eBay, nuclear power and other assumptions

samfloy~1 August 2020 /Personal

This month I’ve been noticing how some decisions I’ve been making have been based on outdated ideas. 

Some things in life are probably eternal truths (“don’t eat the yellow snow”) however others are made about things that update/ improve over time.

It all started when trying to buy a new bike helmet.

eBay doesn’t work..?

Back when I was about 14 I got scammed on eBay. I tried to buy something, the seller disappeared, my money got taken and I could never get it back.

Since then, I’ve never ventured into doing any “peer-to-peer” online purchases again, instead opting only for online stores.

I was looking to buy a bike helmet in Copenhagen, and all the new ones in shops were pretty expensive. After Googling for wear people buy second hand stuff in the city, many were recommending an online listings website called The Blue Newspaper.

… wait, maybe it does?

After searching for a bit, I found some helmets that looked fine and sent a message.

A few minutes later I started receiving replies and an hour later I was cycling over to someone’s apartment to buy a bike helmet.

The “buying experience” began on the sofa at around 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, and by 6.30pm I had a helmet that was 5x cheaper than one bought in a store.

In short, peer-to-peer had worked.

Holding on to past ideas

What I found quite interesting is the persistence of the one bad experience I had 15 years ago.

So much has happened to smoothen peer-to-peer marketplaces, however I was still holding on to notions of how it worked before you could reliably do online payments.

This led me to think about other things I decide to not to do (or have opinions of), and whether these are based on outdated information.

Nuclear reference points

Earlier in the month I was speaking to an engineer (who actually repairs engines, which seemed quite novel) about his work on shipping vessels.

The amount of oil they get through and on-board toxic waste they dump is a huge, unseen environmental hazard he was saying (he also no longer eats fish).

A solution, he said, is to have small nuclear reactors that cleanly produce more than enough energy to power the vessels.

The idea of nuclear reactors crossing the oceans in an everyday manner gave me cause for concern. 

Part of the resistance to the idea, he was saying, is that most people’s reference point of nuclear technology is the tragic nuclear disasters. Whilst somewhat valid, the technology that nuclear sites like Chernobyl were built on was developed in the 1960s, and tons of innovation in nuclear power has developed since.

It’s like trying to decide whether office workers should start using laptops by evaluating the benefits/ costs of typewriters.

Updating your reference points…

The big takeaway from all of this has been to try and identify when I am relying on personal experience to make a decision, and whether that in fact needs an update.

It’s of course completely valid to not believe everything one reads, but if the rationale is based on personal experience, and that personal experience is a long time ago, then perhaps it’s worth revisiting it.

.. making the first one good

The second point is the importance of giving a good first impression. It’s probably the basis that a lot of people will hold of you for a long time.

A lot of talk in start up land is about getting customers using your product whilst it’s still scrappy/ has defects. Whilst this is definitely important in validating ideas I feel it can sometimes be overdone as companies treat “MVP” as an excuse to present something pretty lame to potential customers.

If the first experience these potential customers have is really bad (and not given context) then even if there are tons of improvements made, it might be tricky to shake that initial reference point they have.

🤔 What do you think?

Now we’ll move on to some recommendations of things I’ve been listening to, reading etc.

🎙️ Podcasts

📖 Reading

🖊️ Writing

👬 Feedback from last month

Thanks for people who got in touch after last week’s post about whether there will be another world superpower. The Soft Power Index is an official look into how different countries rank based on culture, education etc.

This post originally featured in the newsletter I write. If you’d like to sign up to receive it at the start of each month, you can do so below: