James Patterson Inc.

Friday, February 5th, 2016

I wasn’t familiar with James Patterson Inc., but this 2010 article describes the publishing juggernaut’s dominance:

Like most authors, James Patterson started out with one book, released in 1976, that he struggled to get published. It sold about 10,000 copies, a modest, if respectable, showing for a first novel. Last year, an estimated 14 million copies of his books in 38 different languages found their way onto beach blankets, airplanes and nightstands around the world. Patterson may lack the name recognition of a Stephen King, a John Grisham or a Dan Brown, but he outsells them all. Really, it’s not even close. (According to Nielsen BookScan, Grisham’s, King’s and Brown’s combined U.S. sales in recent years still don’t match Patterson’s.) This is partly because Patterson is so prolific: with the help of his stable of co-authors, he published nine original hardcover books in 2009 and will publish at least nine more in 2010.

There are many different ways to catalog Patterson’s staggering success. Here are just a few: Since 2006, one out of every 17 novels bought in the United States was written by James Patterson. He is listed in the latest edition of “Guinness World Records,” published last fall, as the author with the most New York Times best sellers, 45, but that number is already out of date: he now has 51 — 35 of which went to No. 1.

Patterson and his publisher, Little, Brown & Co., a division of the Hachette Book Group, have an unconventional relationship. In addition to his two editors, Patterson has three full-time Hachette employees (plus assistants) devoted exclusively to him: a so-called brand manager who shepherds Patterson’s adult books through the production process, a marketing director for his young-adult titles and a sales manager for all his books. Despite this support staff and his prodigious output, Patterson is intimately involved in the publication of his books. A former ad executive — Patterson ran J. Walter Thompson’s North American branch before becoming a full-time writer in 1996 — he handles all of his own advertising and closely monitors just about every other step of the publication process, from the design of his jackets to the timing of his books’ release to their placement in stores. “Jim is at the very least co-publisher of his own books,” Michael Pietsch, Patterson’s editor and the publisher of Little, Brown, told me.

[...]

To maintain his frenetic pace of production, Patterson now uses co-authors for nearly all of his books. He is part executive producer, part head writer, setting out the vision for each book or series and then ensuring that his writers stay the course. This kind of collaboration is second nature to Patterson from his advertising days, and it’s certainly common in other creative industries, including television. But writing a novel is not the same thing as coming up with jokes for David Letterman or plotting an episode of “24.” Books, at least in their traditional conception, are the product of one person’s imagination and sensibility, rendered in a singular, unreproducible style and voice. Some novelists have tried using co-authors, usually with limited success. Certainly none have taken collaboration to the level Patterson has, with his five regular co-authors, each one specializing in a different Patterson series or genre. “Duke Ellington said, ‘I need an orchestra, otherwise I wouldn’t know how my music sounds,’ ” Pietsch told me when I asked him about Patterson’s use of collaborators. “Jim created a process and a team that can help him hear how his music sounds.”

The way it usually works, Patterson will write a detailed outline — sometimes as long as 50 pages, triple-spaced — and one of his co-authors will draft the chapters for him to read, revise and, when necessary, rewrite. When he’s first starting to work with a new collaborator, a book will typically require numerous drafts. Over time, the process invariably becomes more efficient. Patterson pays his co-authors out of his own pocket. On the adult side, his collaborators work directly and exclusively with Patterson. On the Y.A. side, they sometimes work with Patterson’s young-adult editor, who decides when pages are ready to be passed along to Patterson.

League of Legends Prodigy

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

ESPN looks at League of Legends prodigy Faker — a young pseudonymous Korean eSports “athlete” who has mastered the popular PC game:

When I ask the group why Faker is regarded as the best player in the world, MonteCristo, who goes by Monte, jumps in: “How would you grade a professional athlete? Like, what makes LeBron great?”

I rattle off a few words: athleticism, skill, decision-making.

“It’s the same. It’s exactly the same,” Susie says.

