Ninjas and Robots

Figuring out what’s next. CTO/CMO of Rockstar Coders. Makes the awesome writing software Draft. Previous: CEO of Highrise. Also founder of two YC companies. Engineer for President Obama’s re-election campaign.

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How to be interesting

A couple months ago a video made its viral way around the internet as some videos do. It was a mashup of the Sesame Street movie Follow that Bird and the Beastie Boys’ song Sabotage.

Mashups aren’t uncommon. Afterall, that’s a huge lesson most of us already know about creativity. Great ideas are often the collision of a couple different disciplines, technologies, inventions, etc.

But is that all there is to it? Or is there something a bit deeper about that video and why it became so viral.

Why was it so interesting?

Murray Davis was a professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University. In 1971, he published an interesting paper. Literally. It’s called “That’s Interesting!”

Davis investigated why some researchers and their theories get people’s attention and others don’t.

He found that ideas don’t become interesting because they are simply true. “All of the interesting...

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A writer had a rough go of getting a book published. Even after he’d written plenty of short stories for magazine publications, he started his hand at writing books. But nothing hit.

His fourth attempt at a novel really gave him some fits. He finally finished a manuscript for it, but he still didn’t like it. The story didn’t move him, he was writing about people he didn’t know very well, and he didn’t like the characters. He threw it away in the trash.

Dean Simonton is a Professor of Psychology at UC-Davis. The guy has studied what makes people creative and smart his whole career with over 300 publications and more than ten books.

In 1977, Dean explored how time affects greatness. By studying composers, do we see if they peak and get worse as they get older?

Afterall, isn’t that what we expect? Don’t we expect to see that graph of a U upside down?


But, that’s not what Dean...

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Mickey D’s - What startups and small business owners can learn from the giant’s struggles

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What should I name my company?

If you’ve been around any old school SEO advice it included naming your company something with the letter A. That’s because just like the “Yellow Pages”, lists of things on the internet were always alphabetical.

Obviously things have gotten better. You don’t have to just pick A-names for your company because the internet is so much more sophisticated now. We have all these algorithms and all this AI research. Right?

No. Not just one, but two papers from independent research teams have just found that stock trading is heavily biased by a company’s name. Since stocks are generally listed alphabetically, folks pick stocks earlier in the list rather than giving equal opportunity to discovery.

We find that early alphabet stocks are traded more frequently than later alphabet stocks and that alphabeticity also affects firm value.

Even more striking is that this effect has gotten worse...

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How do we get better at making things people want?

We strive to better discern the needs of our customers, so we reach for a number of tools. Surveys. User testing. ‘Jobs to be done’ interviews (an interview process I highly recommend). But in our effort to understand our customers, we often miss sight of something much more basic and integral to those things working well.

The University of Edinburgh Medical School, one of the best medical schools in the United Kingdom, was created in 1726, also making it one of the oldest medical schools in the English speaking world. Given its age, it has quite an interesting group of alumni. Like Joseph Bell.

He was a graduate and professor at the school in the 1800s. Bell had an uncanny ability to determine things about his patients from what seemed to be unrelated and insignificant details. For example, without even talking to the man, Bell...

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I’m not good enough - Discouraged

Uranium hexafluoride — I used to make this stuff

I’m currently trying to teach myself coding and feeling a bit discouraged at the moment. Trying to hear of other’s success stories to see if it’s worth it to see it through to the end.

zeexik asks on Reddit.

Who hasn’t felt like this about something. We’re out of school, but there’s things we want to still learn to get where we want to go. But it’s daunting. Are we too old?

17 years ago I spent my summer in Paducah, KY. It was friggin hot. It was even worse because on a lot of days I was wearing an acid proof suit - those things are made of an unbreathable plastic something that doesn’t react with acid; see Breaking Bad and why you don’t use acid in your bathtub :)

Why was I in this suit? Because I was doing experiments at a Uranium processing plant where we used a lot of Hydrofluoric acid. If that sounds dangerous, it was. We’d...

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Monsters and Thieves

Good artists copy; great artists steal.


A famous quote about creativity often attributed to Picasso. But what can we actually learn about creativity from studying thieves? Did Picasso even say it?

(And what is the true origin of Frankenstein!)

Read more…

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A new high

Most people who’ve read this blog know something of my origin story. It even sounds like the beginning of a Spiderman movie.

I used to be a Chemical Engineer in school, but couldn’t stand working at a uranium processing plant during a summer internship. It wasn’t a radioactive spider that bit me, but a broken ankle tied me to a desk and computer for the rest of the summer because management didn’t want my cast to get contaminated. There goes my superhero career.

So I sat there and programmed. And I fell in love with it.

I worked as hard as I could remaking myself into a software developer, and I dreamed of running my own software company. I remember taking a plane in college and someone spotted me with my Entrepreneur magazine. He asked if I had my own company. “Not yet,” I said. “One day, I hope.”

After college, I took a job as a consultant with Accenture and later a job at a...

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Why are some people so much luckier than others?

James Scott Bumgarner, more famous as James Garner, film and TV star, passed away recently at the age of 86. Many people have been writing about how great a guy he was and stories about his life.

A few things caught my attention. Not the least of which was how lucky he seemed. How does a guy without any acting experience and who hates talking in front of people land a well connected Hollywood agent to jump start his career? Luck?

In 1935, Hollywood created their talent scout system. Just like athletic scouts, folks would monitor Broadway plays and radio for talent. But occasionally they’d “discover” someone in public who didn’t have any acting experience - they just looked like a movie star.

Lana Turner, one of the most glamorous and popular female stars of Hollywood during the 40s and 50s (pictured here at the right with James at the 1966 Academy Awards), is a great example.



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Now That I’ve Created Something, How Do I Spread It?

A long time ago, a guy flew a kite in a storm. When lightning struck it, the current traveled down the string of the kite to a key, giving the victim a jolt of electricity. Who was that famous scientist?

Jacques de Romas.

Wait, that’s not right. Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin?

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