Resource: Seth Godin on Systems Thinking

Akimbo Season 4 Episode 20 (July 10, 2019) – Systems Thinking

This is a great episode of riffs on how systems create – and constrain – possibilities, and the opportunities that open up when systems change. Featuring Mr Heinz and the fictional (!) Betty Crocker.

Akimbo Season 4 Episode 18 (June 26, 2019) – Find the others: Apollo 11 and the making of culture

This episode isn’t flagged as an episode about systems or systems thinking, but that’s really what this telling of the story of going to the moon is all about. We watch the Space Race grow out of the wreckage of the Second World War and unfold across a network of more-and-less-and-un- expected connections within the complex adaptive systems of science, science fiction, culture and politics. I loved it.

Highly Recommend.

Econtalk: Mauricio Miller on Poverty, Social Work, and the Alternative

This is a really interesting episode of Econtalk, and worth a listen.

Highlight 1: Accurate description of poor communities

A couple of things here really resonated with my experience of living and working in low-income communities in Jakarta:

  • Miller’s descriptions of the resourcefulness of people in poor communities – that many people in poor communities are hard working and resourceful and demonstrating impressive amounts of willpower and – in his word – ‘talent’ just to get by on low incomes.
  • The dynamism of poor communities, particularly in terms of people moving in and out of poverty – apparently backed up by statistics. According to Miller, although 15% of the U.S. population are ‘poor’ at any given time, the majority of those will move above the poverty line, to be replaced by other (temporarily) poor people – i.e. people who lost their job a month before the census and have no income, but will soon return to work. Miller says that only about 3% of the population are ‘long-term, generationally poor.’

Highlight 2: What happens when users pay for services

This section also really reflected my experience at the charity I work for, where a switch to a ‘user pays’ model of service (rather than a purely donation-based, ‘charitable’ model) made us more responsive to the needs of our users, and drove up the quality of what we do. Here’s Miller:

Mauricio Miller: …I wouldn’t bring my own family through [my own social services]; now I had money–

Russ Roberts: Why not?

Mauricio Miller: Because they were paternalistic. My mother hated that. She said, ‘The social workers are really nice, but they take away my pride.’ And certainly the racists would take away her pride, too. You know. And sexual harassers would take away her pride. But even the people who were trying to be really nice would take her pride away. And so, that was one of the issues. The other issue is that the programs that I had were sold–and the structures were to sell to get funding. Funders don’t really understand circumstances on the ground. But, they get certain interests. And so you have to shape your program based on what they kind of want in order to get the money. And that, then you are held accountable to those kind of standards. Where, I actually had started two businesses within my own non-profit, that, when you are running a business, you have to meet the customer demand. Not the investor demand. You have to really meet the customer demand. And so, somehow or other, when I wanted to adjust my programs, they were not responsive to my customers. And so, for me, my social service programs were too structured, too paternalistic. They did not recognize or meet that market demand. And now that I was middle income and had money, I would instead, when I had to help my nephew and nieces who struggled with drugs and all kinds of things, I would go to private sector services, because they would say, ‘Do you want us to send the advisor on the weekend, or the evenings?’ Or, ‘What’s convenient for you?’ and ‘Would you like this program?’ I was given choices. Because I had money. But people who were poor didn’t have those kind of choices. And so, why would I want to take my own family, that had struggled with everything that everybody else was struggling with what was out there in some of these neighborhoods: Why would I take them into a system that was so structured and was not responsive when I had money? So, money made a difference. And I realized that: No, I wouldn’t bring my own family.

Russ Roberts and Mauricio Miller – Econtalk

In the end, I wasn’t completely convinced with Miller’s model – or didn’t feel completely clear about what he was offering – but these bits were excellent – and true.

Resources: Seth Godin on money stuff – cashflow, price, overheads, and finding the right size

And more.

This blog post is brilliant, and asks a lot of key questions about what to do when your project isn’t making money.

If you haven’t already listened to Money Flows – an Akimbo episode about cashflow – it’s great. Seth talks about cashflow and payment terms, and the importance of setting up your project so that the flow of money through it will nourish it and help it to grow, instead of slowly draining it. The resources in the shownotes are worth a look too.

His Startup School covers some useful stuff too – especially episodes 6 (Raising Money) and 11 (Cash Flow).

See also: Show me the Money

DCPodcast howto – recording via skype

Happy to report that we’ve just recorded a special-edition first episode of the Driverlesscroc podcast and it went off without a hitch.

Recording between Jakarta and Buenos Aires meant that we couldn’t trust the VoIP connection (in fact, Skype held up really well), so we made two separate recordings.

Setup

Stu: Skype with headphones on my Android phone, with a separate wired mic (the sub $20 Boya BY-M1 – amazon) recording to Audacity. (see incredibly important note below)

V: Used a mic-and-headphones headset for both Skype in Windows 10 and Audacity to record the input from the mic.

Lessons Learned from recording

  1. Recording the introduction is the hard part – once we got into the conversation it was easy.
  2. Keeping it concise is harder than we thought. We tried to keep the conversation tight but still ran almost double the length of a normal Cool Tools episode. Mark Fraunfelder and Kevin Kelly manage the balance between going into technical detail and keeping things moving really well, and I couldn’t have seen this until I’d tried to record something similar.*
  3. Another time I might try Cube Call Recorder to record audio from skype as a backup.
  4. It was fun and worth doing for the conversation alone (a good sign?)
  5. Done is better than perfect!

Lessons learned in post production

  1. It turned out I plugged the mic into the headphone jack and recorded the whole thing with my laptop’s built in mic. It could be worse, but the proper mic makes a big difference. The noise reduction made a huge difference improving the sound.
  2. Noise reduction takes quite a while for a longer file – several minutes.
  3. Outtakes are hilarious

*See also: Doing to see

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.

The level of your systems

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

James Clear – Atomic Habits

If you want things to be easier tomorrow, it really helps to have strong systems in place. Most of the important things that you do go a lot better if you have a system for making sure that they happen:

  • a regular commitment to eat something delicious with family or friends
  • a standing order for the amount you’ve decided to invest every month… and save for maintenance of your house/car/wardrobe… and pay for life insurance (see Barefoot)
  • something that will make sure you exercise
  • a habit that will help you to learn
  • something fun that you’ll get a kick out of doing

You get the idea. Even creative work (perhaps especially creative work) benefits when you make regular time and space for it. What happens in the space might be different every time, but if there’s no space, nothing will happen.

Even if you really can’t stand to make a system for creativity, having systems for other things in your life will make spontaneity possible far more often.

Atomic Habits is a good place to start – check out his interview with James Clear on the Read to Lead Podcast.