Book Highlights: "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Cain

0. Book Highlights from "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain

1. This book is about introversion as seen from a cultural point of view. Its primary concern is the age-old dichotomy between the “man of action” and the “man of contemplation” and how we could improve the world if only there were a greater balance of power between the two types

2. It focuses on the person who recognizes the following attributes: reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.

3. Many personality psychologists believe that human personality can be boiled down to the so-called Big Five traits: Introversion-Extroversion; Agreeableness; Openness to Experience; Conscientiousness; and Emotional Stability.

4. The most important aspect of personality would be where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. It's the "north and south of temperament". Temperament refers to inborn behavioral and emotional patterns.

5. Personality emerges after cultural influence and personal experience are thrown into the mix. We are born with prepackaged temperaments that powerfully shape our adult personalities. Temperament is the foundation, and personality is the building.

6. We can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead. A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems.

7. We also have a limbic system, or "old brain", which we share with the most primitive mammals. It is emotional and instinctive and comprises various structures, including the amygdala, and it’s highly interconnected with the brain’s "pleasure center".

8. High-reactive infants, typically introverts, are those who respond to new sights, sounds, and smell, and are sensitive to their environments. They pay "alert attention" to people and things. It’s as if they process more deeply the information they take in about the world.

9. Don’t mistake someone's caution in new situations for an inability to relate to others. They're recoiling from overstimulation, not from human contact.

10. High-reactive introverts who had a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers. Often they’re empathetic, caring, cooperative, kind, conscientious, and successful at the things that matter to them.

11. High-reactive introverts sweat more; low-reactive extroverts sweat less. Their skin is literally “thicker,” more impervious to stimuli, cooler to the touch. This is where our notion of being socially “cool” comes from; the lower-reactive your amygdala is, the cooler you are

12. (Incidentally, sociopaths lie at the extreme end of this coolness barometer, with extremely low levels of arousal, skin conductance, and anxiety. There is some evidence that sociopaths have damaged amygdalae.)

13. The neurons that transmit information in the reward network operate in part through a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is the “reward chemical” released in response to anticipated pleasures.

14. The more responsive your brain is to dopamine, or the higher the level of dopamine you have available to release, some scientists believe, the more likely you are to go after rewards like sex, chocolate, money, and status.

15. Someone who is highly motivated to go after rewards would be considered reward-sensitive. Reward sensitivity prompts us to climb ladders and reach for faraway branches in order to gather life’s choicest fruits.

16. There's also the idea that reward-sensitivity is not only an interesting feature of extroversion; it is what makes an extrovert an extrovert. Extroverts, in other words, are characterized by their tendency to seek rewards.

17. Extroverts have been found to have greater economic, political, and hedonistic ambitions than introverts; even their sociability is a function of reward-sensitivity because human connection is inherently gratifying.

18. In the words of psychologists John Brebner and Chris Cooper, who have shown that extroverts think less and act faster on such tasks: introverts are "geared to inspect" and extroverts "geared to respond."

19. Extroverts get better grades than introverts during elementary school, but introverts outperform extroverts in high school and college. At the university level, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability.

20. We live with a value system called the Extrovert Ideal—the belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. He or she prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, making quick decisions, and works well in groups.

21. Participation places a very different set of demands on the brain than observing does. It requires a kind of mental multitasking: the ability to process a lot of short-term information at once without becoming distracted or overly stressed.

22. This is just the sort of brain functioning that extroverts tend to be well suited for. In other words, extroverts are sociable because their brains are good at handling competing demands on their attention. In contrast, introverts often feel repelled by these same events.

23. Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

24. Introverts prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk and think before they speak, they hate small talk but enjoy deep discussions.

25. Introverts tend to dislike conflict and meet people in friendly contexts; extroverts prefer people they compete with.

26. Introverts also seem to be better than extroverts at delaying gratification, a crucial life skill associated with everything from higher SAT scores and income to lower body mass index.

27. More creative people tend to be socially-poised introverts. They are inter-personally skilled but “not especially sociable.” They described themselves as independent and individualistic. Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.

28. While extroverts tend to attain leadership in public domains, introverts tend to attain leadership in theoretical and aesthetic fields. Outstanding introverted leaders have spent long periods of their lives in solitude.

29. "Serious study alone" is the strongest predictor of skill for tournament-rated chess players. College students who tend to study alone learn more over time than those who work in groups. Even elite athletes in team sports often spend unusual amounts of time in solo practice.

30. What’s so magical about solitude? When you’re alone you can engage in Deliberate Practice, where you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.

31. Some companies are starting to value solitude, and are creating “flexible” open plans that offer a mix of solo workspaces, quiet zones, casual meeting areas, computer hubs, and even “streets” where people can chat casually with each other without interrupting others’ workflow

32. Studies have shown that brainstorming performance gets worse as group size increases. There's three reason why: only one person can talk or produce an idea at once, some people tend to sit back and let others do the work, and people fear looking stupid in front of others.

33. In couples where the man is introverted and the woman extroverted we often mistake personality conflicts for gender difference, then trot out the conventional wisdom that “Mars” needs to retreat to his cave while “Venus” prefers to interact.

34. When a wife wants to go out every Saturday night and a husband who wants to relax by the fire work out a schedule: half the time we’ll go out, and half the time we’ll stay home.

35. Just as men and women often have different ways of resolving conflict, so do introverts and extroverts; studies suggest that the former tend to be conflict-avoiders, while the latter are “confrontive copers,” at ease with an up-front, even argumentative style of disagreement.

36. Since the days of Aristotle, philosophers have observed that these two modes—approaching things that appear to give pleasure and avoiding others that seem to cause pain—lie at the heart of all human activity.

37. There is something called behavioral leakage, in which our true selves seep out via unconscious body language: a subtle look away at a moment when you have to make eye contact, or a skillful turn of the conversation by a lecturer that sees it veering off topic.

38. It turned out that the introverts who were good at acting like extroverts scored high on a trait called “self-monitoring.” Self-monitors are highly skilled at modifying their behavior to the social demands of a situation. They look for cues to tell them how to act.

39. In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.

40. Yes, they are only pretending to be extroverts, and yes, such inauthenticity can be morally ambiguous and exhausting, but if it’s in the service of love or a professional calling, then it's worth it.

41. The best way to act out of character is to stay as true to yourself as you possibly can—starting by creating as many “restorative niches” as possible in your daily life, or places you go when you want to return to your true self.

42. We can act out of character from time to time, but we ourselves most of the time.

43. And once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can organize your life in terms of what personality psychologists call "optimal levels of arousal".

44. "Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act." —MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI

45. Flow often occurs, Csikszentmihalyi writes, where people "become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself"

46. The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for its rewards. Many of the flow experiences that Csikszentmihalyi writes about are solitary pursuits that have nothing to do with reward-seeking: reading, tending an orchard, solo ocean cruising.

47. In a sense, Csikszentmihalyi transcends Aristotle; he is telling us that there are some activities that are not about approach or avoidance, but about something deeper: the fulfillment that comes from absorption in an activity outside yourself.

48. So stay true to your own nature. Shakespeare’s oft-quoted advice, “To thine own self be true,” runs deep in our philosophical DNA.

49. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns.

50. To find out what you want to do: First, think back to what you loved to do when you were a child. The underlying impulse is important. Second, pay attention to the work you gravitate to. Finally, pay attention to what you envy. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.

51. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.

52. Those who live the most fully realized lives—giving back to their families, societies, and ultimately themselves—tend to find meaning in their obstacles. It's one of the great insights of Western mythology: that where we stumble is where our treasure lies.

/END In short, when I read Quiet a few years ago, it really resonated with me and I think other people will feel as strongly if they read it as well.

Book Highlights: "The Checklist Manifesto" by Gawande

Originally posted to Twitter on 4/1/18 by @cdjarrell:


1/ Book highlights from "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right" by Atul Gawande

2/ Why do we fail? Two reasons. The first is ignorance—we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works. The second is ineptitude—because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly. Second is worse

3/ Avoidable failures are common and persistent because the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.

4/ Re: complexity, decentralization is the answer. People need room to act and adapt. They require a seemingly contradictory mix of freedom and expectation—expectation to coordinate, for example, and also to measure progress toward common goals.

5/ Re: coordination, seek openness, equality, and an understanding of who people are early. Giving people a chance to say something at the start seemed to activate their sense of participation and responsibility and their willingness to note problems and offer solutions

6/ Main point of the book: Something as simple as a checklist can help prevent avoidable failures. They remind us of the minimum necessary steps and make them explicit. They provide a kind of cognitive net and catch mental flaws of memory and attention and thoroughness

7/ Good checklists ensure the critical stuff is not overlooked and ensure people talk and coordinate and accept responsibility while being adaptable to changes in the complex system

8/ Good checklists are precise, efficient, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations; they are, above all, practical. Bad checklists are vague and imprecise and try to spell out every single step.

