ItsMyData – Take ownership of your information, don't let others sell it

On January 1st, 2020, the California consumer privacy act went into effect.

  • Take ownership of your information, don’t let others sell it.
  • ItsMyData does the all hard work by opting out for you.

One of the goals of the new regulation was to empower internet users to protect their privacy and personal data.the law required online merchants to allow users to opt out from the use and sale of their personal data, and setting significant fines on merchants who fail to do so.

Why you should keep your data safe?

Selling your data is a meaningful revenue stream generator for online retailers.

Naturally, online merchants are not fond of this regulation, and many of them do their best to avoid user opt outs by hiding the opt out links or making the process unnecessarily complicated. That’s where we come in.

Reading Too Much Political News Is Bad for Your Well-Being

How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.


Of the many ideas from Eastern religion and philosophy that have permeated Western thinking, the second “noble truth” of Buddhism arguably shines the greatest light on our happiness—or lack thereof. Samudaya, as this truth is also known, teaches that attachment is the root of human suffering. To find peace in life, we must be willing to detach ourselves and thus become free of sticky cravings.

This requires that we honestly examine our attachments. What are yours? Money, power, pleasure, prestige? Dig deeper: Just maybe, they are your opinions. The Buddha himself named this attachment and its terrible effects more than 2,400 years ago in the Aṭṭhakavagga Sutta, when he is believed to have said, “Those attached to perception and views roam the world offending people.” More recently, the Vietnamese Buddhist sage Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote in his book Being Peace, “Humankind suffers very much from attachment to views.”

As the election season heats up, many Americans are attached to their opinions—especially their political ones—as if they were their life’s savings; they obsess over their beliefs like lonely misers, and lash out angrily when they are threatened. This is the source of much suffering, for the politically obsessed and everyone else.

Fortunately, there are solutions.

Little research has been conducted on the direct links between happiness and one’s attention to politics. The indirect evidence, however, is not encouraging. For example, Dutch researchers in 2017 conducted a study on how hard news that tends to provide a political perspective affects well-being. They found that on average, well-being falls 6.1 percent for every additional television hard news program watched a week. They explained this by noting the dominance of negative stories on such programs, and the powerlessness viewers might feel in the face of all that bad news. It’s difficult to imagine that stories about political news in America would have any less of a negative impact—especially given how fraught and contentious United States politics is now.

More in this series

In an attempt to see more clearly how attention to politics is directly associated with life satisfaction, I conducted an analysis using 2014 data from the General Social Survey. After controlling for household income, education, age, gender, race, marital status, and political views, I found that people who were “very interested in politics” were about 8 percentage points more likely to be “not very happy” about life than people who were “not very interested” in politics.

The Dutch researchers’ point about negativity and powerlessness might play a role here, but something even more important might be happening. I believe that today’s partisan climate, media polarization, and constant political debates are interfering directly with the fuel of happiness, which is love.

To begin with, our growing focus on politics is driving what social scientists call “political homophily,” which means assortative mating by political viewpoint. Scholars studying online dating profiles find that political views are comparable in importance to education levels in choosing one’s romantic partner. Presumably, this reflects a growing belief that people’s votes are a proxy for their character and morals. Right or wrong, this is a joy killer: If politics is so important as to preclude romantic love where it otherwise might have blossomed, happiness will fall as a result.

Parents might also contribute to this amorous sorting. Three decades ago, when I was on a path to marriage, I don’t remember my mom and dad asking about my future wife’s political views. And traditionally, that wasn’t too important for most parents in America. In 1958, according to a Gallup Poll, 33 percent of parents who were Democrats wanted their daughters to marry a Democrat; 25 percent of Republican parents wanted their daughters to marry a Republican. Not so in recent years: Those numbers were 60 and 63 percent, respectively, in 2016. I suspect they are even higher in 2020.

Friendships and family ties are compromised by political disagreements as well. Polling data have shown that about one in six Americans stopped talking to a friend or family member because of the 2016 election. No doubt these were mostly cases where friends and family disagree. But even when people agree politically, expressing intense views, or going on and on about politics, harms relationships. A 2018 data analysis in the journal Political Opinion Quarterly revealed that “even strong partisans dislike too much political discussion—even agreeable discussion.”

And beware especially of in-laws: To quote the researchers, “many people do not want their child to marry someone from their own party if that hypothetical in-law were to discuss politics frequently.” In other words, these days you need to have the right politics for your beloved’s folks, but you can’t be too intense about it. It’s a bit of a high-wire act.

The research doesn’t reveal precisely why we tend to dislike overly political people, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to guess that constant foam-flecked political outrage makes one quite tedious. It also impedes our ability to think clearly: At least one experiment has shown that people become less accurate in interpreting data when the data concern something politically polarizing. And lest you think you are immune to this bias if you are sophisticated with data, the research shows that highly numerate people are the most likely to contort the numbers to fit their views.

Finally, retreating too far into one’s own political bubble makes one more ignorant of the world. A 2012 survey conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University asked a sample of Americans about their news-consumption habits, and quizzed them about U.S. and international political and economic events. They found that those watching the most partisan television news sources—on both the left and the right—were often less knowledgeable about world events than those who consumed no news at all.

This rings starkly true to me. Whether partisan news sources can misinform us or not, they shrink our world. By engorging the political, they crowd out nearly everything else; they create a kind of tunnel vision that makes it easy to equate “news” with “politics” and pay little attention to what’s happening in other realms. And thus we become more boring.

In sum, if you spend the election season glued to your favorite partisan news outlet, read and share political outrage on social media, and use every opportunity to fulminate about politics, you might become less happy, less well-liked, less accurate, and less informed.

I am not advocating for everyone to stop paying attention to politics, of course. Good citizens are attentive and active in the political process. However, for quality of life’s sake—yours and others’—you would do well to put boundaries around the time and emotional energy you devote to politics this fall. To this end, I have three suggestions.

1. Get involved instead of complaining.

Earlier this year, the political scientist Eitan Hersh argued in The Atlantic that highly educated people who consume a ton of political news are making true progress harder in this country. Their appetite for constant indignation fuels an outrage-industrial complex in media and politics, and likely makes compromise harder.

“What they are doing is no closer to engaging in politics than watching SportsCenter is to playing football,” Hersh wrote. He recommends active, local citizenship: getting involved in your community and working with others to push for positive change instead of just watching cable TV and ranting about it. Hersh recommends this for the good of the country; I recommend it for the good of your mental health and relationships.

2. Ration your consumption of politics and limit the time you spend discussing it.

A key characteristic of addictive behavior is the displacement of human relationships by the object of addiction. A good way to gauge whether you have a problem is to ask: Is this activity a complement to my relationships, or a substitute? In the case of politics, for many people, an honest answer would clearly be the latter; hence the willingness to damage friendships and romances.

The solution is to ration your consumption of politics, and set proper boundaries around where you talk about it. I recommend limiting the consumption of all news—not just politics—to 30 minutes a day, unless news is your vocation. Much more than that and you might just be upsetting, rather than informing, yourself, or at least becoming one of Hersh’s “hobbyists.” Further, resolve to avoid political discussions during most nonpolitical occasions. It may be hard at first, but I’d wager that eventually you will savor the respite, especially during election season, when politics is everywhere.

3. Turn off ultra-partisan news sources, especially on your own side.

In 2017, the website The Onion introduced a satirical current-events talk show called You’re Right. In it, the host feeds viewers their own beliefs and biases, assuring them that they are right and that those who disagree are stupid and evil.

It’s a parody, of course, but it captures a real reason why people often turn to partisan news sources: It brings emotional satisfaction to hear experts and famous people saying things you agree with, and denouncing those with whom you disagree. But this has deleterious effects on your relationships, and leaves you poorly informed. Once you step away for a while, you’ll most likely start to realize how much of your energy it was consuming, and how much better you feel without these influences.

The fall is going to be rough, politically. The election will be brutal and bitter; there’s no way to avoid this. But Americans have to decide whether we want our own lives to be brutal and bitter as well. Each of us has political views, many of them strongly held. Each of us is convinced that we are right—and some of us might well be. But if we let these views dominate our thoughts, our time, and our conversations, they will harm our relationships and happiness. We can be happier if, sometimes, we follow the Buddha and just let our opinions go.

Especially with the in-laws.

The Great Unread: On William Deresiewicz’s “The Death of the Artist”

EARLY IN HIS new book, The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech, William Deresiewicz relates two stories often told about the arts today. From Silicon Valley and its boosters, we hear: “There’s never been a better time to be an artist.” Anyone can easily market their own music, books, or films online, drum up a thousand true fans, and enjoy a decent living. We see proof of this, time and again, in profiles of bold creators who got tired of waiting to be chosen, took to the web, and saw their work go viral.

The artists tell another tale. Yes, you can produce and post your work more easily, but so can everyone else. Every year, every major venue — SoundCloud, Kindle Store, Sundance — is inundated with thousands if not millions of songs, books, and films, but most sink like a stone. Of the 6,000,000 books in the US Kindle Store, the “overwhelming majority” of which are self-published, “68 percent sell fewer than two copies a month.” Only about 2,000 US Kindle Store authors earn more than $25,000 per year. Spotify features roughly 2,000,000 artists worldwide, but less than four percent of them garner 95 percent of the streams. The pie has been “pulverized into a million tiny crumbs.” We may now have “universal access” to the audience, but “at the price of universal impoverishment.”

Deresiewicz is a literary critic and author of a provocative earlier book on higher education in the United States, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. He made his first foray into the debate about the plight of artists in The Atlantic in 2015, but declined at the time to endorse either of the two narratives set out above. In that essay, he framed the debate itself as symptomatic of a deeper shift on the artistic horizon. Creators are becoming unmoored from the institutions that have long made their careers possible, he argued, as publishers, labels, studios, and colleges are now “contracting or disintegrating.” Left to fend for themselves in the marketplace, artists have been forced to practice “creative entrepreneurship,” with less time to spend building an oeuvre or perfecting their technique, and more time to be spent on networking and self-promoting. User reviews and recommendation engines matter more to them than critical opinion. Their work tends to be tamer, safer, more “formulaic” — “more like entertainment, less like art.” More broadly, this new breed of artist is compelled to feel good about all the internet makes possible, and to ignore the fact that few have managed to capitalize on it. In 2015, the future under the new paradigm was not encouraging. But it seemed too soon to pass judgment.

Having gathered copious evidence for the book, Deresiewicz now stands firmly against the model of the creative entrepreneur. Based on some 140 phone interviews with creators across a number of fields, and ample studies and reports, the book urges us to dismiss the Silicon Valley narrative as pure “propaganda.” It is a persuasive and thoroughly engaging read. Deresiewicz is not a pioneer in this terrain — Scott Timberg’s Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class and Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy cover much of the same ground. But Deresiewicz takes a closer look at artists’ lives and careers, presenting a bleak composite picture that anyone with creative aspirations must confront. All but the most popular creators, he makes clear, face new and daunting obstacles, pointing to a future in which more artists will do more of their work as part-time amateurs. Final chapters try to brighten the picture somewhat with encouraging words about organizing and advocating for IP reform. But the book leaves unclear the answer to a larger question: is the aspiration to become a full-time writer, filmmaker, or musician — no matter how earnestly held — now essentially obsolete?

