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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

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Made up start up: Showzam

When the iPhone 3g came out, one of the most impressive apps was Shazam. Through some techno-magic, the app could identify a nearby song. This, was a big deal for me because I’ve always been terrible at knowing names and understanding lyrics. My most egregious sin, according to my wife’s family was mistaking Elvira for ‘hell-fire-up’.

Besides this mistake, my wife has only one other problem with me, interrupting television shows to ask questions. With different chronotypes, she will watch one more episode which after two weeks means she’s a season ahead.

Here the pitch: Shazam but for television shows. A person opens the app and the service detects which show is on in the room. Then it pulls up a synopsis of the plot, who the characters are, and where they’ve been. Like the recap shows run. After a skim, the second person can join in and know what the hell is going on.

The potential monetization is large. Like Roku or Amazon, the app can earn affiliate fees as people pay to sign up for other services. Showzam can also earn advertising dollars with dynamic advertising and with data collection on searches, see what is popular and monetize that information in a variety of ways.

Whether Showzam would work like Shazam I have no idea and it seems like a much more difficult technology problem. However, there’s a need and JTBD .

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Made Up Start Up: Upcoming Streaming

Movies are awesome. The next time you hear someone regret remakes, remixes, and redundancy please remind them to respect your review. No one complains about meatloaf, sequels are comfort food.

However, I don’t always remember who is who, who is alive, or who is in love. Here’s the pitch: a streaming service that offers a limited run of a limited number of movies based on the time of year.

Wharton professor Jonah Berger researched how ideas spread and part-of-the-reason ideas spread is timing. People are contextual operators. We need cues for action. How many times have you seen a trailer, heard about a restaurant, or found out about some music only to never followup. You need a nudge.

The Upcoming Streaming businesses would be just that. The week before Harry Potter X comes out, the last two movies from that universe are available to stream. The Rock has another Jumanji-like movie coming out, and so another Rock movie is available to stream. Actually, the Rock always has movies coming out. He’s a mainstay.

For movie studios this is a no-brainer. Some studios spend more marketing a movie than making one. This streaming service would be inverted marketing. People pay to get excited for the next movie. Free money.

There’s hope for this idea as smart contracts become more popular. Tyler Cowen notes that Hollywood and whaling were the VC OG. If Silcon Valley is into crypto and blockchains then maybe the theater business isn’t far behind.

Another advantage is that this business doesn’t interfere with the competitive advantage of existing streaming services. If a movie is offered in more than one location, few customers would cancel Netflix just because a movie or two each year were available somewhere else.

But wait, there’s more! This business has scarcity. If movies are only available for the week before a release people will feel the need to act now. It can’t hurt having psychological influences pushing this idea along.

Upcoming releases wouldn’t be the only available source of inspiration. How many studios would love to pump their old rom-com libraries for one more run as they return to our lives as a special Valentines week lineup? How great would it be to stream only the Thanksgiving episodes of Friends over the Thanksgiving holiday?

If someone knows Michael Ovitz, have him get in touch.

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Made up Start up: FinLit Deposit

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

No one is happy with financial literacy. Maybe it’s the questions researchers ask, maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe it’s soft skills. It’s probably a lot of things.

Part-of-the-reason we don’t have a great idea is because we don’t have a great way to test it. A lot of FinLit research follows these steps:

  1. A natural experiment occurs. Sometimes it’s in time. One cohort has no mandate, another has the mandate. Alternatively it could be a law in one state, but not a neighbor.
  2. Students get some combination of classes, videos, etc. To me the treatment seems weak, but you be the judge.
  3. Students answer questions about what they learned.

This structure suffers because it measures what’s easy rather than what’s meaningful. What if we reversed this? What if instead of prioritizing measurement, we prioritizied meaningfulness?

For our start up FinLit Deposit, we’d give every student $100 the first week. If they have at least $100 in the account each subsequent week, they get $25 more. If the account dips below that amount, no deposit. If it recovers, the deposits begin again.

This systems offers students real choices with real money. Save or spend. Invest or rest. Investors often note that paper trading is not the same emotional ballpark as real money. That should apply here too.

We could partially fund this with a grant that studies decision making. What if some kids got physical bills–good day Mr. Franklin- and others direct deposit. Dollars to doughnuts, I’d wager that the mentally accounting will differ.

If grants aren’t available to kickstart this start-up, let’s get some public money. Athletic scholarship total almost $3B. Academic and need scholarships are in the tens of billions. There’s already (!!) $630M spent on financial education. That’s already $200 for each senior. What’s wild is we already do these these kinds of things.

Young people tend to not be great decision makers. So what. No one is fully optimal. If our hypothetical students spend their semester of savings on a concert is that much different than their parents tax-refund choices?

The only problem I see in this is how FinLit Deposit actually makes money. Maybe some financial literacy program actually teaches that.

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Update 2/6/2020