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Weekend Briefing No. 350
Welcome to the weekend.
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35 M—When Walmart placed its orders for fishing tackle earlier this year, it estimated that 25 million Americans would be fishing regularly. None of its forecasts predicted that number to jump to 35 million as lockdowns propelled interest in outdoor recreation.
42—Graphic novel sales in the North American bookstore market is up 42 percent in Q3. I guess people are looking for a way to be entertained without more screen time.
29—After a viral TikTok of a man named DoggFace28 lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Dreams” while longboarding and sipping Ocean Spray, the song enters the daily Rolling Stones 100 List at Number 29.
Sustainable Competitive Advantage
The key to business and investing success isn’t finding an advantage. It’s having a sustainable advantage—something that others either can’t or aren’t willing to copy once your idea is exposed and patents expire. What are you willing to do that others aren’t? Here are five ideas: (1) Learn faster than your competition. Someone with a 110 IQ but the ability to recognize when the world changes will always beat the person with a 140 IQ and rigid beliefs. (2) Empathize with customers more than your competition. The inability to understand how your customers experience your product almost guarantees an eventual drift between the problems a business tries to solve and the problems customers need solved. (3) Communicate more effectively than your competition. Most business edges are found at the intersection of trust and simplicity. Both rely on the ability to tell customers what and why you’re doing something before losing their attention. (4) Be willing to fail more than your competition. Having no appetite for being wrong means you’ll only attempt things with high odds of working. And those things tend to be only slight variations on what you’re already doing, which themselves are things that, in a changing world, may soon be obsolete. (5) Wait longer than your competition. It’s amazing how much of a competitive advantage can be found by simply having the disposition to wait longer than your competitors. Waiting longer gives you time to learn from, and correct, early mistakes. It reduces randomness and pushes you closer to measurable outcomes. It lets you focus on the parts of a problem that matter, rather than the chaos and nonsense that comes in the short run from people’s unpredictable emotions. Collaborative Fund (10 minutes)
On Milkshakes & Sales
After decades of watching great companies fail, the late great HBS professor Clay Christenson came to the conclusion that the focus on correlation—and on knowing more and more about customers—is taking firms in the wrong direction. What they really need to hone in on is the progress that the customer is trying to make in a given circumstance—what the customer hopes to accomplish. This is what we’ve come to call the job to be done. We all have many jobs to be done in our lives. Some are little (pass the time while waiting in line); some are big (find a more fulfilling career). Some surface unpredictably (dress for an out-of-town business meeting after the airline lost my suitcase); some regularly (pack a healthy lunch for my daughter to take to school). When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for an alternative. In this short video, Christensen explains the concept by asking why people buy milkshakes. YouTube (5 minutes)
Do you believe capitalism needs a re-set? Join me and the team from a new impact network and media platform, Unfinished, for a live event on October 27th, 7 pm ET/4 pm PT where Darren Walker, Julián Castro, Abigail Disney, Dan Schulman, Angela Glover Blackwell and others will discuss what’s possible now for a more just economy. Unfinished Live is an online show of 4 episodes that explores key questions of our time and brings a diversity of voices through interviews, art, videos, stories and performance. Join host Baratunde Thurston in a live production to engage and imagine together—what’s possible now? RSVP at Unfinished (Sponsored)
The Heinz Family Foundation on Tuesday named Alfa Demmellash and Alex Forrester, my friends, clients and founders of Rising Tide Capital, the recipients of the prestigious 25th Heinz Award in the technology, economy and employment category. The honor comes with an unrestricted cash award of $250,000. Rising Tide Capital was one of six groups or individuals to be honored. Rising Tide Capital provides comprehensive assistance, including access to a network of lending partners for local entrepreneurs. Most importantly, Rising Tide Capital attempts to weave new and inclusive social capital and networks that enhance the connectivity and resilience of its entrepreneurs in overcoming multigenerational economic and social disparity to build businesses that sustain their families, create jobs and strengthen local economies. “We named it Rising Tide Capital because there is the saying that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’” Demmellash said. “While there is truth in this statement, there is also a critical need to recognize that this only works for people who already have ‘boats.’” So proud to support Rising Tide. This recognition is well-deserved. ROI (6 minutes)
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, who discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. Researchers need to modify genes in cells if they are to find out about life’s inner workings. This used to be time-consuming, difficult and sometimes impossible work. Using the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, it is now possible to change the code of life over the course of a few weeks. Long time readers know that I am very bullish on CRISPR. I believe it will be seen as one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of our species. New York Times (11 minutes)
First Round Review compiled a solid list of 40 questions that candidates should ask in an interview. Here are my favorites: (1) What is something that would only happen here, but wouldn’t at other organizations? (2) When you’ve done your best work, what about the culture has enabled you to do that? (3) Has the company ever made a decision that valued values over revenue? (4) Can I see your calendar for the week? (5) What is something the company has changed at the request of an employee that didn’t originate from leadership? (5) If I asked your investors what they are worried about, what would they say? (6) What relative weight do you put on the way people conduct their work, versus the work product they generate? (7) If after 12 months I’ve failed, where did we go wrong? First Round Review (26 minutes)
Words v. Fear
Michael Bernard Loggins tried to battle his fears by listing them—at last count he had a list of 138 fears. With the help of the arts program Creativity Explored, Michael, who is developmentally disabled, published his list in two zines called Fears of Your Life and Fears of Your Life: A Whole New One. In the second act of this episode, Actor Tom Wright reads excerpts. This American Life (9 minutes)
And Baby Makes Three by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. Congratulations! You have a new baby. Don’t forget you also have a marriage. Having a baby is a joyous experience, but even the best relationships are strained during the transition from duo to trio. In “And Baby Makes Three,” Love Lab™ experts John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman teach couples the skills needed to maintain healthy marriages, so partners can avoid the pitfalls of parenthood by: (1) Focusing on intimacy and romance. (2) Replacing an atmosphere of criticism and irritability with one of appreciation. (3) Preventing postpartum depression. (4) Creating a home environment that nurtures physical, emotional and mental health, as well as cognitive and behavioral development for your baby. Complete with exercises that separate the “master” from the “disaster” couples, “And Baby Makes Three” helps new parents positively manage the strain that comes along with their bundle of joy. Amazon
Most Read Last Week
First Principles—A first principle is a basic assumption that cannot be deduced from any other assumption. In Mathematics, these are called axioms. First principles are the Lego building blocks for thinking.
Female Workers—According to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace” survey, the highly challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a particularly negative impact on females.
Too Complex—Lawmakers this week proposed breaking up Big Tech by reviving aggressive, turn-of-the-last-century-style antitrust laws and enforcement measures.
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Your margin is my opportunity. –Jeff Bezos
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