Hugh McGuire

publishing, technology, media, philosophy, a bit of politics.

Done is the Engine of More

The Cult of Done Manifesto

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.

[more…]

The Jackson Hole Consensus: Central Bankers & Assets

In my post about the the stock market bubble(s) of the past 15 years, I asked what kind of policy shift happened in the 1990s to allow such a significant change in stock asset valuation. The answer comes from Niall Ferguson, in this fabulous (and scary) interview in the Globe:

“Monetary policy evolved in a peculiar way in the 1990s towards de facto or de jure targeting of inflation, an increasingly narrow concept of inflation – core CPI. I thought it was a mistake at the time because it seemed to me crazy to ignore asset prices. Why differentiate? What’s the difference between pricing a loaf and pricing a house? Why do we care about one and not the other? In fact, we should probably care more about the price of a house than the price of a loaf, certainly in developed societies. I think there was a flaw in the theory there, that essentially you could call the Jackson Hole consensus. When the central bankers got together at Jackson Hole, the view that emerged from the debate in the late 90s was, we shouldn’t really pay attention to asset prices in the setting of monetary policy.” [more…]

Newspapers: It’s Not Me, It’s You (Maybe)

With all the talk of newspapers shutting down, I wonder if we might flip the traditional interpretation:

Maybe the problem is not so much online news sources killing off business for print newspapers; maybe the problem is the continued existence of print newspapers is stifling innovation in the online news space.

Since so much (local) advertising dollars are still going (being wasted?) on dying print news outlets, there isn’t enough left over to properly fund a leaner, profitable online alternative.

If print newspapers are gone, then local advertisers are going to start wondering how to get people to come to their stores; radio/TV, OK, but if the eyeballs are online, and there are no more papers distracting the advertisers, then …well there is an untapped market there for the online news sites to figure out. And since online can do a better job (in theory) of matching ads/marketing to reader preference, thru cookies, browsing habits, tracking sales (Facebook Beacon notwithstanding), then the death of the traditional news business might be exactly what it takes to kick the online news business, and online content, to real innovation, and real profitability.

Role Reversal

Check this little gem of a tectonic shift, found in Wired’s The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time (see page 3):

The Taiwanese firms, Shih argues, now have enormous clout in the PC industry. In the US, we regard branding and
marketing—convincing people what to buy—as core business functions. What Asustek proved is that the companies with real leverage are the ones that actually make desirable products. The Taiwanese laptop builders possess the atom-hacking smarts that once defined America but which have atrophied here along with our industrial base. As far as laptop manufacturing goes, Taiwan essentially now owns the market; the devices aren’t produced in significant volumes anywhere else.

If you had asked Taiwanese hardware CEOs a few years ago about their relationship with Dell, HP, and Apple, they’d have told you that the American companies did the branding and sales while outsourcing their design and production to Taiwan. Today the view from Asia is increasingly the reverse. “When I talk to them now,” Shih laughs, “they say, ‘We outsource our branding and sales to them.'” [more…]

Value, Bubbles, S&P

Wealth ought to come from the creation of value. That is, by designing and selling a better shovel, you make it easier for farmers to dig irrigation trenches which increases their yield. With your shovel, their output goes from 100 to 200 units a year, and so you, as shovel-maker get to benefit from a proportion of that 100 increase. It’s “worth” giving you a cut, since your shovel added the value to their output. That, more or less, is the basis of capitalism. As time goes by, technology and methods improve, adding value, meaning we get more widget output per unit of resource input, and wealth increases.

There’s another way to make wealth though, which is easier: by cutting costs, or essentially extracting value. Cutting staff, for instance. That means you spend less money per shovel, meaning profits increase, for a while anyway.

The third way to make wealth is to borrow lots of money. The problem is, eventually you have to pay it back.

Value creation should be a long-term and sustainable wealth-generation technique; value extraction is a short-term, unsustainable wealth-generation technique. Borrowing to make wealth is probably the worst way, since it creates bubbles that burst.

I’ve been thinking about value vs wealth in the context of the global economic meltdown. I don’t have any answers at all but I am struck by the shape of the stock market curves for the past 40 years. Below is the S&P 500, between 1970 and 2009, a good proxy for the value of the economy.

S&P 1970-2009

It looks to me like there was a historically stable amount of value creation, reflected in the indexes, that for some reason in 1993/94 started to go a bit nuts. Two things drive it, I believe: low interest rates, meaning cheap debt flooding the market with money – corporate, personal, housing, financial; and increased global trade, namely with China, which kept prices and inflation low.

But it looks to me, based on this graph, that the wealth of the past 10-15 years was illusory, and that in fact the markets have dropped back to where they “should” be.

Does anyone have a better analysis of what happened in 1993/1994 when the whole thing started to go a bit nutso, in historical terms? I have a pretty surface understanding of financial policies, but this graph looks pretty telling to me.

