In an attempt to stay awake on my first day in Holland and conquer jetlag, I spent several hours today watching television. The shows themselves are the same, because I was really just flipping back and forth between the Discovery Channel and Comedy Central, (though I did notice that MythBusters has a different guy doing voiceover than the American version). But the commercials? Awesome.

For example, I saw a car ad that I presume was talking about how modern and flexible the car was (I speak no Dutch). How modern, I pretend you ask?  Modern enough that a young woman gives her father away at a wedding instead of the reverse. That’s right: if I’m understanding this right, in Europe, they’re selling cars with gay marriage. Let’s see Ford try that one!

In a broader sense, what is interesting about watching ads in other countries is that because you can’t be sucked into the verbal message, you start focusing on elements you never really realized you were missing before.  The individual visual elements, for example; I never noticed how ads are just voiceovers with generic visuals before.  Voiceovers have all but disappeared from the narrative structure of TV programs (as opposed to the original, very voiceovered method of telling stories via radio) and yet ads still rely heavily on a 3rd-person perspective.

Is that because we can’t effectively tell a first-person, authentic narrative in an ad?  Certainly I feel like some companies have been able to: the Volkswagen ads, for example, have been tremendously successful at telling emotive stories without even using much language.  So one could argue that companies who aren’t making solid need to rethink their ad strategy.

And yet they must think that what they put out their works, right?  They are spending truly massive sums buying the airtime, and surely no company would waste so much money buying airtime to run ineffective content?

The scientist in me is curious.  I know that measuring the impact of brand advertising is difficult, since it doesn’t track to a specific sale, but some attempts have been made by marketing companies; how much is the difference between a truly world-class ad and a bad voiceover spot?  They feel different (certainly the well-told gay father ad got me thinking and noticing the car) but I wonder if they are, empirically.

Random closing side note: there are posters all over this campus featuring a woman in a bikini on a donkey wearing sunglasses.  I’m presuming they’re advertising a party of some sort, but it is amusing to consider alternatives.

I spent the day working on tech/ed mashups and surveying the space, and two things are painfully true.

First, far too many companies are focused on supporting an educational system that is crumbling.  If it isn’t abundantly clear at this point, the classroom model of education isn’t going to be around for all that incredibly much longer.  So why are we just taking existing educational processes and making them electronic?  There is no long term business model in remaking the same mistakes.

Second, change is not going to happen at the institutional level, so stop trying to sell to them.  The sales cycle is way, way too long to be able to effectively do anything but really big startups, and what we need right now is small change.  We need to demonstrate other ways of learning that are so much more immersive and powerful that they can grow to popularity to outside the classroom and institution.  At which points institutions themselves will change or be eliminated by new institutions that form around the new paradigms.

Education is one of those truly frustrating spaces for me.  In part because, like anything truly frustrating, I care far too much about it – it is hard for me to create the distance that building good product often entails.  It is also one of those broken products that is actively fucked up every minute you don’t fix it.  We can survive without the next social media network and if it takes an extra day for us to create it, it will not be an actual problem.  But every single day that goes by where kids aren’t able to live up to their full potential is a real problem.  This isn’t something we can fix – it is something we have to fix.

That statement feels a bit hypocritical, given that I have had such fortunate educational luck.  I went to a great high school (given that it was public and in a rural state, I could have done considerably worse), attended a bizarre but excellent international school, and finished up at possibly the best college in the US.  I came out with around $20K of debt, which thanks to government grants was actually at a very low interest rate, and I paid that debt off within 12 months by working two jobs provided by the very college to which I had just paid so much money.  It was actually a bit like indentured servitude, now that I think about it, but I’m still a free man at the end of it, so it is hard to complain.

It is probably true that even in today’s job market, my path would have looked more or less the same; people are big on me as this incredibly driven guy and while it is hard to see myself that way, I certainly recognize it is what others perceive.  But good lord do I feel bad for current college graduates.  More than half of college graduates were unemployed or underemployed last year and that is seriously fucked up.

It isn’t like we have no problems that need solving – as anyone at TED will tell you, there are lots of global issues that need work (just don’t ask them to solve them, they’re “just a media company”).  So why aren’t we employing our young people to do so?  Start an Innovation Corp with a small (very small) living stipend and start forgiving student loans.  How’s this for an educational innovation: take those 1.5 million college grads with no jobs and put them in the schools!  There are about 100,000 public schools in America and I’m pretty sure all of them could use an extra fifteen teachers.  And yes, given my teaching degree, I recognize that is sacrilege and that we really need teachers who have at least some pedagogical background.  But even if they are completely hopelessly lost, these are the kids who learned delay of gratification well enough to go to college.  They do have lessons to teach and I’d rather have them than not have them.

This wandered away from ed tech but I’m pissed and I didn’t get enough sleep.  I’m not apologizing – I’m pissed for a damn good reason.  And the next kid that tries to pitch me a Pinterest-clone is going to get an ass chewing.  Fix a real problem, asshole.

You know that moment in every sports movie where the hero, who has achieved success through ability but not personality, has to be reminded of the importance of effort? Whether it is going back to the ghetto to watch kids play in an empty lot or a raging girlfriend who finds him in bed with someone else or a coach who gives him the speech, there is always some pivotal scene where the hero realizes it isn’t just about being able to do something, it is having the will to do it better and in a way that doesn’t suck for the world.

More big companies need that moment.

I spent the day watching investors and large private and public companies interact, and while there were many lovely moments (how often are you going to be in a room with Tim Armstrong and 20 people?), one reoccurring, frustrating theme was the degree to which investors were pushing companies to forget all the things that they learned from fighting hard on the way up. I heard one investor gripe that a presentation was “mostly bullshit” and I wanted to yell that even if that was true, it was because they demanded bullshit. They don’t want to hear the vision of the CEO, the part of the business that is heart and sweat and staying up way too late at night. They want to hear the business EBIDTA and why next quarter will be better than this quarter.

Clearly, I’ll never be the CEO of a major company. But if I ever am, I hope I have the courage to stand up to investors and talk back about why business is worth doing in the first place. Tim Armstrong fielded a question from an investor who essentially implied that without the need to appease the public market, AOL would have “wastefully” used the money derived from the recent patent business to acquire companies.

Good! AOL is adept at getting eyeballs, which they then sell to advertisers. But they could just as easily be advertising their own properties and there are many smart startups that are adept at turning users into cash, either through ecommerce or direct services. AOL should be spending cash on those sorts of deals and investors should count their lucky stars whenever those deals go through, especially with early-stage startups at low valuations. In a time where there are thousands of open jobs at the top internet companies and everyone is fighting for talent, it is hard to lose on a small dollar acquisition of a smart team; even if their product fails, you can find other great things for them to do.

In the Any Given Sunday of business, investors are the owner’s daughter, looking for pure profit as quickly as possible. And that is unlikely to change anytime soon. So it is up to companies and CEOs to be finding their way back to the reasons that they started doing this in the first place. Which probably didn’t have much to do with profit.

Playing with heart still matters.

I could end it there, but I want to say a little more about why playing with heart is so important. If your company becomes just about investors, you will never keep the employees you want. Because you want employees that are playing with heart and that’s a pervasive culture: it only works if everyone tacitly agrees to be part of it. You can’t have just your quarterback playing with heart – he’ll get sacked, receivers will shrug off their mistakes, and he’ll implode trying to get the ball down the field. Good teams require heart and heart only works when everyone has it. Which is why firing heartless people (or benching them somewhere to recharge) is so important: it keeps trouble from spreading.

Also, customers can tell. I’d love to do the experiment asking customers to rate how much they think Company A’s employees care about what they do, versus Company A’s employees own ratings. People respond, time and time again, to companies who are playing with heart. We consume companies in the way we consume sports teams, and honestly, you can find everyday people like my parents cheering for companies as they do battle with their competitors. It isn’t just the technorati that know when a company gives up and settles.  That is the whole point of corporate branding.

And finally, heart matters because without it, what the fuck is the point? The reason that you see satisfaction leveling off with pay increases is precisely the fact that money is not heartening. It may enable you to do some heartening things. But going to work everyday to blah just sounds terrible. You wouldn’t expect your employees to do it, so why should you?

Finally.  I’ve been trying to write this post for days, but keep getting distracted by current events.

This isn’t another Google Glasses post, but they do make a handy example of my basic premise: that information recall has, and is going to continue to, become easier and easier to supplement with technology.  If you don’t remember the name of the song that is playing, Shazam will tell you.  If you can’t remember how WWII started, Wikipedia will tell you.  If you don’t remember who painted that painting, Google Goggles will tell you.  And so on and so forth.

This is not a new point and educators have been making it for awhile.  Accepting it as true, the primary task of education then becomes the ability to derive meaning and importance from that information recall.  That is, why is the start of WWII important?  And how does it affect the writing of this song and the painting of that painting?  Connections become the new educational task.

