Monthly Archives: February 2009

When we Pendulum: Humans tend to oscillate back and forth on ideas and mates

When us humans come out of a suboptimal experience, we tend to overcorrect in the opposite direction in our next experience.  Repeated overcorrecting results in penduluming (which is often sub-optimal behavior).

For instance, let's say you dated a workaholic investment banker and the relationship  goes sour (for reasons not qualifying you to be part of Dating a Banker Anonymous).  The next person you may be inclined to date might be a starving artist – someone completely in the opposite direction.  In reality, if you dated that investment banker but you just wished they worked a bit less, you may want to date a trader, lawyer, or accountant. 

In dating, many people are always looking for the opposite of the person they last had a relationship with.

Rather than completely overcorrecting, a repeated iterative correction, without going to the extremes, may prove more fruitful.  In math, this idea is represented as a limit of a function oscillating and eventually approaching an asymptote; in physics this is known as damped oscillations (for all the math and science geeks).

In the physical world for instance, repeated or extreme overcorrecting while driving can cause a car to roll.  The idea is to make gradual correction in the opposite direction towards that happy medium.

The past 16 years of picking Presidents, demonstrates that the nation has an inclination towards penduluming.  In 1992 we were concerned that President George H.W. Bush was out of touch with the public (e.g. not knowing the price of milk and never seeing a scanner before). And so this country chose a guy named Clinton who was a man of the people and loved McDonald's.  The nation was then tired of this guy cheating on his wife and so we yearned for the stability in the prior administration, thus we pendulumed to a George W. Bush who was pious and talked about his love for religion.  And this past election we elected someone perceived as very different from Bush.

Even national security policy can vary widely.  World War I was a total quagmire because most countries succumbed to a bizarre notion that the first country to strike would have an overwhelming advantage.  Of course, this did not happen and the world saw years of trench warfare with little territory gained.  Seeking to avoid this horrible kind of war is what led to Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement.  He did not want to rush into things which turned out to be the wrong thing to do.  Later, World War II turned into the complete mobilization of the nation but a huge cost of 400,000 lives and required the attention of almost the entire country.  So when we got into a war in Vietnam we pendulumed to a more limited engagement — the thought was to rather fight them when they were distant and weak then when they were closer and stronger. Clearly that didn't work out, so we followed the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force in the first Gulf War.  But, of course, Vietnam taught us that occupation was a likely failure so we left Saddam Hussein in power.  Then in the most recent Iraq campaign we went back to a more limited engagement … but we decided to be an occupying force yet again.  It appears our leaders are oscillating back and forth and cannot decide on the best strategy.

And it is not just military leaders, voters, and hopeless romantics that pendulum.  We all do it in business.  You may join a work environment with no process that is too chaotic, and then move to a new company which might quickly overwhelm you with the initially desired bureaucracy.  Or if you tried to outsource your lead gen and it did not work you might decide to never outsource anything ever again.

The human species as a whole is very fickle about what we want.   We think we want one thing and when the outcome does not totally work out, we often go for something completely different.  We’re constantly taking excessive measures in an attempt to correct or make amends for an error, weakness, or problem, while running off of very little data.  And so ideally you would want to collect additional data and make iterative corrections.  Just don’t swing too far to the left or right.

Special thanks to Rob Reid for his ideas and Vivek Sodera for his edits.

2014 predictions (of the non-obvious sort)

about this time every year, I make predictions five years out.   it is pretty hard to make predictions and i think the hardest time frame is five years.  it is far enough where a lot of change can happen but not too far where you cannot quickly see if you are right.   since i have been doing this since 2006 I'll be able to see the fruits of my predictions as early as 2011.

here are my non-obvious predictions for 2014:

  • At least one of your friends will have quadruplets. 
  • A huge surge of populism will overtake the world — immigration to Western countries will be halved, massive trade barriers will be in effect, and lots of people will be looking for scapegoats. 
  • At least one major European country will effectively become an autocracy and many will flirt with extreme fascism or communism. 
  • Massive pressure will be unleashed on Congress and States to amend the Constitution to allow a President to serve a third term. 

venture capitalists are capitalizing on power

one of the better companies i am an angel investor with just raised a significant amount of money. that’s a huge deal in this tough climate.

the company got three term sheets which is also really impressive. all about the same valuation and all from great venture firms. but two of the term sheets asked for a 3x liquidation preference.

Yes, I said a three-times participation rights. Whoa!

The company was lucky enough to have another term sheet from a reasonable VC and not have to take on the onerous terms. But it makes me wonder, how many of the companies that have recently raised money (even the well known ones) have crazy terms like these? Will the entrepreneurs of these companies ever be able to make money?

ethical dilemma: defense lawyer protecting a guilty man

scenario: you are a defense lawyer and one of your clients confesses to you (and only you) that he committed a murder that he is not on trial for (and you believe he did it).  separately, a different man (an innocent man) is tried and convicted for that murder that your client did.  the innocent man is sentenced to life in prison.

what do you do???