Weekly Review #37: French Girls, marketing hacks, and meaningful drugs

Fun useless new app of the week goes to French Girls, where you post selfies and draw those of others’. Lots of slipshod quality out there, but when they’re good, man oh man they’re good. (PS I thought the name was genius, but even people who’ve seen Titanic don’t pick up on it!)

Andrew Chen reminds us there are only a few ways to scale user growth, and they are below. That’s it!

  • Paid Acquisition, Virality, SEO, Sales

I did some poking around into marketing, which led to Buffer’s massive list of words that convert, ConversionXL’s massive guide on landing pages, and Kissmetric’s comprehensive review of over 20 case studies on psychological copy. Great resources to refer back to.

The founder of Growth Hacking Sean Ellis preaches:

  • Traction is everything (Tinder cofounders visited sororities to onboard them, THEN went to the frats. effective)
  • Optimize the product for marketing (virality is not a feature. it’s built into the product)
  • Survey like crazy and learn about users
  • Think beyond content for inbound marketing (growthhackers.com exists to preach his product Qualroo)
  • Always Be Testing

An old New York Times articles questions whether the financial industry is actually valuable, and has far more evidence than I do to support our mutual conclusion.

Sam Harris has an insightful and incite-ful article on Drugs and the Meaning of Life, with, as usually, something to offend everybody.

  • If (my daughters) don’t try a psychedelic like psilocybin or LSD at least once in their adult lives, I will wonder whether they had missed one of the most important rites of passage a human being can experience.
  •  I’ve never met a person who smokes marijuana every day who I thought wouldn’t benefit from smoking less (and I’ve never met someone who has never tried it who I thought wouldn’t benefit from smoking more)

Alex Vermeer has a fantastic summary of Seth Godin’s Linchpin – here’s some key takeaways:

  • Depth of knowledge combined with good judgement is worth a lot.
  • Top 8 motivation factors for creative professionals: senses of challenge, flexibility, stability, money, personal development, peers, culture, and location.
  • The easier it is to quantify work, the less it’s worth. Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how.
  • Or if you ask Tim Kreider, ‘art is that which is done for the hell of it. The essence of creativity is fucking around.’

True Friends, or Fellow Fans?

The two best things in life are doing things that you like and spending time with people you like. If you don’t care about the activity or the people you’re doing it with – why do it at all? Obviously, if you combine these two into enjoying both the activity and the people, then you have the stuff life memories are made of. Yet due to a variety of reasons you usually lack one of the two – preferred friends or  preferred activity.

I’d say the first is more important than the second – with friends, even the most odious of experiences can become treasured. But this is also the most likely obstacle. Due to work, jobs, or a cavalcade of obligations for both parties, the ability to spend time with people you choose doing the activity of your choice is often limited to short tired weeknights or longer adventures on the weekends. It depends how adventurous your social circle is.

Yet this  means that the majority of your waking hours will be spent in the company of people not freely chosen. Instead, they’re individuals who you interact with out of necessity. Coworkers, the people who live in your building, the guy you buy a hot dog from for lunch, and so on.

If you’re lucky, super friendly, or highly compatible, these people can become your friends even while they fufill their roles of worker, housemate, or service person. But those are the happy exceptions rather than the norm – most requisite interactions are marked by polite acquiesence in order to get the job done, not in order to spend undue time with you. Not many people chitchat with the taxi driver or the receptionist.

Alternatively, you could have time and people to play with, but face the problem of your friends not enjoying the same activites you do. A prime example would be friends of mine who I can spend a lovely dinner or bar night with, but would never want to go on a daytrip with, or indeed, partake in most of the things they choose to do with their free time. Then you’d have to search outside of your existing network to find people who like the things you do. Yet this brings with it another problem.

It is the nature of leisure activities to pull people towards them who are also fans of said activity. (duh) But unlike jobs, eateries, or transportation, leisure activites are optional, which means that when choosing recreational activites, you are not just choosing the activity but also the fans – the people you will be spending time with as a result of that activity.

In theory, this is great, because it will introduce you to other people who already have one half of the recipe for happy life memories – they have the same favorite activity you do. But just because you both like the same thing does not mean you will get along – that interest is only one facet of a personality.

You’ve likely seen this firsthand in almost anything you do on the weekends, but here are a few interests of my own with wildly disparate fanbases: the outdoors, electronic dance music, and startups. All of these have different clientile – not exclusively of course, but here are some of the traits I find unusually correlated.

