Do not seek permission to undertake any Great Enterprise. Let the High Quality of your Work be your True Qualification.
Any problem is soluble if you act upon it properly.
THE ESSENTIAL WORK METHOD
I have been experimenting with a new way of Working that is succeeding quite well. I have narrowed down all of the really important things I do every Work Day plus on my 3 Sabbaths and reduced them to 4 (or less) Essential Items. I therefore get up every day and do these 4 Essential Items every day first thing.
Then, and only after these 4 Essential Items are done do I go on to the rest of my schedule and whatever else I have to do. This assures I do the most Essential things first and foremost without excuse or interruption or interference.
This system has worked out extremely well for me… I highly recommend it. This is my Personal System (below). Of course develop one of your own to cover what is most essential to achieve for you.
DAILY AND WEEKLY ESSENTIAL THINGS
Book or Novel or Story Writing – 1000 to 2500 words per day
Start Up Business or Entrepreneurial Projects
Book or Novel or Story Writing – 1000 to 2500 words per day
Start Up Business or Entrepreneurial Projects
Site Commenting and Sharing
Book or Novel or Story Writing – 1000 to 2500 words per day
Start Up Business or Entrepreneurial Projects
Book or Novel or Story Writing – 1000 to 2500 words per day
Start Up Business or Entrepreneurial Projects
Songwriting and Composing and Poetry
Idea and Invention and Investment Generation and Mental Sabbath
Meetings and Networking and Travel and Field Trips
Sharing and Reblogging
Recreation and Psychological Sabbath and Rest
Spiritual Sabbath and Church
Prayer, Study Bible, and Theurgy and Thaumaturgy
One of the start-up world’s favorite words, in addition to disrupt, pivot, and on-demand, is community. Kickstarter identifies as “a community of people committed to bringing new things to life.” “The heart and soul of Etsy,” begins the About Etsy page, “is our global community.” Airbnb calls itself “the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company.” You’re not, in other words, just joining a platform where you can fund your screenplay, or hawk your hand-knit iPhone koozies, or rent your apartment — no, you’re belonging to something bigger than yourself.
But back in 2009, perhaps before the word had lost all meaning, a small-time-invention start-up called Quirky built a community that really acted like one. It told the first-world-problem solver in all of us — the one who thought up single-serve French-fry-makers and foldable coffee mugs and musical footballs while out walking the dog — that she no longer had to innovate in a vacuum. Anybody could join. On Quirky’s website, users would assess and workshop each other’s inventions. The most successful ideas, as determined by a vote, would be designed and built by the company. In some cases, the inventors made a lot of money. And it is for that tiny dreamer that the company’s recent death spiral feels like a true loss.
It all came to a head on what seemed like a typical Thursday evening this July, during the weekly Quirky ritual known as Eval. A studio audience of about 100 people gathered in the company’s former-rail-car-terminal headquarters in Chelsea. Lit by webcams from above and a bank of futuristic equipment behind, Quirky’s 28-year-old founder, Ben Kaufman, stood at a lectern in his usual black V-neck tee and announced a panel of product-evaluation experts by nickname: Anna “Make a Buck” Buchbauer, Justin “J-Bomb” Seidenfeld, Aaron Dignan, a.k.a. El Presidente. Ideas submitted and voted on by the Quirky community — watching the livestream from their living rooms — were presented via pitch videos and commentary from Kaufman: a voice-activated lightbulb, a paper-thin Bluetooth speaker that fits in your back pocket, an on-the-go beverage carbonator. The masterminds who won majority approval would hear the rallying mantra “Congratulations, you’re a Quirky inventor!” and have the chance to be like fellow Eval winner Garthen Leslie, a 63-year-old IT consultant from Columbia, Maryland. Leslie came up with the idea of a smart air conditioner during his morning commute, uploaded a rough diagram of the idea to the Quirky platform, and found the community waiting to help him refine it, suggesting additional features and weighing in on the sizing, specs, and the name, which would be Aros. And keeping with Quirky’s leave-the-rest-to-us business model, the company then patented, manufactured, marketed, and sold the unit into Walmart and Amazon, returning 10 percent of the profits to the inventor and those that played Watson to his Graham Bell (in this exceptional case, that’s amounted to more than $400,000 for Leslie and more than $200,000 for the community).
But this Thursday, July 16, it would turn out, was not an ordinary Eval. In fact, it would be the next to last one Kaufman ever did. Following the broadcast, he tacked on what he called an “after-party” — a.k.a. a crisis-management session aimed at addressing recent bad press that the company had gotten. In June, in a sweaty interview onstage at the Fortune Brainstorm conference, Kaufman admitted the company was all but “out of money,” which had once amounted to $185 million in funding from investors like Andreessen Horowitz and GE. In July came the news that nearly the entire New York City staff would be laid off. By August 1, Kaufman would officially step down from the company he started at age 22. It so happened that for every Aros-type success, the community had waved in many more duds like the Beat Booster, a wireless speaker with a built-in charging station that by one account cost the company $388,000 to develop but only sold about 30 units.
It’s not surprising that Kaufman used the word transparency no fewer than three times in the first five minutes of that after-party, the bottom line of which was that he frankly didn’t know if the company would survive — Quirky’s fate was in the investors’ hands. Because, for all the aspirational, rarefied Bushwick-bar vibes telegraphed by the Evals, Quirky was, of course, all about being real. Its cluster of a million members included folks like — to cite some of the most recent inventors featured on the website — Tony Lytle, a welder and proud grandfather from Larwill, Indiana, who’d dreamed up the Pawcett, a step-on drinking fountain for dogs; and Hadar Ferris, a licensed cosmetologist in Oceanside, California, responsible for decorative muffin-top molds called Bake Shapes; and Pennsylvania-based Navy veteran Jason Hunter, who gave birth to the Porkfolio app-enabled piggy bank. (In the age of artisanal everything, just as we want to know where our pickles were brined and our former-church-pew coffee tables were carved, here, too, was the meaningful personal backstory behind your magnetic bottle opener.)
A few weeks after he was ousted, Kaufman emailed with me from his first-ever personal email account: “It’s weird waking up one day and not even having an email address,” he later said on the phone. “This had been my whole life.” He was a small-time inventor himself at first, for a range of iPod accessories he started in high school that went on to become the company Mophie. At the 2007 Macworld Expo, he handed out pens and sketchpads and asked people to help design Mophie’s 2007 product line (sound familiar?) and then held a vote for the top three ideas. That same year, he sold Mophie, reappropriated the Macworld crowdsourcing schtick, and tried to launch a similar concept to Quirky. What helped Quirky finally get off the ground in 2009 was the recession-driven push for alternative incomes (no coincidence that Kickstarter as well as the entrepreneur-competition show Shark Tank, another bastion of scrappy innovation, also launched in 2009). Plus, there was more of a universal comfort with the practice of online sharing: We were now very used to telling our Facebook friends what we ate for breakfast, and by extension, we might as well tell the Quirky forum about our concept for a better egg-yolk extractor. Our notion of community, then, was evolving, and Kaufman — Mark Zuckerberg wrapped in a teddy-bear build, with the mischievous smile of your son or younger brother (depending on where you fell in Quirky’s wide-ranging age demographics) — was a relatable leader.
On the consumer end, seeing these ordinary tinkerers immortalized on the shelves of the Container Store (a big Quirky perk was that inventors’ names and faces appeared on their products’ packaging) was like watching the Spanx lady on QVC for the first time in the early aughts — a humble fax-machine salesperson from Clearwater, Florida, who just wanted to wear control-top pantyhose without the hose. Inventors were just like us! And now everybody could be the Spanx lady (albeit for only a tiny fraction of the profits), because unlike her, we didn’t have to side-hustle all alone. Next it could be my cousin in Westchester, who had four kids but no one to help her prototype her idea for a mother-baby bath towel. Next it could be my semi-retired father, who was in a private war with his never-shuts-properly pantry door and needed a constructive, supportive outlet for his aggression. Next it could be my friend Sarah, who was full of lightbulb moments — an Oreo-dunking robot claw, a universal key for all your locks — but was too stoned to sort through the mechanics by herself.
Quirky was catnip for the press: The Sundance Channel produced a short-lived reality show on the company in 2011. Kaufman appeared on Leno. This magazine featured it as a Boom Brand of 2013, noting, “It’s a pretty rare company that’s so hippieish — Let’s have everyone get a say! — yet so purely free-market.” The Times devoted several thousand words to a piece called “The Invention Mob, Brought to You by Quirky” just last February (by then its financially unsustainable business model had given way to a pivot — a smart-home subsidiary called Wink — that was too little too late).\
Another Times piece, from this past April, cited Quirky as a springboard for the realest of all Real People: older people. “There’s a boom in inventing by people over 50,” John Calvert, the executive director of the United Inventors Association, told the paper. And indeed, Quirky had plenty of them in its hive — like 59-year-old Lorin Ryle, a full-time caretaker for her dementia-stricken mother. When her clip-on baby monitor for the elderly won at Eval, she says she cried, watching from her Hutto, Texas, home. It never actually made it to development (in fact, only about half of the Eval winners ever do), but for Ryle that didn’t take away from the experience of “working with people to make something work,” she says. “I’ve made lifelong friends on there.” (Another Quirky boomer, Marc Rumaner, who came up with a nifty little wine-bottle anchor called Vine Stop, has even gone so far as to host barbecues for fellow community members in his Chicago area.)
Of course, the inmates didn’t always like running the asylum. There was much talk in the forums that the Eval system seemed too democratic. “I failed to see how any of us could know what a product scout from a company like GE or Mattel could know,” says one community member. And indeed, when you look at misfires like the Drift, a $200 wooden balance board that simulates snowboarding and surfing, or the $80 Egg Minder, an app-enabled egg tray that signals to your smartphone when you’re running low on eggs, it would appear that the company’s raison d’être was also the reason for its downfall, a colony of amateurs green-lighting unscalable solutions to nonexistent issues. Quirky brought more than 400 products to market in just six years.
Yet Kaufman points out that the community had much less say than all the high-pressure voting would suggest; the real decisions were made when the cameras stopped rolling and he and the actual experts did the math on a product’s marketability. (So, maybe not so much power to the people, after all.) But, he adds of Eval, “There had to be a thing to look forward to on a regular basis — otherwise how are you going to keep the community engaged?” Quirky steered the ship, you might say, but the community was still the North Star.
Steering the ship — handling all of the engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and retailing, even when you’re taking 90 percent of the subsequent profits — was ultimately too expensive of a proposition, especially in comparison to other, less-handholding-oriented start-ups. “The reason why Kickstarter makes a ton of money is they don’t have to do anything besides put up a website,” Kaufman notes. After that, the failure (and let’s face it, many Kickstarter-funded products go on to fail) is all on the individual. Which is not meant to be a dig, Kaufman clarifies. He won’t confirm his next venture but says, “I love Kickstarter.” And: “I will likely use it.”
THE BOOK OF PLANS
Not that I don’t think this process would yield valuable results, especially the fact that he reviews books while his heart rate is up, etc. (his data absorption process) but my information preparation and absorption process is extremely simple by comparison.
I simply take a book, go through it as he said early in the video and highlight everything that is useful and practically applicable. Then I distill each highlighted chapter or section or paragraph or item into a single sentence which contains an actionable premise or instruction set. In this way I can distill a single book down to a Single Plan of perhaps 8 to 12 Actionable Points (sometimes also containing some side-notes explaining the most relevant new information). I also tend to place each plan in Chronological Order so that each plan can always be followed in the most logically progressive manner. See this entry for more detail on what I mean: 8 to 12 Point Plan.
In this way, over the years, I have created literally hundreds of Plans of various types of information, processes, and actions (derived both from my own experiences and from information obtained from books and other sources) which when they are all combined together in a single source I call my Book of Plans. (Again, as I have aged I have become far more interested in how information can be practically and usefully and profitably applied than in “information” as a principal or principle or component in and of itself.
I also sub-divide my Book of Plans into chapters relevant to what most interests me in a given Field. For instance I have chapters on Business, Art, Invention, Technology, Science, Religion, Exploration, etc. and each chapter may have 30 pages (or more or less depending on the subject matter) of plans in it with each page being a separate plan on a particular subject.
That is my method. It is simple, fast, data-targeted, actionable, inexpensive, and when necessary it is extremely easy to review each plan in order to follow my Plans or to pick back up again from where I had previously left off operations.
12 documentaries on Netflix that will make you smarter about business
Here’s a quick and fun way to enrich your business knowledge: streaming documentaries on Netflix.
The online movie and TV service has a vast cache of business and tech documentaries that anyone with a subscription can watch instantly. The topics range from profiles of great tech innovators like Steve Jobs to deep dives into industrial design.
Each of these 12 documentaries offers an entertaining storyline, as well as valuable insights into business success.
Alison Griswold contributed to an earlier version of this article.
How lifelong dedication and obsession with quality can pay off
“Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” profiles Jiro Ono, a Japanese sushi chef and restaurant owner who is widely revered for his skill and $300-a-plate dinners. It follows the 85-year-old master as he works with vendors to secure the finest ingredients, manages and mentors his staff, and prepares his son to succeed him when he retires. The movie brings viewers inside the dedication, obsession, and decades of hard work it takes to achieve perfection.
The best tricks to transform your life
“TED Talks: Life Hacks” is a collection of 10 popular TED lectures that offer tips and insights for success in life and business. You’ll learn body-language secrets from Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy, research-backed productivity tricks from positive psychology expert Shawn Achor, and more.
How to stage a dramatic turnaround
Screenshot from Netflix
“Inside: Lego,” a short 2014 film by Bloomberg, takes viewers inside one of the greatest turnaround stories in recent history. Lego, the Denmark-based toy maker, was in trouble in the early 2000s. It had overextended, lost its identity, and was bleeding money. After executing CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp’s strategy to refocus on the core business, Lego rebounded to become the world’s fastest-growing toy company.
How to adapt constantly to stay relevant
“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” takes viewers deep inside the business of the late Joan Rivers. After following the comedian for a year, filmmakers reveal the highs and lows of Rivers’ decades-long quest to stay relevant. What does it take to get to the top and stay there? From meticulous organization systems to her willingness to take any job to make sure her staff got paid, the movie shows the fierce determination necessary for success.
How to make decisions under enormous pressure
Few people know pressure better than Hank Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and the US Secretary of the Treasury during the height of the financial crisis. “Hank: 5 Years from the Brink” explores the momentous task Paulson was handed in September 2008 — saving the global economy — and how he dealt with it.
The psychology behind great industrial design
The items you think the least about may have the most effective designs, according to the 2009 film “Objectified.” Take the Post-it note. Have you ever considered that someone put a lot of time into its appearance? The movie explores the unconscious but influential relationship we have with the objects around us, and why the smallest tweaks in design make an enormous difference.
How to rise to the top of an ultra-competitive industry
If you’ve ever thought about starting a restaurant, Danny Meyer knows a thing or two about success in the business. “The Restaurateur: How Does Danny Do It?” offers a behind-the-scenes look at Meyer, the New York City restaurateur and man behind Shake Shack and Gramercy Tavern. The movie shows how Meyer’s philosophy of putting great food first launched his career.
How early venture capitalists helped build American tech giants
“Something Ventured” portrays some of the most successful and prolific venture capitalists, who through genius or luck made big early-stage bets on tech companies like Apple, Google, Atari, and Intel. For a crash course in venture capital or a modern business history lesson, this 2011 documentary shows how entrepreneurs partnered with investors to build some of the greatest American companies.
Behind the scenes of the business world’s biggest scandal
Screenshot from Netflix
The 2005 documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” is a cautionary tale. It’s a deep dive into the fall of Enron, the energy company that was at one point valued at $70 billion but filed for bankruptcy in 2001. It’s become one of the most well-known cases of financial corruption and accounting fraud, and this film explores the psychology behind and fallout of the collapse of an empire.
Why showmanship and great marketing is just as important as the products you sell
How Silicon Valley became a hub of innovation
Screenshot from Netflix
The 2013 PBS documentary “American Experience: Silicon Valley” chronicles the beginning of the modern technology age. It follows a group of eight technologists who took a risk and decided to start their own company in 1957. It’s a telling look at the history of the Valley and the birth of a culture characterized by openness, innovation, and idealism.
How economics explain what motivates people
A very interesting perspective and one I agree with to a large extent. Actually I think one should set out to create a Brand – with a certain type of Vision, and adapt accordingly as one meets particular circumstances in and through the world. (Which is basically what he says later in the article.)
In other words one begins with a Vision and then discovers and develops as one goes along. It is not either/or, but both…
Writer & Consultant
April 15, 2015
Over $500 billion is spent on advertising each year. The average American is exposed to an estimated 3,000 ads per day. Fifteen minutes out of every hour of television programming is devoted to commercials.
Branding: 2 Key Lessons in Brand Building
That’s a lot of marketing. And a lot of marketers. With six million companies in the United States alone, that’s a lot of people competing to get their message out. How do you stand out from the crowd? How do you get noticed?
This is where branding comes in.
