Siloing

“People whose networks span structural holes have early access to diverse, often contradictory information and interpretations which gives them a good competitive advantage in delivering goods ideas.  People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of deep intellectual ability. It is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.”

Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

What I’ve been reading

The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene – All about being honest with yourself and reality, confronting your fears, and some cool street stories from 50.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – TIm Ferriss mentioned in a youtube video that this was a really good book. It really wasn’t that great. It’s about a kid raised by ghosts in a graveyard.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini – Basic human psychology, how people exploit us, and how to protect ourselves from being exploited. Funny Hari Krishna case study.

All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin – Awesome book. It’s short and Godin style and all about how people care less about facts and more about the stories and making decisions that make them feel good, pretty, smart, rich, or better. Perfect where the business is

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande – Gawande is a surgeon who takes a look at how checklists improve the success rate and efficiency of human decisions from construction to finance to medicine. Really fast and interesting read

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky – A must for anyone trying to understand how people behave on the internet and why they behave the way do.

The Simplest Way to Form a New Habit

1. One thing at a time, make it easy, and be specific. No matter how many things you want to change, you can only change one thing at a time. Period. One thing. I’ll say it again. One thing. No matter how special you think you are, how smart you are, how mentally tough you are, your success rate will be zero percent if you try to do two things at a time. Momentum is a big factor in this, so your first habit must be easy, so easy you can’t fail. Whatever you think is easy, make it twice as easy. If you want to run more, tell yourself that you’ll run for 5 minutes a day. Sounds painfully easy, but you have to start small for this to work. The alternative to adopting a small, simple habit is no habit at all.

2. Identify a trigger action. This is something you already do everyday. It’s the tripwire for your new habit. When you carry out your trigger action, you then perform your new habit. Example: I wanted to write more. I know that every day, when I get back from work, I walk into my room and set my bag on my desk chair in my room, get a glass of water and generally do very little work for the rest of the day. I’ll surf or to the gym, and when I get back from, I eat dinner, read, and go to bed. So my trigger was pouring a glass of water. I told myself, “When I come home from work and pour myself a glass of water, I’ll write at least 200 words in a WordPress draft.” All it was was 200 words of whatever came out. Very little was special, but at least I was sitting down and writing. Identify your trigger action that will guide you into the new habit you want to form.

3. Buy a big calendar. I got this part from Jerry Seinfeld. When you complete your habit, make a big X over the that day’s date. The motto is “don’t break the chain.” After a few days, those Xs will feel as good as reaching the top of mountain or finishing a book. My calendar is above.

4. Every three weeks, choose a new habit  Since I put this this calendar in my room in August, this system has worked better than anything I have ever tried. It keeps you honest and you can clearly track your results as you progress.  Instead of moping about the things I haven’t changed, I now wake up with no snooze every weekday, write at least 200 words everyday, smile more, and regularly go to the gym.

If you slip up and miss a day, just keep going. Finish the three weeks and start a new habit. If one habit was too hard, be honest with yourself about it. Don’t make excuses about why you didn’t do it. You failed and that’s fine. Just pick an easier habit the following session and keep your momentum up. After you’ve adopted a few habits, you’ll become confident in the process.

The hardest thing here is not starting a new habit, it’s making it normal, easy part of your life. It’s common to watch some TED talk or a youtube video and get inspired and excited to change your lifestyle. The idea of changing habits is awesome,  but it’s psychologically draining when you make lots of changes at once. You will stall and relapse into old habits and not even know why. Take this smart, slow approach, and start building real habits, one at a time.

Startup Lessons Pt. 1

I’m working for a food startup in San Diego called uberfood. We launch very soon, and I’ll talk more about it then.

The team is made up of an investor/co-founder, general manager/cofounder, and me. The Investor is a successful entrepreneur and I’ve taken some notes on some the things that he’s said about business, negotiating, and entrepreneurship. Here’s the list so far.

1. Titles are toxic

When egos, salaries, and deliverables intermingle, titles make people act irrationally. A boring title is a good thing.

