On Competition in Business

February 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Usually, there’s not as much competition in business as people think.

But when the time comes that two companies do directly compete, it takes on the characteristics of a poker game. Does the company that makes the better product or service always win out? Not necessarily. In a complex world, that’s just one of many factors. Sometimes people will fold a winning hand.

The key to winning a direct, head-to-head competition in business, like in poker, is to consistently present your opponent with difficult decisions. Give him the opportunity to make mistakes, and in the long run, he will.

You have to be aware of what you are representing, i.e. what inferences your opponent draws from your actions. In poker theory, we call this 3rd level thinking.

Thinking on the first level means only thinking about your cards. You play the hand you are dealt in a straightforward manner. This is akin to that clean, theoretical view of business in which the company that builds a better mousetrap always wins.

Thinking on the second level means thinking about the cards your opponent has. This is the first strategic level.

Thinking on the third level means that now you consider what cards your opponent thinks you have. The question to consider on this level of thinking is “what do my actions tell my opponent?” By understanding this, you can present him with difficult decisions.

On those rare occasions when businesses compete head-to-head, where differentiation is not the deciding factor, the more capable strategist will win. By consistently presenting your competitor with difficult decisions, giving him the opportunity to make mistakes, you give yourself the best chance to win.

Categories: Company Updates

Random Experiment with Facebook Likes

August 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Last week, Drudge linked to an article saying that 70% of Barrack Obama’s Twitter followers are fake. The next day, it was revealed that 71% of Lady Gaga’s followers were also fake. Apparently, celebrities buy likes and follows on social media, presumably with the intent of increasing ‘organic’ likes and follows.

So I’m going to implement this experiment on the Facebook page for one of my side projects to see if I can boost organic likes, and in turn traffic and conversions to my website. Obviously the likes you buy aren’t real people, and they’re not going to buy anything. I can’t imagine anyone actually believing that. The point is that you take advantage of the herd mentality that drives social media consumers; people are more likely to follow someone with a million other followers than someone with only a dozen.

I’m really wondering if the 7:3 fake-to-real ratio will hold true for my page. I guess we’ll find out. I’m using BoostLikes.com, who say they’ll give me 100 free Facebook likes if I mention them on my blog. This should be interesting.

Categories: Miscellaneous

33 Moments of Happiness

I’ve read this list dozens of times. It’s one of those rare pieces of writing that seems fresh and new every time you read it.

Jin Sheng Tan was travelling with a friend, and during their journey, a torrential storm forced them to take refuge in a monastery for a few days. They passed the time by making a list of their happiest moments. Here is what Jin Sheng Tan came up with.

1. It is a hot day in June when the sun hangs still in the sky and there is not a whiff of wind in the air, nor a trace of clouds; the front and back yards are hot like an oven and not a single bird dares to fly about. Perspiration flows down my whole body in little rivulets. There is the noonday meal before me, but I cannot take it for the sheer heat. I ask for a mat to spread on the ground and lie down, but the mat is wet with moisture and flies swarm about to rest on my nose and refuse to be driven away. Just at this moment when I am completely helpless, suddenly there is a rumbling of thunder and big sheets of black clouds overcast the sky and come majestically on like a great army advancing to battle. Rain-water begins to pour down from the eaves like a cataract. The perspiration stops. The clamminess of the ground is gone. All flies disappear to hide themselves and I can eat my rice. Ah, is this not happiness?

2. A friend, one I have not seen for ten years, suddenly arrives at sunset. I open the door to receive him, and without asking whether he came by boat or by land, and without bidding him to sit on the bed or the couch, I go to the inner chamber and ask my wife: “Have you got a gallon of wine like Su Tungp’o’s wife?” My wife gladly takes out her gold hairpin to sell it. I calculate it will last us three days. Ah, is this not happiness? (roughly 2 bottles per person per day).

3. I am sitting alone in an empty room and I am just getting annoyed at a little mouse at the head of my bed, and wondering what that little rustling sound signifies – what article of mine he is biting or what volume of my books he is eating up. While I am in this state of mind and don’t know what to do, I suddenly see a ferocious-looking cat, wagging its tail and staring with its wide-open eyes, as if it were looking at something. I hold my breath and wait a moment, keeping perfectly still, and suddenly with a little sound the mouse disappears like a whiff of wind. Ah, is this not happiness?

4. I have pulled out the hai tang and chi ching (Chinese trees) in front of my studio, and have just planted ten or twenty green banana trees there. Ah, is this not happiness?

5. I am drinking with some romantic friends on a spring night and am just half intoxicated, finding it difficult to stop drinking and equally difficult to go on. An understanding boy servant at the side suddenly brings in a package of big fire-crackers, about a dozen in number, and I rise from the table and go and fire them off. The smell of sulphur assails my nostrils and enters my brain and I feel comfortable all over my body. Ah, is this not happiness?

6. I am walking in the street and see two poor rascals engaged in a hot argument of words with their faces flushed and their eyes staring with anger as if they were mortal enemies, and yet they still pretend to be ceremonious to each other, raising their arms and bending their waists in salute, and still using the most polished language of thou and thee and wherefore and is it not so? The flow of words is interminable. Suddenly there appears a big husky fellow swinging his arms and coming up to them, and with a shout tells them to disperse. Ah, is this not happiness?

7. To hear our children recite the classics so fluently, like the sound of water pouring from a vase. Ah, is this not happiness?

8. Having nothing to do after a meal I go to the shops and take a fancy to a little thing. After bargaining for some time, we still haggle about a small difference, but the shop-boy still refuses to sell it. Then I take out a little thing from my sleeve, which is worth about the same thing as the difference and throw it at the boy. The boy suddenly smiles and bows courteously saying, “Oh, you are too generous!” Ah, is this not happiness?

9. I have nothing to do after a meal and try to go through the things in some old trunks. I see there are dozens of IOUs from people who owe my family money. Some of them are dead and some still living, but in any case there is no hope of their returning the money. Behind people’s backs I put them together in a pile and make a bonfire of them, and I look up to the sky and see the last trace of smoke disappear.Ah, is this not happiness?

10. It is a summer day. I go bareheaded and barefooted, holding a parasol, to watch young people singing Su Zhou folk songs while treading the water-wheel. The water comes up over the wheel in a gushing torrent like molten silver or melting snow. Ah, is this not happiness?

11. I wake up in the morning and seem to hear someone in the house sighing and saying that last night someone died. I immediately ask to find out who it is, and learn that it is the sharpest, most calculating fellow in town. Ah, is this not happiness?

12. I get up early on a summer morning and see people sawing a large bamboo pole under a mat-shed, to be used as a water-pipe. Ah, is this not happiness?

13. It has been raining for a whole month and I lie in bed in the morning like one drunk or ill, refusing to get up. Suddenly I hear a chorus of birds announcing a clear day. Quickly I pull aside the curtain, push open a window and see the beautiful sun shining and glistening and the forest looks like it had a bath. Ah, is this not happiness?

14. At night I seem to hear someone thinking of me in the distance. The next day I go to call on him. I enter his door and look about his room and see that this person is sitting at his desk, facing south, reading a document. He sees me, nods quietly and pulls me by the sleeve to make me sit down, saying, “Since you are here, come and look at this.” And we laugh and enjoy ourselves until the shadows on the walls have disappeared. He is feeling hungry himself and slowly asks me, “Are you hungry, too?” Ah, is this not happiness?

15. Without any serious intention to build a house of my own, I happened, nevertheless, to start building one because a little sum had unexpectedly come my way. From that day on, every morning and every night I was told that I needed to buy timber and stone and tiles and bricks and mortar and nails. And I explored and exhausted every avenue of getting some money, all on account of this house, until I got sort of resigned to this state of things. One day, finally, the house is completed, the walls have been whitewashed and the floors swept clean; the paper windows have been pasted and scrolls and paintings are hung up on the walls. All the workmen have left, and my friends have arrived, sitting on different couches in order. Ah, is this not happiness?

16. I am drinking on a winter’s night, and suddenly note that the night has turned extremely cold. I push open the window and see that snowflakes come down the size of a palm and there are already three or four inches of snow on the ground. Ah, is this not happiness?

17. To cut with a sharp knife a bright green watermelon on a big scarlet plate on a summer afternoon. Ah, is this not happiness?

18. I have long wanted to become a monk, but was worried because I would not be permitted to eat meat. If, then, I could be permitted to eat meat publicly, why then I heat a basin of hot water, and with the help of a sharp razor shave my head clean in a summer month! Ah, is this not happiness?

19. To keep three or four spots of eczema in a private part of my body and now and then to scald or bathe it with hot water behind closed doors. Ah, is this not happiness?

20. To find accidentally a handwritten letter of some old friend in a trunk. Ah, is this not happiness?

21. A poor scholar comes to borrow money from me, but is shy about mentioning the topic, and so he allows the conversation to drift along on other topics. I see his uncomfortable situation, pull him aside to a place where we are alone and ask him how much he needs. Then I go inside and give him the sum and after having done this, I ask him: “Must you go immediately to settle this matter or can you stay awhile and have a drink with me?” Ah, is this not happiness?

22. I am sitting in a small boat. There is a beautiful wind in our favour, but our boat has no sails. Suddenly there appears a big lorcha, coming along as fast as the wind. I try to hook on to the lorcha in the hope of catching on to it, and unexpectedly the hook does catch. Then I throw over a rope and we are towed along and I begin to sing the lines of Tu Fu: “the green makes me feel tender towards the peaks, and the red tells me there are oranges.” And we break out in joyous laughter. Ah, is this not happiness?

23. I have been long looking for a house to share with a friend but have not been able to find a suitable one. Suddenly someone brings news that there is a house somewhere, not too big, but with only about a dozen rooms, and that it faces a big river with beautiful green trees around. I ask this man to stay for supper, and after the supper we go over together to have a look, having no idea what the house is like. Entering the gate, I see that there is a large vacant lot about six or seven mou, and I say to myself, “I shall not have to worry about the supply of vegetables and melons henceforth.” Ah, is this not happiness?

24. A traveller returns home after a long journey, and he sees the old city gate and hears the women and children on both banks of the river talking is own dialect. Ah, is this not happiness?

25. When a good piece of old porcelain is broken, you know there is no hope of repairing it. The more you turn it about and look at it, the more you are exasperated. I then hand it to the cook, and give orders that he shall never let that broken porcelain bowl come within my sight again. Ah, is this not happiness?

26. I am not a saint, and am therefore not without sin. In the night I did something wrong and I get up in the morning and feel extremely ill at ease about it. Suddenly I remember what is taught by Buddhism, that not to cover one’s sins is the same as repentance. So then I begin to tell my sin to the entire company around, whether they are strangers or my old friends. Ah, is this not happiness?

27. To watch someone writing big characters a foot high. Ah, is this not happiness?

28. To open the window and let a wasp out from the room. Ah, is this not happiness?

29. A magistrate orders the beating of the drum and calls it a day. Ah, is this not happiness?

30. To see someone’s kite string broken. Ah, is this not happiness?

31. To see a wild prairie fire. Ah, is this not happiness?

32. To have just finished repaying all one’s debts. Ah, is this not happiness?

33. To read the Story of Curly Beard (who gave up his house to a pair of eloping lovers then disappeared). Ah, is this not happiness?

Categories: Miscellaneous

A Startup I Like: DollarShaveClub.com

DollarShaveClub.com is just really cool. These guys took a really simple concept, filled a need, and created an eminently well-done viral marketing campaign to promote it. I signed up, for what it’s worth. I hope these guys make a mint off this!

If you sign up, use this link and I’ll get a couple of free razor blades!


Categories: Company Updates

Random Quote on Building Good Habits

February 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Q: How to you build a good habit?
A: Start now, and don’t stop.

Sometimes we try to make it too complicated. There are very few tricks in life, and fewer still that can take the place of good, old-fashioned hard work.

Categories: Personal Development

Freerolls: The Better Part of Aggressiveness

January 3, 2012 Leave a comment

A lot of people might not know what I’m talking about when I say “freeroll.” A freeroll is a gambling term. It means you make a bet with a potential payoff, but no potential loss. Let’s say in a game of no-limit hold ’em you and your opponent both hold AK on the river on an uncoordinated board. The freeroll bet would be to push all in. If he calls, you split the pot. But if he folds, you win the whole pot. All upside, no downside–assuming your read is correct, of course.