What is branding?
Branding is the art of distinguishing a product or service from its competitors. It’s the term for creating a recognizable “personality” which people will remember and react to.
A company with poor branding is throwing away marketing dollars. Why? Because without a focused message, companies weak in branding are invisible. Nobody remembers them and they blend in. They become just another leaf swirling in the wind, amid all those marketing messages consumers see each day.
In marketing, the point is to actually reach someone, to connect. The way to do this is by focusing attention, not dispersing it.
Discovering your brand
Too often, people try to “dream up” a brand for their company. However, a brand isn’t something you dream up — it’s something you discover. Specifically, it’s something you have to discover about yourself.
True branding must be based solely on the mission and culture of the organization. When people try to create branding separate from the company itself, the result may be pretentious, clichéd or ambiguous marketing. It waters down the company’s message.
Instead, a brand should reflect the company’s business plan, its mission and values. It has to be authentic. Therefore, when you brand a company (or anything else for that matter), you’re trying to capture its core identity. You have to look past the clutter and opinion and distill its true essence. This is what you convey to consumers — your brand. And your fonts, your design, your writing — all aspects of your marketing — should all align with that central concept. Now, you have focus. Now, you have penetration, because you’ve conveyed your company’s identity by first discovering yourself.
Related: The Basics of Branding
The ingredients of a brand
While there is probably no foolproof formula for discovering a company’s brand, there are pathways to accomplish that. Consider the following points the “ingredients” that go into making an authentic brand:
Company mission. This is the most important element of branding. Your mission is the spirit of your company, it’s the beating heart of what you do. In fact, your brand can be thought of as the outward expression of your company’s internal mission. Think of it this way: Why does your organization exist? What is it there for? You have assets, employees, vendors, relationships and internal systems. . . but why?
Values. What’s important to your company? What do you stand for? Every company has certain ideals that define what it is and does. These ideals could be environmental, social or ethical or could be standards of quality Whatever your company’s values are, they’re the very center of why you’re unique and are a crucial part of your brand.
Culture. Each company in the world has its own ethos — a particular style or panache. Whatever you call yours, embrace it. There may be a million competitors in your market space, but there’s only one you. Your company’s group culture is part of the fabric of who you are.
History. Your history tells a lot about you. Look to the company’s founders to help define your identity today. What were their values? What were they trying to accomplish? Every company came from somewhere. Your roots are an integral part of your company’s brand.
Plans. When you look at your next 10 years, where do you see yourself going? Your business plan and marketing strategy both influence how you present yourself and should be included in your branding. If you’re going after an entry-level market segment, don’t position yourself as a luxury brand. Your brand must encompass your real-world objectives.
Consumers. This is really what it’s all about. Your customers are the reason you exist. What are their needs? What do they think? Understanding your customers is a vital part of branding. Because if you don’t know whom you’re talking to, why bother to say anything at all?
It might take a bit of soul-searching to get at the essence of what makes your company special. The trick is to take a clear-eyed look and see what’s actually there. Because every brand is beautiful, every brand is inspiring.
Each just has to be discovered.
Had a superb idea for a new on-line business venture (start-up) called Unfinished Projects. I’m going to be approaching some potential partners with the idea later this week.
At this point I am merely creating the design sketches and outline for the business, but in a relatively short period of time I could easily develop both business and operating plans.
THE 20/88 PLAN
Today is the first official day of my Spring Offensive. I had planned to begin yesterday but a back injury prevented my proceeding.
In conjunction with my Spring Offensive I have developed a new Operational Plan for further building both my Businesses (including my inventions) and Careers (as a fiction writer, songwriter, and poet).
The new plan is what I call the 20/88 Plan.
It covers most all of my efforts during my current Spring Offensive. It is very simple in construction and should be simple in execution, though it might also possibly be somewhat time-consuming in execution, at least to an extent, depending on how events actually transpire.
I developed this plan as a result of my experience as a Contacts Broker and a Consultant. Basically it says this,
“Every month I will submit to 20 potential Agents or Contacts who will be able to help me achieve my ambitions. At the same time I will seek 8 Partners to work with me on various projects.”
Since I am basically pursuing Four Basic Fields of Endeavor, or Four Separate Types of Enterprises for my Spring Offensive that will equal twenty agents, new clients, etc. in each field, and two partners for each enterprise.
Four times twenty in each Field of Endeavor equals 80, plus the overall eight partners (two in each Enterprise) equals eight, and added all together equals 88.
Therefore 20 in each Field plus 8 partners equals 88.
If in the first month I fail to secure at least one agent or client or so forth in any given Field of Endeavour or at least one partner in any given Enterprise then I will just move on to the next list of 20 or 2 that I have prepared until I secure worthwhile, productive, and profitable agents or partners.
These are the actual details of my Current 20/88 Plan.
General Fields of Endeavor:
20 Agents Contacted (for my Writings)
20 Publishers Contacted (for my Poetry, Songs, and Writings)
20 New Clients Contacted (for my Business Enterprises and for Open Door)
20 Capital Partners and Investors Contacted (for my Business Enterprises, my Crowdfunding Projects, and my Design and Inventions Laboratory)
2 Songwriting Partners (composers primarily, since I am primarily a lyricist)
2 Publishing Partners (for my books and writings)
2 Business Partners
2 Major Capital or Investment Partners
I was charging my cell phone just now when I was struck with a great idea regarding the eventual miniaturization of things like quantum computing.
A charger and switch filter which doesn’t just charge your phone but does things likes control the flow of electrons so tightly that you can even arrange how the spins align on the battery or circuits to achieve things like spintronically aligned quantum computing and the room temperature mimicry of superconductivity.
Functions might be practically unlimited based on exactly how we could devise and design the actual control elements.
I used to worry about this, but the truth is, I’ve always needed very little sleep. As a kid (a teenager and in my twenties) I got by with as little as three or fours hours a night, and sometimes as little as two. When I was a boy this aphorism/line of verse by Longfellow hung on my bedroom door, as many of my friends can probably recall:
The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Nowadays, unless I overtrain (physically overtrain – I rarely mentally overtrain, it happens but I rarely really tire mentally or psychologically), I still need relatively very little sleep. About 5 to maybe 6 hours at most. And despite aging I’ll often have to make myself sleep that much.
I do not like sleeping in the daytime, unless injured or sick, so that becomes unavoidably necessary, and have always been nocturnal by nature. Often even when I am actually in bed (supposedly sleeping) I am making notes, writing, inventing, composing, developing new business projects, working cases, etc. The bed and the dark are good stimuli for my creativity, and since my wife can sleep anywhere and sleeps a lot my bedside lamp doesn’t bother her (she tells me). So I’m free to work in bed too. Additionally I will often wake from dreams or during the night to make notes on things that have occurred to me in my sleep. People often tell me I am prolific, and that may well be true. Often however I am simply awake and working far more than they are. I have always been this way and it is natural and enjoyable to me to walk outside at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and hear the silence of the world long ago asleep around me and know I am just finishing up or about to restart at my Work.
I also rarely take stimulants, except I’ll drink a cup of coffee sometime during the day. I do take supplements and drink a lot of water. Watch my diet and exercise frequently (and that is my real problem with rest, either physically overtraining or becoming dehydrated – I have to guard against both things).
As I get older I do tend to rest more, as in relax more and recreate more and take more breaks from Work, but as far as sleep goes, I still seem to need very little.
And this both greatly affects and effects my level of productivity. As in I can get far more done with little sleep and by instead concentrating upon my Work.
Unless, of course, I drive myself to injury, sickness, or exhaustion. Then I know I have overextended myself. At those points I force myself to rest and to sleep until I return to normal.
While most people don’t function well after an extended stretch of four or fewer hours of sleep a night, there may be a very small percentage who can thrive under these circumstances. In a landmark 2009 study, researchers discovered a genetic mutation in a mother and daughter who seemed to need much less sleep than the average person — the first time any mutation relating to sleep duration had been found (while the sample size wasn’t huge, the effect was replicated in mouse and fruit fly studies). A more recent study, by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, revealed a variation in that gene, and other researchers are currently observing the sleep patterns of research participants who claim to function on very little sleep.
Nobody knows exactly how many true “short sleepers” exist, but estimates put it at one percent of the population. They wake refreshed and energized after just a few hours of sleep, and those who have been studied tend to pack their lives with tasks that they perform well unaided by stimulants or other crutches. For instance, the very productive Thomas Edison may have been a short sleeper. “Cells don’t sleep,” he said in his most quoted anti-sleep rant. “Fish swim in the water all night. Even a horse doesn’t sleep. A man doesn’t need any sleep.”
Recently, Science of Us spoke with Jenn Schwaner, a 43-year-old short-sleeper from New Port Richie, Florida.
How much sleep do you usually get each night?
On average, I get about three or four hours, and I never feel tired.
Have you always needed so little sleep? What about when you were younger?
When I was a little girl, I’d wake with my father at 5 a.m. I can remember getting up with him that early from when I was about 3 years old. He worked as a computer programmer at Fort Hamilton. On average, we’d get about four hours sleep a night, but we didn’t know that there might be a medical reason for why we didn’t seem to need much.
When we were up, we had to be quiet, because we had a very small house and we didn’t want to wake the rest of the family. My dad would go on the computer or we would watch TV together: old movies like Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, or Shirley Temple. He moved to Florida when I was around 7, but when I was older I had a computer, so I taught myself programming.
Did your lack of sleep impact your performance at school?
I went to a private Catholic school and I was always a very quick, sharp student. But I was also very bored in school, and looking back, I should have pursued so many other things but instead I studied to become a court reporter. I was so bored that I wasn’t looking forward to another four or six years of study. My mother told me about court reporting, which you can do at your own pace.
What did you do when you finished that course?
I got married the very next day — I was only 20. I had my first child when I was 26. Then I had a son in 2000 and another daughter in 2006.
What was pregnancy and nursing like for you? Did you get tired then?
Not really. In fact, with my third child, I didn’t find out I was pregnant until I was 20 weeks in. I wasn’t trying and I was very busy. I was coaching sports, sitting on community boards, and I was president of PTA. I couldn’t even remember when I last had a period, I was running around and doing so many things like a chicken without a head.
But I always said I was made to have children. It never bothered me when I got up in the middle of the night. It didn’t matter if it was every two or three hours, and I nursed all my kids. And then I started taking in foster children. A lot of the babies were born addicted to drugs — meth or prescription meds — and they need somebody to cuddle them and hold them in the middle of the night when they are going through withdrawal. I felt like I didn’t sleep at night anyway, and I knew that these kids really needed someone who wouldn’t get frustrated being up with them all night.
When I had my first baby, my husband was working nights, so he’d sleep during the day. I couldn’t make noise in the bedroom, so I was up doing all the things I normally did during the day while I was also nursing the baby at night. I breastfed her for 18 months. It was just the way it was. It never bothered me.
Was it just the fact that you didn’t need sleep that drew you to foster care?
I worked as a court reporter in dependency court for 23 years. One of my first jobs was in a very small town where everyone in the court system knew each other. I remember one Friday afternoon a 4-year-old kid came in — he had just been taken away from his parents and there was no place for him to go. They were arguing about where he should go. It totally sickened me. Here we were fighting over where a child needs to lay down for the weekend.
So that was my first experience of it, but I didn’t start taking in kids for long-term care until my kids were a older. I’d been hosting foreign-exchange students and I didn’t feel like that was a help. They were all so privileged and I wanted to do something for kids that needed it. And also, it’s not that my parents were hippies, but I was kind of a Peace Corps “I want to make the world better” person.
What’s it like sharing a bed with you? Do you bother your husband in the night?
I was married 22 years, but we are now divorced. My sleeping was an issue for him. He was a very light sleeper, so I slept on the couch for a number of years, probably for about the last eight years of our marriage. It definitely put a strain on our relationship, because he’s the type of person who has to sleep either eight or nine hours a night, and if I walk into the room at one in the morning, I would wake him up and he couldn’t go back to sleep. It caused issues.
You know, when I got divorced, it was kind of a relief. It was like, “Oh my gosh, I can walk around my house without waking anyone.” We had a one-story house for the majority of our marriage. I would think nothing of vacuuming at 2 a.m. and of course that would wake everybody, but now I didn’t have to worry about that. And I have a two-story house so everybody is asleep upstairs and I can vacuum all I want downstairs.
Are you single at the moment?
I have a boyfriend who understands it, and he’s not a light sleeper, so we can share a bed without a problem. There are some nights when he turns around and is like, “You have not slept all night.” And I’m like, “I know. I’m sorry.” He asks, “How do you function?” And I say: “it’s just the way I am. It doesn’t bother me.”
Can you talk me through a typical day from the minute you wake up to when you go to bed?
It really depends on which children I have at my house. At the moment, I have my kids plus three foster kids — a 13-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 17-month-old. So the babies sleep through the night. I don’t use an alarm clock. I generally get up between 3 and 4 a.m. and I will start to do some work or laundry or cleaning and then I’m usually taking kids to the bus stop starting at 6:30 in the morning. Then I come back and wake up the others who get ready for school for 7 a.m., and then I start the rounds of dropping them off at different bus stops.
I drop the babies off at child care at about 8:30 and I start court calendar at 8:30 or 9 a.m. and I work until between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Then I start picking kids up again. The babies first, usually at about 3 p.m.; my 8-year-old gets off the bus at 4 p.m. and then the other kids usually get home between 4 and 5 p.m.
It’s softball season right now, so it’s crazy. We go five days a week at about 6 p.m. One of my morning rituals is cooking dinner. I’ll crock pot so everybody can grab something to eat before their evening activities. And we do homework in the car, then we come back home and the kids shower. If you walk into my hallway, there’s charts everywhere: the rules of the house, who gets showers at what time (to avoid any bathroom collisions).
My oldest is in by 11 p.m.; on the weekends, she’s in by midnight, but that doesn’t mean she shuts down because her friends come to our house and they stay up until about 2 a.m., and they sleep through to 10 a.m. The babies and little kids are asleep by 9 p.m. and the older kids are asleep by 11 p.m.
I don’t worry about my oldest too much anymore, but she can still keep me up. Her curfew is midnight and because I sleep when I’m tired — I don’t fight sleeping — I might sleep from eleven until two. If she’s not home yet, I have to wait for her. My house has always been the hang-out house. I am a big cook and she has a very large room with a fridge and a couch in there, which is the hang-out room for all her friends.
But I usually go to sleep close to 12 and then start all over again. It’s crazy. My life is extremely hectic.
Do you ever feel tired?
If anything gets me tired, it’s stress, and it’s more that I get stressed than tired.
Can you describe what that feels like?
You know, I think as I’m getting older — I’m 43, so I feel it more in my muscles, but my mind still doesn’t shut down. I’ll sit at the computer for an hour. I’ll do a load of laundry. Then I’ll go back to the computer for 45 minutes. And I’ll start making dinner and then go back to the computer and start doing something else. I’m not a very sedentary person. There’s always something to do: laundry, dinner, clothes in the dryer. It never ends.
How did you learn that you are a short sleeper?
I only found out I was a short sleeper about a year and a half ago. My father was working at FSU and he had heard of a study that was being led by a geneticist at the University of Califonira, San Francisco, so he contacted them. When the media heard about it, he was interviewed and he said, “Well, if anyone has this worse than me it’s my daughter.” So ABC came and followed me for 24 hours. My father was characterized by researchers as having features in common with other short sleepers. They think it’s caused by a variation in a gene, but they don’t know a whole lot about it — for example, if it’s more likely to be passed on from men to their daughters or if we even carry it.
Do you think any of your children are short sleepers?
I don’t think so, but if there is a candidate, it might be my youngest … She’s nothing like I was at her age, but she does come through to my room all the time in the night. She’s a light sleeper. She could fall asleep in a wheelbarrow and then be awake after 15 minutes.
When I found out that “short sleepers” were a real thing, it relieved me. I wish that I had looked at it the way the reporters saw it. They thought it was so great, that I was so lucky because I had so much more time in my life to accomplish things. Even though I always had an instinct to fill that time, I didn’t really cherish it and I should have from a much younger age. I fought it for so many years. I would lie in bed and tell myself go to sleep, go to sleep. Shut down! I did everything possible with the exception of medication. I tried meditating and nothing did it. I’ve embraced it a lot more seeing how jealous other people are of me. I have overfilled my life with things, but it’s what I enjoy doing.
You work as a court reporter. I bet that requires a lot of concentration and attention to detail?
It does. I mostly do high-profile criminal cases — first degree felonies. I do death-penalty cases and I have to write real-time, verbatim reporting of everything everyone is saying in the court room. We do it on a steno machine. You can only touch ten keys at a time and you make a language based on phonetics. I’m certified at 235 WPM on the steno machine.
Given that your job deals with such heavy subject matter, do you find it hard to switch off from that? Do you think about the court in the middle of the night?
Very rarely now do I dwell on my work. But when I was young, I would come home and I would be really bothered by the divorce cases. It was terribly hard to see people who had once loved each other treat each other so horribly. I used to joke to my husband, “Don’t ever try to divorce me because I will take my chances in criminal court before I take my chances in divorce court.” We had a very amicable divorce since I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt my kids. But very rarely did the criminal cases bother me.
