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Why Folks Do What They Do: Jobs to be Done

This following post originally written for the FullStory blog in March 2017. Updated in April 2020.


Clayton Christensen, the late author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and former Harvard Business School professor, made the case that to understand what motivates people to act, you first must understand what it is they to need to get done.

You need to know the why behind the what.

Christensen first articulated this outcome-driven innovation in a 2005 paper for the Harvard Business Review titled The Cause and the Cure of Marketing Malpractice, writing:

When people find themselves needing to get a job done, they essentially hire products to do that job for them …

If a [businessperson] can understand the job, design a product and associated experiences in purchase and use to do that job, and deliver it in a way that reinforces its intended use, then when customers find themselves needing to get that job done they will hire that product.

Christensen’s theory is known as the “Jobs” or “Jobs to Be Done” theory (“JTBD”) because it’s built around a central question: what is the job a person is hiring a product to do? What is the job to be done?

If you can solve the mystery of Jobs to Be Done, you can build the kind of products people love … like milkshakes for breakfast.

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Learn by Doing, Then by Thinking

Note: There’s a bit of thinking here. But it’s thinking after doing.

The late Seth Roberts once wrote about his graduate school days, and how he got into self-experimentation. It was by way of the idea that, “The best way to learn is to do:”

And then I was in the library and I came across an article about teaching mathematics and the article began, “The best way to learn is to do.” And I thought “Huh well that makes a lot of sense.” And I realized you know that it was a funny thing that that’s what I wasn’t doing: I was thinking. And I also thought to myself well I want to learn how to do experiments. And if the best way to learn is to do then I should just do as many experiments as possible as opposed to trying to think of which ones to do. And that was really a vast breakthrough in my graduate training and everything changed after that.

Quoted from a 10 minute presentation by Seth Roberts (link long since lost to github, apparently)

Roberts practiced “learning by doing” throughout his life, always carrying out various experiments to see what he could discover.

It’s a simple, intriguing idea: you can learn more by doing first than you can by thinking first.

Why might this be the case?

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The Church of Man: Primitive Technology

I was on Reddit about three years ago when I stumbled on a popular link. Something to the effect of “Man in woods makes tiled hut from mud.”

Click.

Hmm 🤔 … “Primitive Technology.”

What is this?

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Understanding Bodyweight and Glycogen Depletion

If you are dieting or are planning to start a diet, you need to understand the connection between bodyweight and glycogen, that is how carbohydrates get stored in your liver and muscles, so you don’t overestimate your weight loss as you cut carbs—or your weight gain if you add some back. Understand the connection and you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your cool for the long-haul when swings inevitably happen.

So what exactly is going on?

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How Mobile Hijacked Human Nature

We live in abundance, so why does our attention feel so scarce?

Our biology hasn’t caught up to our technology. Today, we live in a time of abundance — abundance of information, content, and connectivity. Yet our time and attention has never felt more scarce — or scattered. How we manage the interplay between these dynamics is critical to our future yet completely unresolved. We are in uncharted territory.

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The Axis of Content Consumption is Attention

The democratization of content may have already happened but it’s far from over. Today, we are all drowning to consume as much content as possible, treading water as we doll out our time to whatever content manages to grab our attention. And no matter what we choose, we never feel like we make the tiniest dent. We’re left dissatisfied and still drowning. The Internet is a flood.

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Dunbar’s Number, Broken Social Networks, and Back Scratches

My brother passed on an article in The New Yorker from a couple weeks back titled The Limits of Friendship. It’s an exposition on Oxford anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s discovery that humans organize into social groups that tend to range from 100-200 people, with the average—150—being an optimal rule of thumb. This is known as Dunbar’s number.

The discovery was made through observing the correlation between the size of an animal’s frontal lobe whereby the larger the frontal lobe (or smaller), the larger the social group size for that animal. Applying this understanding to human brains, “Judging from the size of an average human brain, the number of people the average person could have in her social group was a hundred and fifty.”

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Meatza! Meatza!

So last night I made a meatza for the second time. For those of you who’ve not had or heard of a meatza, it’s basically a pizza you make using ground beef for the crust.

