Seven Questions to Avoid Competition

We recently lost a very large project in a competitive selection process. It hurt so much that it had me reaching to my bookshelf for inspiration on what to do. I reached for Peter Thiel’s Zero to One, and I decided it’s time to build something that has no competition. Easier said than done.

Here are Thiel’s questions to ask yourself on whether you can actually make that happen:

  1. Can you create breakthrough technology?
  2. Is now the right time to start this particular business?
  3. Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. Do you have the right team?
  5. Do you have a way to deliver/sell your product? 
  6. Will your market position be defensible for 10-20 years?
  7. Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Otherwise, you’re sort of hoping for a miracle.

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

We live in the world our questions create.

— David Copperrider

This brilliant little book is basically just a list of seven simple questions with the power to shift almost any conversation in our lives. They can be used on their own or sequentially. Here we go.

(1) What’s on your mind?

In other words, what should the real focus of this conversation be?

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being wrong

I’ve been on a binge-read-and-reread of Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck in the last few weeks. The title sounds gimmicky, but it’s really f*cking good — good enough for me to read three times in a row, which says a lot given my short book attention span.

One of Mark’s five values to live our lives by is uncertainty. We cannot learn anything, and therefore improve things, without first not knowing something. Seems simple, but this openness to being wrong is f*cking difficult, and it must exist for any real growth to take place. The more you embrace uncertainty, the more comfortable you feel in finding out what you don’t know.

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whiplash (intro)

I just finished reading Whiplash by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe. I loved it… it’s especially pertinent to the technological change in my industry and the role I hope to play in it. Here are my notes from the intro. More to come.

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.

William Gibson

Technology has exceeded our capacity, as individuals and as a society, to understand it. This book offers the operating guidelines for survival in the future.

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A Whole New Mind

Our economy is changing due to “abundance, automation, and Asia”. Since I read this 10+ years after it was written, perhaps it already has changed.

  • Abundance – Most people are moving up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When basic needs are met, we move beyond function and logic.
  • Automation – Computers can do algorithmic tasks fast and cheap. They don’t need health insurance or workman’s comp.
  • Asia – A low wage for Americans is a high wage in other parts of the world. Technical work can be outsourced on the cheap easier than ever before.

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The Unwritten Laws of Engineering

This book covers the administrative and organizational dynamics of engineering that you aren’t taught in school. When I read it, I was finishing up 3 years of work at Murphy Co/M360 and looking into the future. Reading this book gave me something to reflect upon the last 3 years’ experiences and also something to strive towards in future jobs/walks of life. It seems like a good gift for recent grads or new hires.

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Influence by Robert Cialdini

Cialdini writes about 6 “weapons of influence” that all seem obvious when first explained. However, once he lays out examples, I found myself guilty of falling victim to all of them at some point in life.

The weapons all prey on our evolutionary or cultural tendency to take cognitive shortcuts when making decisions, often using only one piece of the total information available. Although this practice is very efficient most of the time (it has played a major part in our dominance as a species), it also allows us to make bad decisions, many times ones that are exploited by and caused by “compliance practitioners”.

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Stumbling On Happiness

I’ve been reading a lot of Buddhist teachings lately, and I think Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling On Happiness is a good researched-backed complement to Buddhism. It partially answers the question of why we can’t seem to stay in the present moment. But it’s a lot more than that – it’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend it. For a taste, below is a summary structured around my Kindle notes.

my takeaways:

  1. Shit, we humans are crazy. We should just give up trying to figure our my brains. Just kidding! But seriously, be present.
  2. When we look back on past decisions, we regret inaction much more than action. So don’t be afraid to make bold decisions, take risks, and in general do something rather than nothing.
  3. Self-propagating ideas are a fascinating phenomenon. I often wonder how false beliefs end up being so pervasive in societies. There ya go.
  4. We have much more in common with others than we think we do, and we should use them as surrogates to determine our future happiness.
  5. Uncertainty can prolong and preserve our happiness. Learn to embrace it. Be conscious of your brain’s tendency to add an explanation to everything.

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Linchpin by Seth Godin

I read Linchpin by Seth Godin in the short time between college and my first full-time job (January 2011). It has stuck with me and molded my mindset about my career more than any other book.

  • The world of work has changed. We don’t show up at the factory and do our labor and come home with a paycheck anymore. This system and mindset that has been created around this act has been turned upside down.
  • There is no roadmap/directions/path for you to take. You must chart your own path.
  • A myth exists in our school system – everything is designed to prep you for work in the local factory.
  • The linchpin connects, invents, creates, and makes things happen without being told, shown, asked, etc.
  • Every functioning institution has a linchpin(s) who make 10x more value than others.
  • Being a linchpin involves doing uncomfortable work. You must engage in the activities that your lazy (lizard) brain is telling you are too hard. They require maturity, soul, strength, and the ability to do the right thing even when it’s  inconvenient. Bravery.

Emotional labor is the task of doing important work, even when it isn’t easy. Emotional labor is difficult and easy to avoid. But when we avoid it, we don’t do much worth seeking out.

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