Compound Interest on your curiosity

Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe published a list of questions occupying his mind when he’s not running a 40B+ payments startup. These are very specific, diverse areas of interest, where he noticed the world should be working better than it is.

Why do there seem to be more examples of rapidly-completed major projects in the past than the present?, Why are so many things so much nicer in Switzerland and Japan? Will end-user applications ever be truly programmable? If so, how? What does religion cause?

See the full list on Patrick’s site

People are born curious learning machines – just look at any child! They can find a rock fascinating and worthy of all sorts of experiments to the dismay of their parents trying to make it on time.

Grown-ups are quite curious too. What will happen in the next season of The Mandalorian? Did the politician really say THAT? I wonder what’s for dinner…

All in all, the child’s curiosity is more valuable – it serves them to build the model of the world to use later in life. Somehow the society has managed to direct this innate curiosity to the things that serve this or another media organization. Even in school, being a curious explorer is frowned upon, because it does not fit the curriculum.

There is good news: you can set a rough direction of your explorations! By being more explicit about what you are interested in, you can have a purposeful direction. By being consistent in your pursuits, you can build knowledge over time and focus your effort on what matters to you.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s to-do lists

In Leonardo Da Vinci’s biography by Walter Isaacson, we can learn the curiosity lists of the original polymath:

‘Observe the goose’s foot: if it were always open or always closed the creature would not be able to make any kind of movement.’ (…) ‘Why is the fish in the water swifter than the bird in the air when it ought to be the contrary since the water is heavier and thicker than the air?’ (…). ‘Describe the tongue of the woodpecker,’ he instructs himself.

We tend to think of curiosity as an unbridled, raw, and passionate act of pursuing immediate urges. But as both successful artists and long-married couples can tell you: raw and passionate acts of pursuing immediate urges do not constitute a great long-term strategy. By having a research plan, you benefit from compound interest on your curiosity.

Feynman’s 12 Favourite Problems

“Richard Feynman was fond of giving the following advice on how to be a genius. You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, ‘How did he do it? He must be a genius!”

Gian-Carlo Rota, Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught

By having specific areas of interest, Feynman could integrate new learnings with his prior knowledge. More than that, he primed his attention to be alert to anything regarding those problems. He had only 12 of them – instead of doing frantic research „just in case,” he would have only 12 specific angles to consider. He could harness both the power of specificity and diversity because a dozen is not a tiny number.

My Bucketlist

List-making powers of guiding serendipity are not limited to intellectual pursuits. Years ago, I published a bucket list on my blog – partly to brag a little, but mainly to motivate myself to do stuff I knew I love, but somehow neglect to pursue.

When I land in a new country, and there’s no pandemic, the first thing I consult is my bucket list – it nudged me to attend The Grand Tea Ceremony in Tokyo or try a croissant-making class in Paris. Without it, I’d just Google „things to do in…” and just tick off the usual attractions with the crowds.

But the real power of intentional lists is their serendipity potential. When my wife and I were traveling through Thailand, the company we work for needed support for a conference in India. My friend Rahul spotted on my blog that I always wanted to drive a Royal Enfield – an Indian Harley-Davidson through the mountains.

When I landed in Udaipur, he handed me the keys with a big smile on his face. But… He did not expect that I’ve never driven a motorcycle before.

I was too scared to snap a photo while driving amidst cows and hills, so this is what you get.

Well, now I have.

Having a long-running list of questions, goals, and dreams will nudge you during those idle moments towards the outcome of your choice. Instead of random browsing, you can become an expert on the topics that are relevant to you.

Tomorrow is my first Wind Surfing lesson, bucketlist Item #63. This is what Deliberate life is all about.

How to start your own podcast on WordPress.com

This is a story of how I started a podcast, in 3 hours (apart from waiting for iTunes verification), with a total cost of $5/month. And that included my own domain name! I share detailed instructions on launching a brand new podcast on WordPress, and later promoting it on iTunes and Spotify.

Why would you want to start a podcast?

Podcasting has been hailed “the new blogging”. According to Edison Research, 51% of Americans have ever listened to a podcast and the medium use has grown 122% since 2014. Listening to a conversation creates a deeper connection and for some, it is more entertaining than the written word.

Together, with a group of Polish bloggers, we were dreaming about a foray into podcasting. We created Placebo Podcast in hopes of meeting interesting people and frankly – having fun.

The title reads “Your dose of absolutely nothing. Confirmed clinical efficacy”

What are the benefits of podcasting?

  • You can connect with your audience on a much deeper level thanks to your voice and the unscripted nature of the conversation,
  • It is a fantastic excuse to reach out and meet interesting people,
  • Interviewing people can help you practice listening skills

How does it all work?

You may have listened to a podcast on iTunes, Spotify or another app. But did you know that the content you are enjoying does not originate there?

The beating heart of every podcast is it’s RSS feed. It is a particular format of new blog content that other services – like iTunes or Spotify can consume and display in the appropriate apps, Alexa devices and various services.

To start a podcast, you need a blog. Then you submit it’s RSS feed to podcast services – like iTunes or Spotify.

Enter WordPress.com

What is the easiest way to start a blog? With WordPress.com you can be finished in 10 minutes. You don’t have to worry about hosting, hackers, FTP, GIT, NSA, and other scary 3-letter acronyms. The service has been around for more than 10 years and you don’t have to watch out for ground shifting under your feet. You own your domain and can take it to any competitor.