But then how do you teach people to build connections?  Certainly, you could explicitly connect things for students and hope they generalize.  By explaining the connection between WWII and the music and the painting, you could passively teach them the strategy of how to look for other connections themselves.  And I think that is one part of education.

But there is a different kind of connecting that we need to teach children.  Not just the explicit A->B, but the implicit instinct for the relations between things (and thus, the ways in which one thing can be used to cause or affect another).  And to me, this implicit connection making means one thing: games.

In part because we need more promoting pressures in education.  Education was once basic math and reading, and it was abundantly clear to both kids and parents why that was important to learn, because they were needed in the practical world.  But though we don’t talk about it much, I think one of the current failings of education is that people don’t actually understand much of why we school people; they except that it is abstractly “important” but understand little of directly why, other than as a gatekeeper to social mobility.

Games provide their own competitive aspects, however, and they have the tremendous advantage of being intrinsically interesting for kids.  And for parents, the benefits of good games should be easy to explain: I can write a compelling essay write now on why the skills that chess develops are important in the modern world and convince most parents.

Not that I’m suggesting that chess is a game we should play.  In reality, it is a very limited game and depends mostly on looking far ahead and some rudimentary spacial elements.  Far more interesting are the games that ask you to delve into the psychology of what people do and how the world works.

I’m not going to pretend I’m not a little weird, so the following examples are certainly part of me reading new rules and strategies into a game; I doubt highly that even the creators have thought about them in quite the same ways.  That said, we’re talking about games that weren’t explicitly designed to be educational and where no teacher is making explicit the concept of strategy.  I believe we can teach people to approach situations as games, with rules and strategies and goals.

Galcon Fusion: My brother introduced me to this game and I’ve been playing off-and-on for awhile now.  The basic premise is that there are numerous planets of different sizes on a board, each with their own defenses, represented by a number.  To take over that planet, you simply have to drag more ships to it then it has defenses: a fleet of 31 will conquer a planet with defense 30.  Once you conquer it, it slowly begins to produce new ships for you; the bigger the planet, the faster it builds ships.  You start with 100 ships on one planet, against an opponent with the same, and your win when they own no planets.

Thus, the rules are fairly simple: there are no different kinds of weapons or much in the way of complication.  You can play it a few times and immediately get the hang of it.  But the strategy is incredibly complex.  It depends mainly on three different factors: distance (because it takes time for your ships to fly), defense (how hard will a planet be to take), and size (how rewarding is it to take it).  But to win reliably, you have to think of those factors both as they apply to you and to your opponent.  For example, if you have no close, easy-to-take planets and your opponent has several, you’re going to have to attack them on their home turf as soon as they’re overextended.  Whereas if the reverse is true, you can slowly build up your lines, taking more planets and not allowing your opponent to enter your territory.

Because each game lasts only about a minute, it inspires failure.  That is, part of the point when playing against the computer is to fail, repeatedly, in trying to find a strategy that works for any given map.  It rewards failure with knowledge and low consequences (which I argue is the defining thing that modern schooling gets wrong – it is all about avoiding failure, rather than embracing it when it is cheap).
And I just realized this post was getting absurdly long.  So rather than give another example, I’m going to save that for a second post.

Predictably, I am yet again not going to talk about education and information.  Because I was watching an episode of NOVA last night that focused on energy solutions for the future and the protect of our environment.  One of the innovations was a “branch” of CO2 removing material that was cut up such that it ended up looking much like a pine tree branch.  As the scientist pointed out, the CO2 branch did just about the same thing as the tree, except significantly more efficiently.

Which got me thinking about how we’re better than evolution.  I’ve posted before about Peter Diamandis thesis that we can technologize our way out of the environmental problems that currently plague us, and my belief that he is essentially right.  But to me, this is a new argument that I’m actually rather taken with: that we are just doing faster evolution.

Nature is very good at responding to changes in environments.  One species starts eating too many plants?  The plants adapt to defend themselves.  Or another species starts eating the surplus of the first species.  Or any of a million other tweaks (and more than one of them).

But nature is slow: it has only a single tool for adaptation and that is evolution.  Its entire language is the genome and it is the only language it speaks.  And rather like sending a message in a bottle, it takes an incredibly long time to communicate in this language, so change is slow.  We, on the other hand, have many methods for responding to environmental changes.  Technology, society, legislation, etc.  And all of them are comparatively fast, since we don’t have to wait for people to die off before we start to see the change.

