“People with limited understanding of business think that business is all about making profits. But those who actually run businesses know that running a business is all about managing cash flows.” - Cedric Chin
Despite what the title and the quote above might lead you to believe, at its core, this is a post about how thinking in first-principles can sometimes result in flawed reasoning. However, it also serves as a crash course on the significance of maintaining a healthy cash flow when running a business, while subtly reinforcing the notion that intricate topics such as how to run a business cannot be simplified into trivial bullet points. As regular readers of Commoncog know, Cedric’s articles typically contain multiple layers of topics and tend to leave you thinking for a long time. This one is no different.
“Why does the bank charge me $3 to withdraw my own money? Isn’t it a simple database operation?” If you work in tech, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard this question before. The reason, as you’ll learn in this article, has little to do with the technology that powers banks and more to do with the complex web of stakeholders that operate and profit from running ATMs.
In the long-tail problem, all the opportunities in front of you live on the long tail of user needs. Collectively they represent many users, but individually none of them appear important enough to invest time or resources in.
This is a common problem for most SaaS products. How do you design for the long tail? How do you satisfy the needs of a small group of power users without affecting your majority user base? To solve this problem, you need to look beyond user-centred design and instead, design for emergence.
In design for emergence, the designer assumes that the end-user holds relevant knowledge and gives them extensive control over the design. Rather than designing the end result, we design the user’s experience of designing their own end result. In this way we can think of design for emergence as a form of ‘meta-design.’
We are already seeing this manifest into several popular products today - Notion, Obsidian, iOS Shortcuts and Microsoft Excel are a few examples. These tools offer a comprehensive set of default features that satisfy the needs of most users but also offer enough customisation and extensibility for power users.
Playground AI - Generate images using Stable Diffusion or DALL-E in multiple sizes. Comes with a generous free tier. I came across Playground on Twitter and tried it out after I ran out of Midjourney credits. The results aren’t as impressive as Midjourney but, it gets the job done.
CleanShot X - I share a lot of screenshots with my team and our designers. Sometimes, I need to annotate screenshots before I share them. Sometimes I need to combine two screenshots to explain minute differences in the UI. Sometimes I need to record a quick video to point out user experience issues. CleanShot X lets me do all that and more. What’s more, it doesn’t require an expensive monthly subscription or long-term commitments. I highly recommend that you give it a shot (pun intended)!
Project Hail Mary - Andy Weir - Before I tell you how great this book is, I need to confess. I don’t enjoy sci-fi nearly as much as my peers. I am not a fan of Star Wars or Star Trek. I don’t follow sci-fi shows, movies or books either. I’ve only ever watched one sci-fi show from start to finish - The Expanse. I took a leap of faith and decided to try Project Hail Mary since it was highly recommended on Goodreads. I’m so glad I did! I thoroughly enjoyed the story, the characters and the humour. It was extremely approachable for a sci-fi newb like me. Highly recommended!