Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Understanding Percentages

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the percentages behind our public health events and why we need to interpret the math correctly. There are two crucial questions Seth wanted to dissect.

First, why should we bother with an intervention with a 90% success rate when 99% of the people recover eventually? That is an oversimplification of the 99% recovery rate and projects a false sense of security.

With a population of 300 million in the US, one percent of death from a disease means that approximately three million Americans will die. That is a considerable number, and if any other disease or natural disaster had a death toll number like that, everyone would be paying attention. 99% sounds like an excellent survival rate unless you are one of the 1%.

Another argument says that a vaccine’s 90% efficacy rate is not worth the effort if 99% of the people recover. When we compare two percentages like those, it might feel appropriate, but it is not. When we attempt to compare two percentage numbers, we need to dig deeper into the numbers.

While the 90% efficacy rate seems to be less impressive than the 99% recovery rate, they mean differently because they cover two overlapping but still different segments of the population. If 1% of the population faces a certain doom without the vaccine, the 90% efficacy rate can still make a marked difference. By vaccinating the people, we have an opportunity to save 2.7M (90% out of 3M population) people from certain death.

The second question has to do with why bother getting the second dose of the vaccine if it is only going to increase the efficacy by 15%, from 80% to 95%? Again, we like to do short-cut with the numbers, but that often leads to bias.

In a town of 1,000 people, an 80% efficacy rate means 200 people will get sick. If everyone gets the second vaccination shot and reaches an overall 95% efficacy rate, 50 people will probably get sick. When looking at the number from an individual perspective, the 15% difference rate might not seem like a lot. When we factor in a much larger population, even small percentages start to become significant.

While we may wish we had a perfect answer to our public health crisis right from the start, practicing public health always faces two significant obstacles. First, science does not look good when we look at it in real-time, and science is about failing and stumbling our way to getting it right. The second obstacle is that public health, by its nature, deals with vast numbers of people. Frequently, people who might not be us in any given situation over more extended periods.

It is easy to take public health for granted for those two reasons, but public health is still one of our modern triumphs. Public health has done many good things for a large number of people and deserves our support. We need not take the public health officials and scientists at their word, but the math speaks for itself.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: The Magnification of Small Differences

In his Akimbo podcast [], Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the artificial scarcity that our culture has put into creating a perceived value for many things.

Everywhere we look in our modern world, we see the magnification of small differences. These small differences are often some arbitrary standards our society has put into place to create scarcity for something. By successfully creating scarcity for an item, it is easier to justify the value of that item.

Those small differences appear in many places. For example, a few points of difference on test scores might determine whether someone goes to a name-brand college while another equally talented and hard-working student does not get to go. In the world of sports, just a small difference in performance might determine whether some student-athlete gets to go to the professional league. In contrast, another student-athlete does not get drafted by any team.

These small differences also get magnified by our culture. The small differences get magnified via a selection process to demonstrate the scarcity of something and why it deserves a high value. For many physical goods or materials, the supply is not infinite, so scarcity is understandable. We usually place a high value on a physical item that is rare and also useful.

At the same time, our culture also tries to impose high scarcity on things that may not have such constraints. Each year we determine that a limited number of high-school students can be into the university system. We determine that a limited number of student doctors can be certified to become practicing physicians. We place an artificial selection process over these opportunities, and we create a barrier of entry.

By creating a barrier of entry for those opportunities, we are simply making sure that there is scarcity so that people will value it. However, there is a problem with the magnification of small differences, and the problem is we waste human capital or human potential. We waste human capital or potential because the right people might not be matched with the right opportunities. Very often, someone who may be good enough to produce good work in some field may never get a chance to get the training and the nurturing she needs to excel in a field.

Right now, we are on a cultural path that is torn between building more choke points and embracing the long tail. Many of the choke points are artificial, while the long tails downplay scarcity and the perceived value. There is no one obvious answer, but we ought to find more ways to amplify human potential.

How do we find more people who can figure out how to make a living doing something that benefits our community while we strip away all the artificial barriers that keep a barrier of entry in place? We can do that if we figure out how to make the long tail attractive enough to get the right people to embrace it.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Lying, Lying, Lying with Stats and More

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the three “malpractices” of presenting graphs and charts. We should understand these pitfalls and potential manipulation because it is always a sound idea to know what the graphs and charts are trying to say and why.

