You should not take investment advice from cartoonists. Ever.

I'm only posting what follows as a control on my own selective memory. I'm going to publicly describe what I believe is a terrific investment idea. By going public I can't easily forget my prediction or later deny it happened.

You should NOT follow this advice. Seriously. Also, I own stock in the company I am about to mention. And I just doubled down. So I am not objective. Keep that in mind.

The stock is Turkcell (TKC), the leading Turkish phone company. The stock is getting hammered this week because of government turmoil, currency value, and whatnot.

The stock could stay depressed for years as things get sorted out. But in the long run, will fewer Turks need phone service? Not likely. And the economics of the phone business are well-understood.

I know little about Turkey except that the government seems intent on being a serious, modern country. It seems that every time I hear a story about Turkey it involves them trying to do something that sounds entirely practical. They have a secular government, capitalism, and NATO support. Now they're rooting out corruption in the government, or trying to. It seems as if they have a natural leaning toward pragmatism.

There's risk with any investment. Turkey could be destroyed by an asteroid tomorrow. Or cell phones could become obsolete. Or Turkcell's accounting could be rigged. A million things could go wrong. But that's true with every investment. If none of the worst case scenarios play out, people will continue to want cellphones and Turkcell is the leading operator in the country. I like those odds.

This investment idea is only the third I have ever had in the "can't lose" category. The first can't-lose idea I ever heard came from Sir John Templeton, a legend of investing, back in the eighties. When asked for his best stock pick in the entire world, he said to buy stock in the Mexican phone company. It was a monopoly and there was nothing that would keep Mexicans from buying evermore phone services. And they did. I bought some shares and sold after a tiny gain. Had I kept the shares, I would have made enormous gains over decades.

The second can't-lose idea came more recently, during the last big market crash, when it looked as if the United States might be heading toward a total financial meltdown. My idea at the time was to put 100% of my investment funds into Wells Fargo stock. The idea was that if the entire financial system collapses, it doesn't matter where your money is because it will be worthless. But if the economy survived, I thought, the strongest bank of the bunch would come back fast and strong. On a risk-reward basis, this was as close as you can get to free money. I didn't act on that idea, but it would have been a huge gain.

That brings us to Turkcell. In today's connected world I have a hard time imagining a leading phone company in any country failing to grow no matter what else is going on around it.

Please don't take my advice.

My new book is getting great reviews:

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

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The main theme of my book How to Fail...  is that goals are for losers. What you need instead is a system. For example, losing ten pounds is a goal, whereas learning about nutrition and diet so you can gradually replace willpower with knowledge is a system. (That makes more sense with a full explanation.)

Upworthy.com, which has experienced explosive traffic growth, has a great example of a system for making content go viral. Business Insider has a fascinating presentation on it. Upworthy concocts 25 headlines for each bit of content, just to increase the odds of stumbling on a few good ones. Then they do A-B testing on the favorites. Their experience is that no one knows in advance what will go viral, so the best you can do is a system that improves your odds. These guys are experts in creating viral links and yet only 6% of their links generate 100K views.

Upworthy creates only the intriguing link descriptions and not the content itself. When looking for good content that has viral potential, they say they look for these qualities.

Hero or villain

Emotion (raw, human, honest)

High production values

Surprising information

Say what others are thinking

Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually)

Inspire curiosity

Mom-friendly (to get maximum Facebook shares)

Compare Upworthy's viral checklist to Jonah Berger's checklist in his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Berger says that the stuff that catches on has the following qualities.

Social Currency: How does it make us look to others?

Triggers: Does the environment remind people?

Emotion: Do we care?

Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product?

Practical Value: Is it useful?

Stories:  Does it fit stories that are already in the air?

Combining Upworthy's checklist with Berger's list, and getting rid of duplicates, we have this hybrid checklist.

Hero or villain
Emotion (raw, human, honest)
High production values
Surprising information
Say what others are thinking
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually)
Inspire curiosity
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others?
Triggers: Does the environment remind people?
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product?
Practical Value: Is it useful?
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway?

That's a lot of stuff to get right. So let's test the list against my experience with Dilbert. As we know with the benefit of hindsight, Dilbert is hugely viral. So how does it do against the checklist?