The League equivalent of athleticism is called mechanics, which refers to a player’s ability to use his mouse and keyboard to make swift movements, like dodging shots. In this respect, Monte says, Faker is peerless. He points me to a video of what is widely seen as the greatest play in League history, clipped from a 2013 game between SK Telecom and the KT Bullets. Faker is dueling another player, Ryu, and they’re both playing the same champion, a ninja named Zed. After a brief skirmish, Faker’s Zed appears about to die, so he darts away. Then, just when Ryu thinks he has the fight sewn up, Faker unleashes a startling set of moves, cutting down his opponent in a blinding flash. The audience goes nuts. “He used six different abilities in the span of two seconds,” Monte says.

Even more impressive, DoA adds, is the breadth of Faker’s champion pool, which makes it easier for him to adapt to new patches to the game — the “meta,” in eSports parlance. Because Riot upgrades League every few weeks, players live in perpetual fear of having their favorite champions’ skills diminished. Imagine if the NFL suddenly announced next year that rushing touchdowns were worth only five points, or if MLB expanded the strike zone for left-handed pitchers. Although the constantly changing meta keeps the game fresh, it can be agonizing for professionals. Some players never recover from an ill-timed patch.

That’s one of the reasons the average eSports career is so short. Professional players typically retire before their mid-20s; like figure skaters, they peak long before then. Older gamers must battle slowing reflexes and fatigue, as well as injuries to their necks and wrists. “As a male teenager, it’s easy to play video games for 16 hours,” Monte says.

Because many Korean players skip college, their career options after retiring are limited. “A lot of pro gamers don’t come from wealthy backgrounds,” Susie says. “A good number of them are doing this because they’re supporting their families.” Increasingly, she says, players realize they have limited time to capitalize on their skills, which is driving some of them to leave the country. Although most professional gamers in Korea earn five-digit salaries and a few elite players make over $100,000 (Monte says Faker probably makes more than twice that; SK Telecom declined to comment on his salary), Chinese teams boast massive war chests. One squad, Invictus Gaming, is owned by the son of Wang Jianlin, the richest man in mainland China. This winter, Invictus added four Korean players to its roster.

Pro players also make money by streaming, allowing fans to watch them practice while advertisements pop up. One retired player in China, Wei “Caomei” Han-Dong, has said he makes more than $800,000 a year streaming. Korean teams have begun to stream a little, but in general, “they think it’s inefficient,” says Lee “CloudTemplar” Hyun-woo, a retired-gamer-turned-caster. “In Korea, to make money you have to put up results.” Demand is out there, though. This February, a minor scandal flared up when a Twitch user started streaming Faker’s practice games without permission.

Diversity Policies Don’t Help Women or Minorities, and They Make White Men Feel Threatened

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

U.S. companies spend millions annually on diversity programs and policies. Are they working? Not really:

A longitudinal study of over 700 U.S. companies found that implementing diversity training programs has little positive effect and may even decrease representation of black women.

Most people assume that diversity policies make companies fairer for women and minorities, though the data suggest otherwise. Even when there is clear evidence of discrimination at a company, the presence of a diversity policy leads people to discount claims of unfair treatment. In previous research, we’ve found that this is especially true for members of dominant groups and those who tend to believe that the system is generally fair.

All this has a real effect in court. In a 2011 Supreme Court class action case, Walmart successfully used the mere presence of its anti-discrimination policy to defend itself against allegations of gender discrimination. And Walmart isn’t alone: the “diversity defense” often succeeds, making organizations less accountable for discriminatory practices.

There’s another way the rhetoric of diversity can result in inaccurate and counterproductive beliefs. In a recent experiment, we found evidence that it not only makes white men believe that women and minorities are being treated fairly — whether that’s true or not — it also makes them more likely to believe that they themselves are being treated unfairly.

We put young white men through a hiring simulation for an entry-level job at a fictional technology firm. For half of the “applicants,” the firm’s recruitment materials briefly mentioned its pro-diversity values. For the other half, the materials did not mention diversity. In all other ways, the firm was described identically. All of the applicants then underwent a standardized job interview while we videotaped their performance and measured their cardiovascular stress responses.