9/ Checklists should have a clear point when to be used. They are either DO-CONFIRM lists where members use their experience and then pause to check everything has been done or READ-DO where people carry out tasks as they check them off, like a recipe.

10/ Good rules of thumb for checklists: keep them to between five and nine items, which is the limit of human working memory. Their wording should be simple and exact, and use familiar language. They should be one page or less, free of clutter and unnecessary colors

END/ Checklists work because discipline is hard—harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. Humans are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. But they're critical to avoiding failures that could be prevented in complex situations

Book Highlights: "Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes" by Belsky and Gilovich

Originally posted to Twitter on 4/1/18 by @cdjarrell


1/ Book highlights from "Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them: Lessons from the Life-Changing Science of Behavioral Economics" by Belsky and Gilovich

2/ Minimize losses by diversifying: stocks (or stock mutual funds), bonds (or bond mutual funds), money market funds, even real estate (if you don’t own a house, then ideally through real estate investment trusts)

3/ Nobody wants losses however they do have a few advantages. Losses on investments that you’ve held for less than twelve months can be written off against capital gains; losses on investments held longer than twelve months can be deducted from ordinary income.

4/ Professional investors (and people in general) suffer from overconfidence. Problem with overconfidence isn't optimism; the real problem is the inability to temper optimism as a result of prior experience. Frankly, we don’t learn well enough from our mistakes.

5/ Invest-in-what-you-know approach is risky (employees have >1/3 retirement in their company stock) since your job is already tied to the fortunes of your workplace. Most recommend you keep no more than 10 percent of your 401k assets in your own company’s shares.

6/ General rule of investing (besides diversify): “100 minus your age rule”, or the percentage of 100 minus the age you're at should be in stocks (preferably index mutual funds) and any money you’ll need in next 5 years should be cash or cash equivalents like government bonds.

7/ Mutual funds are preferable to individual stocks as there's diversification built in, index funds are even better as they're even more diversified and reflect the overall market. Over periods of a decade or more, roughly 75 percent of all stock funds underperform the market.

8/ Other adv of index funds are that their expense ratios and tax bills are the lowest bc they don't require a lot of buying and selling and have much lower fee structures than mutual funds. A half a pct point over a long time will add up

9/ Stocks, remember, represent ownership interest in businesses. Stock movements in the short term are about emotions and rumors. In the long run, they’re about facts and profits.

10/ One of the best ways to evaluate individual stocks is price-to-earnings ratios, or P/Es. P/Es reflect how much of a premium other investors are willing to pay to own that stock. The higher the P/ E, the higher the premium— and, therefore, the more popular that stock is.

11/ Stocks with low P/Es might not be flashy but are often safer, even with their diminished investor enthusiasm.

12/ General individual stock advice: Put no more than 10 percent of your nest egg into stocks of individual corporations. The rest should be spread out over other kinds of investments.

END/ That's about it. Invest early and often, as the compounding effects are powerful over a long time frame, thus the advice of stocks (index funds) as primary investment. Pay off debts. Have high deductibles on insurance plans, as chances are small making of a claim.

Book Highlights: "The Happiness Hypothesis" by Haidt

Originally posted to Twitter by @cdjarrell on 4/1/18:


1/ Book highlights from "The Happiness Hypothesis" by @JonHaidt

Happiness come from within and without. Within: cannot be found by making the world conform to your desires. Without: Buddhism and Stoicism teach to break attachments to external things and cultivate attitude of acceptance

H=S+C+V. H(appiness) = S(etpoint) + C(onditions) + V(oluntary activities). This is the basic formula.

Everyone has a happiness setpoint—your brain’s default level of happiness—which was determined largely by your genes. Some people have a positive outlook no matter what, others have chemical imbalances that make sustained happiness hard

Conditions include facts about your life that you can’t change (race, age, disability, etc) as well as things that you can (wealth, marital status, where you live, etc). Biggest part is love, second biggest is having and pursuing the right goals

Voluntary activities are the things that you choose to do, such as meditation, exercise, learning a new skill, or taking a vacation. Martin Seligman proposes that V is largely a matter of arranging your day and your environment to increase both pleasures and gratifications

Pleasures are sensory and emotional delights that may be derived from food, sex, backrubs, etc -- they must be spaced out to maintain their potency. Gratifications are activities that engage you fully, draw on your strengths, and allow you to find a state of flow

(This is how new I am to threading, I stopped the numbering after 1. Will pick up in next tweet)

9/ Voluntary activities could also include volunteering: long-term studies found when a person increased volunteer work, all measures of happiness and well-being increased (on average) afterwards, for as long as the volunteer work was a part of the person’s life

10/ Seligman also suggests that the key to finding your own gratifications is to know your own strengths. One of the big accomplishments of positive psychology has been the development of a catalog of strengths

11/ On building character: ought to be a lifelong struggle to develop one's moral potential. As Paul said in his Letter to the Romans (5:3-4): “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

12/ On living virtuously: 6 broad virtues found in nearly all cultures. Wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. These expand to 24 character strengths in Seligman's research

13/ On reflecting inward: we are fairly accurate in our perceptions of others but it’s our self-perceptions that are distorted because we look at ourselves in a rose-colored mirror. AKA “naive realism”: Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is

14/ It is easy to spot a cheater when our eyes are looking outward, but hard when looking inward. Japanese proverb: Though you see the seven defects of others, we do not see our own ten defects. Nigerian proverb: A he-goat doesn’t realize that he smells.

15/ On knowledge: both explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is all the facts you know and can consciously report, is taught directly in schools. Tacit knowledge is procedural and is acquired without direct help from others, and it is related to goals that a person values

16/ Wisdom, says Sternberg, is the tacit knowledge that lets a person balance two sets of things. First, to balance their own needs and the needs of others, to see things from all sides. Second, to balance three responses to situations: adapting, shaping, and selecting

17/ This second balance is similar to the “serenity prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

18/ Simple point about adapting and happiness: live close to where you work, as people adapt to many things but traffic isn't one of them (since it's so variable and chaotic). Less commute = less stress = happier.

19/ Simple point on selecting a career: When you have occupational self-direction, work is often satisfying. Make the work challenging but have freedom to approach it how you want. When doing good matches up with doing well, a career is healthy

20/ Simple point on selecting love: find a balance of passionate love (love you fall into) and companionate love (love that grows over time). Strong marriages have strong companionate love with added passion between people firmly committed to each other

21/ On striving for goals: goals fall in 4 categories. Work/achievement, relationships/intimacy, religion/spirituality, and generativity (legacy and contribution). Focus on the latter three categories for long-term happiness

22/ Happy people have "vertical coherence" among goals where the short-term goals advance the pursuit of long-term goals. It's the journey that counts, not the destination. “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing" (Shakespeare)

23/ On treating others well: golden rule (treat others how you wanted to be treated). "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow; this, in a few words, is the entire Torah; all the rest is but an elaboration of this one, central point." (Rabbi Hillel)

24/ On reciprocity: the most important tool for getting along with people. Mimicry is a kind of social glue, a way of saying “We are one.” Humans are social creatures and reciprocity, like love, reconnects us with others.

25/ On controlling your reactions: Events in the world affect us only through our interpretations of them, so if we can control our interpretations, we can control our world. Echoed by Boethius, Buddha, Aurelius: Nothing is miserable unless you think it so

26/ On limiting your choices: Barry Schwartz calls it "paradox of choice" in that we value choice but too many choices undercuts our happiness. Don't try to be a "maximizer" and find best possible, as "satisficers" are happier with their decisions

END/ The book also dives into various topics such as evil, evolution, language, how the brain works, and many more. "The Happiness Hypothesis" is a fantastic book and I recommend reading it to understand a lot more

The present is the future

[Post begun in June 2016; finally published on the last day of May 2018]


Here is a list of jobs/careers I've been interested in, amongst others, chronologically over the last 18 years or so. The ones in bold I've actually held:


2000-04

Doctor 

Pharmacist

Political scientist/Politician


2005-09

Architectural Engineer

Professor


2010-14

Solar engineer

Product/Project Manager

Business Analyst


2015-?

HS Math Teacher

Volleyball Coach


In 2016 when I started an outline of what became this post I wrote:


And I'd be fine if that list ended and the question mark wasn't for 20+ years. Teaching and now coaching is really, really great overall. The job is intellectually challenging, the relationships are strong, the students are inspiring but the pay sucks. Right now that doesn't bother me much but it could in the future.


