Entertaining yourself is a key part of learning

March 21, 2015

If you like to learn — and I certainly do — you might fall into the trap of believing that learning is always fun. It often is, but not always.

At least part of true learning is what I’ll call schlepping. (I was inspired to use this term by Paul Graham’s essay about schlep blindness; I’m using this term in a similar, but not the same, way.) Schlepping is all the non-creative work that’s involved, usually to build basic skills. Some examples:

  • Running laps is really boring, but you need to do some of that to become great at almost any sport.

  • Speaking a foreign language is fun, but you have to memorize a bunch of rules along the way; in German, the future is die Zukunft, feminine, not der Zukunft, masculine. And there are tons of these rules.

  • To negotiate billion- (or even million-) dollar deals as an investment banker, you in many cases need to have spent years in the trenches as an Analyst or as an Associate, developing an intuitive sense for corporate finance but not really talking to clients. One of the best bankers I worked with at Citigroup was known for printing out and checking financial models by hand; he did this, at least a little, for several acquisitions that he managed in the tens-of-billions range.

Knowing how to make schlepping fun is an extremely useful skill.

I try to do this whenever I can. Instead of running laps, I run intervals instead. (Still not fun, but more interesting than running laps or long, slow distance.) When I learn a new language, I use flash cards to make learning into a game, and increase my efficiency. Listening to music at the gym is a widely-practiced way of making lifting weights more interesting. But you have to think to come up with these painkillers.

Since being able to schlep is valuable, I would also argue that there’s some value in doing stuff that’s really boring occasionally, for its own sake. That value is: the practice you get in making boring things interesting. Improving your tolerance for schlepping, I suppose I would say.

The huge risk, of course, is that in getting good at schlepping, you lose sight of making sure that you are, in fact, learning. That the non-creative stuff is leading to something that’s more engaging, and intrinsically rewarding. You wouldn’t want to study flash cards, or run laps, all the time.


Writing good email copy

March 19, 2015

Here’s a set of email guidelines I’ve been putting together over the past couple of years. There are many great, similar, guides all over the internet. This one’s mine!

While these are good for marketing emails, they’re also extremely good guidelines for your personal correspondence as well.

General guidelines

Be a real person

  • Send from a personal email address that accepts replies and has a name. Obvious for your personal correspondence, often not done by businesses.
  • Be conversational, and write as if you’re emailing only one person.

Let recipients know what’s in it for them

  • Have a very clear reason for sending the email, reinforced (possibly several times) to the recipient.
  • Emphasize benefits, not features. For example, instead of sending “The Class Starts Tomorrow!”, try “Want to [x]? Class starts tomorrow!”
  • Consider whether you would want to do whatever the email is getting the recipient to do, based on what’s in the email.
  • Use social proof. This could mean testimonials from previous attendees, tweets from previous events, photos, etc. Or it could mean information about who you are and why you’re credible.
  • Send emails at the right time, thinking about when it’s most convenient for your audience to act.


  • If you have the volume to test them, write 5 - 10 different subject lines and headlines initially.
  • A/B test templates, tones, content, sending times, etc.


  • If you understand the audience you’re sending to, break it up as much as possible into sub-audiences, with tailored messaging and offers.
  • Send followups to people who were interested in your offer but didn’t actually do what you wanted them to. For example, if someone clicked on a sale item in your email, but didn’t finish their purchase, follow up with a coupon.
  • Find ways to re-engage people who weren’t interested in your offer at all, depending on how much other email you need to send.

Subject Lines

  • Don’t be mysterious, vague, poetic or clever.
  • Don’t use exclamation points or all caps.
  • Use your name and possibly company name in the From line. For example, “Justin at JustinCo”. Be a real person!
  • Keep it short (< 50 characters).
  • Consider:

MailChimp also has a great Subject Line Research Tool that you can use to gauge effectiveness: https://us4.admin.mailchimp.com/campaigns/subject-research/

