Hurdling past covid

One way to think about “adoption” is as series of hurdles. If something is “adopted” it has succeeded by crossing the set of hurdles. There are few food bacteria “adoptions” because of hurdle technology: hot, cold, salt, and acid all make the process harder for food bacteria to survive.

Another metaphor for this approach is Swiss cheese: one layer has multiple holes but if the layers are independent, then stacking one on top of another removes the holes.

Part of the problem with studying, treating, and living with Covid is that it’s hard to figure out what works. There are models, but we’re still kinda guessing. As of August 2021, more than one-fifth of all FDA approved drugs were tried as off label treatment for Covid. Ironically, there’s not enough Covid to study it.

“What should give us reason to be hopeful is that there’s this cumulative effect that if you give the right drug at the right time along the way…there are these 15-30% reductions at each step so if you are someone that gets a monoclonal antibody early on, if you get fluvoxamine, you get remdesivir on admission, you get dexamethasone once you are on oxygen. We should model out where this puts you at.” – David Fajgenbaum, Wharton Moneyball, August 2021

Ah not so fast, Eric Bradlow follows up. How independent are these? Is this like a piece of Swiss cheese? “It’s shocking,” says Fajgenbaum, “they all seem to hit it from a different angle.” That angle appears to be time. Vaccines are like sunscreen, David explains, and that’s the pre-infection prevention. Then it’s one drug to stimulate the body’s immune response, then it’s another to slow that response way down.

Abraham Lincoln is attributed as saying, give me an hour to chop down a tree and I will spend the first fifty minutes sharpening an axe. Rather than trees and axes we can ask: Is our situation a hurdle condition? With Mr. Lincoln and the suggestion of Charlie Munger to invert, always invert (!), we can come up with a simple situational:

For deceleration, we want to create a series of independent hurdles an agent must cross. In the case of covid this might mean that a place mandates masks, vaccines, and social distancing — or maybe just be outside.

For acceleration, we want to create fewer hurdles for an agent. If not possible, we want homogenous hurdles. Smartphones did this for ride sharing: the who (payments), where (location), and when (on-demand) were all integrated into an app. Another way to consolidate hurdles is find the JTBD.


Even 17 months into it still feels early to say these are the treatments. While they may not be this approach still feels okay.

Peloton ease

Economist Tyler Cowen cautions against the optimism around self-driving cars because when costs fall, consumption rises. If the costs of driving fall, there could be a lot more cars on the (now congested) road. Cost isn’t just about price, but also understandability, beliefs, and time.

Another way to think-like-an-economist is to consider ease. Every time a how will I… question gets answered things get easier and Peloton answers a lot of questions.

Wooden barrel

A wooden barrel like this can only hold water up to the shortest piece. Each answered how will I… extends the length of that board. Extend the set and action is taken. Here’s Christian Hunt on his background to buying a Peloton:

“My partner brought it up…we had been bombarded by advertisements…I knew a few people who had them and it just got to the point where we thought, ‘Let’s just give this a go, we can return it if we don’t like it.’ And the people I spoke to about it were so positively engaged. Worse case scenario: this thing goes back.” – @ChristianHunt, Human Risk

Just in that comment Hunt hints at the many boards that lead to a Peloton purchase. There’s price (finance it!), usage (we’ve got classes), social (follow your friends), competition (leaderboards), and even logistics!

When surveyed why they bought a Peloton, 78% of people said convenience. Consciously that means convenient to use but really it is everything.


Wood Barrel, via Wikipedia.

This time is different part 3, the high jump

This is 1958 (via Wikipedia):
1958 high jump

This is 1964 (via Getty):
1964 Getty

This is 1968 (via Getty):
1968 Fosbury

High jump has always iterated in style but prior to 1968 each iteration was limited by the landing. When participants landed in sand they landed on their feet. As the pit changed from sand to wood chips to foam the form changed with it.

Normally we focus on the stakeholders and reducing the restricted action section. Sometimes limits are malleable but sometimes they have to be structural changes. Technology, even just foam, is an external change that might mean this time is different.


This time is different: Part 1, ask what rules have changed? Part 2, use a coin flip or hurdle model, this time is different because only two heads, rather than three, are needed.

Hurdle Technologies for Consumer Goods

“The truth was, we sold health and safety first, environment second and as an add-on, these products worked as well as traditional products,” said Jeffery Hollender, co-founder of Seventh Generation on HIBT, “We believed that in order to set ourselves apart, especially to new moms – health and safety was critical as well as the environmental benefits.”

In food safety there’s an idea called ‘hurdle technology’. Rather than a single preventative measure for keeping food safe, there are a series of ‘hurdles’ that pathogens must clear to make it into the human body. Preservatives, temperatures (extreme high or low), and acidity are all hurdles that can and are used.

The same idea applies to consumer products, though we don’t quite have the language to think this way. Each consumer has a series of questions they want answered before they decide to buy a product, though we don’t quite have the language to articulate this.

Winning wines, for instance, showed that people want something that tastes good (average), something with an interesting label, and some guidance about how to, or what to serve with. Every time I walk past the 19 Crimes wines I smile, they get it.

Rx Bars demonstrate that same idea. Are there grains? No, okay, next hurdle. Is it tasty? Yes, okay, next hurdle.

Framing a problem this way helps a lot because as companies develop products they can narrow down the issues. Also notable, like Barefoot Wine and JTBD of wine, there was a new set of consumers (young moms) that Seventh Generation served.