The Adjacency Fallacy

by Venkat on October 8, 2014

Lately, I’ve been having quite a few conversations with people who are trying to reinvent themselves for the new economy. The most common pattern is MBA-types trying to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurial types. The second most common pattern is mid-career types who would normally be moving into either middle management roles trying to reinvent themselves as online lifestyle business types.

It took me a few data points to spot the pattern, but I eventually realized that most people navigating such moves don’t get stuck trying to acquire new, relevant skills. That is actually not quite as hard to do as people think. In many cases, you barely need any skills retraining at all. Often you need no new skills at all. You might even be able to drop some skills and get by with a subset of the skills you had to use before.

The sticking point tends to be something I call the adjacency fallacy: the idea that the roles that suit your personality and soft-skill strengths are likely to be socially adjacent to the one you are leaving behind. “Nearby” roles in some sense.  What sense precisely, we’ll get to.

Adjacency thinking works poorly even if you stick to the old economy. Over the years, we’ve seen the metaphor get increasingly complicated: from the “career ladder” to “lateral moves” to Sheryl Sandberg’s  notion of a “career jungle gym.” The last is a concept so byzantine, merely thinking of it exhausts me to the point of wanting to take a nap.

But adjacency thinking does not work at all if you’re navigating a path from old economy to new economy.

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The Political Hangover of Prohibition

by Editor on September 30, 2014

This is a guest post by Craig Roche, a data scientist and artisanal landlord.

Whiskey is very easy to make.  Farmers used to make it at home using their crops, and Henry Ford designed the Model T to run on home-distilled ethanol.  George Washington distilled 55,000 bottles/year when he retired from being President. Even the mutineers from the Bounty set up a still on Pitcairn Island, and proceeded to get rip-roaringly drunk for weeks at a time. Whiskey is also very cheap to produce;  a bushel of corn ($5 or so), plus 60 cents worth of natural gas can produce 11 liters of automobile-grade ethanol, which, when suitably diluted and aged for drinking purposes, can fill 35 bottles.  Whiskey for human consumption requires higher-quality inputs, more energy for multiple distillations, and additional handling, but even so, decent hooch can be produced for less than $2/bottle. In the 1830s, the equivalent of a bottle of whiskey went for about $5, and Americans responded by guzzling roughly one each week per capita; as young children generally abstained, actual drinkers drank substantially more, all of which was tax-free.

If we assume that the desire to drink, especially among the poor, is an important motivation in peoples’ lives, you would expect alcohol markets to shed light on political conditions across states.

Jack Daniels is the world’s most popular brand of whiskey, and is widely distributed in every state in the US in a standard 750ml container; it is produced fairly close to the mean center of US population, so it should therefore work as a good lens on alcohol politics. Left to a free market, one would reasonably expect that the cost of a retailed bottle would vary with transportation costs, and somewhat with labor rates, or alternatively, that lower-income consumers would spend about the same fraction of their income on Jack Daniels across the USA, or in other words, that the working time per bottle would be constant.

To test this, I researched the cost of a standard bottle of Jack Daniels in each of the states at a high-volume liquor store in the largest city in each state, and compared it to the average wage at the 25th percentile:

laborCost

Figure 1: Labor Cost of Jack Daniels (Image source: Craig Roche)

The results were not what I expected. It turns out that the constant-working-time-per-bottle hypothesis is not even close.

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The Rhythms of Information: Flow-Pacing and Spacetime

by Ryan Tanaka 09.24.2014

Ryan Tanaka is a musician, writer, programmer and product manager living in the Los Angeles area. For every article that he writes, Ryan also improvises a live musical piece as means of organizing his ideas. (Below, or here.) “Flow Pacing” is a phrase used in chemical, sewage, and water facilities in order to describe the […]

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We Have Them Surrounded in Their Tanks

by Jordan Peacock 09.17.2014

Jordan is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf on Google+ and hewhocutsdown.net. “We have them surrounded in their tanks.” So spoke Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, the infamous Iraqi Information Minister in the first days of the American invasion. His missives should be an inspiration to public relations personnel everywhere; he was unshakably on-message even as the […]

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Geopolitics for Individuals

by Kartik Agaram 09.09.2014

Kartik is a 2014 blogging resident visiting us from his home turf at akkartik.name. I recently spent a month playing a board game called Diplomacy, and it turned out to be a surprisingly mind-broadening experience. Pretending to be the German Empire before the First World War, exchanging missives all day with the other “great powers” […]

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How to Fall Off the Wagon

by Venkat 09.03.2014

Self-help ideas generally belong to one of three schools of thought, whether the originators realize it or not: values-first, goals-first or process-first. Norman Vincent Peale (Power of Positive Thinking, 1952), Wayne W. Dyer (Erroneous Zones, 1976) and David Allen (GTD, 2002) are the authors of the pioneering mainstream classics of each sub-genre. Those dates are significant: the schools […]

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The Creation and Destruction of Habits

by Venkat 08.26.2014

Just for fun, I decided to try and weave a tweetstorm-style chain of thoughts through a chunk of my writing over the last few years. As you might expect, it isn’t exactly short, but at 42 tweet-sized chunks, it’s a decent feat of compression. I’ll spare my twitter followers the actual storm though. 1/ There are […]

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The Veil of Scale

by Venkat 08.20.2014

There’s an old Soviet-era joke about communist notions of sharing. Two party workers, let’s call them Boris and Ivan, are chatting: Boris: If you had two houses, would you give one to your comrade? Ivan: Of course! Boris: If you had two cars, would you give one to your comrade? Ivan: Without a doubt! Boris: […]

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The Economics of Pricelessness

by Venkat 08.12.2014

The digital economy has taught us a lot about one extreme of pricing: zero. The price-point of zero is a place where weird things happen. We now know what it is to have our attention productized in three-way attention markets. We understand what it means to  devalue to a zero price, things which required nonzero effort to […]

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Seoul Station

by Venkat 08.06.2014

More fiction. Because I can. And because it’s August and all of you are probably off vacationing anyway. If you think it’s unsettling to suddenly find yourself in a strange place, with no idea how you got there, try doing it with no idea where you came from. With no sense of there having even […]

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