Compared to white men interviewing at the company that did not mention diversity, white men interviewing for the pro-diversity company expected more unfair treatment and discrimination against whites. They also performed more poorly in the job interview, as judged by independent raters. And their cardiovascular responses during the interview revealed that they were more stressed.

How did Elon Musk learn enough about rockets to run SpaceX?

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

How did Elon Musk learn enough about rockets to run SpaceX? Rocket scientist Jim Cantrell explains:

Once he has a goal, his next step is to learn as much about the topic at hand as possible from as many sources as possible. He is by far the single smartest person that I have ever worked with, period. I can’t estimate his IQ but he is very very intelligent. And not the typical egg-head kind of smart. He has a real applied mind. He literally sucks the knowledge and experience out of people that he is around. He borrowed all of my college texts on rocket propulsion when we first started working together in 2001. We also hired as many of my colleagues in the rocket and spacecraft business that were willing to consult with him. It was like a gigantic spaceapalooza. At that point we were not talking about building a rocket ourselves, only launching a privately funded mission to Mars. I found out later that he was talking to a bunch of other people about rocket designs and collaborating on some spreadsheet level systems designs for launchers. Once our dealings with the Russians fell apart, he decided to build his own rocket and this was the genesis of SpaceX.

I knew he read textbooks, but I didn’t know exactly which textbooks: Rocket Propulsion Elements, Aerothermodynamics of Gas Turbine and Rocket Propulsion, Fundamentals of Astrodynamics, and the International Reference Guide to Space Launch Systems.

Hundreds of Flying Robots

Friday, January 8th, 2016

We don’t think about them that often, but above us are hundreds of flying robots that play a large part in our lives on Earth:

In 1957, lonely Sputnik circled the Earth by itself, but today, the worlds of communication, weather forecasting, television, navigation, and aerial photography all rely heavily on satellites, as do many national militaries and government intelligence agencies.

The total market for satellite manufacturing, the launches that carry them to space, and related equipment and services has ballooned from $60 billion in 2004 to over $200 billion in 2015. Satellite industry revenue today makes up only 4% of the global telecommunications industry but accounts for over 60% of space industry revenue.

[...]

About two-thirds of active satellites are in Low Earth Orbit. LEO starts up at 99 miles (160 km) above the Earth, the lowest altitude at which an object can orbit without atmospheric drag messing things up. The top of LEO is 1,240 miles (2,000 km) up. Typically, the lowest satellites are at around 220 miles (350 km) up or higher.

Most of the rest (about one-third) of the satellites are much farther out, in a place called geostationary orbit (GEO). It’s right at 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above the Earth, and it’s called geostationary because something orbiting in it rotates at the exact speed that the Earth turns, making its position in the sky stationary relative to a point on the Earth. It’ll seem to be motionless to an observer on the ground.

[...]

A small percentage of other satellites are in medium Earth orbit (MEO), which is everything in between LEO and GEO. One notable resident of MEO is the GPS system that most Americans, and people from many other countries, use every day. I never realized that the entire GPS system, a US Department of Defense project that went live in 1995, only uses 32 satellites total. And until 2012, the number was only 24—six orbits, each with four satellites.

How Useful Is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

In The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution, Christensen and Raynor discuss 77 cases of disruptive innovation. Andrew A. King and Baljir Baatartogtokh interviewed experts on each of those cases and discovered something:

Many of the theory’s exemplary cases did not fit four of its key conditions and predictions well. A handful corresponded well with all four elements (notably, for example, the disruptions by Salesforce.com, Intuit’s QuickBooks, and Amazon.com). However, a majority of the 77 cases were found to include different motivating forces or displayed unpredicted outcomes. Among them were cases involving legacy costs, the effect of numerous competitors, changing economies of scale, and shifting social conditions. Discussions with our industry experts also helped us to identify the most generally applicable elements of the theory of disruptive innovation as well as to define other ways managers can guide businesses through stormy times.

[...]

Before surveying and interviewing experts on each of the 77 cases, we identified four key elements of the theory of disruption: (1) that incumbents in a market are improving along a trajectory of sustaining innovation, (2) that they overshoot customer needs, (3) that they possess the capability to respond to disruptive threats, and (4) that incumbents end up floundering as a result of the disruption.

[...]

In summary, although Christensen and Raynor selected the 77 cases as examples of the theory of disruptive innovation, our survey of experts reveals that many of the cases do not correspond closely with the theory. In fact, their responses suggest that only seven of the cases (9%) contained all four elements of the theory that we asked about.

Streaming TV is a New Genre

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Streaming shows, released all at once, in full seasons, are a new genre:

In TV, narrative has always been an outgrowth of the delivery mechanism. Why are there cliffhangers? So you’ll tune in next week. Why are shows a half-hour or an hour long? Because real-time viewing required predictable schedules. Why do episodes have a multiple-act structure? To leave room for the commercials.

HBO series like “Deadwood” — which jettisoned the ad breaks and content restrictions of network TV — have been compared to Dickens’s serial novels. Watching a streaming series is even more like reading a book — you receive it as a seamless whole, you set your own schedule — but it’s also like video gaming. Binge-watching is immersive. It’s user-directed. It creates a dynamic that I call “The Suck”: that narcotic, tidal feeling of getting drawn into a show and letting it wash over you for hours. “Play next episode” is the default, and it’s so easy. It can be competitive, even. Your friends are posting their progress, hour by hour, on social media. (“OMG #JessicaJones episode 10!! Woke up at 3 a.m. to watch!”) Each episode becomes a level to unlock.

With those new mechanics comes a new relationship with the audience. Traditional television — what the jargonmeisters now call “linear TV” — assumes that your time is scarce and it has you for a few precious hours before bed. The streaming services assume they own your free time, whenever it comes — travel, holidays, weekends — to fill with five- and 10-hour entertainments.

So they program shows exactly when TV networks don’t. They debut series on Fridays (considered “the death slot” in network TV) and over holidays. This November and December, TV’s long winter’s nap of reruns, the streaming services are unloading season after full season of original TV: “Jessica Jones,” “Transparent,” “Making a Murderer,” “The Art of More” — and more, and more. Amazon is releasing Season 2 of “Mozart in the Jungle” on Dec. 30, just in time for the ball to drop.

In other words, they schedule their shows like Hollywood movies. Streaming is like a vast multiplex where every screen is playing “The Mahabharata.” It expects commitment — and gets it.

Elon Musk’s Success

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Elon Musk has been asked many times to explain his success, and occasionally he has tried:

He points to things he does that other people don’t do — actively seeking out negative feedback, for instance, and working really, really, really hard. But I think he knows that he’s different. This is what he said once to NPR, back in 2007, before the first Tesla car hit the road, before the first SpaceX rocket took off: “What I’m good at is, well, I think I’m good at inventing solutions to problems. Things seem fairly obvious to me that are clearly not obvious to most people. So…and I’m not really trying to do it or anything. I just, I don’t know, I can see the truth of things, and others seem less able to do so.”

Eight years later, he tries to boil down some more practical lessons for me.

The things you’ve been working on the last ten years or so, would they be where they are now yet without you?

“Which things?”

Everything you’ve been doing at SpaceX and everything you’ve been doing at Tesla.

“Would they happen without me? Um, certainly some things wouldn’t have. You know, I think probably not.”

So what is that that you’re doing to make that happen?

“Well, you’ve got to convince great people to join the companies and then get them to work together in concert toward a clear goal with a strategy that’s sensible.”

But surely there are thousands of people who are doing that. Why are you more successful than pretty much anyone else right now?

“Well, it’s really because people, they either have a strategy where success is not one of the possible outcomes — occasionally it’s that. And then they don’t change that strategy once that becomes clear, amazingly. Or they cannot attract a critical mass of technical talent, if it’s in a technology-related thing. Or they run out of money before reaching a cash-flow-positive situation. That tends to be what occurs.”

Sure, but even so, there’s other people who get over all those bars…

He laughs. “No, they don’t. There’s very few.”

You really think those hurdles are enough to stop nearly everything?

“Oh yeah, absolutely. Probably very often when a company starts out, it’s headed in the wrong direction. But it really depends on how quickly it can recognize that and take corrective action. But people tend to think that they’re right even when they aren’t right.”

An essential part of the Elon Musk tale of triumph is how close he came himself to complete disaster in the second half of 2008. “Yeah, we had some really, really hard times,” he says when I refer to this, “and very narrowly escaped death as a company, both for SpaceX and Tesla.” He has told the full story over and over — how SpaceX had failed with its first three rocket launches and Tesla was struggling to make vehicles quickly or economically enough, and how, when the wider market crash then came, both companies were only kept going by Musk committing the remainder of his $180 million fortune from PayPal, to the point where he was reduced to borrowing money off friends for living expenses. And how, at the last minute, doom was averted: The fourth SpaceX launch reached orbit, and the company was awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract; other Tesla investors agreed to match Musk’s final $20 million investment and saw them through the most vulnerable moments.

Cliff Asness

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

Tyler Cowen interviews investment strategist Cliff Asness, who earns his geek cred in quant style:

Even the most insane billionaire cannot afford a hundredth of what frigging Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne have. It’s infuriating.

I’ve done well. I’m not the most insane out there. But if I wanted to go build a Batcave at my house, it would take approximately 600 times my wealth, and everyone would know about it.

I also enjoyed this light-hearted passage:

Cowen: Now, I think I’m interested in this issue, as I think you are. Extreme performances or performers, and it’s measured most readily in sports. So Gretzky is a kind of extreme outlier. In basketball, you could say Kareem Abdul?Jabbar who would be in the series as an outlier. Maybe Michael Jordan.

In sports or some other area of your choosing, which is the extreme outlier which strikes you as the most amazing? And you just say, “oh my God, I can’t believe there’s a Wayne Gretzky,” or a fill?in?the?blank-there for me, other than Gretzky.

Asness: I have no sense if this is actually accurate. But actually, no one could measure this. It can’t be accurate. You’re not going to believe what I’m going to say. Cirque du Soleil.

Cowen: Please explain.

Asness: When I sit there and watch Cirque du Soleil, which both my wife and I like, I literally walk out and go, “nobody can do this.” And I don’t think they are cheating.

Cowen: They’re not cheating, right?

Asness: But watch it again. It’s like a Looney Tunes show, where Daffy Duck dives from up there into a little thing of water down here, and he doesn’t die. I don’t know how they do it.

Everything else, the crash of ’87 was a 20 standard deviation event. Nothing. Wayne Gretzky, pretty good. The Cirque du Soleil people —

Cowen: Off the charts.

Asness: This story was from Vegas, and it’s not staying in Vegas. But, I was in Vegas, and I was exercising. I know you find that hard to believe, but I was.

The Cirque du Soleil people were in the gym, and you don’t want to ever do that. It is one of the most demeaning, humbling experiences.

[laughter]

Asness: They exercise exactly as — they did this thing where they just keep leaping over each other, and they go around in a circle, and they did it for like half an hour. And I’m sitting there on the StairMaster on a three.

ISIS Revenue

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

According to U.S. Department of the Treasury officials, ISIS is taking in $500 million from oil a year — and that’s not their only source of revenue:

Yet even if the U.S. finally weakens the group’s oil income, Bahney and other analysts in the U.S., the Middle East, and Europe contend, Islamic State has resources beyond crude — from selling sex slaves to ransoming hostages to plundering stolen farmland — that can likely keep it fighting for years. In any case, $500 million buys a lot of $500 black-market AK-47s.

Islamic State got into the oil business long before it captured global attention through barbaric beheading videos in the summer of 2014. It seized Syrian border crossings to profit from oil smuggling. And it tapped a network that’s operated for decades, dating to at least the 1990s, when Saddam Hussein evaded sanctions by smuggling billions of dollars’ worth of oil out of Iraq under the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food program.

