The Blogroll: Week 2

Welcome to week two of the blogroll — my little list of articles and blogs I think you should be reading. If you read that last sentence and still find yourself thoroughly confused, I wrote a blog post a few days ago titled, “What is The Blogroll and who is it for?.” Hope that helps. Enjoy!

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Rand Fishkin - Why Elon Musk’s “People as Vectors” Analogy Resonates

”Let’s get something out of the way — 100% alignment doesn’t exist. Not even for one person. Not even for Musk himself (though I’ll admit his single-minded dedication probably comes close). We are people, not automatons, and our wonderfully human imperfections, emotions, and biases drag us off course. The most single-minded, dogged pursuit in the history of humanity is still not a straight line. Thus, it’s impossible that any group of people could keep their own efforts flawlessly parallel on a project with any modicum of complexity.”

Thankfully, this reveals a beautiful truth: we can all benefit from greater alignment.”

My business 101 book would start with a chapter titled ‘Alignment and Trust’. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and all the parts have to trust that the other parts can spin their wheels in the right direction.

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Giles Turnbull - Collecting things

”Future-you is someone who has a better sense of change-over-time than you have. Future-you is removed from the pressure to deliver things soon, and has the luxury of hindsight plus time to think. Future-you is incredibly lucky.

At the same time, future-you is going to need evidence to back up or illustrate the stories they can tell. (Different stories from the ones you’re telling now, because of all that hindsight and thinking time.) Rather than simply re-using the material that now-you is already using to tell your stories and show the thing, future-you might want different material.

Future-you might, after all, want to tell slightly different stories, and show slightly different things.

It’s in your interest now to collect things now that might/will be useful for future-you one day.”

I love this so much. As someone who has a million ideas — some good, some bad — simply collecting them and their origins would be hugely useful, if only to show how thoroughly you’ve thought through an idea before coming to a solution.

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Jason Kottke - Twenty.

”I had a personal realization recently: kottke.org isn’t so much a thing I’m making but a process I’m going through. A journey. A journey towards knowledge, discovery, empathy, connection, and a better way of seeing the world. Along the way, I’ve found myself and all of you. I feel so so so lucky to have had this opportunity. When kottke.org turned 10, my post marking the anniversary ended with “I’ll see you in 2018”. In my recollection, that line was somewhat serious but also partially somewhere between a joke and a dare. Like, “how has this thing lasted 10 years, why not go for 20?” So…why not go for 30? 40? I’ll see you for sure in 2028 and perhaps even in 2038. Thank you so very much for being here with me, I surely don’t deserve such fine company.”

One of the more interesting things about following someone — anyone — over a significant period of time is their evolution. And your evolution in relation to their evolution. I don’t really have a lot to add, other than that I admire more than anything the ability to churn. To just keep going, even if it means pivoting until your ankles hurt.

As an aside, my wife watches Days of Our Lives somewhat religiously (it’s a soap opera in the US), and it’s been running for so long that some of the flashbacks they use are of the same actors, playing the same characters, in the 1980’s. Say what you will about soap operas, but the amount of character development you can do in ~40 years makes for some interesting writing possibilities. (I have this side pipe dream of writing for a soap opera one day… it’s like a hobby of mine to see how writers write themselves out of the silly plot holes they get themselves into.)

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Matthew Schuler - Why Creative People Sometimes Make No Sense

”Sometimes what appears to be a contradiction on the surface is actually a harmony in disguise. My problem has been primarily one of communication. I am learning to let people know what I am thinking and why, and explaining myself in a way that helps them understand why I am discussing multiple perspectives instead of just cleanly stating my own. At first it might not make sense, but give me/us long enough, and it will.”

I find that discussion is kind of useless until I can get some thoughts on paper. Turns out, highlighting 20 left turns in a conversation makes you sound whishy-washy. On paper, 20 left turns is called longform.

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Alan Burdick - Physicists Still Don’t Know What Puts the Curl in Curling

”In most other respects, Shegelski told me, curling defies traditional logic.

The bottom of a curling stone resembles the bottom of a beer bottle. It’s concave, not flat, so as it slides only a narrow ring of stone—the running band—actually interacts with the ice. Take a beer bottle or an upturned glass and send it spinning down a table: if it rotates to the right, clockwise, it will curl to the left; if it rotates to the left, it will curl to the right. That’s because the bottle, as it moves forward, also tips forward slightly, adding weight to the leading edge. More weight means more friction. As the leading edge turns to the right, it meets with greater resistance than the back edge, turning to the left, does. So the clockwise-spinning bottle follows the path of least resistance, curling to the left.

Weirdly, a curling stone on ice does exactly the opposite: if it rotates to the right, it curls right, and vice versa.”

I hope your mind just exploded. My favorite part is that this is an unsolved mystery.

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Nicola Wood - Sustainable Me

”I can’t be the only person who watched that episode of Blue Planet and was mortified to realise how much unnecessary waste our family produces and the impact it’s having. While we’ve always tried to do our bit, I wasn’t really aware of how much we’ve trashed the planet we live on. Each bottle of water, each coffee cup, those plastic bags, that fibre lash mascara … While our household is unlikely to go zero waste any time soon, if we do a bit and others do a bit it all adds up.”

So yes. I basically agree with everything here, and I really do try to do my part. But it’s amazing how slow our systems are at solving this… systemically. For instance, why is the Target by my house even allowed to put everything in plastic bags (sometimes they even double-bag items!)? And why isn’t there some kind of extreme tax on bottled water? It’s not like bottled water is keeping our society running… I still remember when they started selling bottled water at my grocery store. We thought people were nuts.

Some things like eating less meat can be hard, but so many things shouldn’t even be an option. Plastic straws? Does society need plastic straws? Can someone in my town run for office on a platform of banning plastic straws? They’d have my vote.

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Spencer Fry - Your competitors don’t matter

”But paying any mind to your competitors is not something any Founder or Product Manager should bother themselves with. Even with the occasional glance, you’ll be susceptible to their influence and any influence whatsoever is bad for your business.

Everyone who is in business with aspirations of building something great will never get there by looking at what anyone else does — especially their competitors. How do you build something exceptional, groundbreaking and market leading if you focus any of your mental energy looking at how others are doing it?”

I feel empowered by reading this, but I don’t know if it’s true. My problem is that most companies are created to fill a void — no one needs the 50th version of a thing unless you’re selling a commodity. But understanding that market void — that need for a thing to exist — you have to innately understand what others are and aren’t doing. Even if you’re a year in and actively not peeking at what your competition is doing, you know in your heart what your audience wants because it’s what other people aren’t (or weren’t) giving them.

I guess some people call that intuition. Pretending your intuition isn’t influenced by others doesn’t seem quite right though. Even the quote at the end of the post, “Sorry to throw Samsung under the bus, but what you get is a Samsung phone rather than the iPhone by spending any time at all looking at your competitors.” makes me scrunch my face a little. Sure, Apple mostly innovates in the phone space while Samsung mostly follows, but Samsung’s mobile division made $2.23 billion USD in Q4 2017. I know we all want to be the next Steve Jobs of our industry, and I know the point is that good stuff comes from visionary thinking (and you can’t be a visionary if you’re consistently following the herd), but making Samsung’s phones the example of failure is a little crazy.

Seriously. I’m not advocating copying anyone or doing anything unethical (which Samsung is often accused of… and rightly so), but if you can put your kids to college and live a good life making what you think is a slightly better version of an existing thing, don’t feel bad about it. And don’t let visionary startup advice stop you. You do you.

The actual blogroll

(Blogs are ranked in order of appearances in these Blogroll posts.)