The present is the future. 


I've recently finished my third and final year (for now) in the classroom where I taught the possibly completely unique combination of ELL/Regular Algebra 2, AP/IB Calculus and 8th Grade Science. I have now become what I joked about last year to friends leaving the profession -- another young teacher leaving the classroom. Teaching was intellectually, emotionally, and physically challenging, the relationships were very strong, the students were endlessly inspiring, and the pay sucked for the work you do but was manageable without saving a lot. There's not one big reason I won't be in the classroom, just a lot of little ones. Death by (grading) paper cuts you could say.


However, I don't think my time as a teacher has ultimately ended; it's just been postponed. I still envision being in a classroom in the future, as I've always wanted to teach in college and I like teaching the older grades in high school. When and where that happens, I don't know at this time.


The 2016 version of this post continued: 


Judging by past performance that won't be the end however. Maybe in 4 years [2018 edit: 2] or so I'll do something that combines my Business Analytics and Education masters. Maybe I'll be into something completely different. Humans are bad at predicting how their future selves will feel so I'm not closing any doors.


Growing up everyone always said that I could be anything I wanted if I was bright and worked hard.  Why would you be surprised when I actually tried to be anything I wanted?  


People talk about how the Millennial generation is indecisive, that we lack loyalty, and that we switch jobs too often.  But aren't we just following the advice of those that raised us? Why would you not try to maximize career utility with whatever you want to dedicate yourself to as that changes? As long as you feel strongly about it after considerable thought and you don't hurt anybody in the process, why not?


It's comforting seeing these words in 2018, as leaving the classroom -- more importantly the students that came through that classroom -- was a very hard decision, as you've read before from countless others. And like they've said before, I'll miss the students the most, the coworkers second, the work towards the mission third, and the grind behind the work towards the mission last. Everybody should be incentivized to teach some sort of class (education/career/sport/etc.) in their early careers, as then everybody will be appreciative of all the work that goes on behind the scenes to create an engaged, successful, and welcoming classroom. I know I now am.


I always make the argument that getting more people into classrooms, even for short periods of time (2-3 years, ideally it's 5+), is a huge net positive. While they and the training invested in them may leave, many go into other areas related to supporting or improving education and, even if not, you have lifelong experienced education advocates. Maybe then we'd finally vote for people that would pay all teachers more, without the 20 years of in-district experience you need to work up to it.


Anyways, I want to be one of those that still impacts the students but maybe I could create that impact outside of the classroom, in a way that could leverage technology to reach many more students. I think there's currently -- and always been -- a market inefficiency in the college admissions process, particularly with low income and first generation students. I'd like to work on closing that information disparity gap and making a college degree more accessible to all.


I also feel that it's possible to create an impact at scale, which could maximize my expected Personal Impact Utility (PIU). 

Expected PIU = (% chance of creating impact) x (personal impact on scale 0-1) x (# of students impacted)


Helping to make the process of getting a college degree much more accessible at a mass scale has a much lower chance of succeeding as being in the classroom day in and day out and it definitely doesn't have as high of a personal impact rating; however the third variable is potentially so many times greater than the 500 students and players I've had that it becomes a worthwhile multiplier overall.


For now, I'll end with how I originally ended that post three years ago:


Something I try to tell my students whenever the conversation arises is that they don't have to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they're a teenager. Life changes and you too will change so be as versatile as you can. Get that STEM degree but take classes in the humanities. Get that psych degree but know how to look at statistics and technical information. Don't pigeonhole your future self because you might not know how he or she will feel.


Be whatever you want to be. Then be all that you can be.

An Optimistic View on the Tesla and SolarCity merger


Disclosure:  I worked at SolarCity from July 2010 until December 2014 and still hold and am long $SCTY (or $TSLA in the future)

Let me start by saying as a $SCTY shareholder I'm not thrilled about the price I'm getting ($25 or so) but ultimately I think it will be better for the world in the long run and I hope the Tesla-SolarCity merger goes through.  I also don't think I could give as good of a bullish case on the merger as Jigar Shah just did.

It is the belief of most of the major decision makers involved that these ideas could be mutually beneficial when packaged together.  That combined with (IMO) the deep discount SCTY can be bought for right now, the decision was better to make sooner rather than later.  Elon has said that it's easier to create a single product and that's true, but David Crane's analysis that SC needs a reboot and couldn't survive this reboot in the public market is probably also true.  