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It has always been hard to make a living in the arts; what is new, Deresiewicz contends, is that even moderately successful artists — who publish, show, or perform frequently — often struggle to lead a middle-class life. Revenue for most creators is falling: the Authors Guild, for example, reported a drop in the writing income of American authors from 2009 to 2015 by an average of 30 percent. When distribution moved online, the middle of the artistic earning spectrum collapsed. This runs contrary to the early optimism of figures like former Wired editor Chris Anderson, who saw a bright future for less popular artists. Free of the spatial constraints of brick and mortar retail, selling books and music online would lead to a flatter distribution curve. Rather than a graph showing a sharp curve with most sales going to the top 100 or so artists, the net would lead to a graph with sales dispersed more gradually over millions of artists — leading to a long tail. But as Deresiewicz makes clear, this hasn’t happened. The net didn’t feed a long tail of content consumption; it just made the head of the curve a lot taller. In the 1980s, 80 percent of music album revenue went to the top 20 percent of content. Now it goes to the top one percent. Deresiewicz reveals a similar pattern across the arts: many of the people he interviewed earned from $20,000 to $30,000 a year, “if not less.” The more successful earned from $40,000 to $70,000, “but not more.”

Artists have lost income because content has been “demonetized.” Putting so much music, text, and video online has rendered much of it worthless, due to piracy or sheer, superfluous abundance. Publishers, labels, and studios all face falling revenues, resulting in ever smaller advances and marketing budgets. Television, having resisted demonetization, is the one bright exception to the trend. Netflix, HBO, and other platforms support a thriving culture of middle-class creators — standing out, for Deresiewicz, as the exception that proves the rule.

Chapters on rent, space, and time show how much harder it is to sustain a full-time living as an artist, alone or in close proximity to others. Median rent in the United States is up about 42 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 2000. Not a single person Deresiewicz spoke with was “living decently in a market-rate apartment in a major city on their earnings as an artist.” Artists can no longer afford “to live where artists live.” Nor can many get by without support from parents or partners. “The only way the current model works,” the author was often told, “is if you are young, healthy and childless.” Many of the profiles in the book portray artists living in extreme frugality, often in cramped quarters, in smaller cities or towns, compelled to spend much of their time on menial day jobs and side hustles. Not surprisingly, as one observed, “most people burn out after ten years.”

Deresiewicz devotes chapters to the situation in each of the arts, with the common theme being the takeover of winner-take-all economics. Musicians, for their part, never recovered from digitization. With file sharing having taught a generation to expect music for free, first musicians and then labels surrendered to streaming services — fearing no revenue at all. Yet streaming fees, now the main source of income in music, are tiny — on Spotify, fractions of a penny per stream; on YouTube, between $700 and $6,000 per million views, a number that few artists reach. “Nowhere is the long tail thinner or the fat head fatter than in music.” Ninety percent of subscription fees go to the “megastars in the head.” The top 0.1 percent of artists take 50 percent of album sales, with “similar numbers for downloads and streaming.” Musicians are left “scrambling” to find other means to make a living. Live performances support some, but in 2017, 60 percent of that income went to the top one percent.

The writing scene is equally grim. With 39 percent fewer books sold in US stores between 2007 and 2017, and fewer books reviewed in prominent venues, publishers have lost control over marketing. Mid-list and early career authors receive far less support. Now that 67 percent of books in the United States are sold online — with Amazon alone scooping up 40 percent of print books and 80 percent of ebooks — authors are at the mercy of mysterious algorithms for discovery and promotion. Flying solo, once the great authorial hope, has turned out to be a dead end. Since 2008, Deresiewicz notes, 7,000,000 books have been self-published in the United States. “All but a tiny fraction reach essentially no readers and earn essentially no money.” Economic inequality in the visual arts is even more extreme. Only 10 percent of BFA, MFA, or PhD arts grads in the United States earn a “primary living” in the field. In 2018, “just twenty individuals accounted for 64 percent of total sales by living artists.”

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Where, then, are we headed? In one of the book’s most illuminating chapters, Deresiewicz draws on the work of cultural historians Larry Shiner (The Invention of Art: A Cultural History) and Howard Singerman (Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University), among others, to place the current upheavals in artistic creation within a longer history — one showing how models of production tend to have short shelf lives, and why creators of the near future may have more in common with their more commercially driven, artisanal ancestors of the past.

In the early modern age, da Vinci, Shakespeare, and Bach were just that: artisans or craftspeople who apprenticed to learn traditional methods and strove, with the support of a patron, to become masters. They worked primarily for a commercial purpose and didn’t quibble over the distinction between art and craft.

Citing Raymond Williams, Deresiewicz pinpoints the birth of our present conception of art in the second half of the 18th century, the age of Romanticism and Revolution, when the phrase “fine arts” emerged. Rather than imitating tradition, artists now sought to express an inner truth, reflecting a wider embrace of individuality, rebellion, and youth — a trend that Deresiewicz connects to the rise of democracy and self-government. In the 19th century, the cultured bourgeois would come to revere the artist as a solitary, expressive genius, a bohemian prophet and visionary, culminating in the esoteric modernism of Picasso, Joyce, and Stravinsky. By this point, works of art gained in monetary value, but artists often sought to cultivate an air of independence from the market.

The artist as genius was displaced not by the emerging entrepreneurial model, but by the artist as professional, a model born in the culture boom that followed World War II. A host of new institutions — museums, theaters, orchestras, and universities — gave the creator a safe and steady perch. No longer a wandering bohemian seeking inspiration, the artist was now a credentialed professional striving, over many years, books, films, and albums, to perfect their technique. Typically, a tenured professor, a staff writer, or a musician attached to a record label, the creator enjoyed commercial success, but strove for critical acclaim.

Deresiewicz paints each of these paradigms with a broad brush — conceding that there are exceptional or overlapping figures and works in each period. But the sketch supports his larger point that in all three paradigms, artists were sheltered from the market by an external source. Now, he argues, we’re moving “unmistakably” into a new dispensation “marked by the final triumph of the market” and “the removal of the last vestiges of protection and mediation.” As the institutions supporting the professional model “disintegrate” — as professors become adjuncts, and publishers, galleries, and studios downsize or die off — a further aspect of all three models is also being left behind: the ability to devote the bulk of one’s time to art. For Deresiewicz, “[g]reat art, even good art, relies on the existence of individuals who are able to devote the lion’s share of their energy to producing it — in other words professionals.”

But conditions today favor the amateur. They favor “speed, brevity, and repetition; novelty but also recognizability.” Artists no longer have the time nor the space to “cultivate an inner stillness or focus”; no time for the “slow build.” Creators need to cater to the market’s demand for constant and immediate engagement, for “flexibility, versatility, and extroversion.” As a result, “irony, complexity, and subtlety are out; the game is won by the brief, the bright, the loud, and the easily grasped.”

The change underway is clearly part of a larger cultural transition, involving more than just the arts. But Deresiewicz singles out Silicon Valley as a main culprit: he cites Taplin’s estimate that between 2004 and 2015, creators lost roughly $50 billion in annual revenue to the major tech platforms. They did so largely, Deresiewicz contends, by abetting piracy. Lawmakers could curtail this to some degree, by forcing Google, YouTube, and Facebook to allow creators to remove infringing content. But the big players continually resist because “[p]iracy is just too lucrative for them.” Ultimately, Deresiewicz argues that government should break up these monopolies; it should hinder their tendency to “flout the law, to dictate terms, to smother competition, to control debate, to shape legislation, to determine price.”

As with so many works of nonfiction that deliver bad news, the obligatory “what is to be done” segment at the end of the book fails to stir much enthusiasm. Deresiewicz asserts, correctly, “we’re not ‘going back’ to anything” — then urges creators to join advocacy groups like CreativeFuture or the Authors Guild, and to lobby for copyright and IP reform. Yet it’s hard to tell how the goal here is different from trying to turn back the clock. As Deresiewicz concedes, his proposals are “plainly incommensurate with the scale of the overall problem.”

They are indeed. The digital genie won’t be put back in the bottle. Big tech might be reined in on certain fronts, but it won’t be abolished or broken up. Nor can we expect labels, studios, publishers, or colleges to play the same supportive role they once did. Some see signs of hope, for some forms of creative endeavor, in the rise of paid subscriptions. But the evidence in The Death of the Artist is copious and inescapable on the most crucial fact about art in the present age that won’t change: when creative work is sold online, sales are radically unequal, following drastic power-law distributions. No matter how many people subscribe, no matter how aggressively Big Tech comes to be governed, selling art, music, or books in a digital world will always entail a lion’s share of the proceeds flowing into the pockets of a small few.

Deresiewicz shies away from putting it starkly, but the lesson is clear: a career on the older professional model — a gradual build to a moderate critical success — is only viable at this point for those who can support themselves for the long haul. A dwindling few will manage to do this by landing a perch at a magazine, a studio, a university. And so the model may not be entirely obsolete at present. But, aside from television, the book points to a future of creative production involving more work being done by amateurs, more done as a hobby, a passion project, a side gig — whatever that might mean for “great or even just good art.” Beyond that, who can say?

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Robert Diab teaches law at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia and writes about human rights and civil liberties.

Marthe Hanau, France's greatest, brainiest confidence woman (1939)

As one of France’s internal political reactions to the Munich accord and the unprepared-for-war crises that came afterward, the Leftist Front Populaire was formally and finally declared defunct in the fall of 1938. Without a French woman by the name of Marthe Hanau, there might never have been any Leftist Front Populaire. Had Mme. Hanau not been a trader on the Paris Bourse in 1928, it is unlikely that Léon Blum would have been Premier of France in 1936. It wasn’t that the lady was a suffragette who worked for the Socialist cause. The lady was a swindler, laboring only to fill her capitalist pockets. She was the greatest, brainiest, most convincing and comical confidence woman France ever produced. Her swindles during France’s boodling nineteen-twenties, under the Radical-Socialist machine, may be ranked with the masculine chicaneries of the Oustric, Aéropostale, Baron Pacquement, and Sacazan scandals, which were the Ponzi affairs of France of the time. In a country where the female sex isn’t given half a chance, her achievement was even more remarkable because it became a cause célèbre and led to the public revolt which later swung the Socialist reformers into power. Indeed, in bringing things to a head, Mme. Hanau was topped only by one performer, and he was a prince of his profession. Alexander Serge Stavisky outdid her by crooking nearly ten billion francs and causing the February 6th riots of 1934, in which fourteen people were shot dead in the Place de la Concorde. Mme. Hanau merely caused seven citizens to quietly do themselves to death at home when they discovered her schemes had taken their last sous. As she was a spicy Paris personality, her death in prison the summer before Blum took over the governing of France was a loss to the chroniqueurs. Her life also represented a loss—one hundred and fifty-five million francs—to her investors.

