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The Change Formula: Rule

I attended BIF-5 (The Business Information Factory's Annual Summit) last week, a great and stimulating experience. One of the speakers was Alan M. Weber taking some topics out of his new book, Rules of Thumb. Some of what he said actually led me to buy his book at the mini bookstore they had set up there. (More some other time on the tradeoffs of paying full price for a book on the spot versus waiting a day and a half and getting it for much cheaper from Amazon.)

I was reading this article this morning: "Looking at Life as One Big Subscription" and buried in it was this sentence, about why it's hard to get people to decide to replace a product they own for the latest model:

"The rational way to think about your purchases, says V. Seenu Srinivasan, a Stanford business school professor, is to replace a product when the benefits of a new version outweigh the costs — financial and psychological — of upgrading." (from New York Times)

Sounds obvious , doesn't it? Think about it.

Well it contradicts Rule #5 which is more subtle but I think upon reflection, more accurate. Rule #5 says,

"Change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change." (from Rules of Thumb, a book by Alan Weber.)

Think about that; does it in fact contradict the first formulation? He further says:

"If you do your math right and you figure out how to allocate the true costs of the status quo while driving down the risks of change, you may discover some new allies you can bring to your side…" (from Rules of Thumb, a book by Alan Weber.)

Based on this formulation, I guess your focus is not on persuading a customer that the new product will bring so many new benefits that it justifies the cost. Instead your focus is on the costs of not upgrading.

For example: if we are talking about deciding to trade in your old car, the argument would be: if you decide to keep your old car, lower gas mileage will cost you in more fuel, repairs will cost more, and the safety of the old cars will put your life at risk.

I am not totally sure that in terms of pure logic the arguments are different but psychologically, they are.

Premature Evaluation?: Obama Wins Nobel Prize

Check out Premature Evaluation?: Obama Wins Nobel Prize(from The BRAD BLOG:

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." (from:Premature Evaluation?: Obama Wins Nobel Prize)

I say, hooray for us! Hooray for the USA. Why can't we just be proud that our president was given this honor, instead of people taking potshots at him for 'not having accomplished anything' yet?

It's silly. There have been many Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to encourage and support an effort, even before it has yielded results. I suppose if we look back at press coverage back then we'd see the same nonsense.

Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe captures it best for me:

"The Nobel Committee clearly was awarding Obama the Nobel for hauling America out of the pits of unilateralism. What had to come first was America fulfilling a major portion of the dream of another Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Martin Luther King Jr. For that, America is worthy. The Nobel Committee in fact might have made a mistake. It said, "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future.

It would have been better off proclaiming, "The Norwegian Nobel Committee awards its 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to the United States of America for having the courage to come full circle 233 years after a slave-owning nation declared independence by saying all men are created equal" " (from The Boston Globe)****

Well said.

High Reactives

What are high reactives?

"Temperament is a complex, multilayered thing, and for the sake of clarity, Kagan was tracking it along a single dimension: whether babies were easily upset when exposed to new things. He chose this characteristic both because it could be measured and because it seemed to explain much of normal human variation. He suspected, extrapolating from a study he had just completed on toddlers, that the most edgy infants were more likely to grow up to be inhibited, shy and anxious. Eager to take a peek at the early results, he grabbed the videotapes of the first babies in the study, looking for the irritable behavior he would later call high-reactive." (from Understanding the Anxious Mind)

This is quite a long article which I won't attempt to summarize here. It argues for an interesting explanation and clarification about why certain people tend to react certain ways, differently to different kinds of stimulus. This is from the conclusion:

"An anxious temperament might serve a more exalted function too. “Our culture has this illusion that anxiety is toxic,” Kagan said. But without inner-directed people who prefer solitude, where would we get the writers and artists and scientists and computer programmers who make society hum? Kagan likes to point out that T. S. Eliot suffered from anxiety, and that biographies indicate that he was a typical high-reactive baby. “That line ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ — he couldn’t have written that without feeling the tension and dysphoria he did,” Kagan said." (from Understanding the Anxious Mind)

If this kind of stuff interest you, you might try tackling the whole article 🙂

I am convinced by this

Sergey Brin of Google has an op-ed in today's New York Times, making the case for Google Books:

"But the vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries. Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores. As the years pass, contracts get lost and forgotten, authors and publishers disappear, the rights holders become impossible to track down." (from A Library to Last Forever)

Pretty convincing stuff. Read the whole thing.