Showing someone a graph, a chart, or a poll is an intentional act. We are choosing something to show someone because we want to make a point. Very often, we do this to amplify the intent of a story. At the same time, we often do the presentation and violate three simple rules.

Malpractice number one is that we need to be careful with changing axes or scales when comparing two or more things. We often manipulate the scales to emphasize or exaggerate minor differences when, most of the time, the differences are not significant at all.

Malpractice number two is using various graphic elements to emphasize the points. A three-dimensional volume is different than a two-dimensional area. A two-dimensional area is different from a one-dimensional line. When we use a three-dimensional volume object to illustrate the change of a single axis, it could create a false impression of the impact of the change.

The third malpractice has to do with how we communicate poll results. First, many polls are not sufficiently random for the results to be beneficial. Second, the poll results often describe people’s feelings at the time of the survey, but the same people may act very differently after some time after the poll. We often mistake polls as reality or certainty when they are merely odds.

The takeaway lesson is that when someone presents a graph or chart, we need to understand the fundamental point that person is trying to convey. We need to ask the right questions to know whether the presenters are presenting things fairly or trying to make a point.

When we present the graphs and charts, we should strive to create charts and graphs that are inherently straightforward, honest, accurately constructed, and still illustrate our perspective. One tip on making a chart is to say precisely what the chart is trying to convey, strip away all the extraneous information to get to the underlying truth and present it as clearly as we can.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Small Apertures

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the function of apertures on the camera lens and uses it as an example of how various gatekeepers have shaped or defined our culture.

Camera lenses are round, but pictures are square because the light goes through a camera lens via a tiny pinhole in the lens. It turns out that, through that little, small hole, plenty of photons can work their way to the other side and land on a square piece of film. The pinhole acts as a gatekeeper for the photons.

Many aspects of our culture also have corresponding gatekeepers. The music industry used to have many gatekeepers that work together in the music ecosystem. The supply chain was made up of listeners, radio program directors, record producers, media executives, and many specialized support personnel and teams.

These supply chains and gatekeepers together act an aperture, a tiny little hole between the people who create things and the market that is open to consuming them.

Over time, the music ecosystem evolves, we got rid of the gatekeepers in many ways. The scarcity of radio time slots and album shelf space is no longer the constraint for music publishing. While there is a portion of the population that wants to listen to what the gatekeepers pick out for them, acquiring an audience in the age of iTunes and YouTube has clearly illustrated the concept of “Long Tail” named by Chris Andersen.

More importantly, these gatekeepers in many industries who used to define or shape our culture are not driving the culture anymore. These gatekeepers existed because we need them to manage the scarcity in time slots or shelf space. Scarcity comes with opportunity costs. If we play this song on the radio during this time slot, we will not be able to play another music simultaneously.

Also, the traditional gatekeepers were conservative primarily because they were trying to appeal to the largest segment of the audience possible. They did not want to risk alienating any group of audience. Today, the dynamic in the media has shifted from the conservative end to going to the edges. It does not matter if something is not valid. If something bleeds, it leads.

Whether being conservative or being edgy is a critical consideration for those trying to do work that will have an impact on the culture. More likely, somewhere in the middle, there might be a sweet spot for us, the change agent.

As creators of culture, each of us has the chance to hone our voice, practice shipping the work, and figure out who is our smallest viable audiences. For those audiences, we need to learn to see them, understand them, cater to them, and give them something they want to share. If we can earn permission to do the work for those audiences, we can become our own gatekeepers.

Each of us needs to be responsible for what we put our name on. Each of us is going to have a following, small or big. What we do with that following is that we can no longer use it as an excuse. We need to stand up for what is right and to bring things we are proud of to the world.

The mega-hits will become rarer as the audience fragments into many long-tail segments. It is more likely we will end up somewhere closer to the middle where some people will be able to find their true fans and make the work they are proud of. Doing the work that makes us proud and not hiding behind a badge or a label is the only way to make things better.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: The Complex of Complexes

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the various industrial complexes surrounding our lives and why we need to be aware of them.

An industrial complex gets organized when capitalists realize that they can make money doing something and have the levers to keep up with the money-making activities. Within the industrial complex, the capitalists make money by selling to their customers. The complex also spawns other mechanisms that create demands for the capitalists’ goods or services. The market feeds into the output, and output creates demand that feeds back into the complex.

Various industrial complexes surround our societies, and those complexes influence many aspects of our lives. Some examples include the military-industrial complex, the education industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, and the TV industrial complex, to name a few. Many businesses thrive within these complexes because they have found ways and leverages to participate in the complex profitable.

Organizations within the complex also compete with each other for business and resources. As one company gets ahead, other companies try to beat the competition. This racing-like competition creates a ratchet that turns the cycle in one direction.

A critical aspect of the industrial complex to understand is the market. The market is a need-sensing device. The market understands that time comes with an opportunity cost, and the market will rush to serve people’s short-term needs.

Over time, all complexes evolve with the profit-making cycle continuing. The TV industrial complex began by solving our problem of what do we put on TV. But now, it is solving how the advertisers could get a more significant return on the money they are spending.

The industrial complex model also needs a surplus of compliant workers to staff the factories. If there are enough obedient workers available, the factory can move the ratchet forward by making goods or services cheaper. Our education system (or industrial complex) was created primarily to produce as many compliant workers as possible. The system is not so much about encouraging creativity, insight, and connection but encouraging us to be part of an industrial complex.

We have a chance to contribute if we want to but without being part of a complex. People are discovering ways to improve our societies without everything comes down to money-making. One approach is to create software that can change the rules. The industrialist is all about marginal cost, raw materials, and supply chains. The software can change a bunch of those rules because software can be free and accessible. Once we start interacting with people in that way that is not harvesting their attention and turning it into money, we stand a chance to produce something without an industrial complex.

What we need to realize is that our culture does not belong to the industrial complex. While the industrial complex has proven to be helpful, it will require some ongoing boundaries. The purpose of having the industrial complex is to build the culture. Culture does not exist to make capitalists happy; instead, capitalism exists to make our culture work.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Lazy Capitalism

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the standard measurement used by capitalism and how it impacts our culture.

Capitalism is the simple idea of finding a market with a need, selling something for less than it is worth to the person in that market, and repeating the process. Throughout the last couple of hundreds of years, capitalism has been the primary force that changes the world in many ways.

Capitalism also works like a ratchet. It is a ratchet because people in the market will always try to seek solutions with a better value. A key metric in capitalism is the return on investment. The desire for seeking a better return usually goes in one direction, so it is like a ratchet that can only turn one direction.

Capitalism can also be said to be lazy. It is easy to be lazy when the participants in the market think about winning at capitalism with just one measurement. It is the return against the investment. If we put money into this venture, how much can we get back from the investment?

When we have just one measurement to track when practicing capitalism, it can lead to some problems. It is human nature where if there is just one number to pay attention to, people will develop ways to make that number go up. In many situations, just making one number go up can push people to do things that diminish other factors that also matter in our lives.

Because we do not live in such a simple world anymore, everything we do have side effects somewhere. The ratchet of constantly improving the return can pressure us to ignore everything that does not directly contribute to the return.

Unfortunately, no single solution can solve all problems, and there is no one perfect model. There are only a messy series of choices we have to make if we will be in the business of changing the market, changing the culture, or changing people’s lives.

The alternative is to figure out what is the smallest viable audience that we can serve or influence. What do they care about so I can adapt it to come up with the metrics for that audience? Knowing what the metrics are, how will we scale our creation to make the change we want to make and in a way that we are proud of?

As we can see, whatever practical solution we develop will involve a series of messy and complicated decisions with no one having the right answer. However, this is a beautiful opportunity to make the change we seek to make in the world and do it in a way that makes a difference.

We are not lazy capitalists – we are humans. That means one thing we can do is thinking hard about how we can become agents of change. We can become an agent of change by building something and figuring out how to make something better.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Advertising Built the World

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the trends in advertising and how they differ before and now. Understanding how advertising has evolved can help us understand how marketing and our culture have shifted over time.

