A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything – by Bill Bryson
Date read: 6/15/19. Recommendation: 10/10.

A Short History of Nearly Everything is one of the most important books on my shelf. After graduating from university, it’s the first book that reminded me how much I loved reading. It was the catalyst for me to begin building back up my reading habits and I’ve read it multiple times since. At its heart, it’s a book about science and some of life’s biggest questions. Bryson tackles everything from the cosmos and physics to ice ages and evolution. He’s a brilliant writer and storyteller, which helps make complex topics like particle physics more accessible and relatable for novices, like me. The pages are filled with jaw-dropping facts and stories of those enshrined in (or forgotten by) the annals of science. The amount of knowledge in this book is incredible. But the most important thing you’ll come away with is a renewed sense of perspective. It’s a great reminder of just how insignificant we are and how precious life is.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Newton, Principia, and Unlikely Inspiration:
In 1683, Edmond Halley, Robert Hooke, and Christopher Wren made a scientific wager on celestial objects. It was known that planets orbited in a particular kind of oval, but no one understood why. Wren offered a prize worth forty-shillings. Halley became obsessed with the problem and went to Isaac Newton, hoping he could help. Newton had already calculated the ellipse but couldn’t recall where he put the formula. Halley urged him to put it into a paper. The result was Newton’s crowning scientific achievement–Principia–which explained orbits mathematically, outlined three laws of motion, and, for the first time, identified gravity. Halley paid for the book’s publication out of his own pocket when The Royal Society backed out due to financial struggles. Impact of Newton’s laws is hard to overstate…explained ocean tides, motion of planets, the trajectory of cannonballs, why we aren’t lost to space as the planet spins beneath us. 

Lord Kelvin, Polymath, Master of the Long Game:

  • Admitted to Glasgow University at the age of 10.

  • Graduated from Cambridge, won top prizes for rowing and mathematics, launched a musical society.

  • At the age of 22, became professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow for the next 53 years. 

  • Wrote 661 papers, gained 69 patents, contributed to every branch of the physical sciences.

  • Suggested the method that led to the invention of refrigeration, created scale of absolute temperature, invented boosting devices to send telegrams across oceans. 

Radioactivity and Early Adopters:
Many assumed radioactivity had to be beneficial since it was so energetic. It wasn’t banned in consumer products until 1938. Up until that point manufacturers put radioactive thorium in toothpaste and laxatives. Until the 1920s the Glen Springs Hotel in Finger Lakes (NY) featured the therapeutic effects of its “Radioactive mineral springs.”

Einstein:
Early life revealed little of what was to come. Didn’t learn to speak until he was three. Failed college entrance exams on first try. 

Took advantage of being underemployed: 1902 took job at Swiss patent office and stayed for 7 years. Challenging enough to engage his mind, but not enough to distract him from physics. Here he produced the special theory of relativity in 1905.

Drawdown periods: For originality, tune out. Einstein’s “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” had no footnotes or citations. It was like he reached the conclusions by pure thought, without listening to outside opinion. 

Little recognition early on: As an outsider, he was largely ignored in the physics community, despite solving several of the deepest mysteries of the universe. Proceeded to apply and get rejected as a university lecturer and high school teacher.

Theory of relativity: Space and time are not absolute. They’re relative to both the observer and the thing being observed. Faster one moves, the more pronounced effects become. The faster we accelerate, the more distorted we are, relative to an outside observer. 

Spent the second half of his life searching for a unified theory of physics, but failed. Physics has two bodies of laws, one for the very small, one for the universe at large.

Discovery by Bridging Ideas
Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest-scholar with a Ph.D. from MIT, was the first to suggest that the universe began as a single geometrical point, a “primeval atom” which burst into existence and had been moving apart ever since. Referred to this as his “fireworks theory.” It was the first hint at the Big Bang. Combined his knowledge of Hubble’s discovery of the universe expanding and increasing speed in every direction, and Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. 

Plate Tectonics:
“Look at the globe and what you are seeing is really a snapshot of the continents as they have been for just one-tenth of 1 percent of the Earth’s history.” BB

“The history of any one part of the Earth, like the life of a soldier, consists of long periods of boredom and short periods of terror.” Derek V. Ager

Disasters + Extinctions:
Last super volcano eruption took place 74,000 years ago in Toba, northern Sumatra. It was followed by six years of volcanic winter. Carried humans to brink of extinction, no more than a few thousand individuals. Modern humans arose from a very small population (explains our lack of genetic diversity). Some evidence shows for the next 20,000 years, human population never grew beyond a few thousand at a given time. Huge amount of time to recover from our perspective of time. But not from Earth’s. 

 99.99% of all species that have ever lived are no longer with us. Average lifespan of a species is about four millions years.

 Permian Extinction: 245 million years ago, wiped out the dinosaurs and 95% of animals known from fossil records disappear. Closest we’ve come to total obliteration. 

Life is Precious: 
“From the bottom of the deepest ocean trench to the top of the highest mountain, the zone that covers nearly the whole of known life, is only something over a dozen miles–not much when set against the roominess of the cosmos at large.” BB

Excellent Location: “We are, to an almost uncanny degree, the right distance from the right sort of star, one that is big enough to radiate lots of energy, but no so big to burn itself out swiftly…We are also fortunate to orbit where we do. Too much nearer and everything on Earth would have boiled away. Much farther away and everything would have frozen.” BB

Earth would have been uninhabitable if it had been just 1 percent farther or 5 percent closer to the sun. Think about Venus (sun’s warmth reaches it two minutes before us).

“We are so used to the notion of our own inevitability as life’s dominant species that it is hard to grasp that we are only here because of time extraterrestrial bangs and other random flukes.” BB

“The one thing we have in common with all other living things is that for nearly four billion years our ancestors have managed to slip through a series of closing doors every time we needed them to.” BB

“If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here–and by ‘we’ I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also a singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.” BB

The Power of Being an Outsider:
Watson and Crick (no formal training in biochemistry) beat out many top insiders as they worked to discover the structure of DNA. 

Alexander von Humboldt:
Observed that there are three stages in scientific discovery: first, people deny that it is true; then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.

Origins:
Five million years ago, Panama rose from the sea, bridging North and South America, which disrupted warmer currents between the Pacific and Atlantic, and changed precipitation patterns across 50% of the world. Africa began to dry out and apes climbed down from trees in jungles to find a new way of life in the savannah.

One million years ago, upright beings left Africa and spread across the globe. Averaging 25 miles a year. 

Modern human is still 98.4% genetically indistinguishable from the modern chimpanzee. More difference between zebra and horse. 

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – by Anne Lamott
Date read: 6/2/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

Hilarious, insightful resource for writers. Lamott discusses everything from intuition and finding your voice, to the writing process and its rewards. Along the way, she weaves in personal experience and reveals the harsh realities of writing and publication–all in good humor. It’s a call to begin writing, find meaning in the process, and trust your voice. Bird by Bird is a tribute to good writing and dedicated readers.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

The Gifts of Writing:

  • Gives you an excuse to do new things, see new places, explore. Also, motivates you to carefully observe life.

  • “Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up.” AL

  • “Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader.” AL

Quake Books/Writers:

  • Feeling you get when you come across a kindred soul who seems to speak for you. 

