Lemonade – the Elixir of Freedom
On a flight last week, I sat across the aisle from a young couple and their toddler-aged son. The little boy was horizontal in his Mommy’s lap and blissfully sleeping as we backed away from the jetway. Blissfully asleep, that is, until the flight attendant arrived to tell the couple that their child needed to be sitting upright in his own seat for takeoff. After a second instruction minutes later, the Dad responded back with an exasperated “are you serious?” — a response anyone who has had to fly with a non-sleeping toddler can understand. The flight attendant’s response was classic bureaucratese: “Sorry. FAA regulations.” The only thing missing from this substitution of judgment with blind rule-following was a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
I was reminded of this while reading about the latest child-operated lemonade stand to get shut down for failure to have a government-issued permit. Add this one to the long list of permit and zoning rules being used to crack down on 1st graders slinging summer refreshment at a card table for mere coins. But now, kids no longer have to resign themselves to surrendering their lemon-shaded entrepreneurial dreams. In a new video ad campaign, the makers of Country-Time Lemonade have pledged to pay the fines and permit costs of any kid needing the assistance. To put “Big Lemonade’s” team of lawyers and pocketbook to work for you, visit https://www.countrytimelegalade.com/.
(After writing this and saving it to draft, my daughter and I came across a lemonade stand in a neighborhood near our house. The two little girls running it had an interesting pricing plan: $0.25 for half a cup, $1.00 for a full cup, and FREE if you mixed both lemonade and black cherry flavors. We had the black cherry, which was a bit on the sweet side. 😬 Well worth the $2 regardless. Note the umbrella and the storm clouds behind – these girls were ready to brave the elements! I believe the proper term for a startup operation like this is adorbs.)
Quit Idolizing Tech Founders
Actually, the wisdom from this Wall Street Journal piece is hardly limited to the tech space. Regardless of the economic sector or organizational mission, turning people into larger-than-life celebrities is a weird human tendency that amplifies the risk of bad outcomes while focusing outsized rewards onto a discrete few. In the words of Jim Collins, author of leadership classics Good to Great and Great by Choice: “There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.” Far away from Silicon Valley, this is something members of the Southern Baptist Convention agonizingly have been wrestling with for the past few months.
The Problem with Complex Systems
Recently I had a problem with the password filing app I use. For reasons I still haven’t figured out, some of my shared folders — “Family Finances” — weren’t showing up in the app. Yes, all of my banking and financial accounts were perfectly safe due to the nearly unbreakable 20-digit passwords featuring letters, numbers, characters and both upper and lower cases. Unfortunately, those accounts were also perfectly inaccessible to me since there’s no way an actual human being (save memory athletes) could remember them. I spent a couple of days getting the issue resolved with the app maker, after which I was finally able to deposit a check via my phone.
As the Security/Functionality/Usability triangle illustrates, the more complex a system becomes (whether in the pursuit of added functionality or more stringent security), the less usable it becomes. For example, last week it was revealed that the background checks needed to screen applications for concealed carry permits in Florida had gone undone for over a year. The reason? — the official assigned to the task couldn’t successfully log into the system. A complex system of applications, information systems, cross-checking databases, and documentation all rendered useless because of a single person who couldn’t get past the login screen and didn’t pursue getting it resolved. The full Inspector General’s report can be viewed here.
Monopoly Is the Likely Future of Autonomous Vehicles
This Economist article provides an interesting look at how the ratcheting nature of artificial intelligence (“AI”) learning will shape the marketplace of autonomous vehicles (“AV’s”). There’s nothing inherent about a car and how it is designed, manufactured, and improved that makes a drift towards a single winner monopoly likely. However, the same cannot be said for the software and data sets needed to make those cars reliably drive themselves. And where there’s a market geared toward monopoly, strict government regulation and control won’t be far behind. It’s anyone’s guess whether that control will work enable innovation while protecting consumer interests (as intended – think Microsoft’s antitrust saga of the 1990’s), or if it will instead seek to kill innovation in order to protect the interests of politically connected groups in protecting the status quo (as perverted – think the legacy taxi cab industry vs Uber/Lyft or car dealer associations vs Tesla).
The Article That Made Anthony Bourdain
Not more than an hour after last week’s newsletter went out featuring the news of the death of Kate Spade, the world of taste and celebrity was shocked yet again by the news of yet another high-profile death by suicide. This time, the victim of suicide’s lies was renowned chef, author, and tv show host Anthony Bourdain. He was 61 years old.
I’ve never watched a single episode of any of Bourdain’s shows, and I’ve never read any his books. However, I saw a video of him telling the remarkable story of how he got his break from writing an article about the insider’s view of the world of the restaurant kitchen. At 44 yrs old, he sent it to The New Yorker “out of alcohol fueled hubris and on the insistence of my mom” with zero expectation of anything happening. And then everything happened. After reading that article from 1999 myself, Bourdain’s best-seller Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is on its way from Amazon to my bedside reading list shortly.