The Five Best Things: Dec 19, 2020

Happy Holidays! Warm your heart

Hi folks - I am stuck with poor internet, so putting together a quick grab bag this week. I’ll continue the large natural language model series with a GPT-3 introduction next week. Happy Holidays!

The Five Best Things

  1. Sriram Krishnan at the Observer Effect: Interview with Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify

    • In this wide-ranging interview, Tobi Lutke shares his philosophies and practices on all things management. My top 5:

      • Time management - “my attention is the most liquid and valuable resource that I have”

      • Organizational culture and design - his first job at “old-school” firm Siemens taught him that “it's almost the perfect counterfactual to how you should run a company. I honestly think that, you know, a coin flip has a batting average of 50%. If you just do the perfect opposite of literally everything about that place, you would probably clock in at 60 to 70% of getting everything right, which would mean you would outperform probably 90% of all companies in the world.”

      • Building trust with co-workers using a mechanism called “trust battery”; it needs to be continually charged, and levels can fluctuate given historic and recent actions.

      • Continual learning - “I have a complex set of thoughts on this. It is really my core value. I believe that the job we all have in life is to acquire knowledge and wisdom and then share it. I just don’t know what else there is. This is the bedrock of my belief system.”

      • Video games - “I think Starcraft players are already better at than a lot of people who end up getting MBAs. Both give you the same kind of decision matrix, except in an MBA it’s through business case analysis. You just get a more intuitive feel for this through video games.”

      • On people - “The valuable thing about any of these personality-type constructs is that they do a really good job of teaching people that other people are very different. That realization is probably one of the biggest growth moments for people in general. It tells you that different people play different roles.”

    • Lutke is one of the great tech CEOs of our time. Shopify, based in Canada, has defied Silicon Valley traditions since existence. By enabling previously physical stores pivot to e-commerce during the pandemic, it doubled revenue from a year ago, and 3x’d its stock price from when the pandemic hit. I also appreciate that domestic life and parenting were freely discussed in an interview between one man and another. The Observer effect has had some great interviews this year, including Marc Andreessen (founder of a16z and Netscape) and Daniel Ek (CEO of Spotify).

  2. Agence

    • Taking a cue from Tobi, I’m sharing this video game based on a machine learning algorithm called Reinforcement Learning (RL). RL uses trial and error, by rewarding the learning agent when a correct action is taken, and punishments otherwise. The learning is complete when a maximal threshold for rewards earned is reached. A good primer on RL here.

    • The game consists of a new planet and 5 cute creatures that must cooperate with each other to grow crops on this new planet, and avoid falling off the planet into the abyss. It can be played in viewing mode, where no interaction is required, or in interactive mode, where we can become an additional variable in the game play by moving the agents and flowers around.

    • Enjoy this during the holiday break! $3.99 on Steam and a couple of hours of fun.

  3. WSJ: Why Being Kind Helps You, Too—Especially Now

    • Yes, we’ve all been told we should be kind to others, but there’s biological support for it too now! Apparently, kindness activates a part of the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens. The brain responds the same way it would if we ate a piece of chocolate . In addition, when we see the response of the recipient of our kindness, our brain releases oxytocin, the feel-good bonding hormone. This oxytocin boost makes the pleasure of the experience more lasting. It creates an “upward spiral” of kindness, craving more such positive feedback. Sort of like our own Reinforcement Learning algorithm :)

  4. The Hustle: The company that has a monopoly on ice cream truck music

    • This article covers how a family-owned company controls 97% of the ice cream truck music market. The story starts in the late 1950s, as a happy accident. An ice cream truck driver discovered that ringing manual bells was too taxing, and approached his friend - Bob Nichols - to design an electronic music box. And lo, ice cream trucks equipped with music boxes had almost 2x more sales than ice cream trucks with bells. However, because the market was so small and so niche, no one else wanted to enter it, leaving the Nichols family to corner the market.

    • Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, ice cream truck sales have boomed. The company has recently replaced songs with racist roots with a new track by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA.

  5. Drew Magary: The 2020 Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog

    • Drew Magary, beloved ex-Deadspin writer, gives us a tour of the best of the best in this year’s Williams-Sonoma holiday catalog! Some choice quotes -

      $99.95 CHRISTMAS BREAKFAST GIFT CRATE: Crates are the decorative cookie tins of non-cookie products. When you want to give a gift, but you also want splinters in December, crates are the way to go. They make everything look like they just came off a steamship, and who can argue with that?


    • Capping off this week with some quality snark. An annual tradition! Hilarious, and a quick read. Enjoy!

Honorable Mentions

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not represent my employer.