Most often refined in Syria, the group’s oil is trucked to cities such as Mosul to provide people living under its black banner with fuel for generators and other basic needs. It’s also used to power the war machine. “They have quite an organized supply chain running fuel into Iraq and [throughout] the ‘caliphate,’?” says Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, using the militant group’s religiously loaded term for itself. Because the U.S. apparently believed the real money for Islamic State came primarily via selling refined oil, rather than crude, last year’s strikes heavily targeted refineries and storage depots, says Bahney. He and other experts say that strategy missed an important shift: Militants increasingly sell raw crude to truckers and middlemen, rather than refining it themselves. So while Islamic State probably maintains some refining capacity, the majority of the oil in IS territory is refined by locals who operate thousands of rudimentary, roadside furnaces that dot the Syrian desert.

Pentagon officials also acknowledge that for more than a year they avoided striking tanker trucks to limit civilian casualties. “None of these guys are ISIS. We don’t feel right vaporizing them, so we have been watching ISIS oil flowing around for a year,” says Knights. That changed on Nov. 16, when four U.S. attack planes and two gunships destroyed 116 oil trucks. A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. first dropped leaflets warning drivers to scatter.

Beyond oil, the caliphate is believed by U.S. officials to have assets including $500 million to $1 billion that it seized from Iraqi bank branches last year, untold “hundreds of millions” of dollars that U.S. officials say are extorted and taxed out of populations under the group’s control, and tens of millions of dollars more earned from looted antiquities and ransoms paid to free kidnap victims.

The taxes bring in real money. One example: Islamic State allows policemen, soldiers, and teachers in its territory to atone for the “sin” of having worked under religiously inappropriate regimes—for a fee. Forgiveness comes in the form of a repentance ID card costing up to $2,500, which requires an additional $200 a year to renew, according to Aymenn Jawad al-Tami, a fellow at the Middle East Forum who closely follows the group.

Arguably the least appreciated resource for Islamic State is its fertile farms. Before even starting the engine of a single tractor, the group is believed to have grabbed as much as $200 million in wheat from Iraqi silos alone. Beyond harvested grains, the acreage now controlled by militants across the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys has historically produced half of Syria’s annual wheat crop, about one-third of Iraq’s, and almost 40 percent of Iraqi barley, according to UN agricultural officials and a Syrian economist. Its fields could yield $200 million per year if those crops are sold, even at the cut rates paid on black markets. And how do you conduct airstrikes on farm fields?

For his part, Bahney contends that the group’s real financial strength is its fanatical spending discipline. Rand estimates the biggest and most important drain on Islamic State’s budget is the salary line for up to 100,000 fighters.

Hire some people, fire some people, and make some strategies

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Consultants Madsbjerg and Rasmussen describe the nihilism of professionalized management:

Not long ago, we met an executive from a global pharmaceutical company. He had been participating all day in a workshop on the future of health care and was standing outside the hotel, catching some fresh air. We talked about how the health-care business was changing and what challenges the company was facing with rising health-care costs, low R&D productivity, and a broken sales model. We asked him his thoughts on the challenges ahead.

He looked at us with somewhat tired eyes, squinted up in the sky, and said, “Well, first, I am going to have myself a big, fat sushi dinner, and then I suppose I will get back to the office tomorrow and do the usual stuff — you know: hire some people, fire some people, and make some strategies.”

He was not being ironic. He was being brutally honest about a feeling that many executives feel from time to time: What does it matter, anyway? Over time, as management has become increasingly professionalized, you can sense a kind of nihilism or loss of meaning in the executive layers. This sense of nihilism is strongest in large corporate cultures where management is seen as a profession in and of itself with no strong connection to what the company actually makes or does. What happens when satisfaction from work comes from managing — reorganizing, optimizing the operation, hiring new people, and making strategies — and not from producing something meaningful? How do you feel when it doesn’t really matter whether you make beauty products, soft drinks, fast food, or musical instruments?

(From The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems.)

