Horace Dediu has an MBA from Harvard Business, an MS Engineering Degree from Tufts, and he studies business problems through an intense analysis of Apple and their competitors. Horace joined me for my most recent iTunes “Digital Book Club” podcast to talk about the craft of writing. I first became of aware of Horace when he was a guest on one of my favorite podcasts: Mac Power Users with Katie Floyd and David Sparks.
Lately, I’ve been running with the notion that every story has a story with the idea that I’ll get writers to tell the story of a text they’ve written, in this case Horace’s “Discerning Apple’s international product positioning through the big Mac index.” A writer’s process often varies from text to text depending on the unique context for each act of writing. This is even more true as one studies the writing process as it varies from writer to writer. Oftentimes, I find that writers assume others work much like they do when in fact there are lots of ways to get writing projects finished.
The texts Horace creates are unlike just about anything I usually read in that they are focused on business and often begin with a graph that is supposed to help address some business problem or question. Given the idea that every story (or blog post or podcast) has a story, I asked Horace to tell me the story of his Big Mac Index post. He jumped right in (future tip: start recording as soon as the Skype call goes through if you’re going to talk to Horace) saying that his analytic side wants to know just how the writing process works but his creative side wants the writing to come from somewhere else, a spark of some kind, someplace magical.
Horace’s “Big Mac” post was connected to the recent launch of the iPad in Brazil, and the idea for the post came from an email from someone who’d read his blog and wanted Horace to take note that in Brazil the price of the iPad seemed exorbitantly high. Horace did a blog post with a graph and asked his audience for their opinion and asked them if they could explain why the price would be so high. Horace says that businesses usually don’t share information “with anyone unless it’s trivial and already public.”
Horace’s post took another turn when someone Tweeted the suggestion that he put his table up on Google Docs and allow people to contribute their own data. I’m familiar with the idea of Google Docs but have never used it. I wonder how we’d do next semester in class if I had a committee of students charged with investigating the software and coming up with projects for our class. Horace’s Asymco audience provide a powerful example of what happens when a writer collaborates with audience or when writers collaborate on the writing of a text, in this case a table.
By accident, Horace left his Google Doc open, and immediately people from over twenty countries began to add the data about the cost of Apple products in the place where they lived.
On the subject of information and whether or not a business shares information, Horace noted that business people often believe, “Information is money. Information must be protected. Thus, businesses don’t learn very much.”
As for Horace and his transparent working process on the blog, “People will give me positive or negative feedback and I’ll learn from that feedback. You cannot do analysis, in an open domain–which is what I do–without letting go of the past.” By that, Horace means that he has to let go of that old idea that information is money and that information must be protected.
Horace tries to post everyday, five days a week, and also complete one podcast. He desires to grow his audience and I asked him about the large audiences of someone such as Kim Kardashian. Horace said, “Yes, I understand celebrities have enormous audiences, but they’re very shallow. … I won’t trade quality for audience. If I were to reduce quality, I could probably increase the audience dramatically. That’s what most blogs do. This is why most blogs descend into irrelevance. And they get bought out and they end up trashy because they actually chase audiences.”
Some Other Golden Lines from Horace Below:
“I want to be educated by my audience. Therefore, I want 100,000 good teachers.”
“My objective with the site is to learn.”
“Listening is the right way to do things.”
“Apple brought computer to mobile phones.” Horace wonders what will happen when Apple brings computing to television.
On Justin Halpern of “Shit My Dad Says” fame: “Why is it that he (Justin Halpern) becomes an employee in a huge machine whereas somebody sits in an office here in Finland and creates a company called Rovio that does angry birds and becomes a billionaire?”
Find the podcast here.
On iTunes type “Digital Book Club” and you’ll see my picture where you can link up to the podcast.
Horace’s Asymco site is here.