Picasso On Conversations

“When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” – Picasso

That outstanding quote is via Chris Dixon.

I talk a lot of silliness on this blog but that’s because in the world of execution there are only a small few themes that matter:

  • work hard
  • associate with hard workers
  • work hard
  • don’t get discouraged
  • work hard

A business blog devoted to the equivalent of tips on cheap turpentine would simply repeat those themes in post after post. A lot of founder/bloggers more or less do this and I really enjoy being battered by those messages. I feel like it helps me improve at what I am most proud of: executing in business.

But it would be boring to write. People have an appetite for talking meta nonsense and imagining narrative where there may be none. I indulge it shamelessly.

Incompetence = Ignorance

poor performers grossly overestimate their performances because their incompetence deprives them of the skills needed to recognize their deficits.

That’s from this paper (via).

The great question about Steve Jobs and other accomplished leaders is what on earth they do that’s so valuable. More and more I’m thinking they are simply unsatisfied with results others find acceptable. And they have the power to demand more of people.

Society has developed ways of policing us. Gossip is such a device and people who are more sensitive to social pressure are better off.

But unlike simple morality games psychologists study, knowledge of how to make great smartphones or Initial Public Offerings or open field tackles is concentrated among very few. If your friends can’t do it, you won’t either:

The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.

A Couple Links

Here is a look at algorithms that group similar sounding words together. Neat idea for searching dirty data.

The manufacturing fetish explained?

A rich and rewarding human life neither comes from nor depends on consumption, even lots of consumption; it comes from producing goods and services of value through the integration of technique with a vision of social and personal meaning. Being fully human is about doing good work that means something.

I haven’t read the pieces Mandel links to. I read the above and thought: ok, the data should be interesting. Then Mead lost me big time:

A consumption-centered society is ultimately a hollow society. It makes people rich in stuff but poor in soul. In its worst aspects, consumer society is a society of bored couch potatoes seeking artificial stimulus and excitement.

No idea what any of that means. How about this from Barker instead?

People Are Terrible With Counter-Factuals

Here’s an interesting piece: “10 Years Into the iPod Revolution”. I tend to get really irritated with this kind of attribution. My instinct here is to say: it would have happened anyway.

They dig up an interesting review of the original iPod:

People used to argue whether the trend was toward an all-in-one gadget that does everything as opposed to a collection of specialized gadgets. If I’m right about the iPod, both sides of this argument are correct; people will use one comprehensive iPod-like storage and connectivity unit in combination with every specialized peripheral you can think of. As before, something designed for digital music will spread across other areas of technology. Descendants of the iPod MP3 player will replace the PC as the hub of your digital life.

You could look at that last sentence and say: “OMG, he gets it. Apple was destined to make the ipad”. But you’d be skipping over some pretty important information.

First, the ipod’s descendents have hardly become the hub of anything. iCloud is making a play for this, but only within the Apple walled garden. We shall see whether this works.

For another, the iPod was simply the best HIGH-END mp3 player out there. There was always going to be a high-end mp3 player and Apple just crushed that market. Without them, there would have been another and maybe we’d be talking about that one instead.

My first iPod was the shuffle, which was, as far as I can tell, the first real mainstream product Apple ever made. Then Apple found its home in the cell phone market and its exploitation of gigantic personal discount rates. Presto: expensive products seem cheap.

Convergence between mp3 players and cell phones was always inevitable. Apple was the exception, I think, in that no other mp3 player manufacturer made the leap to phones. In every other case, the leap was for phone makers to just add mp3 functionality.

I don’t want any of this to suggest that Apple’s innovation machine wasn’t (isn’t) awesome. That’d be stupid. But to say that they’re more than, say, 10% better than the next rival is overdoing it.

Today’s worst mp3 players are a thousand times better than the original ipod. Apple’s cleverness buys it a bit of time, but that’s all.

Homo Heuristicus

The fact of the matter is that humans just aren’t cut out for rational decision making. We’ve spent centuries training ourselves to be otherwise and will always aspire to be less heuristically-driven, but…

We examine the risky choices of contestants in the popular TV game show “Deal or No Deal” and related classroom experiments. Contrary to the traditional view of expected utility theory, the choices can be explained in large part by previous outcomes experienced during the game.

More here (hat tip to loyal reader Brucey)

The key part is that last line: “contrary to expected utility theory”. This is code for: “people do stuff that looks completely stupid to Monday-morning Quarterbacks.”