Can misfits teach us a thing or two about innovation?

I just finished reading Alexa Clay & Kyra Maya Phillips tour de force, The Misfit Economy.

(Yes that’s an affiliate link. The first one I’ve ever posted on this blog. If you like the book, please 🙂 buy through my link. )
I have to admit I was surprised & delighted by the book.

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Alexa & Kyra offer us a tantalizing question. Could it be that we could learn a lot from oddball innovators at the edge of the economy? When I say edge, I really mean it. She interviews Sam Hostetler who is building a business around milking camels, and then there’s Abdi Hasan a pirate from Galkayo northern Somalia. Yeah really! Or what about the German copycats Wimdu who built a complete replica of Airbnb by reverse engineering it.

1. Hack the cold call

Take the example of Lance Weiler. Early on the industry was very against digital. They didn’t see it as really making films.

“Part of [Lance] Weiler’s success was due to his ability to work the system. He wrote letters to major production companies telling them he wanted to make the first digital motion picture. After he didn’t hear back, he took a page from the con man’s handbook and wrote the same letters but intentionally misaddressed them so they were sent to the wrong companies. Sony for example would get a letter intended for Barco.”

He was later able to bring digital projection to Cannes & Sundance!

“For Weiler his big epiphany was when he realized he could be creative across all of it [the business]. Not just in the art product, but in financing, distribution, and business aspects of artistic production.”

Related: The art of resistence or when you have to be the bad guy

2. Copy the product

The german brothers Oliver, Marc & Alexander Samwer make a superb example of how copying can bring building prowess to compete against innovators that were first to market.

“in 1998 Marc Samwer had an instinct that eBay would thrive in the German market… his brothers agreed… they contacted eBay via email numerous times, recommending that the company replicate it’s platformin Germany. Claiming that eBay failed to respond, the brother’s started their own German-language auction site, Alando, which was then purchased by eBay for 38 million euros (over $50 million) only 100 days after it’s debut. Had the Samwers not copied, eBay might have remained complacent, not realizing its potential within the german market.”

Although not mentioned in the book, Inditex the wildly successful firm behind fashion brand Zara did much the same thing to the fashion industry. By mastering the supply chain, they enabled their company to take designs from the runway & replicate them, turning designs into real clothing in stores, in just two weeks! And indeed they really do replicate, borrow & straight copy those designs from what they see at fashion week. Sad & brilliant at the same time.

Related: When you have to take the fall

3. Don’t forget to hustle


“In the lexicon of the Misfit Economy, we define “hustle” as making something out of nothing. To move fast, to trade one thing for another, and to proactively create your own opportunities rather than waiting for opportunity to come your way. To hustle means getting your hands dirty, being lean and facile, working hard, being resourceful and resilient, and showing or having gumption, chutzpah, or mojo.”

And after all, isn’t that everything the startup industry aspires to? Agile teams? Growth hackers? Scrappy startups & innovation?

Related: When clients don’t pay

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Can a growth mindset help you recover from setbacks?

I just finished reading Carol Dweck’s tour de force, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

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In a word, her book is mind blowing. How can a little thing like mindset make a difference? Can changes in thinking & attitude really have a profound impact on success?

I think it most definitely can. Here’s my story & more excerpts from the book.

1. My own story with the growth mindset

If your memory stretches back to 2008, you will like recall when the market took a dive. Everybody was nervous about default. Big banks were failing. The hiring climate became like a nuclear winter. For a good six to twelve months, things were frozen.

As an independent consultant, that felt like a real shock. Where once there were a lot of firms hiring me on projects, suddenly everything was quiet.

At first I thought of different options. I could weather the storm from many months, but then what? I decided I was commited to consulting, and didn’t want to take a fulltime role. So what did I do next?

Well I picked up a copy of Alan Weiss’ guide, Million Dollar Consulting. I read it cover to cover in a day, then I took a look at the business.

When the market is climbing, and demand is surging, I experimented with increasing rates. Sometimes they were too high, but often I would read the demand right, and turn a bigger fee. Now it was the reverse. Time to swallow your pride & drop those rates! And so I did. This helped close more deals.

From there I just dig in my heels. I worked my network as best I could. Having worked at hundreds of startups, I’ve met hundreds more colleagues over the years. I started reconnecting with them in emails, at meetups, and over a beer or coffee. I took more calls with recruiters to feel out the market, and keep my ear to the ground.

All of this paid off. Within a year I was rolling again, when for many the market still seemed frigid. A learning experience indeed, about business, but also about the growth mindset. It works!

Related: Why does Reddit CTO Martin Weiner advocate boring tech?

Jack Welsh, Michael Jordan & Setya Nadella vs Lee Iococca & John McEnroe

Dweck overs numerous examples of great personalities, who exhibited different mindsets.

For example take a look at a quote from Jack Welsh. He approached things with a growth mindset. Failures are only an opportunity to learn, not a description of your character…

“He [Welsh] learned to select people: for their mindset not their pedigrees. Originally, academic pedigrees impressed him. He hired engineers from MIT, Princeton, and Caltech. But after a while, he realized that wasn’t what counted. ‘Eventually I learned that I was really looking for people who were filled with passion and a desire to get things done. A resume didn’t tell me much about that inner hunger.'”

Or Michael Jordan. You think he never failed until you look at his own words. We forget how much practice day in and day out, it took to create his mastery.

“Michael Jordan embraced his failures. In fact in one of his favorite ads for Nike, he says ‘I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty six time I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot, and missed.’ You can be sure that each time, he went back and practiced the shot a hundred times”.

Lately I’ve been seeing Carol Dweck everywhere. Take a recent Bloomberg Businessweek interview where Satya Nadella credit’s Dweck’s ideas for the culture he’s created at Microsoft.


Culture is something that needs to adapt and change, and you’ve got to be able to have a learning culture. The intuition I got was from observing what happens in schools. I read a book called Mindset. In there there’s this very simple concept that Carol Dweck talks about, which is if you take two people, one of them is a learn-it-all and the other one is a know-it-all, the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all in the long run, even if they start with less innate capability.

On the flip side, here are two examples where the fixed mindset takes hold. In Lee Iococca’s case, it drove him to harm others, and the company he was charged with driving…

“He [Iococca] also looked to history, to how he would be judge and remembered. But he did not address this concern by building the company. Quite the contrary. According to one of his biographers, he worried that his underlings might get credit for successful new designs so he balked at approving them. He worried as Chrysler faltered, that his underlings might be seen as the new saviors, so he tried to get rid of them. He worried that he could be written out of Chrysler history, so he desperately hung on as CEO long after he had lost his effectiveness.”

And another example of John McEnroe. A loss for him wasn’t a chance to learn something. He believed he had innate talent. He was special. So for this fixed mindset, a loss damages his character, and makes him feel humiliated.


“Here’s how failure motivated him. In 1979, he played mixed doubles at Wimbledon. He didn’t play mixed doubles again for twenty years. Why? He and his partner lost in three straight sets. Plus, McEnroe lost his serve twice, while no one else lost theirs even once. ‘That was the ultimate embarrassment, I said. That’s it. I’m never playing again. I can’t handle this.'”

Related: How I use terraform & composer to automate wordpress on AWS

Learning the growth mindset

Carol’s book provides example after example of the mindsets in action, in real people. Her chapters cover sports, business, and even love & relationships. Towards the final section of the book she talks about how to learn the growth mindset.

Catch yourself and your negative self-talk. Turn things towards a learning opportunity. Don’t allow failures to define you or your character. Always be growing!

Here’s a great page, summarizing the mindsets & how to get there!

Related: 30 questions to ask a serverless fanboy

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READ: Lanier’s Dawn of the New Everything

Jaron Lanier was the founder of VPL in the 90’s, a pioneering company around virtual reality.

I stumbled onto a recent Interview with Lanier about his new book.

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Lanier is a creative thinker, one who has grappled with ideas like Ray Kurzweil’s singularity. He has even provided a counterpoint against cybernetic totalism.

His original perspectives come at the same time he sits within the circles of esteemed computer science researchers, providing a rare critical perspective from within the adademia.

1. Playing virtual instruments

Lanier wasn’t just a pioneer around virtual reality, but was also a musician. In the 80’s & 90’s he built & even *played* virtual instruments in VR, on stage.

I managed to catch one of these shows in the late 90’s at Knitting Factory back when it was at 66 Leonard street & Tribeca was still a rough area.

Related: Why does Reddit CTO Martin Weiner advocate boring tech?

2. A VR sport for the Olympics

Apparently the Olympics Committee commissioned him to build a sport in VR. Complete with simulated antigravity, and some other neat features.

