Can someone become like you now Guy Raz asked Marques Brownlee?
It’s different today. “I’ve noticed that in polls of younger people their dream jobs used to be firefighter or movie star, but they all say YouTuber now”, said Marques, “this is fascinating to me because when I started that did not exist.”
If something is legible it’s something to compete on. But illegible things – becoming a YouTuber before it was a thing – make the competition harder.
Legible means playing according to the rules of the game. Illegible means making up the rules as you go. “I just wanted to make the kind of videos I liked to watch,” Marques notes. Illegible also means there’s time to find your rules. Brownlee spent years making videos. He admits that the early ones are hard to watch because they’re so bad. That’s fine!
I don’t check my home equity every day, goes a joke among the Vanguard-Buffett-DCA crowd, why should I check my stock portfolio? It’s a riff on the availability heuristic: if I think it, it’s important.
‘Home’ is super available. Vacation rentals, of someone’s home. A chunk of net worth is home. Neighbors move. During Covid we were stuck in our homes. People began to work from home. After Covid the home market exploded. After that rates ran up. ‘Home’ is everywhere.
Transcript: “Buying a home? Rocket mortgage will cover one percent of your rate for the first year at no cost to you, saving you hundreds even thousands. With Inflation Buster that means more mini-vacations, a lot more lattes, and more date nights. Now imagine if rates drop within three years of your home purchase. You get exclusive savings when you refinance at that new lower rate. It’s more cash in your pocket. Save when you buy today and refinance tomorrow. Visit inflationbuster.com to get started.”
The good. Rapid fire: It’s not a house, it’s a home. One percent is a nice whole number, and worth more (psychologically) than 0.99999999%. First year… appeals to our myopia. More mini-vacations… highlight the opportunity cost. At no cost to you, and if rates drop… avoids our ambiguity aversion. Visit… as a call to action. 🧑🍳 😘
The bad. None!
The interesting. A picture is worth a thousand words, and this video is good.
We’ve tracked ‘average’ monthly home payments (1971-2022). On a four-hundred-fifty-thousand dollar home, Inflation Buster saves about $200 a month. Put another way, it’s a year of payments on a four-hundred-thousand dollar house instead of the more expensive one. None of that factors into this ad. It’s not the customer’s language.
Interest rates and home prices are not the important metrics. Only monthly payment matters. That’s the conversation in this ad.
Warning, this is “I watched one YouTube video” level of expertise. Also, some graphs have truncated y-axis.
Predictions are fun. Will a dice roll four or greater? Will it rain tomorrow? Will this company be worth more money tomorrow, next month, next year? An event does or doesn’t happen. We get to predict an outcome.
If an NFL team wins six of their first seven games how many games will they win in total? Well 6/7 is ~85%, and there are seventeen games therefore they’ll win ~14.5 games. But in 2021 there was a team that won six of their first seven games and one math trick could predict it.
Pierre-Simon Laplace gives us the “rule of succession”. That sounds complicated but it’s simple: For any number of outcomes add one to the observed cases and two to the total cases.
Here are four coin flips: heads, heads, tails, heads. The observed rate for heads is 0.75 (3/4). The ‘Laplace’ rate for heads is 0.66 (4/6). Laplace’s addition shifts predictions away from ‘never’ and ‘always’. This is the secret. ‘Never’ and ‘always’ are rare for sequential events.
Here is what the Laplace rate looks like compared to the observed rate for eighteen coin flips.
Here is what the Laplace rate looks like compared to the observed rate for the “six of the first seven” football team, the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Laplace starts at .500. Tampa wins six of their first seven games (.857) but Laplace only increases to .777. Their final winning percentage was .764.
Then there’s the 2021 Detroit Lions, a team that lost their first eight games.
The Laplace rate doesn’t know anything. It doesn’t know coins are 50/50. It doesn’t know about Tom Brady. It doesn’t know the Lions are bad. It’s just a formula that slowly adjusts to extreme events.
Laplace (b. 1749- d. 1827) didn’t have the NFL, so he made predictions about something else, the sunrise. The observed rate is 1.00. The Laplace rate, after 10,000 observed sunrises, is 0.99990002. So you’re saying there’s a chance?
No. That’s a simple wrinkle. Laplace called the sunrise a special “phenomena” which “nothing at present moment can arrest the course of.”
One idea around here is that of the restricted action section, and how to unlock it. Broadly the goal is to limit any reduction in the range of choices. For example, the willingness to look stupid is a way to reduce the restricted actions section.
