Q&A 020

Published on:
February 3, 2021

Hi All,

Entering the roaring twenties of our newsletter editions, we give you a few examples of changing perspective. Discovering your behaviour is not as strange as you thought, how success removes nuances, and how this golden age rhymes with history. Enjoy!

📲 Politeness

Whenever I explain to people that I do not pick up my phone when it shows an unknown number, I often get faces that say: really? I therefore always thought I was somehow the odd-one-out. Until I saw this little graph, from Pew Research Center:

I'm not that special after all! To me, it makes complete sense to ignore unknown numbers. The category 'unknown numbers' is for me not just confined to the hidden numbers that literally will make your phone screen show 'unknown'. I've defined it as any number that does not match an entry in my address book. My reasoning is that when the one who's calling you really wants to talk to you, he or she will leave a voicemail or send a text message.

(Malicious) telephone marketing is picking up, despite all the efforts to make it more transparent and introducing the ability to have your number deleted from call-lists. Further, it creates less distraction and you run less risk to be caught off-guard in a conversation that you've not been able to prepare for. Even just the slightest moment of seeing a known name in your screen can make you realise what the upcoming conversation might be about, which makes you more prepared (or still not picking up the phone).

𝚫 Pyramid

When I ask you for random associations with the word 'pyramid', Egypt or Pharaos are bound to turn up. But 'Maslow' also turns up surprisingly often, with his hierarchy of human growth.

Paul Millerd took a deep dive into the origins of the pyramid and describes the jump from Maslow's book 'A Theory of Human Motivation (1943)' to the realm of business. In the 1950s, management thinkers saw the potential of using Maslow's identified needs as a tool to go beyond salary and look at other incentives, creating the now iconic pyramid.

What is lesser known is that Maslow spent 30+ years after his initial writing to second-guess and evolve his ideas, leading him to define the terms 'Deficiency-needs' (most of the stages of his earlier pyramid) and 'Being-values' as the transcendence of the Deficiency-needs. Examples of the Being-values are 'Being without action', 'Communication as an end (not a means)', 'Meaning' and 'Transcending ego'. Firmly opposing the rather egocentric 'self-actualisation' of his earlier thinking, this makes him a true contemporary of Ram Dass and Alan Watts and firmly in line with Eastern philosophies.

The fact that Maslow did not contest the limitations of his earlier thinking publicly is explained as a classic example of a 'Deficiency'. Frustrated with his lack of progress and standing with his psychology peers, he enjoyed his massive popularity amongst business thinkers. Fascinating read.

💰Golden Age

In 2020, valuations of especially IT and technology companies increased to unimaginable heights. Companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft surpassed the one (and even two) trillion dollar mark. Unimaginable? Well, actually, no.

Consider this chart that was published by Jeff Desjardins in 2017:

I knew the Dutch East India Company was valuable in their time, but did not realize it was worth the same as the 20 largest modern day's companies. Note that the comparison was made in 2017. Taking current day valuations, it is 'just' as large as the 5 biggest companies.

There are some striking similarities. The Dutch East India Company was a young company when it reached its valuation heights. It started operations in 1602 and was worth $7.9 trillion after only 35 years. First of all, it was granted the monopoly for trading spices with Asia. Secondly, the company's growth and strong, speculative interest to join in its successes coincided with the tulip mania reaching its peak.

Though current day big-tech companies have not been granted any monopolies, they do occupy very strong market positions through which they can influence pricing in their own interest. In addition, with interest rates reaching new lows, more and more people flock to the stock market to find a new destiny for their money.

One thing is different. Europe has lost its position on the World's stage when it comes to producing valuable companies. That's not necessarily a problem, certainly not when we're able to bring the world together and remove some economic boundaries. Internet was meant to do just that.

⚖️ Quality

This last decade, experimentation has regained its position as the Gold Standard for progress of any kind in innovation. This has prompted all of the Tech Giants to aim for ever-increasing experimentation speed as a goal in and of itself. I came across a great case for more experimentation in a book called Art & Fear, written by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

Doing gets you feedback & learning, making an experiment often the best choice for progress. As with all advice, however, there is nuance to this. Intelligent choices between experimentation steps trump mere speed.

That's it for this week! If you got forwarded this newsletter and like what you read, click here to sign up. You can browse earlier editions in our archive.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts and tips. Just reply to this e-mail to get in touch with us.

Have a great week!

Quinten & Alphons