WordPress.com has built-in podcasting tools, and you can read about how to embark on an audio journey here. You can set up the site for free, but to upload audio files, you need to upgrade to “Personal” plan ( currently $5/month ).

Full transparency: I work for the parent company (Automattic) on an unrelated product line. I was motivated to check out how our podcasting offering works.

These instructions will also work if you have your own installation of WordPress, on your own host. Once you set up a site, and connect a domain – the following tutorial should be similar.

What do you need to start?

  1. Settle upon a memorable and distinctive name,
  2. Record at least three episodes, so when you are published on iTunes, your listeners will have a better taste of your style,
  3. Edit them with intro and outro so that your listeners can recognize your work. Also, if they listen to a standalone episode, it’s good to explain to them what your whole podcast is about and ask them to subscribe,
  4. Make sure iTunes and Spotify present a fetching cover art so that it is easily recognizable on the list of podcasts,
  5. Make sure your episodes have a place to live, where you can connect with your listeners, posts notes, etc – that is your site!,
  6. You have to submit your podcast to iTunes podcasts, Spotify and Google Play. Majority of podcast listeners use one of these services, so you have to meet them where they are,
  7. Promote, promote, promote,
  8. Keep recording!

The name

The name of your podcast will help your listeners find you in their favourite podcasting app. Making it memorable was our main goal and trying to be somewhat humorous was the second. We came up with “Placebo – podcast with a confirmed clinical efficacy”.

Cover art

People will consume your amazing podcast through an app. You have only a few places to stand out:

  • Cover art
  • Summary
  • Title

Cover art should be simple and easy to recognize. Since my podcast is named Placebo, some kind of satirical medical vibe would be best. One of my co-podcasters had a Shutterstock account, where we found a nice graphic. After a few tweaks, tada!

Cover art should have 1400×1400 px, so remember to find big enough image

The summary

Itunes limits the summary to 250 characters, so you have to distill the description of your intended content. We wanted to give listeners a taste and encourage them to give us a listen.

We also made sure to link to our site, where they can learn more.

Podcasting Settings on WordPress.com are located here.

How do you record? Do you have fancy gear?

Sign up to get Deliberate Internet straight to your inbox

I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

Please wait, we are contacting the carrier pigeons...

Thank you for sign up! Now please head on to your inbox to confirm your email address.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

I have some good news and some bad news for you. Good news:

You don’t need fancy gear!

Bad news:

You have no excuse to keep browsing podcasting gear.

You should get to work right away. Here is what we do:

My podcasting friends live in different cities, so we decided to record our podcast in a distributed fashion.

We are using zoom.us, a teleconferencing software similar to Skype. Because our meetings have 3 participants, we are limited to 40 minutes if we want to keep using the free version. We embraced this limitation – 40 minutes of listening to me can drive anybody mad.

The audio will travel through the magic portals of the Internet to the meeting hosts’ computer, where it will be recorded. After wrapping up, we have a recording to publish. If you decide to go this route, I have a few tips for you:

  • Buy some decent (not fancy) microphone. I am using Sennheiser SC-160. Just don’t use the earbuds you got with your phone
  • Jump on a quick call before you start recording to make sure the audio is ok
  • Turn off video if you want to save transfer for better sound. Video tends to steal from audio quality
  • Remember to press record! You don’t want to have the most exciting conversation in the history of conversations only to find out you never captured it. Or maybe you do – in which case podcasting may not be a good fit.

After you finish your zoom call, you will have a file `audio_only.m4a`.

Here is how you can edit using most basic tools

Photo by Adam Sherez on Unsplash

What is the best tool? The one you already have. My Mac came with GarageBand preinstalled, so I decided to stick with it. There is now a plethora of fancy podcast-editing setups, but this is just a fun session with friends, not money-making business recording.

Podcast editing in Garage Band

  1. Get your audio logo. This will be the piece of music that will evoke memories of your other episodes and make sure listeners recognize you. I purchased a one for $10, but there are sites with free music you can download,
  2. Fire off Garageband, with a new “Voice” project,
  3. Record your intro. We decided that intro should give a taste what is in the episode and entice the listeners to give it a try,
  4. Record your outro. After the episode, we want to convince the listeners to try other episodes or check out more on our sites. We recorded outro once and reuse it on all episodes.
  5. Now you can overlay your audio logo with your intro and outro.
    1. Drag audio logo file to Garageband
    2. To create nice transitions and regulate audio levels, Select Mix->Automate and select “Volume” from the menu that just appeared under your audio track.
    3. Now clicking on your audio track will create a graph that will help you create fade in and out
  6. Drop your recording file, adjust the volume
  7. Export the audio file
  8. To make sure iTunes presents your image next to the episode as well, you have to edit what is called ID3 tags. The easiest way to do this is iTunes. Select your file, click “information”

After you edit the information in iTunes, upload your cover art and click OK, your episode will appear in iTunes Podcast library. You can find this file in your Home Directory / Music / iTunes / Podcasts

Uploading to WordPress

On WordPress.com, each episode of your podcast will be a separate WordPress post. You will have a unique link to share with your audience, a way for them to listen to your episode without the app and the place to share notes and links to the episode.

To start a new podcast episode:

  1. Write a post with the notes
  2. Upload your audio file as an „Audio” block
  3. Add the post to the „Podcast” category.

This guide on WordPress.com support has more details.

Making sure everything is proper

Maybe it is my scout upbringing ( “be prepared” ), but I like to double-check things. I recommend submitting your podcast feed to a service like https://podba.se/validate/ .

