To Be And To Last #26

This week we explore the power of pair programming, planning for the future, and the brilliant branding behind Visa.

Sanjay and Jeff: the pair programmers who built Google?

As you know, I love learning from how people work, and this mammoth 2018 piece on Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat is one of my favorites. These two have led some of Google’s biggest technical innovations (MapReduce, TensorFlow), and they’ve done it with a distinctive pair programming style.

And while pair programming might not work for everyone, other elements - like focused multi-hour sessions with zero interruptions - can offer help those who want it. I’ve recently started tracking my focused hours of work each day: it only counts if I complete the full hour without any interruptions. I’m aiming for just 15 hours a week, but even that’s proven elusive as meetings slice up the day.

Planning for the future during a difficult time

In the midst of an unusually (I hope) disruptive year, we run the risk of switching to “survival mode” and just focusing on reaching the end of the year. That natural shrinking of our time horizon can cause us to spend less time on activities that matter in 10-15 years. In that theme, I enjoyed this piece on “compounding time”, and particularly the value of conversations.

As we joke about looking forward to a fresh start in 2021, I was reminded of Viktor Frankl’s excellent book Man's Search for Meaning. While we do have some positive early signs from Pfizer’s vaccine, there is danger in hoping toward a specific date rather than hoping toward a general future:

The death rate in the week between Christmas, 1944, and New Year’s, 1945, increased in camp beyond all previous experience. … It was simply that the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naïve hope that they would be home again by Christmas. As the time drew near and there was no encouraging news, the prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them.

- Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

This isn’t a quick swim where we can hold our breath until coming up for air in 2021. We need to learn to breath while swimming.

Visa: a case study in branding

Seeing Visa in the news this week reminded me of the two genius branding decisions early in the history of this massive company.

Bank of Italy -> Bank of America (worth $232B today): In 1904, A. P. Giannini started the “Bank of Italy” in the city of San Francisco. Much like Go-Jek and other e-wallets today, a primary vision was to reach the unbanked who weren’t supported by the elitist banks of the time. By 1930, the growing bank changed its name to appeal to a wider audience, and the rest is history. Perhaps you’ve heard of Bank of America?

Americard -> Visa (worth $454B today): In 1958, Bank of America launched an ingenious new device: a credit card they called “Americard”. This little innovation grew in popularity but was geographically limited in appeal by the name. With global ambitions, Americard was rebranded to Visa in 1976. I feel like someone should have let AmEx know by now.


To Be And To Last: Thinker Nate Desmond’s weekly roundup of long reads, contrarian thoughts, and hidden jewels that aren’t getting enough attention.

You likely joined on NateDesmond.com or BuckFiftyMBA.com.

Got thoughts? nate+newsletter@natedesmond.com.