Word pollution and why I bother writing


Charlie Brooker wrote this article last year about why he’s going to limit his written output. Then I read this piece encouraging all writers to take a year off. And then I read this brilliant analysis showing just how hard it has become to get anything actually read on here.

So what’s the point in adding to the clutter? Here are some of my personal reasons for persevering.

  • Practice make perfect. Sort of. Perfection is perpetually out of reach, but I am at least practicing a craft. And in theory, the more I practice something, the better I become.
  • Pleasing an audience. Imaginary or otherwise, I like to think I write to entertain and engage a readership. Even if it’s low in number, I’m still giving an experience to someone, somewhere. And that feels good.
  • Feedback. Chance favors the connected mind. Maybe if I keep putting stuff out here on the Internet, someone will eventually comment on it. They may even give me an idea how to improve it, or the spark to create something new entirely.
  • Words look nice. If I’m going to add to the cultural snow pile, I may as well do it in style. And as someone who struggles with the technical side of blogging, Medium gives me a beautiful container to pour my thoughts into.
  • The fun of it all. I get to play with language. English is my sandbox, and I’m here to get my hands dirty. It may not be quite as relaxing as playing with real sand, but it’s fun in it’s own way.
  • Delayed gratification. Just like a long distance run, I know I’ll feel better after I’ve written something. Or, to borrow the vastly over-used quote, “I hate writing; I love having written.”
  • More creation, less consumption. I decided a while ago I wanted to adjust my create/consume ratio. It’s still important to absorb and learn from the work of others, but I also need to spend a little more time generating new content myself. I may not be creating anything worthwhile yet, but hopefully I’ll get there.
  • Inspiration and motivation. Finally, there seem to be a heck of a lot of posts similar to this one on Medium (and indeed the web at large), motivating other would-be writers to keep at it. I guess we write these kinds of pieces to inspire others, but I can’t help thinking we do it to motivate ourselves too.

I have to believe I’m not just adding to the clutter. I have to believe I’m not polluting the Internet with popmous, self-referential detritus. I have to believe I am – in some small way – contributing. Educating. Entertaining.

So here we are then. Another fun piece of carefully crafted writing ready to engage and inspire an imaginary audience.

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Views are my own, apart from ones I receive via osmosis, telepathy & telegram.

E-Commerce Business Lender iwoca Raises $8.2M To Expand In The UK And Europe


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iwoca, which provides short-term loans to online retailers based in the UK, announced today that it has raised £5 million (about $8.2 million) from Global Founders Capital, a new private investment fund launched by the Samwer brothers of Rocket Internet fame, and Luxembourg-based Redline Capital Management. All of iwoca’s existing investors also returned for the current round, which brings the total iwoca has raised so far to about £7 million (about $11.5 million). The startup, which is based in London, says it will use its latest funding to scale up its UK operations and expand into Europe.

In a statement, iwoca co-founder and CEO Christoph Reich said that the new investment will allow his company to provide short-term financing to 5,000 more small businesses in the UK in 2014. The investment will also give iwoca the opportunity to leverage the Samwer brothers’ experience in building high-growth businesses.

Their investment in iwoca is interesting because Berlin-based Rocket Internet has focused lately on pouring funds into e-commerce startups in emerging markets like Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. But although retail sales in Europe have slowed since the 2008 global financial crisis, there are signs that consumers in the U.K. are now more willing to open their pocketbooks as the economy gradually recovers. E-commerce businesses in the U.K. were expected to reach a total sales value of £87 billion in 2013, representing 12 percent year-over-year growth, according to research firms IMRG and Capgemini.

Rieche said that the new investment will allow iwoca to tap into a market of more than 4.6 million businesses in the UK: “This latest round of funding will allow us to leverage our existing operations and drive growth. Our highly innovative approach to data-analysis and credit scoring coupled with Oliver Samwer’s experience in franchise building puts us in an incredibly strong position to take advantage of the structural change within the business lending industry.”