Related: How I use terraform & composer to automate wordpress on AWS

3. An antidote to hysteria & pessimism

With all the hype & hysteria around fake news & backlash against the Facebooks & Googles of the world it’s easy to feel like maybe social media is tearing apart society.

With that I would heartily recommend Lanier’s new book, as an antidote to all of that. His writing is & ideas have always been well ahead of their time, and I expect this to be no exception.

I’ll followup with a review in the coming months.

Related: 30 questions to ask a serverless fanboy

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Key lessons from the Devops Handbook

I picked up a copy of the DevOps Handbook.

This is not a book about how to setup Amazon servers, how to use git, codePipeline or Jenkins. It’s not about Chef or Ansible or other tools.

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This is a book about processes & people. It’s about how & why automation & world-class infrastructure will make your business more agile, raise quality & increase productivity.

1. Infrastructure in version control

With technologies like Terraform and CloudFormation, the entire state of your infrastructure can be captured. That means you can manage it just like any other code.

Also: Myth of five nines – Why high availability is overrated

2. Pushbutton builds

You’ve heard it before. Automate your builds. That means putting everything in version control, from environment building scripts, to configs, artifacts & reference data. Once you can do that, you’re on your way to automating production deploys completely.

Related: 5 ways to move data to amazon redshift

3. Devs & Ops comingled

In the devops world, devs should learn about operations, infrastructure, performance & more. What’s more operations teams should work closely with devs.

Read: Why were dev & ops siloed job roles?

4. Servers as cattle not pets

In the old days, we logged into servers & provided personal care & feeding. We treated them like pets.

In the new world of devops, we should treat servers like cattle. When it begins to fail, take it out back and shoot it. (tbh i don’t love the analogy, but it carries some meaning…)

Also: Are SQL databases dead?

5. Open to learnings & failures

Organizations that are open to failures, without playing the blame game, learn quicker & recover from problems faster.

Also: Is Amazon too big to fail?

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5 Things Frans Johansson says about innovation

medici affect johansson

You may not have heard of Medici before, but you’ve probably heard of the renaissance. The medici family hosted the round tables, the meetups, the social gatherings & mixers. They brought diverse artisans engineers & thinkers together, and the world hasn’t been the same since!

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In the Medici Effect, Frans dissects what this famous family did. His case studies include the likes of Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Orit Gadiesh, Marcus Samuelsson, George Soros & our own favorite Linus Torvalds,

What he discovered really surprised me.

1. Swim at the intersection

Hanging out with folks in your field is great. Whether you’re a physician, financial analyst, Ruby programmer, or artist. But it won’t expose us to enough new ideas. To get that, you need to hang out with those in other disciplines. Learn a language, take dance classes, try your hand at a new sport, or attend meetups of wedding planners or DJs. Whatever it takes to get out of your comfort zone is what will put you at the intersection.

Also: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

2. You need quantity to get quality

This was a very surprising finding of their research. One might think that greats like Albert Einstein were geniuses from the start. But it turns out one consistent factor between all these folks is the quantity of their attempts. They came up with many many ideas, and chased as many as they could. Of course they are only remembered for their successes, but this hides the underlying mathematics. It’s a numbers game in almost all of these cases.

Read: Are SQL Databases Dead?

3. Peel all the potatoes and cook them together

Peel one potato and cook it. Then peel another and cook it. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for efficiently preparing dinner does it? Turns out it’s also not great for innovating. Peel & prepare many ideas at once, and try to execute them in parallel if you can. That’s what these greats have done.

Related: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

4. Be ok with more failures

This is a tricky one. But Johansson puts in perspective with this key quote:

”Inaction is far worse than failure.”

Viewed that way, our caution about diving into a new idea seems more limiting. True it costs money, time & resources to pursue new ideas, ventures & startups. So be sure to reserve resources. That’s right spend that money & time carefully lest you run out before hitting on the big one.

He also says to be suspicious of low failure rates. In yourself or those you’re evaluating. This probably indicates you’re not risking enough, or trying new things constantly.

Read this: Why Oracle Won’t Kill MySQL

5. break out of your network

Your network is powerful to pursue your career, or following existing well traveled paths. But they can be an obstacle when forging new paths, which is what innovation is all about.

So break away from your networks. One way you can do this is by building a new one. But be sure to surround yourself with diverse cultures, upbringing, backgrounds & expertise.