So let's look at an optimist's view on the combined final product:

I think I've read that SolarCity will take on the Tesla name, I only assume as the Tesla Energy (TE) brand.  There should immediately be sales installations at Tesla stores in the states SC currently operates in, hopefully accompanied by an initial boost in leases/loans/sales in those areas as this is business as usual for SC/TE once the sale is made.  

TE needs to stop with the pushy door to door tactics that made the leases popular and instead rely on referrals and word of mouth sales.  Think of how many ads you saw Tesla run for their Model 3 launch that saw 400,000+ pre-orders (mine included)... oh wait, you didn't.  We've already seen evidence that solar is contagious and SC's referral business has been a success.  An emphasis on distributing the work needed to acquiring new customers to others (thoughts on that shared here) should drastically reduce the cost of marketing and sales overhead, a painful but necessary step to rein in costs.

SC as a company created a TON of jobs but some jobs inevitably become unnecessary when the organization becomes more efficient.  SC's operations department has become a machine when they're stocked full of scheduled jobs but during seasonal down times they become another unnecessary cost.  Their operations department is a huge success story in the field of construction management, the efficient gains they've made are remarkable but are getting harder to come by.  

What I'd like to see TE do is the same thing they did with their sales & marketing streamlining and distribute the work of their operations department.  You decentralize your installation work.  You'd be bolstering the independent contractor installer network by distributing not only your workers but also your knowledge by creating an industry-wide standard of installation excellence.  This will be hard for Elon and SC management to agree to as they like to have their finger on the quality from top to bottom and it may seem like you're losing that high standard of installation quality.  However it is simply being transferred via your industry-leading training and certification program to locally-owned and operated installation companies.  

Publicly it would look like TE is getting rid of A LOT of SC construction jobs and officially they are but overall those jobs are still being filled by the independent installers that are installing up to your standard (and even inspection) but are locally-owned and operated.  So you're actually creating a lot of small business owners, something that is always well-received.

Behind the scenes, I'd expect the Tesla and SC HR departments to see which roles are now duplicated, which are necessary independently, and which are mutually beneficial.  Then you decrease the positions that are duplicated and increase the mutually beneficial ones.  I think these are the main synergies Elon and Co. talked about initially.  I expect their battery and solar panel gigafactories to learn from each other and both benefit as well.

By distributing a lot of SC's work (both in creating the sale and installing the solar panels) they can streamline their costs and become more profitable.  Elon's always been a huge proponent of economies of scale and I think you can still have this with a distributed sales and installation force by controlling the standards instead of the workforce.  You'd lose a couple process efficiency points in the process but you gain that and more by not having to control everything.


I believe such changes can be beneficial to a combined company and I'm hopeful for the Tesla and SolarCity merger to finally go through, as it seems like it has been a long time coming.




But how did you end up in Kansas City?

Like I've mentioned previously, ultimately I'm in KC because this was the recommendation of the algorithm Teach For America uses to determine placements.  That much is out of my hands.  But how KC was rated in my top 5 placement preferences was a conscious decision.  This is that story, 4chan style for simplicity.


>Be me

>March 2015

>Looking for jobs while finishing up my Master's

>Denver hasn't provided any good hits

>My other top 2 choices Austin and Raleigh haven't provided any good hits

>Need to decide where else I'd look for jobs

>Read U.S. News Best Places to Live 2015 article on web

>See how they ranked them based off stats

>Decide to make my own personalized rankings

>Copy down the stats for 25 cities I wouldn't be opposed to

>Stats like median income, high tech job %, and job growth go into the Job category

>Because I want to find somewhere with good jobs

>Stats like cost of living and median home price go into the Cost category

>Because I want to find somewhere that isn't too expensive

>Stats like % that graduated high school, college, and graduate programs go into the Education category

>Because I don't want to be surrounded by too many idiots

>Rank each category from most desirable to least and award more points to higher rankings

>Remove any cities that have too many unreasonably hot or cold days

>Remove any cities that are not on this list of best places to find love

>Rank cities now based on a (40% Job) + (40% Cost) + (20% Education) weighted point average

>Kansas City comes in 3rd behind Raleigh and Austin and above other cities I was intrigued by like Dallas, Charlotte, Nashville, etc.