YKK

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Roughly half the zippers produced in the world have YKK stamped on them:

So how did a small rural town in Japan, half a world away, come to dethrone this zippering behemoth? Through the single-minded visionary purpose of Tadao Yoshida, the founder of Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha (Yoshida Manufacturing Shareholding Company) from which YKK is necessarily abbreviated.

YKK Zippers

Yoshida had grown up in Kurobe the son of an itinerant bird collector. After a slew of business failures he moved to Tokyo and, seeing the growth of the zipper market, opened his own zipper firm in 1934. The success of Talon was known around the world and Yoshida shamelessly copied its products and machines, while adding some distinctive touches — like using aluminum instead of copper. When World War II began, he kept in business by supplying the Japanese Imperial Navy with zippers, and when his factory was burned to the ground during the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 he relocated to his hometown of Kurobe and began all over again.

Yoshida’s remarkable stick-to-itiveness had been spurred on by reading Andrew Carnegie’s The Gospel of Wealth. Now, as if infused with the reciprocal force of the zipper, he too created a quasi-philosophy that he termed the Cycle of Goodness™. This stated that “no one prospers without rendering benefit to others.” It was a simple but enlightened creed that suggested that well-treated workers would create a better product, a better product would benefit customers, and satisfied customers would, in turn, benefit YKK. In short, Yoshida wanted to use his zippers to bind together not only clothes but also the very fabric of society.

YKK was unusual in that it produced everything used to make its zippers in house. Brass, aluminum, polyester, yarn, were smelted and woven in Kurobe. Workers lived in dormitories opposite the factory and a leadership cult quickly grew up around Yoshida and his Cycle of Goodness™. Gripped by zippering inspiration, YKK’s designers began churning thousands of different types of zippers aimed at specific industries and individual customers. It made the world’s smallest zipper, the concealed zipper, the first nylon and polyester zippers and the world’s thinnest zipper. A pantheon of patented fastenings rolled off the factory line — Beulon! Eflon! Zaglan! Ziplon! Minifa! Kensin! Natulon! Excella! — each one seeking to create a more perfect union. Soon YKK was opening factories across the world the better to offer their services to local manufacturers and by 1974, YKK was making one quarter of the world’s zippers, enough in one year to stretch from the earth to the moon and back again.
By contrast Talon, which in the late 1960s was producing 70 percent of the United States’ zippers, was now barely producing half that. Its decline was rapid. By 1993 Meadville no longer had any zipper factories within its town limits at all.

Inside Amazon’s First Physical Bookstore

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar bookstore has opened for business:

The store, which is situated in an outdoor mall across the street from the University of Washington campus, is unlike the grandiose retail book palaces that Barnes and Noble and Borders built in the late 1990s and with 5,000 to 6,000 titles on hand, Amazon Books stocks far fewer titles than today’s bigger bookstores. Small and scaled back, Amazon Books is cleanly designed and easy-to-navigate.

Amazon Books Exterior

The inventory is mostly books, with some magazines and a central aisle of electronics featuring the company’s Kindle, Kindle Fire and FireTV devices. Book selection is deepest in bookstore strongholds: children’s, young adult, bestsellers and genre fiction. The store also features a respectable graphic novel selection, and a shelf of work by local authors.

Amazon Books Interior

Despite the initial look and feel of a 20th century bookstore, a closer look at Amazon Books reveals that it’s very much a 21st century endeavor.

Every book is tagged with a custom label featuring its aggregate rating on Amazon.com, along with a review from the website. There are no prices. To get a book’s price, you must use the Amazon app on your smartphone to scan the barcode. This act will provide you with the product listing, all the title’s reviews on Amazon.com, and the price. If you don’t have a smartphone or the app handy, associates are on hand to assist.

An associate at the store also confirmed what many news reports about Amazon Books have stated, that the store only stocks books with Amazon.com ratings of four stars and above. The associate also confirmed that prices for books in the store are identical to those of the books sold online. And, since book prices on Amazon.com can fluctuate regularly, so can prices in the store. The associate said one thing they are vigilant about in the store is ensuring customers don’t get confused by receiving different price quotes at different times.

