I was in Maui yesterday and I was thinking about going for an open water swim with a local club. The swim kicked off from Makena beach.

But then, I started thinking about sharks.

Everyone hears stats on how unlikely it is to be bitten by a shark. You only have a ~1 in 4 million chance of dying right? Right!?

But when you are about to go swimming in an area known to have lots of tiger sharks (on any given day, there’s an 80% chance a tiger shark will be spotted at Makena point), you start to get…

In The Biggest Lesson Napoleon Can Teach Startups, I talked about how Napoleon used speed and focus to beat his competition and how the same tactics can be applied to startups.

In this post, I’ll dive deeper on how Napoleon gained that speed advantage and again, draw some parallels to startups.

Let’s begin with Napoleon .

Prior to 1805, armies moved around in one big mass. And there were a few solid reasons why that was considered a smart move:

  1. Control & Communication
    There were no radios. No cell phones. Communication was limited to how loud you can shout, how fast…

The federal government is pumping a lot of money into the economy. A lot. Just today (Apr 9), they announced another $2.3 trillion to lend to states, cities, and midsize businesses. These are truly unprecedented levels of capital injection.

So that got me curious, will all the money create inflation?

So I pulled data on the Consumer Price Index. CPI is a basket of goods and services (e.g. food, housing costs, transportation expenses, apparel, etc.) that’s commonly used for measuring inflation.

Then I pulled M2. M2 is a fairly broad measure of money supply. It includes “near money” like cash…

The classic 5-stage buying cycle (awareness, consideration, intent, purchase, renewal) is a useful tool for dissecting buyer decision-making. But within the first few stages, there are actually 4 different buyer states of mind:

  1. Problem Centric
    Buyers have a problem, but don’t know to solve it.
    Buyer says: My car is on it’s last legs. I need a new one. Should I try to fix it? Should I get a new one?
    - Pro: Buyers are in a position to be persuaded.
    - Con: Buyers are early in their buying cycle so they require more education/time/money/persuasion.
  2. Category Centric
    Buyers have think…

Napoleon won 68 / 73 (91%) of battles. Not too shabby!

What’s even more impressive is that he’d fight countries with larger armies and still win.

So how the heck did he pull that off?

Here’s the basic formula:

  1. Have fast army.
  2. Divide your army. Pose a credible threat across multiple positions.
  3. Your opponent will split up their army to defend those multiple positions.
  4. Quickly concentrate your force (ideally at the position where your opponent is weakest and you are strongest).
  5. Attack and overwhelm that position.
  6. Rinse and repeat.

The military term for this is defeat in detail.

Defeat in…

Imagine there’s a county where people like swimming, but they had:

  • No clocks
  • No standardized pool length

What are the chances that this country will have top tier swimmers? How can people truly get better if they can’t measure their performance? You need to measure to improve.

Except, that’s not always true.

Do you think anyone looked at stats when surfing was inventing? People just tried to do stuff they enjoyed. If it felt good, they did it more. Eventually, once it got off the ground, stats started coming into play.

Stats are for optimization, not innovation. You don’t need them when you’re going from 0 to 1.

From 475 BC to 249 BC, China was in a Warring States Period. 7 states fought incessantly for control and power. Out of this turbulent time, the 36 Stratagems emerged. It summarized universal techniques to dominate your opponent.

The most important of these stratagems is the last one:

If all else fails, retreat.

Surrendering is a complete loss. A compromise is a half loss. But a retreat is not a loss at all. You live to fight another day. Victory remains a possibility.

A slight, slight improvement in your decision making can have a huge, huge impact on your long-term success.

Here’s an example to help illustrate:

Imagine I have a coin that’s rigged to come up tails 51% of the time. Would you wager money that it’d turn up tails if I gave you even betting odds? You definitely should!

If you bet $1 per flip, your expected value (EV) is my $1 bet + your $1 bet * 51% chance of winning = $1.02. So with each coin flip, you’re wagering $1 and expecting to win $1.02. That’s a $0.02 …

Philip Tetlock (author of Superforecasting) started the Good Judgment project. It asked people to predict global events where they had very little background knowledge.

The following checklist improved prediction accuracy by 10%:

  1. Unpack the question into components.
  2. Distinguish as sharply as you can between the known and unknown.
    You can’t know everything. That’s OK. Make educated guesses on the unknowns.
    Leave no assumptions unscrutinized.
    The biggest problem with an analytical approach to problem solving (vs an experimental one) is that you’re particularly vulnerable to have 1 missed variable that messes everything up.
  3. Adopt the outside view and put the problem…

After I completed my 2nd year at the University of Virginia, I spent a big chunk of my summer going through Officer Candidate School for the Marine Corps. But that program isn’t really a school. It’s not intended to teach you anything. It’s intended to weed out the people that couldn’t make the cut.

Those 6 weeks were the longest of my life. Imagine being sleep deprived, having a fever, being hungry, running 10 miles with 50 pounds on your back, and having someone constantly trying to make you fail. Every day. For 6 weeks.

It was brutal, but I…

Michael Gugel

Startups, product management, marketing

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