Notes on Thriving in a Digital World — The Knowledge Project Podcast— ft/ Ben Thompson of Stratechery


* We had to weather the decline of the old system before the new system kicked in — On the music industry and streaming

* The genie is not going back in the bottle. Don’t fight battles that have already been decided.

* Regulation is multifaceted — on one hand, it forces the big players to play by the rules, but that also eliminates new players from being able to compete, ensuring the big players maintain dominance.

* Your success can be the reason for your failure — Microsoft

* Strengths are Weaknesses.

* Google has the best model — people willingly give it the data by using the search bar.

* Niche — we’re in the era of niche.

* Right thing at the Right time. Success is highly determined by timing.

* You have to own up to your mistakes, and you need to tell people and yourself why you made that mistake. It’s how you get people to trust and respect you.

* Question the prevailing assumptions constantly.

* Beware of confirmation bias

“I take my personal integrity and the integrity of this site very seriously. While I will make (and have made) mistakes, I will always strive to correct them quickly and publicly, and take active steps to ensure I don’t make similar mistakes in the future. On the flip side, I do not tolerate accusations of speaking or writing at the behest of any company (this is the primary reason I — very rarely — block people on Twitter).” From Stratechery’s website


Search and free data
We should be considering doing more with search. Otherwise, we won’t know exactly what most of our visitors are looking for. It’s a missed opportunity

We would need to make sure that we can understand and we can analyze all of that information (Machine Learning?) and we would need a way to understand which users are asking for which things. To segment somehow to know what’s important to whom.

One thing that became very clear to me after this talk was that we really are in the era of niche. Particularly if you are an internet based business, there are almost no barriers to finding an audience that appreciates something hyper-specialized. Shopify, Etsy and Merch by Amazon sellers are illustrating this with the products they are selling, the themes they are working on and the businesses they are running.

I don’t remember where else I heard this or read this, but you need to see where the conversation is going and then you need to jump in front of it and lead.

This can be from a feature perspective, from a product offering perspective or from an integration perspective.

It may not make sense to compete with the big guys and instead it might be wiser to opt for the version where you are not competing. Go all in on the things they don’t have the luxury of doing.

Owning up
One thing that was pretty powerful for me in this talk was Ben’s commitment to owning up to his mistakes. His business model is based off of people’s trust in him and his analysis of various situations. Going through life, no matter what you are doing, you will make mistakes. What I love about Ben is that he believes that it is paramount and integral to maintaining that trust that he is very public and honest about the mistakes that he makes.

And importantly, he always shares why he made that mistake, and identifies the logic for it. This serves multiple purposes.

One is that it allows him to really understand where he went wrong, and it becomes another tool for him to understand his own biases and prevent mistakes from happening in the future. It is only through rigorous self reflection that we are able to understand ourselves and how to improve.

The other is that it shows people why you made that mistake and helps them understand. This effectively allows them to also learn from your mistakes and increases their trust in you because they can understand why things happened. People like to know why something happens.

Strengths are Weaknesses
It’s interesting that Ben came back to this idea multiple times and with multiple examples. The Microsoft example was pretty poignant because it seems so large. The very fact that Microsoft was massively successful became it’s weakness when the landscape changed. He points out that it will also likely be the reason that our current behemoths also fail when the paradigm shifts.

I think of an interview I did with a customer who told us that she went for a smaller company because they were able to move faster and offer more quicker. She said, it’s understandable though, they’re much smaller than you are, you guys are big and can’t just make changes like that.

We tend to believe that with more resources we will be able to solve more and more customer challenges, but in reality, it’s not always true. Because every feature developed, every product added is also a step in a particular direction. We end up with baggage and a responsibility to maintain and support the things we have already made. We can’t just jump to the very next problem because we have existing clients and customers that we have made promises to.

It makes me think of a tree. When it’s a seed it can be planted anywhere. When it sprouts, for a while it can be moved and replanted elsewhere. But after time, that no longer becomes possible. As the leaves grow, the roots get deeper. At some point moving that tree can cripple or kill it.

I think the same holds true for people as well.

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