn’t the most popular it was on the growing site YouTube. In 2005 Ronaldinho’s Touch of Gold was the video people shared. In 2006 it was Evolution of Dance. EOD became the most viewed YouTube video with ten million views. It had the most viewed crown, lost it, got it back, loses it (this time to Avril Lavigne), gets it back and loses it for the last time to ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’.

Evolution of Dance was number one for about as many days as Baby (Bieber) and Despacito (Fonsi) and half as long as Gangnam Style (Psy). It was the first viral video.

I remembered TLL as a dual feel good story. Both the message and that the message shined through. It does, but TLL succeeded because of the business model. Publishers wanted hits and lacking a “Dan Brown” looked for people with a platform.

Pausch’s story is beautiful and as a teacher I hope he would appreciate this post. In Internet time 2007 feels like a long time, but the things we did then we do now and we did before. There’s lots of change in actions but much less in reasons. Looking back at this moment is a nice (dual) reminder about how we live.


A couple other tent pole moments: 2010 – Old Spice, the man your man could smell like. 2012 “Hi I’m Mike founder of Dollar Shave Club dot com…” and 2012s Gangnam Style is first video with one-billion views.

Hiring stakeholders

Every business has stakeholders. Each entity in “the supply chain” is a stakeholder. There are supplier stakeholders: credit card companies deciding who or not to service. There are customer stakeholders: voting with their feet. There are government stakeholders: adjusting the dials of the economic system as if it were an aquarium.

There are also employees as stakeholders.

“I think of Masterclass, I think of Coda. I think of a company that we just invested in. They’re very clear and upfront about their culture and the process. And I think that A, attracts people who are excited about that type of culture and B, by the time that somebody has actually gone through the process, it’s very clear to them what working in the company is like.” – Roseanne Wincek, Invest Like the Best, August 2021

The LTV/CAC idea applies to all stakeholders. There are many ways to lower the CAC, and it’s one of the more interesting business questions because the lower the CAC the better the business model.

But even a CAC of one doesn’t work if the LTV is zero. The most important part then is getting the right stakeholders, and the best way to do this is clarity. We are the kind of people who do this sort of work.

This isn’t easy. It’s not like a business can say: this is our business model, because alpha erodes. And, it’s not just competitor stakeholders that affect how an organization runs. Any stakeholder can change the rules. Landlords raise rents. Suppliers vertically integrate. Life changes!

Zappos once ran a campaign with a CAC of $18,500. That was inefficient. But a company who does more convincing that clarifying will have the same results: a lot invested and little to show. For instance, Ottawa Canada is a phenomenally good place to built a software company?

“If I hire someone through this very intricate hiring process that we have, there’s an understanding the chance of us still working together in ten years is really high. It’s a commitment from both sides. The company needs to be worth working for in ten years, but because of that, we can have a very different relationship than in a place where the expected tenure is eighteen months.” Tobi Lütke, The Tim Ferriss podcast, June 2020

Shopify filters employees through an “intricate hiring process.” Investment managers filter limited partners through ominous letters. Brands filter customers through advertising.

Maybe flexibility is the best way to think about stakeholders. How much do your stakeholder restrict your range of motion, and is there a way to increase ones flexibility?


Erik Jorgenson calls analogies our mental ‘sporks’. Brilliant!. The credit card companies were top of mind because the OnlyFan payment situation was news around the same time as the episode. Visa and MasterCard have stakeholders too. Sometimes it’s situations like this that provide opportunity for a business. If someone won’t “do X”, that’s a smaller market and more of a chance to avoid alpha erosion. Lastly; CAC, alpha erosion, and stakeholders are all on the list of my favorite ideas.

Tailing Aaron Rodgers

First, the New England Patriots pre-season win totals…

“If you forced me to make a play I’m circling the under at 9.5 (wins) at -120. I think there is a longer tail to the under here; if they stick with Cam Newton a little too long, if Mac Jones is a little farther away than people realize, if there are injuries in this relatively aging defense, if the offensive line isn’t quite as good, if the offensive weapons don’t really make a contribution. There are a lot of ifs that are potentially negatives for the Patriots and I am perfectly fine playing the win total under.” – Drew Dinsick, Deep Dive Podcast, July 2021

During the 20/21 NFL season we ‘Tracked Tom‘ to see if Tom Brady would hit the over on his passing yards for the year. The theory at the time was the same that Drew describes: more can go wrong than go right. The question wasn’t about how well Brady played, per se, but rather what big events might happen and which way would they break? For Tom, everything was terrific and he hit the over.

It’s Plus EV Analytics who thinks this way, in part from reading Nassim Taleb. And from him we’ve got another for the 21/22 NFL season!

There’s a chance Aaron Rodgers says chuck-it, and goes on to host a game show and he throws 0 touchdowns, a 100% decrease from the line of 38.5. There is no chance he Proves them All Wrong™️ and has a 100% increase to 77 touchdowns (the league record is fifty-five, only three players have thrown more than fifty).

Visually the idea looks like this:
Graphically

Take the under on Rodgers.

