"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" (No. 50)
Time to celebrate data things with our 50th issue! 🎉 🙌
Today’s toy: a cat. Yes, that’s a giant cat illusion on a building (well, at least a giant cat on a curved screen made to look trompe l'oeil style like a 3d thing:
This means that animated signs and holograms are going to be heading to our signs and then into our houses. No word yet on what this will mean for supermarket or store visits, but you can bet they are going to be a little bit more like Minority Report. Edition No. 50 of this newsletter is here - it’s July 5th, 2021.
The Big Idea
What I’ve Learned Writing 50 Essays
50 Essays. That’s 50 times I’ve sat down, wondering how to turn a vague idea or a half-baked insight into a few paragraphs that I wanted to send out to the world. The truth is that I look like neither half of this meme below that encapsulates how I feel about writing. But I have learned a few things.
Start by Starting
When you start writing, begin with an argument. It’s ok to be wrong, and the writing will sound much more persuasive when you have something to say. (Duh.) If the argument you’re making is unclear, take a side. For example, I write iteratively and figure it out as I go along. Other people might disagree pointing out that revisions are the only way to write short essays. We could both be right.
Next, make your argument. Are you writing an info-snack, hoping to catch someone new? Are you writing a manifesto? Or are you writing a piece where you are not sure yet where it will go? All of these cases are legitimate reasons to write. They will be more persuasive when you lay out your argument.
Yes, it does matter that you state what you believe. I believe that writing as a means to end up with your argument is acceptable. You might not know what you are saying until you’re in the middle of your essay.
When wrong, say “I don’t know”
You are not going to be 100% right. (It helps to be 100% right on the things that people ask you to do, and that’s probably not a realistic goal either.) So when you are wrong or unsure, say “I don’t know.” You will probably get a better response if you say, “I don’t know, here’s what I think, and why.”
All of the essays I’ve written since starting this newsletter have given me some room to think. Not all of them are good. But many of them lead me back to themes that I need to keep writing about.
Here are some themes that keep coming up. They are inline with my goals to build collaboratively with others and solve challenges through community.
Using spreadsheets as templates to solve “application-like” problems - what happens when we are able to model the work we do so that others can do it? Scale.
Building and testing models with human operators - there is no point in building tools that no one uses. We have to keep simplifying our business processes so they are easy to understand, but interoperable so they are not just simple.
Becoming more productive with the express purpose of doing it iteratively - when you automate a piece of your job or your process, you are freeing up time to innovate again.
Sharing the knowledge and collaborating - projects and process work better with a team.
I’m going to keep writing. The prompt to sit down and write is forcing me to have more opinions in public more often. I don’t always solve a problem by writing about it. And I do recognize the themes and ideas that keep bubbling to the surface.
What’s the takeaway? Writing gets better as you do more of it. When you notice the themes in the things you write about, it also gets easier to tie them together (even when you’re wrong).
A Thread from This Week
Twitter is an amazing source of long-form writing, and it’s easy to miss the threads people are talking about.
This week’s thread: on the difference between earnings and cash flows. This is an important one when you evaluate the success of a company in the markets.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ How to make fancy graphics in 1984 - This the software that launched 1,000 dot-matrix printed banners. Yes, if you remember “The Print Shop”, you probably learned how to make graphics a long time ago. Here’s why this trip to the wayback machine is relevant: it displays the choices to make when resources are constrained. Look at older software and you will often find design choices to use today. When you can’t do everything all of the time, you filter to the most important things.
2/ On simple wireframing - Here’s how to draw a wireframe, even if you can’t draw. A wireframe is the “outline” of the task you want an application to do. Why do you need this? Even if you’re not creating things on paper, the basics of drawing will help you present complex information in a slide or illustration.
3/ Smell-o-vision is near - This could be another failed experiment in the long line of technology tools that want to bring your VR/AR experience a bit “closer” to real life by providing … smells. I certainly am not excited about certain titles that could be in this list but perhaps “delicious donut factory” or “New York Deli with fresh rye bread” could be a title.
On the Reading/Watching List
I need to catch up on my non-fiction reading, and one place I found a treasure trove was this list of books from Behavioral Scientist. The summer book list has classics like Nudge (Richard Thaler), Influence (Robert Cialdini) and a bunch of new books I haven’t seen. Pick a few from this list and you will learn things you didn’t know before.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
I’m grateful you read this far. Thank you. If you found this useful, consider sharing with a friend.
The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon