Newsletter 8 November 2023: The growth miasma; lying in Meadows; reading with friends

The Andromeda Strain

How growth destroys everything good; the end of bestsellers; if you tell truth under oath you can’t lie in print; plus three people to follow, three books to read, and a warm plug.

Growth is the inverse of quality

The idea of growth is baked into everything that happens in our capitalist economy. We’ve internalized it. “Greed is good.”

All investors know how you are supposed to win.

First, solve a problem.

Then, find some customers.

Find more customers. Lots more customers.

Grow the company to meet the needs of those customers. Screw profit. Just grow. Blitzscaling, baby.

Dominate a market. Be the only choice.

Now quality doesn’t matter. Keep growing that market. Sell them more. And more. Take up more space in the brains of more people. Now you win.

Gaining more customers means reminding them your company is there. That’s why our inboxes are flooded with messages. The bigger the flood, the harder it is to reach people. So send even more messages. The flood becomes a torrent.

Once a channel clogs up, they seek more channels. That’s why there are so many ads in our social media. And promotional text messages. And DMs. It’s why marketing “notifications” now burble out from apps. Even your mail is polluted. That envelope may look like a bill, but it’s another pitch from your cable company.

AI makes it a lot easier to create mediocre crappy messages. Now you don’t even need people to spam your customers — machines can do it!

Of course the other side of revenue is expense. People to answer the phones cost money. So make people wait half an hour to reach service. Make them navigate incomprehensible phone trees to talk to people whose English is barely comprehensible. Underserve them with lazy chatbots. There’s a reason that our telecom companies, our health insurance companies, and our big tech companies — Facebook/Meta, Google/Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft — deliver such piss poor service. Because we can’t live without them. Monopolies don’t give a shit.

Unbridled capitalism is why growth is the inverse of quality.

Funny thing, though. I keep encountering people who serve me well. Plumbers. Shopkeepers. Dare I say it — consultants.

My own little business has 100% satisfied customers. I don’t say that because I did a survey — I know them all and I like most of them. The growth imperative would insist that I hire assistants and automate as much as possible of what I do.

Screw that. I like serving people. And because they like me, I can keep my prices high, my quality high, and my relationships super-solid.

It’s not just me. There are lots of us out here. Many are out of work because growth companies no longer needed them. And they have talent, believe me. Hire them.

If you have a choice, support a person, not a growth engine. In the end, it’s the only way you’ll be able rise above the miasma of crap.

News for authors and others who think

The Wall Street Journal stopped publishing a bestseller list. People were gaming those lists anyway. And authors have muddied the waters by claiming their 15 minutes at the top of a subcategory in Amazon makes them a bestseller. “Bestseller” is no longer a signal of anything meaningful.

The cardinal rule of nonfiction publishing is “don’t lie.” The penalties for lying used to be limited to libel suits and damage to your reputation. Now Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to Donald Trump, is being sued for fraud. His publisher, All Seasons Press, says he lied in his book The Chief’s Chief, in which he insisted the 2024 election was stolen — statements he later contradicted in his sworn testimony. Expect future book contracts to include a clause that you’re not making fake stuff up, even if it doesn’t damage anyone’s reputation but your own.

The Wall Street Journal describes (gift link) a new kind of book club where you can read anything you want, surrounded by other people reading what they want. If you can’t read more than a few pages without being distracted by your phone, this might help.

Three people to follow

Christopher S. Penn, AI whiz that explains tech in terms mere mortals can understand.

David Armano, PR guru who just took a job as EVP of analytics and AI strategy at Soul Machines.

Liane Davey, author who’s posting about NOvember — a list of worthless habits you should be giving up this month.

Three books to read

Work-Life Bloom: How to Nurture a Team that Flourishes by Dan Pontefract (Figure 1 Publishing, 2023). Manage people with care and they’ll be productive, rather than burn out.

Worm: A Cuban-American Odyssey by Edel Rodriguez (Metropolitan Books, 2023). Crackerjack illustrator shares the story of his family’s escape from Castro.

The Fund: Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates, and the Unraveling of a Wall Street Legend by Rob Copeland (St. Martin’s, 2023). Documenting the excesses and downfall of private equity’s loudest proponent.

A warm plug

I help authors. It’s what I do. Try me.

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