Here are three ideas I’ve been thinking a lot about in the recent months. I started putting this list into writing while responding to a friend’s email and decided to post it here as well. These three ideas don’t interrelate very much, but each one is something that I’d find valuable in my life / business:

1. Something to Help Understand & Improve Your Automatic Thoughts

Automatic thoughts are the building blocks of our personality. They’re the thoughts we have over and over about ourselves and these repetitive thoughts are a lot of the basis of who we are and the kind of person we grow into. They’re the lenses we use to understand ourselves, others, and the world we live in.

Just like learning a language, it’s easy to cultivate and change automatic thoughts when you’re younger, but as we grow, our automatic thoughts cement themselves and become our reality. I’m curious about how malleable they are, and if it’s possible to make something that lets you, within reason, make small changes to your automatic thoughts.

Something that could impact a person’s automatic thoughts over a sustained period of time, even in the slightest, would be incredibly powerful. Imagine spending an afternoon taking an inventory of these thoughts, and then deciding what you would like your automatic thoughts to be. Research has shown that the most effective way to get someone to quit smoking, for example, is to constantly remind them that they are not meant to be a smoker, and that their true essence / personality is of someone who is fit and lives a healthy lifestyle.

This idea means a lot to me and is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I attempted it once in 2010 and keep coming back to the idea. There is certainly a latent need: Americans spend huge amounts of money on talk therapy every year. People obviously want help thinking about and working on their identities, so what if there was software that could help supplement this?

2. Cybersecurity Insurance Policies Aimed at Small-to-Medium Businesses

I believe that cyberwarfare is going to be a bigger risk than most people think / are budgeting for, and that businesses are going to need protection from this type of risk. As our information economy grows, the cost of getting hacked and the downtime and loss-of-trust that ensures will only increase and become an enormous liability for any company to stomach. Large companies have a hard enough time dealing with this; imagine starting a startup and having to think about this?

SOX compliance costs, ISO certification, and NIST guidance is simply too much for any small-to-medium company to stomach. Even with those in place, there should be something simple that a company can do to make protect themselves against these types of risks.

I’m curious if there is an opportunity for a property & casualty insurance company that really understands cybersecurity risks. It’d have to have the underwriting acumen of GEICO along with the domain expertise of FireEye or Kaspersky. Tactically, I think that this company would be an insurance company that does routine security assessments to ensure that its clients are up-to-date and have the right protocols/procedures in place. Insured companies would pay premiums to the insurance company for both (1) a standard insurance contract covering a certain set of attack surfaces and (2) routine monitoring to ensure that systems are protected and organizational protocols are in place.

I can picture this company at a terminal state where it would sell huge contracts to Fortune 500 companies, but I think a more interesting question would be how one could protect smaller companies that have sensitive information and digital assets that need to be protected?

3. Buzzfeed is to Newspapers as X is to Books

What is the purpose of a book? There are at least two possible answers:

If a book is a way for an author to share prose with readers over time, then books are in a terminal state and there isn’t much innovation left. We started with Gutenberg’s press, then mass paperback production, then eBooks; perhaps the next iteration of books will be reading by virtual reality or whatever platform we come up with next.

For some books, though, I believe that authors have an agenda they want to impart on their readers. If you think of books this way, then there might be room for something that fulfills the use case but might not look like a book / eBook at all. eBooks are great, but I feel like eventually someone will invent something that really fulfills the same use case, but in a more effective way.

Some evidence why I think this is true:

  • Most books do not need to be as long as they are — in fact many books could be distilled into 20-30% their original length and still get the same message across.
  • To really take advantage of a book, you generally have to take notes, annotate it, copy phrases that you find meaningful, and generally do a lot of work that might render the book less valuable to someone else.
  • I’m not sure if other people have this problem, but every time I read How to Win Friends and Influence People, I’ll follow through with the principles outlined for a short time, but will forget almost everything within a week or so. What if there was some way where the book could remind you things you needed to learn after you read/experienced the book? Maybe this could have something to do with Spaced Repetition.

Again, this idea might not lead anywhere since it’s reasoning purely through metaphor. But suspending disbelief for a second: just like how newspapers have been forced to evolve, a similar shift might happen in the publishing industry, except it hasn’t happened yet because people can still get value from books (whereas they do not get as much from physical newspapers).