The online validator will do a few checks and reassure you that you are ready to submit your podcast to iTunes or Spotify.

Time to go live

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

Let’s recap:

  1. You have your domain and a site for your podcast,
  2. You recorded a few episodes, gave them intro and an outro,
  3. Uploaded them and published on your site,
  4. Checked your podcast feed and everything is working

Now it’s time to publish your podcast to the world!

As I mentioned, majority of people consume podcasts through an app. Be it iTunes podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, etc. Fortunately, they all work by checking your RSS feed. After you submit it to those services, your podcasting magic will work seamlessly!

Spotify

  1. Go to Podcasters Spotify
  2. Submit your RSS feed
  3. Wait about 2-3 days for your podcast to show up

iTunes

  1. Go to Podcasts Connect

After your podcast is reviewed and approved in the libraries, remember to publish those links on your site. That way you will be able to promote your beautiful WordPress.com domain and when somebody visits your site, they will be able to choose their preferred podcast consuming technology. We put these buttons right up at the top:

You can download these buttons here:

Promote, promote, promote!

As you can see, publishing a podcast is not hard. That means a lot of people can do it – and indeed, they do. The number of podcasts is exploding, and that is a good thing – more and more quality content (like yours) will be created.

But it also means more competition.

You will have to promote your podcast on Social Media or meet with other podcasters to appear on their shows. I do plan on doing that myself, and I will share my findings.

Keep recording

Now that you have everything set up, whenever you publish a new post with the audio file, it will automatically be picked up by iTunes and Spotify.

Your listeners will marvel at your brilliance, and advertisers will fly bags of money directly into your mansion so you can fill up your Jacuzzi with $100 bills.

Or, you end up like me, with about ten people listening to you 🙂

Good luck!

The price of free time: programmer’s guide to helping a Non-profit

Congratulations! You have decided to help out a Non-Profit. Full of energy, and good intentions, you have embarked on a journey to use your professional skills to help a cause.

It’s a win-win: Surely, with a better website / CRM / tech, they will be able to help a few more people. You, on the other hand, will meet interesting folk, do something purposeful (as opposed to optimizing button colors at your day job), and learn a few things.

Here is what you need to know to not go insane:

The benefits of helping a Non-profit

You probably have personal reasons to help a Non-profit. Working on hard problems with friends is one of the most fulfilling things you can do with your life. If you are not working on a world-changing startup and you need a respite from the drudgery of corporate existence, a Non-Profit may be your best next bet – the purpose and mission are plentiful.

Non-profits are also a great place to meet interesting, like-minded people. Working side-by-side you can make real friends and create deeper connections, than you would build by exchanging the latest plots of TV shows over coffee at work.

But there also are powerful benefits directly translating to your career.

My entire programming journey started from helping a Non-profit – a scout team I was a part of. I made my first website in 1998, graduated to building one for dad’s business, and later launched a WordPress web agency. Now I work at WordPress.com, periodically reporting to the creator of WordPress himself. During that journey, I helped my high school, a local TEDx chapter, and a non-profit supporting remote work.

Working on projects is the best way to learn – you get to experiment with real-world problems and you get to try out different approaches and fail; building that tacit knowledge that makes one an expert.

Since you are not paid for your contributions, there is a shared understanding of what can be expected of you in a Non-Profit. You have a mandate to play a little, try out things your way, and goof off. To further boost learning, it feels more like play than work, encoding the knowledge much more effectively.

The traps

As with everything in life, the downsides are directly correlated to the upsides. Yes, in a Non-Profit, you can be a bit unpredictable and inexperienced. It does not feel like work and you get a breather from a corporate feel of a professional workplace.

But guess what – other people get to do that too. If you have just reserved a weekend to finish that signup page, and the people preparing the copy (texts) decided to be unprofessional – it suddenly becomes a problem.

The Hero’s (that’s you) Journey

Let’s assume you volunteered to create a website for your favorite Non-profit. Don’t be surprised, if the whole process goes like this:

  1. You start full of energy and ideas.
  2. The non-profit is eager to launch a new website because they have project X coming up.
    Project X is the most important thing, and the website (meaning you) is a blocker.
  3. You jump straight into work! You cannot be a blocker, right? You ramp up and are ready to implement the most important piece.
  4. The texts and promotional materials are not ready, despite previous promises.
  5. You try to work around these requirements – project X is most important, right?
  6. You get a call. It seems that the “About the Team” page is most important now.
  7. Let’s do a photoshoot for the Team!
  8. You still don’t have materials for project X, but you got 10 pages of UI corrections, including a bigger logo, different button colors, and some creative ideas about the slider.
  9. You start implementing those changes, still have no materials about project X.
  10. Wait, there are changes to the changes now. Can you revert to the old button color?
  11. Sometime, after a few weeks, we finally got the Project X page to work.
    The placeholder photos you chose are still there.
    “About the Team” page that got 3 meetings, photoshoot, and 12 hours of your time has gotten a total of 100 visitors this month.

Things to watch out in a Non-profit

The price of free time

Professional environments have learned a long time ago, that time is money. If everybody is salaried, the easiest way to turn a profit is to stop wasting people’s time. The correlation is clear and obvious.

I do realize that corporate environments waste mindblowing eons of their employees’ time. This is due to the scale. Big organisms being less nimble is a law of physics called inertia.

Non-profits, however, have a peculiar relationship with money. They are called Non-Profits. Duh! They get funded through donations, grants, and sometimes sales – but they are incentivized not to run a tight operation. Volunteers’ time is treated as free, so wastefulness is not controlled. It’s up to you to say no, which is hard because non-profits attract precisely the people least likely to defend their time.

It’s everybody else’s side-gig, too

As I mentioned – you can learn, and experiment with new techniques and approaches. But other people do too. If your work depends on graphic design, don’t be surprised when the designer comes up with something out-of-the-box, which naturally will be harder for you to implement, than the run-of-the-mill website.

Other people, like you, will cut corners. The designer has a family to feed, probably a day job and the thing called life. She can’t check every resolution, think about dimensions of headlines when you cram 100 characters in a title and give the proper attention to everything.

Last, but not least – without salary, recognition becomes the currency. Don’t be surprised, that “about the team” is treated as the most important page on the entire website (even if the visitors don’t care) – this is the equity paid to volunteers. Being paid with recognition also drives some folk to seek more of that compensation – they will contribute to discussions, where they have not much expertise nor understanding. These are perfect bikeshedding conditions. Beware.

Sign up to get Deliberate Internet straight to your inbox

I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

Please wait, we are contacting the carrier pigeons...

Thank you for sign up! Now please head on to your inbox to confirm your email address.

Non-profits are passion-driven

Most non-profits have a mission to fix a particular problem in the world. Hunger, poor education, lack of equality, climate change – these are all areas society is failing at and non-profits are stepping in to help.

Many people are driven to work on these problems because they feel strongly about putting up with the collective screwups of society. Non-profits tend to attract people who approach most of the problems with passion and purpose, with no patience for tedious reasoning.

This leads to: 

Passion-driven-project-management

  • Urgency is the sole method of prioritization. Things are made urgent to ensure their completion, not because they actually are time-sensitive.
  • Since urgency=priority, the priorities are fluid over time.
  • Yesterday’s priority is forgotten today because somebody who feels more strongly comes in with more passion.
  • Flashy things are more important than fulfilling the initial purpose. If you are working on a website, prepare for multiple CTAs.

Non-profit survival techniques

These techniques helped me stay sane while working within a few organizations.

  1. Find a senior member of the organization to “report to”. Ideally somebody with corporate experience, and some tenure inside the Non-Profit. You don’t want to report to a committee.
  2. Never agree to do anything ASAP. Chances are, that before you get to it – the original request will change or be forgotten. Save yourself the revert.
    Bonus points for batching change requests into sprints.
  3. They will promise you texts, materials, and whatever else you’ll need. You WILL NOT get them on time. Plan accordingly.
  4. Record yourself changing stuff in the interface – this will be a good v1 for documentation so that everyone else can implement tiny changes themselves
  5. If you are creating a website – for goodness sake, use WordPress. It will save you from reinventing the wheel.
    1. With WP, you have ready tutorials to send people to, so you don’t have to fix every typo yourself. Chances are, that other folks have WP experience too.
    2. The next person dealing with the system will know what to do with it.
  6. Use a ready template, don’t work with an empty canvas.
    Yes, it will be less original than a custom-made design, but you will be able to get off the ground and focus on what’s important – content and functionality. You have no idea how many tiny details come together to make a template work.
    Implementing custom design without an hourly rate will lead to an endless back-and-forth on every detail. It costs them nothing to throw in another change.
    The constraints of an existing template work in your favor.
  7. Every statement you hear will be over-hyped – it’s a function of passion-driven project management. You have to do the mental math of halving the emotional charge of all statements.
  8. Remember to have fun. Despite unreasonable requests, the people you are working with are probably quite awesome. Don’t forget that, and schedule some time to meet them as people – not vendors of website updates.

Working in a Non-Profit is a process of realizing that the corporate environment has its advantages and lessons to teach you as well.

Coming to work on Monday to a well-oiled machine, where every cog (including you) is humming nicely, where the work flows seamlessly through the paths of well-established processes, where everything has its place is a refreshing experience. Of course, sometime around Wednesday you are sick of it all, yearning for the freedom and creativity you get to enjoy in your organization.

Overprotecting your creation hurts you the most

How can I ensure my customer won’t share the video they purchased? Can I protect the PDF I sell to be shared only once? How can I lock my daughter in a high tower, so that no worldly harm befalls her?

The tension between sharing our creations and being paid was always tricky. But the digital world adds another layer of complexity – your creations can be copied and distributed also after the purchase, keeping you out of the loop of future profits.

A natural instinct is to seek the answer in the technology that permitted sharing in the first place – can I protect the content I sold, so that only the customer has access to it?

Yes, but you shouldn’t. Over-protecting your content focuses on extraction over providing value. Here are 10 reasons why (Digital Rights Management)[1] DRMs are a bad idea:

1 – It is just impossible to prevent sharing

Trying to effectively protect content against sharing is like fighting against skilled guerilla units in the digital jungle. Sure, you can deploy your defenses, but they will always find a sneaky way around them while you drain your resources.

  • You will use streaming service to gate-keep your videos, They can use a project similar to `youtube-dl` to download any video file.
  • You will block downloading images on the page, they can just take a screenshot.
  • You can password protect a PDF, they can use a „virtual printer” to generate a new, open one.

If you give a customer any way to access the content, that way can also be used to copy that content and/or record it.

This is a fundamental feature of the Internet. Content is meant to be easily reproducible and shared. The only way to win is to make it easier and more compelling to pay.

2 – You are treating your customer like a thief

Imagine if visiting your friend was like going through airport security. Did you bring any liquids? What’s that in your backpack? Oh no, your belongings are 300 grams too heavy, better pay for extra luggage!

