Rabbit Hole – Four Book Recommendations and an Amazon Story

Painkillers not Vitamins

I recently made the misguided wager with an ex-Amazon Product Manager that I could give up reading Kindle and get all of my books from the library, which seemed like a reasonable bet as:

  • I generally, aesthetically, prefer paper books
  • I live next door to a very, very good library
  • I hate losing bets

Nonetheless, I lost the bet (and so a very good bottle of bourbon), from which I take away two lessons:

  1. Don’t bet with Amazon product guys on your usage of products they designed
  2. Sell painkillers not vitamins

There has been a sharp revival over the past couple of months in the Valley of the ‘Painkillers’ and ‘Vitamins’ analogy in in terms of categorizing technology Products and Features.

It’s not a new concept. Here is someone writing about it from 2014 in an article called Is Your Product a ‘Vitamin’ or ‘Painkiller?’  

TL;DR: Vitamins are “nice to have” but you feel like you can probably get away with skipping them, at least in the short term. Painkillers, well, y’know, reduce a real, currently felt pain.

So simple but such a strong heuristic. Especially on the consumer side when you have enormous numbers of smart people armed with a huge ongoing stream of data to test and develop into new, more addictive painkiller variants.

[Ed. note – Epsilon Theory is definitely a vitamin, not a painkiller, and we’ve built the business model around that concept, where you pay us money because you WANT to, not because you HAVE to. It’s a challenge, to put it nicely, and many is the day I hear the siren call of the painkiller alternative.]

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software

Now that I’ve lost my library bet I’m free to go back to over-consuming Kindle books. A particularly charming recent read was Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software. It is super accessible and a neat, illustrated step-by-step build up from morse code thru Boolean algebra to microprocessors, while also illustrating the meta-points of ‘humans as compulsively narrative animals’ and the ‘combinatorial nature of technology acceleration’.

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind

I’ve had professional need recently to think about refining and amplifying my own public narrative (rather than analyzing and predicting other people’s) and so have gone back to read some marketing classics.  A very high value, quick read is Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind from 2001. Truly a classic on positioning in advertising, with great insight for analyzing narratives overall, particularly around ‘Cherchez le creneau’: looking for the hole in the narrative that can then be exploited.

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind

I was sure that I had pointed to the book The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind on Epsilon Theory previously, but a site search of ET says no, although does reveal a general love of dog-themed articles.

Well, anyway, The Hour Between Dog and Wolf is a very good and easy read written by a derivatives trader turned neuroscientist who writes about how our biological responses translate into trading behaviors.

I was reminded of it recently by ET member Michael Madonna’s comment on a note I wrote a few weeks back where he referenced Yuval Harari’s proposition of ‘shared myths as key evolutionary advantage to work together in large numbers’. I find this very compelling and recalled the thesis advanced by Coates in The Hour Between Dog and Wolf that consciousness (and so collective myths and narrative) are a function of movement: that consciousness evolved from the usefulness of being able to pre-plan our movements (such as the steps required to jump out of tree and capture something edible).

[Ed. note: Endorsed! A wonderful book, although I believe this hour between dog and wolf is a particularly male concept. But once you start looking for it, you will see it EVERYWHERE. It’s also my second favorite French expression, just after “l’appetit vient en mangeant”.]

Spiral dynamics

Every couple of years someone exceptionally smart with a really well developed mental model of human interaction brings up ‘Spiral dynamics’ and why it is such a powerful framework. I then try to read one of the Spiral Dynamics books and remember that it is like the worst, most impenetrable writing of Veblen but with thick tie-dye coat of woo-woo painted on top. Ghastly.

Nonetheless, stylistics aside, I think there is genius hidden in there, and in particular that there is genius of a segmentation of how various agents will react to narratives and in different game constructs. So, if you can actually read and process the thing then glory in narrative-reaction analysis will probably be yours. Good luck.

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