Body Copy

  • The headline should immediately say what’s in it for the reader. A majority of readers only read the headline before deciding whether to click or not.
  • What you want the recipient to do should be very clear, and a very easy action to take. Have a single call to action, and repeat it.
  • Keep the message scannable. For example, convert paragraphs to bullet points where possible.
  • Cut as much as possible.
  • Short paragraphs (fewer than 5 lines), short sentences (fewer than 10 words) and short words.
  • Sentence fragments are fine. Even good.
  • Use “you” (the recipient) as much as possible rather than “we”. What’s in it for them?
  • Keep the reader moving to the next sentence (“So…”, “That’s why…”, “And…” etc.).
  • Use images. Preferably ones that add interest to the email and fit with your message (not stock photos).
  • Have a single call to action, clear and repeated.
  • PSs are highly read and could be used for a sweetener (e.g. PS: If you register now, this good thing will happen)
  • Don’t use “maybe”, “hope”, “wish”, “try”, “could”, “perhaps” or the passive voice. Be bold!
  • Consider repeating your call to action.
  • Read copy out loud before sending it.
  • Consider:
    • Asking questions
    • Adding a personal touch
    • Showing what readers will miss if they don’t take you up on your offer
    • Telling a story
    • Presenting a deadline
    • Pulling the main message or call to action completely out of the content into its own area
    • Using the same “action verbs” you might use in resumes, e.g. http://www.wa.gov/esd/guides/resume/write/write_action.htm

PS: This is good advice for web copy in general, too.

What Constitutes Success?

You should have a strategy behind every email you send. In most cases, that’s a specific action you want the recipient to take. That’s how you measure sucess.

More generically, here’s some selected MailChimp data on opens, clicks, bounces, and unsubscribes from early 2014 (from their excellent Email Marketing Benchmark report). This is a useful guideline for figuring out what is achievable:

Industry Open Click Click to Open Soft Bounce Hard Bounce Abuse Unsubscribe
Business and Finance 32.6% 3.1% 9.51% 1% 0.9% 0.041% 0.198%
Computers and Electronics 32.4% 2.7% 8.33% 0.9% 0.8% 0.041% 0.202%
Consulting 37.1% 3.4% 9.16% 1.6% 1.3% 0.038% 0.271%
Education and Training 36.1% 3.4% 9.42% 0.9% 0.7% 0.036% 0.171%
Entertainment and Events 25.4% 2.1% 8.27% 0.5% 0.5% 0.04% 0.175%
Software and Web Apps 32.6% 2.7% 8.28% 1.3% 1.2% 0.058% 0.342%
Average 32.70% 2.90% 8.83% 1.03% 0.90% 0.04% 0.23%
Min 25.40% 2.10% 8.27% 0.50% 0.50% 0.04% 0.17%
Max 37.10% 3.40% 9.51% 1.60% 1.30% 0.06% 0.34%


Workout journal formatting

March 16, 2015

Journals are an incredibly valuable tool. Mostly because they help you honestly assess how much progress you’re making, and insofar as they do that, they also help you figure out whether what you’re doing is effective.

Since I often like to figure things out myself, even if I’m doing things the wrong way, my journals are a vital way for me to actually make progress.

This is a quick post about my workout journal. It’s tiny, which is great, because I can put it in my pocket when I do exercises, and easily protect it with a ziplock bag. I use a Field Notes notebook, with graph paper pages, to make it easier to keep my writing organized.

It has three major areas.


The first page is a workout calendar. It sometimes takes me a day or two to keep this up to date, but most of the times, this reduces my anxiety by helping me realize I’m doing more than I thought.

Things in parentheses are my lighter workouts. Each row is a week, and each column is a day.

Weightlifting tracking

The second page, and on, is the most important part of my journal, which is where I track weightlifting. (Please don’t look at the numbers too closely, I’m not all that strong!)

Along the side are the exercises I do, and along the top are the dates, as well as the start and end times; timing my workouts helps me take a consistent amount of rest between exercises.

As a time-saving technique, I do the exercises in an order that depends on which machines are free. So, for example, if the shoulder press machine is taken for 10 minutes, I do floor exercises and then grab it when it becomes available. This format helps me make sure I get everything done, even out of order, and of course that I do the right amount of weight and reps.

In order to track my progress over time, I go across the pages, and the leftmost column is folded over so I don’t have to rewrite it when I start a new page.


I also have a little reference area of exercises I like to do if I am not in the gym. It’s short right now, but over time I’ll add all the things I can do when I’m traveling, to keep everything interesting.


Workout strategies for new parents and other busy people

March 11, 2015

I don’t love the articles that are out there on getting a good workout when you’re a new parent. Or any other sort of busy person!

A lot of them give very nonspecific advice about priorities or time management. “Put in the effort” is an actual heading I’ve seen, for example.

The is a guide to some specific strategies I use to stay in reasonable shape when things get busy.

1) Exercise without a gym

Gyms are useful, but they really restrict your freedom to work out when (and of course where) you want.

Learning to enjoy exercises that you can do outside of a gym, particularly if they also require no equipment, is extremely helpful in staying in shape when you don’t have control over your time.

  • Running is the obvious example, and see below for ways to run so that it doesn’t seem so boring.

  • Bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and sit-ups, are helpful. There are hundreds of them, targeting almost every area of the body and letting you get some good cardio in as well.

  • Jump rope is an even more efficient cardio and upper-body workout than running, and speed rope like this or this can fit in your pocket.

  • Consider taking a parkour class or reading up on it. Not only is parkour fun, it’s really useful because it makes you look at your surroundings as an obstacle course. For example, I’ll sometimes go for a run and then climb around a little on some scaffolding. Stairs are a gym in themselves since you can run up and down them in interesting ways, crab-walk or go on all fours, jump from stair to stair, and so on. Even hills can be useful for built-in interval training.

  • You can also buy home equipment, like pull-up bars, and kettlebells, and even weights (light ones, if you’re starting out, are cheap and easy to store). I sometimes save my chin-ups for when I get home, and then do them on the chin-up bar in the kitchen.

2) Break up your exercises in time and place

You don’t have to do your workouts in one chunk.

Let’s say you have a 45-minute weight routine you like. Including the time spent getting to and from the gym, you end up spending over an hour on your workout. But it might not be easy to break away for over an hour, especially if the only time you have is at lunch or just after work.

To solve this problem, do your machine exercises in the gym, jump in the car or run home, then finish your bodyweight exercises at home. I’ll sometimes do this if I mess up my schedule and only have half an hour at the gym: do my weight exercises there, shower if necessary, get on a call or go home (or both), then finish up later on.

This can actually lead to better workouts, since by resting your muscles for a while you can push through more work later on.

3) Combine activities

I joined my local chapter of the Hash House Harriers, which describes itself as a “running club with a drinking problem”.

“Hashing” is insanely fun and in and of itself and could easily be the subject of another post, but one major advantage of hashing for me is that is combines socializing and working out.

(Not working out very hard, mind you, in this case. But it’s usually at least a 3-mile or 4-mile run, with a fair amount of hard running in there if that’s what I want.)

A much more typical example of this is biking to work. When the weather’s nice, I get a decent workout commuting by bike. When I lived closer to work, I used to run home. Since the bike to work takes me about an hour, and the commute takes 45 minutes, net time spent working out is 15 minutes.

You should also combine activities during your workout as well. For example, jump rope is a full-body workout. So are push-ups and chin-ups. If you’re a busy person, it may not make sense for you to focus heavily on just one muscle group, or work out at a low intensity. Challenge yourself during the time you have available.

4) Vary workout types, and intensity. (But find things you enjoy!)

In addition to not having a lot of time, busy people are often exhausted, or overwhelmed. This can deplete your motivation, or you just get tired more easily.

One solution is to have a lot of different workouts available, to keep things interesting. I love to jump rope. But it’s not always possible; I need a space where I won’t be disturbed (my worst nightmare is hitting an unsuspecting bystander with my rope!). I can’t find that near where I work in New York.

Fortunately, I also love lots of other things. I can always go for a run, as long as I have appropriate clothes with me. Or, I can go to the gym and lift weights.

Or maybe I know I lifted weights yesterday, and I have time for a moderate workout today, but I may not have time again for a couple more days. In that case, I’ll do another hard workout that emphasizes some other groups of muscles, so that I can get some work in and recover in the following days.

Have workouts ready for those days when you’re not feeling the energy, or when you’re tired because you were just on a plane for eight hours, for example. Let’s say I can’t find a good jump rope spot, and I go for a run. If I’m tired, I can take an easy 3 miles, or I can do a 7- or 8-mile run with lots of hills, if I want a challenge.

If I don’t feel like doing a steady run at all, I’ll find a hill and run intervals on it. Intervals are much more entertaining than long, slow distance runs.

Swimming is a go-to workout for me when I don’t feel like I can sustain an intense workout, though if I change my mind, I swim one fast lap, and then a slow one, until I get tired out.