Jumping through DRM hoops is sending a clear message to all your customers:

We don’t trust you. You have to go through this process because we think you may steal something. We’re watching you.

This message gets sent whenever a person who decided to pay you opens their purchase. It’s your biggest fans’ first experience with your product.

3 – People who steal are not your customers

Do you have a portrait of your ideal customer?

Is it a teenager sitting in a warez bulletin board all day and polishing his torrent workflow? If not – why are you focusing on them?

People who download loads of content are not used to paying for it. When they won’t be able to find a free copy of your content – they will steal from your competitor or resign before they open their wallets.

And if you don’t know who your ideal customer is – maybe you should focus on that.

4 – But they may become them

Sure Artur – but what about when somebody buys something and then gives away to all their friends?

  1. What do you think about sharing books? Borrowing a blender? Some sharing is healthy and natural.
  2. It actually benefits you.

Bootleg content is a customer acquisition mechanism.

The most successful Internet entrepreneurs build sophisticated sales funnels. For example, they would have many interactions with the customer before they buy:

  1. A visitor interested in your field finds your article online.
  2. After the second article, they sign up for your email list.
  3. You provide consistent value and build up trust.
  4. After a few months, you release a product and the follower becomes a customer.
  5. Profit.

Even if they try to “convert” their friends to trust you too, the friend lacks the relationship you have built. They didn’t receive your emails and they didn’t laugh at your corny jokes.

Demonstrating the full value of intellectual property requires giving it away. Once the friend sees the value you provide, they will either:

  1. Be blown away by the quality.
  2. Decide it’s not for them and they will never be your customer.

Both of these outcomes are ideal for you and save you considerable time in the signup funnel and marketing.

This is what trial period and discounts aim to accomplish, but they have side-effects. When you repeatedly discount, customers start treating the lower price as the ‘real’ one, and value the product less because ‘it must not be worth the full price’. Keeping a blind eye to questionable behavior gives you a way out. You can demonstrate how valuable your product is, without discounts that lead to price erosion.

People who “sneak onboard” often become customers themselves – and even the most loyal ones! The converted always are.

5 – You are making it hard to enjoy your content.

Open standards empower creators to build new tools or use the content in unpredictable ways. Things are better connected. These are the core assumptions under which the Internet was built. You will not be able to predict all the weird, fantastic, and inspiring ways your content will be accessed.

  • I may read your PDF on an iPad, iPhone, Android tablet, Kindle, or printed out,
  • I frequently save workout or yoga videos to watch while being offline in the garden or on the road,
  • I like to read the text in my Pocket or Kindle apps.

Any sort of „protection” breaks my ways of consuming your content and often makes it useless for me. Sometimes enough to give up on something I have paid for (and that is the reason I stopped doing yoga, your honor).

Sign up to get Deliberate Internet straight to your inbox

I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

Please wait, we are contacting the carrier pigeons...

Thank you for sign up! Now please head on to your inbox to confirm your email address.

6 – You are blocking people with disabilities from accessing it at all.

I can manage the inconvenience with some grumbling – however, not everybody has that luxury. Tools that people with disabilities rely on are by nature incompatible with any sort of content protection schemes. Content protection’s entire purpose is restricting access to the narrow subset of users and use cases.

Mind you, that you yourself will join those “people with disabilities”. You will get older, lose a little clarity in your vision, and suddenly the new sexy apps developed by 20-year olds in their glass palaces will become confusing and unusable.

Helping my grandparents navigate the changing digital landscape is a sad and sobering experience. Any additional hoop that you make them jump through may render your content inaccessible.

7 – You are turning your creation into a commodity

The best online businesses rely on fostering the relationship between you and your customers. You share some free content, they are more receptive to trust you with their hard-earned money. It’s a dance of mutual respect and the first sale is only a part. If they like what you are doing, they will return for more, or even support you financially.

DRM software turns this delicate relationship into buying a sack of coal under the watchful gaze of security. Not even a fistful too much! You are being watched.

You are signaling to your customer that this is a purely monetary transaction. They are not entitled to even sharing your work with a friend, because they would be violating rules ?. Oh, the rules.

8 – Are you really losing anything?

If you are selling digital products, what is your marginal cost? How much do you pay to create another copy of your PDF, video, software?

When your content is being shared, it is not stealing. You don’t lose your income whenever somebody downloads a copy. As I mentioned – people who are likely to download illegal copies of your work are either never going to be your customers, or they will because they had a peek.

9 – What is your true motivation for blocking the content?

What is the core motivation for trying to protect your piece? Is it some misplaced sense of justice or is it legitimately best for your customer?

If that content truly makes you proud and you believe it would help them – what is the best outcome if the customer does not want to pay? Is this motivation coming from a place of fear?

  • Fear of your work being „not good enough” to pay for?
  • Fear of the offer not being compelling enough?
  • Fear of not having enough paying customers to make it all worthwhile?

Fear is not a good place to create amazing content people are going to love. This mindset will drag you down and prevent you from soaring into creative skies.

10 – What do you choose to believe about people?

Do you really want to believe that people are only waiting for an opportunity to steal? Or do you want to trust them to appreciate the value you provide?

