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On listening

I just finished reading Oliver Reichenstein’s fantastic piece, “Putting Thought Into Things”. It’s extremely, well, thought-provoking.

“Thinking is stressful. While stereotypes click together sweetly, thinking comes in bitter flavors. We recur to clichés rather than reflection, because they make us wise without listening, bright without reasoning, and smart without taking the risk of being imprecise, boring, annoying, wrong.”

Ouch. I have definitely done this, casually leveraging my experience and cliched tips in order to provide value without actually thinking through how valuable it is. Terrible habit.

“Listening is a masochist endeavor. To do it right you have to put everything down. Not just your phone, even pen and paper.”

I realize he’s being intentionally dramatic (sometimes you need a pen to note details), but I get the point. It’s too easily to, mentally or physically, prepare for your response or your solution or your protestation. Truly listening, internalizing what’s being said, empathizing – that’s a lot harder.

“The fog of boredom and emptiness when listening to people you don’t sympathize with can be a sign that they are boring, empty, or not making sense. It can also be a sign that you do not understand.”

Another one that hits too close to home. I can distinctly remember being bored with a conversation because I didn’t understand the point….then how quickly that boredom disappeared once I did.

“The ease of following protocol comes with the disappointment of running in circles. The bittersweet pain of progress comes hand in hand with the heartache of making mistakes.”

When was the last time you felt deeply satisfied from throwing something together, rather than thinking it through?


Thanks to Andrew Spittle for sharing this post originally!

How to turn customers into enemies

1) Build a habit

2) Ambush your customers and fine them for following that habit

If you’ve ever taken a MUNI bus or light rail here in San Francisco, you’ve probably paid and then got on your vehicle, like a normal person. Your bus driver has perhaps nodded or smiled at you, or more likely stared off into space while contemplating their next aggressive driving move.

MUNI sucks

Turns out, you’re supposed to get a receipt – though this receipt is confusingly called a “transfer”, even if you’re not transferring. You wouldn’t know this to ride the actual buses though, since I have never, ever seen a bus driver offer a transfer. (I’ve heard people request them on occasion, but I assumed that was because they needed to transfer, hence the name.)

Today I entered my bus and paid with cash instead of my normal Clipper card (which I had accidentally left at home). I entered through the front door and clearly put my money in the machine. When I exited the bus where I normally do, I was cornered by a MUNI cop of some sort who asked for verification that I had paid. Sure, they could have just asked the bus driver, but since I didn’t get this mysterious receipt that apparently everyone is supposed to get, I got fined $108.

Yes, this effort is intended to stop people sneaking on without paying. What has it done instead? It’s created an enemy. All I did was act like a perfectly upstanding citizen and take my public transit to work, and I got fined $108. That’s a slap in the face. I’ll be avoiding MUNI as much as possible going forward. I like supporting public transit but you can buy a lot of taxi rides with $108.

Good job MUNI. Zero fare-evaders stopped, one customer alienated.

The future is not #%*&ing smartwatches

“The Internet carries a surprising lesson for Intellectual Property theory. Despite the prevalence of infringement and the teachings of IP theory, people are creating and distributing more content now than ever before, by at least an order of magnitude.

The future of technology is likely to look quite a bit like the Internet. Lots of people will create lots of designs, code, and biobricks. Other people will use, repurpose, and improve on those things, often without paying.”

-IP in a World Without Scarcity, by Mark A. Lemley

This is one of the most elucidating things I’ve read lately. It’s worth the time investment.

The punchline? The future isn’t #*%&ing wearables. It’s not some neat new social network. It’s literally changing how economics work when suddenly almost everything can be generated at home. It’s people printing replacement body parts and artificial genes at home. It’s about the change in interactions and communities when we no longer have to commute, go to the store, etc. It’s freedom & chaos & community & creativity. And it’s absolutely something you can picture as utopian or distopian…though probably it’ll be somewhere in between. It’s going to be a fascinating century, and smartwatches will be less than a footnote.

“Let’s make it official”

It’s amazing how much wording and tone can change something.

If you were in the trial period for a service – maybe on the fence – and you got the following message, how would you react?

“YOUR TRIAL ENDS IN 3 DAYS. PLEASE SUBMIT PAYMENT OR YOUR SERVICE WILL BE DISCONTINUED.”

I imagine you’d be pretty turned off.

Compare that to this message that Sprout Social gave me:

sprout social trial ending message

It still catches my eye. It still reminds me I need to pay. but it does it in a fun, positive way that doesn’t make me feel pressured. It makes me like them, and want to give them my money.

(And I did.)