Blind Spot: Chapter One

Have I ever mentioned that I wrote a novel? I finished Blind Spot in 2005, sent it out, got a stack of rejections. It’s been sitting in various formats of a drawer for years now, and I figured it was time to release it into the wild.

The about goes something like this:

A novel about learning to drive, dying student drivers, terrorists, the CIA, an anarchist driving instructor, and one, or more, murders.

And here is the beginning of Chapter One:

He talked about the car crash all through the evening shift. Sylvain was shaken, true, but there was something reverential about his tone, as if he felt honoured to be the universe’s first chosen beholder of these deaths, and now that the two of us were alone, finishing the last of the kitchen clean-up, he grew more animated in his descriptions, more precise, more excited. His eyes sparkled as he spoke.

It was incredible, he said. Just incredible. The blood, the bone fragments. The damage done to a human body.

The sound of the crash had woken him at 7:12 a.m. that morning, and he had rushed out of his Villeray apartment, wearing only a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, despite the cool of the October morning. He expected survivors, he said, and took his cell phone with him, dialing 911 on the way down the stairs. The little red car had smashed head-on into a poorly-placed concrete divider, and as he rushed towards the steaming metal, Sylvain lost hope of finding anyone alive. The damage done to the automobile was frightening, and he braced himself for the carnage he would find inside.

“Have you ever seen a really bad car accident?” he asked me, suddenly. “I mean close up, I mean with the bodies, I mean before it gets cleaned up? Have you ever seen what actually happens to people?” He wasn’t interested in my answer to that question, and he pushed on with an uncomfortable mix of glee and horror, giving me more details I didn’t want to hear. The smashed windshield, jutting bits of metal, and descriptions of blood and bodies, the angle of one of the victim’s arms. “Pointing in all the wrong directions,” Sylvain said. “It was so weird.” He rested his chin on his mop, sombre and somehow pitying my lack of knowledge of the world. “You have no idea, Oscar,” he said, and the lights glinted off the shining tile of the floor, “how terrible it really is. How really terrible when you see it up close like that. These were people talking and breathing and all of a sudden they’re gone. I’m not religious,” he continued, cleaning again as he spoke, paying close attention to the floor, moving the mop in slow figure eights, the cleansing symbols of infinity, over and over in front of him. “But it’s scary seeing a body moments after the soul disappears. You have no idea.”

I did have an idea but instead of saying so, I just nodded. [more…]

It’s available in multiple formats:

I’ll be exploring more channels for getting it out there (Smashwords, Shortcovers, Podiobooks etc.) in the coming weeks.

And of course kind feedback is always appreciated.

Where Is the Reader?

My write-up of Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, over at the Book Oven Blog:

I’m back from TOC and still mulling over the problems, and maybe some solutions to problems in the publishing business. There are lots, but a fundamental problem seems to be that most publishing houses have never had much to do with their readers. Their clients, traditionally, have been book stores. And outsourcing relationships with the people who are your reason for existence is a bad idea.

If you look at the talk around the perilous state of the publishing business, and the challenges of ebooks and DRM and digital and the web, it ends up being this old sad story of: “How do we maintain our financial viability when fewer people are reading?” And not, “What do readers want and how can we best provide it?” [more…]

Media Hacks #2

Media HacksI should have posted this a while ago, but: Mitch Joel has convened a collection of talkers for a semi-regular (bi-weekly?) discussion about what’s on our media minds. The radio show (which you can listen to on your computer) is called Media Hacks, and said hacks include: C.C. Chapman, Chris Brogan, Chris Penn, Julien Smith, Mitch and me. Not all of the hacks will be there every episode, but some of us will be.

Episode 2 is about Wikipedia, Britannica, and Gaming. The audio is crackly, but the talkin is crackin’ good stuff.

LISTEN HERE: Media Hacks: Episode 2

Common Sense and Boring Canadian Banks

As a start-up, I’ve complained about how conservative the Canadian business culture is, especially banking and finance. But boring has it’s benefits, when things get shaky. From Newsweek:

In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s banking system the healthiest in the world. America’s ranked 40th, Britain’s 44th.

Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn’t grown in size; the others have all shrunk.

So what accounts for the genius of the Canadians? Common sense. Over the past 15 years, as the United States and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries, the Canadians refused to follow suit, seeing the old rules as useful shock absorbers. Canadian banks are typically leveraged at 18 to 1—compared with U.S. banks at 26 to 1 and European banks at a frightening 61 to 1. Partly this reflects Canada’s more risk-averse business culture, but it is also a product of old-fashioned rules on banking. [more…]

Given that we lost 129,000 jobs in January alone, I don’t think it’s fair to say our economy is thriving. But certainly our banking sector appears to be in decent shape.

Speaking of which: 60:1 leverage in European banks? God help us.

Canada’s Top 10 Digital Thinkers?

Who do you think are the top ten digital thinkers in Canada? The people who are writing, or doing, the most innovative digital stuff in the country? You can name as many or as few as you like.