Advertising is not marketing, but advertising has been a significant element of many organizations’ marketing efforts. Advertising has played an undeniable role in shaping the Western culture for the last 150 years. Four key features describe the advertising’s impact on culture up to now.

The first element is the advertising’s target. The brands’ advertising has been generally targeted at a segment of the population. For example, suppose we wanted to sell laundry detergent. In that case, we will likely advertise it in the afternoon on soap operas because it is typically women who decide which soap to buy.

The second element is being measured. For a long time, advertisers pretended to measure their ads, but precise measurements have been difficult to pin down. Without a reliable feedback loop, measuring the effectiveness of TV and radio ads has been unprecise. It was more fun and more lucrative to not measure precisely, but people had a hunch that measurement mattered.

The third element was frequency. While many traditional marketers do not prefer frequent advertising, experience tells us that that frequency works. Writing the same ad more than once pays off as it scales.

The fourth element was the blurb. For a long time, advertisers have figured out that the closer they could get to looking like an endorsement, the better the ad would work. The goal is to blend the products into things that we naturally do daily.

After the Internet came along, we have seen a significant transformation in how organizations advertise. The advances in connectivity and technologies have made companies like Google and Facebook the powerhouses in the field of advertising. Google has been making money by organizing and creating an inventory of the world’s information. Facebook took similar tactics and making a tremendous profit by organizing and creating an inventory of the world’s people.

With the Internet’s help, the advertisers can now be very targeted, do fine-grain measurements, serve ads frequently, and make the blurbs even more pervasive. Traditional TV and radio are the media for macro-advertising. The Internet came into the advertising space and became the medium for micro-advertising.

With the Internet, we now get chased by numerous targeted ads from all sorts of sources at a mind-numbing frequency and customized messages/blurbs. Those ads follow us everywhere we go because our presence on the Internet is closely tracked at every juncture. Now there is an infinite number of voices chasing a finite number of advertisers.

Most of all, the most debilitating element to our culture is the blurb. There were minimal blurbs in network TV days, but now it is much harder to separate the pretending ad messages from the genuine blurbs. As people who are interested in making positive changes to our culture, it is crucial to understand how advertising has changed. The understanding can help us deliver our change messages more effectively.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Helmet Insights

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses his observations on helmet-wearing in sports and the behavior’s implications on shaping our culture.

We play sports for many reasons, but one reason that frequently jumps out is that we use a sport to make a statement. We often use a sport to highlight who we are and how we want to be seen by others.

While self-image is a big reason for playing a sport, we also want our peers to accept that self-image in the same sport. The sport of hockey initially rejected the notion of helmet-wearing because it did not fit with the brave-and-tough image portraited by the sport. Even with a league mandate, helmet-wearing behavior did not become the norm for a long time.

Life is also a team sport, and each of us is on a team. For an area of life we choose to play a part, we care about how we come across and from whom we want acceptance. Social pressure has a lot to do with how we make choices. Those choices we make often lead to culture-building in some fashion.

While our individual choices and behaviors can impact our culture, some government mandates can also significantly impact the overall societal culture.

Some government mandates go a long way towards normalizing certain behaviors. Those behaviors probably will not become a norm if we leave it to the individual adult citizen to make their own choices. The seatbelt, drunk-driving, and texting-while-driving are a few examples of normalized behaviors for the greater good.

Why would we need such normalized behavior mandates from the government? It turns out that, while people want to fit in, we are also lazy. Many of those normalized behaviors can lead to a greater good and do not come easily from individual efforts.

But once the pattern is in place, compliance can often go up in many folds. When we establish a standard, and when the easiest path is to follow the norm, more people will follow the standard. The normalized, rational behaviors are critically important, and they rarely come from the grassroots effort of individuals.

The insight from helmet-wearing is that we can change the system if we can find ways to influence the culture. While each of us has free will, we still like to conform to and be accepted by the group we affiliate with. When we can instill the presumption of people like us do things like this, that is the opportunity we have as we try to change the culture to normalize behaviors that will benefit us.