Let us now praise famous men

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These personal reflections on Amazon found their way into my journal this morning, and I thought they were worth highlighting:

Amazon were geniuses to get their hooks into used booksellers. It placates [those vendors] by making a market and sharing the carcass of the chain bookstore with them, and it unlocks the [liquidity] of [heavy-reading consumers]. Between that and Kindle, they’ve got a steady IV drip of my money, and probably that of millions of others. It’s funny; I can’t even remember exactly when the “buying options” table appeared, much less when I started (ab)using it.

That little snippet of my introspection bespeaks a triumph–on Amazon’s part, of course–of two-way market creation (the most difficult), proactively “counter-disrupting” another type of transaction and horizontally linking it to the main business, and incorporating the new capabilities seamlessly and attractively into the user experience.

My hat is off to them, for what that’s worth. If more firms acted (or were started) to lower the barriers–and raise the utility–of added consumption on the margin in this way, we might actually get ourselves an economic recovery. Eventually. Er…maybe I shouldn’t oversell it.

Martyr-Preneurship, or Too Many “Rebels” and Not Enough Cause

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Real failure is horrific. Why would we trivialize its menace? Or forget the cost of success?

One of these statements is better than the others.

  1. Failure is a universally accepted requirement for success.
  2. Learning from failure is a universally accepted requirement for success.
  3. LEARNING is a universally accepted requirement for success.

Harvard Business Review has coined the term “entrepreneurship porn” to describe the way in which self-employment – or the marketing and journalism that surround it – has become a rhetorical vehicle for wish fulfillment, in which “all work is always meaningful and running your own business is a way to achieve better work/life harmony.” Of course, there is no real ill to mitigate in the aggrandizement of success; survivorship bias is a fact of life in all human activity.  The real trouble with “entrepreneurship porn” is that it actively distorts, and ultimately dismisses, failure.

Now, I don’t mean failure in the sense of an operational setback or the closing of an avenue of progress. We all have heard of how many ways Thomas Edison found to not design the light bulb, and that kind of motivation is a virtue. I mean real failure, in its two most common forms of ignominy: (1) coming to the true end of capabilities to continue, with a measurable deficit between present assets/aptitudes and what is necessary for viability; and (2) reaching the end of denial that an undertaking was ill-advised, poorly thought out, shoddily executed, and irrelevant. I mean failure that costs real blood, treasure, and time. We users of human bodies are remarkably resilient, but our capacity for healing and indeed living is, in the end, painfully finite.

Acknowledging the risk of failure and the need to recover insightfully and without shame is perfectly noble. Pretending that failure, any failure, is a mere badge of honor, a lost virginity of little import to eventual success, is wantonly irresponsible to both Capital and Labor. On that note, I personally (as a Christian, and one with plenty of sins in his past life) appreciated the analogy to our “modern”, heavily oversexed and porn-positive culture. An “entrepreneur” with no traction and no inkling of either success or opportunity cost is engaging a fantasy life in the same way that a porn addict does. The criticism is the same as well: the echo chamber of mobile social retail apps or dirty videos, respectively, is a pitiable sort of slavery that pales in comparison to the real thing under healthier conditions.

I’m not picking on mobile apps in particular, or ventures of any specific type. Those who are doing good work surely feel nothing if/when they encounter the HBR article, other than perhaps a healthy fear. (Feeling Excited And Ready!) But it’s unavoidable that not everyone hits the mark. When we ignore the difficulties, when we pretend that entrepreneurship is low-cost and low-risk, and that everybody’s doing it (and there’s the analogy to conservative sexual morality again), we have essentially hurt people through negligence. If we allow failure to look appealing enough to be subsumed into the greater fantasy, it is success. Moreover, this “success” is easy. Talk big, throw some code, attend some events, repeat often enough to distract from the grievous self-injury being inflicted. When satisfied, get a real job (if still employable) and tell war stories. Congratulations, you’re a martyrpreneur. Delusion is the most native advertising there is. And it creates huge amounts of negative value.

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The world may need ditch-diggers, but why did blow your ha’penny on a sand castle when it’s obviously made of the same stuff you’ve been shoveling? Pay attention!

Granted, it’s not lost on me that much constructive entrepreneurship is self-actualization or even self-projection. Unfortunately, the will to discern and defeat unhealthy self-projection is rare in any environment; the entrepreneur’s ties to individualism and capitalism can engender self-deception even if the market itself vehemently discourages such vanity.

But I wouldn’t be writing this if the hype was going to stop. There are very expensive hot dogs beings sold at this circus. Reporters report, consultants consult, and contract developers contract to develop; with enough entrepreneurs, to ask of the quality of this work frankly misses the point. And there’s the rub: the more entrepreneurs, the more business can be gained from the feckless nobodies among them. Hope springs eternal; someone will always be trying and failing, or even just trying to try. No judgment passed here; I know from experience that startup failure can be James Altucher awful. The only difference between me and said feckless nobodies is the grace of God that I’ve been on this road long enough to hit the uncanny valley between annoyance at other people’s marketing and marketing my own insights effectively.