2. Entrepreneurs always act without all the information

There will always be more information to gather and evaluate. When we were deciding on which chefs to work with, I wanted to wait try all their food before we made a final decision on who we would move forward with. The Investor advised that we just pick some chefs that we liked and move ahead with the negotiating and testing. If it didn’t work or something broke down in the in meantime, we would move on to someone else. It make sense. We can find out information by waiting until the next meeting, or we can insert the information we do have into our business model and see if it’s compatible.

3. Everything will go wrong

The Investor is extremely cautious. When we were discussing initial operations of the business, he made it clear that we have to assume everything will go wrong, people will sue us, and workers won’t show up for work when we expect them to. I first thought this was extreme, then I realized I was delusional if I thought these things would never happen. You have to be prepared for when everything breaks. This lens has set us up with a thousand what ifs. We can’t damn every leak, but we can get most of them with forethought.

4. Be clear, explicit, and honest about expectations

There have been no serious misunderstandings about the expectations we all have for each other so far. The Investor has made it clear from the beginning that everything about uberfood will be done legally, by the book. All the contracts, negotiations, and discussions dealing the company have been ego-free, open, and honest.

Cold Showers

Cold showers jumpstart my day. It’s an easy way to start off beating the resistance. If you I beat it once a day, I think that’s more than some people.

Last summer, I started taking two ten minute cold showers a day. It’s an easy way to increase lean muscle, stimulate your immune system, and keep your mind happy. Seneca bathed in cold water everyday of his life, even as an old man.

During the winter in upstate New York, I stopped because I would have gotten pneumonia.  Now that I live in San Diego, I take cold showers every morning. The 52 (brutal, I know) degree San Diego mornings make it easy to convince myself to just turn the knob to warm water. But I don’t. I always turn it on cold. When I’m done, it’s an accomplishment. I can tell myself that I did something uncomfortable and hard, and I haven’t started my real work yet.

If you want to try taking cold showers, it’s best to start just 30 seconds or one minute and increase the time you stay in by 30 seconds each day. I made passing time easier by memorizing my favorite monologue of all time or by meditating. If you don’t have something to keep your mind occupied it’s harder.

Going Harder

When you’re comfortable, feeling good about what you’re doing, laughing to yourself at how lucky and amazing your life is, that’s awesome. It also means you need to work harder. When you’re stressed, pressed for something, and feel like you’ve slipped up or failed, you can get the fire burning  under you and easily to get back on track. When you’re on your game and feeling good, that’s when you’ll start to slip. Your ego tells you that you’re smart, you’re doing it right, you made it! But it’s wrong, that’s The Resistance. Push harder now, because you’re going to fall again, and if you’re not always moving forward, you’ll fall harder.

This is how I feel now. I moved to San Diego six weeks ago (more on why later) and it’s not easy place to do hard work. It’s 75 and sunny everyday and I’m always within 20 minutes of the beach.  I just start laughing to myself at how ridiculous it all is. It was my plan to come to California after I graduated college. But it’s so much better than I expected. I know the east coast is starting to bundle up for winter, and it was an unseasonable 85 today. I am laughing at how crazy the ways things have worked out. I am working in the exact environment (more on that later) I wanted with an all-star team, and we’re working for a mission that I actually believe it. I am emotionally attached moral fibers of the company. Even as I’m typing this I am fucking laughing at how ridiculous it is. Still, I know the hard shit will come soon. But I’ll just surf off the stress on the weekends.

“Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” by Ryan Holiday

When will I ever be able to believe what I read? Who else knows about these media manipulation tactics? How can I not use these tactics?

I’ve followed Ryan Holiday for a few years online where he writes about philosophy and professional strategy, and this week he released his first book (he’s 25) Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. Holiday explains how he plants stories and exploits media sites (such as the Huffington Post, Gawker, Business Insider, TechCrunch, and Mashable) to serve his clients (Tucker Max, Tim Ferriss, American Apparel, Robert Greene, among others). And that you can do it too! The book also serves as Holiday’s confessional for carrying out acts that he feels  guilty about, and mercilessly exposes the puppet masters behind the media, on and offline.