“Never stop listening while you do this (advocate your position). Don’t make it a crusade, make it a way you are expressing your opinion but trying to learn at the same time. I think especially in university environments you will be more effective that way. If you’re a top line university administrator, the pressures you’re under and the number of constituents you have to cater to is so extreme. Those are frustrated people. A lot of them may be on your side way more than you think but they can’t say so.”
Whenever I find myself flummoxed by someone’s action it’s a sign I don’t understand the incentives. Sometimes the incentives are satisfying the stakeholders. I like Cowen’s approach here: be curious and find the incentives.
The 2012 job-to-be-done at Calm was meditation. But when engineers looked at the usage data they noticed something interesting, there was a lot of Calm usage at night. “When they started productizing around sleep,” explained Vinny Pujji, “that’s when it opened up from being just a meditation focus thing to what they are today, which is mental fitness.”
With hindsight ‘jobs’ sound easy, but they are iterated solutions. David Packles of Peloton shared (October 2020) two instances where Peloton had to iterate on their first JTBD solution.
First, Packles and his team looked at the largest Peloton Facebook groups. Rather than build for the power users, a no-no, they looked for wider use cases, and thought peole wanted to see when their friends were working out.
“People hated it,” said Packles. While the camaraderie between instructors and peers was important to users, the now-ness was not. So they tinkered. There was almost always at least two people in the same workout at the same time. ‘Friends working out now’ became ‘here now’. This worked, forty percent of daily active users now use this feature.
A second instance was the location field. Rather than where, people used it for what. Packles himself is a ‘Peloton dad’. So Peloton added tags which per Packles, “exploded in popularity” and “became a means of expressing yourself rather than connecting with club.” Half of DAUs have some kind of tag. Rather than people near me, the Peloton users wanted people like me.
That’s interesting moments help us understand how other people see the world. Instagram once had a tool that fought spam by looking for accounts that posted a lot and deleted a lot. During one glance through the data, Mike System noticed that in Indonesia a person was doing that – but in an interesting way. Way back in 2013 she was uploading photos of her store’s products and when they sold she would remove the post. Interesting right?
JTBD feels like a spirit of philosophy as much as it feels like a technique or tactic. It’s a way of regularly reflecting on the world. JTBD isn’t an equation, it’s a long process with a lot of inquiry. But it’s worth the work.
Two cool Peloton stats: they film thirty hours of content a day and their 18 month churn is 14%.
When asked if the NBA will soon move back the three point line Mike Zarren said probably not. The reason is probably the business model.
“At the end of the day we are an entertainment and I would want to hear from fans that they are not liking the game as much. That’s not what we are hearing now (2021). You have to listen to the customer and people love the NBA right now…
“You also have a problem with the three-point line corners. The further out you move the crest of the line, the bigger the disparity between the corner-three and the other threes, and we’re not going to make the court wider because that would mean less seats and fewer tickets.”
It’s fun to talk about BIG CHANGES rather than “things are going well, let’s keep working hard and marking small bits of progress every day.” So it’s fun to talk about moving the NBA three-point line further from the basket or having a four-point shot or whatever. But those things won’t happen, chiefly because of incentives. The NBA, like movies, is a business, and like movies, those business incentives dictate the easy and difficult changes.
Creativity according to John Cleese is “A way of operating.” This smart 1991 YouTube talk, is full of lightbulb jokes and advice on creativity. How many socialists does it take to change a lightbulb?
The problem with creativity is that it seems difficult. It’s like running a 5K for someone who doesn’t run. Like, c’mon, I can’t do that. Cleese nips this complaint right away and offers two helpful pieces of advice.
To design for creativity requires two things: space and time. Set the phone to DND. Sit at the desk. As Steven Pressfield notes, put your ass where your heart wants to be. Like a chef ready for the dinner rush Cleese offers his next piece of advice: think.
Rather he says ‘to play’. That’s the second step. Creativity is the subconscious bubbling up and it’s the conscious shutting up.
“As a general rule, when people become absolutely certain that they know what they’re doing, their creativity plummets.” Jon Cleese
Without interruption, think widely.
This will be hard. Most people, says Cleese, don’t like it. It’s hard to just sit or walk or be. It’s hard to just think. Annie Duke faced this. When she coached poker players they wanted to act, to do, to play the hand. But a lot of poker is not playing. Duke’s challenge was to get players to feel like they were poker players while also making good decisions. So, she reframed the actions.
Rather than playing hands as the action, Duke explained that deciding was the action. Thinking through the hands, the outcomes, the pot odds, the base rates and the game-theory-optimal case was what good players did. That was the secret for being a good poker player. This is the secret too, according to Cleese, for operating creatively.
