Predicting the global economy

Let’s all look at this chart: the International Monetary Fund forecasts the global economy’s growth each year.

Predicting the Global Economy

Breaking it down, these are the numbers of 2010:

Predicting the Global Economy

…so the IMF forecast seems to be rather optimistic:

Predicting the Global Economy

That’s a near miss, the actual numbers in 2011:

Predicting the Global Economy

Sure enough, that’s a depressing trend, but it’s probably over, right?

Predicting the Global Economy

Nope, still doesn’t seem to be correcting. Maybe next year? Or the year after that? What do you think of the 2016 predictions?

Predicting the Global Economy

From this interview with George Soros:

“…it’s much better to face harsh reality than to close your eyes to it. Once you are aware of the dangers, your chances of survival are much better if you take some risks than if you meekly follow the crowd. That is why I trained myself to look at the dark side.”

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It’s the same person

Dust Brothers are famous for their work on the soundtrack of Fight Club, many of Beck’s songs and on what’s pretty much Hanson’s only hit.

What’s astonishing is that all those works are completely different from each other: not many people would put Fight Club’s soundtrack and MMMBop on the same playlist.

While writing this post, I’m listening to Dead Man’s Bones’s In The Room Where You Sleep. At the mic, it’s the same person who played Lars in the movie Lars and the Real Girl, then, a few years later the hot guy in Crazy, Stupid, Love: Ryan Gosling.

Danny Boyle directed and John Hodge wrote some of my all-time favourite movies like the Shallow Grave, Trainspotting or The Beach.

This sort of genius is not uncommon. Creativity seems to be this unstoppable thing that pursues you to stay up late and follow the voice in your head. People who have the voice don’t seem to be able to get rid of it. They are bound to meet like-minded folks and then put out whatever they are capable of producing together.

Another one of my favourite examples used to be Prince: he wasn’t only a musician but mastered many instruments, produced movies or wrote crazy songs for other artists.

It will never seize to be inspiring.

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Users can’t be copied

“My philosophy on consumer-based Internet companies is that you don’t need to worry about the business model initially. If you get users then everything else follows. Basically any technology can be copied, any concept can be copied. In my opinion, what makes these companies valuable is the users. That can’t be copied.”

— Mark Fletcher, founder of Blogline, in Jessica Livingston’s Founders at Work.

After many failed attempts on building social networks, I couldn’t agree more. My few successful projects that worked out well, worked only because the idea had enough traction before the product became any good.

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Fair trade

Don’t pay the extra fee on fair trade coffee. Buy regular coffee, and pay the bare minimum that keeps the workers afloat and the beans to grow. You’re not stupid to spend more than you have to.

Act surprised when it turns out that your coffee is produced with child labour. Act even more surprised when it turns out that they use cheap pesticides, to keep the costs low.

You’ll be more surprised when it turns out that the poison, used on coffee plantations for pest control, is in your city’s sewage system now.

How did it get there?

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“Don’t wait until the slaptree’s fruits are ready to harvest”, my mom used to say when we misbehaved with my brother. Naturally she meant that if we didn’t cut it out, she would introduce us to another term, one that can turn our cheeks red.

It’s never going to work, telling kids about an awesome tree that they’ve never seen to make them stop doing something. Now we misbehaved twice as much just to learn more about the slaptree.

Soon enough, we learned that things that sound well might not be as good after all.

And, much later, I’ve learned about the power of stories from a different perspective. My first editor told me to always start the article with the most important thing first. “People read news to be surprised”, he said, “when something happened is usually the least surprising piece of information you can start with.”

Most of the news you read in papers are the same across the media: the facts are facts, there is little room to change them without being inaccurate or head-on deceptive. What you can do however, is to look for the most interesting pieces and build the story arc around those. That’s how the Financial Times can be so different from the Daily Mail while the facts remain pretty much the same.

Whenever you say that your product is just the same as any other competitor’s, you’re probably right. But that doesn’t mean that your story has to be the same as everyone else’s story.

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Focus on the routine

There was no plural for the word “priority” in the beginning of the previous century.

Now, I’ve heard this from a friend and the claim doesn’t actually check out to be true, but he has a point.

When everything is important, nothing is important.

Multitasking is a myth: when we think we are good at it, we really are just good at switching between tasks very quickly.

Focusing on multiple things at the same time is therefore simply inefficient. You can memorise two poems easier if you learn the one first and then the other one. Any other method — like memorising the first verse from each poem and then do the rest –, would take you longer.

This year I’m trying to pick up a few new habits. Probably too many of those in fact, but the top three were: do sports regularly, eat healthier and write more often. Building new habits requires a lot of attention, and it’s even more difficult to keep track of many at the same time.

Habit - Frederique Comics

I attribute the so-far high success rate to be able to focus on one habit at the time. For example, it was easy to start with a new sports routine: I only needed to make sure the time slots are set and blocked out, and everyone involved in setting my schedule knew about it. It was a drag at first, but a couple of weeks in I woke up on a Wednesday and couldn’t wait to swim — that’s when I knew the habit is set.

Swimming organically brought changing my diet habits too, because you need to eat something before jumping in the water, and you can’t just eat burgers after a good workout.

