VIPs secret weapon: the Post-It note.

In the olden days before the pandemic, there were conferences and meetings. People would gather together to discuss matters in person, looking at each other, not through the screen, but face-to-face.

Meetings, naturally, are most productive when you take notes. Without action items and concrete takeaways, there are just chit-chats between friends. So people whip out their laptops and tablets to „jot down something.”

Have you ever participated in a meeting where everybody is walled off behind a screen? I did, and it was entirely unproductive. I’m sure it had great notes, though.

Last year, during our company offsite in Orlando, I had a series of meetings regarding a feature I was responsible for. There were many stakeholders, and I wanted to use the time to discuss strategy. I met with the Head of Product, President of our product line, and the CEO of the company. And I noticed something quite interesting:

The more senior the person, the more minimalist their note-taking approach.

All the people I met used Pen&Paper. But it really clicked when we invited the amazing Stephen Wolfram on stage. He would carry a stack of post-it notes, just like our CEO!

I wanted to have something that the average theoretical physicist can use

Stephen Wolfram on why he created Mathematica. He could have been talking about post-its, too.

What is it about paper notes and post-its in particular?

Note-taking is something I take seriously. I type about 500 new notes per month and I am very fond of the search function of my Evernote account. But I have to admit – the paper is superior for note-taking.

  1. Analog (pen & paper) note-taking lets you stay present. There is no wall of screens between you and the other person,
  2. Your posture is different when you take notes on paper, making it easier for you to use body language. (With hands on the keyboard, your back is rounded, just like when your ancestors were hiding from danger. This is not the body language of successful people),
  3. It’s clear and even encouraging that you are noting things down. The other person does not have to worry, that you are playing Animal Crossing,
  4. Post-it notes are easy to carry and convenient to pull out when needed. You can keep them in your pocket,
  5. You can use them while standing, which is useful during conferences,
  6. One idea, one note is a neat, self-contained information nugget. Post-it note is big enough to note the important stuff but too small to take your bloat. Just like a tweet.
  7. You can easily re-arrange, combine, and process them after the meeting. It’s like the are made for this.

Now, that you are in on the secret, you can carry a stack of post-it notes to your high-stakes meeting. Let them know you are a professional too.

Communication, and other CIA Sabotage tactics in your startup

Communication is Oxygen. If you feel bad, breathe. If a project is stuck in a rut – communicate. So if you see fire somewhere, you just pump more oxygen into it, right?

Oh, wait.

David Perell has recently shared a page from the CIA Sabotage Field Manual:

This document was created in 1944 to help incite enemy to

“make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-cooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit”

In my corporate experience, I have seen genuinely well-meaning employees act in any of these ways. The bigger the organization, the more of these behaviors become defaults. You default to committees to shift risk. You insist on proper channels to be a „Team Player.”

I will not explain why these behaviors are not conducive to innovation or, for that matter, even operating of a healthy organization. Have a look at the source document.

Open communication in a bigger organization encourages most of these behaviors and that is what I marked in red.

At Automattic, we kind of take the „Apple Opposite” approach. We are distributed in 75 countries, work without a spaceship HQ, and default to open communication whenever possible. I can snoop in on all internal projects and our VIP clients, see source code of upcoming releases and chime in on a product line strategy that has zero overlap with my responsibilities.

I found our instincts to be much closer to how Pixar operates and it makes me very proud:

A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.

„Creativity Inc.”


Unfortunately, everything in life has a downside and Open communication does as well. Every positive behavior can become a subterfuge tactic if overused:

My intentSubterfuge tactic I fall into
Async communication, by definition, can be read at any time.
I don’t know what the context of the other party is, so I will make a long-winded explanation of my reasoning, so we can skip the back-and-forth
(2) Make „speeches”. Talk as frequently as possible at great length…
When I stumble upon a thread or conversation, I try to provide additional value by looping in knowledgeable people.

Connecting people who talk to each other is great for creativity.
(3) When possible, defer all matters to committees for “further study and consideration”

This one is particularly effective as subterfuge – people I loop in will reciprocate, ensuring exponential growth of a committee.
Sometimes I try to provide additional value by sharing ideas and concerns. Did you thought about X?

Maybe they didn’t, and I just saved them a discovery in the future?
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible

Also known as Bikeshedding. Extremely powerful combined with the above (3). Random people looped into a conversation will feel compelled to provide value, sharing shallow unrelated concerns.

Since Async communication does not really have the concept of the „meeting finished”, we can hit another tactic for bonus points if we „share our thoughts too late”:

(6) Refer back to matters decided upon the last meeting, in an attempt to re-open the question (…)

Hippocrates said, that everything to the excess is opposed to nature.

Excess communication can have detrimental effects. It introduces noise for everybody, but more importantly – piles on more work for people trying to solve a problem. I am not advocating for hiding the communication but cutting on self-serving comments.

Are you making that comment to:

  • Show that you are smart? Pass.
  • To prove that you have taken action, even it is contributing very little? Pass.
  • Because you feel concerned, that „proper channels” were not used? Pass.
  • Project shipped, but you feel compelled to share a concern that should be addressed earlier? Pass.
  • You have helpful information, that will make them achieve goals faster? Go ahead.
  • You are certain a major risk was overlooked? Go ahead.
  • You have a genuine question and answer will help you or others in future pursuits? Go ahead.

Breathe and communicate. Within reason.

A tale of two paywalls

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of me helping the WordPress.com users earn a living.

We are building a whole suite of products and features that would unlock the economic potential of the people starting their journeys as the publishers. Our goal has just the right keywords to suggest that we are building a „paywall.” But, Paywall is not a straightforward affair. Let me explain how I think about Paywalls:

Traditional Paywall – let’s call it „big publisher paywall.”

This is the paywall we all think about and see in leading publisher sites like New York Times, Washington Post, and similar ones. Since the business model of those sites is publishing, they produce news articles. That is what they get paid for, and that is what they are meant to guard.

They are usually monetizing through the quantity of content. There are several modes of operation here:

  • “Metered Paywall” is the most popular approach of “3/ month free” articles
  • “Nagwall” is where you get progressively worse reading experience, or they would badger you to sign up, but they will not block the content outright.
  • “Hard paywall”, where you have no way of accessing the content without a subscription

That technical solution is tightly coupled with:
Producing a lot of content with a short shelf life.

If a site had 3 evergreen, amazing pieces that are bringing the majority of traffic and the rest would be meh content, then there would be no reason to pay! A quota of 3/month is enough to consume this great content, and there is no reason to sign up for more. Because there IS no more. So these sites are producing content that is enough to draw the traffic and give you a taste of future goodies, but not enough to fill you up. Additionally:

  • Since you pay for quantity, it incentivizes larger teams or news organizations
  • It’s best to have a uniform quality. If there is a breakaway hit, it is used to draw traffic and not be value in itself
  • They tend to focus on general topics (news, sports) to have the biggest possible total addressable market.
  • They have already a huge back-catalog of existing content when starting a paywall (hard to pay for quantity when there are only 20 pieces on a site)
  • The signup messages are short and minimal because it’s clear what you pay for – more of the same

Publishers using these paywalls have other, complex needs – customization, email newsletters, corporate strategy. They don’t exist in a vacuum and are usually connected to a bigger organization and budgets.

“Member features” / “Niche blogger paywall”

Now, let’s consider a case of the smaller blogger, maybe even a 3-person team running a site.

  • They have no hopes of competing with NYT or Washington Post on quantity and broad-spectrum journalism
  • They cannot put out more than one piece per day
  • They tend to be very niche, and their Unique Value Proposition lies in being practical and having a perspective not found anywhere else
  • They don’t have an institutional brand like NYT, so they have to earn trust by producing great (free) content as well
  • They have a tiny (or non-existent) back-catalog of existing content.

Because of these traits, bloggers overwhelmingly are separating free and premium content.

  • Promotional content is what made them famous. Free articles with great quality and unique perspective are bringing traffic to the site
  • Paid content usually has a very clear value proposition, based on the blogger’s expertise.

Some of the ways for bloggers to monetize is to offer:

  • Drip feed, where you get access to “private blog”, with new relevant content being consistently added
  • All-In membership, where you get access to the back catalog of private content
  • Online Course
  • Online Community – where you pay for ongoing relationships with the blogger but also other people that paid for the same access (being connected to a blogger’s message enough to pay is a good filter for other people willing to do so, hence you can connect with similar-minded folks easily while skipping the internet randos that never pay.)
  • Product – (software download, excel spreadsheet for job hunting, or a physical product like a planner)
  • A Service – say coaching, private lessons, etc..
  • Hybrid – any mix of the above

The Source of this list is Membership Guys.

None of these business models are compatible with readers being able to “peek” pieces of content of their own choosing. Bloggers/site owners are making a clear distinction of what pieces of content are free and which ones are “premium” worth paying for. Sure, they tease what’s inside the „premium”, but they are explicitly choosing which parts can be accessible.

Additionally, the “free” section has to be pretty accessible as well. Before a customer trusts a blogger “out of nowhere”, she has to form a relationship based on time and trust. There is no brand like NYT to help with this decision. It will often take way more than 3 or even 30 free articles to convince a customer to pay.

If you are starting up, you are better off starting with:

  • Building up your catalog of the entirely free content that will help others discover your site
  • Once you have some free content, you should introduce „member only” section with something extra
  • Don’t concern yourself with the fancy mechanics of content blocking. You can start by sending your paid content manually via email. Don’t spend time on site features! If you are on WordPress.com, you can use the Premium Content feature we just released.

Working from home? I could never!

null-2Working remotely does not mean working from home. You don’t have to wear sweatpants all day and shun all human interaction.

There are plenty of alternatives and I’ve tried them all. In this tutorial I explore all the different places you can work from – cafes, coworks, national parks and more.

Book: The Clock Of The Long Now: Time and Responsibility

“How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare?”

Long Now Foundation is a group of people focused on long-term thinking. “The clock of the long now,” an origin story of the 10000-year-old clock, being built in the Nevada desert.

I had the opportunity to hear about the 10000-year-old clock for the first time at our Automattic Grand meet up. Alexander Rose (Director of Long Now foundation ) has described the mechanism and importance of thinking in the long-term. That is him in the cover photo.

Why the clock?

The clock is a symbol of the time scale, an endeavor focused on the long term.

“Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.”

It will also be a heck of an Indiana-Jones-esque artifact after 10 000 years.

What is up with this long term thinking you keep mentioning?

We have something called the recency bias – urgent, fresh information tends to outweigh the timeless and essential. That is why the news is called “News” and not “Importants”.

“The difference between fast news and slow nonnews is what makes gambling addictive. Winning is an event that we notice and base our behavior on, while the relentless losing, losing, losing is a nonevent, inspiring no particular behavior,”

Long time ago, this made some sense. The pace at which information disseminated was much slower. “News” could have been week-old important information worth getting.

But the Internet changed all that. “News” is often a TV interview about a tweet reacting to another tweet about an article.

The flywheel of “fresh news” has been spinning so fast that nobody tends to look at decade-long projects anymore. It’s all about here and now and the last 30 seconds.

I thought Social Media is the culprit. It is very refreshing to read a book from the 2000’s describing this problem and using fashion, with its season-based cycle as the example of a pace that is way too fast.

As a sidetone, I think this is what has been appealing to me in my use of Quora. There is no timeline and no race to dominate the current “news cycle”. Just thoughtful answers and time put into quality and not immediacy.

Keep it up, old man!

