• Tools as Superpowers

    16 February 2020

    Jonathan Lefèvre (loosely translated from French1):

    The topic of scale is as inevitable as it is hard, and seems so at odds with the human customer service idea, difficult to automate just by its own definition. Even the enterprises for which customer service is not a priority can find themselves confronted to the exact same problem. All of them must think about the best organization possible to handle efficiently the endless influx of requests and questions.

    […] But this has mostly allowed me to realize what was truly making the strength of the customer service at Capitaine Train: its operational efficiency. In the end, if we could manage 2 millions of customers with a small team of 15 people, it was because we were extremely well equipped.

    Nothing was left to chance in the hunt for the lesser and useless click. And if this constant quest for the optimization of the processes is a topic that interests many entrepreneurs, I think that it manifests itself in an even more glaring way when you do customer service management of a start-up in hyper growth. […] When you spend days fighting the steamroller of client requests, you inevitably finish to devote a cult to any tool able to make you gain the smallest second of productivity.

    […] So, I imagined naively that any customer service in the world would use the best tools in the market to work more efficiently. I was far from the mark. Numerous were those that didn't have a good system to manage notes and documentation, the basic and elementary reflexes to minimize interruptions, or just a sane way of handling emails.

    In general, adding more people and asking them to work more is not the right way to solve a problem — I would even say it will create the opposite effect in the long-run.

    I really like this article because it shares perfectly my vision for productivity and tooling. Tools are humans' superpowers. We need to harness them — and give tedious jobs to machines. Humans are good at creativity and thinking, but particularly bad at doing constant and repetitive tasks.

    Though, and like the author, when I say "productivity", it's not as a synonym for pushing people to always work more and to exhaust themselves (which is unsustainable and not right), but the contrary: doing more things, with less effort and time. The end-goal is to work less (or not all), enjoy the present, improve quality of life for everyone, while still being able to deliver great services and products for an healthier society. In that sense, computers are the great enabler of this vision.2

    1. Original version:

      Le sujet du scale est aussi inéluctable que difficile, tant il semble peu compatible avec la notion même de service client humain, compliqué à automatiser par définition. Même les entreprises pour qui le service client n’est pas une priorité se retrouvent forcément confrontées à ce problème. Toutes doivent réfléchir à la meilleure organisation possible pour gérer efficacement ce flux incessant de demandes.

      […] Mais elle m’a surtout permis de prendre conscience de ce qui faisait véritablement la force du service client de Capitaine Train : son efficacité opérationnelle. Au fond, si nous arrivions à gérer 2 millions de clients avec une petite équipe de 15 personnes, c’est parce que nous étions très bien outillés.

      Rien n’était laissé au hasard dans la chasse au moindre clic inutile. Et si cette constante quête d’optimisation des processus est un sujet qui intéresse beaucoup d’entrepreneurs, je crois qu’elle se manifeste d’une manière encore plus criante lorsqu’on fait du service client dans une start-up en pleine croissance. […] Quand on passe ses journées à affronter le rouleau compresseur des tickets clients, on finit par vouer un culte à chaque outil capable de nous faire gagner la moindre seconde de productivité.

      […] Du coup, j’imaginais naïvement que tous les services clients du monde utilisaient les meilleurs outils du marché pour travailler plus efficacement. J’étais pourtant loin du compte. Nombreux sont ceux qui n’ont pas encore un bon système de prise de notes, les réflexes élémentaires pour minimiser les interruptions, ou encore une gestion saine de leurs e-mails.

    2. It's probably utopian, I know.

  • Easy choices, hard life — Hard choices, easy life

    09 February 2020

    We were waiting in a rented car while being in a small town in the East of France. A town without charm. We had to stay here for one more hour before going to the wedding we were attending.

    Bored, with nothing special to do now that we had visited the city, I browsed a bit on YouTube. I fell on a video by Tim Ferriss which looked kinda okay — I didn't know the guy that much, except that he was the host of a famous podcast which never interested me particularly.

    It was about "defining fears instead of goals". The video was around 15min, so I launched it. It started weirdly. The guy was talking about a suicide attempt, and the tone was dark, and at the same time, he was also joking.

    My girlfriend was next to me and I heard a "what are you watching?!" with a dubitative look. I continued.

    Surprisingly, I still think about this talk regularly, even 7 months later. This is what I kept in mind:

    In the Greco-Roman world, people used stoicism as a comprehensive system for doing many, many things. But for our purposes, chief among them was training yourself to separate what you can control from what you cannot control, and then doing exercises to focus exclusively on the former. This decreases emotional reactivity, which can be a superpower.

    […] And I did find a quote that made a big difference in my life, which was, "We suffer more often in imagination than in reality," by Seneca the Younger, who was a famous Stoic writer.

    […] "The Cost of Inaction." Humans are very good at considering what might go wrong if we try something new, say, ask for a raise. What we don't often consider is the atrocious cost of the status quo -- not changing anything.

    […] And the last was his mantra, which he applies to everything, and you can apply to everything:

    "Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life."

    The hard choices -- what we most fear doing, asking, saying -- these are very often exactly what we most need to do. And the biggest challenges and problems we face will never be solved with comfortable conversations, whether it's in your own head or with other people.

    Initially, we were not sure what to think of this. Then, we discussed a bit. This sounded so logical, so simple, so obvious. But yet, thinking in these terms was really eye-opening.

    This talk is weird, disconcerting, with a strange tone and discourse. A bit pompous, especially with the business references distilled inside some really horrible anecdotes. But I would still recommend to watch it.

  • Japan Pizza Culture

    22 January 2020

    Matt Goulding in “Slice of Tokyo: How Japan Became a Pizza Hotspot”:

    After passing my final exam before a panel of Naples’ old guard of pizzamakers, I asked the judges who else, besides the Italians, were making good pizzas. Most just smirked and ignored the question, as if it had no reasonable answer. But one of the older gentlemen waited until the conversation moved on before waving me in close:

    “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but the Japanese are making better pizzas than we are.”

    I had, indeed, a wonderful Margherita at Seirinkan while I was in Tokyo three years ago.

    Related, from one of my favorite essays by Craig Mod on the same subject, “Tokyo Neapolitan: The New Wave of Japanese Pizza”:

    “Pizza shops are not quite like bakeries, not quite like restaurants — everything comes together in a single moment; 60 seconds determine the success or failure of a meal.”


    It turns out the decision to pre-cut a pizza comes with its own philosophical underpinnings

    Inoue believes that because a pizza is not perfectly symmetrical in terms of ingredient distribution, each slice is inevitably a little different; there's no way to cut a pizza in a way that perfectly captures its entire essence in a single slice. His ideal is for one person to eat an entire pie on their own, ensuring they experience the full spectrum of flavors.

    And also slightly related, a more recent one by the same Craig Mod: “I Walked 600 Miles Across Japan for Pizza Toast”.