Creative people are comfortable with the lulls. They understand that the time of play is time working on the problem.
There aren’t good metrics for this. There’s no word count. There’s no investment return. There’s no miles or dollars or calls made. There’s nothing to count which means no numbers which means no comparison which implies no value.
Do not fall into this trip says Cleese. Trust that the moments of wide-open thought matter.
After the play it’s time for work.
How many socialists does it take? Five, but they don’t change it and instead insist that it works.
This summer my kids were not going to watch too much YouTube. But, things changed. My eleven-year-old got into Moriah Elizabeth, a YouTuber into decorating and painting. Her channel is good. It’s interesting and entertaining. It, for me, avoids the overreactions and clickbait present on YouTube. She’s super positive and if not teaching kids how to be creative at least she shows them that it’s okay to mess up, laugh it off, and try again.
She wrote a book, Create this Book where each page is a prompt to draw only with polka dots, or draw a structure, or draw something without lifting your pencil from the page. We bought it. It’s fun. We do a page a day and laugh at or admire our drawings after.
This is to say that not all screen time is equal. But it’s easy to count and present equally. Apple offers a Sunday notification that your screen time was higher/lower than last week. That’s not really helpful. It would be like if a refrigerator displayed the calories consumed but not what exactly someone ate.
It also happens, says Betsey Stevenson, at the macro level during each jobs report. There’s the unemployment number and the initial response is that more workers are better. However it kinda depends on the timescale.
“When we see the ‘quits’ numbers really high that seems bad. In the short run we’re going to see fewer jobs. But it’s actually an optimistic time.” – @BetseyStevenson The Ezra Klein Show
People tend to quit their jobs when times are good and the next job is immediate. As people move about in the economy it follows that wherever they land will probably be a better fit, a win-win for everyone. But that’s hard to quantify.
One way to flip this problem is to restructure the counts. Basketball coach Todd Golden will redraw the lines on a basketball court. If a player shoots from inside the arc it’s worth one point. Shots outside the arch are worth four. That’s clever counting. Restructuring the way a player perceives the points is a way to find the ‘good’ numbers.
Park of poker’s appeal is that people balance consequences and rewards. Thoughtfully in the best cases. But the lessons aren’t always obvious.
Nate Silver notes that live poker can be boring because participants don’t play that many hands. Yes, Maria Konnikova replied, that’s one way to look at it.
“There’s a perception that live poker can be boring because if you’re playing well you shouldn’t be playing that many hands. There is a lot of time you are just sitting there. But something I learned from Eric Seidel is that the times you are not in a hand are some of your most valuable opportunities to gather data.”
Konnikova recounts to Silver a time she was disposed as chip leader by an opponent who, after a day of play complimented her on her previous tournament. Why? It was televised. He picked up on her over aggressive style (something Konnikova notes in her book, I highly recommend The Biggest Bluff) in that tournament, and he used that against her in this one.
So rather than play as the thing-to-do, observe and learn are the things to do. Konnikova (and Seidel) reframed poker folds from something passive to something active. This is the same trick Annie Duke used for her poker clients. Duke reframed the action from playing hands to making good decisions.
Barry Ritholtz calls this the don’t just do something, sit there challenge. It’s hard to break the action-progress association. Yet there are situations, beyond poker, where not doing is more important that doing.
The basic level of learning a new thing is the advice to “just do it”. Just exercise/save/invest/read more. That’s difficult, especially without an anchor. A better way might be to substitute something of the same class. In the case of poker, Duke and Konnikova substituted one verb with another, and gave a reason for doing so.
I’m on a big pickleball kick right now and this advice, along with Winning Ugly from Brad Gilbert points in a clear direction: my game isn’t so much about hitting winners first but hitting winners second. A lot of my level is about setting up n+1 shots. Rather than beat an opponent down the line, with varying success, my aim should be to hit feet high down the line, move them, wait for a ‘green light ball’ and then hit winners.
“I tried to get my father to move to a house I bought for him. There was one morning he was outside, trying to crank start his car,” Aaron recalls what his father said:
“Listen. I know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to get your mother and I to move to that house you just bought. But we’re not going anywhere. All these people here, there’s not that many, maybe five or six families, these are friends of mine. I can wake up in the morning. I walk down. I can say hello to Stella, or whatever. These are friends of mine. I’m not going anywhere. So, you can take that money you paid for a house and get a refund.”
Aaron’s estimated net worth was twenty-five million dollars when he passed away, but this comment from his father shows value.