Oh hello there,
This is the 45th edition of Making Connections, where we take a random (illustrated) walk down tech, fitness, product thinking, org design, nerd culture, persuasion, and behavior change.
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🖼 Every Bit Counts
After getting stuck / running aground in the Sues Canal, the Ever Given is now blocking more than 237 cargo ships, or 12% of all global trade. At one point they got an excavator out there to clear the path. And while this meme is meant to express the futility of using such a small tool to tackle such a big problem, in the meme I made above, I see it as a symbol of grim determination.
Last week’s edition on the Atlanta shootings generated more reader email than any I’ve done since. Most of them supportive and positive, but at least one reader, who worked in the “Far East” for a decade and married a Japanese woman, accused me of “fanning the race card”, ignoring the progress we’ve made on AAPI issues, and being either blind, very young, or poorly read.
I spent the last week interviewing five Asian American immigrant small business owners. The piece will go up on Vox on Monday in an “as told to” format, which means I had the privilege and responsibility of expressing the stories of these incredible women1 in their own words, shaped through my fingers. It’s just a drop in the ocean, but there’s no magic solution. Every bit counts.
🧠 Bill G’s MasterClass on Framing Climate Change
Bill Gates has a new book out on Climate Change as well as a series of short, related videos. I haven’t read the book itself, but what I wanted to do here is breakdown his persuasive techniques and framing strategies for building a strong argument.
First off, consider the title: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. Very clear and plain language, especially the word “disaster”. Environmentalists have shifted their language from global warming (soft) to climate change (catchier but vague) and these days we have climate crisis (catchy and more urgent). Gate’s choice to use climate disaster is a bit less catchy without the alteration, but conveys greater severity and damaging consequences (a “crisis” connotes a specific moment in time).
Other points to note here are the blue to red gradient - subtle but noticeable. Blue is the color of calm and water; red is the color of heat and blood. The subtitle The solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need indicate this is no longer about persuading anyone this is an issue. It’s about a plan for solving the problems through technology.
Next let’s look at the video book trailer:
- The problem: A significant stat about greenhouse emissions and the “catastrophic” consequences for human life, coupled with images of floods, storms, and other evocative imagery
- The reason to believe: Gates alludes to his background as one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history, helping drive the computer revolution. He doesn’t even need to namecheck Microsoft. He focuses on the massive proliferation and size reduction of computing devices - progress that is tangible and visualizable. This frames his authority as an innovator and also support the idea that massive change can happen over a 20-30 year period.
- The key challenge: Gates frames the problem in simple terms. From 51 billion tons of CO2 to zero emissions while meeting the planet’s basic needs. That is a massive challenge that he says calls for not one, but many breakthroughs.
- The consequences: solving this will mean everyone can be happy and productive OR we can have constant human and financial crises to deal with. It’s brief because he wants to get to the next part, which is…
- The solution: Gates divides up the task of avoiding the climate disaster into three teams: A) Investors and Entrepreneurs who need to invent / transform businesses B) Government who need to create policies that drive clean energy demand (effectively subsidizing the cost of clean energy while it’s less affordable than traditional fossil fuels) and C) Advocates who need to stay loud to keep the issue top of mind and keep demanding progress. While Gates is clearly centered around technological invention, he does not discount the importance of keeping climate change in the public discussion constantly. He knows that people like Greta Thunberg do more than “just talk”. Activists like her are essential for shifting public support for these policies & advancing the movement overall.
- Heighten the difficulty: If you want to motivate or empower someone who is overconfident about handling a problem, criticizing them doesn’t work. You have to build up the problem instead. Gates could have said “we are way behind on this” but instead he says “this will be greater than landing on the moon or eradicating smallpox”. These are incredible achievements we have done as a species, but now it’s time for the boss level.
- Reiterate the core thesis: In the wizard vs prophet spectrum, Gates is 100% wizard. He is ties his optimism to his own success as the founder of a company that’s worth more than the entire FAANG group save Apple ($1.74T vs $2.04T). Now if you’re not a capitalist, you might not be swayed by his argument, but I think he’s probably ok with that.
Phew! This is the power of a clear, concise, and compelling argument. It says a ton in just 120 seconds. The polar opposite of a rambling Clubhouse discussion.
If you want to dig in more, Gates has a whole YouTube playlist full of short, specific videos breaking down different elements of the his arguments and ideas.
If you liked this persuasion breakdown, you might also like my analyses on top articles in Fast Company, The Atlantic, and NYTimes Op-Ed start and finish their pieces. And also my lessons learned from doing a TED talk with 4M views
👉 Virtual Assistant Hacks with Magic + Loom + G Sheets
I’ve been wanting to use virtual assistants (VA)for a long time, ever since Tim Ferris wrote about them in 4 Hour Work Week but I haven’t found a price point, quality & convenient service and use case that fit me.
Until recently. I’ve been using Magic - a YC company that has $15/hr assistants ($10 if you have at least 10 hrs a week) who are based in the Philippines but have college degrees and are English fluent - a lot over the last few months. They can fulfill orders for you, capture content, format posts. So far they still struggle with researching information on the internet though.
One challenge of VA’s is ensuring they follow your instructions correctly. As anyone who’s written code or worked with kids knows, there’s a lot of ways to misinterpret a task. That’s why I use Loom to record a screen share, which I then attach to my assignments.
Finally, I label my projects / tasks in a Google Sheet with a name, the Loom instructional video, and a separate sheet to track the task itself. This lightweight project management system really works for me.
Alright, that’s enough for today. I’ll see you next week.
👨🏻💻 About Me
Jason Shen is an entrepreneur and business leader passionate about technology and human resilience. His past startups have reimagined transportation, recruiting, and gaming; backed by notable investors at Y Combinator, Techstars, and Amazon. As an operator, he’s built products and led teams at companies like Facebook, Etsy, and the Smithsonian.
Jason has written about productivity, resilience as well as the future of work in publications like Fast Company, VOX, TechCrunch and has spoken at events at TED, Google and The White House where his ideas have reached millions. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, two kettlebells, and many piles of books.
I did interview one guy but we cut his story for space. I’ll probably pitch it somewhere else.