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.

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.

Status Games (book review)

The best analogy to understand Loretta Breuning’s book Status Games is calories.

For many years survival was difficult. One problem was calories. So ‘evolution selected’ creatures with a mutation where certain foods (fat, sweet, salt, etc.) released good brain chemicals. Those creatures did better than others and became dominant. In a world with plentiful food those same adaptations aren’t as helpful.

For many years survival was difficult. One problem was predators. So ‘evolution selected’ creatures with a mutation where certain social group circumstances released good brain chemicals. Those creatures did better than others and became dominant. In a world with fewer predators those same adaptations aren’t as helpful.

Evolutionary life was hard so species adapted. Tigers and orangutans have no predator and tigers and orangutans are the only mammals to live alone. Like five fingers on a hand, something about social was splendid for survival. These groups included a pecking order and status games – which have at least two advantages.

Status games as alchemy. In a nod to Rory Sutherland, status games are a form of marketing where there’s a large reward for a not very large cost. Actual fights among mammals are rare. This makes sense. Fights reduce survival chances. Having a way to find out who is right/strong/better/whatever without the fight is quite nice.

Status games protect the group. Status games trim the tails of an individual’s outcome but make reproduction more likely. Any individual mammal is more likely to survive somewhere in the middle of the pack rather than in a non-stop quest to be ‘top dog’. And, Loretta writes, “It enables weaker individuals to enjoy the protection of stronger individuals in the face of common enemies.”

Groups are good for survival and status games are good for groups. So status became part of our human operating system.

One analogy for the human brain is the elephant and the rider. The rider is our conscious brain and it is giving directions, narrating the story, and feeling in charge but really the elephant is going to go where it wants to go – and per Breuning the elephant wants to travel on well trodded paths. “Your animal brain just strives to repeat behaviors that trigger happy chemicals and avoid behaviors that trigger unhappy chemicals.” Thanks to the evolutionary advantage of being in groups, our brains have a simple set of chemical instructions.

  • Good: being in a group, ideally higher up.
  • Bad: being separate from a group, demoted in a group.

Groups are important so we seek groups. Everywhere are groups and everything is a status game. Fancy cars are status games. But so is ethics, morals, politics, house size, neighborhood, intelligence, partner, ability to drink, family heritage, even hardships. Find the chemical rewards and you will find the game. “Each brain sees the world through the lens of the neural pathways it has,” Breuning writes.

So, status games are normal but maybe not as helpful as they were. If we have to play, then we can play wisely. Remember, explains Loretta, it’s the dopamine that makes something feel good, not the thing. “The simple way to do this,” Breuning concludes, “is to put yourself up without putting others down.”

I have no idea how much of this book is true but I liked it for a two reasons. First, it acknowledges the world as it is. Animals compete and form cliques, just like us, because we are animals. Two, the book’s perspective is action oriented. This is how things are and this is what you can do, I imagine Breuning advising. Most of all this book reminded me of Spent, we are all signaling and we are all playing status games.

Comments: it is ironic that ‘pecking order’ is from domesticated chickens. Also, ‘evolution selected’ is just how we assign action and our brains like effects from actions. Examples include Headspace, poker, and international espionage and it is the source of the expression ‘don’t shoot the messenger’.

May 2022 Update. Scott Alexander’s review of The Gervais Principle offers an example of status games, and why they are helpful, in the context of Seinfeld.

Book Review: Schtick to Business

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Peter McGraw and Shane Mauss joined up to write Schtick to Business, a pop-science-pop-culture look at the ways comedians can force business people to see things with fresh eyes. While most books should be blog posts, this one felt about right.

McGraw, and it’s mostly McGraw’s voice, focuses on the idea that business is mostly hunting, then harvesting. Businesses exist to find areas of need (hunt) and then serve customers over those needs (harvest). Business owners are collar-shirt-wearing truffle hunters.

Typically, and where comedians excel, is in the hunting part. It’s finding the Zero to One ideas that make the difficult act of business slightly easier. McGraw writes that you won’t be funnier after reading the book, but “I want you to think funny. That is, I want you to start thinking differently.”

When we say that people aren’t creative, we’re saying that we err towards confirmation bias, myopia, and narrow thinking. We will always do education a certain way because that’s the way we do eduction. Well, until something happens (see: a quarantine education).

Part-of-the-reason creativity is missing is career risk. McGraw’s solution to this is shitstorming. It’s brainstorming, but inverted. Instead of coming up with good ideas, a group comes up with bad ones. This isn’t necessarily a waste of time because sometimes bad ideas can lead to good ideas. Sometimes changing one part of a bad idea, is a great idea.

For example, how does an investment advisor in a medium-size town get more clients? Her weaknesses include lack of resources in staffing, lack of high-income-residents, lack of marketing resources, lack of continuing education opportunities, and so on.

However, those same drawbacks can be advantages. Chuck Akre likes being in a small town with one stoplight. Investors want LPs that stick with them. Inverting the question leads us to avenues of advantage. Jokes are a kind of inversion.

“My mom has learned everything from Martha Stewart, about cooking, and cleaning, and withholding affection.” Nikki Glaser

Comedians see the world differently and it’s why we’ve looked at so many of them; Judd Apatow, Jenna Fischer, and Penn Jillette for example.

Once a comedian hunts down a new idea they need to harvest it and McGraw gives tools and tips for that but it’s mostly just boils down to ‘work really hard and maybe get lucky.’ That’s business.

Words mean competition. Once there is a category like ‘theme-park-vacation’ or ‘miles-per-gallon’ every Tom, Dick, and Sally can compete on that feature. Making it salient means consumer will compare on it—even if it doesn’t really matter to their decision making.

When stand up stand-up comedians work on their set; writing observations, testing jokes, and refining material they are hunting innovation. They are looking for something new. It’s creative.

Then, for a very brief time, for a very fortunate few, they get to harvest and share their ‘set’. Comedy, Luisa Diez told McGraw on his podcast, is the fastest art form. Comedians are inspired, share, then a joke expire. Comedy is the fruit fly of the hunt to harvest dichotomy.

Business owners have a longer cadence, but they can learn from comedians. Some will be inspired from McGraw’s book. Most will laugh. I did.

Book Review: The Naked Jape

When Rory Sutherland recommends a book I do my best to find it. Even if it’s from 2006 and uses British English. Henceforth, I’ll be interchanging behavior and behaviour.

The Naked Jape was good for exactly the reason Sutherland said it would be: comedy reframes things.

Alchemy recasts one thing as another. Diets, wrote Penn Jillette are hard, but challenges are exciting. When he reframed his diet as something difficult but not-fun as something difficult and challenging it changed his attitude. Jillette had already learned challenging things – like juggling – so this was just another one of those.

Comedians are great at this.

“My father hugged me only once, on my twenty-first birthday. It was very awkward. I know now what it was that made me feel so uncomfortable: the nudity.”

That joke works well in a comedy set, less-well on a first-date, and terribly while talking to a psychiatrist. Change the context, change the meaning. Or, change the words and you change the meaning in the context.

Carr’s book offers lots of little jokes that prove this point. The ideas, these jokes are “anarchic, a little scrap of chaos from beyond the boundaries of the rational, a toe dipped in the shallow end of anti-social behaviour.”

Take the idea of jokes along with the JTBD theory and we get the start of the solution to a puzzle.

When Instagram was building out features an engineer told co-founder Kevin Systrom that he was building a polling tool. ‘That doesn’t sound like something I would use’ Systrom recalled. ‘Oh no, it’s going to be great,’ the engineer explained, ‘teens will love this!’

They did.

What was happening at the time was that teens were uploading solid-color backgrounds with a prompt on it. Their followers voted as comments. The users created a work-around, customizing the platform for their needs. Workarounds are also common in comedy. I saw a sign at an audiologist’s office that (loosely) demonstrates both JTBD and jokes; We don’t sell hearing aids, we fix hearing.

In the JTBD work, Bob Moesta changes his perspective. He enters customer interviews as an empty vesicle and lets them tell him about the product. He avoids jargon. He doesn’t lead them. Moesta is similar to Jerry Seinfeld who described comedians as people with a third eye. Here’s Seinfeld with the check after the meal.

“Went out to dinner the other night. Check came at the end of the meal, as it always does. Never liked the check at the end of the meal system, because money’s a very different thing before and after you eat. Before you eat money has no value. And you don’t care about money when you’re hungry, you sit down at a restaurant. You’re like the ruler of an empire. “More drinks, appetizers, quickly, quickly! It will be the greatest meal of our lives.” Then after the meal, you know, you’ve got the pants open, you’ve got the napkins destroyed, cigarette butt in the mashed potatoes – then the check comes at that moment. People are always upset, you know. They’re mystified by the check. “What is this? How could this be?” They start passing it around the table, “Does this look right to you? We’re not hungry now. Why are we buying all this food?!””

Let’s try this comedy idea with this reframing.

Instead of paying last, people pay first. A restaurant places a $50/100/200 charge just for stepping in. Customers get a menu without prices and order without influence. At the end of the meal, a waiter brings back their balance, if there is any.

There’s all kinds of consumer psychology at play here from menu design to mental accounting to the idea Seinfeld jokes about it. This may not even be a good idea but it’s a new idea and that’s what matters.

If something could be the premise to a joke, it’s on the right path.

Another Rory’s read is Schtick to Business by Peter McGraw. If you like this blog’s stories, you’ll probably like that book (a few overlap). McGraw’s big idea is that business people should think more like comedians and find the interesting weirdness around life. There’s areas where we’ve always done it this way has wallpapered over interestingness.

Thanks for reading.

Rory Sutherland (@rorysutherland) Tweeted:

Highly recommend. https://t.co/A4Wi0WmJIQ