Links and Notes - April 25th 2021

The secretary who turned Liquid Paper into a multimillion-dollar business

This was a hell of a story about how correction liquid came to be. I imagine that given its age and the abundance of information around it, this is hardly its first telling. This is the first time I'm hearing of it though.

The hustle, being the hustle, has a lightweight take on the rise of Bette Nesmith Graham, inventor of the original correction liquid. She called it "Mistake Out" and it's still in production today. I think if you want to learn more about the story, the hustle's story is a great starting point.

Within the story however, is a link to an article from Forbes which seems to have a better look at the nitty gritty. I'm still reading it so I can't make a full comment on the contents. That said, the best quote from The Hustle article comes from the Forbes one:

In a time when corporations didn’t offer much in the way of employee benefits, Liquid Paper was a highly progressive firm. Among its offerings:

  • On-site child care facilities
  • An employee-owned credit union
  • Wheelchair-accessible facilities
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • A racially integrated staff that recognized affirmative action policies

Liquid Paper is the name of the company that produced the product back then.

A couple of things stand out after reading about this story.

Firstly, it's incredible how many stories of innovative products have their roots in someone mixing things together at home never expecting it to be anything special. Many of these stories also have roots in little mistakes. I think blu tack was originally a mistake. There's another putty that I can't recall that was also a mistake. And I'm sure if I hunted more I'd have names of many more products that were made in a similar way.

Second, the positive effect that people from diverse backgrounds have when they start companies is obvious. In the case of Bette,

Graham wasn’t a chemist or an engineer. She was a single mom from Texas who had a brilliant idea while working a 9-to-5 job as a secretary.

To make ends meet, she found work as a secretary at Texas Bank and Trust, where she earned $300/month (~$36k/year in today’s money).

As her son Michael later recalled, financial pressures would cause his mother to frequently “burst into tears of panic.”

She knew what it's like to be a single mom shouldering all the burdens in the world. And maybe I'm reading too much into this but it feels like that people with these kinds of experiences might be more likely to build a company with more inclusive work conditions than normal.

Positive conversation contributors

How does one build a positive conversation? How does one make a conversation of ideas feel collaborative? There's a wealth of literature around this point and one of the key things I've read is how subtle shifts in phrasing can make all the difference in the world.

For example, and I believe this is attributed to Pixar, the concept of "Yes and" vs "No but". In the case of the former, we are creating an additive attitude. One where we simultaneously accept and build up on the ideas of someone else. The former both rejects and overwrites.

Similar to the above is "I'd love to add" vs "What about instead"? Although the former is a little forceful as well.

Then there's the alternative to "I know" that I learnt some years ago: "You're right". The former tries to pull ownership of an idea to oneself. The latter allows the idea to be attributed to the first person who spoke it while still achieving the purpose of shared consensus.

I like to think of all of this as collaborative conversation vs competitive conversation. When I first started reflecting on this idea I resisted it; I thought that these were fluff words that tried to paper over other problems. I still have it a try, and over time I've found that even if it feels like you are faking it, you feel the difference pretty quickly. What I thought was just gold plating actually changed me and made me realize how little room I was giving in conversations previously. So much so that to hear people use competitive phrasing now is jarring[1].

John Popper with Ziggy Marley remains incredible

I remember seeing this video almost a decade ago. It's fine wine. It's one of the most incredible live performances I've heard and I wouldn't be surprised if I've already posted it to the blog somewhere. But I don't care.

I was listening to it and then singing it while cleaning up today. The whole time I could hear the soulful tunes of John Popper's harmonica crooning in the background of my head. It's a beautiful arrangement. It's long. But take your time both listening to it and watching it. The ability for John to hold a note soon after a harmonica solo is nothing short of breathtaking (pun intended).

In other news

  • Nothing much today. I didn't catch up on anything else today since it's Sunday and that means it's my day for doing as much as possible around the house and then spending as much time with my family as possible 🥰
  • That said, it's impossible to avoid the news of the covid situation in Sri Lanka. Despite dire warnings and obvious increases in numbers, our poor communication has resulted in universities staying closed while schools stay open (despite cases showing up at school level). And somehow, long non physically distanced gatherings at cinemas. And people still having indoor weddings, parties and... El sigh 😔

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Previous links and notes (April 24th)

Next links and notes (April 26th)

  1. I don't judge people who use this phrasing. I try to keep in mind that it was only chance that had me stumble into the lines of research around how to be more collaborative in speech. And when I first heard of it, I viewed it negatively. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. ↩︎

Posted on April 25 2021 by Adnan Issadeen