You Commit Three Felonies a Day

Interesting commentary on a new book by Harvey Silvergate called "Three Felonies a Day". The article also touches on the notion that "Under the English common law that we inherited, a crime requires intent.", saying:

"Sometimes legislators know when they make false distinctions based on technology. An "anti-cyberbullying" proposal is making its way through Congress, prompted by the tragic case of a 13-year-old girl driven to suicide by the mother of a neighbor posing as a teenage boy and posting abusive messages on MySpace. The law would prohibit using the Internet to "coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person." Imagine a law that tried to apply this control of speech to letters, editorials or lobbying" (from Wall Street Journal)

Jersey Boys

We saw the "Jersey Boys" musical in Chicago last night. It's a lot of fun, even though the sound system at the "Bank of America Theatre" wasn't up to par. Actually it was pretty awful.

The music is great and the story is interesting. Who knew that Joe Pesci had some connection with the Four Seasons?

It makes we want to find a good memoir from one of the Four Seasons describing what it was like. Can you recommend one?

Interesting further commentary on Intuit purchase of Mint

I wrote about the Mint/Intuit deal the other day. Being an avid user, I had mixed feelings about this development. I came across this good post about the transaction, which puts a decidedly negative spin on it:

"Mint was a key leader of the next generation of game changers. And now it’s property of Intuit — the poster-child for the last generation. What a loss. Is that the best the next generation can do? Become part of the old generation? How about kicking the shit out of the old guys? What ever happened to that?" (from The Next Generation Bends Over)

A bit harsh to be sure. Read the comment stream, there are some interesting points and counter points made, such as:

"Every company, including Intuit, should have the opportunity to reinvent itself (if, in fact, this is part of what they’re hoping to do). In fact, a sign of a great company is one that can change. I don’t mind giving Intuit the chance to do that, regardless that they were “last decade’s leader”.

As a MINT user, the only real question I had was whether I trust my data in the hands of Intuit. I have decided to take that chance until I learn something differently."(from jonathan)

Upcoming Web Innovators Group meeting

Just found out that the WebInno group is back in session after a summer hiatus. This is one of the best open meetings for techies and entrepreneurs to meet and talk and see each other's stuff. Here's the official blurb:

"The Web Innovators Group (WebInno) is comprised of people engaged in internet and mobile innovation in the Boston area. We aim to support entrepreneurs, visionaries, and creative thinkers in the field by holding events which foster community interaction.

Our regular meetings provide a forum for entrepreneurs from self- funded/early-stage startups to present new services to their peers, as well as an opportunity for everyone in the community to share and exchange ideas.

WebInno was founded and is currently led by David Beisel of Venrock."

I am going! I suggest you may want to go too.

Click here to register. It's free!

Mint being acquired by Intuit: Good or Bad?

I am a fairly avid fan of So it's with mixed emotions that I read that Mint is being acquired by Intuit. Intuit is a bigger, better known, and so in theory, more reliable vendor for something that is quickly becoming mission critical for me. But on the other hand, Intuit's software has become uglier and harder to use over time. I tried Quicken Online, twice, and found it to be far inferior to Mint. We shall see.

By the way, why do aquired companies insist on saying something like: "What’s not going to change: will stay the way you like it: free, easy-to-use and constantly improving." (this was from their email to users.) It's never really true, and it worries me because it shows the naivete or dishonesty of the writer.