Marthe Hanau was born Parisian, commercial-minded, and respectable. Her mother, a patient, penny pinching Jewess, was owner of a small Montmartre baby-clothes shop called La Layette pour Fr. 8.45. Though the profit was slight—one of everything an infant needed for $1.69 took close figuring even in those days—she was able to give a dot of 300,000 francs to her daughter Marthe when, in 1908, at the age of twenty-four, she married Lazare Bloch, a handsome, callow suitor whose family had done nicely in the jute business. By the time he and his wife arrived in the Correctional Courts twenty years later, they were divorced but still inseparable. She had taken back her maiden name, he had lost his patrimony and her dot, had been through bankruptcy, and was working for his ex-wife as a jolly, cigar-smoking customers’ man in her so-called investment house. Bloch described himself to the judge as “the kind of fellow who could sell peanuts to the Pope.” Police records showed that the only thing he ever sold was a bottled refreshment called the Tube du Soldat and described on the label as “Café et Rhum,” an unholy fraud palmed off on soldiers during the war. Because he omitted the word “imitation,” Bloch was arrested for misrepresentation of merchandise.

By the time Mme. Hanau came to court, she had for three years been one of the most talked-of figures in Paris. The financial pages of certain newspapers had given columns to her meteoric rise, the front pages of all newspapers had given double space to the facts of her sudden fall. During her apogee, millions of French had read about her and thousands had, unhappily, written to her, enclosing checks. Comparatively few people had seen her till she appeared, aged forty-six, in the prisoner’s dock. She was an unusually short, round woman, with vulgar, virile gestures, a taurian head, small even features, full rouged lips, sharp almond-shaped eyes, and a fulminating vocabulary and voice, both indicative of the crass energy on which she had built her career.

She had started her career, after her divorce, by selling perfumes and soap. The war was just over then and helping make women attractive once more had seemed a good, peaceful business. It was not, however, sufficiently exciting or devious for Marthe. She had learned through her ex-husband’s mishandling of their little fortunes how money could be lost on stocks; she was curious to know how it could be gained. She was an exceptionally intelligent woman, as the prosecution later stated; so intelligent indeed that, as the judge agreed, only when she was in prison would the stupid be safe. She had been educated to be a schoolteacher and had taken a first prize in mathematics; her brain had a native preoccupation with, and a fabulous memory for, figures. In the postwar air of France, Marthe Hanau had sensed the gathering of the monetary clouds which were to represent the true atmosphere of the nineteen-twenties. She suspected that credit, not cash, and that speculation, not investment, would be the crazy climate the world would have to weather, and she got herself ready.

It took time. It wasn’t till 1925 that she managed to open a one-room curb brokerage shop in one of the narrow streets behind the Opéra-Comique. There she also started publishing her famous Gazette du Franc, at first a tipster’s sheet. In three years it had become powerful enough to worry the French government and upset millions of gullible investors. For in casting about for a new method of arousing the postwar French appetite, Hanau had hit on an ideal dose—a mixture of publicity and patriotism. The average provincial xenophobic Frenchman swallowed it like a tonic. To appeal to him, she advertised herself as a new broker loyally supporting the French franc and French investments in opposition to the well-established brokers then universally boosting the English pound and American Can. She furthermore managed to be the one European of her time who made a good thing out of the League of Nations and the Treaty of Locarno, both then in high emotional favor owing to the signing of the Kellogg Pact. Hanau honored Mr. Kellogg’s work by getting out a special Kellogg Pact Gazette number. It was skillfully compiled by a new editor, Pierre Audibert, a high-class journalist who was a League fanatic and former political protégé of Minister Herriot. Through his Herriot and Geneva connections, Audibert obtained signed photographs and letters from some of the leading political and public figures of France and Europe: Briand, Barthou, Paul-Boncour, Primo de Rivera, Cardinal Dubois of Paris, and Poincaré. They were put in the flamboyant Kellogg Pact Gazette. There was even a picture of Mussolini, dedicated to “Il mio amico, Bloch,” which was a result of an interview Hanau’s ex-husband had had with Il Duce when they discussed some bland Franco-Italo-Hanau farm-mortgage scheme. Because of a political tie up with the Minister of Education, the Kellogg number was franked to all ambassadors in Europe and, what was worse, to every school-teacher in France. Though the diplomats doubtless realized that Briand, Barthou, et al., in donating their photographs, were merely getting advertising for themselves and their political policies, the school teachers thought the leaders were endorsing Hanau and were, in fact, okaying her investments along with Locarno and peace among men. For, besides Poincaré’s face, the Gazette also included announcements of Hanau’s projects—her Consortium Francais, Société des Valeurs, Ile-de-France real estate, Midi golf courses on abandoned farms, all offered with the pledge, believe it or not, that they would not be permitted to pay dividends of more than forty per cent. To the little French speculator, investing with Hanau seemed like investing with the League, la belle France, and heaven on earth, with, for once, a fat reward for his virtue. Investors’ money began pouring in from all over the Republic.

Then followed Hanau’s greatest period. By 1928 she had installed herself in impressive quarters at Nos. 124-6 Rue de Provence, with 450 local employees, 175 agents operating all throughout France, and a job for her ex-husband which gave him, among other things, 7,500 francs weekly for cigar money. She paid herself 150,000 francs a month. Marthe Hanau had become la présidente of the Compagnie Générale Financière et Foncière, which advertised itself as “a centre of brokerage operations and administration of capital.” Madame Présidente, as she was called, was the busiest woman in France, advising her 60,000 investors, supporting the franc, raiding the Stock Exchange, running seven new syndicates in oil, textiles, etc., and managing a business called Interpresse, which published two daily customers’ sheets, one of prophecy before the Bourse opened for the day, one of explanation after it closed. She was also busy paying her bank depositors eight per cent and telling the public that any bank which paid less was a robber. She worked from ten to fifteen hours a day.

Her special power as a promoter apparently came from the facts that she half believed in what she was selling and that, being French, she regarded cupidity as a national virtue. This last gave strength to her gift for advertising. Since she was contentious and well informed, her shrewd attacks in the Gazette on big business and its privileged profits made her seem a champion to the small bourgeois, squeezed between the depreciated franc and the new postwar industrialism. Her relations with her readers and investors became half avuncular, half demagogic. Being a dominant personality, she was obeyed as if she were a man; being a woman, she was loved as if she were a friend. Along with their checks, provincial investors sent presents of homemade pâtés, garden flowers, and knitted scarves. Her customers were principally the clergy, widows, retired military fogies, school teachers, and small-town shopkeepers.

Hanau’s psychological chemistries were violent and personal. She hired people just as she wrote her market prophecies—on hunches. Her staff adored her. Competence and experience were of no interest to her and probably she sensed that such qualities would have cramped her broad style. She saw herself as a woman of destiny. She had a tremendous gift of gab. Her conversation, whether with a customer in her office or with her Bourse touts at a Montmartre inn table, was a swift alto combination of swearwords, salty repartee, unbalanced invention, and unvarnished common sense. She loved hard-luck stories; she gave thousand-franc notes to down-and-outs and costly gifts to her pals. As she said, “I give an automobile away the way I give a box of candy.” She gave three handsome motors to herself: a Hispano, a Voisin, and a Panhard. Because she was too busy to fuss with fine clothes, she wore outsize schoolgirl black dresses with schoolboyish white collars and cuffs. However, she found time to purchase 2,000,048 francs’ worth of diamonds and pearls and some sable coats as a sort of distraction. She always kept a minimum of a half-million francs in her checking account; during one market crisis, she carried one million in cash in her pocketbook. Though her ex-husband, Bloch, had moved up enough in the world to buy Chez les Zoaques, Sacha Guitry’s Normandy estate, Mme. Présidente’s official residence remained a simple suburban villa in the outskirts of Paris. There she lived with a lady’s maid so devoted that she later helped her lady escape from prison. For her occasional flings at gay night life, Hanau also had a little town flat in the Rue de Varize, decorated with racy mythological scenes. With her favorite friend, Mme. Joseph Pollack, exotic-looking offspring of a respectable Parisian jeweller, Marthe sometimes rushed overnight in the Hispano to Monte Carlo for a weekend of gambling. Money was the only thing Hanau could work at or even play with.

As the winter of 1928 opened, the French Radical-Socialist government began getting cold feet. Its leaders had rashly lent their faces and sentiments to Hanau’s house-organ Gazette, and were under suspicion of having done far worse; smaller party figures had accepted tips, subscriptions, or cigars from the ubiquitous Bloch. Savings banks reported enormous withdrawals; it was rumored that six hundred thousand million francs had been turned over to la Présidente for speculation. The French government was in financial difficulties, as usual. It was feared the Banque de France was going to have to offer another measly three-per-cent national loan, and as long as Hanau and her promised forty per cent were on hand, who would buy?

On December 3, 1928, a special Cabinet meeting was held to decide what to do with the woman. It was done the next day. A year after Premier Poincaré had given Hanau his photograph in the interests of world peace, he made war on her by having her arrested. She was locked in St. Lazare Prison, accused of swindling, abuse of confidence, and infraction of corporation laws. Bloch was lodged in La Santé Prison as her accomplice, along with editor Audibert and an elderly Count de Courville, Hanau’s business manager, who had been hired because he had a title and knew nothing about business. Though they were to discuss her in detail in the courts for the next twenty-seven months, it took the state’s financial experts only an hour in the Hanau offices the next morning to see that she was a crook. Her underwriters in her promotion schemes were dummies, usually her ex-husband, operating under a series of fictitious names. Her investment syndicates the experts described as cisterns from which she dipped old investors’ capital to ladle out as dividends to new speculators. Her eight-per-cent bank had neither ledgers nor bonded cashiers, having operated through pretty girl secretaries who fluttered around with loose leaf notations, with the totals on file only in the Présidente’s head. As the government’s spite and legal machinery, now both powerfully directed against her, proceeded, Hanau was declared bankrupt. She protested that her assets “almost equalled her liabilities,” and though this was no ideal of solvency, it was nothing to go bankrupt about in the then money-wild France. The sum of her escroqueries was figured at 155,971,000 francs. Her bankruptcy was based on a little estimated deficit of 28,000,000 francs. ♦

Debugging Next.js

What is Next.JS

Next.JS is an amazing React framework created by Vercel. It allows the developers to create Server-side, Client-side or Static websites. Unlike the other frameworks, the rendering in Next JS is per page. That means, the “about” page can be static, while the “home” page can be server-side. Next JS is on the rise, loved by the developers, and my favorite React framework so far.

If you want to learn more about website rendering, read my other post here.

Environment

This article covers the debugging process using Visual Studio Code. You can use the same commands in other IDEs, but you need to write them in the specific format.

For simplicity, we will use this repo to show the debugging process. So, go ahead and clone it on your computer, execute yarn install and open it in Visual Studio Code.