And we have another advantage: our change is not the lottery.  That is, when evolution needs to communicate a change, it does so through random chance: it must rely on multiple mutations and then have them happen enough times to rise to the top, like some insane Monte Carlo simulation.  I have friends that do this kind of math and judging from the computers they use, this is an incredibly inefficient method of adaptation.

But we’re deliberate.  Instead of random chance, we can use the tremendous power of the human mind (and the tremendous number of human minds that we have) to solve problems by more than just chance.  And consequently, our designs adapt much faster than nature’s: we can make, in a single generation (in a single day, even), a tree branch that is massively more efficient than something it takes nature a million years to “design”.

That’s a tremendous faculty that I’m not sure I always appreciate.  And I swear I’ll talk more about that faculty when I get to education and information usage tomorrow.

I swear, I am going to write about education and information recall eventually.  But NPR asked me to do an interview about the New York Soda Ban (which is a lousy name, because soda is not being banned, just large containers; they should have called it the Container Ban).  So instead of my previously scheduled comments, today you get some thoughts on why the ban isn’t a freedom issue and also a short rant about why the New York City Beverage Association rep can kiss my ass.

There are lots of intelligent reasons one might oppose this ban.  But before I get to those, a couple of arguments that shouldn’t be made.

First is that it will have no effect.  It is absolutely unarguable that this will reduce sugared soda consumption: there is no reason to believe it will make it go up, and if even one person buys just one smaller soda instead of two, you’ve made a difference.  And there is abundant psych research to suggest that the effect will be substantial (studies on the unit bias, a ton of studies by Brian Wansink, and a heap of practical sense are all on the ban’s side).  If you don’t believe this, just think about your own behavior.  If you are at the movie theater and you are getting a drink, and the large is smaller than it used to be, are you really going to order two?  Be honest.
Second is that it is an issue of choosing what you drink.  Half the quotes from “man on the street” interviews are about how the government shouldn’t have a say in what kind of soda you consume.  Which they do already, because they won’t let you make soda filled with cocaine or bleach – if you want to drink that, you have to add your own.  But leaving that aside, this is not about what you drink but rather how much of it you drink.  And not even then, because you’re still free to buy as many as you want.  You’ll just pay a premium for doing so.

Third is that this ban is about trying to limit your free will.  This one is the most important but also the most complicated.  Let’s presume here, by free will, that we mean conscious choice.  If you engage your conscious brain, you are free to make the conscious choice to buy two sodas and to deal with the resultant weight issues in whatever way you see fit.  Meanwhile, you are drinking exactly 1 liter of soda because of a French law made in 1795 that defined what a liter was.  Nobody was pissed yesterday that you couldn’t get a drink in a 1.1 liter bottle.  Why?  Because this is just an issue of norms and standards.  And setting those norms (and making you responsible for consciously violating them) is well within the rights of the government to act for the health of its people.

It is a little like organ donation.  If you made the default “yes, I’ll donate” and people had to consciously choose to opt-out, you’d save a lot of lives.  Having the default as “no” is a policy choice as much as the “yes” default is.  So all that is happening here is to make the default choice for soda “less than 16 ounces”.  You’re free to ignore the default if you want to expend mental energy to do so – your freedom has in no way been curtailed.

Now, some arguments you could make.  You could say “yes it will be at least somewhat effective, but it isn’t worth the additional legislature”.  How someone responds to that argument comes down to a personal belief about how bad laws are and how much good you can do with this one.  You could also make the argument that “this is a good law, but there are better ones,” like taxing sugared beverages, which raises money for anti-obesity campaigns.  Trouble there is that NYC and others have tried to get that passed, and they almost always get shot down by lobbyists.  But it is still an argument worth making.

Generally, I’m in favor of this law, although I would prefer a tax.  I think when people are confronted with the choice between a big diet soda that is cheaper and a small sugared soda that is more expensive, diet soda stands a better chance of winning.  But I’m also not personally involved, since I only drink diet soda.

Now, industry spokesman Stefan Friedman, a special bit of rant just for you.  Friedman was quoted as saying: “It’s time for serious health professionals to move on and seek solutions that are going to actually curb obesity. These zealous proposals just distract from the hard work that needs to be done on this front.”

Sorry, what?  First, did you just imply that serious health professionals aren’t working on curbing obesity?  This sort of proposal is exactly the sort that most psychologists get behind, because it addresses the obesogenic environment.  Prevention, more than treatment, is precisely what is effective and there is more than enough solid science to suggest that this will have an effect.