Hero or villain (YES - bosses are villains)
Emotion (raw, human, honest)  (YES)
High production values (NO, but good enough)
Surprising information (NO)
Say what others are thinking (YES)
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually) (NOT APPLICABLE)
Inspire curiosity (YES - comics scream "read me.")
Mom-friendly (YES)
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others? (YES -humor is attractive)
Triggers: Does the environment remind people? (YES - workplace)
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product? (YES - on cubicle walls)
Practical Value: Is it useful? (YES - humor entertains, informs, and relieves stress)
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway? (YES)

Dilbert hit all of the viral points except for "surprising information" and high production values. But in my case, the poor artwork actually helped, I think, in the sense that it signaled I was more of a cubicle victim myself than an artist. And that became a big part of the story.

Now let's look at my recent attempt at a viral video that attracted only 15K clicks as of this writing. I'll provide a link to it below, but don't look yet. I'm going to tweak the teaser to it below and see if it makes you click.

Here's how my not-so-viral video stacks up on the checklist.

Hero or villain (NO - except in a joke way)
Emotion (raw, human, honest)  (NO)
High production values (YES)
Surprising information (YES, for some - the Wacom Companion product)
Say what others are thinking (NO)
Frame it right to be clickable (on Facebook usually) (NO)
Inspire curiosity (NO - and the teasers to it were not A-B tested)
Mom-friendly (NO - some bleeped cursing and a hot tub scene)
Social Currency: How does it make us look to others? (NO - neutral)
Triggers: Does the environment remind people? (YES -graphic art is everywhere)
Public: Can people see others using/sharing the product? (NO - not usually)
Practical Value: Is it useful? (YES - for artists who want freedom from desks.)
Stories:  Does your thing fit stories being told anyway? (NO)

When I was developing the script for the video, my angle was that almost everyone knows someone who is a graphic artist, or wants to be one. And the technology shown in the video - the Wacom Companion - is a very big deal for graphic artists. It's the first time in my career I can effectively do work on an airplane, for example. So I thought (incorrectly) that anyone who knew a graphic artist would helpfully forward the link with news of this breakthrough device.

I learned after the fact that non-artists are completely unimpressed with the new technology because they don't see how big a deal it is to people who draw for a living. Few people realized the information would be especially helpful to their artist friends.

So I failed hard at making the video viral. But in the process of failing, I picked up a half-dozen new and probably useful skills.

For starters, I learned a whole lot about what to do right next time if I want something to be viral. I could have simply read about how to make things viral, but trying and failing is a much richer and more memorable experience. The doing makes the learning real. So my odds of making something viral in the future just went way up.

Failure is part of my system, by the way, as I describe in How to Fail...  I choose projects that will teach me something useful and increase my market potential no matter what happens. So while my video did not go viral, I now have a fairly deep understanding of what went wrong. And that will almost certainly be useful for future projects.

I also picked up some insights about writing for the camera. I plan to write a Dilbert movie script in 2014, so most of that is useful. So I failed forward, as my career system is designed to do.

Now let's do a little test to see if I can "fix" my video clip and make it viral by paying attention to the checklist. I need to change the focus from "look at this technology" to something that inspires curiosity and has an emotional charge.

So here's my new teaser. What you don't know is that the video was shot entirely at my house, which I built a few years ago. The house has one room in particular that perhaps no other house in the world has. See if you can spot it. And remember, every interior scene shown is an actual room of my house.

My new teaser headline for the link is this: Dilbert cartoonist has a VERY unusual room in his house.

You can track the hit count on the page with the video.

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I'm having a sudden outbreak of unwarranted credibility and it has me worried.

Dennis Miller recently interviewed me on his radio show and he had a lot of nice things to say about my new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

Paul Farrell, over at MarketWatch, reprinted my personal investment advice that has been floating around the Internet. The same list is also included in the most recent update of the classic personal investment book The Random Walk Down Wall Street, by Princeton professor of economics, Burton Malkiel.

As I mentioned in the last post, the Wall Street Journal lumped me together with famous people who actually know things.

In my book, The Dilbert Future, I coined the term "confusopoly" to describe companies in the same industry that confuse customers so much with their marketing that it isn't necessary to compete on price. The term caught on in Australia and has become a rallying cry against phone companies and their misleading advertising.

I recently released God's Debris on Kindle. Several years ago, after its softcover publishing run, I made the book available for free on the Internet. But folks have been asking for a Kindle version for convenience. A surprising number of people call God's Debris the best book they have ever read. The sequel, The Religion War, is based on a not-far future in which terrorists use small, home-built GPS-guided drones to attack population centers. That prediction is already coming true, and I wanted the Kindle version of God's Debris to be available when this sort of attack becomes a daily headline.

Someone asked me how many non-Dilbert books I've written. In this context, "non-Dilbert" means it is mostly original writing but might include some comics for humor relief within chapters. Here's the list.

The Dilbert Principle (workplace humor)
Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook (workplace humor)
The Dilbert Future (Humorous predictions)
The Joy of Work (workplace humor)
Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel (Humor)
God's Debris (fictional thought experiment)
The Religion War (fictional thought experiment)
Stick to Drawing Comics Monkey Brain (mostly from my blog writing, half humorous)
How to Fail Almost Every Time and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of my Life (memoir/success)

Those books have everything you need to know about humor, careers, finance, religion, health, and success. If I left out anything, let me know and I'll write another book.


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This is weird...

The Wall Street Journal asked some "prominent" people about the best financial advice they ever got. My quote appeared on the list next to Carl Icahn's quote, which is weird enough. but weirder still, my quote involved practical financial advice whereas Icahn's quote was intentionally hilarious. I see it as the first move in what will probably be Icahn's unfriendly takeover of Dilbert.

Damn, he's good.

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Dec 26, 2013 | General Nonsense | Permalink
Some people seem to be born givers. They get their pleasure by absorbing happiness from the people they please. Let's call it reflected happiness as opposed to direct.

Humans are all a bit different at birth, and presumably we are wired to get different levels of pleasure from this sort of reflected happiness. Sociopaths and other selfish people literally feel no pleasure from helping others. Natural givers, on the other hand, are willing to make great sacrifices for others because it feels so good to do so.

I'm not being judgmental. I'm just noting that people are wired for different rewards. And much of that is probably genetic.

So today, in this season of giving, I wonder if there are other traits that givers share. Specifically, I wonder if the bodies and minds of givers are extra-sensitive to the thoughts and emotions of others.

I think most of you know whether you are givers or takers. If you're a giver, do you also have some of the following characteristics?
  1. Are you shy?
  2. Do you dislike receiving gifts?
  3. Are you easily influenced by the taste preferences of others? (music, style, etc.)
  4. Do you avoid sad movies and books?
  5. Do you hate using a restroom if others are near?
  6. Do you enjoy spending time alone because people exhaust you? (Introversion)
  7. Do you often enjoy pets more than most people?
  8. Do you choose careers that make people happy?
If you are a giver, how many of the things on the list apply to you?


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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

You probably heard that Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson is getting a lot of heat for his anti-gay remarks. His interpretation of the Bible is that gayness is a sin. As you might imagine, the gay community and its many supporters are not pleased with Phil.

Before I continue I should confess my biases. I'm pro-gay-marriage and pro-gay in general. I also like Duck Dynasty. And while I am not a believer in the supernatural, my observation is that religion is a good force in the world, give or take the occasional terrorist act, genocide, Spanish Inquisition, bigotry, and oppressive boot-on-the-throat of personal freedom. The bad stuff gets a lot of attention, and should, but for the average person experiencing an average day, I think religion has real-world benefits. That's my unscientific observation anyway.

Most well-educated adults in the year 2013 understand that sexual orientation is something you are born with. Society's sense of fairness demands that we not judge people for genetic differences. So it is easy to understand why folks become righteously indignant when one group criticizes the genetic composition of another. That's not a world we want to live in.

Unfortunately, I have a problem with the intellectual consistency of the folks on my side of this debate. And I hate when that happens.

It seems to me that Phil Robertson was born with the brain he has. He didn't have a choice in the matter. And science is starting to understand that religious folks have different brain structure than non-believers. So how is it fair to belittle Phil for acting in the only way he could, given the brain he has?

One might say Phil has free will and therefore he chooses to be an evil bigot. But as I have argued here before, free will is an illusion. Our brains are every bit as subject to cause and effect as your lawnmower. Your lawnmower can't choose to be a toaster any more than a guy with Phil's brain and Phil's experience can choose to not be Phil.

So here we have two camps accusing each other of the same crime against decency. Phil and his crowd believe gays can use their free will to become straight if they choose to do so. Gays and their supporters believe Phil can use his free will to be tolerant if he chooses. Both sides are wrong. People don't control brains; brains control people.

Having said all of that, for practical reasons I'm in favor of the public outcry against Phil's views, although I don't support personalizing it and making Phil the one scapegoat in a universe that has produced a few billion people like him. The intellectual dysfunction of targeting Phil for shame bothers me, but not as much as the prospect of living in a world dominated by Phil's anti-gay views. So I'm glad my side is fighting back, and nudging society toward enlightenment, but I'm not happy to be associated with defective thinking.

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I'll be interviewed tonight (Sunday) at 7 PM (Pacific time) for Amy Alkon's Advice Goddess Radio. You can also download the podcast afterward at the following link.

The topic is my book.

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Here's a sneak peak at the startup I've been working on for the past two years. It's called CalendarTree.

It's for coaches, project managers, and anyone who schedules multiple meetings with folks who use different calendar types (Google, iCal, Outlook).

CalendarTree is a website that allows the schedule-creator to easily enter a list of coming events - such as a team schedule for the coming year - and share it via email, Twitter, LinkedIN, or Facebook. The recipient gets a clickable link that loads the schedule to their personal calendar of choice, which could be Google, Outlook, or iCal (Apple). Whenever the schedule owner makes a change, it flows automatically to your calendar and sends an email describing the change.

Yes, I know you can just use Google calendar and ask the Apple, Google, and Outlook users to sync with your calendar. But do you want to be tech support for that? And will most people even bother?

CalendarTree also allows you to create your own schedule download "button" that can be added to your existing website. Users click the button and get a choice of what calendar type they want to download the schedule to.

If you are in a family that is juggling multiple schedules from work, school, and sports, you'll see the need for this product right away. Single folks will mostly go "huh?" But your day will come.

CalendarTree is free for small-scale users. Have a look and let me know what you think.

If you have comments about CalendarTree, let me know at dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com.

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I have a hundred-year plan to eliminate government.

The key to making this work is picking one element of government at a time and using technology to eliminate it. Remember, we have a hundred years to develop and test lots of little plans. So we won't permanently eliminate any part of government until citizens have seen proof it can work on a state level, or for a brief test period nationally, or in another country.

You are skeptical that technology can replace government. That sounds a little like replacing your bicycle with a Fig Newton, or replacing your couch with a bucket of water. It doesn't sound logical on the surface. I'll need some examples to make my case.

Consider education. At some point in the next hundred years the only acceptable way to educate people will be online. At some point online education will evolve and improve until you have the best instructors teaching in the best possible ways. You can get rid of the physical school buildings, the teachers, and all the rest. I think you could privatize education, with ad support, (as I described in a blog post last month) and still make it universally available. It seems feasible that government could let go of education.

What about healthcare? Healthcare diagnostic equipment will become so advanced in the next hundred years that doctors will be the weak link. A complete body scan, blood work, and Big Data will get you 98% of the diagnoses and treatments you need. Robots will be doing surgery by then, and doing it better than humans. So while the short term trend for healthcare costs is higher, I think the trend after twenty years or so will be sharply lower. And when doctor-assisted suicide is legal, which is inevitable because of demographic reasons (lots of old people begging for the option) that helps too. The point is that healthcare will get cheaper and less complicated for the consumer, so government can ease out of it. If taxes are needed to fund healthcare for the poor, that is still possible with no government beyond direct democracy connected via Internet. I'll explain that later.

How about the military? You always need a government to handle defense, right?

I don't think so, at least not in the long run. We know for sure that future armies will be a combination of waves of robot soldiers overrunning enemy positions supported by drone air support. The first country to develop a robot army (likely the U.S.) will dominate every non-nuclear country. No human army or uprising could last a day against waves of robot fighters going door-to-door through a city or mountain range. So traditional wars will simply stop happening because the U.S. will rent its robot army to whichever side it supports and almost any war will end in days. Eventually no rebel army will bother starting an unwinnable war, and no despot will try conquering a neighboring country. Robots will end conventional war.

If we imagine a future war between two non-nuclear forces, both with their own robot armies, there is no reason humans ever need to get involved. The robots can fight it out in a remote location and the country with the losing robots surrenders immediately. The losing side will know that the winning country with its superior robots could wipe out the human population in less than a day, so surrender is the only option.

My point is that wars could become obsolete. The military will become mostly hardware and software, controlled by a direct democracy. If 75% of adult citizens vote to go to war, the robots march. If the country is attacked, the robots respond automatically, but can be called back by direct democracy if needed. And citizens can watch all wars through the robot head cams. We'll always know what is going on.

You still need money for this robot army, but I'll get to that.

The government does a good job setting health and safety standards. But a direct democracy could probably pull that off too.

In a hundred years, I can see the government being replaced by software that allows citizens to raise any issue, thoroughly debate it online, and implement the new law/standard/tax all via Internet with no politicians involved. Would the new system have problems? Of course. Would it be worse than our current system with elected officials who are controlled by special interests? I doubt it.

If the country needs to raise taxes, say to build more defense robots, or provide Internet access and healthcare to the poor, that is all handled by direct democracy online. If the country agrees on a new tax, it comes automatically out of all paychecks and online payment transactions. No citizen ever needs to "do taxes" at the end of the year.

Keep in mind that the future with no government probably has much lower tax rates. Getting public agreement to go from 5% taxes to 7% won't be as big a deal as today when we try to raise rates from 39% to 45%.

Now you have the issue of social nets to care for the poor. Government has been the best bet for that so far, but I can imagine that need being reduced by technology too.

Imagine, for example, housing for the poor that is built by robots and engineered to be both highly livable and absurdly inexpensive by today's standards. If you get the cost of rent down to an equivalent of $100 per month in today's dollars, you can take a huge bite out of poverty. Combine low housing costs with universal healthcare that is free for the poor, and free online education - for everything from grade school to career training - and you have a good start for removing government from the social net business.

I can also imagine food costs plummeting within a hundred years, especially if the housing for the poor includes its own hydroponic gardens. Or perhaps we will all be growing "meat" from cells in our own homes. I don't know the details, but I can see food costs dropping for protein and veggie matter.

Now let's say there are some functions of government that simply require a human to manage. And let's say that human has a lot of opportunity for corruption. One way to fix that situation is to require that any humans with responsibility for public interests give up more privacy than the normal person, in return for an oversized salary. I think there are plenty of people who have no secrets and would enjoy the big paycheck. When privacy is eliminated, the risk of corruption goes way down.

Consider law enforcement. In the future, as I have described in other books and blog posts, getting away with committing a crime will be nearly impossible because everything that happens everywhere will be tracked and recorded. Crime will be detected as it happens, robot cops will be dispatched, and any citizen can watch both the crime and the arrest on live video.

Meanwhile, drugs and prostitution will probably become legal, so law enforcement isn't needed for that stuff. And if you speed, you'll get a ticket by email and your paycheck will be docked accordingly.

I don't have time to detail every government function and how technology might replace it in the future. But I think it's all possible. We just need to agree on that direction. And we need to test every government-replacement system on a small scale before implementing more widely. But I think we (or our grandkids) can get there.

What do you think? Could we get to a government-free future?



My new book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

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Do you know any artists who might be interested in watching cartoonist Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) and me competing to see who can draw a comic strip fastest? (Spoiler: I use some cool new technology.)

Here's the short video clip.

You will have some questions after viewing it. Here are your answers.
  1. Yes, I do know I am a terrible actor.
  2. It was filmed at my house.
  3. No one was paid (except the film crew).
  4. The 3-way product placement in the clip is the reason it exists.
  5. We had a script but didn't stick to it.
  6. The architectural element on the outside of my house at the start of the clip was designed to look like Dilbert's head. It is not visible from the street.
We designed the clip to have viral qualities (humor, surprise, relevance). I'll know if it worked by the end of today. If you have ever grappled with the question of how to make content viral, you'll see a lot of the science incorporated in the clip. I'll blog about some of the technique behind it in coming days.

Let me know what you think.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.

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