Also: RDS or MySQL 10 Use Cases

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Lulzsec, Anonymous and the sorry state of internet security

zalgo text

If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you might not have heard of Anonymous, the headline grabbing hacker group that’s famous for attacking citibank, ebay, Sony, the FBI, CIA and the websites of various world governments.

Parmy Olson takes us on a ride, through tales that are riveting, and quite a bit scary for what they reveal about today’s internet, and the false sense of security we all have.

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Kids these days!

By now you’ve probably heard their names T-flow, Topiary, Sabu, & Kayla. And then there was AVunit, pwnsauce, Sup_g, and Havij. Cool characters, sitting at keyboards all over the world hatching menacing attacks, and seeming more organized than they actually were…

Topiary jumped into the role as spokesman for the group. Listening to this live hack only seems amusing in retrospect, now that the group has been brought down…

Read: Why devops talent is in short supply

For all the subcultures you’ve never heard of…

Today’s internet is rife with fascinating subcultures, many I’d never heard of. Parmy’s book on Anonymous takes us to the door of all these places, and gives us a candid peak at what goes on there. Kids these days are up to no good!

The bizarro Encyclopedia Dramatica is a wikipedia of weirdness. And then there’s Googledorks, a hackers delight of exploits (ways to break into systems online), and hacks.

And let’s not forget 4Chan the online community and forum that hatched Anonymous.

You thought Ascii Art was cool, but have you heard of zalgo text? That’s the text garbling software that created this posts image.

If you’re looking to dig a little deeper, browse over to know your meme, a sort of urban dictionary for internet subcultures.

Don’t forget the 47 rules of the internet. I’m still looking for rules two through thirty three. Does this have something to do with this 33?

Read: How to evaluate an independent consultant expert

With only a very thin blanket to secure us…

If you’re not already a touch paranoid with the risks of online banking, social networks and identity theft you will be after reading this tale.

Anonymous troublemakers were able to send SWAT teams to unsuspecting people’s homes, crowd source personal information, social engineer their way to facts about someone and then dox them publishing all that personal information online.

On the more technical side, many sites are vulnerable to SQL Injection a rather technical sounding method to trick websites into dumping the contents of their databases back to a hacker. There’s even an automated tool called sqlmap to help you with the dirty work.

And then there are the very illegal denial of service attack tools like the ominous sounding low orbit ion cannon. Please don’t try this at home!

Definitely the worst of all offenders are the botnets, swarms of infected computers that can be controlled from a central location, to wreak havoc on users and internet firms alike. Thanks Bill!

As a parting word, take a quick look at this instructional video on using backtrack5, a hacking & security testing tool…

Also: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

The older roots of hacking circa 80’s and 90’s

I remember back in the 80’s when War Games came out. It was a scary premise. With the cold war between the US and the former Soviet Union in full bloom, it felt very real.

The 90’s brought Clifford Stoll hunting a hacker through his computer systems in The Cuckoo’s Egg.

And then along comes Kevin Mitnick, turning his finger up at US agents, and wreaking his own havoc in his wake.

The anonymous story turns more political when they meet the likes of Julian Assange, but even that isn’t new. Remember the Pentagon Papers?

What’s really knew is how the internet has grown, but how computers have not gotten more secure through that period. It has all grown more brittle, with many websites, and personal computers steered by unsuspecting users.

Read: Why high availability is so very hard to deliver

Surprisingly soft landing

One thing that really surprised me in this tale, was the sentences many Anons received. The way the headlines read, this was real all-out warfare on governments and corporations a like. But reading the judgements, it appears judges had a different perspective.

Although there were certainly compromises of personal information, the group really wasn’t responsible for a huge amount of theft & fraud. Sure they took down some websites, but whom does that really harm. It makes great headlines, but the bigger systems behind the scenes are actually more secure than that.

”IRC is just the crap out of everyone’s minds…” – Topiary on words thought-typed in IRC chats

After flipping through to the end, it seems we’ve taken a ride through the internet underground, but not through the criminal underworld. That is out there surely, but it’s not run by this scattered team of recluse misfits.

Related: Why Airbnb didn’t have to fail

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Lessons from Locksmiths and the 99%

Just finished reading Dan Ariely’s new book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. What a great title for a book on cheating & lying.