I believe that there are many freeroll situations in our lives, and to the extent that a person is aggressive, he takes advantage of these situations.

If you’ve ever called to cancel your cable service, there’s a good chance they’ve offered you a discount to keep your business. That tells me there might be a freeroll opportunity there. If I called my cable company, cell phone company, and all my other service providers tomorrow and asked for a discount, what would happen? It’s not like they would raise my rates. They might try to get something from me, like signing a longer contract, in exchange for the discount. Or they might just give me what I asked for. Out of all the plausible scenarios that could occur, the only things I’m losing are some time, and maybe a little bit of awkwardness.

I really think there’s a lesson here, and I hope it’s not lost in my particularly clumsy writing this evening. I could sit down and write a list of dozens of things that I want right now: a case for my new iPad, for baseball season to be here, some more good MMA training partners, and so on. I’d be willing to bet that a lot of things on that list are just a request away. There are a ton of undiscovered freerolls in my life that I have the opportunity to act upon if I am just willing to take the initiative to do so.

One anecdote and two practical exercises:

Several years ago, I took a job in sales in order to develop some skills I would need as an entrepreneur starting a business. Some of the guys I worked with had a game they would play: they would go into a restaurant and see which one of them could get the most free stuff. There was usually some flirting and “assuming the sale,” as it’s called, but the key was just having the guts at some point in the conversation to ask for something free. You probably wouldn’t believe how many free drinks, appetizers, desserts, happy meal toys, and phone numbers we all got every time we went out.

So if, like me, you think you could benefit from being more aggressive, I would first encourage you to start looking for freeroll situations in your life. Pull out a legal pad and start brainstorming. You’ll come up with a lot. If you have cable and a cell phone, I’ve already given you two ideas. And once you actually start acting on these and making simple requests, you’ll start noticing a lot more opportunities.

If fear of rejection is keeping you from rolling the dice, take the Rejection Challenge. The challenge is that you have to be rejected at least once every day for 30 days. There is even a set of playing cards you can buy with ideas for rejection opportunities (ask a stranger for a bite of their food at a restaurant, et cetera). You might be surprised to discover that there’s a certain gratifying exhilaration to taking these risks.

One minor caveat: I’m not saying that this should be how act all the time from now on. We all have material things we want, but if you start asking your friends and family for money every time you talk to them, they’ll stop taking your calls. In other words, there are valid reasons for not asking for things; fear, timidity, and passivity are not among them.

Categories: Personal Development

Aggressiveness, Part I

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I firmly believe that aggressiveness is an essential character trait for achieving goals.

Used in the conversational sense, the word conjures up images of a brash Donald Trump-esque angle shooter who’s always looking for a way to squeeze more out of a negotiation. That’s not what I’m talking about. Aggressiveness, as I define it, means proactively taking more responsibility for a desired outcome, leaving less in the hands of others and to chance, acting, and doing so with urgency and regularity.

Lets’s take that one piece at a time: proactively taking responsibility for a desired outcome means that it starts out with an internal examination. You ask yourself, “could I be doing more?” You consciously choose to seek out new opportunities for action, even if especially if they’re unorthodox, uncomfortable, or out of your comfort zone. Leaving less in the hands of others or chance is a part of that mental exercise. It is a lens through which you see actions you might not otherwise see. Acting is the most important part. Once you identify some actions you can take, you do them. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re “correct” actions–at least not as much as you might think. As Goethe said, once you act, “Providence moves all,” and you tend to get sifted to where you need to be. Doing this with urgency means exactly what it sounds like. You can’t be aggressive and be a procrastinator. And doing so with regularity means that this is a habit that needs to be constantly cultivated.

Aggressiveness as a habit is a difficult thing to master. Part of it is to constantly challenge and extend yourself beyond what is comfortable. So if you ever think you’ve finally got it, that’s just proof that you don’t. It’s a sliding scale of difficulty, and as your comfort zone and capacity to see possibility expand, the goal line moves farther away.

It may be that there’s an upper limit to this character habit, beyond which it’s impossible or not useful to be more aggressive. Speaking for myself, however, I’m nowhere near there.

I’ll have more on aggressiveness in the near future, together with a few specific exercises for cultivating this habit.

Categories: Personal Development