What happens when you’re sick. Do you find it hard to take to your bed?
Yes, I find it hard to lay still, but it’s actually very rare that I get sick. It actually stresses me out to have to be sick, even just the thought of it, because I can’t imagine being stuck in my bed and recuperating. Who is going to look after all the kids? Who is going to take care of them? Who is going to make dinner? Some of them are getting old enough now that they can function, but they don’t function well. I have to come downstairs and spend three days cleaning after I have been sick for a day, so being sick really stresses me out.
What’s air travel like for you? And are you impacted by time difference?
I never get jet-lag and it annoys me when I travel and I see people asleep on the plane. I don’t sit still. In any relationship I’ve ever been in, they ask me to please sit still and watch the movie and I can’t, it’s like I have laundry to do or this other task to do, so being on a plane just drives me absolutely crazy. I feel like I need to get up and jog or something.
I’m happy to go on very long road trips — I’ve driven very, very far. I’ve taken my softball team to Louisiana, to Tennessee, to North Carolina. I’ve driven from Florida to New York a few times, and California. I usually take the kids and go straight through the night, so there’s about six to eight hours of everyone sleeping. I just keep on driving.
Does drinking impact your sleep?
I don’t get hangovers. If I overdo it and I get a headache, that’s saying a lot. Most people in their 40s are sick for a day and a half. If I drink too much, then I may go to bed at two and get up at six — maybe I get an extra hour’s sleep!
What happens when you take stimulants? I’d imagine things like a 5-Hour Energy or recreational uppers would have an extreme effect on you?
I have one cup of coffee a day, usually in the morning. I’m a Dunkin’ Donuts junkie — I love my iced coffee, so I usually have a medium whatever their specialty coffee of the month is and that’s my thing. I do think I need the caffeine.
What would you say is the best thing about being a short sleeper?
The best thing is that I have so many more hours in the day to get things accomplished. I still say I wish I had more hours in a day, and I have more hours than most people.
Do you get annoyed with people who count how much sleep they have had and complain about being tired?
Yes. Even when my kids sleep crazy amounts of hours I get annoyed. Teenagers can sleep probably for 12 hours straight, and I get so annoyed because I think they are wasting their lives. Why are you wasting your life sleeping? There are so many things that you could be doing. That’s how I see it. So, I don’t like them sleeping for longer than necessary because they are wasting their lives. That’s always been my thing. You have plenty of time to sleep when you die. You might as well embrace life.
This interview has been edited.
Over the past few months, we have been talking to many entrepreneurs about their knowledge-gap around intellectual property (IP) and other important startup matters that actually impact IP or intangibles (and therefore valuation and ultimately their success). This is the first in a three part series detailing the lessons learned by these early stage companies.
First, what do I mean by traditional IP? I often joke that if I had a dollar for every person who told me they didn’t have any IP in their business, and a second dollar for those who think IP is only patents, I would be rich. Traditional IP to me is the patent or trademark protection. That is not to say that copyrights, trade secrets, and so on are not IP—far from it—but the most common IP is patents and trademarks. Unfortunately there remain some big misconceptions around protecting traditional IP.
A few brave entrepreneurs have shared their stories to help others learn about the importance of IP identification early and often.
Timing is everything
Phillip Felice, Founder of Bridge Optix, described his recent brush with IP horror in a single sentence: “I realized I have underestimated intellectual property timing importance.” Phillip was weeks away from a public release of his product when he was grilled on his company’s IP protection and strategy. He realized that his patents needed to be filed before his public product release.
We have heard other horror stories where companies have spent thousands on branding for websites, signage, or product packaging without first securing rights to a name, including trademarks. Register and secure rights before spending too much of your limited startup capital.
Location, location, location
Patents filed with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) only cover the US. The same goes for trademarks and copyrights filed with the US Copyright office.
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Wealth and Weal for the Soldier: as some of you might know I’ve been outlining the idea behind several books, which involve teaching business, economic, financial, investment, and money management principles to people who usually get little training in this regard, or who have little exposure to such ideas, concepts, and principles (maybe because they have little time for it). In any case some of the audiences I have targeted to address my books on Wealth and Prosperity Training to include Wealth and Weal for Black Folks, Wealth and Weal for Poor People, Wealth and Weal for Immigrants, and Wealth and Weal for College Students.
Yesterday I was laying in the sun working on an invention when God suddenly said to me, “you know, those books on Wealth and Weal are pretty good ideas, but you know who else really needs that kinda training? A lot of Soldiers, and Police, and Firefighters.” And He was right of course, because that’s the way He is.
So I went inside and started jotting down chapter ideas. These would be chapters specifically targeted at these audiences. Such as:
Business Projects for the Soldier/Policeman
Inventions (triggered by where they serve)
Service Capabilities (developing and profiting from new ways and capabilities to serve)
Operational Improvements (how to suggest and profit from advancing operational methods of service)
Business and Career Idea Generation
Hazard Pay (how to profit from and invest your Hazard Pay)
Developing Supplementary methods and means of Income
Preparing for and Pre-Developing Your Post Service Career
Business, Career, and Employment Planning
Spiritual Development and Religious Life
Psychological Health and Development
Networking – in and out of Service
Contacts – military, civilian, political, and among your Service Zones
I recently ordered new business cards in order to split off my personal writings (my fiction and my other non-business or non-client writings, such as general non-fiction, poetry, songwriting, etc.) from Open Door and my other business ventures.
Now I have two separate cards, one identifying me as an author and writer, the other for Open Door in my corporate colors. This seems to work a lot better and I suspect it will work better for the foreseeable future as well. I can now, therefore, run my Businesses and Careers as separate ventures, parallel but not overlapping.
I am still debating whether to branch off my Designs and Inventions from Open Door as an entirely separate division. That will be my next decision and step. That will be a decision primarily regarding Capital and Fund-raising. If so I will need to incorporate each division.
Also, in order to keep a steady supply of both sets of cards on hand and to meet the new demand I dispensed with my business card holders altogether and instead bought a wallet just to hold my new cards.
This also works much better.
In 1980, Ron Shaich was just a 20-something kid looking for a way to draw customers into his single cookie store in downtown Boston.
Today, he is the founder and CEO of Panera Bread Co., which has nearly 2,000 locations in the US and Canada, 80,000 employees, and a market capitalization of $4.5 billion.
Through a series of ah-ha moments and happy accidents, Shaich took a simple idea — sandwiches, soups, and salads that people feel good about eating — and built it into a dominant American brand.
It wasn’t always easy. The company started as Au Bon Pain, and Panera was just one of its divisions. In 1998, Shaich made the difficult decision to sell off most of the business and bet on the little-sister brand Panera. He also stepped back from his role as CEO four years ago. The time away made him realize all the ways the company was vulnerable, and he wrote a 20-page memo about how he would destroy Panera if he was a competitor.
Shaich sat down with Business Insider to talk about how he got here, the single most important strategy in Panera’s success, and what’s next for the business.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Business Insider: When did you first want to be an entrepreneur?
Ron Shaich: In college, I was the treasurer of the student body and came up with the idea of launching our own nonprofit convenience store. We ended up building it, and for a kid who couldn’t dance or sing, I found the creation of this store the most creative thing I ever did in my entire life. I loved it. I began to realize that business was creative and a way to make a difference in the world.
BI: How did Panera get its start?
RS: I went to business school. I tried to figure out my life. I ended up in D.C., running a chain of cookie stores for a large company. I established that this is the food I want to eat and created a single cookie store in downtown Boston in 1980. By late ’80, I had 50,000 people a day coming in, but no one bought cookies before noon. So I decided to put in French baked goods, and I became a licensee of a classic French bakery called Au Bon Pain.
They were the most screwed up vendor I ever dealt with — sometimes they delivered, sometimes they didn’t. I went to them with a proposal to merge the businesses. In February of ’81, I took on their debt, their three stores, and my one. And, after a number of iterations, that became Panera today.
BI: What was the moment when everything clicked for Panera?
RS: In 1984 I had an epiphany. I’d been working in the bakery, and people would walk in and say, “I want that baguette. Slice it from top to bottom.” So I do and hand them the loaf, and they pulled out a bag of deli meat and some cheese and made a sandwich out of it. You didn’t have to be a marketing whiz to recognize it was an opportunity in sandwiches.
