The stat that influenced the birth of Amazon

5. General

The stat that influenced the birth of Amazon

This week’s headline is a fascinating tweet thread about the power of numbers.

Oh, and there’s a bonus.

Bonus: The #SOTD Digest!

A month back I had started posting the #SOTD series. Here’s a quick recap about the objective:

Presenting #SOTD – or Story of the Day (Storytelling Technique of the Day was too long!) – where I’m going to identify a story learning moment from something that I read, watched or heard… and share it with you on this platform.

In a way, I want to take you all on my learning journey.

I had also opened it up as a daily email. (Honestly, I was a little surprised to see the very tepid interest for that offer!).

In case you missed that, no worries. If you’d like to get the #SOTDs in your email every day (at around 9.30 am India time), here’s where you hop on:
Yes – Sign me up for the #SOTD emails​​
For others who might find getting a daily email overwhelming, here is a quick digest of the five #SOTD emails from the past week:

– #SOTD16: How to Avoid Misleading Charts: In which I profile a useful Economist explainer on why is it mostly wrong to break the axis of your charts, and when is it ok to do so.

– #SOTD 17: Weaving stories into your narrative: This is a fascinating article by J Ramanand where he tackles the question of how to cope with managing people remotely. In doing so, he takes inspiration from three stories from the past – the invention of radar; how NASA manages its (literally) remote workforce; and how an inspiring Professor coped with losing his eyesight in his forties. Ramanand’s article is a great example of weaving stories into your narrative.

– #SOTD 18: Every war is fought on two fronts: Brand leader, author and commentator Santosh Desai writes this thoughtful viewpoint on how every war is fought on two fronts – the battlefield and the media. I use the Pyramid Principle to analyse how Santosh structures his article.
– #SOTD 19: Persuading a hard-nosed VC: I had the most fun writing this – identifying the compelling persuasion techniques used by a character in a movie based on the life of Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos.

– #SOTD 20: A Fun Friday Find: In which we wrap-up the week with an appreciation of alliteration! Check out the lovely example and the book recommendation.

Article of the week

a. The stat that influenced Amazon’s finding by Steph Smith

This is a thread by Steph Smith, a writer who posts smart and thought-provoking threads on Twitter.


I’d posted a video earlier about how every story is nothing but the account of how a problem was solved (or should be solved).

But what alerts the problem solver, the entrepreneur, to the fact that there is a problem to be solved?

The answer: Change. Some fundamental and (usually) inexorable change in the world.

These changes manifest themselves in data trends. Typically someone starts noticing some anecdotal evidence of something changing (say “summers have been really hot lately”). This may lead them to explore the data – Are the relevant metrics (temperature recordings) seeing a surprisingly high amount of movement in any particular direction? Once that corroborates your observations, the problem solver has to dig deeper:

– Is the change a one-time phenomenon, part of random volatility or does it reflect a fundamental change in how the world operates?

– What are the implications of the change?

Most of us are oblivious to these changes happening. A small minority is aware, but does not do much about it. It the very rare who actually roll up their sleeves and decide to act on the opportunity that the change creates.

What Steph has done (admirably) in the thread is to highlight a bunch of disparate sectors/part of the economy which are currently seeing a ton of change.

Read through the list to uncover some truly era-defining trends:

  • The cost of mapping a genome has fallen ~100,000% over the last 15 years.
  • College tuition (in the US) has outpaced how much people earn by almost 10x.
  • The electronics system was 5% of car costs in 1970. It’s expected to be 50% by 2030.
  • 19 of the hottest years on record were in the last 20.
  • The OG lab-grown burger costed $330k in 2013. Now, 1 lb. of lab-grown chicken costs $7.70, down from $18 mid-2021.

Great food for thought for current and aspiring entrepreneurs!

Disclaimer: If you are relying on any of these stats to take some calls, please do your own diligence on the veracity!

Podcast episode/s of the week

a. Cal Newport – The Eternal Pursuit of Craftsmanship, the Deep Life, Slow Productivity, and a 30-Day Digital Minimalism Challenge – From The Tim Ferriss Show

Cal Newport is a Computer Science professor and productivity guru who is famously off social media. He does not even have an account with Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

You might have read one or more of his bestsellers – Deep Work or Digital Minimalism. In late 2019, I’d written a post about how I’d made a bunch of changes in my digital life after reading the latter book.

In this inspiring conversation, Tim Ferriss dives deep into Cal’s mind to unearth the secrets of his productivity and writing.

Cal is a phenomenally driven and disciplined guy. While studying in college in the early 2000s he found the time to write many bestselling books (some of which are selling even now). Here is a fascinating extract:

Cal Newport: …I made the format of my first book as easy as possible. It was 50 short rules each with a contrarian title, each two to three pages long. So I made the task as tractable as possible. I was not going to try to do some sort of sophisticated take.

And so all of those pieces came together and then the final piece was how do you find the right agent? And what I did there is, I used the acknowledgement sections of target books to see when the author thanked their agent, so I could see what agent was working on what book. And I took the business book whose format I was completely copying for my student book, found the agent of that book, wrote that agent and said, “I want to do this book, but with student advice instead. Here’s all the stuff.” And she signed me right before my 21st birthday. And I’ve been with her for 20 years now, actually. So that’s how that all started.

Tim Ferriss: Wow. That’s amazing. So let’s see. What year roughly would that have been when you signed with that agent?

Cal Newport: So this was 2003. In the spring of 2003, if my memory serves, I was 20, I turned 21 that June, I was a junior in college. I signed a contract, the book, I had pitched it as Conquer College. And the head of the agency said, “You can’t have the hard Ks right after each other.” So we changed it to How to Win at College.

And I wrote it the fall of my senior year of college. I would just wake up early and write for 60 to 90 minutes every morning. I just would wake up and write for 60 to 90 minutes. The format of the book was perfect for it, because you could do a draft of one chapter at 60 to 90 minutes. And that was that. And that book, I finished that book while still at college, and it came out right after I graduated.

I sold another book while still in college. So while that was still in production, I upgraded. I was like, “Okay, I’m now going to do a book with normal chapters.” And this was How to Become a Straight-A Student. This ended up becoming probably the biggest of my student books. I had no idea how much it had been selling in the background because it was never a big best seller, but I checked last week and that little book has sold like 300,000 copies

Incredible stuff.

Tweet/s of the week

How working parents feel:

This is superb expression of the importance of the skill of writing. Bonus: You get two quotes in one tweet!

Quote of the week

“Your biggest enemy is a day spent not writing, not a day spent writing too little.”

– Tyler Cowen

Movie/OTT Series of the week

a. The Dropout on Disney Hotstar

You can fool some of the people all of the time or all of the people for some of the time…

Ms. Elizabeth Holmes sure seems to have achieved the latter. In this recreation of an astounding story, we get to know Holmes, her family, her co-workers and investors in deep detail.

As mentioned above, I wrote about a compelling scene where Holmes employs her legendary persuasive skills to convince a sceptical investor.

Video of the week

a. Lee Mack once rescued a duckling (5:11)

I know, I know. You’ve been missing my Lee Mack video recommendations. I’ve certainly been seeing my fair share of them and well, it’s only fair that I share some with you!

Such a hilarious demonstration of quick-wittedness and expressive storytelling.

That’s it folks: my recommended reads, listens and views for the week.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash