Weekly Digest 05/03/18


Shane Parish on the power of inertia – “Inertia is the force that holds the universe together. Literally. Without it, things would fall apart. It’s also what keeps us locked in destructive habits, and resistant to change.” Inertia makes any change hard because we prefer the status quo. This is also what makes defaults so powerful (ex. the difference in participation percentage when opting in vs. opting out of being an organ donor or contributing to savings)

Challenges facing e-commerce and Influx of direct-to-consumer startups – These 2 links are related and spell out the challenges for e-commerce direct-to-consumer (DTC) startups, created in the Warby Parker mold, trying to disrupt incumbents. There are more than 400 startups flooding the space selling things from toothbrushes to mattresses to suitcases to underwear. Unlike Warby Parker and Harry’s, many of these startups are trying to tackle goods that are already low margin and not dominated by one company (Luxottica and Gillette respectively), meaning that there is much less fat available to trim off. Furthermore, Google and Facebook’s dominance in internet advertising serve as a new type of middleman. Rising internet ad costs and shipping costs, and decreasing rent prices will make life tougher for the DTC startups. Many of the most successful startups, such as Warby Parker and Away, are actually expanding into brick-and-mortar stores, with plans to open more. Looks like disrupting incumbents in low-margin businesses with massive economies of scale is harder than it might appear.

Karl Marx counterfactual – “So long as capitalism exists, Marx will be read as its most astute analyst. If capitalism ceases  to exist, he will be read as its best critic. So whether we believe that in another 200 years, capitalism will be with us or not, we can be sure that Marx will.” Milanovic pinpoints three key events that resulted in Marx’s work becoming so ubiquitous: Friedrich Engels, the October Revolution (WWI), and the dominance of global capitalism.

Venkatesh Rao on mediocrity  – “So middling performance itself is not the essence of mediocrity. What defines mediocrity is the driving negative intention: to resist the lure of excellence.” Don’t exert all your energy striving for excellence today because you should be leaving some in the tank in recognition that there are many more tomorrows. A workout analogy would be to not blow all your energy on your first set of squats if you have three more sets coming. Also, it’s nice to have a justification for my laziness and procrastination.


When the desired lesson isn’t the one learned (transcript) – The bulk of the podcast is devoted to the repercussions of a Castlemont High field trip to a screening of Schindler’s List. Around 70 black and Latino students were at the screening and behaved like most high school students would while at a movie with their friends. They didn’t grasp the gravity of this particular movie and the other moviegoers were understandably offended. The students are kicked out of the movie, and the story becomes a cause célèbre. There is no clear good side or bad side, just a lot of misunderstanding.

David Chang’s new podcast – The first episode is part of a broader series that were all taped before the opening of his new L.A. restaurant Majordomo and will chronicle the journey to the restaurant’s opening. In this episode, he candidly digs into the burdens of expectation, why being a famous chef isn’t as great as you might think, and his struggles in dealing with criticism.



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