Tangential Tuesday #41

Specialists v Generalists, Platforms v Aggregators, Online dating, How to train for knowledge work...

“Every living thing must grow. It can’t stand still. It must grow or perish”

What I love about this newsletter is that it forces me to publish every week. No matter what. It also forces me to reflect on the past week. If I’m not growing it’s painfully obvious.

Here’s to a week of growth ahead. Let’s get into the newsletter.


👫 When a Dating Dare Leads to Months of Soul Searching

“At 2 a.m., two blocks from Chinatown, Sarah ended our first date by telling me that my race might be an issue.”

This is a beautiful, heartfelt piece.

She gave a halfhearted laugh. “I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t like Asian things. I love all Asian food, even stinky tofu. It’s just that I’ve never really been attracted to Asian men. I think it’s because there weren’t a lot of Asians in my small Texas town. All the Asian men I knew were either my friends’ dads or like nerdy brothers to me.”

Favorite thing I read this week. It even has a happy ending :)

Read the article here.


This chart is wild. It’s been shocking how ubiquitous dating apps have become since moving to SF. I wouldn’t be surprised if percentage of couples meeting online is >50% here.

One thing I think about a lot is whether dating apps are good for society. Dating and relationships are complicated. There are likely 2nd order / long tail effects of dating apps that we have yet to see or fully observe.

Do dating apps make us more risk averse? Do they make us worse at talking to strangers? What impact do they have on the divorce rate? What about our happiness?

I don’t have any answers. I suspect there are at least a few very large negatives that we will run into by fundamentally changing the way that humans find mating partners.

But I also know that whether we like it or not - dating apps are fully happening. They are unstoppable. And I think that’s almost certainly because they are doing more good than bad.


📕 The Best Books By Age (From 1-100)

This is a neat idea. Especially because so much of what makes a good book is timing. A great book at the wrong time might just not resonate or be interesting.

Ironically, I recently started reading Atlas Shrugged (before reading this list) which is recommended for age 24. Looks like I’m about a month early.

I’ve read a decent number of other books on the list and they are all excellent.

Read the article here.


🧠 The career arc of specialists and generalists

I really like the framework of the martini glass:

At least at some point in your career, it seems really important to go deep in a relatively narrow skill or combination of skills.

This is the easiest way to clearly differentiate your and build your “career moat”.

Although this is a great framework to structure your career growth - it skips over the hard part. How do you know when you’re ready to transition between phases? How to you avoid staying general too long, or going specialist too early?

These ideas are top of mind for me right now as I think about transitioning into a iOS/Android engineering role at Thumbtack. If you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them!


🏀 Learn like an Athlete

Brilliant post by David Perell. Posts like this make me realize how early we still are. Knowledge work is still in its infancy.

Athletes train. Musicians train. Performers train. But knowledge workers don’t.

Knowledge workers should train like LeBron, and implement strict “learning plans.” To be sure, intellectual life is different from basketball. Success is harder to measure and the metrics for improvement aren’t quite as clear. Even then, there’s a lot to learn from the way top athletes train. They are clear in their objectives and deliberate in their pursuit of improvement.

Knowledge workers should imitate them.

Tyler Cowen posted a follow up covering How I Practice at what I do.

I appreciate how he also covers what he does not do.

My current list looks like:

  1. Meditate for at least 5 minutes every day.

  2. Read every day.

  3. Writing this newsletter

  4. Don’t bring my phone to work ~3 / 5 days per week

  5. Sleep + Exercise

I am far from perfect at all of these things. And there is likely so much more that I could be doing!

One of the most interesting parts of knowledge work is figuring out how to leverage technology to help us do our jobs better, and offload some of our knowledge to these tools. Building a 2nd Brain is probably the most interesting approach I’ve seen thus far.


🛍️ Shopify and the Power of Platforms

Amazon is where brands go to die. Shopify is where brands go to start building their brand.

At first glance, Shopify isn’t an Amazon competitor at all: after all, there is nothing to buy on Shopify.com. And yet, there were 218 million people that bought products from Shopify without even knowing the company existed.

The difference is that Shopify is a platform: instead of interfacing with customers directly, 820,000 3rd-party merchants sit on top of Shopify and are responsible for acquiring all of those customers on their own.

Ben Thompson articulates the differences between a platform and an aggregator better than anyone else I’ve read.

Although a lot of successful tech businesses thus far have been aggregators rather than platforms, I’m increasingly bullish on the power of platforms.

Platforms enable individuals to build their own differentiated business. Aggregators commoditize supply (at least to some degree) which leads to a race to a bottom.

But because many times you don’t even know you are using a platform it can be difficult to capture the value you create.

In the context of Thumbtack, I find the platform v aggregator debate even more interesting. In the case of Thumbtack, many service providers are differentiated. Your wedding photographer or home contractor is absolutely not a commodity in the same way that your Uber driver is.

I can’t help but wonder if a more platform approach that enables small businesses to build their business on their own would actually be a better approach.

Building out good scheduling tools, ways for customers to review, and offering SEO services for the websites of some of these pros would be incredibly valuable and empowering.

If you know anyone that’s building something like this I would love to hear about it.


More to Check Out

“10x engineers”: Stereotypes and research

Friendships Run Along Subway Lines

Wage Stagnation: Much More Than You Wanted To Know

Personal

- Started reading Atlas Shrugged. This book is a classic and so controversial that I felt like I couldn’t not read it. I’ve been surprised by how approachable it is. It’s even a bit funny at times. Would I recommend it? You’ll have to wait and see. Who is John Galt ..?

- I watched Higher, a snowboarding movie ft Jeremy Jones. A funny aside is that Jeremy Jones summited (and shredded) Mt. Shasta just a few days before we were up there. The movie is great - especially if you’re already dreaming about the coming winter like me. It’s much more about the adventure than the actual snowboarding. Ironically the climax of the movie is when Jeremy finally summits a ridiculous 65 degree face in the Himalayas only to discover that the snow is absolutely terrible and it’s all he can do to get down.

- I will be back in New Hampshire for the 1st week in August! If you’re in the area I would love to see you 😊.


Thanks for reading. See you next week (#42 !!)

- Taylor