Parenting teens with love and logic (book review)

Parenting Teens with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Foster Cline is *checks Amazon* the #44th ranked book in the Parenting Teenagers category. I read it because it counts as volunteer hours for our school. And I kinda liked it.

One idea around here is don’t just do something, sit there. Our default thinking is: action = good. But that’s not always the case.

Rather, like Ike, we can find reasons for not doing things. So we can ask: am I doing something that matters or am I just doing something?

This, in part, is the case with helicopter parents. Fay and Cline write, “Other moms and dads sometimes regard helicopter parents as model citizens. After all, look how involved they are.” This rings especially true. As a stay-at-home-dad it wasn’t enough that I was a good parent for my daughters but that I was perceived as one too.

However “helicopters can’t hover forever” and helicopter parents restrict the feedback loop. There’s a lot of analytics about finding more accurate markers about how the world works but helicopter parenting moves in the opposite direction.

The second thing Fay and Cline do well is replace helicopter with consultant. Just as ‘helicopter’ is a great analogy, ‘consultant’ is too. “Consultants don’t dictate,” the duo write, “They advise. They say things like ‘I’m wondering if it would be more effective for you to…'”. And much of the book is to the effect of: what would a consultant say here?”

Like Goodhart’s Law, the goal isn’t to be a consultant or not be a helicopter, but to get teens reps with real life. “Self-esteem doesn’t just ‘happen’ by making teens feel good or happy. It begins when children assert their independence and try to show their families and the world that they are their own persons.”

That means failing, and failing means feedback. Which happens when parenting with love and logic.

Part of the reason this book resonated was because I’ve been a helicopter. Not being one is scary in the short term but not being a consultant is scare in the long term.

Overall this book was helpful. A couple of times it felt like Fay and Cline went to straw man attacks and sometimes their examples resolved themself too easily but there’s only so much ground they could cover in the context of a book. If the transition from helicopter to consultant sounds helpful, consider Parenting Teens with Love and Logic.

KISS the Afterpay business model

Many actions are taken because they are easy. What did you last eat for lunch? How did you drive to where you are? What browser tabs are open? And ease is context-dependent. What is easy for one person may not be easy for another. 

Ease is a tool. Make it easier and people will do more of it. 

And it doesn’t have to be that easy: Framing makes comparisons better. Any fast associations will do.

The ‘buy now pay later’ company Afterpay succeeded for many reasons, one was a focus on ease. 

Easy for the consumers. Pay one-fourth now, then one-fourth every two weeks. That’s easy. There’s no consideration of credit card balances or APR. 

The terms also make it easy for the consumer to legitimize. If the offer was too good to be true consumers would sniff it out and balk at the purchase. 

Easy for the merchants. Say you own a store. You hear about Afterpay. Wait! They charge, 4% of the transaction!?!?! Your store can’t afford that. 

So how did Afterpay make it easy? 

Merchants don’t have to handle the transaction costs (~1-2% anyway) or the chargebacks. They don’t have to worry about bounced checks or building out their own software. Afterpay increases total order size and serves as a marketplace. The deal was so good it was irresponsible not to be a customer

Easy for regulators. Every business exists within a system of rules. One of the largest agents in the system is the government. Relative to credit card companies, Afterpay has a consumer-friendly profile and consumers love it. 

BONUS: Easy for Afterpay. Yep. Afterpay made it easy on themselves too. Co-Founder Nick Molnar told people his ideal customer was someone buying a purple polka dot dress. This customer was fixed on the fashion and unlikely to miss a payment. 

Fashion customers also skew younger, are more open to options, and want creative financing. While Amazon is convenience shopping, Afterpay became experience shopping. 

Afterpay found an opportunity by reshuffling the costs of doing business. Merchants do pay more per transaction but have more and higher transactions. Effectively Afterpay took money from the marketing and rent buckets and moved it to (their!) processing bucket. 

Within Afterpay, it is CAC reshuffling. If Afterpay is more lenient in approving customers, they have more loss. But they get more customers. Longtime users use Afterpay 29 times each year! While the fraud and loss figures increase the other forms of CAC do not. 

How to write great copy

Neville Medhora writes great copy because Neville Medhora made copywriting easy. Let me give you his steps.

But first, a warning. Copywriting can work too well. There are many scammy producers who use copywriting to sell scammy products. Copywriting joins JTBD and negotiations and Alchemy as selling tools to be used ethically.

Copywriting has two huge benefits. First it filters your listeners. I never have hecklers at my comedy shows said John Cleese because the people who come are all people who know what I’m going to say! Copywriting influences the stakeholders, who allow a certain freedom of movement – or not.

The second power of good copywriting is the magic of customer-acquisition-cost. With the right CAC, all business models work. Pirate Booty has good copywriting, informing parents that it’s “great for lunches”.