One could make an argument, that “this is just the world now. It’s fast, and you have to keep up”.

But that thinking leads to a dangerous assumption:

Living in the now incentivizes cannibalising your long – term investments for short term returns. If everything we care about is the next 3 hours, let’s burn the forests to pay for convenience and deal with consequences later.

“If you make decisions that remove decision-making process from future generations, you are doing it wrong”

But some consequences are impossible to deal with later. On the other hand, the long-term perspective will incentivize “good” behavior, even for selfish reasons.

“In the long run saving yourself requires saving the whole world.”

My favorite nerdy quote from the book is:

“We’ll know the shift has happened when programmers begin to anticipate the Year 10,000 problem and assign five digits instead of four to year dates. “02002,” they’ll write, at first frivolously, then seriously.”

The question that stuck with me is:

“What can I build now that will last?”

My highlights

  • How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare?
  • What we propose is both a mechanism and a myth.
  • Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.
  • Manifestations of the overall project could range from fortune cookies to theme parks.
  • “The greatest good for the greatest number” means the longest good, because the majority of people affected is always yet to come.
  • The worst of destructive selfishness is not Me! but Me! Right now!
  • Braking time must match awareness time.
  • Kairos is the time of cleverness, chronos the time of wisdom.
  • According to a rule of thumb among engineers, any tenfold quantitative change is a qualitative change, a fundamentally new situation rather than a simple extrapolation.
  • “What people mean by the word technology,” says computer designer Alan Kay, “is anything invented since they were born.”
  • Later doublings in an exponential sequence, we come to realize, are absolutely ferocious. The changes no longer feel quantitative or qualitative but cataclysmic;
  • Among some enthusiasts there is even a consensus date for what they call the techno-rapture—2035 C.E., give or take a few years.
  • The word freefall is a pretty good descriptor for our times. It conveys the thrill of danger, the speeded-up rush, the glorious freedom, and the fall.
  • “More and more I find I want to be living in a Big Here and a Long Now.”
  • The shortest now is performed in a poem by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska: “When I pronounce the word Future, the first syllable already belongs to the past.”
  • When it returns in 4377 C.E., will anyone mention the name “Hale-Bopp”?
  • Note: Is it possible to send a time capsule or a signal to return to earth?
  • it would be awesome to talk to future foklk
  • time activated message
  • The trick is learning how to treat the last ten thousand years as if it were last week, and the next ten thousand as if it were next week. Such tricks confer advantage.
  • Fashion/art • Commerce • Infrastructure • Governance • Culture • Nature
  • In the Soviet Union government tried to ignore the constraints of culture and nature while forcing a Five-Year-Plan infrastructure pace on commerce and art. Thus cutting itself off from both support and innovation, the USSR was doomed.
  • The job of fashion and art is to be froth: quick, irrelevant, engaging, self-preoccupied, and cruel. Try this! No, no, try this!
  • Note: Oh god, its even worse now that we have social media
  • the occasional good idea or practice that sifts down to improve deeper levels, such as governance becoming responsive to opinion polls, or culture gradually accepting multiculturalism as structure instead of grist for entertainment.
  • Education is intellectual infrastructure; so is science. Very high yield, but delayed payback.
  • “In some sense, we’ve run out of our story, which was the story of taking power over nature. It’s not that we’ve finished that, but we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves, and we don’t know what the next story is after that.”
  • After an encounter with the Clock a visitor should be able to declare with feeling, “Whew. Time! And me in it.”
  • Clock/Library could provide, for a fee, time-mail service across generations forward.
  • Shinto complex in Japan known as the Ise Shrine.
  • “We don’t do eternity.”
  • To make the energy flow only one way he devised Grimthorpe’s double three-legged gravity escapement (Denison was later Lord Grimthorpe).
  • He would use an unreliable but accurate timer (solar alignment) to adjust an inaccurate but reliable timer (pendulum), creating a phase-locked loop.
  • Starting anew with a clean slate has been one of the most harmful ideas in history. It treats previous knowledge as an impediment and imagines that only present knowledge deployed in theoretical purity can make real the wondrous new vision.
  • Here’s the real fear. Thanks to proliferating optical-fiber land lines worldwide and the arrival of low-Earth-orbit data satellite systems such as Teledesic, we are in the process of building one vast global computer. (“The network is the computer,” proclaims Sun Microsystems.) This world computer could easily become the Legacy System from Hell that holds civilization hostage:
  • Digital storage is easy; digital preservation is hard. Preservation means keeping the stored information catalogued, accessible, and usable on current media, which requires constant effort and expense.
  • “The default condition of paper is persistence, if not interrupted; the default condition of electronic signals is interruption, if not periodically renewed.”
  • Lanier recommends employing artificial intelligences to keep the artifacts exercised through decades and centuries of forced contemporaneity,
  • We’ll know the shift has happened when programmers begin to anticipate the Year 10,000 problem and assign five digits instead of four to year dates. “02002,” they’ll write, at first frivolously, then seriously.
  • old underground limestone quarry at Les Baux, France, now a tourist attraction.
  • Time capsules, by the way, are a splendid and common future-oriented practice—hundreds of thousands have been buried—yet some 70 percent are completely lost track of almost immediately.
  • I am convinced that people behave better when they think they have free will. They take responsibility more and they think about their choices more. So I believe in free will,” said Herman Kahn.
  • suppose I could defend myself with Arthur Herman’s wonderful book, The Idea of Decline in Western History. He says that in Europe high-minded cultural pessimism began with the failure of the French Revolution and culminated in Nazi Germany. It was tremendously destructive. It still is.
  • In the long run saving yourself requires saving the whole world.
  • To produce the benefits of more cooperation in the world, Axelrod proves, all you need to do is lengthen the shadow of the future—that is, ensure more durable relationships. Thus marriage is common to every society, because trusting partners have an advantage over lone wolves.
  • The difference between fast news and slow nonnews is what makes gambling addictive. Winning is an event that we notice and base our behavior on, while the relentless losing, losing, losing is a nonevent, inspiring no particular behavior,
  • You need the space of continuity to have the confidence not to be afraid of revolutions.

Simple Payments for India 🐘

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Automatticians and my fabulous turban.

This is a summary of the presentation I gave in Mumbai in February of 2018.

Prefer PDF format? (4.1 MB)

Why Simple Payments?

I am a public school teacher and not a web-designer. I decided to start a new business (…). After I found the “Add Payment” button I knew I could do it. I went public and started taking payments two days later. The new button simplified everything.

Simple Payments is a feature of Jetpack plugin and WordPress.com that enables you to sell products on your site. I had a privilege of being a part of the team that launched it in 2017.

Yes, there is WooCommerce with ample functionality, various payment gateways, plugins and options.

But starting with WooCommerce is not easy. The choice and configuration can be overwhelming, especially for someone that just wants to test their business. WooCommerce has a fantastic wizard now that simplifies the process considerably, but there is always a tradeoff between functionality and ease of use.

Simple Payments is designed for an easy start. No, there are no other payment gateways, no plugins, no automated fulfilment, no AI. Easy start, that is it.

But often, the start is the hard part.

 

PayPal is coming to India

As of now (feb 2018), PayPal is gearing towards entering the Indian market. Simple Payments is built on top of PayPal Express Checkout.

  • Launching soon for general users.
  • Testing with large merchants at the moment (BookMyShow, Yatra)
  • Accepting and payout in INR
  • Right now, you can collect USD and pay out to your bank account that will convert to INR

How hard it is to start with Simple Payments?

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That is all information you have to provide to start selling

To start selling with Simple Payments, you need:

  • PayPal account
  • One of the plans:
    • Jetpack Premium (₹690/m, ₹6900/y)
 OR
    • WordPress.com Premium (₹575/m, ₹6900/y)
  • One form to fill out

Yes, that is it. One form. And in this form the required fields are:

  • Name of what you are selling
  • Price / currency
  • Email that will be connected to PayPal account

One more thing…

You don’t really need a PayPal account.

PayPal has a feature called “progressive onboarding”. That means, if you receive money destined to the email address that does not have PP account yet, money will be waiting for you to claim until you create such account.

Zrzut ekranu 2018-01-25 o 13.26.27.png
Email badgering me to claim the money I earned

Simple is also sustainable

Back in the day, I was running an e-marketing agency and we also did WooCommerce stores. Whenever something broke, API changed, etc – I had lots of work to keep it all running. Sometimes client changed API keys to PayPal, or a setting got deprecated. But with Simple Payments:

  • No payment gateway setup
  • No access token keys, app secrets, etc
  • Reliant only on 1 plugin (Jetpack) and external API (WPCOM) that is heavily tested every day
  • Auto updates and backups built in (JP „undo”  feature)

No late night calls from your customers that something broke!

Successful Simple Payments sellers

This is a small gallery of successful Simple Payments sellers. As you can see, there are various business models.

 

Minnetonka Fishing Team

High school fishing championship participation.

Zrzut ekranu 2018-01-25 o 10.41.52.png

 

Tom Bol Photo workshops

You gussed it – photography classes 🙂

Zrzut ekranu 2018-01-25 o 11.34.25.png

 

Smart Food Solutions

Prepared meal plans

Zrzut ekranu 2018-01-25 o 12.36.27.png

Beltaine Cottage

Self-published books.

Zrzut ekranu 2018-01-25 o 11.39.36.png

 

North Winds Wilderness School

Outdoor wilderness classes.

Zrzut ekranu 2018-01-25 o 10.54.37.png

 

Bend it like Budha

Yoga retreats

Zrzut ekranu 2018-01-25 o 12.35.47.png

Under the hood 🔧

So what are we doing there to make it happen?

  1. Customer clicks „Pay with PayPal”
  2. PP JS makes request to WPCOM endpoint
  3. WPCOM endpoint calls transaction/create PP endpoint
  4. Returns transaction id to your site JavaScript
  5. JavaScript opens PayPal dialog
  6. Customer enters CC details, clicks „pay”
  7. PayPal JavaScript calls WPCOM endpoint to finish transaction
  8. WPCOM endpoint calls PP transaction/execute
  9. Passes success message to your site
  10. Sends you notification and email
  11. Displays result to the customer

 

All data stored on your site

  • `jp_pay_order` custom post type
  • `jp_pay_product` custom post type

Start selling!

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Simple Payments is designed to get you started. Don’t over-engineer your solution if you are not yet selling anything. Start simple, test your business and then scale with WooCommerce once you have more orders than you can deal with.

 

More resources

Book: Creativity Inc.

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Ed Catmull is a CEO of Pixar – studio responsible for such amazing movies as Up, Wall-e and Toy Story.

He took upon himself to protect the creativity of Pixar and find out what needs to be done to protect and fuel expression. Seeing how successful companies turn into “Beasts that have to be fed”, how they are losing the drive and creative spark that propelled to the top in the first place, he decided to be ever-vigilant and purposefull in how he protects Pixar from the inevitable calcification of minds and processes.

This book is a chronicle of his findings and a good guide for anyone wanting to reproduce his amazing results.

Amazon Link

Key takeways

Continue reading “Book: Creativity Inc.”

So you want to work at Automattic?

Today, it’s been precisely 6 months since I joined Automattic as JavaScript wrangler. All you’ve heard about how awesome this company is in fact an understatement!

It is out of this world!

IMG_0951
Working from out of this world.

I have started a blog dedicated to helping you get hired remotely. I have transfered this post there Click here to read -> .

PS: Working in Silicon Valley company was my Bucketlist #26