Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Status Roles and Money

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 status roles and why they matter.

Status roles are everywhere, and people define them differently and in many ways. However, one thing is for sure when describing the status role. The fact is there is a hierarchy. People interpret status and give some level of respect to others that are around them.

In our working world, there are plenty of people who have status because of their jobs. However, status is not always reflected in how much someone is being paid. Someone with a status role in one field may not always have a status role in other areas. It is part of human nature to have a status hierarchy that we have been shuffling around and dealing with for a long time.

Another way to think about the status role is who gets to eat lunch first or who has the privilege of deciding who gets to eat lunch first. Things start to get interesting when industrial capitalism shows up in the last 200 years. Then, more and more people decide to trade status for money and vice versa.

There are many things that money can buy, and we equate those things with indicators for status. The expensive cars, the high-priced clothing, and many expensive items but have low utility are just some examples of status representation. In many species, status goes to the creature that is the strongest. As human beings, we have found all sorts of ways to put our perceived status on display.

Interesting things can happen when someone has a perceived status role but does not get the expected favored treatment in return. One of the things going on in our culture right now is a reshuffling of the status hierarchy. A status role that used to be granted to someone who has a natural-born trait is being replaced by something else. Along the way, we have created many status roles based on what people do that did not exist in our culture before.

As status hierarchies get shifted around, it starts to leave stretch marks on the culture. We need to think hard about many of the assumptions we have made about status roles. For example, do we want to assume that rich people are also brilliant at doing something else? Do we want to assume that somebody who matches the current cultural definition of beauty is also somebody we want to extend the benefit of the doubt in other areas?

It is up to us to decide whether someone’s status in one area is directly applicable to other things they do. The high-status role creates celebrities. There were very few celebrities 200 years ago, but now we mint them like Bitcoin every day.

The question we might want to ask is what kind of culture do we want to see built? What status roles would support building such a culture? Should we create status roles that do not always equate to financial compensation? If we want to live in a world where doing good work was the point, we might want to consider having status roles that are not the shortcut to making a lot of money.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Expect Delays

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 current event of supply chain difficulty and offers the following perspectives as we think about the problem.

There are two things an organization can do to improve its profit right away. The first thing is to lower the inventory and eliminate slack everywhere. Company executives consider slack in the system an enemy of profitability because the buffer space does not contribute to the profit except to incur costs for maintaining it.

When an organization can cut its inventory and slack, the action can improve the profit right away. By eliminating margin, the chief executives can look smart by quickly improving profitability without taking other more drastic measures.

All is well except the slack exists for a reason. The slack or buffer allows the organization to maintain the level of service when there are hiccups in the system. Slack can also address an unexpected customer demand and enable the firm to capitalize on the extra business. Unfortunately, with the buffer gone in many organizations, many organizations are running into distress in their systems because they no longer have the cushion to respond well to a sudden change in the business environment.

As many public companies are trying to extract every last penny of slack out of their systems, they also have to resort to the second tactic for maintaining profitability. If the system has no slack, the organizations also need to lower the expectations from the customers. Customer service is usually the first to cut as organizations put up many obstacles for customers to receive adequate customer service when the transactions did not go well via a stressed system.

Like in Darwinian evolution, when the climate changes, suddenly the animals that evolved to be in one niche are having trouble in the new environment. Many of these companies, which have made promises around convenience, reliability, and showing up to treat customers with respect, are getting more stressed. Unfortunately, since companies are not humans, the ones who will get stressed are the poor frontline workers, where their actions are being measured with a stopwatch every moment.

So we, as consumers, who are lucky enough to live in an environment filled with wonders, could do two things. The first one is planning and avoiding doing our shopping at the last minute. The second thing to consider is to bring some human interactions back into business transactions. When dealing with the people at the front line, who get pushed by the organization and its management structure to do things like drones, we should realize that most things are not their fault.

The genuine fault lies in the greed that led companies to extract the slack and weasel out of a promise that we thought they were going to keep.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Project Debt

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 technical and project debts we often run into and why it is important that we are aware of them.

Many elements of capitalism are based on the idea of debt. If we can buy an asset that turns into revenue or other assets, we may consider getting into debt to capitalize on the asset’s value. Over time, we pay back the debt because we make enough profit that the asset pays for itself.

The very nature of capitalism has always been about building an asset that lets us have more leverage and thus make more money. So, of course, in addition to the debt of acquiring machines, there are other forms of debt. But as we enter a post-industrial age, we need to ask ourselves whether we are getting into the right debt for the right opportunities.

The first one is this idea of technical debt. Technical debt comes in the form of maintaining and upkeeping old software. Technical debt is not just the maintenance we need to do to keep our old systems running. It is the fact that we cannot reach for higher capability or productivity because our old systems will not support it. Technical debt also often overlaps with project debt. It is tough to change the game once we get a cohort of people using the old system.

Intelligent leaders of technical teams often need to declare software obsolete, but there is also this idea of personal technical debt. We have accumulated many technologies and systems in our life that require maintenance. As knowledge workers, we need to be aware of such debt, so it will not eat away our productivity or hinder our productivity.

We also have this idea of project debt. We incur project debt when simply adding resources to the project does not speed things up. Sometimes we add enough resources to a project. As a result, the project might go slower or come to a standstill. In addition, when we add resources to a project, the need to coordinate those resources also arises. The costs of that coordination also contribute to the project debt.

One way to combat project debt is to leverage the technologies at our disposal to amplify everyone’s effectiveness. If we can figure out how to add more people to the project but, at the same time, does not increase the coordination costs, we might have a shot. The magic of dealing with project debt is to figure out how to expand the project participants without increasing the coordination structure and time.

We need to realize that everyone gets 168 hours a week, and that is all we get. Burning the candle at both ends creates a debt that carries health ramifications. An alternative is to realize we need to be much better at saying no because saying yes means inviting debt.

To consider taking on project debt, we also need to have productivity tools that can lead to freedom in other areas. Even better, the productivity tools should lead us to other higher possibilities, which is the essence of the work we have chosen to do in the first place.

“Be careful who you owe because who you owe decides who you will become.”

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.