The main takeaway from the book is that the engine behind the media is not “to inform, but to startle.” Bloggers work in what’s referred to as the “digital sweatshop,” paid by how many people see their posts, not how objective or even true their stories are. With a quota around twelve posts a day that depend on attracting clicks, not to serving the public, it’s easy for people like Holiday to feed juicy stories to bloggers who are desperate for good shocking headlines to get free publicity around the internet. Example: Holiday purchased ad space on billboard for Tucker Max’s movie release. He then vandalized the billboard himself, took pictures of aftermath with his phone, and submitted the pictures to various blogs he identified to be anti-Tucker Max. Using a fake email, he pretended to be a Max-hater and voila, the blogs posted the story, other blogs picked up the story, and Holiday gets tens of thousands of dollars worth of publicity for the cost of one billboard and a few emails. There are posts on some of the aforementioned sites that don’t even hide the way they find stories. They encourage readers/sources to craft their own stories and submit them to be published.

Viewing the media through this lens, I finished the book skeptical of any public message. In order to reach any level of being truthfully informed, you need to ask experts yourself or find media sources who work outside of the media machine. Anyone have any suggestions?

San Francisco

I went to San Francisco for a week and a half.

The City

My first full day, I met with Tyler Keift, a talented developer and cofounder of Speaker Text who currently works at Facebook.  He offered to show me around the city for the day, and we started at  Blue Bottle Coffee in Mint Plaza, a place I would now recommended to anyone who enjoys coffee. Blue Bottle coffee does to the coffee bean what ice cream does to milk. I ordered the New Orleans Iced Coffee and it was awesome. Also, this particular Blue Bottle has the US’s first $20,000 coffee machine.

New Orleans Iced Coffee

$20,000 coffee machine. Yep, $20,000

It was one of the clearest days in the city in the last two years, so we drove up to the Twin Peaks for an impressive view of the Bay.  Afterwards we drove through Golden Gate Park, which is like NYC’s Central Park, except that at the end you run into the Ocean Beach and the Pacific ocean. The beach was gorgeous, dotted with surfers and sun bathers. I was sold on SF within 24 hours. Another curious thing Tyler brought up was that there are no mosquitos in the Bay. Read that again, East Coasters.

San Francisco from the Twin Peaks

I went tourist for a day and rented a bike to tour the Marina neighborhood and cross the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t feel like a tourist though because most of the people on the bike trail were running and riding their bikes because that’s what they do for exercise. A luxury for me is common for people who live in San Francisco.

Making my way to the bridge

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The Hostel

I stayed in a hostel, which I haven’t done since I went to Peru in 2010. A hostel is basically a frat house crossed with a hotel filled with travelers. The people you have breakfast with probably have their bags packed for the next city, never to be seen again, and the same thing will happen the next day. Despite everyone being strangers to each other, many people will open up a lot of themselves to you.

One night, I was in my room (I stayed in a room with two bunk beds) chatting with one roommate, when a new Australian roommate, a man in his late 50s, came in. He seemed a little flustered, so I asked if he was OK. He explained that his $500 glasses were just broken. I asked how and he said that his wife broke them. “Accidents happen,” I remarked and he continued to explain that she broke them on purpose, telling us about how his wife of twenty years was physically and verbally abusive, one time pulling his head back over a chair and holding a knife to his throat. He recounted other injuries he sustained defending himself from his wife and that they would be soon getting a divorce. I felt awful for him. He talked more about how they used to be totally in love and even built a house together, but over the last two years their relationship degenerated. I feel like that kind of situation only happens people are too afraid to confront the uncomfortable and make hard decisions, but you never know what people go through. It was simply a crazy story to hear from a complete stranger.

The Job Interview

I came to San Francisco for a job interview with a company called ZeroCater. They make it easy for companies in the Bay area to get awesome lunches from local restaurants, caterers, and private chefs. The way it works is that a company tells ZeroCater that they have, for example, thirty people, two of which are vegetarians, three of which are  vegans, that they love sushi and Thai food, and they trust ZeroCater to deliver food according to their criteria. ZeroCater serves the local food community by ensuring consistent, high volume orders from local vendors while streamlining the business day. Their business model is awesome and I relate to every aspect of it: supporting local businesses, increasing productivity, and bringing people together over great food. I ultimately didn’t receive an offer, but I learned what the most important thing to focus on while preparing for an interview is: know what you can do to increase sales.

