Friday Finds (Liftoff, Steve Jobs, Girard, Research)


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Hi friends,

When I was in high school, I hated writing. I had to write about books I'd only pretended to read, on topics I didn't care about.

Writing came alive for the first time in 6th grade when I was given three months to write about whatever I wanted. For months, I obsessively researched the Boeing 787 airplane. It was magical. I learned about engineering, aerodynamics, manufacturing, materials design, and the airline industry.

Now, I want kids all over the world to have this experience.

The beta program of Liftoff, our writing program for high schoolers, is officially open for enrollment. It will begin on November 29th.

We make three commitments to students:

  1. Love Writing: Write about what you love until you love to write.
  2. Find Your People: Make lifelong friends who inspire you.
  3. Go Further, Faster: You don't have to wait until you're an adult to succeed.

If you know anybody who'd thrive and take flight in the program, send them our application. The application window closes on November 18th.

Today's Finds

Steve Jobs, on Product Building: I still remember seeing the iPhone for the first time. I was in 7th grade and skipped school to attend Mac World. The product felt like a trip to the future. It radiated optimism and possibility. To this day, people love Apple products because they're so simple. Steve Jobs was a master at anticipating people's preferences. He relied on intuition instead of customer research. In this interview with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, he describes how products are "packages of emphasis." Customers want so many things from a product and if you say yes to all their requests, you'll end up with a disastrous clunk-fest. Apple worked differently. They prized simplicity over comprehensiveness. This video is a look into their design ethos.

Sumner Redstone: Wealth and success are cool, but not if you turn out like this. Redstone built a chain of successful movie theaters early in his career. At 56, he was almost burned alive in a fire. Out of his miraculous survival, he ramped up his ambitions and, after a hostile takeover, became the Chairman of Viacom. But his relentless lust for power fractured his family relationships. He’s gone to court against his brother, son, nephew, wife, and granddaughter.

Manias and Mimesis: A paper that applies Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory to Financial Bubbles. It looks at a series of case studies, from the 1840s railway mania to the ICO boom and collapse, and even to present-day mimesis-driven market distortions. If you want a shorter analysis of a similar theme, I recommend this essay on bubbles as innovation accelerators.

You and Your Research: A classic piece on what it takes to do great work. It's written by Richard Hamming, who is famous for his work in mathematics and computing. In this talk, he reflects on why some scientists win Nobel Prizes while others accomplish nothing of substance, despite so much hard work. I like the idea that knowledge is like compound interest. Small gains in daily effort lead to large advantages over time because you can synthesize so much more information together. I think about the concept of "working with the door open" every day. Hamming writes: "if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don’t know quite know what problems are worth working on; all the hard work you do is sort of tangential in importance. He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say: 'The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind.' I don't know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing - not much, but enough that they miss fame."

Own the Demand: This piece has been tattooed in my brain ever since I discovered it. With the rise of the Internet, power in the economy shifted from people who controlled supply to people who owned demand. That’s why Bill Gurley, perhaps the most successful marketplace investor of all-time, once wrote: “A lesson I have learned many times in my 20 years as a marketplace investor is that aggregating demand is the one & only key.” The lesson is simple: Have a direct relationship with your customers. If somebody gets between you and your customer, your margins will fall as customer acquisition costs rise. One statistic stands out: In 2018, Google paid ~$9 billion per year to Apple to be iOS’ default search engine.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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