Second, if you want to talk about distractions, let’s talk about the $9 million dollars the American Beverage Association spent in 2010 lobbying against these type of restrictions.  If you want to help curb obesity, why don’t you stop lobbying and pass that money to scientists, who will be more than happy to put it to good use working on even more programs to help us change the food environment?

I had originally planned to talk about information access and how it is going to change education, but that’s going to have to wait until tomorrow.  Just got home from a talk that got me thinking about affinities: the bonds created by some perceived similarity, whether in interest or personality or even appearance.

Not because of the content of the talk, which was about advertising research.  But because of the conversation after the talks, that terrible “networking” hour where people stand around and try to pretend that they don’t want something from each other.  Which turned out to be more interesting this time around.

Two of the speakers I felt strong affinities with.  One was an academic who started his own company and was emphasizing how things like focus groups and other explicit measures were less important than the nonconscious and behavioral measures that are truer predictors of subsequent behavior.  He was interested in similar things, we had some physical similarities (white, male, tall, slender, mode of dress), we are both scientists, etc.

The other I had only one affinity with: she currently worked in Oregon.  Other than that, we had seemingly very little in common – she was much more stylish than I am, more physically attractive, had spent significant time in places like LA, her company was less about science, etc.

Afterwards, I ended up in a conversation first with the scientist, then with both of them together.  I had intended to give only a brief cheer for Oregon to the woman and then spend the majority of the time with the gent, talking about the overlapping areas of what seemed like deeper interest.

And, because you are smart and know where this story goes, it turned out that I liked her considerably more than the gent and would have continued to talk to her almost endlessly, had time allowed.  And part of that is that it turned out that not only did the woman work in Oregon, she had grown up literally down the road from me in the middle of nowhere.  We were separated by enough time that we didn’t have people in common, but we did have places, attitudes, and other remembrances that we could share (to the apparent annoyance of the gent, despite attempts to include him).

On the walk home, this started me thinking about the unpredictable strength of certain kinds of affinities.  Take, for example, dating.  In dating, people are very willing to talk about the affinities that they want and they typically involve overlaps in current behaviors: liked TV and movie and books and music, types of food, hobbies, etc.  And yet when you look at what makes people enjoy spending time together, those sort of things are often non-overlapping.  Much more important turns out to be more base styles of communication and understanding that are more often produced by affinities like shared culture (including shared location).

Put more simply, it is significantly more likely that I will natively like someone who is from Oregon than someone who is also a scientist.  Or at least that is what research would suggest and certainly what came out in this conversation.

But why, then, are we so incredibly bad at picking up on the affinities that matter?  We tend towards the easily listed and quantified (“things with titles” seem to be omnipresent) and dramatically less on things that are more integral to our cultural ways of being.  Most dating sites, for example, would ask where you live, but not where you grew up.  What music you like, instead of what kind of family vacations you took as a kid.  We like to concentrate on our present selves but we don’t exist simply in this moment – we are very much an entire arc that isn’t even complete yet.

All this to say: I’m going to start asking where people grew up more often.  And, of course, I’m already looking at jobs back in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, so hopefully the answer will turn to be an affinity more often.

Lest I come off as too negative about Google Glass, it is actually just that I’m excited about all the possibilities of the technology.  Good and bad, it is a breakthrough that can move us closer to the decision point for so many human behaviors and one that opens up a world of possibility.

This is in part because people tend to discount inhibiting forces and the true downward pressure that taking out a cell phone represents.  People are always trying to sell me on shopping and price scanning apps, for example, with the line “why wouldn’t people do it?  It saves them money!”  They never believe me when I say “Because essentially no one is going to take their phone out in the store and carry it around, scanning prices, unless it saves them literally thousands of dollars”.

But I digress.  Anyone that knows my work knows that I spend a lot of time looking at the reduction of information to avoid choice overload, and one of the most interesting things about Glass for me is not just the ability to add information, but also to subtract it.  Imagine, for example, that you’re trying to lose weight and I can make Google Glasses actually filter out all sorts of food triggers.  When you look at a McDonald’s sign, all you see is a blank red canvas.  The cookie aisle literally gets all blurry.

Or how about a less extreme example, one that won’t piss off the corporate overlords at Mickey D’s.  Imagine you looked at a menu and all of the menu items that you wouldn’t like were blurred out.  A simple recommendation API, a little character recognition, and presto: instead of choosing from 100 things at a diner, you’re choosing from the 5 that you might actually want.