The People

The most enjoyable parts of my trip were the conversations I had with people who actually lived in San Francisco and worked in food and sphere. Through a friend at Cornell, I connected with Matt Coelho. Matt comes from the engineering world but recently opened the brewpub with his friend Jim Woods called Cervezeria de Mateveza.  They craft beers (and sell dozens of hard to find beers) derived from yerba maté, the argentine tea infusion. The beers are phenomenal and leave you with a gentle caffeine buzz, as maté contains naturally contains caffeine and few chemical cousins of caffeine.  Each beer has about half a cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine. Maté has hundreds of years of history and culture on its own. It’s brilliant to ferment it and let it intermingle with the international culture of beer. Congrats Matt and Jim for substantially differentiating yourselves from the pack.

I sat down with Will Hauser, the founder and president of Two Degree Foods, to talk about other areas of the San Francisco food industry I could get involved in. Two Degrees Food is the flagship one for one business in food. When you buy a vegan, gluten free fruit bar from Two Degrees Food, they donate a meal to a child in the developing world.  So far, Two Degree Foods has provided for over 200 million children. In the US, it’s hard to remember or even understand that the majority of the world lives in poverty. The world could use more Wills.

Ben Midanek, founder of 4Sight Sunglasses helped me prioritize my trip and introduced me to his network in San Francisco. Ben is the first person to build a socially conscious business to help the world’s billions who need prescription glasses. When you purchase a pair of sunglasses from 4Sight, you’re sending a pair of prescription glasses to someone in the developing world. 4Sight sunglasses are hand-made in Italy and look awesome. I’ve had a pair since spring 2011. You can learn more about the people 4Sight Sunglass aids from this TED talk.

I was blind-sided by San Francisco. The people get along with each other so well. I think because most of them are truly doing what they are passionate about. To me, the enthusiasm and creativity around the local food, community, and technology is addictive. Not getting the job is a reminder that I am 23, just out of college, and I really don’t know how the world works yet.

Cornell Dairy Science Goes To Germany

The CUDS trip to Germany was divided, for me, into two experiences: the dairy industry and German history.  On the dairy end, we visited several farms of varying sizes, Mueller, the largest milk processor in Germany, and Forester Technique, a manufacturer of automatic milk feeders and milk pasteurizer. The dairy industry had many similarities and differences compared to the US. When we weren’t visiting dairies, we got to know a lot of the history of Germany from our tour guides and Wolfgang, our German interpreter. I know World War II from history books, Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and some veteran interviews on the History Channel. That’s it. Most veterans are dead now, Hawaii is the only American territory that suffered damage, and since I’ve been born, America has been in charge of the world, so I really don’t really know that much about it.  Traveling through Germany, especially East Germany, the deep history, and very real facts that World War II happened, were all around us.

Dairy Industry

Even among the dairies, the history was profound.  The German dairy industry is in the middle of a transition from the East German style concrete buildings to look more like commercial dairies you would find in the US.  The GDR (German Democratic Republic) dairies were designed knowing that there would be lots of human labor available. It was impressive to see how inefficient the old dairies must have been. I can imagine being one of the architects or engineers working for the East German Government, actually designing something to be extremely inefficient to keep people busy. It must have been frustrating.

One of the GDR concrete buildings

Many of the new barns looked like conventional dairies in the US.  Interestingly, one farmer we visited talked about how it was only in 2004 that he started to realize that he could build more efficient buildings than the East German model. I was surprised that the Germans weren’t researching the technology of other countries and seeking ways to adopt it and improve themselves.

