#68 Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity
Building blocks of learning & executing
In his brief post on Jonathan Swift, Ankesh attempts to define satire:
1. attacking a point of view
2. with exaggerated wit.
To attack a point of view, you have to compare and contrast. But you do it absurdly to show how crazy it would be to be on the side of the opposition.
The formula to be satirical
1. Pinpoint the struggles and the frustrations. The problems of the people.
2. Advice on doing the exact opposite to solve those frustrations.
I did not find a simpler explanation anywhere, so sharing it with you as well. We’ve a lot to cover today, so let’s get to it right away.
1. Standard Operating Procedures
In most companies, you will hear the word SOP (standard operating procedure) as a defense against trying anything creative. We all emphasize on one critical aspect of SOPs - they help drive standardization and reduce variability. But that’s not it. They are also tools to help streamline the operations by creating visibility & structure on repeatable stuff. This helps expand the execution machinery. Training times can be reduced., backups can take over at necessary times, quality errors can be minimized - there are many benefits that can be extracted if one designs and uses the SOPs in the right way.
They are like the code blocks that can power the automation in any system. And like any good code blocks, they need to be designed mindfully. In this post, Matt Treacey covers some important aspects of SOPs. The following two stand out for me:
The Off-the-Street Test: All SOPs should strive to pass the “off-the-street test.” That is, someone should be able to come off the street (with basic qualifications for their position) and be able to follow the SOP’s simple instructions to complete the process successfully.
A good rule of thumb when writing SOPs is to not assume previous knowledge or experience from the reader. Write to a completely ignorant audience, with zero assumed knowledge. Everything should be obvious and logical. Use simple language and be as clear as possible.
98% Perfection: It’s not worth the painstaking effort to get your SOPs to 100%, but each SOP should be good enough to consistently achieve high quality process completion.
2. Lego - the world of dreams & possibilities
10th Aug was Lego group’s 90th birthday. I played with a lego-like building block when I was a kid. I guess, many of us had one of those. It had instructions for 2 or 3 house designs. I made them meticulously (sometimes matching the instructions brick by brick) and put them in the ‘showcase’ in our living room. When I was adventurous, I would try making something different. The set had only so many pieces, and my imagination stretched only so much.
Post my graduation (in fact, post my MBA) I got another glimpse of this world of Lego. And this is much bigger and more exciting than what I experienced in childhood. There is history, art, physics and lots of passion in this world. Morning Brew had shared a cool bunch of trivia & references to celebrate this 90th birthday. Let’s enjoy it:
The name Lego is derived from a combination of the Danish words “leg godt,” which translate to “play well.”
Lego manufactures more tires than any other company. In 2012, it said that nearly half of its sets include a wheel of some sort.
Here’s some other interesting stories from the Lego world.
Lego bricks are universal. A brick you buy now will interlock with one you have laying around from 1958. Here’s the design patent for the lego block if you are keen to know more on this. This website has a good post on the geometry of Lego bricks.
Those minifigures are an elaborate work of design & precision engineering. Check this post from ScanOfTheMonth decoding it using CT scans.
3. From one data scientist to another
This one is from DJ Patil’s commencement speech to graduating class of data scientists at UC San Diego given in 2020. His post has the notes of the 12 minute long talk.
Following note card from during his stint in the White House as the U.S. Chief Data Scientist. The three part message is great advice for any builder. He had shared a brief story behind the origin of this card. It’s worth reading, you will appreciate their beauty even more.
Another quote that I loved - “Security is like air, you know you only need it when you don’t have it.” I have used a similar idea for customer experience & design. So true!
4. Engaging headlines
Email subject lines have a lot of influence on the reader’s choice of opening the email. I’ve tried many styles to write the subject line for these emails. One style that has served the longest is to use a quote. These quotes can be insightful or inspirational or provocative but not cringy. That’s my way to ensure that a reader can take away one small learning, even if they don’t bother to open the email itself. In reality,I'm not sure if I’m doing it correctly, but I like it this way for now.
Articles and banner headlines face a similar kind of challenge as well. They have to excite the audience sufficiently to pull them into the main content. Marketing Examined shared a good primer on how to write engaging headlines.
If you’re into writing marketing copies, then this can be a good resource for you. Even if you’re not, the learnings can be useful in your writing (especially when you’re giving titles for your email, slides etc)
5. Side projects
Ben Stokes tries to answer a simple observation from recent times - Why are developers building so many side projects?
He gives some fairly simple yet relatable reasons. In some ways, these reasons represent a choice that today’s creators are making. Here’s a quick summary in Ben’s word:
Whether it’s the desire to create, learn, or get rich, it all comes down to a fundamental change happening with how developers view their projects. You used to put side projects on a CV to land a career in tech. Now, side projects can be your career in tech.
I’ve not done many side projects (maybe this newsletter can count as one), but I loved this articulation and would love to be in this position.
“The only reason I made all these projects is because I have zero good ideas. So, I better just start making stuff until I figure out a good one. … I think my goal is to have one business that is really big. I’m planting lots of different seeds to help me find the one big project that I really like.”
6. Baseball’s only mud supplier
The mudding of a “pearl” — a pristine ball right out of the box — has been baseball custom for most of the last century, ever since a journeyman named Lena Blackburne presented the mud as an alternative to tobacco spit and infield dirt, which tended to turn the ball into an overripe plum.
Consider what this means: That Major League Baseball — a multi-billion-dollar enterprise applying science and analytics to nearly every aspect of the game — ultimately depends on some geographically specific muck collected by a retiree with a gray ponytail, blurry arm tattoos and a flat-edged shovel.
That gray ponytail person is Jim Bintliff. This piece from the New York Times shares many fascinating stories from his life and this dying ritual of mudding.
7. Everything else
Some random goodness from the internet:
Instagram: Greg Abandoned (@gregabandoned) explores abandoned places and takes pictures to share it with the world. And to make it even more exciting (or frustrating, whichever way you want to see it) it doesn’t share the location.
Web: The stray shopping cart project (I don’t have words to describe this)
Before we sign off, here’s a quick English lesson.
That's all for this week, folks!
If you enjoyed this post, show your love by commenting and liking it. I write this newsletter to share what I learnt from others. If you learnt something from this today, why not share it with a couple of your friends to continue this chain?
Credits: Today’s post title is a quote by Simone Weil, as discovered in Dense Discovery #201