We said, “Let’s be the platform to sell soup, salad, and sandwiches.” It took off from Day 1. In 1991, we took it public, and by 1996, we had evolved to a thesis that I call “decomodification,” today called “fast casual.” Then, the contemporary paradigm of fast food was a lot of food for not a lot of money. We recognized that there was a large niche, say 30% to 40% of the market, that wanted something more special. It was not simply how much food they got for the money, but the quality of the food and how they felt about themselves eating there.
Then I had another epiphany. I was sitting on the beach in 1999 and thought, “Wow, for every 100 guys who talk about having a dominant brand, one makes it. Maybe one out of 1,000.” It’s so hard. Panera was one of four divisions. Somebody said to me: “What would you do if Panera owned Au Bon Pain and not the other way around?” I said, “This thing is a gem. If I had any guts, I’d take myself and the very best people we had, and I’d let it fulfill its destiny.” So I did it.
BI: Just like that? How did it feel to say goodbye to most of what you’d built?
RS: The next few years of selling everything else off but Panera were the most horrible years of my life. Au Bon Pain was my first child. It’s only in retrospect that these decisions feel OK. When you’re going through them, if you’re honest, they’re horrible and difficult. Bottom line, I did it. We made the bet on Panera.
BI: If you could pinpoint one strategy, what do you think made Panera so successful?
RS: What sustains a company over the long term is how it thinks, not what it does. Because what is does is a byproduct of how it thinks. Panera in its core comes from a view that competitive advantage is everything. If we don’t have a reason for people to walk past competitors and come to Panera, then we don’t exist. Losing competitive advantage is the greatest risk in business, and that’s where our focus is.
BI: How do you stay ahead of the curve?
RS: I view my role as CEO as protecting those that discover ways to build competitive advantage. Often, when businesses first start up, they’re driven by people who discover new ways of doing things. They’re able to best the competition because they’re clearly disruptive and better. Then they get larger, and behind Discovery People come Delivery People, and they speak a different language.
Discovery is the language of what could be, of where the world is going. Delivery is the language of what happened yesterday, of limited risk. And in most companies that scale, you eventually wake up and realize you have tremendous delivery muscle and no discovery muscle, no ability to regenerate competitive advantage.
Our job as leadership is to protect and enable leaps of faith, making sure the company is there when the future arrives.
BI: After being CEO for decades, you stepped down from the role about four years ago. Why did you come back?
RS: I didn’t step down; I stepped back. I became executive chairman. Instead of six days a week, I spent three days a week on Panera.
My mind started racing one weekend, and I sat down at the typewriter and wrote a 20-page memo about how I would compete with Panera if I weren’t Panera. I undertook this vision and, after a year, found myself working 60 to 70 hours per week on it!
Panera has 80,000 employees and serves 10 million people a week. I’m back as CEO because I ultimately concluded it’s the most powerful platform I have to make a difference in the world.
BI: A lot of leaders talk about the need to carve out time to think about the big picture. How do you do it?
RS: I go to the beach every Christmas, and every year I write down initiatives for myself, my family, my health, my work, and my God — all the things that I think matter. I write where I’m trying to get to and how I’m going to get there.
BI: What’s an example of one?
RS: In my 50s, having never really exercised, I realized if I don’t do it now, I never will. I committed to it and hired a trainer to help me. I’ve been at it for over eight years, and I’m in better shape today than I was 20 years ago.
BI: Is that how you approach business strategy? You have annual think sessions?
RS: That’s exactly how it works! We sit down every year and try to figure out where we want to be in five years. How do we stay competitive? What do we have to do to ensure we feed the growth monster that goes with being a public company? And then we literally draft on paper what we want to achieve in the next 12 months.
Good strategy is continually changing. Strategy begins with where we think the world is going. Innovation begins with understanding what job you’re trying to complete for whom, and then determining what matters to that audience, looking for patterns, and trying to understand it. That’s hard work; that’s in the details.
BI: Tell me about the Panera 2.0 initiative.
RS: We’ve been working on it for four years. It brings together a range of technologies, and it’s meant to change the guest experience. If you’re coming to eat in, you simply walk in, sit down at a table, and use your phone to place an order. That order goes up into the cloud and comes back down to our kitchen, goes to our production systems, and the food is delivered directly to you.
Alternatively, if you want the order to go, you can place it from your office, from a kiosk in the café — anywhere you like — you just walk in and that food is waiting for you at a designated time. We’ve made this major commitment to technology.
BI: Panera was among the first retailers to integrate Apple Pay into stores. Why did you decide this was something you wanted to be a part of?
RS: Anything that offers convenience to our guests would only be good. We already have a very significant digital presence, and we’re moving aggressively in that direction.
BI: Is this something your customers have shown an interest in?
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
RS: What customers want are things that add joy and value to their lives. They don’t want another app; they don’t want more technology. What they want are things that make their lives easier.
Apple Pay offers the potential to be significantly easier for those carrying their iPhone 6s. All you have to do is tap it and you’ve paid. It also offers a very high level of security, since there is no transfer of the credit card number. On both of those fronts, it offers the potential for ease and joy and a reduction of friction, and those are positives for the guests.
BI: What advice would you give to others who want to follow in your footsteps?
RS: If you can do something to get somebody excited — not everybody — but if you can be the best for somebody, then you can win. What it’s all about is figuring out what you can do for somebody that nobody else can do better.
Type the name of almost any successful consumer Web company into your search bar and add the word “addict” after it.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Try “Facebook addict” or “Twitter addict” or even “Pinterest addict” and you’ll soon get a slew of results from hooked users and observers deriding the narcotic-like properties of these websites. How is it that these companies, producing little more than bits of code displayed on a screen, can seemingly control users’ minds? Why are these sites so addictive and what does their power mean for the future of the web?
We’re on the precipice of a new era of the web. As infinite distractions compete for our attention, companies are learning to master new tactics to stay relevant in users’ minds and lives. Today, just amassing millions of users is no longer good enough. Companies increasingly find that their economic value is a function of the strength of the habits they create. But as some companies are just waking up to this new reality, others are already cashing in.
A company that forms strong user habits enjoys several benefits to its bottom line. For one, this type of company creates associations with “internal triggers” in users’ minds. That is to say, users come to the site without any external prompting.
Instead of relying on expensive marketing or worrying about differentiation, habit-forming companies get users to cue themselves to action by attaching their services to the users’ daily routines and emotions.
A cemented habit is when users subconsciously think, “I’m bored,” and instantly Facebook comes to mind. They think, “I wonder what’s going on in the world?” and before rational thought occurs, Twitter is the answer. The first-to-mind solution wins.
But how do companies create a connection with the internal cues needed to form habits? The answer: they manufacture desire. While fans of Mad Men are familiar with how the ad industry once created consumer desire during Madison Avenue’s golden era, those days are long gone.
A multi-screen world, with ad-wary consumers and a lack of ROI metrics, has rendered Don Draper’s big budget brainwashing useless to all but the biggest brands. Instead, startups manufacture desire by guiding users through a series of experiences designed to create habits. I call these experiences ‘Hooks,’ and the more often users run through them, the more likely they are to self-trigger.
I wrote Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products to help others understand what is at the heart of habit-forming technology. The book highlights common patterns I observed in my career in the video gaming and online advertising industries. While my model is generic enough for a broad explanation of habit formation, I’ll focus on applications in consumer internet for this post.
The trigger is the actuator of a behavior—the spark plug in the engine. Triggers come in two types: external and internal. Habit-forming technologies start by alerting users with external triggers like an email, a link on a web site, or the app icon on a phone.
By cycling continuously through successive desire engines, users begin to form associations with internal triggers, which become attached to existing behaviors and emotions. Soon users are internally triggered every time they feel a certain way. The internal trigger becomes part of their routine behavior and the habit is formed.
For example, suppose Barbra, a young lady in Pennsylvania, happens to see a photo in her Facebook newsfeed taken by a family member from a rural part of the State. It’s a lovely photo and since she’s planning a trip there with her brother Johnny, the trigger intrigues her.
After the trigger comes the intended action. Here, companies leverage two pulleys of human behavior – motivation and ability. To increase the odds of a user taking the intended action, the behavior designer makes the action as easy as possible, while simultaneously boosting the user’s motivation.
This phase of the Hook draws upon the art and science of usability design to ensure that the user acts the way the designer intends.
Using the example of Barbra, with a click on the interesting picture in her newsfeed, she’s taken to a website she’s never been to before called Pinterest. Once she’s done the intended action (in this case, clicking on the photo), she’s dazzled by what she sees next.
What separates Hooks from a plain vanilla feedback loop is their ability to create wanting in the user. Feedback loops are all around us, but predictable ones don’t create desire.
The predictable response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix—say a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it—and voila, intrigue is created. You’ll be opening that door like a lab animal in a Skinner box.
