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.