What can you do instead

  1. Focus on the relationship with the customer. I have written a little more about it in Your product is either hospitality or a commodity.
    I believe that all kinds of digital goods will be commoditized sooner or later. The only “moat” you can build is the customers’ trust.
  2. Put the energy you would spend on DRM into innovation and creating new products. Once your old one gets shared, you should be already releasing a new one.
    Subscriptions are an effective form of protection here – instead of sharing your content once, you drip the value to the customer – and they see the benefits of paying you.
  3. Sell more. Get more paying customers – after all, it’s about how many customers choose to pay you, not how many choose not to.
  4. Raise prices. Focus on the customer who is not driven to pay less, but the one who is driven to get more value. Paradoxically, more expensive products get downloaded less.

Now go, create, and sell.

Coronavirus and working from home – a primer to get your team started

This post is a crash course on Remote Work for a smaller team that is forced into this reality by COVID-19. I am linking some all-encompassing tutorials at the end. This post is meant to get you started with the basic ideas of remote work in 15 minutes.

Switching to a remote environment will take work and won’t be ideal in the beginning. Remote work requires shifting mindsets, and people are not great at that. But you have no other choice. I am using terms “Remote Work” and “Work from Home” interchangeably in this post, because to slow the spread of the virus, your colleagues should stay at home.

Who am I? I am leading a remote team in a company that has been distributed for 10+ years. We have 1200 employees in 76 countries. These are practical tips I learned there.

What’s the deal?

COVID-19 ( / Coronavirus / SARS-CoV-2 ) is an exceptionally infectious virus that can spread „by air.” A long incubation period means that people will infect others before they even realize they are feeling unwell. The virus has already spread to the majority of the world’s countries (a primer on the virus here).

That means a couple of things:

  • One employee can infect the entire office by coughing into the coffee cup cabinet
  • In fact, everybody can be infected right now and not show any symptoms
  • People are stressed with the situation and will be reluctant to work effectively. Most likely, they will be sitting in your office, browsing Twitter, reading up on the virus, and freaking out.
  • The most effective tool we have available right now to cope with the Coronavirus fallout is to slow the spread.

We are pretty sure that hospitals won’t be able to deal with all the cases once we reach pandemic levels. 80% of cases are relatively mild, but 5% requires intensive care. Approximately 1% of people who catch the virus die.

As The Economist has put it: „Flattening the spike of the epidemic means that health systems are less overwhelmed, which saves lives.”

What can YOU do?

If you are a small business owner or a team lead, you need to get on that Remote Work bus ASAP. The most responsible choice you can make is to let your employees work remotely.

  • They will minimize the risk of getting infected during the commute in your office
  • If (god forbid) they get infected, they won’t pass that on to everybody else while sharing a donut
  • They will be able to take care of the loved ones if it comes to that
  • You will help slow down the progress of infections in society.

“To minimize risk, stay home if you can. This may mean canceling meetings, working remotely, or skipping a conference (if it hasn’t been canceled already).” – „How to work during pandemic”

How seriously should you take this?

This is a sample of companies that have closed down entire offices in light of the Coronavirus:

Ok, what is this Remote Work?

I am going to explain to you four pillars of remote work and recommend you another four tools to start doing it ASAP.

If your work happens in front of a computer, it can happen remotely. Yes, face-to-face interaction is the best way to transmit complex ideas, details of the tasks, hilarious jokes, and deadly viruses.

We now have fantastic technology for all of the above except viruses. These tools have been used for a while now – Remote Work was exploding even before the SARS-CoV-2.

 

4 Pillars of Remote Work.

Asynchronous work

Remote work is by design asynchronous. People will take tasks, post updates, have discussions, and go to focus on new tasks.

You can try to keep everybody in sync all the time, but this is exhausting, frustrating, and futile. You won’t know what they are doing at their homes or if they are checking Facebook, and you need to make peace with that.

Newsflash: They probably check Facebook at your office as well.

The biggest challenge with asynchronous work is that you may be blocked by someone else’s task. But you can plan around that – think of what you will need tomorrow and have started working on it today.

It’s challenging but worth it. When you see in the same office, it’s easy to hide inefficiency by looking busy. Remote environment strips that facade, and you are left to confront the reality of your management style.

Making sure nobody is blocked is the biggest challenge as a manager. It will take practice and yield exceptional rewards.

The takeaway is:

Instead of worrying about what your people are doing right this second, try to slice the work so that they can work on pieces independently. And let them have their lunch.

Intrinsic motivation

You can’t just walk in, scold people and control what they do. When you do that online, they can just run away from the computer. You don’t want that. Instead, you want your people to be challenged by the work or at least see the value of it. It’s surprisingly easy – we all want to be useful, challenged and learn new skills.

Remember to provide enough context and give them input into the details of what you need done. You are not as smart as you think, and your employees may be more capable than you imagine.

Takeaway:

They want to do a good job. Let them do a good job.

Communication

Communicate a lot. A massive chunk of what you want to say will be lost in text, and even video calls help only to a certain extent. You will say one thing, and your team will understand something completely different. It’s easier to spot that in person.

Double-check, over-communicate, and write things down. If you feel it takes too much time, you’ll save it by having already written it down and being able to re-use previous notes.

Takeaway:

Write stuff down in Google Docs. Discuss in Slack and Zoom.

Level playing field

If you are letting people work from home, EVERYBODY has to work remotely. If the situation is not the same for everyone, then co-located people will keep their old communication habits, and remote colleagues will be left in the dark. Companies that „failed at remote work” did a half-assed job of choosing a poor soul to be left in the dark and continued to share information face-to-face.

Either your team is in the same space, or it’s at home. This is not quantum physics, where you can be in 2 places at the same time.

Takeaway

Do or do not. There is no try.

