Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Master of The Senate: Book Review

Author: Robert Caro

Length: 1,049 pages

What is It: A thorough look at the inner machinations and accomplishments of Lyndon Johnson's U.S. Senate career as orchestrated by the pragmatic politician himself.

What's Said: The rich history of the Senate, the intricacies of its internal dynamics and rules, and the relationship of the chamber to Congress and the President are illuminated here. That is the backdrop to an examination of Lyndon Johnson's political life - a tale of motivations, ambitions, fears, failures, dealings, compassion, ruthlessness, affairs, manipulations, genius, gruffness, practicality and familial influence. All of which are defined and give full context to or for his actions. MTS is largely organized around LBJ's development and relationship with political power with a secondary adherence to the linear timeline of his life in the Senate.

What's True: The Senate was well designed by the forefathers to withstand the incredible power of the will/whims of the people. It is a body vulnerable mostly unto itself. The struggle of the Civil War lived on in the ideology of the "southern senators" who exacted their revenge upon the union (but really the nation) by their actions and inactions. Effectiveness in bipartisan politics requires an element of practicality - ideology alone is not enough. LBJ's genius lied in his adept attention not only to legislative detail but to the legislator himself, multiplied by an uncanny ability to read and act upon those details. MTS is a full measure the senator, not just as eventual champion of civil rights, but also as a prominent detractor. Like most historic figures who get distilled, LBJ's true being is far more complex in reality. This is a thorough and balanced account of that, and a painstaking deconstruction of how to acquire, maintain and exact power.

So What: History's influence in our affairs comes from the exercise of looking at what has transpired and transposing that experience onto our present and future. The open question is always: Would we want this to be repeated? The trade off between idealism and practicality is real in politics and should be answered carefully by those who practice and we who elect. Lastly - don't be quickly discouraged - this book is a page turner, rich in plot, character development and scenery. It builds and delivers like a literary masterpiece. And if you have any interest in history, power, politics, or the man, you will undoubtedly appreciate this.

Final Word: Definite Read

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lykke Li: Wounded Rhymes. Album Sketch

year: 2011

tones of: gwen stefani, amy whinehouse, m.i.a., mamas and the papas, smash mouth (on - youth knows no pain), 1950/60s girl groups

genre samples:  blues, sunshine pop, country, psychedelic rock, soul, r&b, world music, emo

music: dreamy, radiant, harmonious, rhythmic, melodious, soft, flowing, upbeat, somber, airy

lyrics: clear, insouciant, satirical, dark, brooding, obsessive, heartache, strong, intimate

album: broad, varied, complex, versatile, contrasting, familiar

favs: youth knows no pain, get some, i follow rivers, unrequited love, i know places, silent my song

score: 8.5/10

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An Ode to Passion

Does your passion sing or does it talk
Is it worldly or is it cosmical
Does it ebb or does it flow
Is it old soul or newly found
No matter.
It is whatever you choose unless it chooses you

Did you struggle to find this great thing
Forming and molding it in your mind
Listening for its heartbeat amidst the noise in head
Or did it mean you passed on some other thing
Wading through, against the current
Embracing ambiguity, stretching norms

Cause it's about something else
Is it not?
Ambition needs its comfort
Motivation needs companion
Layering, no substitutes
Hand over hand
Freedom on top of authenticity
Progress on top of change
Maximum impact

You can't go back
This future needs you
It's calling now, softly, gently, firmly
Come hither, can't you see
Don't neglect, stay focused
Push, push. Carry on.
Satisfaction lies that other side

So here is to yours
Here is to my own
Fully embrace it before too long

This is an ode to passion, in all its forms.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

James Blake: James Blake. Album Sketch

year: 2011

tones of: kanye west (power), bon iver, (other suggestions welcome.)

genre samples: gospel, dubstep, blues, garage, techno, classical piano

music: spacious, wavering, robotic but humanistic, artistic, sonic, fractured, atmospheric, simple, layered, shimmering, submergent

lyrics: heavy, sparse, innocent, isolated, poignant, restrained, vulnerable, regretful, human, weary, lonesome, haunting, naive

favs: the wilhem scream, lindisfarne I+II (i view these as one song), limit to your love, why don't you call me, measurements

album: avant garde, game changer, cathartic, cubist

score: 9.5/10 (sublime)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Venture to Crowdfunding: "You Can't Disrupt This."

With a quick Google search using the right keywords, there are numerous articles describing crowdfunding (CF) as disruptive to venture capital (VC) or at least potentially so. Many take for granted the reader's knowledge of the term and its logic, but it is a lot harder to put together than it may seem. Here is a look at the very specific definition of the word, along with a few supporting arguments that might lead one to draw that conclusion.

Let us start out by clarifying what disruption is not. Disruption of an industry does not cover change (even if it is radically different from the status quo) which improves upon the existing industry product. This is a sustaining development (examples*). Disruption, in the Clayton Christensen sense of the word, defines a change that brings with it (in the form of a product or a new market) a very different value proposition than had existed or mattered previously (examples**). It trades off performance for either convenience, accessibility, affordability, simplicity or some combination thereof and its key often lies in the use case as opposed to an advancement in technology.

Examining the case for crowdfunding using the characteristics of Christensen's definition as a guide:

The value proposition of disruptive innovation is materially different, yet its performance trajectory exceeds market needs.
The main value proposition of venture capital is "smart money", i.e. connections and advice through a filtered loop. Its performance is measured by return and rolodex. Crowdfunding instead is "cool money". Its main value proposition is broad access through social media. It is ranked foremost on other dimensions - the type of entrepreneurs on the platform and their success in raising funding. It would perform poorly on a traditional scorecard based on established market needs, but there is a window. At the lower end of the funding curve (seed stage) venture capital overshoots the market. It provides more at a higher cost than is needed to build a minimum viable product (MVP). Arguably, crowdfunding appears to be on the way to figuring out its shortcomings at that very end of the spectrum. With market needs stable and MVP cost still falling, all that is required are a couple of sustaining technologies to cover the gap. Add a few more over time and crowdfunding could start its ascent upmarket to traditional VC territory. That sounds pretty disruptive.

Disruptive innovations are typically simpler, cheaper, more reliable, and convenient than established technologies.
Crowdfunding is nothing if not incredibly convenient. It allows entrepreneurs to leverage and manage their fundraising efforts through one channel point, turning the venture model on its head. It is cheaper as well. The flat fee or percentage of round being charged by most reward or donation based platforms are significantly cheaper than venture equity stakes and maintenance fees. Crowdfunding has not simplified the process of raising funding however - the basic preparations are still required (plan + pitch + perform + pass). Instead it has simplified access to capital for the average entrepreneur who may not know the intricacies and intimacies of silicon valley. Despite these, crowdfunding is not nearly as reliable. There are still major trust and fraud concerns, important themes regarding brand and quality. Moreover, venture has less capital volatility because of its funding structure. Placing more weight on cost (because of its implications) than the other characteristics, CF still looks pretty disruptive though.

Disruptive innovations are typically not rational or feasible investments for incumbents.
It has already been noted that current revenue streams associated with crowdfunding are not as lucrative as those of venture capital. There are no performance fees based on equity returns (which typically produce the bulk of VC profits) and neither are there any maintenance charges. The business models are fundamentally different. Crowdfunding is transaction based instead of equity based. Transaction based models are powered by volume, and with few exceptions are tied to lower profit margins, which favor low cost operations. These characteristics are uniformly unattractive to or typically unattainable by incumbents. Venture capital is no different. The implication is that the disruptive market will likely not look attractive enough until it is too late. Again, CF looks well placed to be disruptive.

Articles calling crowdfunding disruptive based on similar analysis seem right to draw such conclusions, so perhaps crowdfunding's response to venture's "You can't disrupt this" should be "You're wrong. It's hammer time."

*Sustaining examples: HD over digital, Blu-Ray's attempt on DVD, DVR over TiVo, Google's search algorithm over Yahoo's, carbon fiber bike frames over aluminium, ipad over the iphone, voicemail over answering machines, CD/DVD over tapes.
**Disruptive examples: digital over chemical photography, Google AdWords over direct advertising, the iphone over laptops, fast food disrupted restaurants, netflix disrupted blockbuster, skype is disrupting telephony, nintendo wii is disrupting xbox/playstation, online brokerages disrupted full service.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Short History of Nearly Everything: Book Review

Author: Bill Bryson

Length: 478 pages

What is It: A survey of science on earth including the cross-histories of the people who helped develop it.

What's Said: Starts from the universe at large, switches to the development and progression of the disciplines, drills down into an examination of the earth specifically and then discusses the advancement of life on the planet, culminating with the human race. Topics include - the solar system, paleontology, relativity, geology, chemistry, atoms, cells, quarks, the big bang, the troposphere, tectonics, oceans, bacteria, DNA, evolution.

What's True:  It is possible to be coherent on a wide range of scientific topics despite their individual depth and breadth. Scientific accuracy can be maintained without losing integrity. There is an incredible amount that we have discovered, but science is always building and changing. Obsession, madness, luck, and brilliance have shown us the way. Progress is championed by both specialists and laymen. Drama unfolds within science just as it does anywhere else people are involved.

So What: ASH's success is that it takes scientific history and facts and makes them accessible in an interesting and relevant way. It reminds the reader of what we often take for granted: the fickleness and complexity of life on earth, and how lucky we are to be alive and able to appreciate it. Bryson levels the scientific world to place where everyone can look at it with informed wonder.

Final Word: Must Read