>Go "huh, KC?" and just throw it in my top 5 placement preferences

>End up in KC


Most people think of KC as a "flyover city" that you would literally fly over and not even think about.  And in some ways, it is:  it's the closest city to the geographical center of the continental U.S. (aka it's in the middle of the map) and there's nothing distinguishable about its landscape.  But I've grown to love KC and I'm happy to live here as it has an up and coming vibe, has a great sense of community, and because the people are amazing.


The city data without my personalizations can be found here if you're interested

2016 NFL Mock Draft

I can't let go of an old favorite past time of mine:  the NFL mock draft.  The picks I feel most confident in are Darron Lee to ATL, Ryan Kelly to IND and Mackensie Alexander to PIT.  I could also see Washington trading up for Zeke Elliot with New Orleans to get ahead of Miami.


Order NFL Team Player Pos. College
1 Los Angeles Jared Goff QB Cal
2 Philadelphia Carson Wentz QB North Dakota State
3 San Diego Jalen Ramsey CB Florida State
4 Dallas Joey Bosa DE Ohio State
5 Jacksonville Myles Jack OLB UCLA
6 Baltimore Laremy Tunsil OT Mississippi
7 San Francisco Paxton Lynch QB Memphis
8 *Tennessee* Ronnie Stanley OT Notre Dame
9 Tampa Bay Shaq Lawson DE Clemson
10 NY Giants DeForest Buckner DE Oregon
11 Chicago Leonard Floyd OLB Georgia
12 New Orleans Sheldon Rankins DT Louisville
13 Miami Jack Conklin OT Michigan State
14 Oakland A'Shawn Robinson DT Alabama
15 *Cleveland* Ezekiel Elliot RB Ohio State
16 Detroit Vernon Hargreaves III CB Florida
17 Atlanta Darron Lee ILB Ohio State
18 Indianapolis Ryan Kelly OC Alabama
19 Buffalo Noah Spence DE Eastern Kentucky
20 NY Jets Taylor Decker OT Ohio State
21 Washington Corey Coleman WR Baylor
22 Houston Will Fuller WR Notre Dame
23 Minnesota Laquon Treadwell WR Mississippi
24 Cincinnati Josh Doctson WR TCU
25 Pittsburgh Mackensie Alexander CB Clemson
26 Seattle Robert Nkemdiche DT Mississippi
27 Green Bay Kevin Dodd DE Clemson
28 Kansas City Eli Apple CB Ohio State
-- New England --
29 Arizona Vernon Butler DT Louisiana Tech
30 Carolina Emmanuel Ogbah DE Oklahoma St
31 Denver Andrew Billings DT Baylor

Thoughts on the Future of the Solar Industry

//Update:  3/26/16

I've been thinking recently that the solar companies have to know that they can't compete against the utilities in all of these fights concurrently (http://www.wsj.com/articles/solar-panel-installers-face-clouded-future-1458926502).  They can't be reactive against goliaths, they need to be proactive in the fight as any David should be.  The solar companies and their supporters need to get the American people to vote on a comprehensive, objective study of the impacts of distributed solar on the grid.  This will bring attention to the nation-wide issue (not just on the state level) and hold both sides accountable in the eyes of Americans.  If it is found that distributed solar will hurt other users of the grid, the solar side should pay more.  If it comes out that it won't hurt the other electricity users and only the utility will lose profit, these state level fights should cease.  There is risk for the solar companies to initiate this fight but I think the national exposure (and publicity) and potential rewards (these state-level, utility-backed current fights) warrant the big swing at the plate.


___________________________

2/18/16

(Disclosure: I worked at SolarCity from 2010-14. I am still a shareholder. I am long SCTY)


Here are some thoughts I have on the future of the solar industry:


1.  Like Elon Musk has said before, solar will become the energy plurality in our lifetime, likely in the next 20-30 years.  We will still get plenty of energy from fossil fuels and nuclear but solar, both distributed and utility-scale, just makes too much sense to not win out over a long period of time.  Whether it's shorter than 20 years or longer than 30 is dependent on policy decisions but it's inevitable in the long run.  I for one would love to see it happen sooner since we could be saving 10+ years worth of not burning fossil fuels for those GWh.


2.  Think about the above point in terms of future value created for the industry.  Huge.  I think we'll see the solar industry to consolidate even more in the near future as economies of scale begin to act exponentially.  The big players will get bigger, there will be new market entrances from big companies in similar industries and more mom-and-pop operations will close shop.


3.  The cost of customer acquisition will be what separates the industry leaders from the rest of the pack.  Installation costs have come down and will level off but acquisition costs could get exponentially lower.  The biggest drop in costs will be because of the industry becoming more popular and accepted and will benefit the industry as a whole.  And the biggest brands will benefit the most from the name recognition.  Another way to drastically reduce costs is to democratize the sales process and let the customers do most of the work instead of internal sales teams.  Google's Project Sunroof is part of this process, as is SolarCity's Ambassador program.  I've already mentioned my thoughts on that : )


4.  Since almost all companies in a free market hate to lose money and investor-owned utilities (IOUs) stand to lose A LOT of future revenue from distributed solar, I'd expect their attacks on distributed solar to only increase in the future.  At the same time, they will trumpet every new solar plant they build.  The road will only get tougher in the near future for solar (think Big Tobacco type doubt created about the effect of distributed solar on the almighty yet purposely obfuscated "grid", as referenced here) but they're not at the big boss yet in the game.


5.  I think one positive that the pro-solar camp can take away from their fight with IOUs is that they're getting a lot of positive, cheap advertising. Solar is getting some love thrown around about it by the media and everybody from liberal tree-huggers to conservatives and libertarians.  Yeah there's doubt surrounding the solar industry right now (the constant fights with IOU-backed state regulators) but these fights will only last so long.  Pretty soon, it's going to be clear that distributed solar is actually helping the grid and these fights will almost disappear.  When the general public gets behind the logic and accepts distributed solar as not just an option but the no-brainer option then the universal love will be self-reinforcing.


6.  I hope SolarCity holds out and doesn't get gobbled up/run out. The Rives seem to be in it for the long haul, as does Chairman Musk. The company has and will make mistakes and has been given a lot of cushion since they're literally creating new processes as they go. Given their work thus far in building it and the long-term view of the market, the Rives should get the chance to turn it around in the near future. However, I can see investors getting impatient in the next year or two and voicing their opinion.  So a change at the top to a more proven, established CEO is possible.  I think there's enough smart people at SolarCity (and a big enough first-mover advantage) that they will figure it out, become more efficient, and prosper. 


7.  Even the most modest forecasts for the solar industry have it making up at least 10% of the electricity market that makes hundreds of billions of dollars each year in revenue. I don't expect them to hold a 34% market share forever, but even a part of that share is worth much, much more than the ~$2 billion SCTY market cap right now.  If the stock price is supposed to value a company on present and future value, I believe SCTY is very undervalued at it's current price.  That's mostly why I'm long SCTY, that and beginning to consider future company efficiency and industry-wide, mature-market gains.

The Next Step in a Nonlinear Career


One of the people I most admire in the world is Elon Musk and a really cool thing about him is the insane focus he's had for most of his whole adult life:


"In the case of Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, and PayPal... it really stemmed from when I was in college and trying to think: what would affect the future most likely in a positive way?" Musk said. "So the three areas I was quite sure would be positive were sustainable energy, the internet, and making life multi-planetary."


When I left SolarCity 8 months ago to finish my Master's degree early, I knew it would be impossible for my next company to compare.  Not only did I work with amazing people (mostly) but I actually felt like I was doing my small part to make the world a better place, one home at a time.


After graduating I looked at Business Analyst-type jobs available but they didn't really excite me that much; yeah I'd be doing interesting work and making good money but at the end of the day, what was I actually going to accomplish? Save X company Y amount of dollars through process improvements or data analysis insights that would it more money?  I knew I couldn't just do that.


So I had my own Musk-type moment and thought about what I could do to most affect the world in a positive way and came up with my own list of three things:  sustainability/renewable energy, medicine and education.  I had already hit most of my goals on the sustainability/renewable energy front with SolarCity and I think the 'medical school' ship has long since sailed for me, so I looked harder back into education.


I always thought I would end up in front of a classroom at the tail-end of my career but honestly I was more concerned with making more money and earning prestige early on.  But having a couple months off to think deeper, I realized having a career that was challenging, rewarding and fulfilling was much more important to me.  The one constant in my life has always been a love of learning so if I can pass on that love to others that can then go on and impact the world positively themselves, that will have a much bigger impact than I ever could by myself.


Four months ago I joined Teach For America, taught summer school in Tulsa and today started as a math and science teacher at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, Missouri.  Here's to the next step!