Wondering, wandering, and making sense of the world.


Archive for April, 2016

How many Steve Jobs does the world need?


I’ve recently watched both recent Steve Jobs movies (Steve Jobs, Jobs) on planes, trains, and automobiles (okay, just planes).

This got me thinking, how many Steve Jobs does the world need?

You can imagine that if everyone in the world was like Steve, neurotic eccentric visionaries, the world wouldn’t function so well. For every Steve, there needs to be many, many Frank Smiths who do as they are told, obedient workers who get things done.

Of course the degree of “visionary-ness” is not binary, it’s a sliding scale where some people are crazy visionary while others are not so much. There are other traits that determine one’s ability to succeed and/or be of value to society.

While arguable, my mental model tells me that leaders and those who are higher in the organizational pyramid need to be more visionaries. If a Walmart clerk is a visionary, he or she really needs to be in a position to exert more influence.

So what’s the appropriate ratio between the Steves and Frank Smiths of the world?

Obviously, there is no fixed number, but phenomenology might point us toward an answer. Dunbar’s number is a social science theory that states that people are generally able to maintain stable social relationships of about 150 people. One of Dunbar’s argument is that historically, there have been many organization that formed organically to be around 150 people, such as military units (companies in the U.S.) and nomadic villages.

When Steve Jobs resigned from Apple in 2011, the company employed about 60,000 people. Microsoft was probably in the same vicinity when Bill Gates stepped down, but both companies now employ over 100,000 people. Obama leads over 4 million US government employees, Einstein probably didn’t work with much more than few assistants.

Ok, industry and context matters heavily, so finding that ratio may not be so easy.

It seems that these days, everyone wants to be Steve. No one wants to live a secure but boring life of Frank Smith. We all want to be visionaries, inspire, and change the world in one way or another.

This is not going to work.

I don’t know when it became a bad thing to be Frank Smith. While I never lived in the 50s and 60s, but it was probably okay to be normal back then, and a lot of people lived, normally. They say that we don’t want to live same way our parents do, and if so, is this a pendulum that swings back and forth between Steve and Frank? Will the generation that follow look at how unhappy Gen Y yuppies are and conclude that they want a more stable life?

Will we make movies celebrating Frank Smith?


1000 reviews on Yelp

I’ve been terrible about updating my blog. Moving to Japan has made my life so much more hectic, professionally, semi-professionally, and a little bit personally. Being able to speak the language fluently has opened up my world significantly, and I’m definitely chewing off much more than I can handle. But hey, it’s fun!

My blog has been the victim of my newfound busyness (my friends in Germany are probably wondering how I can be even more busy than before), but I am still Yelping! And recently, I hit the 1000 review milestone on March 12th so I decided to look back at my Yelp career (that’s a weird way of saying it). Just as a reference, my 500th review was on February 25th, 2013.

I started using Yelp around 2006, after I graduated from graduate school and signed up for an account in April 2007, but I did not write a review until 2009 which was for a sandwich store in San Francisco. Actually, back in the day (around 2007), my friend and I discussed creating a Yelp competitor that focused on map-based search because the Yelp interface was so clunky. They definitely solved that problem and expanded their empire significantly. I’m glad we didn’t start that company since we probably would have been a fishing boat trying to take on a battle ship.

Since my first review in 2009, I have now written 1012 reviews and amassed 156 compliments and 628 Useful, 562 Funny, and 465 Cool votes, gotten at least one “Review of the Day” (I thought I had another one but I can’t find it), and almost all my reviews are seven words long.

Why? I explain in detail on my blog post from 2009, but in short, I wanted to create a format that people can easily digest while challenging myself creatively. I still find many Yelp reviews too long to be scanned, and unlike TripAdvisor, there are no subject lines.

This has actually gotten some of my reviews removed because it doesn’t quite follow the content guideline of providing “enough detail about your customer experience.” I thought it was only restaurants using it as an excuse to get rid of bad reviews, but looking back, good reviews were taken out too.

Since I have them archived in e-mail, here are the five that got removed (there may have been few more):

I have broken out of style few times by writing near the Yelp character limit of 5000:

In 2010, I became a Yelp elite for the first time, not because I was finally noticed, but because I was living in Paris where Yelp was in its infancy and a new community manager was hired. Anyone who was active in Paris at that point pretty much became an elite. I’ve been an elite since, except for 2012 and 2013 when I lived in Frankfurt and there was no community manager.

Being an elite, even though I don’t like the pretentiousness of the name, has its perks in free food and drinks. I’ve eaten a lot of free meals thanks to Yelp, although I’m sure I’ve put in way more hours writing reviews than what those meals were worth.

Yelp’s international expansion has interestingly intertwined with my life. While living in Europe, Yelp pushed strongly their European expansion, ultimately buying out Qype, and a year before I moved to Japan, they launched there although I wrote that they will fail.

For the longest time, Yelp kept expanding to countries where I have been or was soon going, and once I visited Sweden for a few hours just so I can review a place there (I was in Denmark, just across the strait). However, I can no longer say that I have reviewed in every country where Yelp exists. I’ve never been the Malaysia and the last time I was in the Philippines, the USSR was still intact. 30 out of 32 is not bad though, and I’m sure I’ll head to Malaysia and Philippines one of these days as I don’t live so far away.

Onwards and Upwards!

P.S. I made it onto the Yelp podcast in Japan too (episode 27 on March 3rd).


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