 

4 Free Tools to set you up for remote success.

Zoom.

Zoom is the new Skype. It’s more reliable, more dependable, and better suited to remote work than any other video-call software. It has taken over the remote companies by storm because it has unmatched quality. There are other tools, just none worth trying.

Since you don’t see your coworkers in the office, meeting them on video helps to transmit all those non-verbal signals that are lost during voice calls or email exchanges. I recommend you do zoom calls frequently at the beginning.

My best tips for Zoom calls:

  • If you are switching from the office and are on the same timezone, set up a daily check-in call ( say 10 am ). Ask everybody what they worked on yesterday and what they are planning to work on today. Make notes in Google Docs. Use that call to also work on your remote setup. Put that on the Google Calendar and invite your coworkers, so everybody has a link to the call handy.
  • Zoom has a good enough free plan. You need to start paying if you want to have meetings for 3+ people longer than 40 minutes. You can also stop and hop on a new session every 40 minutes. That is what I do.
  • Buy your employees good headphones ($20-$45). Take this seriously. Lousy audio from (god forbid) earbuds they got with their iPhones will be disproportionately frustrating.
  • Back against the wall, light in front. Selfie ring helps. Seth Godin has more advice.
  • The internet does not have to be that fast. Even the one from your iPhone hotspot will be fine.

Slack

This will be your primary communication channel. Since you are no longer communicating in person, you need a central hub and email is not suited for that. Slack is for all those situations where you would come over, say something in the shared space, share a joke, or have a look at what your coworker is doing.

Slack is a shared chat, with different channels. Channels help to separate various concerns and make it easier to manage.

  • Do not require everybody to read everything. Chose one channel with mandatory reading (the typical pattern is „#announcements” ). Every new mandatory thing decreases the chance they will keep up.
  • Once you make a decision or have takeaways, move to more permanent storage. Google Docs is good.
  • Remember to goof off. You need to provide an upbeat environment. If it becomes stressful, your employees will just stop working. The common pattern is to have a „#watercooler” channel and post lots of memes.
  • The free plan will have some limitations. Mainly it has a limited history of conversations. Free is enough.

Google Docs / Drive

You need one place which will be the source of truth, and people will refer to when they are confused. Since they will be working asynchronously, you have to make it easier for them to find information that they need. Shared Google Drive and Docs will help you exchange documents and keep track of your decisions. You are also producing work, which most likely has the shape of documents.

My tips on working with Google Docs

  • Write down as much stuff as possible.
  • Do make a shared folder in Drive and tidy up the structure frequently
  • Make sure to have one place where everything is linked – it can be a Google Doc with a list of running projects and links to docs each describing the progress of the project
  • Update those documents!
  • „Where is X, what the status of Y” should require no answer – it should be apparent where the information is always.
  • You can work using the personal Google Accounts. You don’t need paying for GSuite.

Honorable mention: Trello

Trello is a simple tool to track the progress of the tasks in your team. Who is doing what? How is X doing? Did we finish Y? That’s what Trello is for.

  • You can connect it to Slack so you can always see what your people are working on
  • Again, the free plan is your friend

How to put it all together – your action plan:

  1. Make sure everybody has a computer at home they can use. Buy them headsets. They will need email addresses, but @gmail.com is fine.
  2. They need accounts for Google Docs, Trello, and Zoom. They will also need to install Zoom
  3. Wash your hands
  4. Register a new Slack for your company, invite your team
  5. Start chatting on Slack, make #announcements, #general, and #watercooler channels.
  6. Wash your hands
  7. Start your first Zoom Call. See how it goes
  8. Don’t touch your face
  9. Dump all work into actionable tasks in Trello.
  10. Start writing stuff down in Google Docs.
  11. Wash your hands

Further reading

This list is short on purpose. Sign up to my newsletter to get more resources about remote work:

Contacting our pigeons in other timezones...

Thank you for signing up! Now please head to your inbox to confirm the email address. I do not want to send anyone spam.

Good luck and wash your hands!

The lazy way to being outstanding: go after hard things.

When Peter Diamandis stood under the arch of Saint Louis, with 20 astronauts behind him, he announced a 10-million dollar prize for developing commercial space flight.

15 years later: Musk, Venter, Cameron and Diamandis on X PRIZE Microgravity Flight.

The prize was called X-Prize because he did not have that money, nor did he know where it could come from. X stood for the name of foundation or individual that would finance this.

And yet, without the money, without really means to pull it off, X-Prize has renewed the interest in developing the commercial space flight industry and sparked the imagination of other entrepreneurs.

I urge you do do the same in your organization.

Doing the hard things is both the best thing for the company, for you and counterintuitively – your lifestyle.

Corporate environments and more established companies tend to be risk-averse. Everyone tries to be in the middle – do a little more than enough to be considered a good employee.

But surely in your workplace, there is a couple of things to tackle that are considered too hard, way out there, maybe not now. It is my long-standing career strategy to go after those things with guns blazing.

It’s possible because of Super-Credibility.

Peter Diamandis says his stunt was only possible because he used Super-Credibility. He tackled a venture so outrageous, bold, and out there, that people stopped evaluating it in terms of logic.

This bold claim jumped over the usual evaluation straight to emotion. People wanted it to happen, so they believed it without a proof.

Warning: this is a mechanism that can-and-is used for evil as well. Please don’t be a fake news jerk.

You can use super-credibility at work without rebuilding one of the toughest industries in the world like space transportation.

