Podcast recommendation: Marc Andreesen on The Moment with Brian Koppelman

I’ve already shared an extract from this episode about systems thinking here, but the whole interview is fascinating and everyone I’ve recommended it to has thanked me for it.

Marc Andressen more-or-less invented the web-browser as we know it and made Netscape (the biggest internet browser of its day, which was sold for a profit), which seeded the development of Mozilla Firefox, which you might be using right now. These days he’s a really influential venture capitalist, a quick (and very smart) thinker and fast talker.

This interview is full of useful and interesting gems, and Brian Koppelman does a great job of pulling out some interesting applications to art and pop culture. Apart from systems thinking, highlights (to be unpacked in future) include:

  • The importance of networks and scenes (‘scenius’) in fostering and spreading innovation
  • How to make your way, taking as a given that many things of life are unfair or wrong
  • The relative value of ideas versus work
  • Marketing, sales, and how to get your ideas in front of people
  • The Test – the ability to get a ‘warm referral’ to investors or key players not as cronyism but as an excellent test of the qualities needed to be a successful entrepreneur

Highly recommend.

You can listen to the episode here, download it here or read the transcript here.

Complementary goods

Basically this means that since the demand of one good is linked to the demand for another good, if a higher quantity is demanded of one good, a higher quantity will also be demanded of the other, and if a lower quantity is demanded of one good, a lower quantity will be demanded of the other.

Wikipedia – Complementary Good

The more your work helps others to do theirs – the more your success adds to theirs – the more you’ll find that people want to work with you, and cheer you on.

Can you find ways of being so generous and useful to your customers – even to your ‘competitors’ – that their success is a win for you, and vice-versa?

You might become an indispensable part of someone else’s product, or the add on that people buy to complete or enrich their purchase.

It’s a good thing for them to miss you if you’re gone – it’s transformative when they can’t imagine doing it without you.

The butter to their bread

You make everything a little bit better and people include you without thinking. When they do forget you, they find that their sandwiches go soggy, and everything falls apart.

The cream in their coffee

There are other ways to do the job, but you hit the spot. Your presence turns something good-but-no-frills into something safe but luxurious.

The chilli to their gorengan

You’re not for everyone, but you are transformative. You the add the spice and interest that turns a greasy little something into a pick-me-up with a lasting glow.

The rubber to their sole.

They may think they’re hitting the road, but it’s you making what they do stick. You’re the interface that gives them traction.

What is that’ll make them sing about you?

Motto (4): Have Fun

Driverless Crocodile

Have fun, learn lots, work hard, be kind.

You only get to do this once, so how are you going to play?

There’s a time for gritting your teeth, grinding it out, pushing through barriers. No pain, no gain is often true.

But for everything that isn’t necessarily hard, what’s more of an incentive to show up – hard work or fun?

If little and often is the best way to build something, to help people, to grow – what’s going to bring you back often?

What’s going to make people want to come with you?

Life is too wonderful, funny, tragic and absurd not to have fun along the way. The older I get, the more important I think this is, and the more ridiculous it seems that we put on po-faces for so much of our working lives, as if curt nods and knitted brows signal expertise and authority more reliably than a bit of levity and, dare I say it… joy?

Catch and sing the sun in flight.

Giants – all sizes

Whose shoulders are you standing on?

Greats and GOATs

There are giants who loom large for us all: the Greats who laid the foundations and those who shook them – men and women who broke through and shaped the world.

In a sense, who made us.

There’s no need to name them – we know who many of them are, and we learn more about them as we go. And besides, there are too many to name and most are far away.

Small Giants

And there are the smaller giants: smaller people who stand tall in our eyes because they stood close. They gave us a boost, helped us see, carried us before we could walk or when we couldn’t walk any further. I won’t name these because I can’t – or rather, I can only name some of my own.

Grow in Stature

Whose shoulders are you standing on?

What will you do to help others stand on yours?**

Happy New Year – have a giant 2019.


** You could start by asking:

  • Where am I standing?
  • Who’s standing with me?
  • Which way is up for them?
  • How can I give them a leg-up?

Compound interest

We all know about compound interest in the world of money. Save £100 a month for thirty years at one percent interest** and you’ll have a little under £42,000 by the end of that time (compared to £36,000 at zero-percent).

Make that investment at 5% and suddenly you’ll hit £83,000.

10%*** makes almost £228,000.

It takes time, and the commitment to building something steadily. No tricks, no promises of outrageous returns, a degree of risk – but not when compared to not investing at all.

What if the interest we seek for our work – attention, respect, partnership, remuneration – could compound in the same way? Often it seems that we’re after a flash in the pan (Viral. Now.), or that we’re not building anything consistently at all.

Starting with almost nothing, drop by drip, brick by brick, little by little, we can build a mountain.

** 1% annually, calculated monthly

*** A reasonable return from a stocks-and-shares index fund

Expectations: tell us what you do

We’re staying at a simple hotel in North Sulawesi.

The setting is idyllic.

Our hosts are unfailingly pleasant and helpful.

Good food is served three times a day, at regular times… plus or minus an hour.

Our room is cleaned… intermittently, and our bin emptied when we take it to reception ourselves.

We have lights, running water, and even air conditioning… until the power goes off around 7 a.m. each day, after which there’s intermittent generator power until the evening. There’s no coffeemaking or showering unless the power’s on.

