Sunday Snapshots (8th December, 2019)

Navy SEALs, Lessons to unlearn, Google's Snippets, Bullwhip Effect, and Amtrak

Hey everyone,

Greetings from Evanston!

As I wrap up the quarter next week, it’s been a week of studying, catching up with friends, and spending a little too much time on Twitter. It also means I get long stretches of free time to write this newsletter where I can dive a little bit deeper into topics. I hope you enjoy it.

In this issue of Snapshots, I want to talk about:

  • Living with a Seal by Jesse Itzler

  • The Lesson to unlearn

  • How to compete against Google’s Snippets

  • The Bullwhip Effect

  • Amtrak’s path to profitability

  • And more!

Book of the week

I enjoyed Living with the Monks so much that this week, I picked up Jesse Itzler’s Living with a Seal. Jesse invited a Navy SEAL to live with him for 30 days and do everything he asked him to do. While I don’t have specific takeaways apart from pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones, I did enjoy SEAL’s one-liners. Here are some of my favorites:

Every day do something that makes you uncomfortable.

I like to sit back and enjoy the pain. I earned it.

I don’t do shit for applauses. I don’t do shit for fanfare. I do shit for me.

I don’t think about yesterday. I think about today and getting better.

It doesn’t have to be fun. It has to be effective.

I’m on alert. High alert. Even when you don’t think I’m on alert, I’m on alert. Even right now, I’m on alert.

If you’re hungry, run faster. You’ll be home quicker.

Long read of the week

The Lesson to Unlearn

The basis of Paul Graham’s latest essay is simple:

Getting a good grade in a class on x is so different from learning a lot about x that you have to choose one or the other, and you can't blame students if they choose grades. Everyone judges them by their grades —graduate programs, employers, scholarships, even their own parents.

If I had to think about what was my biggest frustration with college, it would be this. What Graham doesn’t realize is that it goes beyond just grades. In many ways, grades are table stakes. When you step into a job interview, you’re supposed to have a “narrative” – things that make you unique and help you stand out from everyone else. Creating of this narrative requires a multi-year effort filled with the optimal mix of extracurriculars, internships, and leadership experiences. Two points here:

  1. In the narrative race to be unique, we end up even more like each other.

  2. It can be tough to stay authentic. After all, what you create ends up creating you. So if your experiences are inauthentic, then you become inauthentic.

I’m definitely guilty of some parts of this and want to think about counter-balances to these pressures.

Business move of the week

Genius Media Sues Google Claiming Anticompetitive Use of Song Lyrics

Let’s see that you’re a Billie Eilish fan and want to check out the lyrics for her song Bad Guy. This is what you see if you type “billie eilish bad guy lyrics” on Google:

Google uses LyricFind, a lyric licensing service, to source these lyrics. Genius claims that Google actually sources them from its site (which it doesn’t have the permission to do) and has some convincing evidence to support that.

But for me, the more interesting question is how to compete against Google’s box – the so fact “Featured Snippet”? It sounds really tough. If your competitor partners up with Google to provide direct bookings (for a ride, hotel room, parking spot, etc.) through one of these Snippets, that’s a near death blow to your growth. While your existing users might continue to use your product, new users will never even find out about you.

The typical answer is something like “create a differentiated and value-add product” so that users would take the pain to go I’m not sure that it would help that much. All this is complicated by the fact that the feature is probably really useful for the end user – the existing anti-trust framework would not classify this as problematic and honestly, I’m sympathetic to arguments that it isn’t problematic.

So what’s the answer? I’m don’t have a good answer. But as the search giant turns from cataloging options to the deliverance of those options, companies will need to come up with a strategy to deal with this category of problem.

Concept of the week

The Bullwhip Effect

I learned a concept in my supply chain class this week that I thought was fascinating and wanted to share. In a distribution system, as information travels from the customers to the manufacturer, it gets distorted and the result is excess quantity demanded by every link in the chain. While solutions can be successful, this seems to be an intrinsic property of supply chains!

Random Corner of the week

Wendover Productions consistently produces some of the best content in the video essay genre. This one on Richard Anderson’s plan to turn around Amtrak’s profitability is excellent. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in the topic.

Meal of the week

This week, I went to Perilla – a Korean restaurant in West Loop. It’s a modern take on Korean food and I really enjoyed it. Definitely worth a trip.

That wraps up this week’s Sunday Snapshots. If you want to discuss any of the ideas mentioned above or have any books/papers/links you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of Sunday Snapshots, please reach out to me by replying to this email or sending me a direct message on Twitter at @sidharthajha.

Until next Sunday,

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