I consider myself pretty carnivorous and I love pizza (Pizza and beer are make for the one-two punch to knock me completely off the paleo bandwagon*), but I have to confess: the notion of a meatza just didn’t appeal to me at first blush. Plus, I’d made a few attempts at the almond flour crust pizza and been a bit disappointed. It’s a lot of work to make an almond flour pizza, so when the result consistently disappointed, I just gave up on a low-carb pizza solution.

It was only when a few friends mentioned they had enjoyed meatza that I decided to give it a shot. I knew Richard had made meatza based off a meatza recipe from the Healthy Cooking Coach, so that’s where I scrounged up the basic directions.

Now, making a pizza is as simple as making a crust, adding toppings, and baking it in the oven. With a meatza then, the most complicated part here is making the crust. And it’s also the part that you’ve got to get right to make sure your meat pizza is delicious!

Enter my Italian grandfather’s meatball recipe. My Pop has a fairly famous (within the family anyway) spaghetti recipe for sauce and meatballs. I’m going to skip the sauce part for now because it’s a bit more labor-intensive. In a pinch, you can just use some spaghetti sauce from the store.

Anyway, it’s the meatball recipe that really knocks the meatza crust out of the park, so without further ado, here are the ingredients:

  1. I use a 12×17 rectangular pan
  2. Get a decent sized mixing bowl to mix the meat
  3. Start pre-heating the oven to 450
  4. For ease of mixing into the beef, I go ahead and get all my seasonings out and into a little bowl (this will make more sense in a second):
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese**
    • 3 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp caraway seeds (this is the magic ingredient in my opinion)
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp garlic salt
    • 1 tsp coarse ground pepper
    • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
    • 2 lbs. ground beef (80/20 is fine)
  5. Seasonings mixed, put the beef into the mixing bowl, crack into it two eggs and mix beef and eggs first. This is because the runny egg can cause the seasonings to clump together and it just makes mixing a lot messier and less uniform if you don’t mix beef and egg first prior to adding the seasonings. Thus, the need for to pre-mix the seasonings — your hands are all covered in beef at this point, so you just have to pour in the seasonings!
  6. Add seasonings and Parmesan cheese and mix well! (Note: you can also do the Parmesan after the egg/beef pre-seasonings if you want)
  7. Take the mass of mixed beef and slam it onto your pan. BAM!
  8. Flatten it out: you should be able to just about cover a 12×17 pan with the beef
  9. Oven pre-heated, throw it in there for 10 minutes!

At this point, I immediately start pre-cooking certain ingredients that need a little extra attention; in my case, it’s sliced mushrooms and diced green pepper sauteeing in a cast iron skillet with some pasture butter.

Ten minutes up, take the crust out of the oven. Set the oven to Broil (it will take a few minutes to heat to this point).

You’ll now notice the crust has shrunk considerably and there’s a good bit of rendered fat in the pan. Pour the fat out of the pan. Optional step: take a paper towel and wipe up any extraneous beef “stuff” that is exterior to the crust. This is simply because it’s not part of the crust and if you leave it, it could cake to the pan and make clean-up more of a hassle.

Now, you just add your toppings. For me, I added Newman’s Sockerooni spaghetti sauce as a base, then a layer of pepperoni, then a base layer of mozarella cheese. From there, I add sliced green olives, feta cheese, the mushrooms and green peppers, more pepperoni, and top it all off with more cheese.

Broiler heated up, I throw it all back in the oven until the cheese is done. It cooks very fast at this point! Like five minutes is almost too long in our case, so make sure you keep a close eye on your meatza!

Take it out, let it sit for a minute or two, and slice and serve. I find this slices into six solid size pieces — I can eat a half a pizza under the right conditions, but one slice of meatza and I am good to go.

Enjoy!

Oh one more thing: I really like this alternative pizza combination. It is downright delicious and I don’t get that “sigh this isn’t really pizza” sensation at all. I’m not sure it is pizza, really, but it is really good, so who cares!

* Beer, chips, and salsa at Mexican restaurants being right up there, too.

** Were you to make the meatballs, you’d actually use two slices of bread, wet, and torn into small pieces OR 1 cup of plain bread crumbs (you can sub almond flour if you like)

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Shoot first and ask questions later (And have kids even if you don’t want to) (Updated, sorta)

Below is a response to Patri Friedman’s recent post on his pro-parenthood bias:

I’m late to the party.

My first kid is about eight weeks from greeting the world (and piercing my ears for the first few months or years!), so I’ve been giving the whole parenthood thing a lot of thought over the past few months. Incidentally, though we intended to have kids eventually, it happened sooner than we were planning.

Such is the unpredictability of life.

Which brings me to a point that you didn’t make, one that Bryan Caplan has alluded to via some scrounged up surveys of parents. The data Caplan found indicates that almost no one regrets having kids. Most parents wish they had *more* kids than they end up having. And adults who don’t have kids also tend to wish later that they had reproduced (For sake of saving a few words or directing others, see this post on the data).

Even though this backward-looking data supports the argument to have children, I don’t think it’s necessary to conclude that you should reproduce.

We are apparently quite bad at predicting what will make us happy in the future. For a nice read on this subject, I recommend picking up Dan Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness” (and if you are too busy to do that, just read my selected quotes from Stumbling on Happiness here). A theme of Gilbert, which is also a theme of books like Taleb’s “The Black Swan,” is that everything is much more complex than we make it out to be, and this complexity makes our grossly simplified forecasts fundamentally flawed — useless at best — harmful at worst. As applied to those people who choose not to have kids, as much as they think they know what will make them happy in the future, they are almost certainly going to be wrong about their predictions.

Accepting our inability to know what will make us happy but understanding that it is a biological imperative to reproduce and realizing that it will be much more expensive to reproduce past our reproductive prime, all signs point to shooting first and asking questions later.

Of course, to have kids or not is no simple binary choice. Procreating makes for an incredibly “bushy” (complex) life experience. Kids add randomness and depth to our lives in ways that we can’t possibly foresee but ways we will likely enjoy*. Sure, by having kids you’ll forgo some experiences as you engage life by yourself or with your significant other, but the experiences you’ll forgo by not having children are wholly new and unpredictable — the life of an entirely new human being: you, your significant other, and your kid(s).

In short, I liken parenthood to doing first and understanding later. This is a good rule of thumb to apply across almost all facets of life — lots of iterations make for lots of experiments through which we can learn about and enjoy life. Not having kids is a choice to have a drastically less-interesting, much more simplistic and sterile (literally and figuratively) life. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone I care about.

So I shake my head when friends make that choice.

Finally, I don’t really understand how anyone can understand humanity through the lens of evolution and not have children. Having kids means getting in touch with our core humanity — our biological nature — and living out the imperative coded in our DNA: to create life. Reject your hardwired nature at your own risk.

For my particular contribution to furthering human evolution, our kid is getting a mix of the DNA from a caucasion (me) and an Indian. Gene-swapping for the win!

* Another SoH idea is that we are better off charging into the unknown than doing nothing because our mental immune systems are better at justifying our decisions after the fact than they are at managing grief of what could have been.

** Not a brightline conclusion, I know — you can always adopt or potentially figure out other methods to have children after you pass your reproductive time.

Update: So despite my comment being one of the last out of the 170+ comments to Patri’s post, I got a couple shout-outs in follow-up posts by Patri (here and here). And I had to throw in one more comment, which I’ll copy below, which is more or less an application of Pascal’s wager to the decision to have children. So here’s my second comment:

Another point regarding the buyer’s remorse stats — if the majority of people who don’t have kids ultimately regret it, it seems highly likely that at least one person in a committed sterile-by-choice relationship will regret their decision. Yeah, people often select mates based on whether or not they want to have kids, but these same individuals also often change their minds about their choice (thus the tendency towards regret).

And this often leads to wrecked, otherwise fantastic relationships. I’m sure that I am biased in making this observation — I know someone who clearly regrets not having children. His spouse of twenty years, on the other hand, seems perfectly content. And it has put an enormous amount of unspoken strain on their relationship, not to mention, it is a point of intense sadness for this individual.

I see a slight parallel to religion here. Having kids because you expect it to be somehow fulfilling is a bit like hoping for a reward in heaven when you die — a life lived adhering to some arbitrary religious codes requires a lot of obvious work with less than obvious rewards, not unlike the decision to have kids.

Except that is where the similarity breaks down. With the choice to procreate, not only do we see the direct benefits of our own parents’ choice (as in, I am alive and I believe my life is not only good for me but also for my parents), we see the benefits accruing to our friends and relatives.

I mention all of this because the anti-procreation argument assumes that you know without a reasonable doubt that you will be happier/more fulfilled/better off without children. Not only is there a lot of observational/anecdotal/statistical evidence suggesting you might be wrong, there’s also the reality thatwe are very bad at predicting what will make us happy in the future. The cards, it seems, are very much stacked against those who believe they’re better off without children.

So even if you don’t want to now, have kids anyway. To me, this argument is a version of Pascal’s wager that actually makes sense.

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Cross-Pollinating Ideas via the Internet

I was just leaving a comment on Richard Nikoley’s latest blog post, Vitamin K1 vs. Vitamin K2 concerning Natto, a fermented soy food from Japan that contains a huge amount Vitamin K2. I was specifically pointing out that fish gonads, which are considered to have a high K2 concentration, something I had learned over at Stephan Guyenet’s Whole Health Source: Seafood and K2, are absolutely dwarfed by the K2 concentration in natto^. I had first learned about natto and the importance of fermented foods via Seth Roberts’ blog (See his Fermented Food Category). Put differently, my comment took data from three different sources and presented it in a coordinated, collaborative manner.

Though this might not be the best term for it, I call these occurrences examples of the “cross-pollination” of ideas. It’s a collaborative, unpredictable, uncoordinated, complex effort whereby ideas and information gleaned from disparate sources are examined in relation to one another. It is knowing the trees and seeing the forest. The goal is to create more useful ideas and better information, and then spread this new knowledge far and wide. And do it over and over again. If this reminds you at all of evolutionary processes, not only are you catching my drift, you’re cross-pollinating.

Idea cross-pollination is amplified by the Internet. Historically, a powerful idea or discovery could languish in obscurity, the pet project of an experimenter who works in the silo of his own research. This was the case with Isaac Newton who had discovered/created calculus decades before it was made public.

Compare how calculus languished to the ideas contained within Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, a book written by a non-specialist (Taubes is a writer, not a scientist) that looks at an enormous amount of nutrition-related research, sees common threads across the data, and presents it all in once place, calling into question the mainstream nutrition mantra that low-fat is healthy, fat will kill you, and people are obese because they eat too much. GCBC was created by having the power to examine the research of a number of disparate specialists and see the big picture.

A book like GCBC is made possible by the Internet because it becomes much less likely that ideas remain within the dusty silos of specialists. The Internet takes curiosity, search, and a great deal of disparate computing power*, and uses them to spread ideas much, much faster. Non-specialists(like Taubes or me) then have the pleasure of making fortuitous discoveries of connections across specialties.

Of course, the means by which cross-pollination is accomplished are unpredictable: we can’t plan a course to find them. All we can do is cast a wide net, examine a lot of ideas, follow our curiosity, and let our organic pattern recognition software do it’s thing. This is very much a “learn by doing, then by thinking” concept. If we dabble in this gamble enough, every once in awhile, we will hit the idea jackpot.

Mind, the idea of idea cross-pollination isn’t really an external process across disparate people, at all. To the extent that we learn ideas, we store copies** of them in our brains, forever taking the ideas with us (A reason legal boundaries around mental concepts is fundamentally absurd). Indeed, it seems that the majority of my intellectual growth has been predicated on being able to cross-pollinate within these internalized knowledge stores. I am always trying to reconcile previously learned ideas with new ones. In this way my organic human network, a human brain, is mimicked by the inorganic mesh of networks we call the Internet.

In sum, cross-pollination of ideas has always been occurring — it is a human specialty, warts and all. Thanks to the Internet, it’s happening more, and we’re getting an explosion of ideas/concepts/knowledge as a result.

^ It seems that Natto is an obscure bastion of nutrition, which may be due to the fact that it (apparently) doesn’t taste the greatest. I’ve yet to get my hands on any as it is exceedingly hard to find. Rest assured, I will be eating some just as soon as I get a chance to check out the only Japanese grocery store in Atlanta.

* As in, human minds that work to understand and pull together the data they discover.

** Albeit imperfect, frequently mutated copies, but this, again, can make for fortuitous idea creation, and as far as I can tell, acts as a positive, dynamic force.