What I read this week – 35th week 2020

Expectations of failure often lead to failure. But not always. Occasionally I’ve found myself working harder than usual just to prove someone else wrong. In high school my French teacher said I wouldn’t manage to get a top grade because I messed about in class too much. Just to prove her wrong I kept messing about in class, but worked hard behind the scenes, enough to get an A*. Turns out that the difference between an expectation of failure leading to failure or leading to harder work doesn’t just depend on the type of person you are. A study by Samir Nurmohamed showed that when the person who doubts success has their credibility in question, the result is more likely to be harder work. This is the Underdog Effect.

Factories at Clichy, Van Gogh 1887

This week hasn’t been easy. On Monday I lost my job. Not that I can really say that I had the job, I hadn’t really started it. I was going to start the job in October, but now it has disappeared. CVA (the consultancy I was going to work for) are cutting 40% of their UK headcount, new hires included. So now begins the job searching and reaching out to people.

I know that I’m only one of the 750,000 people who have lost their job during Covid in the UK, but it sucks to become part of that statistic. It is one thing to read about upskilling and learning new skills while unemployed, another thing to drag your ass out of bed and sit at your desk and go through the online courses, day in and out, while applying for jobs and writing cover letters.

What is next then? Well, I’m currently applying for jobs in industry while trying to sustainably scale Nom Nom Not Dairy. I’m writing and learning. And I’m mostly trying, as is appropriate at 22, to figure out what I want to do with my life.

What I read

This week I read a criticism of so-called “mission” companies – specifically Everlane. For people who don’t know, Everlane is a clothing company that claims to be different. They promise “radical transparency,” whatever that really means. The article explains how Everlane’s mission has evaporated (along with their profits) as the Covid-recession hit. If you don’t stick to your word when the going gets tough, was your mission ever any more than a marketing hoax? Additionally, when closing physical stores brings a primarily online company to their economic knees, it makes you question how valid their “radical-transparency-fair-price” economic model is.

Compare this to Patagonia, a company that has stuck to their values through several recessions. Patagonia give 1% of sales to environmental groups (Not 1% of profit, 1% of sales. Yeah.) Because of this unwavering dedication to the planet and to the quality of their clothes, Patagonia has been the cardigan of choice for “both hippies and investment banker yuppies” as a friend of mine put it. And I think that consumers can tell when a mission is authentic or not. Danone recently changed the legal status of their company to reflect their social mission which is “bringing health through food to as many people as possible.” Their dedication to their mission explains their investment in and growth of Alpro (a vegan dairy alternative company) which sets them apart from other dairy and yogurt companies who appear to be fighting rather than embracing a change to dairy free. Having a mission doesn’t just help with ESG and marketing, but also motivates and attracts employees.

Thinking like this, about mission in companies and about vision in leadership, is why it was very important to me that Nom Nom Not Dairy had core values and a mission that we stuck to. You can even find our values on the front page of our website.

(Late update, Everlane are looking for a new CMO, and might have laid people off illegally)

The next topic of the week is about efficient communication. First, when you send an IM to a colleague to ask for something don’t bother saying hey in a separate message. When you say hey, you grab their attention. Then they wait for the next message. This just takes more time than it needs to. Just put the “hey” at the beginning of the longer request with all the information they need. Second, don’t ask to ask, just ask. Instead of asking if anyone has experience with a specific technology, ask for help by explaining the problem that you are having. When you ask a generic question people are less likely to volunteer their skills because they don’t know what they are getting themselves into. Keep it short, and be considerate of other people’s time.

And finally, a little bit of neuroscience. If you haven’t already heard about the vagas nerve, also known as the 10th cranial nerve or “wandering” nerve, I expect you will soon. The vagus nerve is called the wandering nerve because it travels into so many organs within the body and is implicated in so many physiological processes, from ghrelin (the hunger hormone) to cortisol (the stress hormone) and even to emotion and intonation shown in the face. Properly understanding the vagus nerve, and how different frequencies of stimulation effect the body would be instrumental in solving many illnesses. Stephen Silberstein, director of the Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals says “We know it can turn off an asthma attack or an epileptic seizure. It can turn off a migraine or cluster headache, and it can decrease the perception of acid reflux.” In this article, Markham Heid discusses recent developments in science surrounding the vagus nerve and applications of that science to developing treatments. Lastly, author Brian Pennie discusses the architecture of the brain in a way that is very accessible to laypeople, and how it relates to mindfulness and his battle with heroin addiction.

Further reading

I’m keeping the further reading section going this week with three more stories. Articles without a purpose beyond the story they tell, so aren’t worth summarizing, but are worth reading. First is a selection of college essays from incoming freshmen, reflecting on where they are from and what sticks with them from their upbringing. Second is the MasterClass Diaries, reflections from someone who actually bought those MasterClasses that you always see advertised. Finally, what is a tuna worth?

As always, if you have any interesting recommendations or suggestions, (or a job) let me know on LinkedIn or at callum@callumacdonald.com.

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