Once upon a time, I was a Mad Scientist. My superpower was the dark art of Optimization. I bullied armies of machines into solving the world’s hardest computation problems (like designing computer chips without a human). No more than 100 people could do what I did.

It sounds like bragging because it is. But it was the lie I fed myself to feel better. Behind the fake smile, I knew something wasn’ t right. When I got better at what I did, the more I died inside. I was just too dumb and proud to notice the signs sooner.

Like most bad decisions, it started because of a girl.

I was a broke student looking for a job that paid well enough for plane tickets to visit my then-girlfriend. After trying various gigs, I found my way into the office of a professor, though I didn’t suspect anything of him at the time.

I never ended up buying the plane tickets, or visiting my girlfriend. Instead, I filled my life with work and whatever I could buy to make me happy. The universe tried to save me many times, but I didn’t listen.

For example, sign one: how many times have you failed trying the same thing? I failed one freshman course three times. As a graduate student. It was called “Artificial Intelligence”. I had to evict human intelligence to make space for it.

Sign two: I was rejected by Grad School and became jobless in a terrible economy. The (evil) professor I worked for tempted me with a backdoor pass into University of Michigan’s Advanced Computer Architecture Laboratory. I accepted. And then I never saw the sun for years.

Later, in a strange moment of clarity, I escaped, but not without permanent damage. My journey in Evil Science and Midwest winter left me with a surprising mental defect. It’s burned so deep it’s now a reflex:

A sixth-sense for detecting Bullshit.

You see, in Science, B.S. can never be allowed to live. People’s lives depend daily on scientists thinking accurately. It keeps planes in the air. It keeps cars from exploding even though car engines work by detonating fuel and air inches from your hands.

And bullshit kills lives.

How do all the magical machines in our lives work without killing you?

The answer is you test and you measure and you test and you measure and you test again. No guessing allowed.

Because bullshit kills lives.

This requires discipline. Something every scientist is forced to learn. And something I didn’t know I took for granted…

… until I started earning some money on my own. I was shocked by the buffets of Bullshit the so-called “experts” served to people in the business world. Especially in Marketing. I guess that’s what happens when anyone can write anything and anyone can call themselves an expert. It’s crazy how people try to win arguments by dick-fencing or charm.

Nobel laureate Richard Feynman said, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” He saw first hand the fatal consequences of pride. He was a member of the Rogers Commission to investigate the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. When NASA managers recruited Christa McAuliffe for the shuttle’s Teacher-in-Space program, they told her there was a 1 in 100,000 chance of a catastrophic failure aboard the shuttle. Feynman discovered that NASA’s own engineers estimated it was closer to 1 in 200.

And on January 28, 1986, Challenger disintegrated over the Atlantic, off the coast of Florida.

Feynman warned, “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

Same applies in business. There really is only ONE way to settle any argument: Test. Results decide who wins, and the only opinions that matter are from customers who vote with the most dollars.

And then I realized…

Marketing is not art.

And maybe there’s no mystery at all. My parents owned a family business, and I could finally understand why they thought keeping me out of business was “better for me.” It was only stressful and risky for them because they were too deep with alligators. So they never discovered that:

A good business is a system. A system for attracting, keeping and multiplying customers. And advertising and marketing, done right, are also systems. They are rooted in Psychology — the Science of Human Behavior. The truth is, yes, you are unique, but how you behave isn’t. Psychology has laid out a treasure map of pretty much everything you need to know about what makes people do anything: What motivates someone to buy… How to reduce the pain of opening their wallet… How to make difficult decisions easy. How to never compete on price. Finally, every step in your business process can be tracked, measured and optimized.

So why do people lie and pretend it’s “magic” or art?

I can think of three reasons:

One: to con victims into paying for marketing or advertising that don’t depend on concrete results. You’ll hear excuses that it’s for “exposure” or “building your brand.”

Bullshit. Every dollar you invest in marketing or advertising should return many more dollars in profit. And you should be able to tell if something works by counting how many people responded directly to it and bought because of it. Otherwise, why pay for it?

Two: Media bias. What gets the most attention usually doesn’t get profits. What works is often boring and unglamorous; but dependable, like the humble mailman who does his job in rain, shine or snow.

Three: because self-proclaimed “experts” are too undisciplined to hold their actions accountable. They would rather “play it by ear” or “feel”, or “create art” in a Peter Pan world where, when things don’t work out, no one is to blame. Perfect, if they’re gambling with your money and not theirs.

So, isn’t Marketing like Chess, not Roulette?

Anyway, that’s why I started this place. It’s for people who are a rebel at heart. Maybe you suspect something’s not right with “common knowledge”, you’re fed up with the bullshit, AND you can handle the truth. Maybe you hope for some honesty in this confusing world. Maybe you hope for the power to make your life better. Or to give someone you love a better life.

I know it can hurt to be hopeful. But we all need hope.

I’ve sometimes been called a fool for believing in people. For turning down work and good money. But screw it… I’m tired. Tired of doing things that are worth nothing when I’m gone.

Am I crazy for wanting to fill my life with only good and meaningful work?

I think the problem is it’s easy to get caught up with little things until something really important enters your life.

That happened to me recently.

I don’t care if you hate kids — this is my site and I want to introduce you to is this little guy. He doesn’t know it, but he’s my source of courage:


I’m not a mushy guy and I never fantasized about being a dad or doing family things. But… he emerged into the world covered in slime, a neatly folded ball of baby… his ears stuck to the sides of his head and his eyes swollen shut. And when his crusty hand with a tiny version of my thumb grabbed my little finger, something speared me through my cold heart.

As I’m writing this, he turned one not too long ago. He still can’t talk, but he learned to wave goodbye. I thought it was cute, but it later made me sad because I discovered that he would only wave bye to me.

Why was I sad? Because babies learn by repetition; so that meant I was who he waved goodbye to the most.

He’s growing up so fast. Every now and then when I pick him up, I notice he’s a little heavier, a little taller or a little stronger. Just recently it hit me that each time I pick him up is the last time I’ll ever see him that small again. I started lifting weights in denial that he was getting too heavy for me to carry.

He’s our little bundle of chaos. And because of him, things are… different now. My plans, dreams and perspectives have changed. I don’t know how to explain this better, but he inspires me to be the person I want him to look up to (as silly or perverse as that sounds).

I think we secretly search for meaning and purpose. And every now and then, something pounces out of nowhere, backhand-slapping you with a choice — Do you 1) try the fork in your road toward the better and happier future you know you have the right to? Or do you 2) reject it, do nothing, and cruise down the highway that ends with a lousy eulogy you can predict today?

Which do you choose?

Which will you regret, if you didn’t?

The reason you’re reading this because I chose you. Corny, I know. Whatever. After my son was born, I couldn’t help but think about life. Maybe it had something to do with him appearing virtually from thin air. It still blows my mind that he didn’t exist just a year ago.

And now he’s a person — he’ll grow, learn, bleed, cry, fall in love, raise a family and grow old. And I’ll grow old too.

You know, just the other night, I was comforting him after he woke up screaming, when I said without thinking, “We’ll always love you.” That’s when I realized I told him my very first lie.

Because, if there’s one thing for sure, I’ll be gone one day. And so will you.

Will you have mattered?

If you’ve found your calling, I hope your choice is always Yes.

Now, if you’re wondering what the mission and purpose of this place is, it’s two words: Force multiply. The idea goes back to the Vietnam War, when a handful of Green Berets managed to train and build up indigenous tribes into a 60,000-member guerrilla army.

I believe strength comes from building people, not things, and the most powerful army isn’t made up of strong soldiers, but strong leaders who create more leaders.

And in the same spirit of someone I owe a lot to, the way I prefer to get ahead is by lifting the people around me up.

So, I’ll be sharing what I believe to be the only kind of knowledge that guarantees you’ll never be poor. And the only knowledge that gives you the greatest leverage to get anything you want on this planet.

I’ll try to write simply and thoughtfully, with analogies and stories… so when someone cares about something enough, this might find him (or her). It’s my time capsule to remind me the things I wanted to share with my kids. It’s my digital messenger if luck slays me before I’m done.

I consider some of the stuff here the most valuable gifts I can give my son in my lifetime. Stuff I wish I knew sooner. Stuff I wish my dad taught me. I hope you’ll find it useful too.

June 12, 2012