Fuel on the run

Great products and brands have one thing in common – they understand the job their customer hires them to do. In technology firms, these jobs are called use cases. While a product might have multiple use cases, it is critical to have one or two killer use cases. One such example of a killer use case “Fuel on the run.”

In our core Marketing course at graduate schools, we studied the 3 killer use cases of McDonalds. One of them was around kids, one was around affordable food and the last one was what we described as “fuel on the run.”

To understand this better, imagine you are at the airport and have 30 minutes to go before your flight. You are hungry and want to grab something quick. It doesn’t have to be something tasty. You just need “fuel.” McDonald’s thrives on people who need a quick pit stop on the go.

It is a use case I relate to a lot because I look for hotcakes and a hashbrown when I’m on a road trip or at an airport. It is the only time I think of McDonald’s and they never fail to deliver.

There’s a lot not to like about McDonald’s. But, there’s also a lot to admire about the way they’ve nailed a simple use case.

The problem with facts

Tim Harford, an economist and writer, wrote a posted called “The Problem with Facts” recently. In it, he explained that fake news isn’t a new idea. The most powerful exponents of fake news were the tobacco industry. If you have a few minutes to spare, the article comes highly recommended.

For years, the tobacco industry sowed doubt about research linking tobacco and lung cancer in the minds of smokers. And, for the most part, succeeded. This has a lot to do with the mindset people are in when they’re reading these facts. If people seek the truth, facts help. If they’re just looking for selective reasoning, facts are useless. In some cases, they can even reinforce the myth.

That brings us to a possible solution. So, here’s the conclusion to the article that shares that.

We know that scientific literacy can actually widen the gap between different political tribes on issues such as climate change — that is, well-informed liberals and well-informed conservatives are further apart in their views than liberals and conservatives who know little about the science. But a new research paper from Dan Kahan, Asheley Landrum, Katie Carpenter, Laura Helft and Kathleen Hall Jamieson explores the role not of scientific literacy but of scientific curiosity.

The researchers measured scientific curiosity by asking their experimental subjects a variety of questions about their hobbies and interests. The subjects were offered a choice of websites to read for a comprehension test. Some went for ESPN, some for Yahoo Finance, but those who chose Science were demonstrating scientific curiosity. Scientifically curious people were also happier to watch science documentaries than celebrity gossip TV shows. As one might expect, there’s a correlation between scientific knowledge and scientific curiosity, but the two measures are distinct.

What Kahan and his colleagues found, to their surprise, was that while politically motivated reasoning trumps scientific knowledge, “politically motivated reasoning . . . appears to be negated by science curiosity”. Scientifically literate people, remember, were more likely to be polarised in their answers to politically charged scientific questions. But scientifically curious people were not. Curiosity brought people together in a way that mere facts did not. The researchers muse that curious people have an extra reason to seek out the facts: “To experience the pleasure of contemplating surprising insights into how the world works.”

So how can we encourage curiosity? It’s hard to make banking reform or the reversibility of Article 50 more engaging than football, Game of Thrones or baking cakes. But it does seem to be what’s called for. “We need to bring people into the story, into the human narratives of science, to show people how science works,” says Christensen.

We journalists and policy wonks can’t force anyone to pay attention to the facts. We have to find a way to make people want to seek them out. Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow. It seems to be one of the only cures for politically motivated reasoning but it’s also, into the bargain, the cure for a society where most people just don’t pay attention to the news because they find it boring or confusing.

What we need is a Carl Sagan or David Attenborough of social science — somebody who can create a sense of wonder and fascination not just at the structure of the solar system or struggles of life in a tropical rainforest, but at the workings of our own civilisation: health, migration, finance, education and diplomacy.

One candidate would have been Swedish doctor and statistician Hans Rosling, who died in February. He reached an astonishingly wide audience with what were, at their heart, simply presentations of official data from the likes of the World Bank.

He characterised his task as telling people the facts — “to describe the world”. But the facts need a champion. Facts rarely stand up for themselves — they need someone to make us care about them, to make us curious. That’s what Rosling did. And faced with the apocalyptic possibility of a world where the facts don’t matter, that is the example we must follow.

What can we do in our lives to have better narratives around facts and enable more scientific curiosity?

Thanks Tim, for an excellent article.

Happiness of pursuit

The pursuit of happiness, while a powerful idea, isn’t phrased right.

One of my favorite all time lessons is a story from when I interviewed venture capitalist Albert Wenger ages ago.

“In my first startup, an internet healthcare startup, we brought in a very experienced management team. I thought that was a great day. Subsequently, it turned out that team, which was very experienced, made some decisions that ultimately led to the demise of the whole thing. It turned out not to be a good day. Conversely, when the deal to buy a software company fell apart, I thought I had a terrible day. I had worked intensely on something for 2 years and it fell apart. That, though, turned out to be one of the best things – I wouldn’t be here doing this with you if the deal had happened. I would be in Cleveland working with that company.

One of the things I have come to learn is that you shouldn’t get too depressed on the downside, or too excited on the upside – just keep plugging away. Eventually, good things happen.”

I’ve shared it a couple of times since to make sure every new group of ALearningaDay readers see this story at least once. It is a classic.

