🐼 012 Can work or does work?

hibernation

"We wanted an animal that is beautiful, is endangered, and one loved by many people in the world for its appealing qualities. We also wanted an animal that had an impact in black and white to save money on printing costs." Sir Peter Scott

Scott was a co-founder of WWF and the designer of the first WWF logo.

“In a bow to the move to indexing, we have something that says hey, people can’t take much tracking error so we are going to start with the S&P 500, which is most people’s benchmark, and if we find something that is cheap we might overweight it a little bit.”

That’s from a conversation between Joel Greenblatt and Ted Seides.


This newsletter is heading back into hibernation. Here’s the long story. Premium supporters can see the plan for their subscriptions at the bottom.

A bunch of thoughtful people started up Substacks. I enjoyed them. I should do emails too. We made it twelve weeks, no small feat.

But…

Blogging is better for me. The Waiter’s Pad will cross 800 posts this summer. There are all kinds of ideas, backlinks, media, connections, and mental-scaffolding there that I love.

Substack is great but it lacks the things I miss. Most internet content is long-tail content. I want to contribute to that. I want to share things that people find next year or next decade. Writing a newsletter is good for a lot of people but it’s not good for me.

The Waiter’s Pad has email signup if you’d like to get posts.

Premium supporters should see an automatic refund by next week. The feeling of someone paying you for online work is no small thing. Thank you.

💡 011 Creativity is not a talent

And one lightbulb joke

Creativity is not a talent.

Creativity according to John Cleese is "A way of operating." This 1991 YouTube talk address this and is full of jokes likes: how many socialists does it take to change a lightbulb?

The problem with creativity is that it seems difficult. It's like running a 5K for someone who doesn't run. Like, c'mon, I can't do that. Cleese nips this complaint right away and offers two helpful pieces of advice.

1️⃣ Be a designer. We are all designers. We are all designers because designs influence actions. Some designs tightly constrain actions and some designs loosely constrain.

At the well-designed-controlled-environment-level is something like this:

But we’re all designers of smaller things, like is your phone next to the bed or in the other room?

So if we’re all designers, how do we design for creativity? Space and time. Set the phone to DND. Sit at the desk. As Steven Pressfield notes, *put your ass where your heart wants to be.*

2️⃣ Think. Yep, that’s the advice.

Rather, Cleese says 'to play.’ That's the second step. To be creative is to let the subconscious bubble up but it doesn’t arrive with instructions on a yellow legal pad numbered 1-7. No. The subconscious has its own language. To be creative one must be open.

"As a general rule, when people become absolutely certain that they know what they’re doing, their creativity plummets." Jon Cleese

Without interruption, think widely.

This will be hard. Most people, says Cleese, don't like it. It's hard to just sit or walk or be. It's hard to just think.

Annie Duke faced this same problem. When she coached people who played poker they wanted to act, to do, to play the hand. But a lot of poker is not playing. Duke's challenge was to get players to feel like they were poker players while also making good decisions. So, she reframed the action.

Rather than playing hands, Duke coached her clients to make choices. Deciding, not playing, is what poker players do. Thinking through the hands, the outcomes, the pot odds, the base rates, and the game-theory-optimal case were what good players did. That was the secret to being a good poker player. This is the secret too, according to Cleese, for operating creatively.

Creative people understand that the doing is different. It’s not measurable in conventional (read: easy) terms. There aren't good metrics. There's no word count. There's no investment return. There are no miles or dollars or calls made. There's nothing to count which means no numbers which means no comparison which implies no value.

Do not fall into this trip says Cleese. Trust that the moments of wide-open thought matter.

After the play, it's time for work.


How many socialists does it take to change a lightbulb? Five, but they don't change it and insist that it works despite the evidence.

🧢 010 Fish Stories and negotiations

Jim and MTV

⛱ We spent Memorial Day weekend at the beach. One of the perks of Florida is that the things to do within 2 hours of our house mostly overlap with the things we want to do. So we were at the beach.

While watching my kids swim Jim came up to me. Jim was a pilot for Delta, rather, he had his pilot's license, and one day while boarding a Delta flight and saying hello to the crew he knew, they asked if Jim wanted to sit in the cockpit. He sure did.

Well, Jim told me, they got up to 19,000 when the captain told the co-pilot to switch back to the engineer's seat for Jim to co-pilot the plane. Then, Jim went on, the pilot told Jim he was going to land the plane.

Once Jim got into the cockpit I knew I was hearing a fish story. Whatever. Everyone was vibing. Let it rip.

Jim finishes the story. I wish him well and walk down to the beach with my kids. That's when Jim's daughter catches up and apologizes. Jim has dementia.

Jim tracked me down twice more that weekend. Another plane story, this time landing it solo. Another was the time Journey pulled him out of the crowd to play guitar at their Albany show. Oh, sing too.

Jim is forgetful, but we're forgetful. Jim tells fish stories, but we all embellish. Jim wants to help others, and we all do.

