False Merit, Appearing Real

On the race to get picked

In 1942, US had a problem. There wasn’t enough metal for airplanes to be made. So Howard made biggest airplane out of birchwood.

But it flew only once. You know the reason – it is a bad idea to make plane out of wood. Metal is better because of its merit.

Who Gets To Play Basketball at Stanford

Average NBA salary is 11 million dollars per year if you went to Illinois college while if you went to Stanford, it is 6 million dollars.

So if you are player seeking to maximize your earnings – it isn’t surprising that you will go to Illinois college.

The same is true for height and weight of NBA players. It is going up. So you might want to work early on your height and weight to match the successful NBA players.

Lesson From Billy Bean

Billy understood that people’s thought of key metric of success was flawed. By seeing what was really true – rather than guessing, he was able to beat the system.

Chosen was written by Jerome about who was going to get in high accredited college. Where you go to college will decide where you go in life.

Why is that so? Is it fair?

What happens there that it makes you more likely to contribute. Is it simply because external parties hire more from such colleges and therefore this illusion keeps on perpetuating.

Who gets to key to door first is a fascinating thing to learn about merit.


In 1900s, you need to have gone to school like Exeter – people of certain geographical, region. These schools were about perpetuating certain behaviors.

Then in 1920, waves of immigrants applied, particularly Jews. The schools had positioned themselves as someone who would admit when applicants who are intellectually better. And it turned out, new wave of applicant were better.

From 1900 to 1930 1200 jews entered Yales. But the soft skills inside the institution stayed the same.Because no Jews were elected to senior societies. Which were at the heart of the application of college.

The Change

Harvard started accepting applicants based on SAT scores which were some measure of success they wanted.

Some institutions admitted people of high SAT scores. The most elite institutions didn’t do that. They were seeking all rounded men. So they looked for sports.

50 percent of people in Harvard got admitted based on sports contribution they are going to make.

It was a search by elite institution to redefine merit.

In NBA, merit can be height or weight. But in baseball, merit can be base percentage. And in such elite institutions, definition of merit keeps changing.

What we know for sure is, it is extremely likely that you grew up in literate home, and you have a bunch of soft skills which aren’t tested by SAT.

Current Events

It is clear once an institution that can award merit, chooses an access of performance that can be gamed, people will cheat.

Now let’s compare to other badges of merit where gatekeeper isn’t obvious.

Consider top 25 TED talks of all time. One is done by Brit, ten from women, people of color, people who are professor and there is a kid.

Of course, there is a gatekeeper. There is still a bias. How were you raised, did you had breakfast everyday, what language did you spoke, did you had a place to sleep, did your community believed you.

Are people judging you? All of these happen long before you are given a chance to do TED talk.

Where is merit?

It might be in your head. Who brainwashed you that you could achieve something or you couldn’t.

The guardian reports. the blind auditions for orchestra so that judges can’t see who are performing increases the job to women by 50 percent.

But wait, they don’t.

A recent paper showed that by even elementary analysis that paper being quoted is wrong in six different ways.

In 1960, Kingman Brewster shifted the very definition of what merit was in YALE.

Another Sports Reference

Tour de france is apparently a race where your background doesn’t matter. Only time matters.It is little like SAT scores but there are problems. SAT doesn’t really measure your aptitude for anything. SAT is a measure on where did you grew up, how much your parents spent to prepare you.

And as we have seen with doping at Tour de france, winning is more about how close you can get with breaking the rules without getting caught.

Helicopter parenting about cheating, about pushing kids to famous college. It is rampant with country with biggest income inequality.

The sense that every decision is fraught, people aren’t going to judged on merit pushed parents to overdo it. Because the stakes are high so they think their act is justified.

So doping your kids might help them get better time. But it doesn’t open the door to true merit. The merit of actually making a contribution. There is long history of us misjudging what merit is.

Mostly trying to measure things so that your and your kids gets ahead. That institution has long history of making choices so it helps them and people like them.

A New Time

Now culture is shifting rapidly. It turns out how well did you do on SAT is less important.

What’s more important?

  1. The story we tell ourselves of possibility The story of grit and resilience, when to speak up.
  2. The idea of many many circles where you can contribute. There isn’t one line to get ahead. So many places to contribute. Earning merit by helping others. Rather than stealing merit. At any given time, system can be gamed because you have resources and others don’t.
  3. Picking Yourself. If you are going to seek merit from a corrupt system, you will become corrupt. Instead you can challenge yourself, showing up, solving interesting problem and leading.


  • Are there culturally rules, when companies lose focus. How to manage shareholders and manage customer expectations?

Working for public company is a choice. Mailchimp isn’t public company. Different choices get made.

It is easy to please people in the short run.

Apple earn billions of dollar every quarter. Amazon doesn’t make it every quarter. Each of them had a choice.

So you need to be clear on what’s on the offer. When things change, did you bargain for short run.

For example, Sears could have caught up and change things. But their internal culture didn’t allowed them to change. So you have to choose the culture which you want to be part of.

Entrepreneurs, Artists Need Open Access, Your Culture Needs It

Antonio Meucci invented the telephone. A poor guy who had barely enough to file a patent. It took years for him to save enough money so that he can send make his invention work with Western Union Telegraph Company.

But Graham Bell made all the profits who was his lab mate.

If Graham Bell didn’t invent Telephone then what was his contribution. Well, he invented the Bell Systems which made the connection possible. A sort of interoperability which makes connection happen.

After Bell patented the idea. Suddenly there was a problem. He alone couldn’t wire all of USA.

So he needed interoperability. Help and trust from many different telephone company.

Rockefeller Story

He was the richest men in history. He joined hands with big competitors so they become big in unison. And then they made a deal with railroads so they would get rebates for their oil shipments.

Then he went to all other competitors – to give an offer. Join us or go bankrupt. Because he will lower the price so that they can’t compete because the distribution was monopolized.

Once this was in place and you have a system where new entrants can’t go solo. Competition become practically non-existent.

Beer Story

5 years ago, the beer tie system in the UK was outlawed. The gist is if you want to open a pub, you either had to take all the risk and open up the bar. Or you can do a deal with one giant brewery and they will set you up.

But in exchange, you will pay 60 cents more in each beer you buy from them. And you have to buy from them. Over time, you will be making less than minimum wage.

And if you were a new brewer, you can’t sell to those pubs. So the dominant breweries stayed dominant.

Movie Industry

If a few movie studios owned all the theatres. Then it is impossible for an artist to show up if they don’t connect with those movie studios.

Basically, if the market is owned by monopolized people or company then there will be a bad impact.

Net Neutrality

It sounds complicated because those who are against it want to make it complicated.

Consider this, if you are the owner of a pipe. Then you need to consider all the traffic (cities who need pipe) the same. Because if you don’t then we will go back to the old age of Rockefeller impacting distribution.

If someone is forbidden to distribute then they can’t scale.

Most of them wouldn’t happen if the government was perfect. But they aren’t. Because there are lobbies supporting a government who have money and not many competitors.

Case in point, AT&T and Verizon are spending hundreds of dollars to stop net neutrality so that they stay at the top and/or earn huge loads of money.

TLDR: Scale that comes from lack of interoperability, scale that comes from forbidding others means established competitors can use government to stop others from scaling. Basically insulating them from new innovations.

BAR exam & Game

Earlier you could go and take the BAR exam and become a lawyer. Then they changed the rules. So if you get the BAR passing certificate from some accredited institute only then you are a lawyer.

That makes it hard for innovators who can help people pass this exam in 6 months.

Earlier Nintendo games had patent. So if you are an innovator who has a cool game idea, you can’t make games for Nintendo without their permission.

Do you think innovation will happen more here? NO, right.

AOL story

Once AOL ruled the internet. If you want your site to be seen by the world then you need to have it on AOL.

Now, you can build a site and it is open for the world to see. This is a massive change. Open access to everyone compared with restricted access.

Established players want to control distribution, technology, access to users, labour and government regulations to keep innovation away.

While consumers want innovators to do as they please without any hindrance.


As citizens, you have to support Open source, API so that the system is open and there becomes no monopoly.

And as entrepreneurs, we need to be aware that you might have the same instincts to become a monopoly.

Someone out there is another Antonio Meucci, one who doesn’t have enough money. Someone who doesn’t have the patience to get over the hurdle created by monopolies.

Your job is to help that person, make them found and help them so they can change things for better.

Every healthy community of any kind is based on innovation which encourages playing, new ideas are encouraged. So you need to fight every day who are trying to restrict the play.

You can’t say – you can’t play.


  • Do you recommend any books one should read before graduating from college?

Books can make a great impact if read at the right time.

The beginning of infinity by David Deutsch

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Secrets of closing the sale, see you at the top by Zig Ziglar

  • Insights on consultants who work on a one-to-one

You can become a coach. But there are many coaches. Hence, getting clients is hard. People who have a coach aren’t looking for coach. And people who don’t have a coach aren’t looking for coach either.

Having a coach is a private thing. Because we don’t talk about it. Seth’s advice for coaches is to go for group coaching. Group works better because other people help.

And if you do a good job, it spreads. Slowly you will get more clients which will help you keep doing work that matters.

People Like Us Do Things Like This

Seth Godin explores the ‘Culture and our Memetic DNA’. And how you can look at it and take the leap.

Do the hard work of showing up, creating a ruckus. Because someone is going to do that. Why not you?

Monkey experiment

5 monkeys in a cage and there is a ladder. As soon as one climbs up, there is a water spray. After some time, everyone pulls down anyone who tries to climb up.

A new monkey is replaced with an old one. The naive monkey tries to climb but the rest pulls them down. One by one new monkeys are added until only new monkeys are remaining. But none have experienced water spray. Still, they will pull down anyone who tries to climb the ladder.


None of this is true. This was written in a book called ‘Competing for future’ in 1996. The authors made up this story based on another experiment.

The takeaway is your culture is how you do things. It is way stickier and subtle than you can imagine.

DNA is permanent. So giraffe’s height won’t increase if they stretch their neck. Similarly, your eyes will stay the same color no matter how hard you try.

In humans, DNA isn’t the drive, culture is. And culture is way harder to shift because it is invisible and powerful.

The Blockbuster Story

They had the chance to demolish Netflix who has just launched a subscription service for DVD with no late fees.

Blockbuster had a chance to do the same with their business. But their board of members didn’t approve the change because they made $800 million in late fees. So they developed as a company which strives on late fees.

Similarly, the ongoing conversation between print and digital books. Many people claim digital isn’t growing much.

The question is why do they care. By doing so they are establishing themselves as if they are in the business of chopping down trees. They are not.

In Pennsylvania, the coal mining industry is going to go away. So there exists a training program for the workers. But many people don’t show up. And all of this training is free. It begs a question of why they would do so.

Let’s consider Encyclopedia Britannica isn’t being printed. The point of their business matters. If their goal was to have many volumes in the audience home then it failed. But if their business is to make the audience know more stuff then they have succeeded.

Changing Is Difficult

Yahoo could have bought Google but they didn’t because then they had to acknowledge their directory method was not good. Also, AOL could have bought Yahoo but they didn’t because then they need to acknowledge their business was failing.

Prodigy could have bought AOL but they didn’t because then they need to acknowledge their infrastructure investment was for nothing.

The point is business – small or large forget their first principle of culture. They think their job is to collect late fees, cut down trees and so on.

So you need to ask some basic question to move forward:

  1. Who do you serve?
  2. What do they need?
  3. What does your business own?
  4. What do you know?

The key thing is to serve. Be clear on who you are serving. It doesn’t matter if the path changes as long as you are serving. Don’t get caught up in the wrong notion of your business.

Book publishers shouldn’t be upset if their audience buys a Kindle to read ebooks. Because you aren’t in a business of cutting down trees. You are in a business of sharing knowledge. Shift your offering with the time.

The Netflix Story

Netflix didn’t fall in love with late fees. They would send the DVD in an envelope. Once the internet came up, they started streaming movies.

So they are still offering entertainment – the platform or path has changed. They didn’t get hung up like Blockbuster in old things.

After 10 years, now they make their own movies, documentaries. So they have positioned themselves as a movie production company. They did this by obtaining more knowledge and they understood their audience, core values, and their offerings.

They changed with the new demand still offering entertainment.

If you put bananas on top of the ladder then something will find a way to climb that ladder despite many pulling you down. Someone is going to figure out with time, it better be you.


  • There is so much content. Does it cheapen the art?

There is always been abundant of ‘cheap’ content. Radio stations, movies, comics, and many others. Making ‘cheap’ content is easy because it is safe.

More and more people are going to have content. For you, the important stuff will land for you.

  • What is the role of curators?

Curators have a reputation at stake, unlike gatekeepers. So going forward, curation keeps going on value.

Often taxonomy is decided by people in power. For example, men are often labeled as leaders in book business and women as self-help in the miscellaneous category. What’s your take?

Yes, that is the point of Big sort episode. Often many creators have been punished by sorting. It happens so often that is unfair to creators and audience alike. One of the thing you will see at the airport, ‘famous authors’. They get the benefit of the doubt. It ain’t fair.

But there is an opportunity to find the curator. So that you can get the benefit of a doubt. Which is hard work you need to do.

Something To Make You Think

A work from Beethoven music which made Seth think. I guess you can listen to this charming notes and calm your nerves. Or use it as a background to keep making your ruckus.

Three-Dimensional Thinking With Shane Parrish

Shane is just trying to share his journey hoping it resonates. His goal is to bring in small incremental changes.

His blog has an interesting tagline ‘Upgrade Yourself’ because it means you have to do the work and no one is going to do for you.

Shane has a learning community, in-person events and many avenues to help you. But ultimately you have to decide what is right for you because each one of you is different.

So he takes information and makes the best with his approach for the listeners or readers.

Hence, Joe recommends his newsletters.

Who Are You Shane

People come fs street because there is a new element of thinking which you might be unaware of.

There is no definitive path for writing he uses – history, modern world and perspective, everything is covered to help you. For example, Shane uses thermodynamics to help you see a deep idea and directions for you to apply it to your life.

In a nutshell, he guides you with different thinking models and then you can take it to your situation and make it better.

The whole game is of perspective – which helps you learn deeper things and make your life better.

Are You Complicated

Joe believes that Shane’s blog is complicated for new readers. There is a mix of history, philosophy to explain simple things.

So if you are new to Shane’s content, you should go to mental models – the university 101 education. In high school, you specialize and then you progress. So you are missing out on many different broad areas of learnings because of specialization. His blog covers that in detail to carve the path.

The idea is to have different domains – mental models – so you can see a problem and approach it with different ideas rather than a one dimensional way.

For example, you focus on one variable for a decision and stop thinking – so you are not maximizing by seeing the whole picture. Once you can see by product by second-order thinking, it helps you make a better decision.

Joe Likes – Hanlon Razor

Always remind yourself that people make mistakes – you can either think that people are doing it deliberately or they are just being stupid – the latter is of higher probability most of the times.

Once you ingrain this thought, you can see the world a different way. People are generally not going against you.

Hate From NY times Feature

If you are putting yourself out in public then hate will come – Shane has developed a thick skin. Instead, it drives him.

Also, one positive comment got more likes than a negative comment so there is hope. And by the way, NY times approached him.

Are You On Journey – Landmarks For Success

Shane is ambitious because he wants to change the world. As naive and crazy it sounds, making a free world-class education available to everyone is his long term goal.

The world is filled with so many unequal opportunities that it makes Shane motivated to provide free opportunities (not outcomes). And with the internet, it seems possible.

There are things you can not control – what country, economies and zip code you are born in- that is luck.

Providing good education is the first to provide equal opportunity to everyone, so that’s what Shane is trying to do.

Think Direction Over Speed

There is a difference in physics of speed and velocity. With velocity, there is a direction.

When you want to reach a destination, speed doesn’t help you. You can be at high speed but in the wrong direction, you are doomed. On the flip side, once you direct yourself then you can focus on speed to help you.

For example, be effective and then efficient. Take a food chain restaurant, if it focuses on speed and the food is bad then no customer will come again. But if food takes long as long as it tastes good, the customer will come again. And then you can focus on speed delivery.

Munger, Buffet -Opinion

Once Shane was in a meeting with eight people and he needs to decide. Everyone had their monologue and ego. What dawned to him was – if people can’t think about counter argument then there isn’t much thinking they have done.

Most people don’t do the work for an opinion. People say things which they already know.

Knowing different counter-arguments helps. You need to do this for a huge decision like a life or death situation.

You should hold a 3-dimensional view.

Your ego shouldn’t be attached to the idea rather than the outcome. You should change your mind if the counter-argument is strong than your original idea.

Shane’s Reading List

You wanna learn things that stand the test of time. If you learn something then you should want them to be cumulative.

If you want to read then don’t go to the bestseller list. Because most books are only at the top for 3 weeks or less. And that too for popularity and not for ideas within. Most books won’t change your life.

A book is a product – the harder it is to comprehend the fewer people will buy. The simple it is – it sells more.

But change comes with difficult to understand, deep and complex topics. So go for such books. Books with textures and biographical element should be on your reading list.

Ideally, read 3 or 4 authors on the same idea. You don’t have to read the whole book – just the gist and perspective. Which helps you form a good overall 3-dimensional idea.

So a new problem can be approached in 3 or 4 perspectives to help you make a better decision.

Understanding is more important.

Shane’s New Book

Shane is writing a new book which might be a series of books on mental models. All new content which would have texture to understand – 2000 or 3000 words each. Eventually, it will be free.

In conclusion, stay optimistic. Look for clarity and synthesis thinking.

Shane’s blog

The Knowledge Project Podcast

Of Course, You Should Write A Book.

You can’t make a major motion picture. Or a popular sitcom. Also, you can’t make the top 40 record song on demand. There is too much variable involved.

On another hand, making a book is personal work. Everyone doesn’t read or talk about the book – unlike songs. Hence, everyone isn’t an audience.

Something To Share

If you have something to share whether it is an experience or the will instruct others or clarify your thoughts then you should write a book. And when people will read your book, your book did a generous act of insight sharing.

By writing a book, you gain credibility, trust, and long term connection.

So yes, you should write a book.

Seth’s Story

Seth published many books in more than 35 languages. And so he knows what he is talking about. The first thing to note: publishing is not equal to printing.

The world in which you live has changed.

In 1982, Seth was working in software. There were many games developed which was based on a science fiction novel. Out of them, one game didn’t have a novel relation.

So Seth thought why not make a novel for that game too for consistency. Here came Alan who made a novel based on the game.

It became a hit. Book publisher had a problem, they need new books all the time. So there was money to be made. Eventually, Seth did the gig and earned $5000. Over next year, by trying to do the same thing he got 800 rejection letter in a row.

Seth realized that you write a book for an editor and not for readers. So there was a chance that his books might be a hit among readers. But it didn’t matter as long as the editor didn’t like the idea.

Book Publisher Role

For a book publishing house, their customer is a book store. You as a  reader don’t matter to them. Try reaching for them and you will soon find it is a difficult task. On the flip side, a bookseller can reach publishing house easily.

But now you are in a shift.

Now for many books – Amazon sells more copies than Barnes and Nobles which sells more than any traditional bookseller.

Amazon doesn’t care – they publish your book in almost all the categories and titles and ideas. Amazon does the heavy lifting while you as an author earn more from their kindle and audible services.

Books Are Changing

Some percentage of readers will read a paperback. Most have shifted to Kindle for e-reading. With the magic of digital, you can publish at your fingertips. Also for a paperback. There is print on demand. So the risk is less for you.

Let’s see – Harry Potter become the best seller because it was hand-sold by the seller to kids and many sellers did it continuously to make it a bestseller.

That’s what traditional publishing means. Which is harder now than ever before.

Past vs Present

Traditional publisher helped by editing and nurturing the author – now it doesn’t exist. No more promotion to help a new author.

58 percent of adult doesn’t read books. But it doesn’t matter because 42 percent reads. Books mean something and are easy to share and consume. Immediately.

As long as you have something to say and If it will stand the test of time, then you can make a book. Right now publish your own book – because you can.

In a format you want.

Some Pointers To Remember

  • You aren’t going to publish with a big traditional publisher
  • Make a decision to sell a book for money or choosing to give it away
  • Go and make pdf and send to 100 people if you choose to give it away
  • Or go and write 250 blog post for 9 months – drip by drip
  • You can do this because traditional publishing cost money & Digital publishing takes money out of line
  • Bestseller list is not important

If You Want To Make Money

  1. It’s nice to make a living
  2. When someone buys, they treat it with respect
  3. You need to start promoting your book before 3 years
  4. So you can build up permission asset
  5. So people are waiting to buy
  6. People will Judge the cover
  7. So spend some time on it
  8. Edit ruthlessly – take help if required

Closing Notes

Books are not for everyone. Even the best selling ones don’t reach 2 percent of the total population. The internet is a micro medium. The smallest viable audience is what you need to look for your book.

Making a book is way easier now. Print on demand means it is easy to stock because it puts Pdf at one end and book comes at another end.

If you sell a business book then it helps because people buy in bulk so they can hand out. Do this if you are in this niche. If your book is something people can hand out then it can impact how many sales you will get.

If you show up and do work – being generous for years. People will read the book. If they didn’t like then write another book.

It is fun, generous and productive.


Why you use female pronouns when describing a situation?

Seth does it in memory of his mom. And it is an attempt to make sure there is someone to look forward to.

Women have been underrepresented because of the culture before. By shifting the culture intentionally, there is a change which you can envision.

Further Reading

Michael Bungay Stanier’s great post on self-publishing – By Growth Lab Team

Advice for authors #1 – From Seth’s Blog

Advice for authors #2 – From Seth’s Blog

The best book covers – Examples of Book Covers To Inspire

Resources To Help You In Book Process

The Editorial Freelancers Association – A directory of freelancers to help you out

Print on Demand – Now for you there isn’t much upfront cost involved

Scribe Writing – A full blown service for authors at various stage