The Outdoors

The people who I often encounter in REI and on hiking trails are usually easygoing, liberal, white, and own mid-sized dogs. I can empathize with them on the above and with national park recommendations, but on matters of personal ambition there is often a disconnect. I’ve noticed over the years that many of them are content to spend their lives entirely in the mountains as wilderness guides. I knew one guy who was fine doing part time jobs he was apathetic about for most of the year because it gave him the money and time to get back on the slopes during winter. That’s fine for him, but I want to accomplish more in my life than a list of mountains summitted. I can’t talk matter of business or productivity with most people I meet on the trail.

Electronic dance music

Fans of these genres are usually millenials like me, but if the concerts and raves I’ve attended are any indication, they have a lot more tattooes, piercings, and interest in recreational drugs than I do. I can connect with many of my peers on a deeply passionate level through song and artist commiserations, but outside of music, I have almost nothing to talk about. You can see this just by browsing Soundcloud comments and seeing how many needless drug or sex references there are.


These are the people I get along with the most. Since self betterment is a philosophy that encompasses a wide range of lifestyle choices rather than what you listen to or do on the weekends, I have a lot more to talk about with fellow wantrepreneurs. We can trade productivity tis, book recommendaitons, personal creations or writings, and so forth. If I had to find a problem with this group of people it’d only be that some of them are overly business minded. It’s not common, but some are in it for the money and prestige – they could take a lesson from the outdoors group on lightening up and having fun.

Knowing the above about my fellow  fanbases, I take care to cultivate my personal brand to be a lantern that attracts the kind of moths I want to hang out with. You’ll notice my website isn’t devoted to the outdoors or music – that’s not just for professional reasons. On the trail I mention the other adventures I’ve had, in the club the other concerts I’ve been to, and at conferences my website and the book I wrote. Only as the connection grows do you start to learn about the rest of me. Rightly so – having friends with one deep but narrow interest in common would get old quickly, whereas those with many mutually preferred activites lead to long fruitful friendships spent doing varied things we both care about.

Are you conscious of the ways your interests bring you into contact with likeminded people? Which of your fellow fanbases has the most in common with you?

Weekly Review #36: Cold showers, loving hard, and the portfolio of productivity

I’m one week into a strict cold shower regimen and loving it. It’s a great SIDCHA (self imposed daily challenge) that wakes me up fast, force me to confront discomfort, all while saving water and energy. Joshua Spodek is a month ahead of me and has even more great reasons to give them a try. (I’d heard of cold showers a long time ago, but always wimped out. Now I wake up determined not to quit!)

I discovered Mixergy.com this week – great portfolio of entrepreneur interviews and learnings. The founder Andrew Warner has quite the story as well – he named his first company Bradford and Reed because ‘it sounded like a company people would accept calls from’

Big study on fertility and happiness finds that kids decrease happiness at first, but increase it once you pass 40.

  • Our analysis of World Values Survey responses from 86 countries indicates that, globally, happiness decreases with the number of children parents have.
  • Most importantly, the association between happiness and fertility evolves from negative to neutral to positive above age 40
  • These results suggest that children are a long-term investment in well-being, and they highlight the importance of both the life-cycle stage and macro contexts to the happiness/fertility association.

An interview with the CEO of Craigslist (hint: not Craig) was interesting for many reasons. (Craig stepped down because he knew Jim was a better manager, and besides, he was happier with customer service anyway). I particularly like his response to a question about donating to charity:

  • “We give away at least 1% of revenue, but we haven’t had a chorus of users suggesting that we should run ads to generate funds for charity. People have that money now, and they can give it away. We’re not in a position to be an arbiter of where that money should go.”

My friend Adrienne Tran has a great post on relationships:

  • If you’re going to love, love hard. It’s a lack of open communication that leads to love pain, not the emotional investment.
  • Prioritize the person over the relationship. Otherwise things become binary (future wife or just a friend).
  • “Our relationship is not defined by my constantly looking into the future and weighing the value you could add to my life — it’s defined by the deep experiences that we’ve shared in the past to create the meaningful relationship we have now.”
  • “When you meet someone you believe is worth emotionally investing in, instead of asking, “Is he the one?”  ask, “Am I building something amazing with this person?””

HyperInk.com turns thought leading blogs into pretty books quickly and easily.