Debugging Next.JS

A Next.JS page has two parts: a server-side part and a client-side part. To debug both parts you will need two VSCode launch tasks. Let’s dive in.

Debugging the Server-side

The server-side code lives in the getServerSideProps method. It executes every time there’s a request. To debug the server-side code we will need to add a new VSCode launch task. First, create a .vscode folder in the root of the project, and then inside that folder create a launch.json file. We will add our launch tasks here.

Inside the launch.json file add a new “Node: Launch Program” configuration. Then, you will need to add the following changes:

  • Remove the skipFiles property
  • Remove the program property
  • Add a new property runtimeExecutable with value ${workspaceFolder}/node_modules/.bin/next

Your launch.json file should look something like this:

{
    "configurations": [
        {
            "type": "pwa-node",
            "request": "launch",
            "name": "Next: Node",
            "runtimeExecutable": "${workspaceFolder}/node_modules/.bin/next"
        }
    ]
}

That’s it! Now open the /pages/[owner]/[repo].tsx file, add a breakpoint on line 32 and hit F5. When the Next.JS server starts navigate to http://localhost:3000 and click on one of the repos in the list. After clicking it, you should hit the breakpoint. Now you have the ability to inspect the ctx argument and the data received from GitHub’s API.

Debugging the Client-side

To debug the Client-side first you need to install the Debugger for Chrome extension. Open the link and click on the Install button. It will ask you to open the link in Visual Studio Code, so click on the “Open Visual Studio Code” button.

As I mentioned above, you will need two launch tasks, so let’s create the client-side one. Head to launch.json and add a new “Chrome: Launch” task. Then, you will only need to make one change:

  • Change the url value to http://localhost:3000

Your complete launch.json file should look something like this:

{
    "configurations": [
        {
            "name": "Launch Chrome",
            "request": "launch",
            "type": "pwa-chrome",
            "url": "http://localhost:3000",
            "webRoot": "${workspaceFolder}"
        },
        {
            "type": "pwa-node",
            "request": "launch",
            "name": "Next: Node",
            "runtimeExecutable": "${workspaceFolder}/node_modules/.bin/next"
        }
    ]
}

And that’s it! Now, open the /pages/index.tsx file and add a breakpoint on line 9. You can now launch the Launch Chrome task from the debug panel. The Launch Chrome task should open a new Chrome window on the home page. Start typing into the input on the screen and you will hit the breakpoint in the index.tsx file. Now you have the ability to inspect the client-side properties, like the repo variable. Click continue and type another letter. You will hit the breakpoint every time you type something in the input. Hover on the repo variable to see the value changing. You’re now debugging the client-side code!

Conclusion

Now you know how to debug both sides in a Next.JS app. The server side code is node, so you need a Node debug task for it. The client side is Chrome, so you need a Chrome debug task for it.

Also, debugging is a vital process in software engineering, so use it everywhere you can! Don’t use only console.log for debugging.

TypeScript Any Is Evil

tl;dr: In Typescript, never use any

any is evil

any is typescript’s rebelious 19 year old who was doing 80 on an icy mountain road, drove off a cliff, bounced down the side of the mountain in a giant fireball, was thrown from the fireball car, landed in a frozen river, and was finally swept out to sea and eaten by sharks.

any is the implementation in typescript of the ‘this is fine’ meme. This gif is perfect:

any => bugs

Why would you want any bugs in your code?

The type flow checker in typescript is your first line of defense against bugs. It is your most important tool to ensure correctness of your code.

any disables all type checking of any code that touches that variable.

That should sound bad.

It is.

What is the right way

  • Use the minimal type (the part of the type you actually care about) – Duck Typing.
  • Use a partial type.
  • Use union types when it could be multiple types. Discriminated unions are great in typescript.
  • Use unknown if you really have to. Then cast it to one of the above before you access it.

The Minimal Type – Duck Typing

Don’t use the full type. Define only the fields you need to access in that scope.

For example, when you define a function, use a minimal definition for the argument types. Also, as a bonus that function is more generic and it is not coupled to a complex type. This simplifies your dependency graph and is one of the greatest advantages of Typescript over most other typed languanges: Typescript implements duck-typing.


export const getKey = (item: { id: string }) => {
    return item.id;
};


const complexObject = {
    id: `ABC-012345`,
    got: () => `you`,
    too: `2` == 2 && 2 == true && `2` !== 2 && 2 !== true,
    much: () => { while (true) { complexObject.much(); } },
    stuff: [1, `42`, `false`, null, { undefined: true }],
    here: { latitude: 42, longitude: 42 },
};


const key = getKey(complexObject);
console.log(`Here is the key`, { key, complexObject });

The Partial Type

In the case where an object should have a specific type, but it cannot be guaranteed, use partial typing.

Also in most cases, when the object fails to have the correct type, you can simply return undefined or null.

Below are a few patterns to do that depending on how you want to handle null and whether you want to support the whole parameter being optional.

I default to the first. If I discover that many callers would need to convert null to undefined, then I add | null.


export const getKeyWithOptionalId = (
    item: { id?: string },
) => {
    
    return item.id;
};


export const getKeyWithPartialType = (
    item: Partial<{ id: string }>,
) => {
    
    return item.id;
};



export const getKeyWithNullableId2 = (
    item: { id?: null | string },
) => {
    
    return item.id ?? undefined;
};



export const getKeyWithNullableObject = (
    item: null | undefined | { id?: null | string },
) => {
    
    return item?.id ?? undefined;
};


export const getKeyWithOptionalArgument = (
    item?: null | { id?: null | string },
) => {
    
    return item?.id ?? undefined;
};

Here is a more complex example:

export const getKeyFromObject = (
    obj?: {
        id?: string;
        uid?: string;
        guid?: string;
        uuid?: string;
        key?: string;
    }
) => {
    return obj?.id
        ?? obj?.uid
        ?? obj?.guid
        ?? obj?.uuid
        ?? obj?.key;
};

Side Note: null vs undefined

On the difference between undefined and null. They should be treated the same logically in your code.

However, I do sometimes use them to distinguish intent in the code:

  • undefined to indicate an empty optional field – i.e. it doesn’t exist and that’s normal
  • null to indicate the default value – i.e. an object that normally should have value, but is not initialized yet

However, those differences are subtle and it may be better to just use undefined for everything. Logically they should be treated the same in most cases.

In fact, the only place I have seen a logical difference between them is when updating an object in a storage system:

  • undefined could mean ignore the field (no change)
  • null could mean reset that field (remove the value)

However, that pattern is likely to introduce bugs so be careful. Thankfully, typescript keeps track of each and allows you to specify if one or the other is required.

Union Types

With union types, we are starting to use Typescript’s real power.

A union type is essentially the or operator (|) for types: i.e. it’s a type that could be any of multiple types.

Typescript handles union types like a pro. It understands all the runtime operations that could constrain a type and protects you from mistakes. For example, an if statement can be used to constrain the type to a specific possibility.

In the below example, keyOrObject could be a string, number, null/undefined, or an object with one of many possible id fields.

export const getStringKey = (
    keyOrObject?: null | string | number
        | { id?: null | string | number }
        | { uid?: null | string | number }
        | { guid?: null | string | number }
        | { uuid?: null | string | number }
        | { key?: null | string | number }
): undefined | string => {
    if (typeof keyOrObject === `string`) { return keyOrObject; }
    if (typeof keyOrObject === `number`) { return `${keyOrObject}`; }

    if (!keyOrObject) { return undefined; }
    if (`id` in keyOrObject) { return getStringKey(keyOrObject.id); }
    if (`uid` in keyOrObject) { return getStringKey(keyOrObject.uid); }
    if (`guid` in keyOrObject) { return getStringKey(keyOrObject.guid); }
    if (`uuid` in keyOrObject) { return getStringKey(keyOrObject.uuid); }
    if (`key` in keyOrObject) { return getStringKey(keyOrObject.key); }

    return undefined;
};

And here is the type when you hover over the object after being constrained by one of the if statements:

As you can see, inside the if body, the compiler know which specific type the keyOrObject must be.

Also, you can combine the union objects into a single partial object which can reduce the branching:


export const getStringKey = (
    keyOrObject?: null | string | number
        | {
            id?: null | string | number;
            uid?: null | string | number;
            guid?: null | string | number;
            uuid?: null | string | number;
            key?: null | string | number;
        }
): undefined | string => {
    if (typeof keyOrObject === `string`) { return keyOrObject; }
    if (typeof keyOrObject === `number`) { return `${keyOrObject}`; }

    return getStringKey(
        keyOrObject?.id
        ?? keyOrObject?.uid
        ?? keyOrObject?.guid
        ?? keyOrObject?.uuid
        ?? keyOrObject?.key
    );
};

Unknown

unknown is the little brother of any. Having grown up with the embodiment of a “Don’t Do Drugs” campaign, unknown is not interested in the “freedom” of his evil brother.

unknown is safe. If you ask him to hold a baby, he won’t drop kick it through a field goal or throw it into a lake.

(Bonus points if you have played Peasant’s Quest – Note: the baby turns out ok.)

So when should you use unknown? Rarely – in fact it is difficult to come up with a good example where one of the above won’t work much better.

Here is an example where it just doesn’t matter what the type is because it is immedietely converted to json:

export async function webRequest(
    url: string,
    data: unknown,
    options?: { method: 'POST' | 'PUT' },
) {

    const body = JSON.stringify(data);
    const reqData = {
        method: options?.method ?? `POST`,
        headers: {
            'Accept': `application/json`,
            'Content-Type': `application/json`,
            'Content-Length': `${body.length}`,
        },
        body,
    };

    throw new Error(`Not Implmented`);
}

Other Articles about any

Fun Side Note: Insanely Precise Typing

Typescript is the most precisely typed languange that exists and it gets more powerful constantly.

Some people have taken that to the level of insane:

Let me explain what is happening in that screen shot:

Typescript (4.1) is parsing a raw string and determining:

  • An sql join calculation
  • The fields returned by that query
  • Dot operator object navigation of those fields
  • Specific result values (as string constants) when that query is applied against an object literal

Let me emphasize this. Typescript doesn’t have a single line of code that knows anything about SQL. This demo was made just to demonstrate that typescript can rip apart raw string constants and understand type information from the contents of that string. This is done with a combination of typescript’s conditional typing and it’s support for string literals soon coming in Typescript 4.1.

Here is the project: https://github.com/codemix/ts-sql

Typescript Typing Level: Insane

Executive Communication with Harrison Metal's Michael Dearing – Heavybit

00:00:00

00:00:00

Thanks for the invitation. Thanks for showing up. I always get nervous when people say they’ve created an evening event, I can think of about 8 billion things you’d rather be doing than learning about executive communication, but I really appreciate you giving me a shot with your time. I have to set up a little tiny bit of context so that the story makes sense. Here’s the context I want to share with you now.

Why Does This Matter?

This is a graph of gross domestic product per capita for earth, and the data set from which I pulled these numbers goes all the way back to about 1 million BC. I lopped it off at 1,000. For the last about 1,015 years, how much have we produced on the planet earth in dollar value? Best estimate. Credible people did this, the data behind it. Real credible. Total dollar value divided by the total population, this is the curve that you get.

If you look at just the last few hundred years, it’s pretty obvious that we’re on an adventure that nobody’s been prepped for. This is an amazing adventure up until the right trajectory, “Creative destruction.”Some people call it, “Pain and suffering.” Other people call it, “Great growth, and opportunity, and progress.” Some people call it, “I don’t care what you call it.” You have to be familiar with this chart to understand where the ideas that we’re going to talk about came from.

This curve, if I have to boil it down to somebody who’s never thought about economic history, for me it boils down to a few things we figured out over the last couple hundred years. How to put together people, machines and methods of work in entirely new ways.

The second thing we figured out to do with that combination of people, machines and methods of work combined in new ways was to produce and distribute stuff. You define “stuff” at outrageous scale, at that “up into the right trajectory” kind of scale. Because production distribution is really hard, we also had to get really good at administering those complex systems.

For me, industrial revolution on earth is a transformation with all the good and bad that goes with fundamental transformation of people, machines and methods of work that led to a whole new way to produce, distribute and administer complex systems that lifted us out of a subsistence existence into a wealth existence. Every good fight is about what to do with this now-growing pie. This chart takes no position on what to do with the pie, it just says “There’s a pie and it’s getting bigger than ever.” Why does this matter?

Executive Communication is Hard

It matters because the executive communication that’s demanded by that, up into the right curve, the good coordination of those complex systems, the coordination of that growth is incredibly difficult. A colleague of mine recently was talking about general management and running companies. It’s incredibly hard and it reminded him of this meme about drawing owls. He told me this story, I laughed, and I said “It reminds me of that too.” Then I went upstairs and Googled the meme about drawing owls because I didn’t know what he was talking about, and it turns out there’s a meme about drawing owls.

This is what he was getting at when he said, “General management is hard.” The playbook seems to be, “First draw some circles. Step two, draw the rest of the freaking owl.” I think executive communication as a slice of general management, as a slice of running a company, is just like this. I would add one step in the middle. Step 1, draw some circles. Step 1.1, Let’s steal some tools and ideas from people who’ve drawn owls professionally. Let’s practice drawing parts of the owl using their playbook. Let’s borrow their brains. And now step 2, Draw the rest of the freaking owl for the rest of your career until you’re dead.

The Legacy of Barbara Minto

That’s where Barbara Minto comes in. This is a photograph of Barbara Minto, one of the first 20 women admitted to the Harvard Business School in the late 1950s, early 1960s. Barbra’s the hero of our talk today. You can email her after we’re done, and tell her that you’re rooting for her. Her email is BarMinto@aol.com and she’s waiting to hear from you. This is a photograph of her in the second year of her MBA program at Harvard. I want you for just a minute or two, in your mind, think back to what might be going through her head. In 1959-1960, as she’s preparing to be one of the first 20 women admitted to the MBA program at Harvard. The class is 900 men, her and 19 colleagues.

What’s going through her head? You can just call it out, I’ll repeat it for the purposes of the recording. What’s going through her head? “Fuck.” Unpack it a little bit. What’s behind that? “A lot’s hanging on me. ” By the way, the school billed it as an experiment. We all know what that means, right? It could go either way. “It’s not just about whether I do well, it’s whether the door remains open for the millions of people who might like this experience as well.”

What else is going through her head as she’s thinking about going to Harvard Business School? By the time she gets admitted the school is already regarded top tier, it was about 55 years old at the time and was very well regarded. Ticket to ride was getting an MBA there. What else is going through her head? “Got to do this,”because of some of that pressure feeling like, “I want the door to stay open for more folks.”

When you think about the “This, do this,”what are some of the things that might come up for her on a daily basis, thinking about joining this program as one of those first women? “Study.” It’s hard, there’s a lot of work. The first year is designed to break your spirit in some way. It’s a pile of work. By the way, when you get a pile of work that big and that hard to sift through, you typically form study groups with other colleagues so that you don’t have to prepare every subject to the – nth level of detail. Everybody does a little bit of prep, you pick a subject and you go deep, and you share those notes with your study group members so that they can leverage your brain.

What else is going through her head? “A lot of work, a lot’s weighing on me.” “I need to get a job afterwards. What’s the path out of here? There’s barely a path in. But what’s the path out?” “Will I be treated fairly?” What might be a version of unfair treatment that would be very easy to believe about America in the late 1950s or early 1960s for Barbara? Maybe professors will refuse to call on her. Great. I mean, not great, but that’s exactly right.

So the grading system, 50% class participation, 50% final exam. How do you get a good grade in class participation? You’ve got to get called on. If you don’t get called on, that’s a problem. Moreover, if you get called on but your colleagues don’t hear you and don’t build on what you’re saying, or worse they go out of their way to shoot it down, that can diminish your opportunity to get that good class participation grade.

I’ll add a wrinkle to this, the bottom 10% of the first year class is expelled at the end of the first year. It’s called the forced curve. So, add that into the mix. What else? A couple more ideas before I tell you what really happened. “Pride.”Absolutely. I feel like you’ve already talked to Barbara, because she would have listed that too. She said, “I was so excited. I was excited to be part of this batch. I was excited that I got picked and I was fired up to go.

Some of the other things that she would mention if she were here with us, she was nervous about being regarded as a country bumpkin, in a sense. Like she was from a small town in the Midwest, and she thought Boston and the folks that she was going to be in school with were these ultra-cosmopolitan types. She was worried about, how would she present in that group? Would she be judged less sophisticated by what she wore or how she spoke ? This should all feel like, “OK. I can see why she might feel those things.”

So she shows up for the first year and the school has decided that because it’s an experiment, they’re going to keep the women in a separate classroom for the first year because the traditional classroom is this big amphitheater style mahogany-paneled palace where there’s the Socratic method happening, and tenured faculty is leading these incredibly fun case discussions, incredibly intense case discussions. Probably better to have that first batch of women go through a more traditional lecture style in that separate classroom, where they can have an on-ramp that’s probably better for them.

This is the school, I’m pretending I’m the school. She had 10 colleagues in her special section in the other room, they formed a study group and she’s telling me this story about her experience at Harvard Business School. I’m just agog. I love Harvard Business School, I went there and I think it’s a wonderful place. So to hear that a wonderful place that you love treated somebody you care about this way, it’s hard to hear it. It’s really hard to hear it, even though inside you know it rings true.

She’s telling me about the classroom and she’s telling me about the way that they’re being taught, and she said, “Then they told us that our grading curve was not that you couldn’t finish in the bottom 10%, it was you had to finish in the top 10% in order to earn your second year spot with the men across the river.” I’m just thinking, “This is crazy.” I said, “How did you handle it?” And she said, “We formed a study group, the 10 of us, and my subject was macroeconomics.” Barbara’s last math class had been 12th grade math in a pretty decent but not great public school in Ohio, so you can think about the gap. Macro has calculus in it.

If your last math class was the 12th grade average middle of the road math class, you wouldn’t have had the same four-year degree math experience that the other people in the class would have had what that macro-teaching plan is geared for. I said, “What did you do?” She said, “I took the textbook and I started to prepare my notes,” and she said, “Then I got really mad.” I was like, “What made you mad about the textbook?” She said “It was so badly written. This person who wrote this textbook was keeping me from understanding this cool topic.”

Once she got through it she really came to love macro, she said “But he wrote it so poorly it took me extra time and he wasted so much of my time. That’s what made me mad.” The way she solved this problem is she rewrote the textbook. She rewrote it line by line, paragraph by paragraph, page by page until she could teach macro, the basic concepts of macroeconomics to her colleagues in the section.

This was an unlock for Barbara. Barbara and all of her colleagues finished with grades in the first year equivalent to the top 10% of the men. They moved across the river, they joined the classroom, the big amphitheater style palace. That’s when all of the things you’d imagine happened. “Why are you here?” “You here just to get married?” “You took the seat of my buddy, who I served in the army with, that couldn’t get in.” “We can’t invite you to any social gatherings or study groups because our wives and girlfriends won’t have it.” All the stuff you’d imagine.

But for her, figuring out that she loved macro and that bad communication was keeping her from understanding it, was like somebody leaning against a door to hold her back. She didn’t want to be in that position again.

Her first job out of business school was to go to McKinsey and Company, where she became one of the first female management consultants. Now, if she were here and you asked her to tell you about her time at McKinsey, she’d say “I think it’s OK to tell you.”She’d say, “I hated it. Didn’t like being a consultant, didn’t like my clients, didn’t like the work.” I said, “Why’d you stay?” She said, “Because I really had fun rewriting other people’s presentations.”

Barbara Minto as she came out of Harvard Business School in one of the first batches of women to make it through that program, first female management consultant, McKinsey and Company realized that her super power was executive communication. She’s still doing it to this day. She’s 86 years old and she flies around the world teaching the method that I’m about to give you a sneak peek of. That’s how I met her.

I worked at the Walt Disney Company for a man named Michael Eisner when he was CEO, and his deep religious conviction was that Barbara Minto had cracked the code on executive communication. He’s not alone. If you go around the world and you talk to the most accomplished executive communicators, they are practicing a version of her framework called the Pyramid Principle. I’m going to share it with you in a moment.

But for her, what I’m about to show you isn’t just, “Sound better at work,” which is a way to think about it. It’s not just, “Sound better at work.” It’s “Unlock doors.” It’s “Unlock doors so that you get to decide what business opportunities you get, that the market isn’t silently bucketing you into a ‘Not sure they can handle it,’ bucket.” I had the great privilege 25 years ago to spend three days with her while she coached me, rewriting a three page memo to Michael Eisner about why we should buy Winnie the Pooh for $850 million dollars.

I fantasized that when I showed up to the workshop with her, she was going to read my draft and say, “Honey, I can’t help you. You’re already there.” She calls me “Honey.” I’ve heard her call other people “Honey,” too. I’m OK with it. But I wish she would only call me “Honey.” We spent three days together rewriting this memo and it was a frickin’work of art. She unlocked the door for me.

I might choke up in the next 10 seconds when I tell you that because she made me better, I was able to sit at that table utterly unqualified to weigh in on an $850 million dollar cartoon character acquisition. I was 26 years old, I had no life experience to speak of except running a department store in Boston. It had nothing to do with Winnie the Pooh. I was at that table because of what she unlocked for me, and that’s why this framework is so important.

SCQA: The Best Executive Communication Method

Her framework is in a book called The Pyramid Principle, and I strongly urge you to buy a copy. It’s expensive. It’s $200 dollars. You should buy it. It’s worth it. I will simplify the framework as a teaser so that you go buy the book. The best executive communication for Barbara starts with “Situation.” The nickname for this is SCQA, or the Pyramid Principle.

The best executive communication starts with the state of affairs. It’s fact based, unambiguous. It’s totally not controversial. No matter what side of an issue or a hard choice you’re on, you should be able to read the situation and go, “That pretty much sums it up.” Whether you’re on one side or another of an issue, it doesn’t matter. You should read the situation and agree to it. Agree that’s fair.

The next thing that comes out is the complication. A crisp, short statement about what has changed or what’s making things harder. What’s changed, what’s making things harder? The question, the “Q” falls automatically out of “S”and “C” and it’s almost always “What should we do?”You can save yourself a lot of anxiety if you’re trying to practice this, if you get hung up on “Q” it’s almost always, “What should we do?” “Answer,” “A,” answer first at the top of a pyramid.

Pyramid-shape your evidence underneath it, and it has to resolve the complication 100 %. She is rigorously devoted to this framework. If you go ahead and buy that book, which I recommend you do, and you read it you’re going to get halfway into it and go, “She really believes this.” I’m here to tell you, she really believes this. Every conversation in her life is an opportunity to SCQA. Friends, loved ones, pets, conversations at the deli counter, everything.

Minto’s Pyramid Principle

I carry around this cartoon to remind me of her technique, and I try to apply it wherever I possibly can. It’s grease in the gears for my work life. “Situation,””State of affairs,” “Complication,”this is what’s changing and presenting a tricky situation. “Question,” “What are we going to do about it?” “Answer,””Do X.” The answer is always clearly stated and it’s got bolstering arguments, those arguments across that second row.

You see “Answer,” and then the second row. Those might be why my answer is right, they might be “How” arguments to implement the answer. But they’re bolstering the answer. I want to show you an example. Underneath each of those bolstering arguments is the evidence .

Narrative Style Vs. Minto-ization

Let’s see an example. How does this make things better? What I’m about to show you is an excerpt of a real life email that was sent inside an e-commerce company. I tried to find a good technical example given this group, but you’ll bear with me. This was written in a narrative style by a manager in charge of the watches category at an e-commerce company. The category managers writing a response to the CEO pinging her to say, “How’s it going in watches?”

The answer that the CEO got back, “We’re doing OK, not as great as we could be. We’ve got a decent growth rate and the new promotions coming up look excellent. I don’t like what I’m seeing on the repeat purchase rates, though. Those are down about 10% versus last month. I think we should make it a priority to do more research with users. Maybe we can also test some higher frequency email campaigns. We’re already locked and loaded on those new promotions, so that will be good to get those out.”

If you’re like me, you have read and written and spoken this way a gazillion times in your career, it almost sounds like we’ve overheard two people passing in the kitchen talking about something. It’s a very conversational, very human tone. I want to show you what a Minto-ized version of this looks like.

Minto-ized is my shorthand for “Turn It Into Barbara Minto’s Pyramid,” because that’s what Michael Eisner used to write on the cover of memos that weren’t Minto-ized. He would just put a big “Minto-ize” on a red X on it and send it back to you. So let’s see what “Minto-ized” is. I’ll read this because it’s a little hard to see on the screen.

This is “Minto-ized” answering the same question, “How’s it going?””Watches is critical to our growth. It’s 15% of our sales and it’s a feeder category for jewelry and shoes. We’re plus 3% to the sales plan year to date.” I’m moving to complication now, in case yo can’t tell, “However, repeat purchase rates are down 10% versus last month. That costs us about 300 basis points in growth if it continues.

Team and I are thinking about the obvious question, what should we do about that? We’ve decided to focus on marketing and merchandising to the buyers. First, we’re going to increase cross marketing of other categories, here is some evidence for that. Second, we’re going to accelerate the release of two new subcategories. Here’s some evidence for why that’s a good idea. Finally, we’re going to do a price promotion test to the lapsed buyers. Here’s a little bit of data to say why we picked that one.” Think about, “What changed?”

There’s definitely a little bit more information and more specifics in here, but I hope you see how fundamentally the Minto-ized version transforms the conversation.

I want you to put yourself in the role of the recipient to the narrative style version, what worries you or what goes through your head when you get this back as a response? Remember, the question was, “How’s business in watches? How’s things going?” Then this comes back. Let’s be honest about what’s going through your head. “Not good.”

What’s not good about it? There’s some sense that this person has their eye on the dashboard, like I get that she’s watching it. But it’s not clearly organized. There’s a poor and well-hidden dissatisfaction about halfway through. Repeat purchase rates, something feels off there. But do you feel your brain doing work when you’re reading this? If you’re going to engage with it, you’ve got to do some work.

Here, the author has done the work. She took a little bit more time to chop it up, to pull out the unnecessary words, and to get a little bit more firm in the conclusions. You might notice in this version there is a little bit of a sense of being on my back foot. There’s a little bit of a sense of, “It could be, and it might be.” It’s not on your front foot. Does that make sense? That back foot, front foot metaphor?

When you’re on your front foot answering an executive level question with an executive level voice, Barbara would say, “You’re using your colleagues time wisely. You’re not wasting my time. You don’t give me work to do, you give me hope for the future.” Tell me other thoughts that are coming to your head as you think back to this narrative style versus the Minto-ized style.

The narrative style, it is completely unclear what we’re going to do about any of this. Is there a decision we’re asking for support? Are we needing resources? Is somebody going to come back and say that any of these things were good ideas? Can you imagine what the response to the narrative style was? I’ll tell you, but I want you to guess first what you think the CEO might have said in reply. “What’s the TL;DR?” What a great question. What else is a possible response that this category manager might have gotten? Is there data or evidence that could bolster some of these conclusions that’s missing? “What are we going to do about it?” Yeah, fair.

If it’s unclear I’m going to go ahead and ask the question again, or ask another question. What else do you think might have come back from the CEO? What the CEO wrote back was, “OK, thanks.”What the CEO did in his head was he silently moved this person from the “She seems great. I have high hopes. We don’t know what jobs she might be up for in the future. That’s why I check in with people. Skip-leveling.” What happened was it was a little bit of a yikes moment for that CEO.

What’s most important for you to know is, that is a completely incorrect conclusion. This person who wrote this, she did it quick, and like all of us will be pressed for time and will jump to write some stuff down before it’s ready, before it’s fully-baked. She has an A++ intellect, and an A++ character, work ethic, every attribute you’d want in a colleague. Somebody to ride their career wave with the company, she had it, and the CEO didn’t get that signal from how she communicated it.

This technique, which takes like 5 minutes of extra work after you’ve practiced for a while, lands you in exactly the opposite bucket. It moves you from the “I don’t know. Could be great,”bucket into the “Holy smokes. This person has their shit together,” bucket. Now, why is that?

C oming from the brain of a high potential executive, what would be the markers of that? What would be the characteristics or attributes of this format that communicate that to you? “Decisiveness.”There’s a real point of view here. Absolutely, there’s data and research behind this draft. It’s very clear that she has put in the time to gather the facts to support her point of view, which is very clearly stated and crisply argued. The words sound good. Your brain doesn’t trip on the words. It doesn’t look like a wall of words. All the formatting, and word choice, and grammar. It’s nice, it flows. It’s concise. It’s not wasting anybody’s time.

If anything, it suffers from the shortcoming of being awfully brief for this big plan of action. I think that’s an opportunity, and if Barbara were here she’d say, “Honey. Tell them they can add links to other documents if they want to go deeper. But keep that SCQA nice and tight.” We took a trip in this one. We started looking at the landscape, we picked a path, she took us down the path, and we landed with a plan of action. We took a little journey together. What a delight. Here, I’m not sure what happened. I’m not sure what happened here, but it didn’t feel like a guided journey. It felt like a dump. We’ve all done it.

There’s a reason why the Pyramid Principle exists. It’s the antidote to normal human thought. So there are some shortcomings of this, and we touched on one of them, which is the brevity really can be hard to take if you’re dealing with something really monstrously complex. Also the way it’s written here has a robotic, almost like an AI could have generated this answer.

It doesn’t sound as warm and human as it might if Barbara were here. She’d say, “Go ahead and make it feel the way you want it to feel.” She’d say, “People have been decorating stuff for 10,000 years. Go ahead and decorate your writing. But don’t lose the skeleton, don’t lose the underlying architecture of SCQA because it’s a gift to the reader.”

Another shortcoming of this framing, this framework, is it can sometimes feel a little bit like a PA announcement on a military base. “At 0300, we commence the marketing and merchandising to buyers.” It sounds like somebody has already figured everything out and it’s being commanded down from the top.

Similarly, if the style in your team or your environment is more collaborative and more exploratory, go ahead and put a draft stamp on that “A.” “That cluster of ideas, we’re going to meet and talk about whether this is a good prototype, we’re going to revise it as needed, and we’re going to get back to you with what we end up deciding to do.” You can stretch it out to suit your cultural needs inside your company.

Practicing with Other People’s Problems

I’d like to practice on other people’s problems, so I’d invite you to practice on a case study right now that is very straightforward. Something that you’re going to want to pay real close attention to. It’s an audio recording of a customer service call that happened at the world’s best source for tricky situation business cases, Comcast. You probably have heard this recording before, but I want you to put yourself in the shoes of the executive team that’s trying to figure out what to do about it.

So we’ll hear a few minutes of this recording and then we’ll talk a little bit about how you might use SCQA to unwind this problem. We’ll take the role of the head of the operations at the company. The backstory on this recording is a person has called Comcast to try to disconnect their service and they’ve been on the call for a while. The rep is not letting them cancel, so the customer decided to record the call.

Comcast: It’s 105 MBPS for internet. Astound [Broadband] will not give you that speed.

Customer: OK. We’d like to disconnect. We’d like to disconnect, please.

Comcast: OK. Why is it you don’t want the faster speed? Help me understand why you don’t want faster internet?

Customer: Help me understand why you can’t just disconnect us?

Comcast: Because my job is to have a conversation with you about keeping your service. About finding out why it is that you’re looking to cancel the service.

Customer: I don’t understand.

Comcast: If you don’t want to talk to me, you can definitely go into the Comcast store and disconnect your service there. It’s going to be easy to kill two birds with one stone, you’ve got to return that cable card to the store anyway.

Customer: We’re actually going to just mail the cable card in. But if you can just please cancel our service, that would be great. That’s all we want.

Comcast: We’re actually not able to return a cable card by mail.

Customer: Then I will send someone like a TaskRabbit to go return the cable card for us. I don’t personally intend to go return the cable card. That’s why we’re probably not going to be canceling in store, so that’s why I need you to cancel by phone. Can you cancel us by phone? The answer is yes, correct?

Comcast: It sounds like you don’t want to go over this information with me. Did y’all want to go over that information? That’s the easiest way to get your account disconnected.

Customer: I am declining to state why we are leaving Comcast because I don’t owe you an explanation. So if you can please just go–

Comcast: Number one–

Customer: Proceed to the next question. If you have to fill out your form, that’s fine. Please proceed to the next question and we’ll attempt to answer that if possible.

Comcast: Right. Being that we are the number one provider in the entire country, why is it that you are not wanting to have the number one rated internet service and the number one rated TV service available?

Customer: I’m declining to state. We’re switching providers. Can we please go to the next question?

Comcast: What is it about this account that is making you want to change?

Customer: I’m declining to state. Can you please go to the next question so we can cancel our service?

Comcast: OK. I’m just trying to figure out here what it is about Comcast service that you’re not liking and that you’re not wanting to keep. Why is it that you don’t want to keep that service?

Customer: This phone call is a really actually amazing representative example of why I don’t want to stay with Comcast. Can you please cancel our service?

OK, we are 2 minutes and 17 seconds in. There are 8 minutes and 14 seconds left. We’re not listening to all that. I want you to roleplay for a moment that you’re the head of operations at this company. I know that’s hard to do, because you have much better judgment than to have accepted that job offer. If you were trying to practice Minto-izing the stickiest and messiest problems in your work life, and this was one of those tricky situations that you found yourself in, how might we start to use SCQA to organize our thoughts and come out with a better answer?

Practice: What’s Wrong with This Communication?

What’s the situation? The unambiguous, fact-based, the state of affairs. Fact-based, unambiguous, non-controversial. What do you got? “It’s too easy to cancel if it’s 8 minutes?” Now, you’re cheating a little bit because I know you’re an SCQA pro. If you’re just struggling with the state of affairs, what’s the state of affairs here that might help start us on the path to a good resolution? Don’t worry, I’m going to show you the train wreck that they produced in the wake of this. But I want to try to be our best selves. “Customers occasionally cancel their service.” What’s another fact-based opening line that we could use to frame the situation? “Sometimes people cancel.”

What’s another true fact, that no matter where you stand on Comcast, that you could add to the situation? OK, “Good brands have good breakup experiences,”something like that. People occasionally decide to stop doing business with us. Good brands offer them a way to do that, that’s time respectful and time efficient. What’s another piece of the situation here that you might add? Remember, we’re trying to frame this for our colleagues inside Comcast. “It’s perfectly reasonable for a subscription company–” That sounds defensive. “Sometimes we like to point out features and functions that might change their mind.” I buy that. Yes? “We have a team of people that do this for a living.”

Now, let’s move to the complication. I want to pick up the second half of what you just said, because you embedded the complication in the situation . Situation, “Sometimes people decide to stop doing business with us. Good brands offer them a respectful way out. Sometimes we might like to try to change their mind, and we have a whole fleet of people organized to do that function.” So far, no matter how you feel about Comcast, t hose are all true statements.

Now, the complication. What’s changed or making our lives harder in this moment? The incentive plan. Can you guess? You don’t have all the information, but can you guess what the incentive structure is for the person who was representing the company on that call? What might explain his behavior? OK, so if you’re in his queue and you successfully quit, that somehow hurts him. Financially or performance measurement, whatever. Not a bad guess. To me I listen to that, by the way, and I think, “All he’s really trying to do is get you to hang up so that you quit on somebody else’s cue,” because a hang up to the system might look like, “You did it. You retained the revenue by not letting it leave.” That is retention.

Anyway, what we might have here is a framing about our business model. Basically a subscription business. Sometimes people want to leave, sometimes we like to change their mind. We’ve hired a bunch of people to do that complication. They’ve written a rogue playbook, or maybe it’s not a rogue playbook. Maybe he was trained to do this in a way that is highly disrespectful. I think that’s what this boils down to, folks. This is just disrespectful to keep badgering somebody when you know they’re not salvageable.

Question, “What are we going to do about it?” Now, here’s where you really get a chance to shine. I want you to pretend that you’re new on the job at Comcast, that you just joined, because if you think of yourself as a 30 year veteran you’ll never come up with an “A.” What’s the answer to addressing this situation complication, what are we going to do about it? Make one up. What’s a good answer that an executive might have?

Practice: How to Apply the Minto Pyramid

Remember, it’s always pyramid shaped. We are going to radically simplify the cancellation policy to a one-step opt-out. Now the base of the pyramid can be, “Why?” Or “How?” Do you want to do a “Why” or a “How” argument? Let’s do a “Why”argument. We have a lot of damage to repair and our brand might be “Why.”Number one. What’s, “Why” number two for a one-click cancel strategy? OK, we can significantly change the cost structure of this.

I’ll make up an argument. I don’t necessarily know anything about the cable business, but I’d say if you have one-click opt-out you always have that 24 hours to go email them an offer for three months free to come back. If you one-click opt-out, you can one-click “Stay with us.”There’s all sorts of things you can do that still preserve the business economics, but present a much more friendly, reasonable way to break up.

What’s a third thing? These things almost always go in threes. We’ve got other products we might be able to sell down the road when we come back and market with a super duper version of Comcast to compete against Astound. Astound happens to be the competitor that the customer was switching to. We’re going to preserve some goodwill in that market and ballpark our estimate of the ill will that we created here was umpty ump million dollars, something like that. That’s a perfectly good “A.” It’s a very radical and progressive “A” and it wouldn’t be at all what they came up with.

I’ll show you in a second what they came up with, but there’s all sorts of “A’s” that you can come up with here. But SCQA gets you on the right path. “S”acknowledging the business situation, “C”acknowledging what made it harder, what’s changed to make your job harder. “Q,”What are we going to do about it? “A,”Here’s what we’re going to do. Let me share with you the communication that Comcast put out. Trying to do a bunch of things in one communication and not doing either of them expertly well, particularly the part about the defensive tone or the bolstering tone. Like, “Yeah, folks. Our retention teams are doing great work. We train them to do a certain thing. Keep it up.”

But we know that he acknowledges elsewhere in the note that something was really fundamentally broken. Does he give you any clue as to what he thinks was actually broken with this? He did his job, but he crossed o ver into the disrespectful territory. If only he had been more respectful. Can you find a particularly good phrase or line about that point? If he had only done it this way, it would have been OK?

He’s got threads in here that he sees the problem with. It’s disrespectful, there has to be a balance between selling and listening. There’s a part in here that really gets to your point about the underlying disrespect, and that is that customers will make the right decision to stay if only they knew the truth, if we educate them. “This is a customer education problem, folks.” In case you didn’t catch that from the audio recording.

What Minto as a framework does for you is it forces you to organize your thoughts.

As I look around the room, I know there are SCQA Minto disciples in the room. It forces you to organize your thoughts, it forces you to slow down and say, “What’s going on here?” That’s what situation is. “What’s going on here?” There are situation-worthy sentences in this document that I passed around, but it’s not crisply organized. The complication is woven and hidden in lots of different places. Is it about training and development of our people? You might think so if you look at his action plan towards the bottom where he says, “We’re going to review, refresh, and relook at how we do this,”with no specifics, no follow up timeline. None of the specific steps of an “A” that you’d really like to see.

One of the primary benefits of Minto, it forces you to slow down and to reorganize your thinking for the audience’s benefit. To clarify, if he were a Mento disciple, I think he would have written one SCQA for the team and one SCQA for the public, and really kept those two things separate. He should have had competence to share both with the other audience, but he’s trying to mix too many things together here.

The Benefits of Practicing Communication

Why do we practice this? We practice this because communicating poorly stunts your growth. Communicating poorly stunts your growth for better or worse. We live in a system where people use the quality of your communication to judge what must be going on in your head, and that’s not a perfect proxy at all. We all know people who struggle to communicate clearly who have first class minds, work ethics, character, everything you’d want in a colleague. I introduced you to one, the category manager in watches. She needed a framework to deal with the high pressure question, the high pressure moment, and SCQA was that for her. I hope it’s that for you.

This is greasing the gears with your colleagues and your customers, and practice makes you better very quickly. If you’d like to create an SCQA channel on Slack, we can go back and forth on some of these topics. But my hunch, my strong hunch is that people in this room who practiced SCQA in their real lives are going to chime up and chime in and say, “It made us better at dealing with those really tricky situations, in really hard moments to clarify our thinking and forced us to organize our thoughts and have a higher chance of success operating a complex business.”

When SCQA Goes Too Far

If this draft were going into a highly collaborative, cross-functional team where she is, the author, didn’t have any of the authority to pull some of the levers in the “A,”it would be inappropriate. So in an environment that’s highly matrixed, I know it’s hard to imagine but think of one, where there’s business folks who have to go collaborate directly with product design and engineering to implement some of these ideas. You’d probably want to put some space between the “Q” and the “A,” and you’d probably want to say, “OK. I’m going to send you SCQ, and I’m telling you I’m working with head of product, head of design, head of eng on “A,” and I think it’s going to be about a day before we get our plan solid and bought in. I’ll come back to you.”

No rule that says you have to uncork SCQA perfectly on the first draft. So culturally, she could put more space between “Q”and “A.” Another component that I hinted at earlier that culturally can make it go down a lot easier is to stamp it draft and say, “I read this wacky book called The Pyramid Principle. I’m trying it out. It helps me organize my thoughts. Maybe it’ll help our conversation on this.” SCQ, pause for “A,” we’re going to go do a brown bag and have coffee together to talk about what the “A” is.

There’s all sorts of ways to stretch and morph this to make it feel like it’s culturally appropriate for you. But don’t lose the underlying structural value that saves your colleagues tremendous time trying to figure out what’s in your head.

Barbara, if she were here, would say “One of the great gifts this gives your colleagues is clarity on where you stand. Clarity on where you stand, so that if I disagree with your “A,” I know exactly how you came to it so that I can talk to you about the way we disagree. I have different data. I have different world view, or first principles.” It’s a gift to give people such clarity into your thinking. Versus hiding it inside a perfectly inoffensive paragraph that actually does nothing to solve the problem that’s facing watches.

Other Methods Open to Collaboration

By explicitly building it into the SCQA, and to invite it and to say, “Here’s my draft, here’s my prototype ‘A,’ but we got to iterate this together. If you want to get together, I’m going to carve out some time. If you want to do that I can rework some of these points and come back to you.” There’s all sorts of things you can do to the SCQ and the A. To make it a lot more palatable to colleagues.

That’s really just limited by your own imagination and the cultural implications. Barbara thinks Californians are crazy. “You crazy California people like those emoji – cons,” she calls them. Put smiley faces and again, make it your own. But underlying architecture of SC QA gets you to better answers faster, no matter how collaborative you want to be.

Insights into Similarities of Story Structure and SCQA

There’s an approach that I teach side by side with Minto. It’s Robert McKee’s storytelling framework for screenplays, and there’s the basic status quo, there’s the inciting incident which breaks the status quo, and then there’s the journey back to a resolution. There’s lots of echoes of these same ideas in different techniques. I think that where Barbara’s trying to get you to a business answer, so she doesn’t spend a lot of time on the emotive side of the situation and the complication.

The storytelling framework that I think you’re referencing, that long tradition is about just the journey, the human connection to the protagonists, the visceral feeling you have for the antagonists and the deep desire you have for them to get back to a steady state of happiness or resolution. That’s the purpose of those journeys.

