Per My Last E-mail #17
Back to Work, Creativity, Amazon, Pagers, Pokemon, and Debate
Hi Friends 👋,
Happy Monday! This is the first time in a little while that my Monday is like your Monday. I’m back to work after an amazing month on sabbatical.
Taking a sabbatical was out of character for me and honestly a little scary. For the longest time, I didn’t think I would take it. What would happen to Breather without me there? What would happen to my team? What would I do with myself for a whole month without working? What if they realize that they don’t actually need me while I’m gone?
Taking time away from work ended up being a great choice, and one I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity - whether through sabbatical, parental leave, or even just batching vacation time to get real time out of the office. Breather didn’t break without me, and I was able to recharge, travel, spend time with family and friends, meet new people, read, write, and relax. After going full speed for nearly six years, it was easy to forget how helpful it is to slow down and reset. And it was a good reminder that life and work can and do go on without you, which is a freeing thing to realize.
Now, back to work.
What I’m Reading
The Roots are one of my favorite bands of all-time. They hold that special place in my heart that only something I discovered and fell in love with in high school can.
Despite that, I never knew that the Roots’ drummer, Questlove, in addition to drumming and DJ’ing, was also an author. A really good one.
In Creative Quest, Questlove mixes his own experience with stories from his friends and influences from across the worlds of music, food, art, writing, and filmmaking to explore how creativity works. I highly recommend reading the book - it’s well-written, a quick read, and chock full of stories and anecdotes that are both entertaining and instructive. My three biggest takeaways are:
Everything is a remix. Even the most creative people curate ideas, beats, and dishes and add their own twist to turn them into something new. You can even do this with your own work - when you’re stuck, go back to something you’ve produced before and rework it.
Write the review of your work before you start creating. Amazon does this with new products - its teams write press releases for products they’re planning to work on before they start working, to help them prioritize what will be important to consumers. Questlove does this by writing a fake Rolling Stone or Pitchfork review of his album before recording so that he is clear on what he wants audiences to take from it.
It’s OK to be bored. “When hit by boredom, go for it. Let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom.” Questlove recommends boredom and micro-meditations as a way to create space in the mind for new creative ideas.
(Listen to this while you read Creative Quest)
Up next, I’m getting a little bit wild and dangerous, reading two books simultaneously (pretty badass, I know):
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam
I’m on a big community kick, and Putnam’s book is one of the most cited on the topic. I have my highlighter thumb ready to go.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Towles is also the author of A Gentleman in Moscow, which I wrote about in Per My Last E-mail #7. Moscow was one of my top three favorite fiction reads of the year, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else Towles has up his sleeve.
Links & Listens
🤖 We are, all of us, Machines by Elastico Gomez
An Amazon factory worker writes a raw description of his working conditions, and how they make him feel like an angry part in a machine. It is a first-hand account of what other humans need to go through to make sure that we’re able to get toilet paper and toothpaste delivered to us within a couple of hours. It reminded me of a May Verge article that talked about Amazon turning work into a series of video games; PR spin from the company and the reality on the ground seem to be miles apart.
☎️ Pagers, Pay Phones, and Dialup: How We Communicated on 9/11 by Garrett Graff in Wired
On September 11th, 2001, the iPhone was still six years away and Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t invent Facebook for another three. As that day’s tragic events unfolded, we called each other, left voicemails, and watched the news. Graff argues that our experience of September 11th would have been very different in a world with ubiquitous cell phones, Twitter, and even 8chan.
Marrone is building a platform to connect women over 50 by helping organize in-person gatherings, from book clubs to dinners to speakers. I think that reconnecting IRL is going to be a big trend over the next couple of years, and I’m looking forward to following Marrone’s journey with Revel.
📊 Venture Capital - No, We’re Not Normal by David Coats of Correlation Ventures
It seems like the discussion about power law returns in venture capital - in which the lion’s share of returns are generated by a small number of investments - is having a moment. This chart shows that over half of venture dollars invested (and almost two-thirds of venture investments) lose money, while 4% of venture dollars return more than 10x (think Facebook, Google, early Uber, Zoom). This works for the venture capitalists who invest in the 10x companies, but it incentivizes them to minimize the time and effort they spend on the companies who don’t show the potential to get to 10x. This would be fine if they were passive investors, but since they are board members, it can create bad situations for the companies they’ve invested in.
I don’t know what it will look like (it’s probably not ICOs), but I think that new forms of early stage capital will emerge in the next couple of years that have more stringent underwriting to increase the percentage of investments that make money, but allows for lower returns (2-5x) to be seen as victories.
💹 Top 25 Highest-Grossing Media Franchises of All Time
Quick, without scrolling down: what is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time?
Unless you said “Pokemon,” you’re wrong.
I came across this infographic when Andrew Chen shared it on Twitter. Three things surprised me:
Merchandise is the moneymaker for media franchises. The top 7 have all generated the majority of their revenue from selling branded items.
Japan punches above its weight. 5 of the top 10 franchises are Japanese, including #1 and #2. After walking around Tokyo and seeing how big a part of the culture games and animation are, this makes more sense to me than it would have a couple of weeks ago.
Hello Kitty has generated more than Harry Potter, the Marvel Universe, and James Bond COMBINED.
Aside from getting back into work mode, I will be focused on a couple of things this week:
I have a draft of an essay that I’m really excited about on the Online-Offline Equilibrium and will be working on cleaning it up before posting later this week.
Our first debate is only 9 days away! I’m locking down our location, tournament structure, food, and drinks in preparation. While I’m doing that, the debaters are preparing their arguments for some pretty heady topics:
General AI should have fundamental rights.
Unions are good.
Wal-Mart should stop selling guns.
If scientifically possible, humans should become immortal.
There is no free will.
Football should be banned.
The government should not fund liberal arts degrees.
Wealthy countries should provide citizens with a Universal Basic Income.
If you want to come watch, I’ll be sending out location details next week 🤓
As always, if you know anyone who would enjoy Per My Last E-mail, please share the subscribe link.
Thanks for reading,