Copywriting can seem difficult because we start at the BLANK PAGE. But Neville Medhora created a system that makes copywriting easy. Anyone can write like Neville if they just follow his steps.

  1. No blank pages. Medhora maintains for inspiration. He also keeps a list of posts he’d like to write. Medhora is curious and one of his inspirations, Joseph Sugarman, wrote that the best copywriters “hunger for experience and knowledge and find other people interesting.” Like a chef with a well stocked kitchen, Neville never starts with nothing.
  2. Start writing – with a framework. Medhora likes the AIDA framework: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. He starts each piece with this outline and fills in each section. Remember, this is supposed to be easy.
  3. Find their thinking words. Amazon reviews are a “cheat sheet” for language. My research led to a book review which said this helped me have a healthy conversation with my spouse of 20+ years. Another review said it helped me maximize the time with my kids before they “flew the roost”. The book was about personal finance, but the language of the customer was “relationships”.
  4. Write the zero draft. It’ll be bad. It will look bad. Whatever.
  5. Let the draft marinate. Let your subconscious work. While you wait write 25 headlines – this is advice from Neville’s buddy Sam Parr.
  6. Edit your draft
    1. Does every line “earn it’s pixels”?
    2. Words or pictures? If your product/feature must be described, use words. If your product should be seen (like software), use gifs.
    3. Can you describe aspects the customer doesn’t appreciate but exist nonetheless? Our furniture is kiln dried for 72 hours…. a furniture website might say. Maybe everyone does this, or it’s not special within the industry but it’s not well known outside it.
    4. Do you need to punch it up? Add a cheat sheet, a rating system, embed a picture gallery, or make a cost breakdown.
    5. The more your reader knows the less you need to communicate. And vice versa.

That’s it!

If you want more from Neville check out his podcast episode with Sam Parr or use to search for other interviews.

To Sell is Human (book review)

Dan Pink’s 2013 book, To Sell is Human is good – but you probably don’t need to read it. At least not now. That the book is ten years old helps explain why.

Prior to the explosion of online media, books used to be great vessels for knowledge, trends, connections, entertainment and more. The best example of this is Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008, Outliers, and specifically the 10,000 hour rule. Prior to Malcolm’s missive, few knew of deliberate practice. After the book everyone talked about it and it was all everyone talked about. It was a thing.

To Sell is Human kinda suffers from the same circumstances. At the time it was full of difficult to discover novel ideas. The book probably kicked off a lot of helpful conversations about where the world might head. That was almost a decade ago. Things change. Here are the big ideas.

  1. We are all in sales. Self-promotion and idea-promotion are now much more common. Some of this is too due to the shift from organizational connections to network connections.
  2. There’s no information asymmetry. For our family van and family home I knew more about the actual options than the salesperson. The Toyota salesman compared the Sienna to the 4Runner whereas I compared the Sienna to the Honda Odyssey.
  3. Find the job to be done. This last one was why To Sell is Human didn’t resonate. Because this is in my head.

The JTBD framework is the conclusion to To Sell is Human. It’s the next logical step. It’s like watching the sequel first, you kinda know what happens in the first.

So don’t read To Sell is Human, but do read Dan Pink. He’s trendy, in a good way.

On Amazon is my JTBD tour-de-force.

Pirate Booty JTBD

My eleven-year-old daughter requested “Pirate Booty” after having it at school. Those bright buccaneers put the JTBD right on the box. Parents buy these “lunch bags” to pack for their children. You’re not buying a snack. You’re buying being the parent who packs their kid’s lunch.

Pirate Booty also commandeered a clever CAC. They earn “bulk pricing” from the school pay and “retail pricing” when eleven-year-old daughters return home. If this is negative CAC, it joins Freight Waves, who use content subscriptions to sell data and American Pickers who also use content to sell t-shirts.

Framing title insurance

You’d think price matters but when buying a home it doesn’t.

At least the title insurance does not.

On Acquisitions Anonymous, the crew looked at a title insurance company with one million in sales which serves residential real estate clients. One aspect host Bill D’Alessandro wondered about was deal flow. Does the business get clients through advertising or does the owner have specific relationships? If the latter the acquirer must inquire.

But advertising doesn’t really exist for title insurance, “the customer does not shop for these services, you can’t really advertise to the consumer,” Bill observed. And there’s no advertising for two reasons.

First, it’s hard to compete on price because of framing. Framing matters a lot. We see framing in ‘always buy two new cars‘, in making better predictions, and the impact of Covid. Title insurance cost is framed against the price of the house. Saving a few hundred dollars while spending a few hundred thousand isn’t part of our mental accounting.

Second, the fear of being wrong. People switch to avoid loss, the loss of a title snafu is much greater than the loss of the cost of insurance. The JTBD of title insurance is protection. Switching from the default company to another introduces psychological discomfort if something goes wrong. I can only imagine telling my wife, “no, no, I saw an advertisement on Facebook for this cheaper company.”

How much a buyer can unleash a business’s potential is TBD, and dependent on the answer to this deal flow question.

Scar tissue/this time is different

The working model for ‘this time is different’ is that this time is different when the system changes. Our examples:

Usually TTID is used optimistically. Invest/do/act this way because this time is different! However, Marc Andreessen explains the opposite case. Someone learns the system’s rules but the rules change.

“One way to view your trajectory through life is touching hot stove after hot stove…a lot of people who work at startups that don’t work learn not to work at startups…It’s the most natural thing and it’s like scar tissue. So as you age you naturally build up this scar tissue of all these cautionary lessons and as a consequence your aperture of what you’re willing to explore shrinks.”

Marc Andreessen (The Knowledge Project, YouTube)

But things change! “What you see is that some kid shows up five, or ten, or fifteen years later and takes another swing at it and it becomes a gigantic success,” Andreessen added, “Webvan doesn’t work but now you have these giant successes in food delivery.”

It could be a sign of age, or just contrast, but throughout the talk Andreessen keeps calling them ‘kids’. Makes sense. What reveals more change than time?

Another, for Elon Musk, TTID was true for reusing rockets. But it is not true for traveling to Mars. Physics is law, everything else is just a recommendation, Musk noted.

Money problems

We looked at three problem solving prompts: What happens at the limits? Is this a money problem? Is this a branding problem? Today two money problems.

Zynga had just done their earnings call, said Shawn Puri, and Draw Something “had taken away significant steam from Zynga’s games.” With a user shortfall Mark Pincus decides to buy Draw Something. Retelling the story, Puri says that the lawyers told Pincus the deal would take a month. Why? That’s the limit. So Pincus “hired two law firms, one for the morning shift one for the afternoon shift, so he could have a twenty four hour cycle working on the deal and got it done in half the time.”

Puri is recounting his conversation with Draw Something CEO Dan Porter and while the details may be wrong the big idea could be right: hiring twice the labor, even lawyers, demonstrates a money problem.

Crops are not a money problem. Ukraine’s top six crops cover about the same planting area as in Iowa and Illinois. Russian’s wheat production is about four-million Kansas’s said economist Scott Irwin. Crops take space. They also take time. The Southern Hemisphere can plant more winter wheat now – but there’s not that many great places to plant it. The Northern Hemisphere can plant more spring wheat now – but it’s a less productive crop relative to the winter version.

Irwin lays out some options for crop production solutions and it’s not a money problem.

One of the Zeckhauser maxims is to take ideas to the extreme. Thinking about money-as-a-solution does this. How would I solve this with a billion dollar budget? Or How would I solve this with no money? These questions and this thinking expands the solution space.

April 2022 update Odd Lots podcast that batteries as a carbon replacement are NOT a money problem but a time and government

This = that

A short list of our fast thinking.

Expensive = good. This is many places, one of which is the opening story in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence.

Action = progress. Used well when Headspace ‘embodied’ meditation. Used less well when helicopter parents hover.

The category = the JTBD. For example, the Leatherman was not a knife it was a tool, not a tool but a gadget. Similar, the 3M Command Strips solve the job rather than fill the category.

1×20,000 != 20,000x 1. This is the idea that averages don’t always convey the best information. A small bit of something regularly is not the same as all of something at once. The Credit Karma Save program for instance. Travel too, writes Rory Sutherland is like this.

Argument = dislike. Part of the obstacle to arguing well is our social and evolutionary norms. (Added 3/30/2022)

Unrelated, we can update the base rates on March Madness. The cumulative Final Four seedings continues its trend, this year the sum is 13. The first post on March Madness matchups is here.

The Madison Avenue Effect

Imagine a unique creature.

Now, imagine another unique creature. Make this one larger, like an elephant. Make it colorful, like a toucan. Make it smooth, like a frog. Give it a beak.

Imagining the second is a lot easier than the first because the second is familiar. About this big, about this color, etc. Familiarity changes the way we think. Familiar things are ‘more right’.

Here’s how to spot it: “I didn’t know that…”. People have to see it to believe it: Alton Brown in Italy, Richard Thaler saw value theory, Ezra Klein read a blog, and for Marc Andreessen it was Night Rider. For ‘Madison’ it was the movie Splash.

For, The Boy Who Played with Fusion, it was the C.L. Strong and Jearl Walker DIY articles. “When I got a hold of a secondhand CD-ROM collection of those columns, my life changed,” Taylor says. “I realized there were these world-class experiments that cost millions in top laboratories that you could replicate at home.”

The familiar is more accessible. Connections aren’t divine so much as they are historic. Exposure creates creativity seeds. For now we can call this the Madison Avenue Effect.