The funding may also help iwoca compete against Ezbob, which was launched in September 2012 and has raised a total of $5 million in funding so far. Both companies cater to eBay and Amazon sellers, as well as vendors on other online platforms, and use data- and credit-scoring tools to provide loan applicants with quick decisions.

The €150 million Global Founders Capital fund will invest in Internet businesses throughout the world at different stages of funding and is run by Marc and Oliver Samwer, along with Fabian Siegel, the co-founder of Delivery Hero.

In a statement, Siegel said “We invest in proven concepts with huge market potential. The team at iwoca has demonstrated extraordinary execution skills and are committed to breaking new ground in business lending. We will put our expertise in building internet companies and our global network at their disposal to help them drive growth.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/09/e-commerce-business-lender-iwoca-raises-8-2m-to-expand-in-the-uk-and-europe/

Please Learn to Write


There’s been lots of buzz on the topic of whether or not you should learn to code. As an engineer, I don’t have unbiased thoughts on the matter. I tweeted Jeff Atwood’s piece because, well, I agree that it’s pretty silly to think that the world is going to be a better place if the Mayor of New York City learns how to code. I agree with Atwood that his valuable time would be better spent elsewhere.

I believe there are essential skills you learn as an engineer who codes. It teaches you how to structure your thinking, and the process looks something like this:

  • I have this thing I want to build.
  • I have a finite set of tools that enforce a certain set of rules I must follow.
  • And… go.

Coding is unforgiving. Its structure is well-defined and enforced by whatever interpreter or compiler you might be using. You are punished swiftly for obvious errors. You are punished more subtly for the less obvious ones.

Once you’ve mastered a particular language, you’ve also mastered a means of thinking. You understand how to decompose a problem into knowable units, and you learn how to intertwine those units into pleasant and functional flow. Perhaps you’ve figured out how to get that flow to perform at Herculean scale. There is no doubt in my mind that this is an essential and valuable skill for anyone to learn and master.

However, there is a language you could master that teaches many of the same lessons, appears far more forgiving in terms of syntax, and has immediate broader appeal.

The language you can learn is your own.

I argue that there is an essential set of skills that intersect both with writing words and writing code. Let’s revisit the process:

  • There’s this thought I want to write.
  • I have finite set of words, a target audience, and, likely, a certain article length that all serve as constraints.
  • And… go.

Writing appears more forgiving because there is no compiler or interpreter catching your its/it’s issues or reminding you of the rules regarding that or which. Here’s the rub: there is a compiler and it’s fucking brutal. It’s your readers. Your readers are far more critical than the Python interpreter. Not only do they care about syntax, but they also want to learn something, and, perhaps, be entertained while all this learning is going down. Success means they keep coming back — failure is a lonely silence. Python is looking pretty sweet now, right?

The articles on Rands keep getting longer and longer, and as I’m finishing a piece, I worry, “Is it too long?” I worry about this because we live in a lovely world of 140-character quips and status updates, and I fret about whether I’ll be able to hold your attention, which is precisely the wrong thing to worry about. What I should be worried about is, “Have I written something worthy of your attention?”

Writing is the connective tissue that creates understanding. We, as social creatures, often better perform rituals to form understanding one on one, but good writing enables us to understand each other at scale.

Now… go.

(Originally posted on Rands in Repose)

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in repose

Uber Slashes UberX Fares In 16 Markets To Make It The Cheapest Car Service Available Anywhere


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Riding Uber just got a lot cheaper — at least for most customers using its low-cost UberX option. That’s because Uber has committed to slashing fares for its on-demand car service in a majority of U.S. cities where it’s available, in some cases by more than 20 percent.

Updated below with comment from Uber competitor Lyft.

The goal for Uber is not just to make its service more attractive than the competition, but to make UberX the cheapest option available period. That means undercutting fares for taxis and ride-sharing services like Lyft and SideCar, sometimes by a large amount.

This isn’t the first time the company has lowered the price of UberX rides. Since June of last year, when it cut rates in San Francisco, Uber has occasionally lowered fares in cities where UberX is available.

This is the most aggressive price cut the company has ever made, however, with Uber cutting rates in 16 of the 23 U.S. markets where the low-cost option is available. That includes reductions in Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Orange County, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, and Tucson.

Some of those cuts are pretty dramatic. The price of UberX in Orange County, for instance, will drop by about 30 percent, according to CEO Travis Kalanick. San Francisco fares will be about 20 percent lower, and of the 16 markets seeing reductions, half will see cuts of 12 percent or more.

For a business that operates on low margins already, that’s a pretty dramatic reduction. And it will put a whole lot of pressure on the competition.

But that’s just part of the story. The fare cuts are also designed to make Uber more accessible to more people.

To demonstrate how it’s doing that, Kalanick ran through a couple of real-world examples with me to show how much cheaper UberX would be than the competition. In L.A., a ride from LAX to Hollywood, for instance, would cost $51 in a cab, but traffic permitting, an UberX would cost just $29.50. In San Francisco, a cab ride from the Mission to SOMA costs about $11, but an UberX would be just $8.

Combine that with a four-way fare split, Kalanick said, and the ride is the same price as taking the bus. All of which makes Uber not exactly a “luxury service” anymore.

With each previous reduction, Uber has seen the number of trips per driver increase, which means that even with the lower fares drivers end up making more money. In the case of this fare reduction, Uber is cutting its own margins in some markets to help push prices lower.

So how low can prices go? Uber wants to find out, but is aware that there’s only so much new demand it can drive with fare reductions. “There’s a ceiling to the number of trips per hour that a car can do,” Kalanick said.

Uber has said that it wants to offer a low-cost option in all of its markets, so you can probably expect it to expand the number of available UberX markets in the same way that it’s adding new cities in which it operates. That number is up to nearly 70 now, as Uber has moved aggressively into a number of international markets over the last year.

The company also has plenty of cash to play with. It raised $258 million from Google Ventures over the summer, bringing total funding to more than $300 million. Additional investors include TPG Growth, Benchmark, and First Round Capital, among others.

Update: When queried about Uber’s latest move, Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer told TechCrunch: “Uber prices will still be higher. What does a price decrease mean when there is 8-10x surge pricing? It’s classic bait and switch and consumers see through that.”

http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/09/big-uberx-price-cuts/

The pain of expertise and learning to let go of expectations


I’m used to writing as an expert. I don’t say that to brag, in fact I think it’s been a kind of limitation. There is the pressure to be authoritative, to be critical in a logical way, to be scientific (only valuing knowledge based on experimentation and/or rigorous statistical analysis), to be instructive, to support with empirically-based methods. I’m so used to this role, as my whole life has been a training to act this way — I remember running for class president in grade 3 (I lost to a girl. A very smart girl I may add); I remember developing intellectual competitiveness at a young age, wanting to be the fastest reader, the quickest to comprehend, to charge ahead of the class in math. The teacher recognition and special attention I received was more important to me emotionally than I was conscious of; in fact I was completely unconscious of my motivation. And with all that came the identification with a critical writing style, as befitting a man of high education. Again, the authoritative voice…

I want to open up more to the other voices — the creative, the funny, the compassionate. Here’s where I freeze up, I don’t know where to start. Until I realize that I already have opened up, that I have changed; I’m writing this aren’t I? I have just exposed a very personal side of myself, a type of weakness, calling myself out as a stick in the mud, boring, pedantic…NO! And yet it seemed that that’s what people wanted of me, the same way I got asked to be the pitcher on the baseball team, because someone thought I could do it, and of course I embraced that and loved being the star. When I grew up there was no reason to stop before obtaining a Ph.D. and becoming an expert on something. I chose clinical psychology, so now people were coming to me for help solving important emotional and behavioural problems.

Once again they (the patients) want me to be an expert, but at the same time relate to them as a peer/friend/supporter. I need to respect the basic humanity of the patient, regardless of the configuration of symptoms. I want to be compassionate, funny, creative and scientific, all at the same time. A tall order, but a great challenge. In my writing this will manifest as no more competitiveness, no more seeking approval from authorities, just doing what I do, using what I know, all of it, and reflecting back on my experience.

There is no way to get certified as an expert on writing about one’s personal experience. I am writing as one individual experiencing life and trying to convey that to others, for whatever reasons I choose to do so.

Why do I do it? Why are so many people doing it on Medium? I’ve talked about this before (“There is a me in Medium”). I see it as a form of therapy and the social component as a therapeutic community. That is actually an awesome thing.

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Asking big questions about integrating mind and body in health care

Transformational learning


When it comes to leader development, old styles of “training” just don’t cut it.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of learning in a professional development context; transactional and transformational. Transactional learning methods operate from the view that skills or information are things to be transferred from the knower to the learner. While transactional learning can undoubtedly teach us invaluable skills that allow us to complete tasks efficiently, it does not usually generate long-lasting or profound shifts in people’s behaviour or attitude when it comes to leadership development, communication skills or managing cultural change.

Transactional learning has tremendous value to us when we want to learn technical or analytical skills such as how to write a report, balance a budget, repair a car engine or plan a drainage system. Such skills as these are predominantly learned by the neo-cortex, the so-called ‘thinking’ part of the brain. Transactional learning methods activate this part of the brain, and the neo-cortex processes new analytical or technical information with extraordinary rapidity; thus transactional approaches are extremely efficient when we want to learn such material. Transactional learning often feels very satisfying because the ‘results’ are the new bits of conceptual information or knowledge that we leave a training event with. When we attend a training event that we are actually interested in, that sense of satisfaction is increased because we have got something that we actually want.

Similarly, the sense of dissatisfaction that arises from many training programmes related to communication, leadership or culture often occurs because there is little or no significant or long-lasting behaviour change after the training event. For these skills, transformational learning methods are most often best applied. If someone wanted to learn something like ‘how to have a difficult conversation with a staff member’ in a transactional way, this may result in him or her having more ‘top tips on difficult conversations’ but it would be unlikely to result in deep or significant shifts in how they relate to their staff. Furthermore, research shows that the half-life of knowledge that is simply transferred is very short. This means that any positive benefit of someone learning what they need to in a transactional manner would be neither deep nor long-lasting. This is simply because material such as this requires the involvement of both the ‘thinking’ brain AND the limbic brain; the part of the brain that governs feelings and how we manage relationships. Research indicates that skills based in this part of the brain are best learned through motivation, practice and feedback, rather than simple transfer of information. In other words things that involve the “F” word (feelings) require a transformational learning process. As Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman, states, “A brief seminar wont’ help, and it can’t be learned through a how-to manual.”

Transformational learning processes can often be frustrating for some people because the ‘results’ are not evident in lots of notes, handouts, facts or ‘step 1, step 2’ processes. The results most often do not appear until we are in the situation in which we need to apply the newly learned skills. This is compounded by the fact that the limbic brain learns more slowly and requires more practice and rehearsal than the ‘thinking’ brain, especially when the challenge is to shift deeply ingrained attitudes, behaviours and habits.

While transactional learning focuses on providing the learner with a new ‘toolkit’, transformational learning focuses on developing the user of the tools. Its aim is to improve the competency of the learner by transforming beliefs and values, underlying assumptions and ingrained habits. Transformational learning methods uncover issues that we may not have previously aware of and gets to the ‘nub’ of the thing to be learned. It takes us to the areas of our work performance where we are less than excellent. It shines a light on those areas of our work performance that we need to grow, extend or improve upon and it is a necessarily uncomfortable process. This can involve the use of action methods, which uncover the unconscious feeling reactions that stop us from performing as well as we would wish in our work. Such an experiential, interactive and action-based approach causes us to be ‘conscious’ and ‘awake’ during the learning process. It also presents opportunities to actually rehearse the thing to be learned and for real-time coaching to ensue. From my experience, three action-based human technologies which I apply, Role Training, Action Sociometry and Sociodrama, generate the kind of transformation I’m referring to.

Illustrating these two learning approaches, transactional methods are those with which we are probably most familiar and comfortable. They are generally the preferred teaching approaches in our schools and workplace training situations. They are conducted through one-off learning events and tend to involve presentations, ‘chalk and talk’ and handouts or worksheets which provide good reference material that can be accessed again and again when the situation requires. Transformational approaches, however, apply new learning over time, using rehearsal, reflection, coaching and follow up, and require high levels of motivation and concerted effort on the part of the learner. They are more experiential and action-orientated. Transactional learning tends to be more focussed on content to be learnt, while transformational learning views learning as a process.

Transactional learning is a learning approach which generates practical and conceptual understanding of ‘what to do’ and transformational learning generates increased capability in ‘how to do it’. Therefore, transactional learning appears more methodical, logical-sequential and step-by-step, while transformational learning approaches can be much more divergent and unpredictable. A great degree of the discomfort with learning in a transformational way stems from the fact that feelings and relationships are involved to a greater extent than when learning in a transactional manner, which places more emphasis on the factual.

To reiterate, there is tremendous value in both transactional and transformational learning approaches, and the two are complementary to each other. The key point is to be clear about the learning outcomes. It is useful before applying any approach or methodology, to do a good analysis of the kinds of things to be learnt and what one is seeking to achieve in a training or development programme. Then, the most effective and strategic teaching and learning approaches can be employed and learning can be maximised.

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Scot in London. Sociatrist. Iconoclast. Lover of life. Lover of people. Developing people, transforming organisations. #systemsthinking #sociometry #roletheory

T-Mobile will pay you to leave competitors early — up to $350 per line for 5 lines


T-Mobile will pay you to leave competitors early — up to $350 per line for 5 lines
Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

T-Mobile CEO John Legere

CES 2014

CES gesture controls at PrimeSense What will be hot in consumer electronics and computing in 2014? Read our full coverage of International CES 2014 to find out.

LAS VEGAS — In yet another move that could win T-Mobile the hearts and minds of wireless customers, the carrier announced today that it will pay early termination fees for consumers who want to break their contracts with competitors and move to its network.

Specifically, T-Mobile says it will pay up to $350 in early termination fees per competitor phone lines. And in a bid to convince families to move over, the carrier will pay your early termination fee for up to five lines.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere made the announcement at the Venetian Sands as part of the International CES. Legere also revealed today that T-Mobile now has the nation’s fastest 4G LTE network and that it has added 1.6 million new customers in the fourth quarter.

T-Mobile will also offer up to a $300 instant trade-in credit when you bring in a phone from another carrier. To get the early termination fee credit, you’ll need to mail in your final competitor bill to T-Mobile or upload it to a special website.

This is the fourth so-called “Uncarrier” move by T-Mobile, which announced last year that it would abolish traditional cellular contracts and offer free international data roaming and free wireless data for tablets. While the Uncarrier name at first seemed like a gimmick, T-Mobile has shown that it can actually break from wireless carrier traditions and force its competitors to follow suit.

After rumors of T-Mobile’s plans to cover competitor ETF fees leaked a few weeks ago, AT&T quickly announced its own plan to do the same.

Poking a bit of fun at its competitors, T-Mobile has also launched a new “breakup letter” that you can send to your existing carrier when you jump ship.

“My suggestion is that everybody on Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T take our plan, get out of your contracts, and if it doesn’t work, then take AT&T’s plan,” Legere said. “AT&T customers come over — if it doesn’t work, they’ll pay you to come back. It’s beautiful!”


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