I learned a new word: Hysteresis

Definition: Dependence of a system not only on its current environment, but also on its past environment.

Etymology:  Greek. 

Husteros (late) => Husterein (be behind) => husteresis (shortcoming, deficiency) => hysteresis (late 19th century).

The term was coined by Sir James Alfred Ewing, a british physicist. 

After schooling at the University of Edinburgh, he worked as a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Tokyo and then King's College in Cambridge. It was at the latter institution where he begun his work on the magnetic properties of iron, steel and other metals. He coined the term after noticing that magnetization of a metal lagged behind changes in current. 

Yesterday I learned the word in the context of economics: 

An economic downturn today, has an effect on the economy tomorrow. I'm not referring to the loss of output, production, jobs, etc during the downturn - that's a given. Hysteresis refers to the fact that, even after returning to "normal," a scar is left on the economy.  

People look at an economy differently depending on where it has been. This determines where it will go. The health of an economy depends not only on its current state, but also on it's past states. 

Today I've found myself noticing hysteresis everywhere:

  • Job Seeking 

  • Dating 

  • Grading 

  • College Admissions 

 

Rousseau Would Love the Liberal Arts

"Education is only useful insofar as fortune is in agreement with the parents' vocation... In Egypt where the son was obligated to embrace the station of his father, education at least had a sure goal. But among us where only the ranks remain and the men who compose them change constantly, no one knows wether in raising his son for his rank he is not working against him. 
 

Living is the job I want to teach..." 

 

Rousseau

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"Everything degenerates in the hands of man. He forces one soil to nourish the products of another, one tree to bear the fruit of another. He mixes and confuses the climates, the elements, the seasons. He mutilates his dog, his horse, his slave. He turns everything upside down; he disfigures everything; he loves deformity, monsters. He wants nothing as nature made it, not even man; for him, man must be trained like a school horse; man must be fashioned in keeping with his fancy like a tree in his garden.

Were he not to do this, however, everything would go even worse, and our species does not admit of being formed halfway."

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
from Emile or On Education 

Another that I love: 

"What must be done to prevent anything from being done. When it is only a question of going against the wind, one tacks. But if the sea is heavy and one wants to stand still, one must cast anchor. Take care, young pilot, for fear that your cable run or your anchor drag and that the vessel drift without your noticing." 

Another: 

"The man who has lived the most is not he who has counted the most years but he who has most felt life." 

And another: 

"How rapid is our journey on this earth! The first quarter of life has been lived before one knows the use of it. the last quarter is lived when one has ceased to enjoy it."

 

 

"Smart Kids Don't Get Bored"

This is what my mom told me... when I told her I was bored. 

"Read a book!" Or, "go back to bed." Or, "play outside." Or, "smart kids don't get bored."

I think this has some truth to it. When smart people (CEOs, scientists, astronauts, etc) recount their childhoods, they never talk about being bored. They talk about dissecting animals, building things, and taking apart electronics. They talk about sitting outside wondering why birds chirp or how a toaster works. My friend Will wrote an interesting post on this phenomenon. 

He brought up an interesting point: "Am I doomed if I wasn't building supercomputers by age four?" 

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Maybe. But I don't think so... I hope not. I think that when geniuses are interviewed, they tell the interesting stories. They don't talk about sitting around being bored. They draw links (some real and some not) between their childhood tendencies and their adult success. I started thinking about my childhood and what I'd share... 

I wouldn't talk about the time I bought fake onion rings at the dollar store when I was hugry. I woudln't talk about being sent to the principals office. I woudln't talk about getting bored. I woudln't talk about eating goldfish at my kitchen counter after soccer practice. 

I'd probably talk about the handfull of  times I took apart electronics - but I'd say I did this all the time. I'd talk about my two small business ventuers (when I was in middle school) - and I'd subtly imply that I had participated in more projects. I'd talk about the elaborate fake zoos I created on the floor - and I'd tie them to the intricate products I've created. 

My thought is that everyone, no matter how smart, has at least a few great childhood stories. In other words: No, you shouldn't be worried if you haven't built a supercomputer by now. 

And with regards to getting bored.... I'm sure everyone is bored at times. Smart kids get bored. Dumb kids get bored. But nobody who makes it, decides to talks about it. 

That said... smart kids probably get bored less. 

Karma Tracker from HN

Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com) is basically... reddit for nerds.  

About three months ago I added it to the list of sites I read when I'm trying to procrastinate. About two months ago HN took the place of most my other tech blogs (TechCrunch, VentureBeat, etc). Last month I started participating in conversations and sharing links. It's addicting. 

Tonight, one of my shared posts (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6709791) caught peoples attention. And people started chatting about the article. 

Check out the effect on my HN ranking. 

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Super-Unicorns

"Prior decades have also given birth to tech super-unicorns [companies over 100B]. The 1990s gave birth to Google, currently worth nearly 3x Facebook; and Amazon, worth ~ $160 billion. The 1980’s: Cisco. The 1970s: Apple (currently the most valuable company in the world), Oracle, and Microsoft; and Intel was founded in the 1960s.
What do super-unicorns have in common? The 1960s marked the era of the semiconductor; the 1970s, the birth of the personal computer; the 1980s, a new networked world; the 1990s, the dawn of the modern Internet; and in the 2000s, new social networks were built."

 -from Billion-Dollar Startups on TechCrunch 

Makes you wonder what the Super-Unicorns of the 2010s will be. More  interesting facts on billion dollar companies - called "unicorns."

  • The average founding age is 34.
  • 80% of founders have started a company before.
  • The billion+ startups are pretty evenly split into free, freemium, paid, and enterprise only pay structures.
  • Four Unicorns are born a year.
  • 7 years to liquidity on average.  
  • 27 of 39 Unicorns are based in the Bay Area.

There are many lessons to be learned from this article, but 39 unicorns is a small sample size. I wonder if I'd learn more from looking at companies acquired for between 100M and 500M. These are huge acquisitions, but less "freak-like" in nature than billion dollar acquisitions.

 

Nobody Cares About Your Startup

Paul Grahm says that startups take off "because the founders make them take off." I didn't understand this fully until I started selling this summer. Simply put... I learned that most people don't give a shit about you or your product. 

This scene from Night On Earth  ('91), captures how I felt selling this summer. A young taxi driver, Corky, picks up a casting director, Gina Snelling, at the LA airport. As the two ride to Gina's home in Beverly Hills, it is revealed that Gina is desperately looking for a young actress. She talks on the phone with her producer, who wants someone inexperienced and raw. Finally Gina realizes that the taxi driver would be a great candidate. Here is what happens: 

 

Corky, a poor taxi driver, turns down stardom. Infact, she doesn't even consider it. Corky is happy as a taxi driver and sees no need to change. 

Gina is dumbstruck - how could anyone turn down being a movie star? 

"Yeah, but Im a cab driver," says Corky, "this is what I do."  

You have a tool that everyone needs? You can save people money? You can solve a pain point? Great! Good for you! But just know that most people don't care. Or they don't have the energy to adopt your technology. Or they are happy how they are.  

This summer while I was selling, a handful of people a handful of people fell in love with our product right off the bat - but that was only a handful of people. Enough to validate the idea, but not enough to make my equity worth anything. 

I realized that most people won't bang on your door and ask for your new product. Infact, you can give most people a killer pitch - and they still won't care. This doesn't necessarily mean your product sucks, it just means that people don't like change. 

Not everyone wants to be a movie star. Or at least, not right away.