In general, interval training is a key type of workout that will be very helpful in staying flexible. Just do any workout you like, but break it up into short periods of high and low intensity. You need to do enough to get your heart rate up, but intervals allow you to get a great workout in as little as 20 minutes.

Emotionally, you also have to accept that some days you won’t be able to do everything you want to. That’s a big part of this, too. The important thing is to go out and do at least some work, and feel good about that.

5) Get organized

Organization is key for being able to take advantage of whatever circumstances present themselves. You should be able to grab your gym bag, and go.

At all times, my gym bag contains:

  • A set of clean clothes (in a plastic bag for protection)
  • Running shoes, sweatbands, and my iPhone armband
  • Swim gear, including goggles, a swimsuit, and flipflops
  • Other useful miscellany, including a padlock and a snack
  • My workout journal and a pen (also in a plastic bag)

I bought a mesh backpack to keep all this stuff in, which helps all my sweaty stuff dry out when it’s in there.

I also keep some bike gear, like a very small pump and headlamp, in my work bag with my laptop.

Lastly, I have a workout journal, which I’ll write about in a followup post. I keep a small workout calendar in there, and I also have a section to keep track of my progress in the weight room.

The journal gets you a few things. It does give you motivation to stay on track, though for me, it also has the opposite function: it reminds me of all the good work I’ve done, so I don’t get too discouraged if I can’t get out for a few days.

It also helps me keep all my different exercises in balance, and when I’m in the weight room, it saves a lot of time otherwise spent trying to remember what I did the last time I was there a few days ago.


Simplify, or your users will do it for you

March 2, 2015

We used to run a rotating carousel on the front page of our .com site. Rotating carousels are very useful for solving political disputes about who gets real estate on the front page, but not for much else.

One day I tested to see what percentage of clicks landed on each banner. The results were extremely unbalanced. Over 90% of clicks were on the first banner, then a few percent on the next, and a very small number on the third. Few visitors even saw past the first banner, much less the subsequent ones.

Users come to your site to perform a very specific task. (I suppose you might work at Amazon or something like that where someone could conceivably just be browsing, but for most sites, someone will be there do something in particular.). That includes searching for information.

They develop blindness to anything that isn’t on the way to completing that task. If it’s information, your users are following information scent. If it’s a specific action, they’re looking for whatever pieces they need to be get that task done. “Don’t make me think” is the advice, and it’s really good advice, because users need to be shown very specifically want to do in order to get what they want.

In doing so, what you’ve built and what users see are two completely different things.

For many of your users, the advanced features in your app just don’t exist, because they’re not relevant to the task at hand. Similarly, on your website, some of the calls to action and some of your copy just isn’t there, because it’s ignored or, in the case of banner blindness, not even seen in the first place.

And some of the best A/B testing results I’ve gotten have been the result of simplifying, to remove obstacles to what users are trying to do or learn:

  • Remove text from some onboarding emails, add bulleted lists instead of paragraphs where appropriate, and repeat the call to action: 30% increase in clicks

  • Change “Our software, hosted on the infrastructure of your choice” to “One-click setup”, and remove a diagram: 50% increase in clicks

  • Make the next step on a page sticky, so that it always occupies the same position in the sidebar even as the user scrolls down the article: 500% increase in clicks

  • Remove the menu bar from our landing pages: 20% increase in successful form completions

In example (2), we decided not to talk about a salient feature of the product. That’s OK. It didn’t exist for the user, anyway. They simplified it in their mind. We can re-introduce it later when it’s appropriate for the task at hand.

You have to simplify, or else your user will do it for you. The major risk in letting the user do the work is that they’ll simplify it wrong, because they don’t understand it. In simplifying, they may even end up with nothing.

Instead, do your user the service of removing anything that’s not completely necessary for the task at hand.


A bundle of routines

March 1, 2015

One way to view a company is as a bundle of routines.

What does that mean? It means that it’s possible to view a company not as people, or as real estate, or as a brand, or even as the products it produces.

Instead, any company can be viewed as a set of steps that are undertaken - probably hundreds of thousands or even millions or billions of steps - spread across all the various functions from product management to HR.

Those steps, in aggregate, convert stuff people want (like capital, machines, labor and real estate) into even more stuff people want (like more of those input factors, or like food, entertainment, philosophy, mobile phones, medicines, etc.).