Variable schedules of reward are one of the most powerful tools that companies use to hook users. Research shows that levels of dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a reward. Introducing variability multiplies the effect, creating a frenzied hunting state, activating the parts associated with wanting and desire.
Although classic examples include slot machines and lotteries, variable rewards are prevalent in habit-forming technologies as well.
When Barbra lands on Pinterest, not only does she see the image she intended to find, but she’s also served a multitude of other glittering objects. The images are associated with what she’s generally interested in – namely things to see during a trip to rural Pennsylvania – but there are some others that catch her eye also.
The exciting juxtaposition of relevant and irrelevant, tantalizing and plain, beautiful and common sets her brain’s dopamine system aflutter with the promise of reward. Now she’s spending more time on the site, hunting for the next wonderful thing to find. Before she knows it, she’s spent 45 minutes scrolling in search of her next hit.
The last phase of the Hook is where the user is asked to do a bit of work. This phase has two goals as far as the behavior engineer is concerned. The first is to increase the odds that the user will make another pass through the Hook when presented with the next trigger. Second, now that the user’s brain is swimming in dopamine from the anticipation of reward in the previous phase, it’s time to pay some bills.
The investment generally comes in the form of asking the user to give some combination of time, data, effort, social capital or money.
But unlike a sales funnel, which has a set endpoint, the investment phase isn’t about consumers opening up their wallets and moving on with their day. The investment implies an action that improves the service for the next go-around. Inviting friends, stating preferences, building virtual assets, and learning to use new features are all commitments that improve the service for the user.
These investments can be leveraged to make the trigger more engaging, the action easier, and the reward more exciting with every pass through the Hook.
As Barbra enjoys endlessly scrolling the Pinterest cornucopia, she builds a desire to keep the things that delight her. By collecting items, she’ll be giving the site data about her preferences. Soon she will follow, pin, re-pin, and make other investments that serve to increase her ties to the site and prime her for future loops through the Hook.
A reader recently wrote to me, “If it can’t be used for evil, it’s not a super power.” He’s right. And under this definition, habit design is indeed a super power. If used for good, habits can enhance people’s lives with entertaining and even healthful routines. If used to exploit, habits can turn into wasteful addictions.
But, like it or not, habit-forming technology is already here. The fact that we have greater access to the web through our various devices also gives companies greater access to us.
As companies combine this greater access with the ability to collect and process our data at higher speeds than ever before, we’re faced with a future where everything becomes more addictive. This trinity of access, data, and speed creates new opportunities for habit-forming technologies to hook users. Companies need to know how to harness the power of Hooks to improve peoples’ lives, while consumers need to understand the mechanics of behavior engineering to protect themselves from unwanted manipulation.
What do you think? Hooks are all around us. Where do you see them manufacturing desire in your life?
Here’s the gist:
- The degree to which a company can utilize habit-forming technologies will increasingly decide which products and services succeed or fail.
- Habit-forming technology creates associations with “internal triggers” which cue users without the need for marketing, messaging or other external stimuli.
- Creating associations with internal triggers comes from building the four components of a “Hook” — a trigger, action, variable reward, and investment.
- Consumers must understand how habit-forming technology works to prevent unwanted manipulation while still enjoying the benefits of these innovations.
- Companies must understand the mechanics of habit-formation to increase engagement with their products and services and ultimately help users create beneficial routines.
Nir is speaking at The Next Web USA Conference in New York on December 10. Learn more about the conference here.
Tonight, now that everything is settled I’m going to order my new literary business cards. The ones declaring me as a fiction writer.
Next week after thinking on the designs awhile I’ll order my cards as a game designer.
At the same time I’ll order my new business cards but first I’m going to rearrange the way I intend to incorporate the business.
This is my intention at this point:
Open Door, Inc.
It will consist of three separate divisions.
Brokerage and Consulting – I used to be both a business and private offerings Broker and a Consultant and want to do both again, if only in a limited capacity. Plus the Funding and Venture Capital contacts will do me a lot of good.
Communications – which is what already exists between my wife and myself, with me as the writer and her as the speaker.
Designs – which will consist of my designs and inventions, and will cover my scientific and technological ventures, and when I can get the funding for it settled, the Museus (my hopefully joint-venture inventions laboratory with the state of SC).
Once all three divisions are up and running properly and have grown to a significant degree I will withdraw from Brokerage and Consulting (except as an adviser and board member) and Communications (handing that over to my wife to run) and thereafter I will concentrate only upon the Design division, helping to run the Museus, and working my inventions, and writing fiction, poetry, non-fiction, songs, etc.
Indeed. I practice this habit every day. I walk and/or run 2 to 5 miles per day.
In recent years, walking has gone from a generally healthful mode of transport to a public health crusade. Why? Lately, science has shown sitting all day to be the newest public health menace, right behind Big Macs and cigarettes on the list of things that will shorten your life and damage your body. The silver lining to this evolving line of research is that fighting back seems to be as simple as getting up and wandering around for a few minutes every hour or so (standing desks are another option).
An occasional stroll, therefore, has become akin to a morning vitamin or regular cancer screening–something you know you really ought to do. There’s no denying the truth of the necessity of adding a bare minimum of movement to our days, but there’s another side to walking that may be getting lost in the rush to remind people of its salutary effects.
Walking might save your life, but that’s far from all a good wander has to offer.
Traveling by foot isn’t just medicinal. It’s also a meditative pursuit with a long and storied pedigree that can lift your mood, improve your creativity, and give you the space you need for life-changing self-reflection.
Less Anxious, More Creative
The first couple of items on this list are the simplest to prove. Again we can turn to recent studies that reveal being outside in natural settings is powerful anti-anxiety medicine. Blog Wise Bread summed up the new findings this way: “The sounds of birds chirping, rain falling, and bees buzzing are proven to lower stress and evoke a feeling of calm.”
Similarly, science attests that getting out for a walk can spur creative thinking. Stanford News, for example, reports on studies out of the university showing that “the overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative while walking than sitting … creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when the person was walking.”
Walking to Find Yourself
It’s clear, then, that walking has short-term utilitarian uses–if you need an idea to finish that work project, a spin around your local park might help shake one loose. But there’s also lots of anecdotal evidence that longer walks can yield a deeper sort of creativity. The mental space created by long rambles offers the stressed and scattered the time and brain real estate needed not only to solve specific problems, but also to gain perspective on their own lives and rebalance out-of-whack lifestyles.
When blogger David Roberts decided to fight his profound burnout with a year-long digital detox, for example, he soon settled into a daily rhythm of long hikes. “Reliably, after about a half-hour of walking, ideas start bubbling up,” he reports in a fascinating writeup of the experience for Outdoor magazine. The wandering had other effects, too. “I spent hours at a time absorbed in a single activity. My mind felt quieter, less jumpy,” he says.
Roberts is far from the only thinker to notice these deeper effects of longer walks. On Medium recently, writer Craig Mod composed an ode to long walks, unearthing a treasure trove of historical figures and great thinkers who celebrated and dissected the benefits of walking. The common thread running through these accounts isn’t just that experiencing a place on foot offers a unique perspective and plenty of unexpected details to delight the walker, but also that “walking moves or settles the mind–allowing for self discovery.”
If you’ve lost touch with the art of the long ramble, it’s a must-read piece. And it begs the question:
Will you take time for a long walk this week?
Become a Branding Expert—OnDemand Design Webcast CollectioA couple of weeks ago, we brought you 14 of the best business cards in the biz, knowing we had only to reach out to designers and firms at the top of their game to get our hands on their business cards. Then we found 12 more of the best business cards created for clients.
Now, now we’re bringing you even more business card examples. This time, many readers sent in their cards and clients’ cards, and we threw those into the mix.
What do you think of these business card designs? Which would you call a great business card?
Designer: Justin Ahrens
Material/Production: Neenah Classic crest Solar White #100 cover; 3/3 with registered emboss and custom PMS
Printer: O’Neil Printing
Designer/Client: Nice Branding Agency
Material: Silk cards with gold foil accents
Designer/Client: Kevin Greene
Designer/Client: Jay Smith, Juicebox Designs
Designer: Tom Davy, Ten2Two
Client: Bodymasters Gym and Nutrition
Completely concur… and God is the very best and Wisest Business, Career, Entrepreneurial, Success, and Work partner I have ever had.
I want to say upfront that I believe in God and that there is design to the world and the people in it. For those of you who don’t believe this, I am asking you to allow me to hold these assumptions temporarily for specific reasons that will hopefully become clear. The purpose of this article is not to convert anyone; it is to build some logic into why, for me, the Bible is the best business book I have read.
Suppose it were actually true that God existed and sent his Son to us. If it were, then it would likely follow that the guidance He gave to us would help us deal effectively with people since people are part of His design. The biblical story is that God sent His son Jesus with a mission and message of reconciliation to mankind. If it is true that God created us, then looking at the invitation that He gives through Jesus tells us a lot about what people will respond to, and gives us a model for effective relationships.
Since working with people is most important in business, then, a by-product of following the Bible would be becoming more successful in working with others. Like the law of gravity, there would be basic things that work or do not work with people. For example, when dealing with customers who cheat us, if our first move is to punish the customers in some even small way, on average that would yield a set of outcomes. Rather, if our first move is to forgive the customers, that would also probably have a different set of outcomes.
When Peter cut off the ear of one of the soldiers who attempted to capture Christ, Jesus admonished Peter. (John 18:11). If we go about our daily lives judging people in a harsh way, then this would likely come through in some intangible way in how we are perceived by others. As much as we try, it is difficult to hide who we really are over a long period of time. In the Bible, when the mob was about to stone the woman convicted of adultery, Jesus asked that the person guilty of no sin come forth to cast the first stone (John 8:7). If we align our goals with those of a power much greater than ours, we are swimming with the current, not against it. I also believe it helps with leadership since people end up following, not really individuals, but the ideas those individuals stand for.
The best business book I have read is the Bible. Specifically, the New Testament contains rich instruction on relationships, both descriptively (how Jesus treats us) and prescriptively (how we treat each other in response). Ideals such as directly confronting people over offenses, working without garnering praise, and acknowledging that we have a limited ability to change people, are all emphasized in the context of His teaching. If you follow the guidance in it, I believe that, while your worldly success is not guaranteed, your chance of success will be higher. (For those of you reading this who are Christians, my intent is not to convey at all that we follow these principles for an outcome: it is to state what I have seen in my business life. God does not promise us any earthly reward for our submission to His principles).
Now, to end where I began, I want to say a few other things. I realize there are people who are very “successful” in business who do not believe in God or in a design, perhaps do not give it much thought, and have discarded these things. However, if you look closely at the majority of them, they were or are more or less following the guiding principles of the New Testament. Also, there are probably some very successful “bad” people who just go about and do as they wish with no reverence for anything other than themselves; however, I believe this case is much rarer than the popular media would make us believe.
I realize that not everyone shares these views and thoughts, and I, of course, respect people’s right to disagree. However, I am trying to convey what has been helpful to me– and in my professional life, I’ve found that the best lessons, whether they’re spiritual or related to business, have come from scripture.
Hearing the silence… I have often wondered if humans, and other creatures, might not just be sensitive to these sounds (though not as sounds, but as electromagnetic vibrations, similar to being sensitive to a powerful magnetic field) through their brain and body, and if it would not be worthwhile to invent a miniaturized for-home-use radio telescope that could detect, discriminate, and convert these sounds for human listening and recording.
This device would have to be programmable, it would have to be sensitive enough to detect and track specific “sound sources and frequencies,” within the given and desired detection ranges, and it might even later lead to a in-home Cosmic TV (which could convert such sounds and vibrations into visual images similar to the way TV converts radio waves into visual images) for viewing such signals.
I have long believed this for I have seen far too many personal examples of it not to understand these facts:
1. Intelligence is no guarantor of success
2. Intelligence can become a definite detriment to your success (and the success of others) if you concentrate only upon your intelligence, your theories, and you ideas while you ignore or discount Reality and the way things actually are.
3. Intelligence has no direct correlation to Creativity and the smart man will practice developing his Creativity and not just his intelligence.
4. It is far more important to be Wise than merely intelligent. Wisdom breeds foresight and foresight breeds understanding of what is to come and that kind of understanding breeds Creativity.
Modern man is childishly and slavishly enamored of his own supposed intelligence. He’d do much.much better to seek Wisdom and to continually practice his Creativity than to merely cultivate his intelligence. I am in no way anti-intelligence, but the shortcomings of mere intelligence are obvious and everywhere evident if you but look with clear and critical eyes.
How smart do you have to be to succeed?
What about to become a creative genius? Did Picasso and Mozart use superhuman intelligence to create their masterpieces?
- How intelligent do you need to be to become a successful entrepreneur?
- How good does your training program need to be to become an elite athlete?
- How perfect does your weight loss program need to be to burn fat?
These are questions that we don’t often ask ourselves, but they are built into our beliefs and actions about many phases of life. We often think that the reason we aren’t succeeding is because we haven’t found the right strategy or because we weren’t born with the right talents.
Perhaps that is true. Or, perhaps there is an untold side of the story…
In 1921, there was a psychologist at Stanford University named Lewis Terman who set out on a mission to conduct a research study unlike any before it.
Terman began by finding the 1,000 smartest students in California between the third grade and eighth grade as measured by IQ.  After much testing and searching, Terman gathered a final sample of 856 boys and 672 girls. The children became known as “The Termites.”
Terman and his team began testing the children in nearly every way you could image. They tracked their IQ, analyzed how many books each student had in their homes, took their medical histories, and on and on. But that was just the beginning.
What made Terman’s study unique is that it was the first longitudinal research study, which meant that Terman continued to track and test his subjects for years afterward. The study, which is now famously known as “Genetic Studies of Genius,” collected data from the students throughout their entire lives. Terman collected additional data in 1928, 1936, 1940, 1945, 1950, and 1955. After Terman died in 1956, his colleagues continued tracking The Termites in 1960, 1972, 1977, 1982, and 1986.
To summarize, the study started with the smartest group of children in the entire state of California and then tracked their success throughout their entire lives. Decades later, the researchers had discovered something very interesting…
The surprising discovery that came out of Terman’s study is best described by creativity researcher and physician, Nancy Andreasen…
“Although many people continue to equate intelligence with genius, a crucial conclusion from Terman’s study is that having a high IQ is not equivalent to being highly creative. Subsequent studies by other researchers have reinforced Terman’s conclusions, leading to what’s known as the threshold theory, which holds that above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t have much effect on creativity: most creative people are pretty smart, but they don’t have to be that smart, at least as measured by conventional intelligence tests. An IQ of 120, indicating that someone is very smart but not exceptionally so, is generally considered sufficient for creative genius.” 
Remember our question from the beginning: “Did Picasso and Mozart use superhuman intelligence to create their masterpieces?”
According to Threshold Theory, not necessarily. Being in the top 1% of intelligence has no correlation with being fantastically creative. Rather, there is a minimum threshold of intelligence that you need to have, and after that it comes down to a lot of deliberate practice, putting in your reps, and developing your skill set.
Threshold Theory in everyday life
If you look around, you’ll see that Threshold Theory applies to many things in life. Success is rarely as simple as “just work harder.” The fundamentals matter. There is a minimum threshold of competence that you need to develop in nearly any endeavor.
After that, however, the difference is between those who put in the work and those who get distracted. Once you have a basic grasp of the right things to do, it becomes about the consistency of doing the right things more often. Once you understand the fundamentals, it comes down to your habits.
Need a few more breadcrumbs to follow until Elon Musk “unveils the D” (and something else) tomorrow? During an interview tonight at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit, Tesla’s CEO told Walter Isaacson a few juicy tidbits about his news, without really revealing anything — other than what we’ve already seen. According to Musk “One of the things is already there, and people just don’t realize it.” Also, some of the internet’s guesses (dual engine? autonomous driving? AWD?) are apparently on track, as he said people are “directionally correct,” but that they don’t “appreciate the magnitude.” You can watch a clip of of the interview embedded after the break and leave your own theories in the comments, we’ll be reporting live from the unveiling in LA tomorrow night to find out the truth.
A TINKER’S DAMN
Is anything worth doing?
I ask myself sometimes
One man’s act of genius
Is someone’s wasted prime
We all complain of nothing
When nothing much is done
When everything is not much more
The difference there is none
A thousand million billion times
The Earth around the sun
Happens every day I guess
We never have outrun
Our own orbit, come what may
Is much the same as last
The Future is if truth be told
So very like the past
I wish that I could be unique
But I am far too Wise
Men before I ever lived
Did whatever then applied
Countless reams of empty words
Countless rows of books
Senseless acts and acts redeemed
You see them if you look
Yet still our Age is empty now
Of what we’ve yet to do
It may not make a tinker’s damn
Yet still it’s up to you.
An excellent business lecture on Entrepreneurship, Start-Ups, Financing, Marketing, and general principles of Innovation.
I recommend it.
An excellent little article from Fast Company on Idea Generation and Innovative Thinking Processes: