Saturday Cup of Joe from Detroit


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Anyone else experiencing a fast and productive week? No complaints here. Every day was a full day. There’s a joy in pushing every day to the max. I really appreciated this week for that reason. Strategic meetings. Tactical decisions. Networking. Advising. Entrepreneurship. Writing. Coffee meetings. Dinner meetings.

The summer does not mean what it used to. We’re just as focused and busy as any other time of the year.

Thank you, as always, for reading the Saturday Cup of Joe.

Have a great weekend.

We are all storytellers. Yes even scientists are storytellers. Last week, I wrote about making decisions with imperfect information. Scientists do a better job than almost anyone else getting the most data to draw the most accurate conclusions. But even scientists resort to a story — “But when we use data of the physical world to explain phenomena that cannot be reduced to physical facts, or when we extend incomplete data to draw general conclusions, we are telling stories.”

How is your business telling your story? The article that I linked above states “In the end, scientists have the tools, language, and experience to tell us informed, engaging, and powerful stories.” This is true of your data team, obviously your marketing team and even your finance team. When you consider leading your team or your business, how sensitive are you to storytelling? What about your team members? Lastly, how about your customers?

As a liberal arts major 20 years ago, I was defensive of criticisms of the humanities. What job will the English major get? The poly sci major? The reality is that even as we demand more and more STEM professionals, there will always be a role for the storyteller. In fact, perhaps the most powerful combination is the STEM expert with the storytelling gene. Elon Musk? Steve Jobs?

My point is — don’t sleep on story. It’s important now. It will always be important. As long as we have imperfect information, we’ll need a story to explain the rest.

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What’s your story? — Dana Frost, quoting Bradford Frost

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“To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference” — Marcus Aurelius

I’ve written so much about affordable housing recently that one of my friends reached out to ask whether I’m working on affordable housing now. In many ways, I always have been. How to deliver safe, reasonable homeownership options and solutions to eligible consumers. More recently, though, I built an innovation team that explicitly works in this area. What does affordable housing even mean? Unfortunately it’s one of those phrases that comes with built in assumptions. Affordable housing.

One thing I’ve been excited about is the tech and startup trends over the last 10+ years have driven entrepreneurs and consumers to think differently about assets, ownership and access. I am a Millennial part of the most social, networked generation ever. We network everything. News. Gossip. Decisions. Why not ownership?

One suggestion I came across this week was in the rent-to-own (sorta) space. I wanted to pass it along. What does this spark? What new networks or structures have we overlooked or not tested? City of Cleveland will “allow residents to earn bonus equity every month they pay rent, up to $10K over the course of 10 years, which can then be used to pay for a down payment on a studio or home.”

How are you thinking about the next generation? About consumers who may look at your product or service differently? What are you doing to challenge yourself and your team?

Here’s another example of a new model in Cleveland testing how to give equity in exchange for value?

Many of the readers of Saturday Cup of Joe are not startup founders but leaders in existing businesses. Do you challenge your teams to rethink your product or service? How are you staying on your toes this week?

Income inequality. Uh-oh, you thought. Here comes more politics. I wrote over the last few weeks about issues that are important to me. One reader sent me a note that said, “I see you are channeling your inner Cory Booker.” I think it was meant as a compliment. I took it as a compliment.

There’s a scene in West Wing that I’ve written about recently where the President, reflecting on his competition, says, “first and foremost, I’m looking for a mind at work.” If nothing else, I’ve tried to live up to that standard. A mind at work.

Answer well. My personal motto is a reinforcement of this. A mind at work. Smart, dynamic people working on hard problems.

So, before you criticize or question this article, give me the benefit of the doubt.

Anyone running a company or complex team needs to be aware of cultural and economic trends. To me, none are more critical to all our businesses than income inequality. FastCompany posted a fascinating article including Q&A from a group of Stanford professors. For example:

Q: Why is inequality dramatically better globally?

Oyer: Because the low-wage jobs that left here are considered really good jobs in China. We’ve lifted a billion, two billion people out of poverty over the past 30 years.

Mendonca: We’ve lifted more people out of abject poverty in the last 20 years than in the history of the world

In many cases, the professors came back to incentives. A topic near and dear to my heart.

We are so bad at using incentives that it pains me. Our politics/policies continue to be reactive to changes in the economy and cultural. Rarely, if ever, do we proactively incentivize the behavior we want. Why not?

We’ve not been thoughtful about jobs, sectors, competition. The idea is to make choices and policies that allow, and ENCOURAGE, people to flourish. If we incentivize the choices that improve all outcomes or at least the opportunity to improve your outcome, we’ve done better than we are today.