Some, perhaps many, of these steps are unknown. If you’re a CEO, you hire people because you don’t know, or couldn’t valuably do, all the steps involved.

For example, if you hire a digital marketing manager, she will do all the steps involved in creating a usable site architecture, or she will manage the process of getting user feedback or writing a tweet. But the routines are still there, just unknown.

The people performing those actions may not even be able to plot out the steps themselves, but the reason they stay in their jobs is that they’re able to somehow get consistently from the inputs you give them to the desired outputs.

This is, of course, why automation works as a strategy for producing more stuff. It involves someone uncovering all the hidden steps, then making those steps cost nothing to execute. The challenge is extracting the routines from people’s heads, or modifying them so that new non-automated stuff that people have to do (for example, filing a ticket in your ticketing system or talking to your Uber driver) is rare or is heavily outweighed by the savings of the new automation.

It also suggests the folly of treating anything in your business as a one-time event.

For example, I have launched and re-launched several websites in my career. There’s a pretty clear difference between sites that have met their stated goals, and ones that haven’t, which is that the successful launches haven’t really been launches. They’ve been rollouts of new portions of a site over time, combined with a process for consistently QAing the site, developing its rank in search, user testing, A/B testing, and lots of other things.


Buying stamps is painful, or, philately will get you nowhere

February 22, 2015

Buying stamps is… painful.

My local post office is rather poorly reviewed: long lines, broken machines, etc. Sometimes e.g. grocery stores will carry stamps, but there’s no way to know in advance. So how do I get stamps and get on with my life?

Ominously, the “Easy Ways to Buy Stamps” section on usps.gov is… blank.

Well, in today’s era of instant gratification, I’m sure I can buy some stamps online somewhere, right?

Yes! There are a few options. All not great!

Buy stamps on Amazon.com

This is the least terrible option of the three. Here’s the best deal I could find, 20 stamps for $14.10, a 44% markup!

Amazingly, the markup increases if you buy more. 100 stamps will set you back $72.95, which is a 49% markup.

Buy stamps on stamps.com

Oh, awesome, I can just buy stamps and print them at home! This is the promise of stamps.com.

I have to sign up for an account? Well, that’s annoying, but I guess I’d have to do that anyway. These “security questions” are serious business. For stamps. But there are a couple here that are innocuous.

Fortunately, they also opt you in to promotional mailings.

Oh, there’s more. What’s a Postage Account Credit Card Authorization? Ah, a quick Google reveals an application that I need to make to the government.

And… stamps.com costs $16 a month. Hm.

Buy stamps on USPS.gov

USPS has a not-extremely-horrible storefront that you can use to buy stamps. And they’re all priced appropriately.

Great! I’ll just add these Charlton Heston stamps to my cart, and click Checkout.

OK, I need to create an account. That’s fair. The password requirements are insane, though. And they’re coupled with incredibly easy-to-solve security questions.

It does work, in the end. But how many people are making up a one-time-use password to fit with these requirements? And then never coming back? And why isn’t there a much simpler checkout process for getting stamps, especially since the USPS should be able to match the name on the card to your address using its own database?

How this could work

Buying stamps online should be really simple.

A one-page checkout form should be sufficient. Offer a limited selection of stamps, perhaps even just one type, along with quantity options. Allow payment by credit card, but only ship to the billing address on the card, to reduce the potential for fraud. Do this all on the same page, without requiring someone to set up an account.

In fact, shipping should be free on any order from the USPS. The marginal cost for the USPS to do that is almost zero, more stamps means more revenue, and offering the product at cost, with free shipping, means almost everyone should want to buy direct.


Bringing an old project (Kitify) back to life

February 18, 2015

Kitify is a project I built a few years ago; it was my first web app using a modern framework (Ruby on Rails). I had written web stuff before, but never something using MVC.

It was an extremely valuable experience to build Kitify; I still remember most of what I learned about the architecture of modern web applications, and the knowledge comes in handy pretty frequently since managing web development is part of my job, now.

However, Heroku has been deprecating their Bamboo stack over the past year or two, which meant that the Kitify app had been slowly degrading. It stopped running at all a few months ago.

In keeping with some beliefs I’m developing about what marketers will need five years from now (the subject of a separate post to come), I’ve decided I need to commit regular time to writing code. Getting Kitify fixed up, migrated to Rails 4, and relaunched, seemed like a good way of starting that process.

This post details some of the steps I took to get it running again. Here’s the set of commits, as well.

Setting up a convenient local environment

The local environment for the first version of Kitify was a virtual machine. Why? I didn’t feel comfortable dealing with tools Homebrew and RVM, which are standard tools for developing natively on Mac OS X.

I don’t know why this was. One major problem was that RVM had some problems dealing with the local Ruby installed as part of previous versions of Mac OS X, but that seems to be easily fixable now.

Updating gems

When I originally buit Kitify, it was necessary to have specific versions of the dozen or so gems I was using, for compatibility.

As a first step in updating Kitify, I tried removing all of those version specifications, and everything worked surprisingly well, except for Jammit, which doesn’t like the way routes work in Rails 4.

Fortunately, there’s a recent commit that fixes this problem. So I used:

gem 'jammit', :git => 'git://github.com/documentcloud/jammit.git'

Switching over to Postgres from MySQL

For some reason, the old version of Kitify ran on MySQL. I don’t know why I did this, since Heroku natively supports Postgres.

This actually was surprisingly easy to fix - I updated the gem, ran a schema migration, and updated the Heroku environment variables specifying the database location - and there’s a great GUI for Mac OS X Postgres that helps with seeing what’s in the database.

Adding back bin/bundle, bin/rails and bin/rake

You have to copy these files into the correct location, or you can run rake rails:update:bin as the Rails upgrade documentation suggests.

Dealing with static assets

Since Heroku is read-only, you can’t generate assets (e.g. JS and CSS) once your site has been deployed there. The way around this is to generate your assets before deploying, then commit them to the repo that you deploy to Heroku.

In order for this to work, there are a couple other small changes you need to make, specifically adding:

config.assets.compile = true
config.assets.digest = true

config.action_dispatch.x_sendfile_header = nil

Failing to set x_sendfile_header to nil will cause Heroku to serve blank files for all your assets.


Young warrior

February 18, 2015
Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave instructions for the battle.

The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful.

The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, "May I have permission to go into battle with you?"

Fear said, "Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission."

Then the young warrior said, "How can I defeat you?"

Fear replied, "My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me.

But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power."

-- Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are


Historicism and psychohistory

February 16, 2015

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is about the fall of the future Galactic Empire. 30,000 years of barbarism are expected, but a man named Hari Seldon invents a new science that allows future events to be predicted with a high degree of statistical accuracy.

The name of this science is “psychohistory”, and the quality of its predictions allow for a plan to be developed and followed that shortens the dark age from 30,000 years to 1,000.

I remember being truly in awe of this idea when I heard about it as a kid. Predicting the future! With math! And reading the books now is still fun and interesting.

But I also realized that psychohistory is a fascinating and bizarre literary device to use, since you can be fairly sure about what will eventually happen.

In fact, because psychohistory’s predictions are viewed as ironclad within the novel’s universe, the protagonists don’t really take individual action, and they don’t think about choosing between several risk paths.

In fact, they wait to act until only path is available to them, because then they have been forced into their decision but what we are meant to presume is the operation of psychohistorical laws.

"Each successive crisis in our history is mapped and each depends in a measure on the successful conclusion fo the ones previous. This is only the second crisis and Space knows what effect even a trifling deviation would have in the end."

"That's rather empty speculation."

"No! Hari Seldon said in the Time Vault, that at each crisis our freedom of action would become circumscribed to the point where only one course of ction was possible... as long as more than one course of action is possible, the crisis has not been reached. We must let things drift so long as we possibly can, and by space, that's what I intend doing."

-- Isaac Asmiov, Foundation

Psychohistory has another interesting implication in that it’s very similar to Historicism, and it particularly reminds me of Marx’ historical materialism, in its prediction of an inevitable breakdown of capitalism and replacement with communism.

Psychohistory, of course, predicts events and not social conditions, but it follows a similar logic of historical inevitability.

This causes me to wonder why the developers, and acolytes, of psychohistory are heroes. In general, a prediction of strong determinism, or of historical inevitability, tends to lead to bad outcomes (as was the case in almost every Communist society in the 20th century). I’ve seen the opposite in the novels so far. But what is it about psychohistory that allows its outcome to be different?

And, what is it about psychohistory that allowed Seldon to stand outside it in order to formulate its rules?