Entrepreneur Club, Week 3 “Product Marketing”

July 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last week I had three major epiphanies about growth while preparing for our weekly meeting.  While largely inspired by my work at Kingsway Church, I’ve found these insights also very relevant for my professional and family lives.

I. Why We Grow

E-Myth Mastery by Michael E. Gerber

the marketing leader is the one in the organization who is most passionately committed to growth

Since I become Growth Pastor at Kingsway Church a few months ago, I’ve been wrestling with what “growth” means — particularly the tension between “intensive” growth (helping existing members grow deeper in Christ) and “extensive” group (bring more people into the church).

When I read the passage above, it hit me like a lightning bolt. I finally understood what I was supposed to be doing, and why God placed me in this role.

You see — in case you didn’t know –  I’ve spent the bulk of my professional career doing Product Marketing.  At my company, this covers both the inbound (product definition) and outbound (product advertising) aspects of Marketing.  In other words, one person makes sure we have the right product for the market AND makes sure the market knows about it.  I’ve never understood why many companies split those roles in to, as that makes it extremely difficult to close the loop.

From that perspective, intensive and extensive growth are really just two sides of the same coin.  My job is to define what it means to be a member of Kingsway Church, so that people inside know what they’re supposed to do and people outside know what we’re inviting them to become.  Easier said than done, of course, but at least I now have a clear vision what I must do (and a deep well of relevant experience and role models to draw upon).

II. Where We Grow

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it.

Amen!  This was also a key message of Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by David Marquet.  But while Captain Marquet’s book was a brilliant illustration of many key leadership themes, Ed Catmull’s history of Pixar makes it clear that he sees confronting uncomfortable truths as his primary job as President and CEO.

This was enormously validating for me, because of I often feel like a royal pain in the neck because I obsess over failure.  I hate failing – even though I consider it inevitable, given our finite minds and fallen nature.  I cope by trying to squeeze every last ounce of learning from each failure, so that I can fail better the next time around.  It seems the only rational response.

Alas, very few people seem to share that obsession.  In fact, I get the distinct impression that most people prefer to forget about failure, or attribute it to “bad luck”.  I’ve always wondered whether I was being unreasonable.

But no more.  I still need to work on being more compassionate, sensitive, and gracious.  But I will no longer feel ashamed of my desire to “marshall all our energies” to “work hard to uncover these problems”, because of Pixar’s evidence that confronting failure is surest route to sustaining creative excellence.

III. How We Grow

Romans 12:1-5

12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

This all came together for me when I listened to the audio recording of Romans 12 on my YouVersion app.  I was focused on verse 2, where it talks about “renewing” our minds — the same Latin word as “innovate!”  I was stunned by the connection with verse 3 — that renewing our minds and approving God’s will is somehow connected to NOT thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.  Which is intimately tied to accepting our places as just one of the members of Christ’s body.

This also shed light on a problem in information theory I was wrestling with at the time.  Our brains can only process a few concepts at a time, and even those are often based on incomplete facts or mistaken interpretations; the same is even true of the computers and robots we build!  The solution is not to ‘think more highly of ourselves’ by attempting to get a perfect picture of the world, but submit to our role as merely one of many.

Lessons Learned

  • We innovate by learning from others who see things differently.
  • We grow by confronting unpleasant truths that hinder creativity.
  • We inspire others to grow by showing them how (and why) we grow.

Easier to say than to do. But at least I’ve learned how to say it.

Entrepreneur Club, Week 2 “Caring but Not Caring”

July 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Dear budding Entrepreneurs,
Last week we took a brief diversion from E-Myth Mastery to discuss another book I stayed up until 2 AM reading:

David Marquet – Creating leadership at every level.

His basic premise is that leaders should be creating “sub-leaders” rather than followers, by giving up Control (through providing Clarity and Competence). Doing that successfully requires an attitude of “Caring but not Caring.”  We have to care about the Mission and the People we serve — but NOT care about our own Ego!
Each of shared and prayed for each other with how we’re wrestling with fear, performance, and impatience because we still tend to care about (and trust) “us” rather than God.
This tied in incredibly well with Anne Delke’s sermon at Kingsway Moreland yesterday, about how we can easily commit to “Good ideas” rather than “God’s ideas” — and how that can lead to things going horribly, irrevocably wrong…

Entrepreneur Club, Week 1 Devotional

July 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains– where does my help come from?

One common theme that came up at Entrepreneurs Club is that most of us tend to be “heads-down technicians.” We obsess over the work we need to do, the products we need to deliver to our customers, and how to become better at our craft.

At one level, that is a positive trait. That’s why we’re good at what we do, why people value our services, and why we have the self-confidence to even consider running our own business.

But it can also give us tunnel vision, making it easy to forget that:

  • God is in control
  • People are more important than products
  • Working on the business is more central than working in the business

Michael Gerber’s previous book, E-Myth Revisited, focused on #3. He talked about how most small businesses are started by “technicians with an entrepreneurial seizure”, who are primarily interested in working for themselves, rather than “true entrepreneurs” who are serious about growing a business that is bigger than themselves.

His latest book, E-Myth Mastery, addresses the second problem: we can become so obsessed with working on the business, with the result that we burn ourselves out. The solution is to get in touch with our inner passion, align it with a meaningful purpose, and keep that purpose strictly aligned with a bigger vision. Otherwise, either our passion will steer us out of control, or our purpose will drive us into the ground. An over-arching vision is essential to ensuring our business is making both ourselves and other people healthy, happier, more productive human beings.

Concerning the third problem: Michael and his books are deeply spiritual, but appears to draw mostly on Jewish and Eastern mysticism. As such, it doesn’t recognize that our passions are given to us by a loving Father whose ultimate purpose is for us to find our fulfillment in knowing Him and spreading His glory. In theory, Christians should be even better entrepreneurs, because we have a community of faith to help us discern God’s will for our lives and business, and His Spirit and Scripture to channel our passion, purpose and vision.

Tragically, that is not always the case. Apparently theology is known for being the least entrepreneurial major. I sometimes worry that church culture may have become too inward-focused and risk-avoidant.

Let’s see what we can do to change that!


This is Probably a Good Time to Say That I Don’t Believe Robots Will Eat All the Jobs …

June 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Dr. Ernie:

The mechanics of jobs will be automated, which is why the jobs of the future will rely on us being more human to each other.

Originally posted on Marc Andreessen:

Image; Tobias Higbie

Image: Tobias Higbie


One of the most interesting topics in modern times is the “robots eat all the jobs” thesis. It boils down to this: Computers can increasingly substitute for human labor, thus displacing jobs and creating unemployment. Your job, and every job, goes to a machine.

This sort of thinking is textbook Luddism, relying on a “lump-of-labor” fallacy – the idea that there is a fixed amount of work to be done. The counterargument to a finite supply of work comes from economist Milton Friedman — Human wants and needs are infinite, which means there is always more to do. I would argue that 200 years of recent history confirms Friedman’s point of view.

If the Luddites had it wrong in the early 19th century, the only way their line of reasoning works today is if you believe this time is…

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How to Have and Resolve An Argument

June 15, 2014 § Leave a comment


We hold certain positions because of what we:

A. Experience -> B. Encode -> C. Evaluate -> D. Emphasize -> E. Express

« Read the rest of this entry »

A Universal Problem Solving Process

February 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

  1. Feel Concern
  2. Frame Question
  3. Find Authority
  4. Interpret Answer
  5. Implement Solution

Back up as needed and repeat until concern is fully addressing.

The Multi-Minion Machine

August 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

A Function of Scale

Draft 1, Ernest Prabhakar, 2013-08-08

The Sequel to “The Minion Machine

The Premise

Real systems aren’t linear, but have scales where the cost is fixed below, but astronomical above.