It’s actually quite fun how much technology didn’t help with these habits: if anything, all the apps I’ve tried were just distracting. In the aftermath it’s not a surprise, just look at the two most popular habit apps: Balance and How many features are there!

Tracking progress is fun though, and I’ve followed a simple method that I’ve learned from my girlfriend. She would put tiny checks in her calendar for the dates she went to the gym.

Without having a physical calendar, I just drew the days of the month on my blackboard and crossed them out whenever I’ve done sports. Something like:

[01] [xx] [xx] [04] [05] [xx] [07]
[08] [xx] [10] [xx] [12] [xx] [14]

Maybe someone can show me an app for that?

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Marketing leg days

To open a jar, says my crossfit trainer, you don’t use your fingers. The muscles in the hand are tiny and weak, they are used to do fine things like fiddling around with the pen. Opening the jar, however, is not a fine thing. You need power for that.

The most power would come from the bigger muscles, like the shoulder ones. To open the jar therefore, you grab the lid and hold it tight — that’s the only thing you do with your fingers –, then start turning the lid by rotating your shoulder and elbow, while keeping the fingers straight. You’ll have the jar open in no time.

You lift weights the same way: instead of using your back and the fine spinal muscles, use your core and legs. Those are the strongest muscles in the body, which means you can use them more effectively and impose less opportunity for injury.

Marketing goes like lifting weights.

To oversimplify for the argument’s sake, sales and marketing are for introducing a product to an audience. You find a target group first, and then explain to those people how you can improve their life through a single purchase.

Working on headlines and advertisements, experimenting with messages and formats are the fine muscles. Most of the time they get the job done — in the end of the day, you can open the jar the wrong way too –, but there are stronger muscles out there.

Heavy lifting should be done by the product you’re trying to sell. The sales department will have an easier job if it’s already obvious who will use the merch, when, and what for. Marketing really shouldn’t waste their time on explaining simple things: they should be able to explore new appeals and play around with fine details in messaging.

Don’t skip leg days: build the product so that it’s obvious what it’s for — just by looking at it people should be able to tell what they can do with it.

You’re done when they also want to use it right away.

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Ready to Binner-Party

The Real Junk Food Project cafés rescue food waste from supermarkets or restaurants, and turn them into meals. The dishes are safe to eat, but the cafés are not allowed to sell them directly. They operate on a pay-as-you-feel basis instead: you can eat for free, but are also welcome to give a donation of however much you can afford.

Naturally they feed people who have barely eaten for days, but that’s not the whole picture.

It’s all about showing people how ridiculous it is to throw away perfectly good food just because of a date on the package. The movements are picking up proper steam, and everyone is eating garbage now: picture people in suits and a Danish prince.

I talked to one of the project’s directors, and wrote a piece for Yakuzuzu Magazine. Read the whole article: Ready to Binner-Party

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Sell or else

When I created my first product, a website content management system, I was still in high school and had no clue what I stumbled upon. It was like WordPress, except that there was no WordPress at the time: it was 2001, and people just learned that you don’t need to double-click on the web for the links to open.

Everyone wanted to have a website and have a piece of this cool new thing, the Internet, and my CMS gave them exactly this. Companies could have a website, put out content on their own, upload photos and what not – pretty much everything you can do on any website now, but mind you: it was 15 years ago, and I was the only person offering this in a 100 kilometres radius.

It spread like wildfire. Everyone wanted my stuff.

I was just a clueless teenager programmer with no mentors around, but with a cool product people wanted. I had no idea what marketing or sales was, nor had I a need for that. Within the first year, half my hometown was using the software I wrote – even massive businesses and the network of public libraries. I was riding the biggest wave of my life, not knowing the first thing about waves at all.

Sales looked like: I went to meet a company, demoed the product and they’ve ordered it the next day. Companies gave each other my contact.

One day I went for one of these sales meetings, pitched the product, went home, and started to set up the project. Except that this time the phone didn’t wring.

The sale fell through.

That was an unusual and terrible feeling. As natural as it was for everyone else that, sometimes, people don’t buy the product you’re selling, that rejection was my first and I had no experience handling such.

Unappreciated - Frederique Comics

The competition started to catch up and soon there were other companies, run by non-18-year-olds, that sold similar systems. Arguably crap products at twice our price point, but that didn’t matter: the world has changed, and I had to learn to do a bunch of new things.

Things like marketing, dealing with competition and copycats, and eventually: pivoting with the business. The lot.

As it turned out in the next 15 years, it’s really difficult to be that lucky with any product. It’s really difficult then, to get away with not being good in marketing.

Every company that became successful seems to have had someone on board who was good in sales. Max Levchin started Paypal with Peter Thiel, Steve Wozniak started Apple with Steve Jobs. Just as Apple Computers wouldn’t exist without Woz building their first computer, it wouldn’t exist without Jobs selling those machines.

There you go, a potentially million-dollar-idea from a clueless teenager: find someone who can sell stuff. Or find out how to be that person.

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Geeking out

We had lunch with a friend the other day, the bill came at $18.2; we were to split it in half, as usual.

I was looking at the bill and had this tingling feeling in my stomach.

It’s $18.2. With ten percent tip and rounding to the first decimal it’s $18.2 plus $1.8, exactly $20.

$10 each. We both had a tenner prepared.

I felt like the monkey that just solved a shape-matching-board.

Perfect lunch that is.

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