Cycle speed

This was going to be a post about cadence – how fast you pedal. How choosing a low gear – exerting yourself against small tasks with low resistance – is the most efficient way to pedal and the best way to go fast. It turns out its not that simple. Sometimes the bigger, slower pushes work well. But often – and especially when you’ve got a hill to climb – choosing a low gear is the easiest and fastest way to go. And at other times, even it it only feels easier… well, it’s easier to do things that feel easy. Low gear. High Cadence. Go. Go. GO.

Build, measure, learn

This post is a leap from Rule 2 of bootstrapping the non-profit: Do it Now.

This is such a key idea, and so interesting and relevant to Do it Now, that I thought I’d do something about it like, write now.

The idea is that when you’re developing a new business or organisation, there is so much that you don’t know that planning has less value – it will inevitably change when you know more.

Because of this, your focus needs to be on trying things out, working with what you do know – and your best guesses – and testing them out in the real world.

So we get the lean startup cycle:

The Lean Cycle
From Open Classrooms: The Learn Startup (this is supposed to be an embed but it isn’t working for me!)

The relationship between this and Do it Now is that the fastest way make progress – even if it’s only progress in knowing what not to do – is to go through this cycle quickly. One of the best ways of increasing your cycle speed is to take action – now!

Counter-intuitively, the more uncertain a situation it is, the more useful this approach – and cycle speed – can be:

When a project can be approached with a high degree of certainty, the best activity is to plan. As we have high confidence that the plan is likely to succeed, the best strategy is to execute what we know will work well. The focus can therefore be on executing the plan and monitoring progress.


When a project carries a high degree of uncertainty, the best activity is to learn. As any plan would make too many assumptions that would be hard to justify. The best strategy is to increase the speed at which we learn until we have discovered which plan would work the best. The focus must be on learning and discovery and checking any assumptions that we have.

Open Classrooms: The Learn Startup

The valley of crappy data

Joost Wesseling from the Dutch Institute for Public Health and the Environment on the iffy quality of readings from citizen air quality measurement efforts using cheap sensors:

If we don’t do these experiments now, then we also won’t have decent sensors in five years, which is also what we are aiming at.

We have to go through this period where we have crappy data from crappy sensors in order to get better data from better sensors.

Joost Wesseling

WTF? Technology and you

WTF: What’s the Future?

Tim O’Reilly
Gyroscopic ‘deflector’ gunsights like this Ferranti Mark IID helped WW2 pilots to aim ahead of enemy planes to where the target would be by the time their bullets arrived.
(Imperial War Museum)

If you’re doing meaningful work, you’re trying to hit a moving target, and your job isn’t made any easier by how fast the world is changing.

These resources should help you calibrate your ‘deflector gunsight’ by giving you a sense of where technology seems to be going, hopefully giving you a better task of hitting what you’re aiming for. This is one that I’ll update periodically, adding texture or new resources.

The Kevin Kelly Section

Kevin Kelly – co-founder of Wired magazine, omnivorous techno-hippy – gets his own section. He’s funny and humane, and good at identifying trends and tendencies in tech and extrapolating these into the future. One of the many helpful ideas I’ve taken from KK is the realisation that we’re actually only at the beginning of the computer revolution. It feels like something that’s already happened – ‘if only I’d made a website in 1993’ – but Kelly argues that a hundred years from now people people will look back on this time as a golden age and say, ‘I wish I’d started then.’

KK Books

New Rules for the New Economy: Radical Strategies for a Connected World
Kevin Kelly wrote this in 1995, predicting almost everything that happened with the internet between then and now, and it still feels incredibly relevant. And it’s free on his blog. Read and re-read in installments

What Technology Wants
It gets slow in places, but looking at technology as a new zoological ‘kingdom’ gives a whole new set of fascinating – and at times scary – insights.

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape our Future
This is on my ‘to read’ list. I guess it’s an update and extension of ‘New Rules’, and I’m looking forward to find out

KK in Podcasts

Tim Ferriss show Ep 25: Kevin Kelly – WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World
A decent introduction and a fun listen

Tim Ferris Show #166: Kevin Kelly – AI, Virtual Reality, and The Inevitable
Unpacking ‘The Inevitable’ and a lot of other stuff

Econtalk, June 20 2016: The Inevitable
More free audio, with the great Russ Roberts poking around KK’s ideas and their implications for the economy.

Other Resources

The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Walter Isaacson’s fantastic story of the digital revolution runs from the mid-1800s to very-nearly now. The audiobook is great. A key theme is how technology accumulates incrementally, as well as in great leaps forward – and the importance of teams and culture (as opposed to great individuals), and of private and government-sponsored contributions to technological advance.

The Second Machine Age – Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
Erik Brynjolfsson – on the list. Features in an econtalk episode.

Tim Ferris Show #297 – Bob Metcalfe — The Man (and Lessons) Behind Ethernet, Metcalfe’s Law, and More
Another fascinating Silicon Valley story

Econtalk, August 28 2017 – Benedict Evans on the Future of Cars
One of my favourite Econtalk episodes. Evans’ discussion of the evolution of cars is fascinating, and there’s a lot to learn from the way he thinks about the future.

WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us
Tim O’Reilly – it’s on the ‘to read’ list.

Econtalk October 5th 2015: Tim O’Reilly on Technology and Work
Econtalk October 9th 2017 – Tim O’Reilly on What’s the Future
I’m flagging these as much for myself as for anyone else here – I think they were good?

There’s a lot by Seth Godin that could end up in here too…

To be continued…

Being prolific

How many ideas have you lost out of pure inertia?

I don’t just mean all the ideas you’ve had that you never did anything about – you lost those too, but many of them probably weren’t that good anyway. 

Doing something with an idea is often the fastest way to check if it’s important. You might do a bit of research and write down what you do, or seek out the right person for a conversation, or see if you can make something happen. If it turns out not to be important, or if it isn’t for you, that’s fine – you’ve cleared the decks for a new idea which might be a keeper. A stagnant pool of vague ideas costs you new ideas.

But the ideas you really lose, the good ones, are the ones you find down the rabbit hole once you’ve taken action on an idea and confirmed that there’s something to it. Things get more specific on contact with reality (or the customer!), and vague ideas begin to take concrete form, and new vistas of questions and actions open up.

This is what I mean by being prolific: making fast, small, low-cost decisions; taking action; trying things out. I don’t mean mindlessly, throwing proverbial mud on the wall. And of course there’s an equal and opposite principle of focusing and going deep. But you only go deep by diving in.

So if you think you’ve got good idea – why not take it for a test drive?

Why not now?