The Goal

Extend/Restrict the Minion Machine to capture what it means to operate at “optimal scale”.

The Concept

Define a Multi-Minion Machine as a Minion Machine with the following changes:

  1. There is one minion for each bin (and thus each object) (M = N)
  2. Minions never move; they just shoot objects to other minions.
  3. The N objects are arranged in a ring of radius R, so “1″ is next to “N”.
  4. The objects travel on independent tracks of size r << R, so they don’t collide, but take effectively the same distance to a given bin.

The Model

Assume the minions are smart enough to figure out the optimal route from one bin to another. Instead of specifying a distance, we can thus just specify a destination (and not have to worry about ‘overflow’ or ‘underflow’).

Our primitive commands only need specify the initial (b_i) and final (b_f) bins, giving a size of:

S1 = 2 log(N) := 2 k

All other quantities are the same, except that the average distance d will be less (half?) due to the ring topology.


Let us use bold characters to represent an action tuple (E, t) whose norm is E times t. For example, operation L has the action A_L = (E_L, t_L). The action of our system can be decomposed into C for the communicator and M for movement.

If solving the puzzle requires n commands of size S1 and average distance d, we can write our action as:

A0 = n S1 C + n M(d) 
[Errata: parallel operations could complete in a time proportion to max(d), independent of n. There is a complex dependency on the relative values of C_t and M_t which I overlooked].

Now we can ask: would higher order commands reduce the action?

To start, let us introduce a program with per-command cost T that interprets a command as a transposition instead of a move. For example, if N = 8, the command 0x1f is split into 0x1f and 0xf1 and executed in parallel.

For a set of disjoint transpositions that would normally take n moves to solve, the action is now:

A1 = n/2 S1 C + n/2 M(d) + n/2 T 

For this case, it is a net win when (substituting k = log(N) = S1 / 2):

T < 2 k C + M(d) 

which is a net win for sufficiently large k.

However, that advantage only holds for disjoint permutations. Conjoined permutations (e.g., cycles) take the same number of steps as before, but most now pay the penaltyT.

To solve that, we could replace T with a program L that describes loops (cycles) rather than mere transpositions. This gives us, for all (?) permutations:

A2 = n/2 S1 C + n/2 M(d) + n/2 L 

with a similar constraint:

L < 2 k C + M(d) 


A particular command/program specification can be interpreted as a “strategy”.

For example [as Christy suggested], imagine two players Satan and God.

  1. Each of them is given a Multi-Minion box for which they devise a fixed strategy behind closed doors.
  2. When the curtain comes up, Satan & God get to see each other’s strategies.
  3. Satan secretly feeds commands into his box to entangle a set of balls.
  4. Those balls are teleported into God’s box, where he must dis-entangle them.

Every command costs some number of “action points” (great name, Christy :-). The winner is the player who spends the fewest action points.

This leads to a number of interesting questions:


  • Are there optimal strategies for God and Satan? Is the optimal strategy the same for both players? Is there a meta-strategy for which commands Satan should use, after finding out God’s strategy?
  • Does one player have an intrinsic advantage in this case? What about the case where the entanglement isn’t simple permutations, but some NP-complete problem?
  • How should we calculate the per-command cost P for the program used to implement the strategy? Naively, L ought to be bigger than T, but by how much? Can we break all possible strategies down into a “basis” of simpler components, allowing cost comparisons between them?
  • Do any of these results change in interesting ways if we add baseline costs for any of the elements?


I’m not sure if we learned anything about scale, but we did develop a useful concept of strategy. It also implies that the action (which is perhaps closer to “difficulty” rather than mere “complexity”) depends on interactions between the instruction set chosen and details of the input vectors.

Then again, maybe that is why we have different scales: to allow optimal instruction sets for different levels of representing a problem…


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