Tag Archives: ben-casnocha

‘Bit Culture’ and the Benefits of Distraction

The information consumption habits of many in the younger generations–one feature of the ‘Internet information culture’–has many merits, despite its many detractors. So says Ban Casnocha in an article for The American that acts as both a review of Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy and a fairly positive and comprehensive overview of the “bit culture” and its affects on attention and learning.

Casnocha begins with a look at his own media consumption habits (that closely mirrors mine and, no doubt, many of yours, too) and a couple of theories for explaining this style:

The first is economic: when culture is free and a click away, as it is on blogs and Twitter and the broader Internet, we sample broadly and consume it in smaller chunks: “When access is easy, we tend to favor the short, the sweet, and the bitty. When access is difficult, we tend to look for large-scale productions, extravaganzas, and masterpieces,” […]

The second reason is the intellectual and emotional stimulation we experience by assembling a custom stream of bits. Cowen refers to this process as the “daily self-assembly of synthetic experiences.” My inputs appear a chaotic jumble of scattered information but to me they touch all my interest points. When I consume them as a blend, I see all-important connections between the different intellectual narratives I follow […]

When skeptics make sweeping negative claims about how the Web affects cognition, they are forgetting the people whose natural tendencies and strengths blossom in an information-rich environment. Cowen’s overriding point, delivered in a “can’t we all just get along” spirit, is that everyone processes the stimuli of the world differently. Everyone deploys attention in their own way. We should embrace the new tools—even if we do not personally benefit— that allow the infovores among us to perform tasks effectively and acquire knowledge rapidly.

The Benefits of Side Projects

The creation of 3M’s Scotch Tape, the Declaration of Independence and Metallica: just three of the stories Ben Casnocha retells to show the importance of innovation through side projects.

Is giving away a day a week of your employees’ time worth it? Google executives seem to think so. They cite first the enormous goodwill generated internally: “20-percent time sends a strong message of trust to the engineers,” says Marissa Mayer, Google vice president of search products and user experience. Then there is the actual product output which of late includes Google Suggest (auto-filled queries) and Orkut (a social network). In a speech a couple of years ago, Mayer said about 50 percent of new Google products got their start in 20 percent time.

Jack Hipple, a consultant who works with companies on innovation, says corporate support for employees’ natural curiosity can lead to better new product ideas than traditional focus groups: “You have to have some vehicle for side-project time because senior managers or customers don’t know enough about the future to know what’s coming.”

Casnocha notes that not all companies can offer side-project time, especially startups:

There are too many essential tasks that need to get done simply to survive.

Tom Kinnear, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at the University of Michigan, says Google and 3M both could support experimenting after their core products became profitable: “At the outset there are such tight margins it’s hard to allow for side projects. The pressure from your investors to focus, focus, focus is just overwhelming.”

Observations on Dining

Ben Casnocha compiles a list of grievances and observations on “restaurants, tips, and bread baskets”. For example:

If I were a restaurant manager I would spend 30 minutes with each of my waiters explaining the research around how to maximize tips from patrons. For example, leaving a mint with the bill or drawing a smiley face on the bill have been shown to increase tip. Research also suggests that the tip amount is only marginally connected with the actual quality of wait service. Bottom line is that many waiters miss out on easy psychological hacks that would increase their tips.

And this; one of the four rules-of-thumb from Tyler Cowen’s recently updated Ethnic Dining Guide (via Kottke):

Avoid dishes that are “ingredients-intensive.” Raw ingredients in America [and likely the UK, too] – vegetables, butter, bread, meats, etc. – are below world standards. Even most underdeveloped countries have better raw ingredients than we do, at least if you have a U.S. income to spend there, and often even if one doesn’t. Ordering the plain steak in Latin America may be a great idea, but it is usually a mistake in Northern Virginia. Opt for dishes with sauces and complex mixes of ingredients. Go for dishes that are “composition-intensive.”

On Business Books, Self-Education, and Mental Models

I mentioned the Personal MBA Book List last week, and today have come across this interview between Josh Kaufman and Ben Casnocha, author of My Start-Up Life.

Josh runs the Personal MBA Recommended Reading List — a list of the best business books one would need to read for a comprehensive business education. It’s a terrific resource that’s well worth reviewing. In our exchange, we talk about the list of books and whether recently published ones should be excluded, and then meander into the difference between books offering systems / models and practical advice, and conclude on how prominent a role books should play in the self-education process.

Six Habits of Highly Effective Mentees (and My Start-Up Life Excerpts)

Personally and professionally I always thrive to learn. Nine months ago I moved from programming into systems/business analysis: I knew what the job entailed and knew I could do it well. I still asked for a mentor.

Specifically, I asked that my mentor be the person in our organisation who is always lauded as being the most knowledgeable. Being a mentee is not easy.

Six Habits of Highly Effective Mentees is an article written by Ben Casnocha (author of My Start-Up Life) and has renewed my life as a mentee after flagging lately. The habits are:

  1. It’s all about the questions you ask
  2. Have strong beliefs, weakly held
  3. Have a long term perspective
  4. Be open to topics not on your short-term agenda
  5. Follow up by showing interest in them (at least four times a year)
  6. Don’t make the mentor do the work

The Power of Mentors is an excerpt from Ben’s book. I recommend reading it and the others that are available on the book’s site.