Ever heard of the sales challenge to “Sell me this pen?”. The Senator Club has a clever answer to blow that out of the way.

I’m back into a routine with a daily commute, so that means a whole lot more Competitive Edge Summaries! Brace yourself.

Tactics from Wiley Cerilli, CEO of SinglePlatform

  • Never ask your friends for advice on your ideas. Instead, tell them “Oh, my friend has this idea”, then your friends won’t be afraid to shoot it down and damage your self esteem
  • The four mindsets of people being sold to: controllers, who look for persuasion, analyzers, who look for data, stabilizers, who look for harmony, and controllers, who want to get it done.
  • Whenever somebody asks you about your company, respond with “Well, what do you want to know?”  Then they will tell you exactly what they’re interested in, which you can use to harmonize with them.
  • Powerful quote: “if you want to sail the sea, you don’t gather a bunch of men and tell them to build you a boat. You teach them to yearn to sail the sea and they will build you that boat”
  • ‘I think it’s a complete fallacy that a CEO and a leader can motivate people but what they can do is provide an environment where motivated people can excel’ – Brad Felt
  • There are two stages of a business: the testing phase (small team, everyone doing everything, figuring out if there is a business there), and the tuning phase (tune the thing to scale it up, people start to specialize)
  • Don’t brag that “We worked with Google”. Say “One of the things Google loved about us was X”
  • “The winner between an alligator and a bear is determined by the terrain.” CEOs want to dominate water and land, but you have to say, screw it I’m a bear and then dominate just one. SinglePlatform did this by focusing on serving only bars at the beginning.
  • “Set your life on fire and then seek those who light your fire”

Chris Bailey from a Year of Productivity

  • Productivity is a confluence of three things: your time, your energy, and your attention. Where they overlap is how productive you are
  • Slow down and ask myself “Why am I doing what I’m doing right now?” Oftentimes, it’s just because you’re bored, or because you are on autopilot entertainment. Observe the intentions behind your actions
  • 40% of everything we do on a daily basis is a habit.
  • Ask yourself at the beginning of the day “By the time this day ends, what do I want to have accomplished?”
  • Chris keeps his phone in airplane mode from 8pm to 8am, even though he sleeps from 9 to 5.
  • Your life is a portfolio of 7 things: mind, body, emotions, career, finances, relationships, and fun. You need to make sure you diversify your investments.
  • Martin Seligman: “How happy something makes you is determined by three factors: the pleasure it gives you, how engaged you are with it, and how much meaning it gives your life.”
  • “People are more motivating than really anything else you do, except maybe the basics like eating well and sleeping.”
  • The biggest mistakes people make with productivity is that they don’t exercise, get enough sleep, or eat well. Everything else is built upon that.
  • Make a list of all the work activities you do in the course of a month, and ask yourself “If I could only do three of these activities all month, which would it be?” Chances are those three things are the things you are the best at and enjoy the most.

Sebastian Marshall

  • There are two kinds of knowledge – the cognitive and the experiential. You can understand that someone’s parents are dead, you know what happened, but you don’t really know how it feels. You don’t ‘actually get it’. Be aware of this difference.
  • Scott notes that he doesn’t read many books, because he’s learned better in real life doing things. Sebastian notes that its easy to focus on what you’re good at, so if its books, you may focus on that at the expense of experience, or vice versa.
  • Sebastian thinks that you don’t really decide your thoughts so much as think whatever you body is primed to do so given the situation. So shape your time and surroundings to help you think and do what you really want to.
  • If you can handle yourself being bored or aggravated, you can live a lot more intentionally. The next time that happens to you, just own it. Recognize that you are bored or aggravated, but don’t do anything about it. It’ll pass.
  • Oftentimes you do harmful things to yourself as a compromise to worldly minutiae (like accepting toast at a restaurant when you’re gluten free). Who is better off because you accepted that toast? Nobody. Who is better off if you deny it? You.
  • Recognize what you are vain about. The preservation of your vanity or ego is often damaging to your life goals. You’re the only one who really cares about your vanity, and you’re the only one suffering from it. Let it go.
  • Make things binary: “Did I eat healthy or didn’t I?” Less room for weakness, easier to make the right choice.
  • Make universal rules for your life that allow you to avoid getting stuck fighting fire.
  • Like IF-THEN statements: IF it rains during my run time, THEN I will still go out and do a lap of one block before deciding whether to continue
  • When Sebastian tries to adopt new habits, he aims for at least 70% success rate. If he can’t hit that, he scales down so that he does. If he does, he ratchets it up.
  • Study your successes. If something went well or you did it well, stop and look at what went into making that successful. Then you can recognize what worked and use it elsewhere.
  • The arrival fallacy – “Once X happens, then I’ll be happy”. Recognize that you can be happy even when things don’t happen as you wanted them to. Recognize that each day as a battle you could lose and still win the war of life.
  • Peter Gollwitzer, NYU professor on goals and decision taking

Andy Drish on finding your unique genius

  • ‘the people who are closest to you don’t want you to change because if you change, the ways in which they used to manipulate you won’t work any longer’. The expectations you set for yourself are the expectations set by your peer group
  • Dan Sullivan’s ‘Unique Ability’ book, Gay Hendricks ‘The Big Leap’
  • Ask yourself “What’s your favorite movie character? How would you describe them/what characteristic do you think they embody? How much does that align with the perception you have of yourself?” You gravitate towards characters who are like you.
  • Write down the tasks you loved in your favorite jobs. Find common threads.
  • Four types of tasks – incompetent (you’re bad at it and hate it), competent (can do it but don’t like it), excellent (can do it well) and genius (do it well and love it)
  • When two people are having a conversation and you join them, how does the feel of the group change? What is added or subtracting in the groups’ feelings?

Urgent or Important? Proactive or Reactive?

I don’t recall which productivity guru introduced me to the axis of urgency and importance. Google tells me it was Stephen Covey, so I’ll go with that. But regardless of who it was, the exposure of this binary classification changed the way I worked – I started thinking about whether this was the most important thing to do, or if it was just the most pressing. Josh Waitzkin on a recent Tim Ferriss podcast, exposed another binary with two different qualifiers – proactive task versus reactive ones. One is what you do in response to something, whereas the other is undertaken of your own volition.

These four adjectives overlap into two categories, albeit imperfectly. Most proactive tasks are important, and most reactive ones are urgent, but not exclusively so. You could reactively pay an urgent rent bill, for instance, or proactively decide to step to one side rather than block an urgent punch to your face. Let’s run down them one by one.

Urgent vs Important

Urgent tasks are often referred to as firefighting. These are the daily needs that require your immediate attention – from making breakfast to responding to that ringing phone on the desk. If you ignore them, bad things will happen. They may not happen immediately, but if you ignore too many frivolities eventually big stuff will start to fail. (Don’t eat lunch and you’ll live, but too often and your health will suffer, etc). Your email inbox, deadlines, and looking good for your boss are all urgencies.

Most urgent tasks are not important in the big scheme of things, but many are integral building blocks to success. It is important to identify which tasks are which, but many people simply come in and tackle the urgent problems first because they are more pressing, at the expense of the important ones.

Important tasks are critical to the success of project. Ignoring them will be devastating eventually, but their cruciality may not be immediately visible. They might be things like paying rent (it’s not urgent until overdue, but very important) or working on refining a process you use everyday (you could keep using the old process no problem, but streamlining it would improve efficiency and save everyone’s time).

Important tasks often fall behind since they are not constantly reminding you to get them done ASAP, which hurts your goals. Many of them are passively urgent, lurking in the back of your mind saying “I should really get to that today” but you never find the time.

These two terms neatly split up your to-dos into halves that are integral to your plans, but do not hold equal weight. Focusing solely on the important would bring you forward but probably with a reputation for unreliability and carelessness, while focusing solely on the urgent would  have you running in place with the illusion of productivity, yet slowing sinking as innovation falls to the wayside.

Reactive vs Proactive

Another way of dividing up the to-dos is with the reactive/proactive divide. Nearly all urgent tasks are reactive – you do them in response to something happening to you. And while you can be proactive towards urgent things, the act of deciding to do something of your own impetus rather than as a result of someone else’s usually means you are doing something important to you.

Reactive tasks are things like responding to email, (which could be described as somebody else’s to-do list) paying bills, and answering the ringing phone calls. They’re relatively easy to do, and completing them makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But reactive tasks can never move you forward – they can only keep you in the same place.

It takes a proactive task – one made of your own accord -to move you forward. You decide you need to do something and then do it, regardless of the environment around you. Examples include storyboarding the overall design of a project, refining your operational process, writing for yourself, or recalibrating your goals as a result of recent findings. The ‘big stuff’. These things are more truly yours than anything you do as a response to an external stimuli, and as a result, are critical to your success rather than someone else’s. You do them because you think they should be done.

