Sunday Snapshots (4th August, 2019)

Trust Me, I’m Lying, my self-reflection technique, Google Chicago, and breaking the rules.

Hey everyone,

This was a busy week. I went on an office visit courtesy of a Snapshots subscriber, moved apartments, and re-read one of my favorite authors. I want to talk about:

  • How easy it is to manipulate the media

  • Explaining rising infrastructure costs in the US

  • How I stole my self-reflection technique

  • Breaking the rules of the trade war

  • And more!

Book of the week

This week, I re-read Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying. Holiday exposes the structure of the modern media machine. And it is a machine. A machine where you can input something and almost reliably get something back every time. As the previous Director of Marketing for American Apparel and through running his own creative media agency, he has helped companies and clients make their projects viral/bestsellers by exploiting this machine. The fact that the book was written in 2012 means that it largely stays away from politics, which is exactly the kind of nuanced and abstract discussion about the media landscape we need right now.

Holiday sums the problem perfectly:

Bloggers lie, distort, and attack because it is in their interest to do so. The medium believes it is giving the people what they want when it simplifies, sensationalizes, and panders. This creates countless opportunities for manipulation and influence. I now know what the cumulative effect of this manipulation is: Its effect is unreality. Surrounded by illusions, we lash out at our fellow men for his very humanness, congratulate ourselves as a cover for apathy, and confuse advertising with art. Reality. Our lives. Knowing what is important. Information. These have been the casualties.

My main takeaway from the book was nature of the lifecycle of news and content. We know that content filters down – when CNN is talking about something, blogs like the Huffington Post, Business Insider, etc. start covering the same stories. But in a world where anyone with a phone can capture video and create news, content also filters up. Fringe blogs can influence local blogs (which are slightly most respected) which leads to even respected organizations like regional news taking it up (think Chicago Tribune). Once it gets the approval of a regional news organization, it becomes easy for a CNN or the NYT to take it up. So, instead of the content cycle looking like a pyramid:

It looks like this:

The beast feeds itself. 

Long read of the week

Infrastructure Costs

There’s been a lot of talk about increasing infrastructure costs in the US. This paper by Leah Brooks and Zachary Liscow shows that most of this can be explained by “rising incomes and housing prices.” I love these narrative violations.

Personal update of the week

I moved this weekend into my house for my final year of college. Moving has been a constant for me as I’ve moved apartments, cities, and even countries over the past few years. It gives you a clean break from your previous “life” and makes it easy to self-reflect. I’ll definitely be doing that this week. I stole my reflection technique from Tim Ferris:

Im often asked about how I approach New Year’s resolutions. The truth is that I no longer approach them at all, even though I did for decades. Why the change? I have found “past year reviews” (PYR) more informed, valuable, and actionable than half-blindly looking forward with broad resolutions. I did my first PYR after a mentor’s young daughter died of cancer on December 31st, roughly eight years ago, and I’ve done it every year since. It takes 30-60 minutes and looks like this:

  1. Grab a notepad and create two columns: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE.

  2. Go through your calendar from the last year, looking at every week.

  3. For each week, jot down on the pad any people or activities or commitments that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month. Put them in their respective columns.

  4. Once you’ve gone through the past year, look at your notepad list and ask, “What 20% of each column produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?”

  5. Based on the answers, take your “positive” leaders and schedule more of them in the new year. Get them on the calendar now! Book things with friends and prepay for activities/events/commitments that you know work. It’s not real until it’s in the calendar. That’s step one. Step two is to take your “negative” leaders, put “NOT-TO-DO LIST” at the top, and put them somewhere you can see them each morning for the first few weeks of 2019. These are the people and things you *know* make you miserable, so don’t put them on your calendar out of obligation, guilt, FOMO, or other nonsense.

Gesture of the week

The gesture of the week was an incredibly generous offer to tour the Google Chicago office by Snapshots reader Tom. The office lives up to its hype. Thanks Tom!

Business move of the week

I love the “Breaking the rules but not technically breaking them” genre of business moves, especially when its not related to matters of life and death. This is another such move by companies struggling under the trade war. They skirt regulations by building almost the entire product in China (whose imports are facing increased US tariffs), then shipped to the US via Vietnam. If you have any other examples, please send them my way!

Random corner of the week

Since I’m working at SpotHero this summer, I’ve done a fair bit of research into the mobility landscape recently. I thought this podcast on the intersection of micro-mobility and car parking was great. The hosts discussed Donald Shoup’s, The High Cost of Free Parking, an 800-page doorstopper about all things parking!

Meal of the week

The meal of the week is from Chola in New York. I’m a tough customer when it comes to Indian food, but every thing at Chola was delicious. I had the Biryani which was exceptional. I highly recommend it.


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,

Sid