FF Insights #559: You have to make choices

January 4, 2022: Convenience culture; The best business books of 2021; How Shein beat Amazon; Incredible India

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Good morning,

In his book, Four Thousand Weeks, (the title is a reference to the lifespan of a human being, about 76 years), Oliver Burkeman shares the story of Sylvia Keesmaat who made a radical lifestyle change to highlight what he calls “the undodgeable reality of a finite human life”: You have to make choices.  

Burkeman sets the story in the context of how getting things done—shopping, communicating, searching—has become so convenient now. The important question is what are we giving up for that. 

He writes, “as convenience colonizes everyday life, activities gradually sort themselves into two types: the kind that are now far more convenient, but that feel empty or out of sync with our true preferences; and the kind that now seem intensely annoying, because of how inconvenient they remain.

“Resisting all this as an individual, or as a family, takes fortitude, because the smoother life gets, the more perverse you’ll seem if you insist on maintaining the rough edges by choosing the inconvenient way of doing things. Get rid of your smartphone, quit using Google, or choose snail mail over WhatsApp, and people are increasingly likely to question your sanity. Still, it can be done. The Bible scholar and agriculturalist Sylvia Keesmaat abandoned a full-time university position in Toronto because she was following a hunch that her overwhelmed life—and the efficiencies and conveniences it seemed to necessitate—were somehow undermining its meaning. She moved with her husband and children to a farm in the vast swath of the Canadian interior known as the Land Between….

“The real point is that her decision to make such a radical change arose from the recognition that she’d never manage to build a more meaningful life—which for her meant cultivating a more mindful relationship with her family’s physical surroundings—by saving time and thereby squeezing more into her existing one. To make time for what mattered, she needed to give things up.

“Convenience culture seduces us into imagining that we might find room for everything important by eliminating only life’s tedious tasks. But it’s a lie. You have to choose a few things, sacrifice everything else, and deal with the inevitable sense of loss that results.”

Have a good day!

[FF Exclusive] The best business books of 2021

That D Shivakumar is a voracious reader is something we have known for a long while. Which is why we turn to him for recommendations on what to read next. Now, a few weeks ago, as the year was winding down, we asked Shiv (as he prefers to be addressed) that if he were asked to pick 10 business books all of us must read, which ones would make the cut for him?

It took him a while and much thinking to come up with the list. Because, as he writes in the precursor, “2021 was a significant year as books reflected the challenges of 2020 and 2021, the challenges of racism, hyper nationalism, talent, remote working, climate change, role of society, etc. My list, with three women authors in it, is a combination of books on these significant events.” 

His recommendations are compelling. And he makes summaries of each book he reads and shares it. We publish all of it as The Gist.

Incidentally, after Shiv’s last set of recommendations were published, we asked R Sriram, co-founder of NextPractice Retail, to lead a conversation with him on just why did he choose these books and how does he reads so much. We are at work to host another conversation with him soon and will keep you posted on when. Watch this space.       

Dig deeper

How fashion retailer Shein beat Amazon

A story in Rest of World lifts the hood on how Shein, a Chinese online fast fashion retailer (“the most successful, well-known, and well-funded online retailer of its kind”) operates. It highlights how the same factors that propelled its growth also gave rise to controversies. These include lifting off designs and enabling sweatshops. 

“At the heart of these issues is Shein’s aggressive business model. Comparisons to fast-fashion giants like H&M miss the point: it’s more like Amazon, operating a sprawling online marketplace that brings together around 6,000 Chinese clothing factories. It unites them with proprietary internal management software that collects near-instant feedback about which items are hits or misses, allowing Shein to order new inventory virtually on demand. Designs are commissioned through the software; some original, others picked from the factories’ existing products. A polished advertising operation is layered over the top, run from Shein’s head offices in Guangzhou.

“Through its manufacturing partners on the ground in China, Shein churns out and tests thousands of different items simultaneously. Between July and December of 2021, it added anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 SKUs—stock keeping units, or individual styles—to its app each day, according to data collected by Rest of World. The company confirmed it starts by ordering a small batch of each garment, often a few dozen pieces, and then waits to see how buyers respond. If the cropped sweater vest is a hit, Shein orders more. It calls the system a ‘large-scale automated test and re-order (LATR) model.’”

Dig deeper

Incredible India

(Via WhatsApp)

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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

(Note: Founding Fuel may earn commissions for purchases made through the Amazon affiliate links in this article.)

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