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Jun 17th, 2021

Premature Optimization

In 1968, the computer scientist Donald Knuth, in his book “The Art of Computer Programming”, penned the now famous (at least in the programming circles) sentence:

“The real problem is that programmers have spent far too much time worrying about efficiency in the wrong places and at the wrong times; premature optimization is the root of all evil (or at least most of it) in programming.”

What Knuth refers to is an all-too-common tendency to start tweaking and optimizing things before we have developed the proper solution (or in more business-terms: before we have achieved product/market fit).

I see this problem creep up everywhere (including in my work) and it is one worth keeping a regular check on. A classic example is debating the specific shade of a color, the placement of a logo, the concrete wording on your presentation — all before much more fundamental parts have been done or solved.

Personally, I might spend too much time polishing my slides or agonizing about the sentence structure in a piece I wrote — instead of moving on and tackling the (often much) bigger problems and questions.

It goes to the old saying of “perfect is the enemy of good”, the Pareto principle, and newer ideas such as MVPs and Lean Startup. We know these things. Alas, we often don’t (fully) adhere to their teachings.

The next time you find yourself agonizing about the question if you should use 12 or 13 point font — ignore the urge to engage with the question and move on to the actually important questions.

Jun 14th, 2021

Time to Choose

This Sunday, the New York Times published two seemingly unrelated articles: One on the creator economy, discussing the mental struggles and burn-out social media influencers experience (Young Creators Are Burning Out and Breaking Down). The other an opinion piece on the new world of fashion, which is emerging out of the COVID-19 induced lockdowns, as one which doesn’t provide general trends anymore (There Are No Fashion Rules Anymore). Both play on an important and accelerating part of life and society — the extreme transience and short-livedness of everything.

Which brings up rather fundamental questions about how you think...

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Jun 10th, 2021

You Have to Dig

Lately, I have been thinking about (and citing) Rob Walker’s somewhat famous quote on futuring:

There is no shortcut; there is no algorithm. If all you do is track what’s trending, then all you’ll ever know is exactly what everyone else already knew. To discover, you have to dig.

As so often in life — the good stuff is typically not visible to the naked eye but requires us to invest time and energy to peel away the layers. Which also means that you need to truly want it in the first place. Maurice Conti, former Head...

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Jun 7th, 2021

The Avoidance And Embrace of Hard Times

In our previous Heretic dispatch, we talked about Nintendo’s former CEO Satoru Iwata’s definition of genius — which I quite like. My dear friend and fellow Heretic Mark Moore, founder and CEO of MANA Nutrition (I wrote about Mark in the past), responded with the following quote (his quote, not him quoting someone):

“As far as I can tell, our entire culture is organized around one thing: the avoidance of suffering and hard times. And once you’ve avoided suffering for a while, you graduate to the avoidance of even the slightest inconvenience.”

I believe Mark is...

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Jun 3rd, 2021

On Genius

Today’s Heretic comes courtesy of a quote from the delightful memoire of Nintendo’s former CEO Satoru Iwata:

“One way of defining a genius is “a person who can endlessly continue doing things that other people might dislike or easily grow tired of and be unable to continue.” I think that’s what we mean when we say “genius”—not giving up on your ideas, letting them have all the space they need. It may be exhausting, or it may perhaps be rewarding, but in any case it certainly isn’t easy. For a person who can do these things, however, it also...

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Jun 1st, 2021

Things You Can Learn From a Horse

In one of my favorite illustrated books “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse” you will find the following dialog between the boy and the horse:

“We have such a long way to go.” sighed the boy. “Yes, but look how far we’ve come.” said the horse.

It is the perfect reminder, especially coming off a long (Memorial Day) weekend here in the US, to pause, reflect and appreciate the journey.

Many (most? all?) of us have a tendency to keep our eyes fixated on the goal, continuously looking into the future, and plan ahead....

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May 27th, 2021

Don’t Do Anything That’s Been Done Before

One (of the many) pieces of advice I received from my former boss and mentor at Mozilla Chris Beard was to “not do anything which has been done before.” He said this to me when he handed the proverbial keys to Mozilla Labs, our internal innovation lab, over to me — the organization he built and now entrusted me to run while he went on to first become Mozilla’s Chief Marketing Officer and later its CEO.

Of course, he knew that this is much easier said than done, and I don’t believe he meant this as a steadfast rule but...

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May 24th, 2021

Nintendo Wii, Flatscreen Displays and the Future of…

Do you remember the Nintendo Wii? The goofy, weird, underpowered console which took the world by storm? Whilst Microsoft and Sony beat each other up over the computational and graphics prowess of their respective consoles, Nintendo imagined a whole new way of playing video games, which broadened the Wii’s audience significantly beyond the traditional core gaming demographic.

When you look past the headlines, what is truly remarkable is the insight which led to the development of the Wii (source: Ask Iwata):

As early game consoles gained popularity (the original Nintendo and Sega systems), family members began to want...

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May 20th, 2021

Ask This Question When Hiring Someone

The other day I debated hiring with a friend of mine. Hiring is notoriously hard — as a hiring manager you are expected to decide on a person with extremely limited and heavily skewed data. And the same is, of course, true for the person being hired — though the information asymmetry is a little less harsh, as it is easier to get information about a company (especially if it is a slightly larger one) than about an individual.

We talked about the set of questions one can (and possibly should) ask to glean as much useful information about the...

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May 17th, 2021

Shock The People

I am currently reading the delightful book “Ask Iwata” — a collection of stories and insights from Nintendo’s former president (and game developer) Iwata Satoru. Iwata was the mastermind behind the Nintendo Wii, DS and numerous games for the early Nintendo platforms.

The book is chockfull of fun anecdotes and leadership wisdom. One which stood out to me — as it is an interesting way of formulating a core belief of mine — is this:

We made it absolutely clear that our mission was to “shock people, in a good way.” Unless you can shock people, you’ll...

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