But not all systems are like this. Sports can be under on the idea of injury alone. Financials can be under too. Cryptocurrencies, for instance, can be hacked, regulated, or fall out of fashion. If someone put the over/under line of Bitcoin at $38,500 at the end of the NFL season, a similar set of arguments and conclusions flow.

To a point.

Unlike Rodgers, Bitcoin could double. It’s a different system. Businesses are more like Bitcoin than NFL lines. Most of the Amazon services started out as bets: will this thing work? Amazon’s wager was the outlay in resources but Amazon’s winnings, unlike Aaron’s TDs, could easily double, triple or more. Here’s how Jeff Bezos put it.

“We all know that if you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot, but you’re also going to hit some home runs. The difference between baseball and business, however, is that baseball has a truncated outcome distribution. When you swing, no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.” – Jeff Bezos, Invent and Wander

Fat bottom tails make the complex world go ’round and a basic understanding of distributions, curves, and areas helps.

Three star recruits

The success equation notes that results are combinations of skill and luck. Some parts of life have a larger luck outcome than others.

So, to improve, we look at the skill slice. Poker’s appeal is this idea. Play more hands with positive expected value. But not every sport is as clean as poker. Football, for instance, is messier.

One way to work around the football outcomes is to focus on the football inputs. For instance, recruiting is important, how many highly rated recruits does a coach get each year? That seems like a nice input as the percent of “Blue Chip” recruits correlates well with wins.

Ah, but incentives are tricky.

“There are stories you hear, anecdotal but I’ve heard more than a few, about how different coaches may have a financial incentive to have higher ranked recruiting classes, and they may be involved in the process of lobbying to get guys higher stars.” – Bruce Feldman, Wharton Moneyball, September 2021

Incentives are like the weather. Just like a bunch of measurable aspects (temperature, pressure, wind, humidity) combine to form ‘the weather’, a bunch of measurable aspects of a job combine to form the incentives. A football coach has incentives to win, but also to pay his daughter’s tuition and take his family on vacation. And it’s not just football coaches, it is all of us.

What to do? Work is a combination of financial and non-financial rewards. Alchemy offers a way to tweak the non-financial rewards. Culture works well too, and that comes from the top.


Here’s a story on auto incentives (thanks Stephen!). Incentives were one of my favorite ideas, get all 62 as a daily email drip on Gumroad. Find them on Amazon too.

Using Drafts

The problem with Notion and Roam is aesthetics, and the design consequences. Notion looks polished, like a webpage. Roam’s thought graph looks like art. Apple Notes lacks features. Evernote has too many, which get in the way. If you use text expanders, keyboard navigation, or have browser extensions like Vimari or Vimium installed, then Drafts is the note system you should use.

The design choice of Drafts prioritizes keyboard input, usage, and output. Rather than a ‘How to…’ post for Drafts, this is my macro case for taking notes. There’s not much specific advice because keyboard-heavy-users will thread their own note system in no time.

Note everything. Any idea that comes up when watching, listening, or reading gets a note. Any bit of interestingness is a signal from the (sub)conscious that there’s a there there.

For instance, on the Circle of Competence podcast, Colin Keeley said that his first act after buying a business isn’t to swoop and poop but to conduct a sludge audit on the business’s processes as well as clean up marketing.

Swoop and poop is a great expression, so it gets a note.

Tag everything. Tags are the digital organizer, but unlike ‘sock drawer’, notes can be multiple things. Tags are the drawer. Which tags?

Medium. Tag notes by the content medium: book, YouTube, podcast, audiobook.

Person or podcast. These tags are good for searching but not important for the actual note.

Activity. This is the secret tip. The thing you’re doing will be a recall trigger. Some of mine are dog walk, run, home, and car.

Idea. It doesn’t have to be well thought out, sometimes looking back mine make no sense at all, but ideas like incentives, business model, and marketing are pretty common as well as more abstract ones like year (1980s, etc), nudge, numeracy, retail, and TiVo problem.

Learn Markdown. (for blogging) As someone who knows no other code – but has attempted many times! – Markdown is the no code code. Rather than ctrl-b for bold, it’s a double asterisk. Markdown is easy because of the repetition. There’s not that much html and it doesn’t take long to straighten out if the brackets or parentheses come first for a link.

Wonka

Srsly. A more frequent meme than Mr. Wonka is the dating couple where one says to the other, I do have a blog/podcast/newsletter. That’s fair. But have one for you and your internet friends. Writing on the internet is a way to learn in public and writing is consistently praised as a great way to learn.

“For me, writing is an act of finding clarity and it’s an iterative act. You try to write. You realize don’t understand. You go back and try to figure it out. You try to write again. You realize you still didn’t figure it out. But it’s all a process of finding clarity.” – Bethany McLean

Share something. We’re out here together. Share the work.

Most things are not read. Write online and you soon find there is no connection between time plus interesting-to-you and page views. Fine. Page views aren’t an appropriate proxy for what we are doing. There are only two goals: learn yourself and contribute to the fat tail. Most of my internet searches end up in the fat tail part of the internet. Help me and future me’s and write online.

Notes are also crucial to the three ways to spend your day.