Dishonesty is pretty easy to understand, isn’t it? We know when someone is being honest or not, and we ourselves are of course never dishonest? Or so we think.

Well your preexisting ideas about honesty are about to be turned upside down.
Ariely has an amazing storytelling ability that will leaving you scratching your head and saying – I hadn’t thought of that.

Conventional economics theory has it that people will be dishonest when there is low risk and it serves their economic interest. But it’s actually much much more complex.

He tells one story of how a cab driver lies about the fare in favor of himself, while at other times in favor of the passenger! Or for example the story of how soda & some cash are left in an office refrigerator. The sodas disappear, but the money remains.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion is that of law firms & billable hours. There is of course the question of what counts as a billable hour, and where the rounding happens. But what’s more accountability can and does become a measure of how much work gets done. So those who round down because they are more honest, may be perceived to be doing the least amount of work! Conflicts of interest indeed.

[quote]Sometimes conflicts of interest cloud our judgement and steer our thinking. In professions where we make recommendations and then also provide service based on those recommendations those may be difficult to eliminate. Consumers or businesses should make every effort to find service providers with the least conflicts.[/quote]

We’re a service provider ourselves. Wondering how we work? Take a peek at our Anatomy of a Performance Review to get insight.

Interestingly, based on the soda story among others, it turns out people are less likely to be dishonest when cash is involved. So he wonders, as we become more of a cashless society, it may be that our moral compass slips? Still hot on the heels of our housing financial crisis it does make one wonder.

Perhaps my favorite anecdote was one where told the story of locking himself out of his apartment. After very quickly picking the lock he was surprised. The locksmith explained that doors are very easy to pick and open for a professional. You wouldn’t need locks for the 1% of people who are honest. Nor would you need them for the 1% of people who are thieves, they can pick your lock easily. Locks are for the 98% of people who are mostly honest, but might be tempted to be dishonest if the conditions are right. What he was also saying was that 99% of people are not completely perfectly honest.

Great read and excellent food for thought.

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Opportunity a day – career risk at bay

Free Agent. Stress Test. Avoid Sameness

As the globalization juggernaut rolls on, it continues to create more Detroits. Skills and perspectives quickly become obsolete.

What to do in the face of such change?

[quote]Small fires prevent the big burn[/quote]

So there’s your quick answer. Get the book if you want more!

Some related material: why is it so hard to find a mysql dba?.
Consulting 101 Guide – Finding Business :: Completing Engagements :: Growing business

Your Mentors

On this tour, a free agent needs mentors. Hoffman & Casnocha provide you with plenty from stories & lessons from some of the startup industry’s finest. Jack Dorsey, Mark Andreesen, Cheryl Sandberg, Rick Warren, Paul Graham, Jeff Bezos, Joi Ito and a few of their own running Paypal & Linkedin.

What you’ll love

Each chapter closes with concrete actionable advice. The authors carefully craft marching orders for you in the next day, next week and next month. Go ahead, give them a try.

[quote]Safe is the new risky – Phil Simon[/quote]

An executive summary of Startup of You

1. develop your strengths
– what do you find easy that others find difficult?
– diversify asset mix aka learn new skills

2. plan to be nimble
– pivot as you learn more
– always prepare a lifeboat contingency plan

3. work & develop your network
– hangout with those already on the road
– domain experts, people who know you & smart people

4. hustle for breakout opportunities

5. Embrace baby steps of risk
– bounds of unemployment – shocks that motivate
– adjust your strategy & pivot if need be

What’s next?

Had a taste and want more? If you’re a MySQL DBA we wrote an interview guide. Also check out our Oracle dba interview questions.

Want more? Check out our best of content compilation.

[quote]Only the paranoid survive. – Andy Grove[/quote]

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Pro Blogging with the Pros

I picked up a copy of the Problogger book and flipped to the Blog Promotion chapter.  In it they recommended – Create compilation pages.

I tried it

I crafted a new post, selected some of my blogs most popular material, organized it with nice punchy one line summaries, and after about 20 minutes posted it.  Hey what the heck, I’ll give it a try.

It Worked!

  • interlink within your posts – this is huge!
  • highlight related posts
  • quote important points as excerpts
  • ask questions and invite comments

There are other great chapters on Social Media to get your posts going viral, and of course the ever important monetization topic is covered nicely.

Go pickup a copy of this book.  It’s worth much more than the cover price for sure!