A major difference between the US and German dairy industry is that in the US, we make money by selling milk while in Germany they make money by selling energy through methane digesters. Because of this, the dairies don’t strive to improve their herd performance and they can still remain profitable. One dairy we visited had around 1,000 cows and fourteen robotic milkers. They milked Holsteins 2.9 times a day and were only making 60 pounds of milk per cow per day.  The dairies in Germany all operate as energy farms because they have government subsidized methane digesters. They receive a really good price for the byproduct of waste feed and cow manure and end up making a more significant margin by selling energy to the grid than they do selling milk to processors.  This fact was made clear many times throughout the trip and to me, was the biggest contrast between our dairy culture and the Germans.  In the US, dairyman face an extremely competitive market, thin margins, and a dynamic prices. There is a reward for being savvy, crunching numbers, and wisely investing in new technology. In Germany, it they simply aren’t under as much pressure to improve.

One of the farms fed everything exclusively with conveyor belts.  They put their feed in the mixer wagon and dumped it all into tubs which spread everything out across the farm through an elaborate conveyor belt system.  The dairy had between 700-1,500 cows. The process was extremely efficient at feeding cows and didn’t take a lot to maintain. We discussed one farm in the US that was looking to adopt that same kind of feeding system. He wanted to have two workers feed a few thousand cows. This follows the trend in almost all industries toward automation. We see this in tractors controlled by satellites and in dairies that milk with robots. Margins for commercial dairies in the future are going to depend on to some extent on increasing the number of cows per worker.  If conveyor belts are dependable, they may catch on in the US as costs increase.

I am from a small organic dairy and would have liked to visit a small farm selling its products to local markets. The organic market in Germany is a lot like that of the US: small, but growing rapidly. The Germans who worked in milk processing had the organic market on their radar, but it didn’t seem to be surrounded by the same kind of buzz as it is in the US.

History

Germany felt old. It’s the same feeling you get from returning to the East Coast after visiting Los Angeles or San Francisco. It was even more profound though, going from the East Coast in the US to Germany. Even though we missed first two days on the itinerary (because of an over confident and stubborn bus driver who drove us 50 miles into New Jersey before realizing we were going the wrong way), we still got to see lots of monuments and notable sites of German history.

The first was an old German castle that sat on top of a formidable hill that, as you may have guessed, we had to hike. In the rain. It actually reminded me of walking to class at Cornell:  we reached the top and everyone was wet and cold, yet still sweating. The architecture was pointy, tall, and imperial, like most German architecture.  We toured the castle and the first stop was a fascinating royal family tree. It was painted on a domed ceiling, displaying about a hundred different kings and queens going back hundreds of years. On display were flowing royal dresses, jeweled snuff boxes, and regal scepters. Today, it is owned by German royalty. However, instead of commanding a throne, the young couple both study economics  in Berlin.

Standing at the base of the castle

I loved Berlin. We visited a concentration camp, some famous points of Berlin’s past, and I got to visit my friend who I studied abroad with in 2008 in Argentina. The Berlin Wall was officially torn down on November 9, 1989, when I was almost four months old. Twenty-two years later, the hardships and difficulty that Berlin suffered is extremely noticeable.  Most buildings are not more than twelve years old, as the city had to recover financially before it could really ramp up reconstruction (The city of Berlin still suffers from massive debt). It is an extremely modern city, but parts of it were still scarred from a history of violence.

During World War II, there was a concentration camp outside of Berlin. It was called Sahcneshousen. We visited this camp for around three hours. No doubt this was one the most memorable parts of the trip for me.  In the US, we often see flowers left as memorials in cemeteries. I saw people leaving flowers and memorials at certain buildings within the concentration camp, a constant reminder of what took place only 70 years ago.

I tagged along with one of the tour groups that moved through the camp. Not sure if it was a free tour, but I was going to listen as long as the guide would let me.  I’m glad I did this, because he explained one part of concentration camp society that I always wondered about: If there are 100,000 prisoners and a hundred guards, where was the revolt, the organization, the team work? There were some cases of TNT being smuggled into the camps, but not that much.  Why weren’t these guys working together to get out?

