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Facebook LIkeThere’s a post up on TIME.com about how to get people to like you better. A collection of tips from Robin Dreeke, the former head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program range from the obvious (ask questions!) to the less obvious and more useful (best question to ask: what is challenging you?).

I always have my antennae up for skills that make up what is often attributed to charming individuals as a “reality distortion field.” At the end of the day, it’s a learned set of techniques for making the most out of your interactions with other people.

Here’s one of my favorite non-obvious tips from the TIME article, on making strangers feel at-ease:

First thing: tell them you only have a minute because you’re headed out the door.

Here’s Robin:

When people think you’re leaving soon, they relax. If you sit down next to someone at a bar and say, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” their shields go way up. It’s “Who are you, what do you want, and when are you leaving?” That “when are you leaving” is what you’ve got to answer in the first couple of seconds.

Research shows just asking people if now is a good time makes them more likely to comply with requests:

The results showed that compliance rates were higher when the requester inquired about respondents’ availability and waited for a response than when he pursued his set speech without waiting and inquiring about respondents’ availability.

Nobody wants to feel trapped talking to some weirdo. People are more likely to help you than you think, but they need to feel safe and in control.

The article closes with a good reminder: it’s not about tricks, but about trust and genuine interest. These are some ways you can show it better.


envisioningYesterday a group of Seattle-area Denters got together for a tour of the Microsoft Envisioning Center (it’s attached to the Home of the Future, where Microsoft explores the future technologies for productivity), and for a little wine, pizza, and flight simulation at Flyte, a Redmond-area startup building some very cool new flight sim technology.

We had a very limited capacity for the tour and for the visit, but it was a great group. The envisioning tour, which is supposed to last about an hour, ended up at about an hour and a half, because our poor guide (David Jones – thanks!) kept getting caught in pretty fascinating debates around the concepts, potential implementations, and uses of the stuff we were looking at.

After the tour, we drove over to Flyte, where people took turns flying around in their crazy, six-projector powered conical flight simulator pod.


As always, we love finding excuses to bring the Dent community together, and yesterday was no exception. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone again very soon in Sun Valley, March 22-25th. (Not going yet? Request an invite!)


Nela Richardson on the Role of a Chief Economist

by steve on February 23, 2015

nelarichardsonOn March 24 2015, Redfin’s Chief Economist Nela Richardson will be joining us onstage in Sun Valley for a session titled “The Anatomy of Disruption”. (Request an invitation here.) In anticipation of her appearance, we interviewed her recently about what exactly a “chief economist” does.

For tech firms, the title of “chief economist” is a fairly new thing. Can you tell us why more and more companies are deciding this is an important position to add?

The “chief economist” position has been around a long time at government agencies and in banking. I started my career as a newly minted Ph.D. in the Chief Economist office at mortgage insurer Freddie Mac and also worked in the Chief Economist office at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a financial derivatives regulator for the U.S. government. What’s new is the addition of chief economist title to the org charts of technology companies and other consumer-facing organizations.

I think the addition of chief economist positions in the tech field is driven by two seismic and concurrent shifts in the information landscape. One is the enormous increase in data availability and the second is the emergence of new media as a consumer-friendly data repository.

Chief economists, and the research teams they lead, are used to make sense of and add value to the tremendous amount of data that is in the universe – including macro economics, demographics, social trends and proprietary company data. In addition, consumer-facing companies, like Redfin, are now using media to be much more responsive to and interactive with their clients and customers than in the past.

Data without analysis is like putting nails on the wall without hanging pictures. You know where the pictures go, but you have no idea what they look like. Chief economists help organize and analyze the vast amount of data in the universe and turn data into pictures that represent how the company’s brand interacts with the real world. That skill that economists bring to an organization is valuable for both consumers and executive decision makers.

“Data without analysis is like putting nails on the wall without hanging pictures.”

What are the key business aspects that chief economist seems to enhance/augment? We see marketing (largely via content generation), strategy, product management (largely pricing), and data science as being key, what else comes to mind?

To the ones you list I’d add risk management, revenue forecasting, investment analysis, strategy – any area where a company can apply data, models and the classic economist charm.

Of those things listed above, how does your work at Redfin align? What are the specifics of your role there?

I lead housing and real estate research center at Redfin. The placement of the research center within the Redfin Communications group is illustrative of our team’s priority to educate and inform homebuyers and sellers, media and other thought leaders and housing market participants.

When it comes to real estate, there is one essential question that everyone wants to know: “Who’s buying?”

Our team analyzes that question from every angle. We look at company brokerage activity to evaluate buyer demand and seller supply. We use models to assess which types of homes are selling the fastest, and in what neighborhoods. We examine demographic trends to get a sense of the type of buyer that is dominating an area – investor, first time or move up. We also distill the role of economic factors – labor markets, interest rates, oil prices, global instability, etc – on real estate, one of the most common and most expensive asset classes.

At the same time, we serve in a unique role in the company as a clearinghouse for all types of data – demographics, market, macroeconomic and company proprietary data. Under that lens the research team provides a valuable internal function as well.

But it’s not all serious stuff either. Redfin is not only an authority on the housing market, it’s also a lifestyle brand. We use data to engage readers through interesting and compelling analysis that is on the cutting edge of social trends. It’s a fun job.

Have you read the Robert Litan book? If so, what practical lessons does it offer and what would you add to his analysis? Are there other books you’d recommend?

I worked for Bob Litan when he was Research Director at Bloomberg Government and during much of the time when he was writing the book. Bob focuses on several applications of economics in the real world. In this way Bob shows how economics helps set up markets that change incentives and thusly lead to preferred outcomes. I think what’s important to remember, whether you’re talking about auctions or game theory, applied econometrics or anything else – is that at its core economics as a discipline is a collection of tools strung together by a few key fundamental concepts. It’s the role of the economist to figure out what to build with those tools based on the universe of materials (aka data) provided.

Also, along those lines it’s worth noting that predictions and forecasts are not the most valuable thing that economists do, but usually it’s the most reported thing.

“The most important economic tenet in my opinion by far is thinking on the margins”

Get a room full of economists together — do you think they’d likely agree(?) that many/most people, and (that includes managers and business owners) don’t tend to:

  • think on the margin
  • model processes with declining marginal returns
  • properly weight incentives
  • understand the nuances of supply and demand curve shifts and the causes thereof
  • understand the implications of public choice theory

What is missing from that list (or should be removed) and how would you weigh them in terms of importance?

Economics provides a very powerful toolbox that all economists are trained to use. The beauty of economics is not that these tools lead to the same answer (though I’m sure many wish that were the case) but that they provide a method of evaluating different answers using the same set of criteria. As economists, we are all speaking the same language even if we are telling different stories. The tools you mention above are standard to the point of being reflexive for most is not all economists. Deviations of these economic conventions in public discourse must be clearly and rigorously justified, defended and of course modeled.

The most important economic tenet in my opinion by far is thinking on the margins – it’s a key part of rational decision making for individuals, companies and other organizations. In a world of scarce resources, economics posits that an evaluation of marginal benefit is how rational decisionmaking occurs. What is the value of spending one more dollar, hiring one more worker or producing one more product? And does that benefit outweigh the costs? This is what distinguishes economics from almost any other profession. For economists, the value or disutility of any policy, model, investment strategy, etc., is evaluated by the incremental difference it makes to the company’s bottom line.


How Stoicism Makes You Happier

by Jason on February 23, 2015

Marcus Aurelius (CC) License from Elliot Brown on FlickR Today, at what may be the height of Yoga’s popularity, it might be hard to remember that western thought also has ancient philosophical roots, and some of it can be just as useful as eastern meditation.

At our annual gathering in Sun Valley (request an invite here), we explore both the personal and the organizational sides of “denting the universe,” as Steve Jobs once said — and Stoicism, though not Jobs’ choice of philosophies, offers some really interesting systems for managing the self today’s world.

I am personally looking forward to Ellen Leanse’s session with Daniel Kottke (Steve Jobs’ Reading List), where we’ll explore the books that Daniel and Steve read together in the 70s and while traveling through India, and how it affected their worldview and their paths through Apple and beyond.

In Aeon magazine, Larry Wallace writes a spirited combination of a defense and an introduction to Stoicism, where he distills the major concepts of Stoicism down to this nugget:

What the whole thing comes down to, distilled to its briefest essence, is making the choice that choice is really all we have, and that all else is not worth considering. ‘Who […] is the invincible human being?’ Epictetus once asked, before answering the question himself: ‘One who can be disconcerted by nothing that lies outside the sphere of choice.’

Any misfortune ‘that lies outside the sphere of choice’ should be considered an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it. This is one of the truly great mind-hacks ever devised, this willingness to convert adversity to opportunity…

Stoicism does get more specific than that, of course.

In the New York Times, Massimo Pigliucci recently penned a piece called simply “How To Be A Stoic,” where he details a little of the specifics of his personal practice of Stoicism (complete with quotes stored on Dropbox):

Rather, my modest but regular practice includes a number of standard Stoic “spiritual” exercises.

I begin the day by retreating in a quiet corner of my apartment to meditate. Stoic meditation consists in rehearsing the challenges of the day ahead, thinking about which of the four cardinal virtues (courage, equanimity, self-control and wisdom) one may be called on to employ and how.

I also engage in an exercise called Hierocles’ circle, imagining myself as part of a growing circle of concern that includes my family and friends, my neighbors, my fellow citizens, humanity as a whole, all the way up to Nature itself.

I then pass to the “premeditatio malorum,” a type of visualization in which one imagines some sort of catastrophe happening to oneself (such as losing one’s job), and learns to see it as a “dispreferred indifferent,” meaning that it would be better if it didn’t happen, but that it would nonetheless not affect one’s worth and moral value.

As both authors take care to point out, Stoicism actually lines up quite well with modern psychological theory and behavioral therapy; in other words: science says this stuff is not too hokey. In fact, the Navy Admiral James Stockdale credits Stoic principles with carrying him through a rather brutal seven years as a prisoner of war during Vietnam.

In more modern notes, some limited research cited in the Times article above suggests that practicing stoicism, despite its grim demeanor, actually tends to make you happier. Study respondents, on average, showed a 20 percent growth in the gap between their positive and negative emotions.

For Denters, I think the most compelling point is not that Stoicism is “it,” but rather than having a system or personal philosophy is a great way to boost your own personal ability to affect the world. Whatever version of philosophy it ends up being, simply having a baseline from which to operate can have a huge difference.

(If you’re interested in joining us for this invite-only retreat in late March, you can request an invitation here).

Image: Marcus Aurelius (CC) License from Elliot Brown on FlickR


good-issueGOOD Magazine, which has been championing the good life of doing good since 2006, will be hosting one of the dine-around dinners that attendees will experience on Monday the 23rd, and joining us as the official media partner for Dent 2015.

We’re very excited to have them involved this year: GOOD is a creative publication that caters to “the global citizen,” and in many ways a perfect thematic alignment for what we explore at Dent.

If you haven’t held a copy of their magazine in your hands before, we highly encourage you to pick one up. It’s chock full of fascinating stuff.


leeo-colorpickerWe’re super excited to share that Leeo, the makers of some very cool in-home connected technology, will be joining us at Dent 2015 as a sponsor!

In addition to hosting one of the much loved Dent Dinners in town on Monday night, Leeo is offering Dent attendees who register before March 10 a free Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight — that’s the thing pictured here in this post.

Plug it into a wall outlet, and in addition to being a nightlight, it’s a smartphone-based alert relay for the carbon monoxide detectors you already have installed in your house (you have those, right?). The audio frequency for those detectors is mandated by law, and as a result Leeo’s nightlight can listen exclusively for those frequencies, and notify your phone when it detects the sound.

If you’re planning to join us in Sun Valley this year and you already have a registration code, you can enter it here to register. If you’d like to join us but need an invitation, you can request one here.


brody-carWe’re dog lovers at Dent. Brody, the wheaten-terrier you see pictured here, has been to every Dent (though he’s remained in the background).

And while it’s a lots of fun for us to have Steve’s dog wandering around the condo during the conference, it’s not always the easiest thing to travel with a dog.

Enter Rover: the Seattle-based shared economy dog sitting startup has offered $35 (on average, this a day of dog sitting is $25) towards dog sitting booked by Dent attendees while they’re attending Dent in Sun Valley.

We’ll be sending instructions on how to redeem the free dog sitting day to all registered Dent attendees this week, and all signups going forward.

Has your dog been holding you back? :) Request an invite to Dent now.


We’re going to go ahead and file this report under the heading “obvious but nice to have some actual data for it.”

It’s not hard to get people to agree that creativity is sparked by new encounters and new perspectives; mixing people up is the basic building block for creative expression and new ideas, which is one of the reasons why cities are such hotbeds of innovation.

But different perspectives do more than just generate new ideas. They provide better results — as summarized in the media release for this research report from Catalyst:

The report found higher financial performance for companies with higher representation of women board directors in three important measures:

  • Return on Equity: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53 percent.
  • Return on Sales: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 42 percent.
  • Return on Invested Capital: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 66 percent.

A quick thanks to Denter Doug Menuez for linking the study on our email list :)


How to pitch yourself as a speaker

by Jason on February 6, 2015

13470083733_85300f5119_mI get tons of speaker proposals, and have for years (with the Tweet House, Twitter Conferences, Web Community Summit, Blog Business Summit, and now Dent). There are good ways and bad ways to pitch, and while I can really only speak for myself, I bet that a lot of this applies to pitching other events as well.

I’ve written a post on Medium about how to pitch, called Three great ways (and three awful ways) to pitch yourself as a speaker.

In the awful ways column:

Did you speak at TEDxSomewhere? Awesome! Do not say you’ve done “a TED talk.” You have not done a TED talk (unless you have). You have done a TEDx talk. There’s a difference — you know it, and we know it.

So if you’re curious about how the sausage as made, at least in this restaurant, it could be a fun read. And if you think it’s helpful for others, we always love a share.


Dent 2015 Artist in Residence: Jessica Hagy

by Jason on February 5, 2015

myfaceFor the past two years at Dent we’ve had an “artist in residence” — a musician that we’ve hosted for the duration and who has performed on stage and at the various social gatherings that surround the sessions. Last year it was Tae Phoenix, and the year before that it was Emree Franklin. This year, we’re super excited to welcome our artist in residence: Jessica Hagy, author and web artist, creator of the popular webcomic This is Indexed.

Instead of regaling us with music in the middle of the day, Jessica will be adding her wit and style to the conference by live-index-carding throughout the event. After all, there is more than one form of art.

As a reminder: the Dent room block has now officially expired at the Sun Valley Resort, which means that the rooms we’ve been holding for Dent attendees are now up for grabs by anyone and everyone. Since half of the Resort is going to be closed for renovations, it will almost certainly sell out. Make your reservations now if you’re planning to attend! (Don’t have an invite? Request one here!)