I have thought the story many a time in the past few years as it continues to remind me of something very important – don’t hinge your happiness on outcomes. First, you don’t control outcomes. And, second, you don’t really know if what you wish for is what you need.

So, it isn’t a good idea to pursue happiness because happiness is simply a side effect. It comes when we don’t care about it. Or, as Viktor Frankl eloquently put it, it cannot be pursued. It must ensue.

Engage with life and the people in it. Be the best version of yourself. And, pursue doing good work and making an impact on something that matters.

Happiness ensues from the pursuit.

Fighting the current

We can swim against the current. It just takes more time and a lot more effort.

Every once a while, it is worth fighting the current – to drive change that might otherwise not have happened.

But, it is foolish to make a habit of doing so. We’re better off using currents to our advantage to make progress and using the limited energy and bandwidth we build up to fight it when absolutely necessary.

Learning when and where to apply our limited energy is the truest sign of good judgment.

Your plans and the universe’s plans for you

Someone I know loves sharing this graphic from Doghouse Diaries – Your plans versus the universe’s plans for you.

your plans, universe plans for you

The image is deep and there are many things we can take away from this. So, I thought I’d start Monday by sharing three of my favorite observations.

First, specific outcome plans are useless. So, just get the direction right and commit to a process that’ll help you get started. The middle and end will look very different once you get there.

Second, expect problems. This sounds so elementary. And, yet, problems surprise us far too often. One of my goals is to eliminate complaints from my life. And, the only way to do that is to truly take problems in my stride. So, I have a long way to go here.

Third, more people want you to succeed than you know. Organizational politics and a few bad experiences can color our perspective on this. There is always help – we just need to look for it in the right places. People make our journeys special.

More than anything, this comic reminds us that the universe’s plans for us are generally challenging, learning filled and infinitely more interesting.

Thank you, universe, for that. It is such a privilege to be alive, healthy and to be given the opportunity to make this all count.

Ignaz Semmelweiss and John Leal

When Hungarian scientist Ignaz Semmelweiss noticed that maternity ward doctors were killing more women when they came straight after working with cadavers, he suggested that they should wash their hands, ideally with antiseptics. Sadly, he was endlessly ridiculed for this preposterous idea and died in an insane asylum.

Thanks to research on epidemics like cholera (by John Snow in London), scientists like Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur and better microscopes by the German company Zeiss glass, germ theory finally came to the mainstream. Koch figured out how to measure the amount of bacteria in a sample of water – a huge innovation in public health. Until then, you had to wait to see if less people died after you made a change to the water supply to judge if your experiment was successful.

Then, scientists began experimenting with Chlorine mixed in water – again decried at first. In response, John Leal conducted one of the riskiest experiments in history by adding Chlorine into the New Jersey water supply. He was tried in court as he was initially seen as a madman.

The results, however, proved him right. And, his decision to not patent his innovation makes him among history’s greatest unsung heroes.

“What made John Leal’s actions very noble was the fact that he chose not to patent it. Unencumbered, chlorine adoption spread all over the world. In the US alone, it is estimated to have improved adult mortality by 46% and child mortality by early 70%. One of the givens until then was the high probability of losing a child. The people behind this revolution didn’t get rich or become famous. But, they impacted our lives in incredible ways. ” | Steven Johnson (paraphrased)

Source: How we got to now by Steven Johnson (History of clean water continued from “Raising Chicago by 10 feet“)

Finding great partners

It is hard to find great partners. Here’s a sketch that describes how to think about great partnerships.

1. Make sure you are aligned on the “why” or things that matter most. The first thing to look for is alignment on the “why.” For most people, this is a combination of what you value and what you are motivated to do. It helps to have strong alignment on what you value and an understanding of each others’ motives. This alignment makes or breaks relationships.

2. Common interests help a ton. The biggest challenge with relationships is that we spend a lot of time on “what,” i.e. activities or things we do. This is how most dating is done. Find a common interest and then attempt to find more common interests. While having common interests matters, it only goes so far. The key is to convert that shared understanding of each other through the interest to a really strong understand of the “why.”

That said, there are two reasons why it helps having some common interests. First, common interests are often indicative of stuff that matters. For example, if both of you care a lot about impact to the environment, it is likely that both of you will enjoy the outdoors. Second, common interests are where we generally bond. If you and the co-founder of your start-up enjoy playing tennis, that’s going to be a place you’ll get to know each other a ton.

Note: I’ve focused entirely on the “why” and the “what” and none on the “how.” My sense is that alignment of the “how” doesn’t really matter. In fact, it probably works better if how you both approach things are completely different. Complementary approaches make for strong teams. And, great partners make formidable teams when paired together.

3. It helps a ton if one of you can make the other laugh. Finally, every close relationship experiences ups and downs. And, it helps a lot if both of you keep a sense of humor. And, in these cases, it helps if one of you can make the other laugh.

Then again, humor is just a proxy for perspective. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for perspective in building meaningful relationships over the course of a lifetime.

While this applies just as much to friendship, I’ve focused this on partnerships. We build partnerships with our spouses and a select couple of folks who we build organizations with. These are very special relationships and can be a source of happiness and fulfillment.

So, it helps a ton to learn how to pick partners well. Life, after all, is a team sport.