The coolest invention ever?

This is completely unrelated to Entrepreneurship or Economic Development but it is related to incredibly cool products, though definitely in the very very early adoption stage (product/market fit?!?). I’ve been missing the ocean (having spent a lot of my childhood on an island) and been going swimming every evening (no matter how cold) but this little gadget just transforms what swimming means:

Useful? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely amazing (thanks to Mike Krieger for finding it). By the way, did you notice the little icons beneath the photo? The photo above is an Apture Super Embed and you can learn more about the Lunocet Monofin by clicking the icons on the bottom. Try it out!

Why I use Twitter

I find the following excerpt from texasinafrica to be the perfect summary of why I find Twitter incredibly valuable. Except that in my case it’s Startups + Africa and all the other things she mentions:

I’ve railed against Twitter in the past, mostly because I think it contributes to the culture of oversharing [...] But. Here’s the thing. The community of people who blog and think and write (hopefully not in that order) about African states, foreign policy, humanitarian issues, state failure, and a lot of other stuff I care about are mostly on Twitter. And it’s impossible to keep up with everything without signing up.So there you have it. I’m on Twitter in order to save time. And so far, it’s not bad.

Twitter has helped me learn more quickly – and that’s made a huge difference.

Rapid Learning, for Startups and for the Military

I’ve been reading a LOT about how to increase learning speed in startups and how to shorten feedback cycles to quickly see what is working and what isn’t and to then iterate on that. Because of this I found the following bit about decision/feedback loops in the military from Free Range International extremely interesting:

“According to Boyd, decision-making occurs in a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act. An entity (whether an individual or an organization) that can process this cycle quickly, observing and reacting to unfolding events more rapidly than an opponent, can thereby “get inside” the opponent’s decision cycle and gain the advantage. Frans Osinga argues that Boyd’s own views on the OODA loop are much deeper, richer, and more comprehensive than the common interpretation of the ‘rapid OODA loop’ idea”

That rapid feedback loops are important in many areas makes perfect sense but I really liked how if you replace “opponent” in the paragraph above with “customer” you get a basic version of rapid learning for startups – except that you’re trying to make something they want instead of killing them. There’s a lot of other processes and approaches startups can learn from other fields.

Celebrate Success!

I was just reading an interview Online Marketing/Metrics rockstar Dan Martell did with a Canadian business blog and wanted to share his great thoughts on the importance of celebrating your success.

We do not celebrate our successes enough. When your moving quickly to create something big and meaningful, you sometimes forget to celebrate along the way. I am constantly looking at ways to reinforce the good work done by our employees. For example, if a customer has said something positive about the company, I take it back to the employees. I explain to them how their work furthered the company strategy. If an employee or team was singled out, then I make sure I talk to them and again relate it back to our strategic goals. Talking about current successes and relating it back to strategic goals is a great way to reinforce the belief in the company’s vision. People need to be constantly reminded that their work contributes to the company achieving its strategic vision.

This might same like stuff from the first lecture of Obvious 101 but when you’re in the middle of a startup and you have 50 things to do every day and more coming in every day you often forget to take a step back and really think about what you’ve accomplished. Additionally, the type of people that startups often attract are so focused on their work and just doing a great job that they don’t realize the importance of what they’ve just accomplished. At Apture we bought Champagne for celebrating our “official launch” (the one with lots of press) in June 2008 and it’s still sitting in the office unopened because we spent that entire day fixing bugs and revving the product and the same happened with every other release we do.

Dan is exactly right in pointing out how important rallying around a success is for your team spirit (and your own) and taking the time to celebrate is (almost) as important as releasing awesome products that people love. Oh, and Dan thanks for taking us all out to lunch this week, I think we came up with some great ideas!

Are the Poor Underestimating Returns to Education?

I just found this interesting tidbit from a paper I was reading last night that shows how teenagers in developing countries literally tend to underestimate the returns to education. Researchers asked students about how much more educated people earn compared to uneducated ones and found that they substantially underestimated the amount. More importantly, informing them about the true difference increased their likelihood of staying in school:

Jensen recently carried out a randomized experiment in which he gave secondary school students in the Dominican Republic information about how much more money an educated person makes compared to someone who did not get an education. He found that teenagers substantially underestimate the returns to education, and that providing them with this infor mation had a substantial effect on the children’s likelihood to stay in school. In the treatment group, children were 5 percentage points (an increase of 10% since only 50% return) more likely to come back to school the year after the intervention.

Before you think that this is somehow limited to the Dominican Republic a similar result was found in Madagascar where parents were more likely to keep their children in school upon being given similar information:

These results are confirmed by recent work from Nguyen, who provided parents in Madagascar information about returns from primary and secondary education. There, too, many parents underestimated the returns from education, and when they were informed about the measured returns reacted by making sure that their children went to school more regularly. At the end of the year their grades were also better.

This is one powerful illustration of how people often lack critical information that can improve their future choices. It is also a good indicator that giving people more and more choices without the necessary mechanisms for choosing between them will not necessarily produce the expected return.