When you tackle something considered extraordinarily hard at work:

  1. Everybody knows your attempt is outrageous,
  2. People like to see outrageous endeavors succeed,
  3. Focus helps you judge what is essential and what is not,
  4. It’s a bullshit remover. And bullshit is one of the biggest momentum killers out there.

Sign up to get Deliberate Internet straight to your inbox

I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

Please wait, we are contacting the carrier pigeons...

Thank you for sign up! Now please head on to your inbox to confirm your email address.

It’s easier than you expect

Imagine you are just joining a team that has a hard problem to solve. When you ask about the Elephant in the room, you usually get:

  • This is just the way things are
  • This part is just too hard.
  • We tried once, and it ended badly.

The original decision to not touch the Elephant may have been not as clear, but as any great story, it grows in myths and legends.

With every new teammate, the story is retold and how it usually is with humans, gets more exciting because:

  1. This is how human memory and tales work. Yes, the fish was thiiiiis big.
  2. The current team has to justify – in front of you and each other – why they didn’t tackle this problem yet. To reduce cognitive dissonance, if they haven’t addressed it – it must have been too hard.

And that is not only the perception – when you are working against or around a particular piece of code or business process, you are introducing cancer growth processes – something that should not be there but is contributing to the state of brokenness.

But the Elephant in the room is much, much smaller than previously thought. His most threatening quality is that he is unknown, fuzzy – a maverick.

Why you are providing massive value

According to Ray Dalio (the most successful hedge-fund manager currently), the simplified way to solve any problem goes as follows:

  • Identify the problems in front of goals
  • Solve /work around problems
  • Repeat

When you have an untouchable problem, people will work on other stuff. The problem is that sometimes the “Elephant” will be a prerequisite to solving other tasks.

In the ideal world, the organization would throw significant resources at this issue, because solving it will unlock tremendous value. But resources are people – often the same people who have repeated for a long while that this cannot be tackled. Doing the thing now will hurt their egos.

Good people get sometimes emotionally invested in issues being unsolved.

So when you actually take the Elephant out of the bottle, you unlock all this fantastic realm of possibility. When a company does that, we call it disruption. The whole industry is changed because bottled-up ideas are now reachable.

Benefits to you

I value my quality of life. The hardest problems are interesting, but I do not want to work crazy hours or sacrifice my happiness on the altar of the company’s bottom line.

And yet, taming elephants has become my go-to strategy for more leeway and a happier work environment.

As previously mentioned, super-credibility is a bullshit remover. You get VIP passes to get around conventional processes – aka “bureaucracy.” ( Sidenote about Bullshit: I recommend “Life is too short” essay by Paul Graham ).

  1. People are used to ignoring the Elephant. It’s quiet near him, no micromanagement, a lot of autonomy and space to work.
  2. When you have a huge, audacious goal in front of you, it’s tough to wander and lose motivation.
    Procrastination is your brain refusing to waste resources on your lack of decision. Without this uncertainty, your productivity is easily 10x.

In his New York Times bestseller Drive, Daniel Pink describes what motivates us:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

Read about Daniel’s ideas on the fantastic fs.blog

All of these three things are immediately given to you once you volunteer to take the Elephant out for a walk.

Accelerated learning

Continuing to support my point with famous New-York-Times bestselling authors, I’ll touch upon Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

Trying to dissect the story behind success, Gladwell discovers, that the extraordinary people:

  1. Have a certain, but not disproportionate amount of innate ability – aka Talent,
  2. Have put in over 10 000 hours of practice during their ascent to stardom (the famous 10 000 hours rule)
  3. What is very often overlooked, that was deliberate practice. Always on the edge of ability, always challenging themselves.

Most of us have some innate ability that we utilize in our careers. Most of us have access to 10 000 hours to be extraordinary. The hardest piece to arrange is a steady stream of ever-more-challenging problems to solve.

The Beatles honed their craft on the Hamburg club scene, and Bill Gates used (illegally) his school’s computer to get better at programming.

If you can go after the Elephant during your work hours, without breaking the law or going to Hamburg, then you are in a unique position!

Tackling the most challenging issues at your organization will not only result in more leeway but is the most effective way to advance your career.

A trap: The Elephant is hard, not tedious.

The Fantastic Seth Godin has made the essential distinction in regards to succeeding at work:

Long work has a storied history. Farmers, hunters, factory workers… Always there was the long work required to succeed. For generations, there was a huge benefit that came to those with the stamina and fortitude to do long work.
Hard work is frightening. We shy away from hard work because inherent in hard work is a risk. Hard work is hard because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up. You fail at hard work when you don’t make an emotional connection, or when you don’t solve the problem or when you hesitate.

The Fantastic Seth Godin.

The Elephant – the hard work I am urging you to tackle is the task that is unknown, complex, and emotionally challenging. Your Ego can be hurt, you can be ridiculed, and you can fail. That is the hard part.

Copy-pasting spreadsheets or tackling something that should never be done in the first place is safe but tedious and time-consuming. This is dead-end, laborious, and unfulfilling work. Avoid that. Or Automate.

Once you deal with the Elephant, everybody will marvel at your skill, even if you don’t have any extraordinary talents. You have seen my drawing ability and it only goes downhill from there.

Go take that Elephant out for a walk. It’s really friendly, it really needs to pee, and the weather is beautiful out there.

Hey Fellow Hacker News reader! ?

I think you could also enjoy my piece “Well, we have to measure something.”, And the perils of metrics.

It shows when Quantitative metrics can sometimes not only be beneficial but sometimes turn out harmful, despite popular opinion.