Emptying out the mailbag and clearing the history #9

Posted on October 5, 2015

(Last Updated On: March 27, 2016)

Other mailbags can be found hereKeep in mind a lot of this is email conversations, comment replies, or some random interesting things I’ve found. By their nature they are not as thorough or complete as a post on one topic.

Here’s what’s covered in this installment:

  • The Martian book
  • The reality of some surgeons
  • A sick doctor navigating the healthcare system
  • We waste half nearly our seafood and ~35% of all our food
  • “Disruption is better when it happens to other people” and “Making money along the way”

The Martian

Can click for link.

It’s been probably seven years since the last fiction book I read, which was Fight Club. I read extremely little fiction. I’ve actually never read a sci-fi novel. I heard from enough people The Martian was good, the movie trailer looked good, and I knew I’d go see the movie.

My experience with books turned into movies is the book is usually better (Fight Club’s movie was actually better though), and if I see the movie first, it screws up my reading experience with the book. Where I can see the movie in my head as I’m reading, rather than my mind having to construct things on its own.

Anyways, I gave it a read, and it is one of the more impressive things I’ve read. The imagination of this guy, the scenarios he puts him in, and the fact the book is -beyond a true NASA engineer being very, very picky- scientifically spot on, is so cool. It’s set in the not too distant future, only making a couple extrapolations about improvements in current technology. It’s a fiction story but with overwhelmingly non-fiction science. It’s incredibly well done.

There are some health / fitness aspects to it as well. You can’t be roaming around on Mars without talking about some physical elements!

The reality of some surgeons

A few months back someone left a comment on my ACL mistakes posttaking exception with me being unhappy with how some surgeons go about ACL surgery:

“And as for your surgeon, they have big jobs and need to talk to a lot of people, if you have questions you need to ask them your questions because chances are they gave you a packet explaining everything that will go down.”

I couldn’t help but think of this comment, when an email I recently received from an ACL patient contained the following:

“I did a ton of research on the injury, the graft options, the rehab etc. I met with 2 different doctors before surgery and eventually ended up going with the guy who gave me the option between using my patellar and achilles cadaver. My friend and his sister both used him and came out fine. I felt he was egotistical and rushed me out of his office on all of my visits. I didn’t like this because I am inquisitive about this major surgery and I want answers. On January 9th, the day of the surgery, he didn’t come and greet me before going under anesthesia or even go to the waiting room to meet my parents. Myself or my parents never saw him the day of surgery. Hell, we have no idea if he was even in the building or did my surgery.

Hard to ask your surgeon questions when you don’t even see them!

A sick doctor navigating the healthcare system

“Because of my job, I probably know more about the health care system and how it works than most people in the United States. Yet if this is how much trouble I have navigating a simple refilling of my medication, I don’t know how the rest of America does it, especially those with much more complicated issues than mine.”

From here.

We waste half nearly our seafood and ~35% of all our food

-Seafood waste at nearly 50%: http://phys.org/news/2015-09-seafood.html

-Food waste upwards of 40%: http://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/sources.htm

When the world population hit seven billion, there was a lot of talk about how are we going to feed everyone. Just in waste, the United States seems to overfeed itself by around a third. Limit this aspect of things, and realize we don’t need to eat as much as we do -that extra food could go somewhere else- and who knows how much of the world the United States could feed by itself.

There is no theoretical law saying that type of change -people waste less food and eat less food- couldn’t happen literally overnight. It’s not like any new technology needs to be invented, a whole new infrastructure needs to be built, newly pesticide resistant foods need to be grown, genetically modified soil needs to be made to be able to withstand the pounding it gets.

As a thought experiment, if your sole purpose was to be able to feed more people, would you rather be able to change everyone’s behavior overnight, “all overweight / obese people eat less,” or “we more efficiently use the food we already have,” so we automatically have more food to go around, or would you rather have some new innovation overnight? I think in most circumstances, the behavioral change is what you’d hope for. In practical terms, sure, it’s a different story. Changing an entire country’s behavior overnight doesn’t usually happen. But there is no physical law saying it couldn’t.

Furthermore, even if you did get some amazing new innovation tomorrow, implementing that innovation cannot happen overnight. It takes time, possibly a ton of time, for something to get from the lab into the entire market’s hands. (See: solar power.) But the population can, at least theoretically, change the market in damn near an instant.

“Disruption is better when it happens to other people” and “Making money along the way”

David Heinemeier Hansson had some good stuff this past month. One was in reference to the online world freaking out about Apple’s new ad blocking, but it’s applicable to business in general.

“The lesson to take away from disruption, beside that it’s better when it happens to other people, is not “everything is going to turn out as well as today or better”. Rather, it’s that fighting what consumers want is a losing battle. Blaming them or shaming them doesn’t work. Those are merely stalling tactics—a way to cope with the pressure and anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow is going to look like, or whether you’re still going to have the same job you do now.

The sooner you stop fighting the present, the sooner you can get to work on figuring out the future.”

I read Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson. I took two big things away from it,

  1. He really wasn’t a good person a lot of the time, and it’s not something to be emulated
  2. Don’t be afraid to cannibalize your own business

Number 2. ends up being common sense most of the time, but hard to practice. He knew the iPhone would kill their iPod business, but if they didn’t do it, someone else eventually would. So it’s not like you need to be a genius to say, “let’s still do the iPhone.” But being able to remove your emotion, remove a lot of your income, in favor of another strategy, well the execution is something he clearly knew how to do.

If the tech world knows anything, it’s that things will change, and screaming and complaining about it won’t matter. You can either be on the forefront of adapting, or fall into the abyss yelling about it. (There is some irony here in that what you make money from likely supplanted someone else back in the day. That the thing you’re yelling about being done to you, you did that to someone else.)

David’s other post was Making money along the way. 

“There’s no natural law that states all products and services must endure forever and always. Some companies are glorious sprints, others are slugging marathons. Both can work, but the former is especially sensitive to making money along the way.

The problem is that everyone thinks they’re going to run a spectacular marathon in technology these days. There’s no amount too great to be invested in future growth, because the future is infinite, and you’d be a fool not to capture as much of that as you possibly can.

But what if the time allotted to your capture looks more like Flip? What if your product is going to have a great, booming run, but not for the next 30 years, just the next five?”

We’re inundated with “growth,” which would imply as David says, things are always looking up. Yet at the same time, so many are trying to get in and out, which implies uncertainty about what will happen. If you feel so good things will keep growing and going well, why would you get out? Why wouldn’t you wait and make even more money?

If you’re something like a public CEO, or investor: You want to pump the shit out of your business no matter what. “We are Amazon. We don’t make much, if any money, because of future growth! We’re doing so many X and Y and Z, it’s going to make us so much A and B and C. Invest with us!” But you’re probably not that naive. You know infinite growth is logically flawed. You know you need to get out, but you don’t want others to think or do the same. That will influence the amount of money you get out with. It’s a sales technique feigned as business opportunity, which could very well be a mirage. Someone is making money, it just might not be you, or even the company.

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