The guide explained that not everyone in the camps were Jews.  There were communists, gypsies, homosexuals, and other factions of what was considered alternative to the views to National Socialist German Workers party (what NAZI stands for). The camps had diverse ideologies, and even though everyone was in the camp together as prisoners, their different ideologies kept them from working together. Highlighting the differences, the Nazi attached different colored triangles to the different groups, sort of an off-shoot of the “divide and conquer” strategy of war.

Further separating the prisoners, each block, or group of houses where prisoners would sleep, had one prisoner who was charge of disciplining everyone who broke whatever the rules were.  For carrying out this job, they received more food and better treatment than everyone else. Naturally, this title was sought after, and if it wasn’t carried out correctly, the person was often killed.  Then, another person would replace them.  The hierarchy between all the blocks was a strategy to keep prisoners from organizing into larger groups.

 


Ruins of the crematoriums


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Panoramic view of an older section of the camp  

 

Prisoner uniforms with triangles and ID number  

After high school, I was a Rotary exchange student in Argentina.  My German friend, Alex, was there with me for the whole year and I had not seen him since 2008. He’s going to law school in Germany, and happened to be in Berlin the same time as me. I got to see a very cool part of Berlin, night and day from where our hotel was.  We went by train for about 20 minutes across the city to one of the city’s neighborhoods called Friedrichshain. It’s the part of the city that has only in the last few years began to develop itself, and it’s mostly populated by artists and students.

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The CUDS Germany trip put a lot in perspective for me. I learned about different cultures, different business mindsets, and I achieved a new appreciation of history. The dairy industry in Germany taught me a lot about how we dairy in the US, and it was enjoyable to see the contrast. The German culture and people were fascinating to learn about and explore.  I am monumentally grateful for the chance to travel there with CUDS.

Some Thoughts on College

This article touches many different problems with higher education. Best line: At some point, parents are going to decide that $160,000 is too high a price if all you get is an empty credential and a fancy car-window sticker.

If you can go to college on scholarship, do it, the best scenario is to graduate free of debt.

I definitely learned at Cornell and OCC, but the most important college “learning” I have done is in my public speaking class (so many people 40+ still talk about how much of an impact public speaking was to them) and my conversations with professors. It wasn’t the class material, but the environment these two things provide. I am also not counting things I have done within the college culture, like clubs and things like that. Just classes. Public speaking (at least for me) makes you confront a lot social things you worry about, and you come out of it a more confident and out-going person (as with everything, you get back what you put in) and office hours with professors provided me the most intellectually  transformative and stimulating situations for me. That’s what I tell people: I go to college to talk with professors. This is EXTREMELY important for freshmen to know. It’s not about the classes. You are going to forget everything you are tested on.

I don’t see myself working a 9-5 wage job into my 30s. The jobs kids my age and younger are going to perform haven’t been invented yet, and that’s probably because we are going to have to invent them ourselves. That’s why it’s important to learn from people who are embedded in the real world, who know what it’s like when college ends. How can a college student possibly learn about the world by talking to kids his own age? Everyone has virtually the same perspective on life.

College and universities are going to fall hard. Investing in athletic centers to attract more students is so stupid. In one way it’s smart that they have caught on to the fact that college sports culture plays a major role in prospective’s student decision making, but building a new super dome is just making them run faster towards the cliff they’re inevitably going to fall off.

The bottle-neck on information no longer sits with universities like it did 20 years ago. The internet levels the playing field, and anyone can become a relative expert in a field that interests them before their freshman year of college. This poses a lot of questions for what professors are going to do in the future.  Currently, they depend on universities to fund their research and to act as a base camp for broadcasting whatever knowledge is in their head.  I think the future will be a lot specialization and professors teaching independent of universities. I don’t know how it will look, but I doubt that professors will feel tied down to one university if they can make a living without one.

I elected the traditional college path. Luckily I am going to get out with not a lot of debt and an Ivy League degree. As backwards as it is, having that on my resume makes people automatically assume certain things about me.  Regardless, I am in no way looking to pursue more degrees. The only one I could sort of rationalize is getting an MBA, but if it costs two years and $100k, I can probably learn more about business by starting one of my own or playing around with different investments, than I can by going to business school.
Note: I have a fancy car-window sticker.