All the standard choice reduction arguments apply: “it restricts freedom and diversity and etc”.  Those are still entirely valid but the fact is, it doesn’t really matter if we philosophically agree on the value of choice reduction: if it is good for people and is going to make them happier (and even if it isn’t), it will happen.  Which goes back to the earlier post about how our brains aren’t adapted for this stuff yet.  It doesn’t really matter that there will be some negative outcomes, in that none of those are serious enough to prevent the technology from catching on.  The question is not whether it will come, but rather when it comes, what can we do to make it appeal to the better angels of our nature.

Like choice reduction.  Like information recall.  Like the ability to envision a better world.  One of the great things about Google Glass for me is just the ability to sit around and brainstorm about the possible things one could do with it (it will completely change how we do education, for example).  Along with Microsoft’s Kinect platform, it is by far the most exciting technology for behavior change in years.

Much is being made of cities right now and the importance of the urban center as a solution to humanity’s ills: TED gave its prize to The City, people got up in arms about what we spend on rural post offices, and green living is oriented mainly at people who live nowhere near the green.  But for all the talk of what we can do with cities to improve the lives of people, I think people are generally missing the boat on the most important problem we need to solve if we believe that cities will be the new center of life for most people.  It isn’t transportation, or green space, or jobs – its happiness.

In study after study, psychologists have shown that living in cities is generally pretty bad for people, mentally speaking.  While it does make them smarter (possibly due to exposure to different kinds of diversity of experiences), it doesn’t increase their well-being, and if anything it has significant drawbacks for happiness.  The first step to towards planning the city of the future is recognizing that making its citizens happy will be the greatest challenge, and it is one of the challenges that we know the least about.

There is a startling dearth of comprehensive research about the “why” of the city-unhappy link.  We have been good about cataloging the various ways in which it gets expressed, but we don’t know that much about why it happens and even less about potential solutions.  While we’re busily out there employing city planners and green architects and transportation experts, very little of the current boom of funding and interest is getting allocated to the basic problem of figuring out how to make cities mentally livable, not just physically livable.

Now at some level, those may be the same things: if we make better transportation, people will be happier.  More green spaces, more happiness.  But without stepping back and taking happiness as an explicit, quantifiable outcome of urbanism projects, I worry that we will create cities in which everyone could live…and no one wants to.

(I’ve been reading the Ender’s Game books recently, so I feel like everything I want to write somehow springs from there.)

I think competition, of the sort that is anything more than hedonic, is bad for startups. And that may just be that I’m not a terribly competitive person and therefore try to justify my own natural inclinations. But I think it is more than that.
“…she had no particular interest in competition because she always started from the assumption that, if it mattered, she would find a way to win.” – Peter’s Shadow, Orson Scott Card

A good founding team believes in its own abilities. Not cocky, but confident (which is a fine line and people can be both). In believing in those abilities, the team doesn’t feel the need to have rivals or to compete against others, because it is confident that if it is neccessary that only one startup team will win in their space, it will be theirs. Knowing this, they may realize the value of being the strong second, of good partnerships over standing alone, of a good race over a Pyrrhic victory.

I know some excellent founders that lead companies that are not the biggest or highest earning in their category. Sometimes, they’ve chosen second place because they prefer that their team have a life: kids, laughter, significant others, enough sleep. At other times, it is because in order to be first, they would have to tear down a company that would ultimately reduce their own profit, by casting doubts on the category as a whole. Thrive would have been a much harder sell had there been no Mint, and the only way to truly stop Mint would to have been to challenge the entire concept of PFM in the first place.

And not competing doesn’t always mean taking second place. Sometimes, you can be less interested in competition and still end up winning the race, purely because you are already naturally setup to run it faster than anyone else. The point of the quote is that if you know what you are capable of, you can make more intelligent decisions about the tradeoffs.

Not enough teams think about themselves. Their products, their market, their profits; all these rise to the top. But critical thinking about what actually makes them work, or not work, as a team? As individual leaders? If I were running an incubator today, I’d spend real time with each founder helping them understand what leadership is about. Not managing investors and outside expectations, but understanding the true nature of their own army.

It is one of the things I loved, and love, most about working with Avi Karnani. He is unafraid to sit down and have an honest conversation about his own leadership style and where he can make adjustments. And it makes him, when he wants to be, one of the strongest leaders I know.

And yes, he’s read the Ender’s books too.