All of these things are fine, and part of the fun – but for the first few days the uncertainty was inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Problems like this can be made to disappear with little effort, at no cost, and without changing anything. All it takes is communication and a bit of consistency:

  • “We serve breakfast at 7 a.m. daily. Lunch will be served between 12 and 1 p.m., depending on what time the dive boat gets back.”
  • “We will clean your room once every three days. If you need your bin emptied between times, please leave it at reception and collect it empty later in the day.”
  • “Because we’re on a small island, the power supply is unreliable after 7 a.m. A thermos of hot water will be available for making coffee, and we will run the generator during the heat of the day, from 11.30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for air conditioning. Mains power usually comes back on around 5 p.m.”

These could be shared with guests before booking, and again on arrival, so everyone knows what’s going on. No more questions to staff, no more confused or disgruntled guests.

Communicate clearly. Create the right expectations. Fulfill them. Everybody wins.

Expectations: flaw to feature

We decided to explore the garden before we ordered our food. The manager caught us just as we were starting down the path. He was apologetic:

“Excuse me… sorry… the food can take a long time to come at the restaurant – up to an hour after you order it. We suggest that you order first and then enjoy the garden while you wait.”

It was good advice. The food took about an hour to come, but the gardens were big and beautiful, so we had a good time waiting. And the food was worth the wait.

We were glad he caught us, too – with two young kids, it would have been one of those minor parenting catastrophes if we’d explored and then ordered and then had to wait.

I chatted to the manager later, and he explained that people often complained about this, but the thing was, their food was fresh, often picked-to-order, and cooked ‘homestyle’. Good food takes time.

The thing is, he didn’t need to apologise – he just needed to turn the slowness of the food slow from a flaw (and apparently one that he had to explain and apologise for to every guest) to a feature.

Not: “Sorry to inform you, but the food takes a long time to come here.”

Instead: “We serve slow food here. Good, wholesome, freshly picked food which takes time to prepare. If you prefer fast food, go to McDonald’s. Please order on arrival, and enjoy the gardens as you wait.”

Promote it on the website. Put up notices and point them out to people on arrival.

“This is what we do and how we do it, and why. You are welcome.”

Make the wait deliberate, part of the experience that everyone signs up to and enjoys, and you’ve turned slow service into selling point – an oasis of time to share with friends. You’ve made a restaurant that prepares you to enjoy your meal at the same time your meal is prepared for you.

You’ve turned a complaining guest into someone who’ll tell their friends about the fantastic time they had slowing down for an hour in your garden-oasis.

The Gardenia Country Inn is in Tomohon, North Sulawesi. Worth the trip, and worth the wait.

The new possible

My sister (let’s call her Sharky) bought me a book for Christmas.

Sharky lives in Argentina.

She bought the book from a shop in the UK.

I’m on holiday in a remote part of Indonesia.

She bought the book, told me about it, and I was reading it, in less than ten minutes.

This is the new reality – actually, not even that new anymore. Any information product (book, film, music, software, design) can go anywhere, in effectively no time.

The new possible consists of the things that this reality enables – not just instant access to information products, but information to go into products (3d printing designs, specifications) or for the delivery of products and services (your exact requirements or preferences, your real-time location, your purchase history, your credit rating).

What becomes possible in your field when the information is so relevant and so available, when the transaction becomes so fast, so frictionless?

AirBnB, and Uber are cannonical examples of the new possible, to which I’d add the fact that this year, Sharky bought me a Christmas present.

The trampoline: networks, standards and freedom

The network effect is powerful, and a source of tremendous value, and we need to understand how it works.

Networks depend on standardisation – a consistent, accepted standard for how computers talk to each other, or how all Lego bricks fit together, or how a community works – a shared language and set of expectations that make it easier to collaborate.

We need these norms – they allow us to communicate, to work together better and faster, to make assumptions, even to ignore each other in relative safety. Norms, the middle ground, are the gravity that holds us together, the board from which we spring.

And there’s the tension. Norms that are too numerous or too binding tie us down. Our instinct is to break free, but it’s a dance: without norms and standards (social-cultural, technological), we fall apart. There’s nothing to stand on, push off, be in tension with, break free from

Without springs and gravity there are no trampolines, and no difference between flying and falling.

Stan Lee (1922-2018) – What If?

The exact cover of the Marvel What If that Dave’s brother kept in a plastic folder


Stan Lee was brilliant and prolific.

We know him for Spiderman, the X-men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther… for being the driving force behind Marvel Comics, now a multi-billion dollar, multi-media juggernaut.

It’s less well known that he started in the comics industry in 1939, aged seventeen, as a general dogsbody, lunch-fetcher and inkwell filler at Timely Comics (which would eventually become Marvel).

Lee must have had something about him – he became editor at 19 – but here’s the thing: he slogged it out writing comics – westerns, crime stories, horror and superhero work – for twenty two years without really hitting the big time. They say he chose Stan Lee as a pen name because he was worried he’d be embarrassed by his work in comics if he ever wrote the Great American Novel.

By the early 60s Lee was fed up, and ready to quit. The Fantastic Four was a last throw of the dice on his wife’s suggestion that he try writing the comics he wanted to write. There was nothing to lose.

He was forty-one years old.

The rest is history.

What if Stan Lee had never written the fantastic four?

Some takeaways: