You all know the chorus by now…

Everything affects everything. 

And everything is constantly changing.

So, we study everything constantly.

I wish it rhymed. It captures our worldview perfectly. We sell FOMO-prevention here.

It’s not just a marketing credo. It governs our operational thinking too. 

Our business – every business really – is an assembly line of sorts. Engineering, sales, product, HR, marketing, account management, and every other function affects every other in direct and indirect ways. Communication, strategic alignment, and collaboration are critical – we need to get better at these things, especially growing as fast as we are, fully remotely. 

Meanwhile, what was true about our business yesterday may not be true today. I’ve fallen victim, far too many times, to the comfort and convenience of truisms: “Well, we looked at that a couple years ago and it was fine.” Vigilance is hard. You seldom find gold when you turn over rocks. It’s usually dirt and bugs, or worse. But you have to do it. 

One of our nine codified leadership principles here – the kind of thing job performance is measured against – is “Love Problems.” That’s it. Two words. 

Solutions are sexy. They get the headlines. But if you don’t love problems, if you don’t celebrate them, you’ll never look hard enough for them. You’ll be whistling past graveyards you don’t even see. 

The problem with loving problems is solutions often suck. They require adaptation or even sacrifice, which leads to new problems – skills to learn, hires to be made, roles to be changed. Heaven forbid your solution is the dreaded “Reorg.” But, if you must, you must. 

Because everything is constantly changing.

I interviewed a rock star job candidate a few weeks ago and he asked what’s the most important quality of people who succeed here. “Agility!” I said, without even thinking about it. I’m not changing my answer.

In fact, agility is the single most important quality for any individual in any successful, growing organization today. The ability to pivot, to change your thinking, to develop new skills, to evolve how (and where) you work, is essential to progress.    

Maybe you want a steady, predictable job. You can certainly find those. But, make no mistake. If your job never changes – if your company never changes – something’s wrong. Somebody’s asleep at the switch.  

They’re obviously not studying everything constantly. 

Here’s what we’re seeing:   

Consumer confidence is stable, if underwhelming. Our Economic Sentiment Index was basically flat over the past two weeks, still well above its June low-point, but far from the summits of yore. Attitudes toward the job market cooled slightly, while attitudes toward the housing market improved. Overall confidence in personal finances has separated itself as the strongest ongoing indicator in our index, as aggregate consumer spending capacity remains resilient. I say “aggregate” because…

The tale of two U.S. economies keeps writing itself. Forty-three percent of U.S. adults in our Consumer Financial Health Index this week reported that it’s been more difficult to afford their monthly bills recently. No surprise, lower income households and younger Americans make up the bulk of that group. Over half of Gen Z say they haven’t been able to afford to pay some or all of their bills. The haves and older Americans seem to be doing just fine, for the most part. It’s a good reminder that public economic data only reflect the averages. 

Over half of student loan forgiveness beneficiaries are planning to spend the money. Adding another boost to the upcoming holiday retail season (and possibly inflation), a majority of U.S. adults who qualify for President Biden’s student loan alleviation program will use the extra $10-20K to buy things, ranging from necessities to cars to down payments on homes. Just 29% plan to apply the proceeds to student loans or other debt. Eighteen percent will save it. Notably, the higher income recipients are more likely to use the money to accelerate other debt payments… which will only widen the long-term wealth gaps in our country even further.  As for the specific categories where shoppers are more likely to make those new purchases, you’ll need to reach out to us for that. We aren’t as generous as President Biden.

Gen Z is growing even more untrusting. 
I’ve been talking about declining levels of trust among younger Americans for a couple years now – and it’s getting worse. In 2021, 36% of Gen Zs said they tend to distrust people until given a reason to trust them. This year, that number jumped to 40%, for the first time outnumbering the percentage (39%) who say they trust people upon meeting them. This trend has all kinds of implications for brands

People say they’re going to cut back on Halloween spending this year. To be fair, people always say that – but this year they might actually mean it. Thirty-three percent of Americans say they will spend less on Halloween than they did last year, up from 26% who said the same in 2021. Meanwhile, Halloween remains one of the last bastions of mostly in-store shopping, with just 17% of adults saying they will buy most of their candy and décor online. I was surprised to see that pop-up specialty stores, like Spirit Halloween, are the second most likely place to see shoppers this year (after big-box retailers like Target and Walmart, of course).  


There’s a messaging app called Discord, but don’t spend a lot of time learning about it, because it may not be around very long. I just asked Noelle if she knew what Discord was and she said “Yeah, I used to have it, but I got rid of it.” I guess she’s not alone. Half the people who have tried Discord say they didn’t like it, while the overall percentage of people who say they like the app declined over the past year. It’s seeing okay growth among gamers (like Twitch users), but even they aren’t big fans. These are not healthy metrics.   

Sometimes, the only way to solve complex problems is to start from the ground floor. The guest on my podcast this week was the great Jeff Wilke, one of Amazon’s earliest builders, who eventually ran their entire worldwide consumer business. Today, Jeff is reimagining manufacturing in America, through his latest endeavor, Re:Build. We talked about how systems thinking can improve everything from education to supply chains to company culture (see: today’s intro). Be forewarned, Jeff is a proud Yinzer, like me, so you’ll hear plenty of obnoxious Steelers banter, too. 

More studies from the CivicScientists this week:

The popular questions this week:

Answer Key: As long as you’re wearing socks; Solitude; Definitely not; I’ve never been asked to speak up in my entire life; Snack forever; Always.

Hoping you’re well.


P.S. – If you’re receiving this for the first time in a long time, we seem to have finally figured out our email purgatory problems. Yes, I’ve been writing every week, without fail. Sorry you missed all these.

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