I think for her, the purpose is, “Resolve a business conflict.” For storytelling, the purpose is, “Have an emotional moment. Have a have a nice drawn out artistic experience.” She’s allergic to that, which is why she spends so little time on the emotional exposition and unpacking. If you buy her book, you will see in there variations on what I’ve talked about today specifically for the purpose of telling compelling emotional stories. I’d love your feedback after you’ve had a chance to look at it.

When SCQA is Inappropriate

Absolutely. Great question. I think there are some short form interactions where it’s tough to be full-Minto. A quick passing conversation, the classic example is “What’s the elevator pitch version of this?” Imagine we’re in the elevator and I say, “How’s watches going?” Are you going to stand there like a business robot and say, “As you know, business watches is 15% of our business and a gateway category for jewelry and shoes.” No, you’re going to flex it and you’re going to say the elevator pitch version of this, which probably stops at “C” or “Q.”

In those very quick interpersonal real-life interactions, you might stop at “Q” and say, “If that’s something you’d like to go deeper on, just drop me a note. I’ll come by and show you some of the data we’re using to figure out what to do about it.” It’s totally OK to break it up into pieces and to pick a form factor for the delivery, the “A,” that’s really appropriate given the scope of the “A,” or the complexity of the “A.”

Another form that I hear people talk about a lot when I talk about execution with folks is, “What about Slack? I’ve got this endless stream of stuff happening during the day and people are asking questions. Is this something I’m supposed to stop and add a whole big nugget? By the way, it took me 20 minutes to go produce and add a big nugget of text in there.” I don’t think so.

I think what you might do in those very short-form communication channels is tease it with a headline or a bit about the complication and link off to a form that’s a more appropriate expansion of the topic. That might be a Google doc, that might be a presentation somewhere, but you want to practice. If she were here, she’d say, “Practice SCQA a lot so that you feel fluent pulling off the SCQ portion and dealing with that in certain formats and settings, and reserving your complex “A’s” for other settings.”

Get this in your toolkit because you’re going to get a lot of value out of it, and more importantly, your colleagues are going to get a lot of value out of it because it’s such a high signal way to communicate.

If it’s something that you want to do, maybe I can add to the SCQA Slack channel, a look at other samples of work that people have produced and practice Minto-izing it. Just get in the habit of dropping in an idea in there and letting people practice SCQA-ing on it. One of the things I’ll post in that channel is a workbook.

I’ve been collecting these examples of really bad communication for years, and the workbook has a bunch of examples that you can Minto-ize. In the back it’s got suggested Minto-izations of those bad communications. You can see how, not just in that watches example that I shared, but in dozens of other examples in daily life how people use Minto to get to the right answer faster and to make the conversation much higher signal, much higher productivity.

When you think about this framework, I really want you to remember her story. For Barbara, this is not just a slightly more time-saving or efficient way to communicate. This is an unlock for a different chapter in your career. I always want you to be the one opening those doors, the one accepting or turning down those job offers, taking those leadership roles that you want rather than those being withheld from you. Rather than those being withheld from you by other people who mistake a narrative, expansive, beautifully human and disorganized communication style for not having your executive shit together. I’ll leave you with that. Thank you so much.

The Cure for Aging Might Be the Cure for Alzheimer’s

There’s been a lot of talk lately about possibilities for treating aging—from blood transfusions from old mice to young, to eradicating “zombie” cells, to taking daily rapamycin and metformin pills to extend your healthspan. Some of it sounds like science fiction; some of it is. But what is very real is what is underlying all the talk: the creation of a very substantial new field of science, and a new area of biology, focused on the aging process.

Aging doesn’t kill people—diseases kill people. Right? In today’s world, and in a country like the United States, most people die of diseases such as heart attack and stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. These diseases tend to be complex, challenging, difficult, and extremely ugly to experience. And they are by nature chronic, caused by multifactorial triggers and predispositions and lifestyle choices.

What we are only now beginning to understand is that the diseases that ultimately kill us are inseparable from the aging process itself. Aging is the root cause.

What we are only now beginning to understand is that the diseases that ultimately kill us are inseparable from the aging process itself. Aging is the root cause. This means that studying these diseases without taking aging into account could be dangerously misleading… and worst of all, impede real progress.

Take Alzheimer’s disease. To truly treat a disease like Alzheimer’s, we would need to identify and understand the biological targets and mechanisms that trigger the beginning of the disease, allowing us to intervene early—ideally, long before the onset of disease, to prevent any symptoms from happening. But in the case of diseases like Alzheimer’s, the huge problem is that we actually understand very little about those early targets and mechanisms. The biology underlying such diseases is incredibly complex. We aren’t sure what the cause is, we know for sure there isn’t only one target to hit, and all prior attempts to hit any targets at all have failed. When you start to think about how much of what we think we know about Alzheimer’s comes from very broken models—for example, mice, which don’t get Alzheimer’s naturally, so how could you test drugs for it on them?—it becomes totally obvious why we’re at a scientific stalemate in developing treatments for the disease, and that we’ve likely been coming at this from the wrong direction entirely. 

The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s isn’t your APOE status; it’s your age. People in their twenties don’t get Alzheimer’s. But after you hit the age of 65, your risk of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years, with your risk reaching nearly one out of three by the time you’re 85. 

What if going after this one biggest risk factor is the best vector of attack? Maybe even the only way to truly address it? This isn’t about the vanity of staying younger, about holding on to your good looks or your ability to run an 8 minute mile. It’s about the only concrete possibility we have to cure these diseases. Instead of choosing targets for a single specific disease, i.e. a specific condition that arises in conjunction with aging, we can get out in front of disease by choosing targets that promote health. And we can identify these by looking at disease through the lens of the biology of aging.

Take the example of senescent cells. These “zombie” cells that accumulate with aging were long postulated to be actively toxic. In 2016 scientists discovered that simply deleting these cells in middle-aged mice could dramatically increase lifespan and delay the onset of age-related disease. While the first clinical skirmish against this toxic cell type was not successful (for a particular target, and a particular indication, osteoarthritis), today there is a whole new crop of biotech companies actively targeting this cell population with different small molecules addressing multiple different biological pathways, and planning human clinical trials in a broad range of different indications: Alzheimer’s, COPD, macular degeneration, frailty… the list goes on. The one common risk factor underlying all these different diseases? Aging.

Looking at aging will be our compass to the medicines of the future.

Looking at aging will be our compass to the medicines of the future.

The study of aging itself is a tantalizing and magical one—conjuring images of a fountain of youth. And there is much evidence to show that such a broad vision might actually be within reach, one day; that we could stop cell death, that we could slow down or even reverse our internal molecular clocks. But in a way, the study of aging is a trojan horse, gaining us access to a much more concrete, immediate new world of possibility. Our next, best set of targets for the therapeutics of the future will come from aging biology—therapeutics for diseases that have a massive unmet need, and that many of us are suffering from right now. 

So what will that future look like, developing a new drug that treats so many different disease mechanisms? What does a longevity therapeutic even look like? If we think of this new field of aging and longevity as following the path of drug development from other new fields of biology, individual small molecules and biologics that hit specific factors will be the low hanging fruit that is tested in the clinic first. In time, newer and more precise modalities may better target the molecular factors that cause aging. And because aging is multifactorial and driven by multiple independent pathways and mechanisms, ultimately a combinatorial strategy of hitting multiple pathways simultaneously will have the highest impact. 

Even with our best efforts, best technologies, and best science for each of these major diseases, curing age related diseases one at a time is ultimately low impact. Let’s say we completely cured cancer; that would add a paltry 4yrs to average lifespan, because another major killer like stroke would be just around the corner. Only by targeting aging itself can we make significant impact on improving quality of life and healthspan.

Understanding how we age is a way into a new era of medicine, into identifying new targets for diseases we’ve never truly understood (let alone known how to treat). 

The cure for aging just might be the cure for disease. 

Cursed Elixir

2020-08-12

Let’s write some Elixir.

defmodule FooBar do
  def foo(a) do
    if a < 0 do
      bar(a, -1)
    else
      bar(a, 1)
    end
  end

  defp bar(a, b) do
    IO.inspect(a * b)
  end
end

Not very useful, but that’s good enough for our purpose.

I like Elixir, but I think most of the time it just looks like functional Ruby. I want to make this code look like Elixir.

First, this code is lacking every Elixir developer’s best friend: |>. Let’s add some |>s.

defmodule FooBar do
  def foo(a) do
    if a < 0 do
      a |> bar(-1)
    else
      a |> bar(1)
    end
  end

  defp bar(a, b) do
    (a * b) |> IO.inspect()
  end
end

Meh. It’s definitely better, but I mean, that’s only 3 |>s. I want more |>s.

We have an if in there, so maybe we can do something with it?

defmodule FooBar do
  def foo(a) do
    (a < 0) |> if do
      a |> bar(-1)
    else
      a |> bar(1)
    end
  end

  defp bar(a, b) do
    (a * b) |> IO.inspect()
  end
end

We sure can! That’s one more |>. Can we do better than this?

Well… > and * are Kernel functions, so maybe…

defmodule FooBar do
  def foo(a) do
    a |> Kernel.<(0) |> if do
      a |> bar(-1)
    else
      a |> bar(1)
    end
  end

  defp bar(a, b) do
    a |> Kernel.*(b) |> IO.inspect()
  end
end

This is great, can we keep going?

The Elixir docs say defmodule is just a macro. Does that mean I can just |> into defmodule?

FooBar |> defmodule do
  def foo(a) do
    a |> Kernel.<(0) |> if do
      a |> bar(-1)
    else
      a |> bar(1)
    end
  end

  defp bar(a, b) do
    a |> Kernel.*(b) |> IO.inspect()
  end
end

Yes you can!

def and defp are macros too right?

FooBar |> defmodule do
  a |> foo() |> def do
    a |> Kernel.<(0) |> if do
      a |> bar(-1)
    else
      a |> bar(1)
    end
  end

  a |> bar(b) |> defp do
    a |> Kernel.*(b) |> IO.inspect()
  end
end

So many pipes! 😍

We’re getting somewhere, but something still doesn’t feel right. This module really isn’t doing much, so maybe it should not be that long? Also, I think we need more :. Atoms are very Elixir-y, so let’s do more of that:

FooBar |> defmodule(do: (
  a |> foo() |> def(do: a |> Kernel.<(0) |> if(do: a |> bar(-1), else: a |> bar(1)))

  a |> bar(b) |> defp(do: a |> Kernel.*(b) |> IO.inspect())
))

We’re :doing great!

You know what’s also very Elixir-y? Lists. Lists and tuples.

FooBar |> defmodule([{:do, (
  a
  |> foo()
  |> def([{:do, a |> Kernel.<(0) |> if([{:do, a |> bar(-1)}, {:else, a |> bar(1)}])}])

  a |> bar(b) |> defp([{:do, a |> Kernel.*(b) |> IO.inspect()}])
)}])

Who’s going to say this looks like Ruby now? ⚗️