The store, which aims to seamlessly transition the online shopping experience to a real world scenario, allows you to use credits associated with your account at the register. However, you cannot order merchandise online and have it delivered to the store.

10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Ben Casnocha’s description of Reid Hoffman makes him sound like the Superman-analog of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, the Samaritan, who laments that he has no time to enjoy life, because there’s always some good he could be doing:

Every decision has tradeoffs: when you choose to do one thing it means you choose not do some other thing. When you choose to optimize a choice on one factor, it means necessarily suboptimizing on another factors. Reid faced tradeoffs in his life that were heavier than the ones you or I face. Imagine you could meet anyone, from the President of the United States on down. Do almost anything you can think of — from saving the local opera company from bankruptcy to traveling to the farthest outposts on earth in total luxury. A small number of humans have virtually no constraints on their decision-making, and Reid is one of them. When Reid chose to fly to Las Vegas and speak at this event, the list of things he chose not to do with that time was very, very long.

Astro City Life in the Big City

Often, Reid wrestled with these tradeoffs. Author E.B. White once captured the essence of why. “I wake up in the morning unsure of whether I want to savor the world or save the world,” White said, “This makes it hard to plan the day.”

For some, savor is the easy answer to the task of planning a life. For those with no constraints, the plan is often straightforward: they put their name on a few buildings of their alma matter, buy a pro sports franchise, and call it a day. For the 99% of people with resource constraints, they might bag a 9–5 job, accumulate vacation days as diligently as possible, retire early, and maybe donate to their friend’s Walk Against Cancer. Reid likes to savor, albeit not hedonistically. Savor for him means arriving at intellectual epiphanies; it means spending time with friends.

But what he really wants to do is save. He wants to use his talent and network and money to change the world for the better and solve some of humanity’s biggest problems. He is among the most selfless and externally-generous people I’ve met in my life.

The Plucky Young Entrepreneurial Elon Musk

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Here’s another story of the plucky young entrepreneurial Elon Musk — and his brother and cousins:

Here’s an idea that one of five young South African cousins threw out sometime in the 1980s: What if they could arbitrage the cost of chocolate in an Easter egg? Plain old chocolate at the time cost virtually nothing, but a nicely packaged chocolate Easter egg cost about one rand. So the young cousins melted regular chocolate, molded it into egg shapes, wrapped the chocolate eggs in foil, and went around the poshest parts of their Pretoria neighborhood. And instead of selling these chocolate eggs for the going rate, they cranked up the price to 10 rand.

When neighbors balked at the price, the boys responded as they’d rehearsed. Purchasing from them, they said, would mean the buyer was supporting young capitalists. It worked.

This is not the kind of scheme most 14- or 15-year-old relatives dream up, but these were not most 14- or 15-year-olds. This is a piece of lore essential to understanding what may be the 21st century’s First Family of entrepreneurship, a family of happy capitalists intent on cracking today’s toughest problems by building businesses. Those budding teen tycoons included two sets of brothers: Elon Musk, whom you’ve likely heard of, and his brother, Kimbal, a fellow entrepreneur focused on trying to change America’s food culture; and Lyndon and Peter Rive, the founders of SolarCity. (Their brother Russ now runs the art, technology, and design company SuperUber, in Brazil.) Each family also has a sister: Tosca Musk, a filmmaker, and Almeda Rive, a competitive dirt-bike rider.

Elon may be the most famous of the clan, thanks to his mad-scientist ways and the Beatles-esque buzz surrounding the companies he’s dreamed up—from PayPal to electric carmaker Tesla Motors to aerospace manufacturer SpaceX to what remains—for now—the mere concept of the high-speed Hyperloop. But each of the Musk-Rive cousins has achieved notable levels of success. Kimbal Musk co-founded The Kitchen, a group of eight restaurants that source directly from local farmers, and The Kitchen Community, a nonprofit that’s opened more than 250 school and community gardens that impact 140,000 kids each day. Lyndon and Peter Rive founded SolarCity, the energy-service company that has a market cap of about $4 billion, after Lyndon, Peter, and Russ sold their company, Everdream, to Dell in 2007.