What's most striking is that Jim 'has dementia'. Or, he has enough of a certain set of qualities that we label is as having the thing. Body-Mass-Index might be the most generic version, but we're all on every spectrum.

Naming things is good. Gordian Knot is a great name for the thing. That idea is one of our mental tools. We have that. With a name, it’s a thing.


📺 How did MTV succeed?

An ongoing series that began with Batna or Batman is to ask *what's the business model?* There's always a reason something works. It may not be understandable. It may not be logical. But there is a reason.

MTV's reason can be boiled down to a single word: costs. During the rise of MTV the company paid nothing for the videos and sold advertising against them. At first, the advertising wasn't worth much, but when the cost is zero….

Then MTV pivoted away from videos and towards shows. The gall! Rather than 'devalue and dismiss'1 let's ask why. Here's a clue from TV Guide. The grid! MTV needed to put up a block that said more than 'music video'. Why? The business model!

MTV iterates. They come up with shows. The shows work. 'What about a soap opera?' Too expensive. What about just filming people and editing the footage together? 'Perfect'.

MTV’s Real World occurred because advertisers wanted viewers, viewers wanted to know what was on, and it was cheap.


💸 How do you get something for free?

There’s a common theme to the books: Getting to Yes and Never Split the Difference: find something cheap to you but valuable to them.

The bands and the music labels paid for the videos. The Real World contestants (stars? gluttons?) earned $1,400-TOTAL. From a financial perspective, MTV used them.

But videos sold albums and concert tickets. But exposure begot more exposure. MTV battered money for attention. From that perspective, there was an exchange.


👨‍✈️ I can’t stop thinking about Jim. Was his desire to be the hero something we all share? Did he repress it for years and now it’s coming out?

Jim’s wife told me he owned a tree-trimming business. His son and son-in-law run it now. The business afforded them the ability to visit Florida from New York. They seemed happy. Jim seemed happy.

1

This is a Tyler Cowen expression. More on his ideas at a future time.

🗡 009 The Knot of Gordium

Framing the problem

🪢 According to legend, the kingdom of Phrygian had a problem. They needed a king. Lacking other options, the townspeople went to a nearby oracle to seek advice.

The nearby town was famous for predictions and visited regularly by the powerful, learned, and influential. Surely, someone, there could help.

They did. The oracle declared that the next person to enter Phrygia's capital of Gordium driving an ox-cart would become king. Soon after a farmer did just that and became king.

The farmer's son, feeling indebted, donated the ox cart to the god Zeus and tied the cart to a post in the center of town. It was no normal slip not but rather composed of branches that dried and tightened over time. It was like a thousand earbud headphones in the world's largest pants pocket.

Good luck.

People tried to untie it, and the knot held.

Until Alex came to town. Alex had visited the same oracle as the townspeople. His message was that whoever undoes the not will become king of the world. That sounded good to Alex.

He walked into town and looked at the knot. He tested it. It looped around the ox cart and the post all while keeping his eyes on the knot.

We don't know what Alex was thinking. He was pretty well educated, maybe the best-educated person alive in his era. He was young, strong, and smart. If there was a person who could unravel this bird's next it would be him.

He took a step back from the knot. He looked at the ox cart, looked at the poll. He retreated half a pace with his right foot, reached to his hip for his hilt, pulled his sword, brought the blade up from his shoulder, arced it through the air, and down through the knot of Gordium.

That was how Alexander the Great, king of Greece, student of Aristotle, undid the knot of Gordium and built his empire.

The way things are presented affects the way things are rationalized. So one handy tool to solve a problem is to look at the same situation in a different way.


🏎 How do you win a race?

Sometimes races are won by the fastest. But sometimes races are won by the consistent.

The 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans was not won by the fastest team, but the most consistent one. Not only that, but the winning team broke a ** 40-year-old record**.


☀️ Have a great weekend.

🍿 008 Batman or BATNA

It was May 1977, a long time ago in a galaxy far away….

  
0:00
-54:13

An inflation-adjusted chart of Global Box Office + Home Video compared to budget. All in millions.

The inspiration from this episode was Tyler Cowen’s response to Tim Ferriss’s question: What would you put on a billboard?

“If you look at billboards we actually have, what do you see on those billboards? The billboards I see a lot of them are advertisements for insurance. Some of them are, “Don’t drive drunk.” You see a bail bondsman on billboards and suicide hotlines. I guess I would study the market and pick one of those four things like, “Buy this insurance, bail bondsman, suicide hotline, don’t drive drunk.”

It’s to ask, what’s the business model?

This episode covers a 1975ish onward look at the movie business model. Briefly sequentially:

  1. National advertising plus national distribution

  2. ^ plus merchandise

  3. ^ ^ plus home video (VHS then DVD)

  4. ^ ^ ^ plus more movie screens

  5. ^ ^ ^ ^ plus international

The number of movies made and the kinds of movies made are the direct results of the underlying business model.

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