3Q 2021 Quarterly Review

Greenwashing Laundry Detergent, Avoid Boring People, Desert Solitaire, Insight Follows Action

Hi 👋 - Just like that, another quarter is in the books. Below are a few favorite reads and listens from the third quarter. Thanks for reading! 


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Podcast: Laundry Done Right, Malcolm Gladwell (Revisionist History)

There’s no shortage of bullshit in the world. There’s also no shortage of marketing. The two intersect in Malcolm Gladwell’s examination of green laundry detergent. Seventy percent of the energy used doing laundry comes from heating water. Switching from hot water to cold water slashes energy consumption by ninety percent. If you’re concerned about your carbon footprint, the best thing you can do, laundry-wise, is setting your washing machine to cold. However, green laundry detergent marketing ignores this. That’s because cleaning effectively with cold water is a challenging chemical engineering problem (Procter & Gamble has over 200 engineers working on this problem). Instead, the marketing pitch is about simplicity: plant-based ingredients; being eco-friendly, earth safe, and people safe; formulated with only earth-derived ingredients. The only thing missing is locally-grown organic kale. This is all marketing bullshit. What really matters is water temperature and enzymes, polymers, and surfactants. 

Cold water washing is the holy grail of the laundry business. Washing your clothes in cold water means colors don’t run, your clothes last longer, you save a lot of money, and you shrink your carbon footprint massively. But it’s a lot harder to get your clothes cleaner in cold water. The chemical reactions between detergent and stain slow down dramatically as the temperature drops. This is what the detergent experts at the Innovation Center do. They try to solve this problem...The most environmentally sustainable detergent is, by definition, the most sophisticated detergent. You can't limit your carbon footprint without putting an army of engineers and bench scientists on the job.


Article: Three Ways to To Attract More Luck Into Your Life, Polina Pompliano (The Profile) and George Mack

Like Rodney Dangerfield, luck gets no respect. Chance and randomness are recurring themes in Below the Line. I deeply believe that luck and randomness play a huge role in life's outcomes. I also agree with Louis Pasteur’s assertion that “chance favors the prepared mind.” In this article from growth marketer and mental model aficionado George Mack argues that skill and luck aren’t mutually exclusive:

I think there’s a secret hidden in plain sight, though. Luck is partially a game of skill — and you can increase your odds by following the rules of the game.

Mack’s suggestions for increasing your chances for luck are:

  • Avoid Boring People: Avoid people that bore you and avoid being boring yourself:

The more interesting you are, the more interest you get. And the more interest you get, the more opportunities that come your way.

  • Have a Luck Razor: Optionality matters. All else equal, choose the path that feels the luckiest:

I was supposed to go for a drink with someone cool I met on Twitter. It was standard U.K. winter rainy weather (“Pissing it down” is what we call it). The person texted me before saying, “I’m tired and the weather is awful. I can still do tonight but happy to cancel if you are not up for it?” When I got this text, I was tired and didn’t feel like commuting one hour in the rain. I wrote back “Let's do another time.” Before I hit send, I asked myself: “What’s the luckier option? Going and meeting someone interesting or chilling at home watching Netflix?” The answer was obvious when viewed through this frame.

  • Poker vs. Roulette: Roulette is a pure game of chance. Poker is a game of chance and skill. You can’t control the hand you're dealt, but you can control how you play it. Approach problems with a poker mindset:

Even for games that feel like pure luck, question everything with a poker mindset. You may find a hack that nobody else has discovered because they thought it was roulette. 


Book: Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey 

Edward Abbey was a curmudgeonly naturalist who loved the American West. He’d admittedly rather kill a man than a snake. Abbey saw wilderness not as a luxury, but as a necessity for the human spirit. The further he was away from paved roads and running water, the happier. Desert Solitaire is his memoir of three seasons working as a park ranger at Arches National Monument (now Arches Natural Park). It’s part love letter and part elegy for America’s disappearing wilderness. If you’re looking for a nudge to turn off your phone and go take a hike, this is it. 

A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.


Podcast: Anne Lamott on Taming Your Inner Critic, Finding Grace, and Prayer, The Tim Ferriss Show

Every so often I finish a podcast and immediately listen to it again. This is one of those podcasts. Anne Lamott is a fantastic writer (check out Bird by Bird) and writing teacher. She’s also battled addiction and mental health issues. This podcast touches on the creative process and getting through tough times. There’s a lot of wisdom packed into it. On creative projects, a recurring theme is, just sit down and get started: 

With my writing book, you will remember this, I really believe that discipline is the path to freedom. So that with writing students, I never just say, “Oh, just wait for inspiration. Wait until you feel like writing.” I don’t say that. And with myself, I don’t say, “Wait till you feel like meditating.” I don’t think, “Well, wait till prayer comes naturally.” I pray.

Lamott sees writing like driving at night with the headlights on: you can only see a little ways ahead, but you can make the whole trip that way. Keep putting one foot in front of the other:

So I don’t try to teach kids or grownups how to write really, really well. I just teach them to stop not writing. I teach to keep their butt in the chair and to write badly. And that all first drafts of any book you’ve ever read by the authors you esteem most began as unreadable first drafts. And I teach people to take it really small, Bird by Bird.

Lastly, take action and the insight follows:

You don’t think yourself into having a warm, generous heart. You act your way. You do loving things for other people. 


Most Popular on Below the Line in Q3

The most viewed post this quarter was Dropbox 2.0, which looked at live audio app Clubhouse, the downsides of early hype, and how speed-to-copy is increasing for features in consumer social apps. The Bill Gurley Starter Kit - Part 2, a primer on conversion rates, was the most shared post. Thank you! Lastly, Silver(man) Into Gold, an overview of Etsy’s M&A strategy, got the most new signups. 


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