  • “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave.” AL

  • “You wouldn’t be a writer if reading hadn’t enriched your soul more than other pursuits.” AL

The Work Is its Own Reward:

  • The act of writing gives more and teaches more than publication. It is its own reward.

  • “It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” AL

  • “You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing. You have to give from the deepest part of yourself, and you are going to have to go on giving, and the giving is going to have to be its own reward.” AL

Good Writing:

  • “Good writing is about telling the truth” AL

  • “An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.” AL

The Process:

  • Start by writing really shitty first drafts. That’s the only way to get started. 

  • Writing a book in a single flash of brilliance is a fantasy of the uninitiated. 

  • First draft = down draft. Just get it down. Look for sentences or paragraphs where you’re on to something.

  • Second draft = up draft. Fix it up. Figure out how to better communicate what you’re trying to say. Strip away busyness. 

  • Third draft = dental draft. Check every tooth. 

Plot vs. Characters:

  • “Plot grows out of character.” Not the other way around. 

  • Determine what each character cares about most in the world – that’s what’s at stake. 

  • ABCDE (action, background, development, climax, ending)

Intuition:

  • Confidence and intuition come from trusting yourself. This is how you reach the art of relaxed concentration. 

  • Make space for intuition. Rely on it. Let it guide the way. Get your rational mind out of the way.

Writer’s Block:

  • Start by accepting it. Give yourself permission to be stuck. Accept that you’re not in a productive creative period. Once you do that, you free yourself to fill back up. 

Finding Your Voice:

  • What you bring: “Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe. But what you have to offer is your own sensibility, maybe your own sense of humor or insider pathos or meaning.” AL

  • “You cannot write out of someone else’s big dark place; you can only write out of your own.” AL

  • Bring out what’s inside of you and you will be able to sustain that indefinitely. Try to bring out something else, it will destroy you.

Steal Like an Artist – Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist – by Austin Kleon
Date read: 5/27/19. Recommendation: 7/10.

Short read on creativity and the importance of your influences. It reminded me of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Kleon discusses the creative struggle, where to find inspiration, and how to leverage influences. Anyone can imitate style on a surface level and copy what’s been done. But the most talented artists take it one step further. They steal the thinking behind the style–the mindset of their influences–to emulate and create something of their own. Great reference for smart creatives who want to hone their craft and build the endurance to play the long game.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Your Influences Matter:

  • “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” David Bowie

  • “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” Goethe

  • Start with a single thinker you love. Find and study three people that influenced them. Begin to build branches of your own.

  • “It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.” AK

Ignore Style, Look Deeper:

  • “Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, your want to see like your heroes.”

  • Similar to quote from Marcus Aurelius: "Take a good hard look at people's ruling principle, especially of the wise, what they run away from and what they seek out."

Imitation:

  • Imitation = copying. Emulation = one step further, creating something that is your own.

  • “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.” Conan O’Brien

  • “Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve.” AK

Inspiration to Create:

  • Step 1) Wonder at something. Step 2) Invite others to wonder with you.

  • “Complain about the way other people make software by making software.” Andre Torres

Power of routine and systems: 

  • “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Gustave Flaubert

  • Mark art your main relaxing activity (Derek Sivers). A day job gives you financial freedom, human connection, and routine. Use it to your advantage. 

Creativity is subtraction:

  • Limitless possibilities can be paralyzing, place constraints on yourself. 

  • “What we respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.” Saul Steinberg

  • “It’s often what an artists choose to leave out that makes the art interesting.” AK

Endurance – Alfred Lansing

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage – by Alfred Lansing
Date read: 5/18/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

A brilliant tale of survival that documents Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed voyage to cross Antarctica from west to east. Shackleton often appears as a larger-than-life character, offering lessons in leadership at every turn. But Lansing balances this by bringing in the perspective of the other twenty-seven crewmen. It’s one of those true stories that you could never dream up. Lansing highlights the importance of meaning, self-reliance, and gratitude in extreme conditions (à la Tribe by Sebastian Junger or Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl). It’s also beautifully written. I stopped multiple times to rewrite passages out of admiration, hoping to steal a touch of Lansing’s style.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition:
Goal was to cross the Antarctic continent overland from west to east. Set out on October 26, 1914 from Buenos Aires with 27 men and Sir Ernest Shackleton at the helm. On January 19, 1915 became trapped in icy wasteland of the Weddell Sea midway between the South Pole and nearest known outpost of humanity, 1,200 miles away. 

After initial departure: “And in the space of a few short hours, with a thousand petty problems, to one of the barest simplicity in which only one real task remained–the achievement of the goal.”

Shackleton:
Purposeful, bold, neat. 

“But if it hadn’t been audacious, it wouldn’t have been to Shackleton’s liking. He was, above all, an explorer in the classic mold–utterly self-reliant, romanic, and just a little swashbuckling.”

“Whatever his mood–whether it was gay and breezy, or dark with rage–he had one pervading characteristic: he was purposeful.”

Intensely aware of those who might undermine unity of group. Knew overall energy and attitude could be difference between life and death. Shackleton made tent, job, crew, and rescue-team assignments based on personality and demeanor. He knew how to motivate each man and preserve the morale of the team. Feared demoralization more than the cold, ice, or sea.

Shackleton believed in his own invincibility. His confidence fueled his men and is what made him a great leader. But it’s also what blinded him to realities and led to occasional poor decisions. 

Plans changed constantly as they drifted one direction or another. But Shackleton always operated with conviction. Being a great leader isn’t about accuracy. It’s about conviction and adaptability (strong opinions, loosely held). 

Frozen in ice:
“Thus their plight was naked and terrifying in its simplicity. If they were to get out–they had to get themselves out.”

After the ship getting stuck (and knowing they were going to have to make it through an entire winter of polar nights), the men grew closer. Built camaraderie through regular social occasions–Saturday night grog, Sunday night music, a lantern chat with a slide-illustrated lecture (once/month), dogsledding, and hockey.

After nine months, abandoned the Endurance and made camp on a large floe. Men responded well because indecision and speculation were over. Knew what needed to be done. Shackleton knew not to let ambiguity linger for too long. Conviction > indecisiveness. 

Gratitude and meaning in extreme conditions:
“The rapidity with which one can completely change one’s ideas…and accommodate ourselves to a state of barbarism is wonderful.” Worsley

“They had been on the ice just a month. And for all the trials and discomforts, these weeks of primitive living had been peculiarly enriching. The men had been forced to develop a degree of self-reliance greater than they had ever imagined possible.” 
*See Tribe (Sebastian Junger) and Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl)

“What an ingrate I have been for such jobs when done for me at home.” Macklin

“One of the finest days we have ever had…a pleasure to be alive.” Greenstreet

“In some ways they had come to know themselves better. In this lonely world of ice and emptiness, they had achieved at least a limited kind of contentment. They had been tested and found wanting.”

Boredom is a fiercer foe than hardship:
“The monotony of life here is getting on our nerves. Nothing to do, nowhere to walk, no change in surroundings, food or anything.” Greenstreet

Speed > preparedness:
When they abandoned ship, Shackleton urged the crew to leave behind anything that wasn’t absolutely essential for survival. To demonstrate this, he tore a page from the Book of Job in his Bible, set the book in the snow and walked away. In his studies of past expeditions, knew that crews who brought equipment for every imaginable scenario fared worse than those who sacrificed preparedness for speed. 

Ferocity of the sea:
“But the sea is a different sort of enemy. Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape.”

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work – by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Date read: 5/7/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

The book outlines lessons from Basecamp and how to run a calm company. Refreshing resource, particularly for those who get caught up in the chaos of work. They discuss why calmness is a productive emotion and the work structure they use at Basecamp to help sustain that. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson also dig into work ethic, the danger of meetings, the importance of saying no, the myth of low-hanging fruit, why they ship before they test, and the rationale for why they only have a single product. It’s a great, short read that will help you challenge the status quo.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Calmness = productive emotion:
Goal at Basecamp is to be a calm company. Similar to Phil Jackson’s approach to pre-game speeches or halftime speeches. Remain calm and in control.

“Calm requires getting comfortable with enough.”

“Becoming a calm company is all about making decisions about who you are, who you want to serve, and who you want to say no to. It’s about knowing what to optimize for. It’s not that any particular choice is the right one, but not making one or dithering is definitely the wrong one.”

In victory, learn when to stop (Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power)
Basecamp currently generates tens of millions of dollars in profit and they’re happy with that. Not obsessed with doubling or tripling market share. Focused on serving existing customers well. 

Example, they’ve kept fixed monthly fee instead of per-seat business model. Helps them avoid conflicts of interest where biggest customer holds power over the product and controls your time. 

Also, why they only have a single product. 

Work structure:
Projects are typically six weeks cycles, followed by two weeks to wander and decompress. 

Monthly “heartbeats” written by the team lead to summarize progress that’s been made. Boils key learnings down to essential points. Automatically removes the noise of the day-to-day by taking a broader perspective.

Work ethic:
Effectiveness > busyness.

Point of diminishing returns: “Creativity, progress, and impact do not yield to brute force.”

Make the best decision that you’re able to now and avoid indecision: “Accept that better ideas aren’t necessarily better if they arrive after the train has left the station. If they’re so good, they can catch the next one.”

Saying no and getting more done:
Say no, claw back time: “The only way to get more done is to have less to do.” (Similar to Nassim Taleb’s quote, “You want maximal free time, not maximal activity, and you can assess your own ‘success’ according to such a metric.”).

“No is no to one thing. Yes is no to a thousand things.”

“When you say no now, you can come back and say yes later.”

“No is calm but hard. Yes is easy but a flurry.”

Myth of low-hanging fruit:
The idea that you can instantly move needles because you’ve never tried before is delusional. Almost always requires difficult work.

Hiring and talent:
“Stop thinking of talent as something to be plundered and start thinking of it as something to be grown and nurtured.”

Ship it:
Simulated environments provide simulated answers. If you want to know the truth about your product, you have to ship it and see how real customers use it in their natural environment. 

Basecamp doesn’t beta test. They don’t put things in front of users before they’re ready for production. Slow and timid response to feedback might help them catch a few things, but they value speed and conviction over safety. 

Building a Story Brand – Donald Miller

Building a Story Brand – by Donald Miller
Date read: 4/25/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

I avoided this book for a long time, despite numerous recommendations, out of an aversion to marketing and branding. But I’m glad I finally read it. The heart of the book is about clarifying and simplifying your message. Miller presents his strategy in a seven-point framework which forms that foundation of all great stories. Whether an artist or entrepreneur, it’s a great resource to help you improve your communication. I’ve already used the framework to overhaul my own website and improve my messaging in the products I’m building at work. You’ll get the most value out of this book if you follow (and actually complete) the exercises, chapter by chapter.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Two biggest mistakes in marketing:
-Failure to focus on aspects of product that help people survive/thrive.
-Requires too much energy from customer to understand what’s in it for them. 

Storytelling:
“Story is the greatest weapon we have to combat noise, because it organizes information in such a way that people are compelled to listen.”

The best products don’t always win. The best communicators do.

Say less and communicate clearly, otherwise customers will give up trying to organize and make sense of all the data.

Steve Jobs learned this through his experience with Pixar. In 1983, Apple launched their computer Lisa and took out a nine-page ad in the New York Times. When he returned to the company, took two words and put them on a billboard: “Think Different.”

Seven major elements, make up the SB7 framework:
Character, Problem, Guide, Plan, Call to Action, Avoid Failure, Success.

Three questions you need to answer to drive engagement:

-What do you offer? How will it make my life better? What do I need to do to buy it?

Above the fold: Promise an aspirational identity, promise to solve a problem, state exactly what you do.

Similar to: What is this? What’s in it for me? What do I do next?

1) A Character:
The customer is the hero, not you. What do they want?

Define something they want and open up a gap. 

Make it about survival. 

Make it a single focus.

2) Has a Problem:
Villain should be root source, relatable, singular, and real.

Three dimensions: external problems, internal problems, philosophical problems.

6) And Calls Them to Action
Major life decisions aren’t made until you’re challenged to do so. Must be challenged by outside forces.

Be bolder in calls to action. If they’re soft, they’ll be ignored.

If you don’t clearly invite customers to take a journey with you, they won’t. 

People are drawn to clarity. Have clear calls to action so they know what they need to do next. 

Transitional calls to action are different. Instead of “buy now” they allow you to establish credibility, create reciprocity, and position yourself as the guide (think free information, testimonial video, free trial period). 

7) That Helps Them Avoid Failure
If we don’t bring up the negative stakes early and often, story will fall flat.

What are you helping your customer avoid? What does failure look like?

8) And Ends in Success
Be specific – JFK didn’t say he wanted to build a “highly competitive and productive space program,” he said “we’re going to put a man on the moon.”

Identity transformation: From, To (anxious, glum to carefree, radiant).


The Little Book of Stoicism – Jonas Salzgeber

The Little Book of Stoicism – by Jonas Salzgeber
Date read: 4/16/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

Both a solid introduction to Stoicism for beginners and a great reminder for those already familiar with the philosophy. Jonas gives an overview of Stoicism, including its origins and most influential philosophers. But most importantly, he details what’s in it for you with a list of practices that range from visualizations and journaling to mindsets and lifestyle shifts. At this point, I’ve read 15+ books on the subject and I still felt this was well worth my time. It’s a great resource on the subject and offers a few new Stoic angles to approach your life with.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Eudaimonia: 
Become good with your inner daimon (inner spirit or divine spark). Live in harmony with your highest self.

Refers to to the overall quality of your life, rather than a temporary mood.

Seneca refers to this as tranquility – the inner peace that comes from a calm confidence in your path and trusting yourself. 

Eudaimonia encompasses three things: living with areté (expressing your highest self, virtue), focusing on what you can control, and taking responsibility. 

Emotional Resilience:
“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.” Seneca

Not about repressing emotion, but about acknowledging, reflecting, and learning.

“We can train ourselves to act calm despite feeling angry, act courageously despite feeling anxious, and going east despite the wolf pulling west.” JS

“I buy tranquility instead.”

Direction:
“If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” Seneca

“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility.” Marcus Aurelius

Via Negativa (Nassim Taleb): Acting by removing is more powerful and less error prone. 

Mindfulness:
“It is a continuous vigilance and presence of mind, self-consciousness which never sleeps, and a constant tension of the spirit. Thanks to this attitude, the philosopher is fully aware of what he does at each instant, and he wills his actions fully.” Pierre Hadot

Stimulus -> follow immediate impression -> impulsive, often irrational response.
Stimulus -> pause to evaluate, challenge initial impression -> rational decision.

Awareness robs negative emotions of their capacity to destroy.

Character:
“Character beats beauty.” JS

“If you want anything good, you must get it from yourself.” Epictetus

“What would have become of Hercules, do you think, if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?” Epictetus

Train yourself to do what others dread and resist what others can’t. 

The Stoic Archer:
Focus on the process – evaluate what’s within your control. Preparation, effort, then let the arrow fly. 

Focus on getting the conditions right (your intentions and actions). Remember, the ultimate outcome is often external. If you do the right things consistently over a long enough time frame, there will be an eventual payoff. Just don’t bank on it every time. 

“Know that sometimes things will not go your way even if you do your best, and regardless of whether you deserved it or not. Don’t confuse your aspirations with how the universe should turn out.” JS

Acceptance vs. Resignation:
Acceptance = making the most of it, overcoming challenges, seeing them as opportunities (the obstacle is the way).

Resignation = giving up and allowing apathy to dictate your life. 

Confident Data Skills – Kirill Eremenko

Confident Data Skills – by Kirill Eremenko
Date read: 3/29/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

Great resource for those wanting to learn the fundamentals of data science. It’s particularly relevant if you’re looking to better leverage data in your existing job (as I am in product management) or explore a new career path in data science (huge opportunities here, in case you’ve been living under a rock). Eremenko does a great job breaking down the data science process for beginners and explaining the essential algorithms. Case studies from Netflix and LinkedIn, help bring these concepts to life.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Fundamentals:
Data has always been out there. What’s changed in the past decade is our ability to collect, organize, analyze and visualize it.

Data = quantitative AND qualitative.

“Big data” is a dynamic term given to datasets that are massive in volume (too big), velocity (too rapid), or variety (too many different data attributes). Technology always being developed to improve this, that’s why what we consider “big data” is in constant flux.

Cloud = storage facility with a virtualized infrastructure. 

Netflix:
The Netflix recommendation is a great example of the power of data science. Netflix was able use viewing habits to create niche subcategories (Exciting horror movies from the 1980s). They were also able to see overlap in audience’s viewing patterns - identifying that people who enjoyed political dramas also enjoyed Kevin Spacey films, which led them to remake House of Cards.

Healthcare:
One of the things that makes data science so powerful is the sheer volume it enables us to process. Can help support doctors in diagnosing patients. Doctor might have seen 5,000 patients in their career. Machine has accumulated knowledge of 1,000,000 cases.

Multidisciplinary:
Beneficial to have roots in a different discipline when you enter data science – gives you an advantage and helps you ask the right questions. 

The data science process:

  1. Identify the question

  2. Prepare the data (ETL - extract, transform, load)

  3. Analyze the data

  4. Visualize the insights

  5. Present the insights

Prepare the data:
-Extract the data from its sources – ensures that you aren’t altering the original source.

-Transform the data into a comprehensible language for access in a relational database. This step is about reformatting, joining, splitting, aggregating, and cleaning the data. 

-Load the data into the end source (warehouse).

Essential algorithms:
Three main groups – classification, clustering, reinforcement learning.

Classification – when you know the categories you want to group, or classify, new data points into (e.g. survey response to a yes/no question)

-Types of classification algorithms: decision trees, random forest, K-nearest neighbors (K-NN), Naive Bayes, logistic regression.

-Decision tree runs tests on individual attributes in your dataset in order to determine the possible outcomes. Questions are the branches, answers are the leaves. Better for smaller datasets.

-Random forest builds upon same principles as decision tree, it just uses many different trees to make the same prediction and averages the results from the individual trees. Every decision tree casts its vote, random forest takes most voted option. Better for larger datasets

-K-nearest neighbors (K-NN) analyzes likeness by calculating the distance between a new data point and existing data points. Deterministic model. Assumption it makes is that unknown features will be similar. 

-Naive Bayes allows new data points to be easily included in the algorithm to dynamically update the probability value. Probabilistic model. Good for non-linear problems where classes cannot be separated with a straight line on the scatter plot and for datasets containing outliers (other algorithms easily biased by outliers). Drawback: naive assumptions made can create bias.

-Logistic regression is good for analyzing the likelihood of a customer’s interest in your product, evaluating response of customers based on demographic data, specifying which variable is the most statistically significant.

-Simple linear regression analyzes relationship between one dependent and one independent variable.

-Multiple linear regression analyzes relationships between on dependent and two or more independent variables.

Clustering – when you don’t know the groups you want an analysis to place your data into (e.g. survey based on age, distance from company’s closest store). 

-Types of clustering algorithms: K-means, hierarchical.

-K-means discovers statistically significant categories or groups in a given dataset. 

-Hierarchical includes agglomerative (bottom-up, works from single data point and groups it with nearest data points in incremental steps until all points have been absorbed into single cluster, this is the most common) and divisive (begins at top, single cluster encompasses all data points, works its way down, splitting the single cluster apart in order of distance between data points), both recorded in a dendrogram. 

Reinforcement learning - a form of machine learning that leans on concepts of behaviorism to train AI. 

-Types of algorithms: Upper confidence bound, Thompson sampling.

-Upper confidence bound (UCB) is a dynamic strategy that increases in accuracy as additional information is collected. Deterministic. After a single round, use data to alter bounds of one of the variants. Good for finding most effective ad campaigns or managing multiple project finances.

The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle

The Culture Code – by Daniel Coyle
Date read: 3/24/19. Recommendation: 7/10.

Short read discussing the foundations of great culture. Coyle references some of the world’s most successful organizations and leaders, including Pixar, Google, New Zealand’s All Blacks, Gregg Popovich, and the Navy SEALs. Each remarkable culture shares three key elements–building safety, sharing vulnerability, and establishing purpose. It’s worth skimming through for the few important takeaways and examples he shares.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Foundations of culture:
1) Build safety: creates sense of belonging + identity
2) Share vulnerability: creates cooperation and trust
3) Establish purpose: creates shared goals + values

Building safety:
Belonging cues possess three main qualities: energy (invest in the exchange), individualization (treat the person as unique, valued), future orientation (signal relationship will continue).

Performance is more dependent on behaviors that communicate sense of safety and belonging than on words. 

Google AdWords: Jeff Dean, engineer at Google, took it upon himself to fix the AdWords engine in 2002. Up until that point any targeted ads were garbage. Dean didn’t ask permission or tell anyone, he just did it. As a result, Google ousted the largest payer in the game, Overture. Not because they were smarter, but because it was safer. Less bureaucracy, more autonomy. 

Gregg Popovich, coach of San Antonio Spurs, is one of the best at this. High trust, no bullshit, tells players/coaches the truth, and loves them immensely. 

Popovich methods:
-Personal connection: he cares about you (body language, attention, behavior).

-Performance feedback: telling the difficult truth and providing constructive criticism, emphasizes the high-standards of their culture.

-Perspective: regularly engages the team with person, direct questions focused on the bigger picture (politics, history, food) to emphasize that life is bigger than basketball and everyone is connected. 

Sharing Vulnerability:
Ask more uncomfortable/tough questions that generate vulnerability (e.g. “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”). Reciprocity here is key, second person has to reciprocate to keep it going. 

Vulnerability precedes trust. And without trust, you can’t create cooperation.

Leader must be vulnerable first. Ask your people these questions:
-What is one thing I currently do that you’d like me to continue?
-What is one thing I don’t do frequently enough that I should do more often?
-What can I do to make you more effective?

Link discipline to reconnection:
When a player on the Chicago Cubs violates a team rule, Joe Maddon requires them to purchase a bottle of wine and uncork it with him and spend time together. 

At BrainTrusts (See Pixar) teams are only allowed to highlight problems (not suggest solutions). Facilitates candor - small, targeted, less personal but impactful.

Establishing Purpose:
Focus less on creating one big signal or speech, instead focus on communicating many small, clear signals that add clarity to a single vision.

Aim to be consistent instead of worrying about being inspiring. 

What type of performance are you after?
High-proficiency environments: defined, reliable performance.
-Create priorities, define key behaviors, lighthouse signaling purpose (e.g. New Zealand’s All Blacks).

High-creativity environments: help create something new.
-Less about guiding or steering, more about creating the right conditions/environment (See Ed Catmull at Pixar). 

High-purpose cultures (whether proficient or creative) are dynamic, allow them to evolve:

“High-purpose environments don’t descend on groups from on high; they are dug out of the ground, over and over, as a group navigates its problems together and evolves to meet the challenges of a fast-changing world.” DC

Skin in the Game – Nassim Taleb

Skin in the Game – by Nassim Taleb
Date read: 3/21/19. Recommendation: 9/10.

True to form, Taleb challenges standard conventions and long-held beliefs about a range of topics including uncertainty, symmetry, risk sharing, and rationality in complex systems. Skin in the game means having exposure to the real world and paying a price for consequences, good or bad. He explains that it’s necessary for fairness, commercial efficiency, and risk management. But most importantly, it’s necessary to understand the world. Taleb digs into real-world applications of his ideas and explains important heuristics like the Lindy effect. This will give you an entirely new lens to view the world and open your eyes to things you might never have questioned before. I cannot recommend his books enough, this is as great of a starting place as any. Love him or hate him, he’s one of the most original minds of our time.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

The core of the book focuses on four topics: a) uncertainty and the reliability of knowledge, b) symmetry in human affairs (fairness, justice, responsibility, reciprocity), c) information sharing in transactions, d) rationality in complex systems and the real world. 

Importance of skin in the game:
Necessary for fairness, commercial efficiency, risk management, but most importantly, it’s necessary to understand the world. It’s about the things that existential for humans (justice, honor, sacrifice).

Skin in the game means having exposure to the real world and paying a price for consequences, good or bad. Keeps human hubris in check.

Soul in the game: “If you do not take risks for your opinions, you are nothing.” NT

Natural filter: if you can’t put your soul into something, leave it for someone else. 

No skin in the game (keep upside, transfer downside to others): Bureaucrats, consultants, administrators, politicians, corporate executives.
*See diagram on page 47 for list of asymmetries.

Asymmetries in life come from agency problems – absence of skin in the game contaminates fields and produces distortions. Skin in the game demands symmetry. 

Modernity:
“The curse of modernity is that we are increasingly populated by a class of people who are better at explaining than understanding, or better at explaining than doing.” NT 

“Avoid taking advice from someone who gives advice for a living, unless there is a penalty for their advice.” NT

Thinking in high, not low, dimensions:
Many people struggle to understand multidimensional problems – cholesterol reading is a single-dimensional representation that isn’t necessarily representative of complex system of multidimensional health. Another extension of this problem, comparing actions of dictators in war torn countries to the prime minster of Norway, not the local alternative. 

The Silver Rule:
“Do not treat others the way you would not like them to treat you.” NT

Mind your own business, don’t try to decide what’s good for others (The Golden Rule). 

Via negativa:
Via negativa (acting by removing) is more powerful and less error-prone than via positiva (acting by addition).” NT

Don’t ever allow yourself to have an assistant, it hinders your natural filtering system. Without one you’ll only be able to do the things you truly enjoy. “You want maximal free time, not maximal activity, and you can assess your own ‘success’ according to such a metric.”

“Assistance moves you one step away from authenticity.” NT - for example, using Google Translate as opposed to learning the language through interactions with locals. 

Decentralization:
Decentralization and fragmentation help stability and improve people’s connection to their work. In a way, preserves a deep sense self-sufficiency that we all crave.

Minorities, not majorities, rule:
All it takes to get a book banned is a few intolerant activists who create a fuss. In a way, the most intolerant minority rules.

Revolutions aren’t always favored by the majority, in fact they’re often driven by an obsessive minority. 

It’s okay to be intolerant with intolerant minorities. They’re violating the Silver Rule (see above). Can’t use “American values” when treating intolerant extremists who deny people’s right to their own religion. 

Humility:
Cato’s injunction: he preferred to be asked why he didn’t have a statue than why he had one. One of the most important lessons I learned early on in life and helps demand far greater respect than people who overshare/overpromote and are focused on “personal brand.”

“A free person does not need to win arguments – just win.” NT

The Lindy effect:
Heuristic explaining that time removes the fragile and keeps the robust. If something is “Lindy” then it ages in reverse, life expectancy lengthens with time, conditional on survival. E.g., book with life expectancy of 100 years and has a future life expectancy of 100 more. 

There’s only one effective judge of things: time. 

“Burn old logs. Drink old wine. Read old books. Keep old friends.” Alfonso X

Summarizing Wittgenstein: knowledge is the reverse of an athletic contest. In philosophy, the winner is the one who finished last. 

An idea will survive the test of time not only if it does not harm, but also if it favors one’s survival. 

Paradox of Progress: Story of New York banker vacationing in Greece, talking to a fisherman. Consider Robert Green’s insight from The 48 Laws of Power, “In victory, learn when to stop.

“When the beard (or hair) is black, heed the reasoning, but ignore the conclusion. When the beard is gray, consider both reasoning and conclusion. When the beard is white, skip the reasoning, but mind the conclusion.” NT

The Gordian Knot:
Greek story about Alexander the Magnus untying a wagon with dozens of knots (oracle predicted that whoever did it would rule over all of Asia). Instead of overcomplicating the solution, drew his sword and cut the knot. Theme: what matters is not complexity of presentation but results.

Modern dilemma - patient shows up with a headache, much better to give him aspirin or tell him to get a full night of sleep than do brain surgery (even though it might appear more scientific)

Disagreements:
You can criticize what a person said (more sensational) or what a person meant. Figuring out what a person meant requires you have a better grasp of the idea. Charlatan’s can be identified by their criticism of specific statements. 

Virtue:
Virtue signaling: exploiting virtue for personal gain, image, career, status. Immoral to claim virtue without living with its consequences. 

“Courage is the only virtue you cannot fake.” NT 

The Law of the Jungle:
The world belongs to the collaborative. Consider how few predators there are in comparison to collaborative animals (think of a watering hole). 

Rationality:
What you do, not what you think or what you believe. At it’s core, it’s rationality is about survival.

The Silk Roads – Peter Frankopan

The Silk Roads – by Peter Frankopan
Date read: 3/5/19. Recommendation: 7/10.

A comprehensive world history from the perspective of the East. The entire book is an important reminder that before the modern era, the Middle East and Asia were the scientific hubs of the world. Places like Iraq, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan were the centers of logic, theology, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy. The Silk Road allowed ideas and goods to spread, connecting distant people and cultures, from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. For most of history, Western Europe was an isolated, intellectual backwater. Frankopan details all of this and how the world’s political and economic center of gravity eventually came to shift West in recent centuries. It’s a great resource if you want to challenge your Western-centric view of history (it could also double as religious studies course).

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Intellectual center of the world:
Before the modern era, the Middle East and Asia were the scientific hub of the world (places like Iraq, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan). Center of logic, theology, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy.

At its peak, Baghdad was magnificent. Filled with parks, markets, mosques, bathhouses, schools, hospitals, palaces, kiosks, gardens. 

Silk Roads:
Linked the Pacific to Mediterranean, first major pathways that connected distant people and cultures. Carried goods, but also fostered intellectual and religious exchange. 

Globalization:
This is not a modern phenomenon. It was just as prevalent 2,000+ years ago with the expansion of China under the Han dynasty or Alexander of Macedon’s conquests of Persian territory. Each created its own opportunities, problems and technological advances. 

What we think to be uniquely modern problems are rarely that (with the exception of climate, obesity, and a few others). People have been outraged for the entirety of human history about certain things, particularly progress and change. Certain themes have remained present as far back as we can see – i.e. struggles between religions. 

“Two millennia ago, silks made by hand in China were being worn by the rich and powerful in Carthage and other cities in the Mediterranean, while pottery manufactured in southern France could be found in England and in the Persian Gulf. Spices and condiments grown in India were being used in the kitchens of Xinjiang, as they were in those of Rome. Buildings in northern Afghanistan carried inscriptions in Greek, while horses from Central Asia were being ridden proudly thousands of miles away to the east.” PF

The Mongols:
The Mongols rose to power and gained the largest land empire in history because of ruthless planning, streamlined organization, and a clear set of strategic objectives. Ability and loyalty > tribal background or status.

Mongols were not always seen as oppressors, invested in infrastructure, rebuilt cities, emphasized arts and production. Their reputation as bloodthirsty barbarians is due to histories written after the fact.

“This slanted view of the past provides a notable lesson in how useful it is for leaders who have a view to posterity to patronize historians who write sympathetically of their age of empire–something the Mongols conspicuously failed to do.” PF

The Plague:
Silk roads were the veins through which the plague devastated the world.

Social and economic change brought about in the west was significant. Shortage of labor helped increase its value and wages, enhanced negotiation power of lower classes. Also matched by weakening of propertied class with lower rents and falling interest rates. Wealth became more even distributed and resulted in a greater purchasing power and demand for luxury goods. Rise in wealth also brought about better diets and health. Post-plague populations were generally far healthier than before it struck. 

Religions:
Great overview of the political struggles between faiths for much of human history. Puts the foolishness of religion and silly beginnings in perspective.

Eighth and ninth centuries, Muslims (in the east) were curious, tolerant, open-minded, focused on progress. Europe (the west) was filled with Christian fundamentalists who were the opposite. They were considered intellectual backwaters.

In the middle of the ninth century, the Khazars decided to become Jewish. Khazar ruler brought delegations from each faith to debate and present their case. He asked Christians whether Islam or Judaism was the better faith, they said the first was much worse. He asked the Muslims whether Christianity or Judaism was better and they ripped Christianity. Both had admitted Judaism to be better and so they converted. 

Shift in world's political and economic center of gravity:
Since Europe was at the far end of the Silk Roads, it was an afterthought for most of history. But in the 1490s, Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic and Vasco de Gama navigated the southern tip of Africa. Both opened new trade routes and shifted the center of world power. Europe took center stage as the midpoint between the east and the west.

Rise of Western Europe:
France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal and England were irrelevant in the world of the ancient Greeks, and were largely peripheral in the history of Rome. But after Columbus and Vasco de Gama, this changed their course of history entirely.

England would eventually turn what proved to be its weakness (distant, isolated), to its strength and the tides shifted towards Western Europe.

WWI:
Led to a massive redistribution of wealth. WWI bankrupted the old world and enriched the new. To finance food production, weapons, munitions, the Allies commissioned J.P. Morgan & Co., taking on huge debts. During the Great War, Britain went from being largest creditor in the world to being its largest debtor. World economy was left in ruins.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – by Jack Weatherford
Date read: 2/15/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

An intriguing look into the life of Genghis Khan and the far-reaching impact of the Mongol Empire that continues to be felt in the modern world. Genghis Khan’s life and character were shaped by the rugged terrain of the Mongolian steppe. He faced a bitter fight for survival from the moment he entered the world. He would take the harsh lessons he learned from an early age to unite warring tribes on the steppe and inspire a deep loyalty in his people. In 25 years under Genghis Khan, the Mongol army conquered more lands and people than the Romans conquered in 400 years. But his most significant contribution was that he set the foundation for the modern world with free commerce, open communication, shared knowledge, secular politics, religious coexistence, international law, and diplomatic immunity.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Beginnings
Genghis Khan was born in 1162, unified all tribes on steppe and founded the Mongol nation in 1206. His life and character were shaped by rugged landscape on the Mongolian steppe.

Genghis Khan was self-made. Grew up in a world of violence (murder, kidnapping, enslavement), encountered no more than a few hundred people on the Mongolian steppe in his childhood, received no formal education. He showed remarkable instinct for survival and self-preservation.

Military Genius
Brilliant use of speed and surprise on battlefield. Perfected siege warfare, negating benefits of walled cities. Goal of every invasion was to frighten the enemy into surrendering before the battle began.

Turned massive populations against the places they invaded by terrifying peasants at the foothills and sending swarms of refugees into the cities which could not support them. 

Traveling lightly, quickly: Traveled without a supply train (waited until cold months so horses could graze, better for hunting) or siege engines and equipment. Instead, brought along a faster-moving engineering corps to build whatever they dreamed up or the situation required. Mobility boost from all cavalry (no marching infantry). 

“Victory did not come to the one who played by the rules; it came to the one who made the rules and imposed them on his enemy. Triumph could not be partial. It was complete, total, and undeniable – or it was nothing.” JW

In 25 years under Genghis Khan, the Mongol army conquered more lands and people than the Romans conquered in 400 years. 

Leveraged his own naiveté as a tool - did not grow up in cities of have access to antiquated tactics. Had to create his own, such as diverting a channel of the Yellow River to flood the fortified Tangut capital. 

Would often lure enemy away from battlefield in false retreat, drew enemy further away (in overconfidence) and exhausted them. Once enemies became disorganized and tired, Mongols would turn and shoot them down. (See example of Duke Henry II of Silesia and army of 30,000 knights, page 152). 

Benefits of Multiculturalism
“Genghis Khan’s army combined the traditional fierceness and speed of the steppe warrior with the highest technological sophistication of Chinese civilization.” JW

Each step of the way, combined new ideas and strategies he learned or discovered from different challenges or cultures. Always learning, experimenting, adapting, and revising. Never fought the same war twice. 

Genghis Khan sought talented men as his closest advisors, no matter their origin.

“Whether in their policy of religious tolerance, devising a universal alphabet, maintaining relay stations, playing games, or printing almanacs, money, or astronomy charts, the rulers of the Mongol Empire displayed a persistent universalism. Because they had no system of their own to impose upon their subjects, they were willing to adopt and combine systems from everywhere. Without deep cultural preferences in these areas, the Mongols implemented pragmatics rather than ideological solutions.” JW

Arbitrary Authority
Distrust of arbitrary authority – Championed individual merit, loyalty, achievement and smashed feudal system of aristocratic privilege and birth.

Killed all aristocratic leaders (rich and powerful) in each conquered land to decapitate social system of enemy and eliminate future resistance.

Loyalty
Inspired deep loyalty in his people by taking conquered people into his tribe (sans aristocrats) as equal members in good standing who could share fairly in future prosperity. This helped unite his future empire.

Second-order thinking: When looting, ordered a soldier’s share for each widow and orphan of anyone killed in the raid. Main benefit was to avoid temptation to rush looting without complete victory. Also, inspired soldiers who knew he would take care of their families.

In six decades, none of his generals deserted him. He also never harmed or punished a single one of them. Unrivaled fidelity among all great kings throughout history. 

Organized warriors across different tribes and kin into units of ten (arban) who were to fight and live together as loyally as blood. Helped unite tribes and people across the empire.

Sought to remove all animosity/dissension within the ranks of his followers: Forbade the enslavement of any Mongol, declared all children legitimate, forbade selling of women into marriage, outlawed adultery, punished theft of animals, forbade hunting of animals during breeding times (March-October), decreed complete and total religious freedom. 

Legacy
First to connect China and Europe with diplomatic and commercial contacts–opened the world to new commerce in goods, ideas, knowledge. Unrivaled carriers of culture. 

Literacy and the number of books increased drastically during the Mongol dynasty.

First in history to decree compete religious freedom for everyone in the empire. Recognized the disruptive potential of competing religions.

After initial destruction and shock of conquest in each country the Mongols set foot in, unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, improved civilization. Mongol influence, in many ways, led Europe to the Renaissance.

“Without the vision of a goal, a man cannot manage his own life, much less the lives of others.” GK

Fostered exchange of medical knowledge by establishing hospitals and training centers, bringing together the best doctors of the time from India and the Middle East with Chinese healers.

Set foundation for modern world with free commerce, open communication, shared knowledge, secular politics, religious coexistence, international law, and diplomatic immunity. 

Khubilai Khan
Lacked military skills of Genghis, but also recognized he couldn’t conquer China by mere force. Combined brilliant ideas with great implementation with allowed him to manage his territory and its expansion south. 

Commissioned Chinese-style imperial capital which grew into modern capital of Beijing. 

Previous dynasties had tried to unite Chinese states, but Khubilai was the first one to pull it off. Accomplished this by empowering Peasants by giving them responsibility in local community (acting as local governments), public schools, education, literacy. “The greatest legacy of the Mongol Empire bequeathed to the Chinese is the Chinese nation itself.” Hidehiro Okada

Downfall of the Mongol Empire
The plague cut off each part of the Mongol Empire (Persia, Russia, China) from the other and interlocking system collapsed. Depended on quick, constant movement of people and information. During the plague, various parts of empire were either decimated or isolated themselves for survival. 

1492, more than a century after the last khan ruled over China, Christopher Columbus set off to revive lost contact with Mongol court. Reached United States thinking it must be southern neighbors of Mongols in India (hints naming, “Indians”).

The Tigress of Forlì – Elizabeth Lev

The Tigress of Forlì – by Elizabeth Lev
Date read: 2/7/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

The story of Renaissance Italy’s most courageous countess, Caterina Sforza. Her tale is one of clever strategy, boldness, and determination. Sforza’s life reads like a storybook as she fights off her husband’s assassins, the French Army, and Cesare Borgia. Throughout her life, powerful men viewed her as a pawn on the chessboard of Italian politics. They doubted her ability to rule and never took her seriously. She would prove this to be foolish, time and time again. Fascinating, inspiring biography.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici

Legacy: Ingenuity, boldness, cunning, astute strategies, and iron determination. Fended off her husband’s assassins, the French Army, and Cesare Borgia.

Warrior: Grew up learning to bear and wield arms in the tradition of her warrior family. Her family emphasized training of female children along males the use of weapons, riding and hunting. Gave her an unusual advantage and first-class education in the fundamentals of military leadership. 

Influences:
Galeazzo Maria Sforza
 (father, Duke of Milan): Admired his boldness, warrior nature that he blended with his love for the arts. He turned Milan into an intellectual rival to Florence. He defined Caterina’s ideal of bravery and elegance.

Bona of Savoy (Galeazzo’s second wife, not Caterina’s biological mother): After Galeazzo was murdered, she transformed from a quiet, patient mother and wife, into a competent head of state, dealing with threats and taking on all responsibility. Safely transported Caterina to join her husband (Girolamo Riario) in Rome after her father’s death.

Defying Expectations:
Throughout her life, powerful men viewed her as a pawn on the chessboard of Italian politics, to be used and sacrificed at will. They doubted her ability to rule and never took her seriously. She would prove this to be foolish, time and time again. 

Brutally realistic expectations set by early marriage (at age 10) to a foolish, self-indulgent husband (Girolamo) and the murder of her father forced her to build deep well of fortitude and resilience.

She was held in high-esteem, her intelligence, manners, and sense of fashion were widely admired. While Girolamo was holed up, wary of strangers, she would take to the streets to walk among her subjects and actively engage the citizens. Even when the bubonic plague hit, she would visit the poorest quarters, tend to the ill and bring food/medicine.

Girolamo’s missteps:
Caterina was constantly helping to negotiate her husbands errant moves, whether failed assassination plots, greedy exploitations, his fear of combat, or his antagonization of powerful families in northern Italy. Girolamo lacked substance and intelligence. She never complained, but she took a more active role after the first couple years. She didn’t want to sit idly by as her husband squandered the family name and the children’s inheritance. 

Boldness:
Upon Pope Sixtus’s death:
 mobs raced to the Riarios’ house in Rome and tore it down in pent up rage towards Girolamo. Caterina and Girolamo were safe in Forlì, but instead of hiding behind her husband’s forces, she jumped on a horse (seven months pregnant at the time) and rode to Rome. She seized the papal fort of Castle Sant’Angelo and turned the cannons towards all access roads around the Vatican to cut off the cardinals. She single-handedly held the College of Cardinals at bay for eleven days and negotiated that her family retain the lands of Immola and Forlì.

Dimensional thinking - there’s a time for patience and there’s a time for boldness. Caterina knew how the balance the two.

Girolamo’s Death: murdered in his palace, Caterina immediately jumped into action, barricading the the room that she and the children were in to buy herself time. She immediately issued instructions for a messenger to send for her allies (and her brother, the duke of Milan). Once captured, she was brought to her castle, Ravaldino, to negotiate its surrender. She devised elaborate schemes to buy time, negotiating the castle’s surrender, plotting with Tommaso Feo (the guardian of the castle and who she was supposed to be negotiating with). After one negotiation session, he claimed to take her captive and locked out her kidnappers (the Orsis). The kidnappers brought her children out front and threatened their lives in front of Caterina. She was able to think strategically, as she knew her children, being the nephews of the duke of Milan, could not be killed without retaliation. She also knew that surrendering would give her no advantage–her family would likely be poisoned or imprisoned–so she held her position and strode to the edge of the ramparts with daggers drawn. She held the castle for 13 days until reinforcements arrived. Preserving Forlì and her family.