For all you working moms out there, thank you. You are raising productive, self confident and successful daughters. According to a new study, “working mothers have an overwhelming positive influence on their children.” So, can we all agree? Fuck those mom blogs that criticize other mothers. Seriously. Guilt & shame isn’t the answer.

“The real impact of working moms is most evident in their daughters.”

The research seems to show that daughters of working mothers had more opportunity. Not just opportunity at better, higher paying jobs (though that’s true) but opportunity to choose their path. Isn’t that the luxury we’re all looking for? Choose your own adventure.

The article is clear that this isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s simply research that offers a data driven analysis of another story. A story of mothers modeling options, choices and opportunities. And that’s a good thing for everyone.

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

How to become a good writer. Simple and direct. The author behind Dilbert breaks it down like this:

1. Prune your sentences.

2. Humor works but needs to be simple.

3. The first sentence needs to GRAB the reader

4. Short sentences

5. Write to how our brains work. Direct and active.

That’s it.

Good luck.

“When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.”
— Charles Koch, quoting Frédéric Bastiat

“You need a philosophy and you need to write it down. And re-write it and go over it regularly. Life is to hard (and too complicated) to try to wing it and expect to do the right thing. — Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday has chosen philosophy. Others choose religion. Whatever it is, Ryan hits on something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. How should someone balance new ideas/new information against reinforcing one’s beliefs and values over and over? In other words, if I write and rewrite my philosophy over and over again every day, will I just convince myself of my own rightness versus being open to information that challenges me? How do you stay intellectually curious while being confident and secure in your values?

Religion has the potential to insulate the mind from new ideas, from diversity, from (eventually) sympathy.

One of my favorite quotes is “strong beliefs, loosely held.” The story I’m telling myself is that this allows me to chase the values I find important (human dignity, empathy, kindness and intellectual curiosity) without closing off my mind to new information, new experiences.

This week I’m considering how to balance philosophies that I believe, written and rewritten, with growth that everyone needs to embrace as families, technologies and careers change.

One of my favorite blogs is Farnam Street. When I first started Saturday Cup of Joe, Farnam Street was one of the blogs that I relied on to help tell my story. In fact, two of the leaders that I look up to at my company — Lise and Bill — referenced my reading of Farnam Street when they commented on early editions of Saturday Cup of Joe.

I say this because I want it to be clear that I agree with Jeremy from Farnam Street almost all the time. This week was a rare exception. This week Farnam Street posted a guide to feedback. Strategizing how to prepare and deliver feedback. The post was titled “How to Provide Feedback When You Are Not in Charge.” Great title. To me, though, the advice to categorize feedback and try to give the “right context” for different types of feedback is a fool’s errand. Feedback, criticism, whatever is entirely based on your credibility and ability to articulate where it’s coming from. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter whether you are the boss or your first day on the job. Feedback depends on how it is explained and framed in the moment it is delivered.

Explain it properly and you are golden.

Fail to explain and you are in trouble.

The ability to articulate where you are coming from prior to offering an observation (otherwise known as feedback) is the whole ballgame.

How do you think about feedback on your team? Do you have a framework? Do you make it normal and part of the team? If not, why not?

My explanation is always the same — I want to know if I have spinach in my teeth. If that spinach is my informal use of language or my informal form of leadership or actual spinach, I want to know. Please tell me. I’ve requested feedback on Saturday Cup of Joe before and I’ll do again today. Have you noticed something I could improve on, do better or something I should stop doing? Let me know. I want to know. And you should too.

Many readers of Saturday Cup of Joe know that my motto is Answer Well. The idea is that no matter the question, no matter the source of the challenge, I want to answer well. This week I’ve spent time thinking about other applications for Answer Well. Like profit well. Dan Gilbert likes to say that Quicken Loans and the Rock Family of Companies is “more than profit.” Meaning we’re still a for profit company but we’re looking to do something bigger than maximizing shareholder value. We’re trying to do something bigger in the world.

I heard a podcast this week on The Tim Ferriss Podcast with the CEO of Koch Industries, Charles Koch. The main point of Koch’s approach was not that far off than our “for more than profit” approach. His stated goal was to ensure the opportunity for humans to flourish. According to Koch, his company looks for maximizing value to customers, employees, community and society. Reasonable minds could listen to him and disagree whether he was sincere. But the message, adding value to society, is a strong message. For more than profit means contributing products and services that add value to the system. This interview raised a lot of questions but also inspired. Worth a listen.

“My specific goal is to revolutionize the future of the species. Mathematics is just another way of predicting the future.” — Ralph Abraham

Anyone who finds Happiness hard. This.

Continued success and continue to answer well,

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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