Yet so many people spent their days reacting to email and other urgent frivolities that invade their days, then go to bed feeling busy and productive. Such a person is never going to be fired, but they’re never going to get promoted either. Busy is not productive, just as urgent is not important.

You may know what these words mean, but have you ever stopped and considered the ramifications? Think about it – almost all of your life is reactive! You go to school to get a job because thats whats accepted to do. Most of the things you do, watch, read, and eat are because that’s what everyone else does, or just because it’s what is available. Even your friends are made reactively. You meet the people you do because they’re the ones that work with you, live nearby, or happen to do the same things you do. Just look at how many people don’t stay in touch with their friends from high school. It’s because they hung out with those people simply because they were there, not because of any underlying affinity. (although you could also say you matured in different directions since then).

The best people and opportunities out there aren’t going to fall in your lap for you to react to them. You have to proactively get out there and find them yourself.

  • Whenever you do something, (or especially if you find yourself ‘very busy’, stop and ask yourself: “Am I doing this because its urgent, or is it really important?
  • Ask yourself why it is you are doing this task. Was it your decision, or was it simply the reasonable reaction to do given the circumstances?
  • Prioritize important proactive action over urgent reactive ones. (duh)

Weekly Review #35: Family NYC and World Domination Summit

Continuing the New York City adventure, this week I did a lot more of the touristy/expensive stuff with my family. We did the MuseumHack tour of the Met (highly recommended, young energetic guides show you the weirdest parts of the museum), Escaped the Room NYC, (puzzle room where you’re locked into a room and have to escape, great fun) the Top of the Rockefeller Center observation deck (great view, but overpriced and you get treated like tourist cattle), watched Kinky Boots and Of Mice and Men on Broadway (first was high energy fun, second unimpressive), and went to a showing of The Late Show with Seth Myers. I found it amazing that they go to all the trouble of getting a live audience just for authentic laughter – surely a laugh track is easier? They have a dozen security goons herding you in and making sure you don’t jump Seth, and the tickets are free, just first come first served. Bizarre.

I found Nathan Pyle’s NYC Etiquette gifs to be both hilarious and apt during this time, especially ‘how to avoid clipboards’. Ryan Holiday’s ‘40 Reasons not to move to NYC‘ also struck a chord, as it paints the city as an overbooked stock popular only because everyone else is there.

Then it was off to Portland for Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit, an entrepreneurial conference full of speakers and parties. I didn’t get a ticket for it, however, as I had noticed at SXSW that all the best stuff happened outside of the buildings. Apparently it’s a whole movement called ‘unconferencing‘. Basically I’d hang out near the building in between speeches, monitor the #wds2014 hashtag on Twitter for extra curricular meetups, and strike up conversations with other badge holders. Worked pretty well!

WDS was a lot less pure business and more woo wooey than SXSW was. While my read of the mission statement “How to live a remarkable life in a conventional world’ tends towards the entrepreneurial, for a lot of others it meant building tiny houses, affirmative self talk aimed at ‘finding your truth’ (the word chakra was thrown around often), and subsequently a large percentage of the attendee’s were life coachs. Personally I find the idea of paying a stranger thousands of dollars to give you advice absurd, unless you’re trying to do something they have already done, but what do I know. These people were really good at empathizing, I’ll say that.

Scott Berkun has a decent summary of the official talks inside, but here’s all the colorful people, habits, and things I learned from the outside.

Overall, it was a great way to meet other entrepreneurial minds and see what everyone is up to. Maybe I’ll be back next year – doubt I’ll get a ticket though!

Can’t forget the online findings: France banned the checking of all work emails after 6pm in an effort to salvage work/life balance. Doubt that’d work in the US, but I love the idea.

This algorithm calculates the most beautiful route from A to B using data from UrbanGem.com, rather than the shortest. Clever use of an existing dataset.

The story behind RapGenius.com’s path to success is an entertaining parable about unreasonable cofounders.

Simon Baron Cohen theorizes that women tend to approach the world through empathy, while men do it through systems. Makes sense to me. Speaking of which, this can lead to men rudely interrupting women and discounting their opinions – so interrupt back!

And this guy asked Kickstarter for ten bucks to made a potato salad. Now he has $50,000. Ah, America.