However cynical it may be, many successful entrepreneurs have realized that selling picks and shovels is a more lucrative and far easier business than actually mining. I can’t help but feel a little bit sad about it.

MOOCs, MBAs, and existential pessimism

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“We’re all entrepreneurs now. School yourselves accordingly.”
-People who already figured it out for themselves

Lack of self-actualization is our own fault. Oh, thanks. Right? Except that it is. But the mere observation of the fact—and many of the suggestions that follow, for that matter—don’t help matters.

On that festive note, consider the following: LinkedIn published this, which puts the hard sell on MOOCs, here advocated in the context of the MBA curriculum as shared with the world from Elite Universities. (Are there any other kinds of schools on MOOCs?) Complete the MOOC; it’s as good (for employment, of course) as being there!

The author certainly sells it well, and I am fully aware of the benefits of MOOC rollout. In fact, part of my disquiet at this article is the fact that MOOCs stand to benefit seekers of interdisciplinary knowledge and obscure subjects far more on the margin than those pursuing more common curricula.

Speaking of benefits, that LinkedIn benefits from increased MOOC adoption is pretty obvious. It makes one more information stream to arbitrage to advertisers, this one from an especially desperate motivated cohort of job seekers likely to spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and its partner sites. This isn’t wrong per se, but those of us making consumer decisions do well to consider motives and externalities besides the ones being presented to us.

Of course, then there’s everyone else. I saw one prescient comment to the effect that MOOCs are very likely to disrupt lower-tier MBA programs, but not those of high regional or national profile. That’s pretty accurate. Anthropological and epistemological criticisms never seem to disrupt the desirability of the model in which individuals invest the requisite capital and time requirements into full-time residential MBA programs and are returned the ever-elusive benefit of “networking” (don’t look at me, I just blog here).

My recommendations stem from my own self-assessment. In my case, I am too overconfident self-sabotaging weird idealistic to submit to the MBA regime, because I aim to end up in a dead end that no one appreciates but me sublimate the pursuit of management earnings and put my academic pursuits into something with more depth in hopes of Being There and Creating Something. I’ve heard too many classmates say “I didn’t learn anything” at HBS or Haas or Booth or wherever else to give one of those places the time and treasure for what is actually an anthropic gamble on my “unique” story and personality.

Personally, I think it makes more sense for someone like me to study the esoterica that are in my heart and hedge with the M(OOC)BA so that when it’s all said and done, I’m only unemployed as opposed to unemployed and out a lot of money and social energy to boot after muddling through a “real” MBA I’m betting on my own passion and depth instead of appeals to tradition to put me in a good position. There’s just one problem: when the afterglow from all that Doing It My Way wears off, I’ve made myself quite a bit more, lonelier and less defined, work than The Alternative—if, that is, I want to do it for real and not just play at it. (What is “it” and “for real”? Um…SQUIRREL!)

But it’s always that way. Anyone reading this and considering their own choices should take stock of their own gifts and aims.

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This is an essential part of my plan, but it’s optional for you (and it’s my blog, so there).

Thoughts that I thought when I read these readings, vol. 28 no. 4

Wherein I consume so much information as to become physically illsetting aside only the interesting parts, of course—so that you don’t have to.

With that, here’s the latest in what cannot be unseen, loosely grouped into 3 clusters or something…and also, something called Betrayer’s Banquet (which does the impossible and sounds even cooler than Liar’s Poker).

Jennifer Lawrence. Not quite gratuitous, even. Keep reading to see why not.

Jennifer Lawrence. Not quite gratuitous, even. Keep reading to see why not.

1. The continuing inscrutability of the future as predicated on the nature of innovation—and its evil twin, disruption—today.

If we forecast based on past performance and needs, or evolutionary refinement to present creations, or emergence from observable trends; or limit ourselves to the near term in considering our approaches to upcoming necessity, we’ve downsized the question enough to easily grasp it. But the far future, as far as I’m concerned, is to be investigated in the paradoxical expansion of both micro/granular and macro/extended-time frames.

Most people suppose that game-changing adoption of innovations (for which innovation as a single word now functions as a shorthand) needs to be pursued passively and pervasively in order to maximize the chances of ideas converging around one implementation or paradigm that has adequate positive externalities. Of course, if this is true, we are to be skewered on the horns of a dilemma between What and How, suffering alongside the torn loyalties, of Who, When, and Where, to say nothing of Why. Let’s even set aside skepticism towards this model for now; I only want to consider the vastness of a global system of individual/corporate-bodycells” whose unitary (at some level, right?) experiences as derived from their several cognitive aggregate contexts—because we know what everyone is reading, obviously—must be sublimated into outcomes that create represent epistemologies, axioms and principles, concepts or ideas, implementation strategies, and the presence or lack of adoption. Oh, and then the “products” (so to speak) must also adapt to each other to create emergence.

In other words, the modern world is now being affected in real time by an arbitrarily large number of very smart people acting on an information set that is irretrievably asymmetrical between actors because literally no one can know everything. The accuracy of these predictions is going to go downhill FAST as their timeline extends. Not that we can give up, of course. To parse it all even the smallest piece with any rigor, all I can suggest is starting with a very, very small “endstate vertical“—a part of the human experience that is adequately summaristic without being too large to unpack—and, having identified its correlates in the present and target timeframe, begin judiciously bridging the gap. I am very much open to your suggestions on how to do better.

2. The real tragedy of the commons continues to be the liberal progressive communitarian apocalypse, as it always has been.

It’s not a pleasant time to be watching government or the people in it. Even the people (professional, knowledge/service, and design/engineering workers) who experience the highest ontological rigors of a scarcity-based economy—those who should be working the hardest to develop and preserve the differentiation of their skills and achievements, for the (capital and personal) market rewards that it earns—seem to think that today’s government (or its post-Constitutional, more streamlined successor), is in a position to absorb both surpluses of success and deficits of failure.

Obviously, America is fundamentally transforming into a place where, in stark contrast to just about every other corporate body in history, failure will be subsidized out of existence in zero-sum balance to the regime over success so that everyone can realize their dreams at an acceptable standard of individual living. (What?) Productivity and value creation will continue without moral hazard or adverse selection by any of the complexly bounded rationalists that *ahem* comprise the public, nor abuse by the influence-literate bureaucracy. This oligarchy system will be instituted from the top down with minimal resistance, without creating any deadly technical faults in the system. This cabal system will brook no fiscal or monetary inaccuracy, friction, or pressure against a community nonetheless trying to survive optimize its returns against the byzantine regulations, and by no means will there be an eventual macroeconomic catastrophe.

That could be. Or maybe it’s just that the recurring nightmares are getting more vivid.

3. Silver Linings Playbook (not the movie)

At least a few people have better ideas than the chaos we’ve covered so far. With a little help from opportunism in government, (and there’s no lack of that), there is a chance that advocacy of good old hard work and building of competency towards future rewards will help return those ideals to the fore. Flight to quality applies even in the face of government or other market inefficiencies—but you have to build and prove the quality. Just look at the example set by the lead actress of this item’s title namesake: Jennifer Lawrence finds herself in a commanding position among Hollywood’s leading ladies at the tender age of 23, because she can act (and isn’t trashing her beauty or career window in the usual ways).

Such great reassurance, I know: all you have to do is “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. But honestly, that was always the rule. We’re just running out of ways to be lenient with it.

On Black Friday, Trying to Understand How to Prevent Other Days from Becoming Black

We live in difficult times, and I don’t mean obstacles to consumption over the next month. The only way to understand them is to try, and to enlist others to try along with us. So try these out:
(1) Dani Rodrik at Project Syndicate has written about the negative externalities of individual countries’ macroeconomic choices, pointing out that there needs to be equilibrium between net importers and exporters. Something bothers me about the implications of that premise for monetary and trade policy, but I’m not sure what. Brad Delong offers the remedy of hegemonic stability, but the journey (back) to such a concentration of power seems unwieldy and full of dead weight loss. Of course, I’m not sure Delong gets it. More to follow.
(2) This article on Breitbart suggests that the “resurgence” of American libertarianism, such as that is, is vulnerable to, beyond electoral defeatleftist capture because it is split by conflicting forces of traditionalism and technocracy, both of which carry the risk of oligarchic corruption. If we don’t want the future to belong to overreaching progressive elites who co-opt our better angels—and I am speaking, regardless of labels, to everyone who thinks that the freedom to innovate shouldn’t belong to any one entity—then we need to get our messaging straight. I believe Conservatism the privileging of Liberty will find victory in bringing itself to the “new center” as a series of libertarian derivations, avoiding all the tradition-baggage and culture-warring that has been a stumbling block for recent electorates. I would suggest that successful messaging is based on an intentional reading of history that prevents its heroes from being put in progressive partisan boxes. There is a precedent for this.
Spend the day reading; it’s cheaper.

A digest of things you might like

Again, a blog post found from an email that I wrote. Go figure; a content strategist reaches out to people with whom he wants to keep contact by sharing content. Revolutionary, I know. So what follows is what went out to a few dozen people a few minutes ago. I’m told i’m supposed to automate this process or something. Meh. High touch, right?
Wherein you reap the benefits of my chronic information overload without enduring more of the same vicissitudes in your own life. I thought it might be nice to share.
Here’s what I thought was worthwhile lately:
Honorable mention: Yet more guidance on how to do social content.
Until next time…
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#awkward

Anyway, just reminding you that since we have always been at war with Eurasia [sic], you are the family member with whom I have best relations. Notable in that it is de jure not Mom, for the first time…ever.

The impact is even more noticeable now that I took the time to make a blog post around this. The times, they are a-changin‘.

My family is kinda like this. Except, while GoT does an excellent job of portraying all the assorted machinations in the grotesque banality that should attend them, my version takes the same to such extremes that it (without great effort) is no longer art. Not least because I'm fat. :-(

My family is kinda like this. Except, while GoT rightly portrays its assorted machinations in grotesque banality (for purposes of verisimilitude slipped in between the dragons), the House McMath takes the same to such extremes of scope—and intimate detail—that it, without a prohibitively extensive enframing, no longer has art value.