Cesare Borgia’s Invasion of Ravaldino:
December 19, 1499, Borgia began his siege. Caterina embarrassed and befuddled him. Frustrated by her resistance, raised the bounty of her head to ten-thousand ducats, but no one inside the fortress was willing to betray her. She commanded a deep loyalty. People flocked to Forlì to witness her defense and fearlessness against the most cruel man in Italy. The longer Borgia was stalled by a woman, the weaker he seemed in the eyes of his adversaries. On January 12, he threw everything he had at the fortress and broke in. Caterina fought on the front ranks for two hours, side by side with her men against Borgia’s soldiers. She was the equal of any man on the battlefield. She was eventually captured, but did not go quietly.

Legacy – James Kerr

Legacy – by James Kerr
Date read: 2/1/19. Recommendation: 7/10.

A detailed look at the principles and strategies of history’s most successful rugby team, New Zealand’s All Blacks. There are some great quotes in this book and at its core, it’s all about leadership. Kerr examines the things that set apart the All Blacks, including: discipline, self-awareness, culture, adaptation, storytelling, and purpose. It’s an insightful read that will provide immediate takeaways which you can use to become a better person and a better leader.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

Personal Discipline:

  • Post-game the All Blacks debrief and everyone is given a chance to speak. Once they break, something unexpected happens, two players grab a broom and begin sweeping the sheds, cleaning up after themselves. 

  • No one looks after the All Blacks, they look after themselves. They don’t expect someone else to do their job or things to be handed to them.

  • Strong personal discipline translates to discipline on the field.

Self-knowledge:

  • “Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader.” Vince Lombardi

  • Self-knowledge helps develop character and integrity. Character and integrity help develop leadership.

  • “What is my job on the planet? What is it that needs doing, that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?” Buckminster Fuller

Culture:

  • Force multiplier: Any lasting organization has a fundamental set of principles…a values-based, purpose-driven culture. Challenge is to bring that to life and into the lives of those on your team.

  • “My army won because they knew what they were fighting for and loved what they knew.” Oliver Cromwell

  • Establish a higher culture than your opposition and you’ll win.

  • “It’s better to have a thousand enemies outside the tent than one inside the tent.” Arab proverb

  • Multiculturalism - ever-changing sense of what it means to be a New Zealander or an All Black: “Successful cultures are organic and adaptive, they change and flow, yet always just under the surface is a bedrock of values, smoothed by the current above, but unyielding.” See Shane Parrish interview with Shopify founder Tobi Lütke.

Adaptation:

  • Sigmoid Curve: Learning, growth, decline.

  • Outwitting inevitability and hijacking the curve: “The key, of course, is when we’re on top of our game, to change our game; to exit relationships, recruit new talent, alter tactics, reassess strategy.” JK

  • Growth comes from allowing yourself, your skills and your sense of authenticity to evolve. Tiger Woods changing his golf swing. Bob Dylan altering his sound. 

Leadership:

  • Leaders create leaders.

  • “Move rapidly into a commanding position, assess your unfolding options quickly and clearly, attack with absolute and ruthless commitment – assess, adjust and repeat.” JK

  • Empower your people: “The competitive advantage is nullified when you try to run decisions up and down the chain of command…Once the commander’s intent is understood, decisions must be devolved to the lowest possible level to allow these front line soldiers to exploit the opportunities that develop.” General Gordon R. Sullivan

  • “Leaders are teachers – our job is to lead people through uncertainty and confusion into self-knowledge and self-possession.” JK

Power of Storytelling:

  • “Using vivid storytelling techniques, including themes, symbols, imagery, rituals, mantras and metaphor, and bringing them to life with imagination and flair, leaders create a sense of inclusion, connectedness, and unity.” JK

  • “We learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord with us…Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies or themselves.” John Kotter

  • “Metaphors are where we recognize ourselves in stories.” JK

  • “The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblance.” Aristotle

Authenticity + Integrity:

  • “Authenticity allows us to author our own lives; to make our own original imprint and to write our own story in a voice that is true to our values.” JK

  • Integrity means being able to count on yourself (and others being able to count on you) to deliver. It’s about honoring your word. 

Pressure:

  • Red head: tight, inhibited, results-oriented, anxious, aggressive, over-compensating, desperate.

  • Blue head: loose, expressive, in the moment, calm, relaxed concentration, clear, accurate, on task.

  • “In the heat of battle, the difference between the inhibitions of the Red and the freedom of Blue is the manner in which we control our attention.” JK

  • To get out of your own head, shift your attention to something external. 

Impact:

  • Whakapapa - Maori term for genealogy, our place in the ascending order of all living things. Sun slowly moves down this chain of people, signifying life. When the sun is on us we inherit the tribe’s stories, values, transitions. We help advance that, then pass it on to the next person in the chain.

  • Whakapapa is similar to the Stoic term sympatheia (interconnected whole). 

  • “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” Sean Fitzpatrick

  • “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see.” Greek Proverb

  • “Character is also the mark left on you by life, and the mark we leave on life.” JK

  • “If we value life, life values us.” JK

Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull

Creativity, Inc. – by Ed Catmull
Date read: 1/22/19. Recommendation: 9/10.

One of the best modern examples of the impact that comes from harnessing creativity and building a culture where the creative process can thrive. Catmull discusses the evolution of Pixar Animation, including the philosophies and strategies that have established them as creative force. Most notably, the team at Pixar embraces the years of ambiguity inherent to the creative process as a story evolves into its own. Instead of becoming attached to a single storyline or character, they seek out a deep truth at the core of the film–the guiding principle–and craft the story around that. Catmull also emphasizes the role of leadership in cultivating creativity. It starts with loosening your grip, accepting risk, trusting your people, and giving them space to do what they do best. See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Problems are the rule, rather than the exception. Even at great companies.
Mentality at Pixar is that they will always have problems, many of them hidden. But they work hard to uncover them, embrace the discomfort, and band together to solve them.

“The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal–it leads to measuring people by the mistakes they make rather than by their ability to solve problems.” EC

Blending Art + Technology
Walt Disney embraced new technologies…he would incorporate it into their work (blue screen matting, multi-plane cameras, xerography) and talk about it on his show to highlight the relationship between art and technology.

Catmull and Pixar took the same approach, blurring the lines between disciplines. Result was Toy Story, the first computer animated feature film.

Leadership
Goal is to enable people to do their best work. That means more creative freedom (autonomy + empowerment), less tightening your grip.

The best leaders all have a single trait in common – self-awareness.

People > Ideas (because ideas come from people)
Always try to hire good people who are smarter than you. Then figure out what they need, assign them to projects that match their skills, and ensure they work well together.

“It is the focus on people–their work habits, their talents, their values–that is absolutely central to any creative venture.” EC

Bet on Yourself
George Lucas, instead of demanding higher salary after success of American Graffiti (the norm in Hollywood, bump up your quote), skipped the raise and asked to retain ownership of licensing and merchandising rights to his next film, Star Wars.

Ed Catmull felt like a fraud in his early years as president of Pixar. He didn’t share the aggressive tendencies of other flashy leaders. Imposter feeling finally went away after years later after repeated experience of weathering failures, watching films succeed, building Pixar’s culture, and developing relationships.

Decisiveness
“As long as you commit to a destination and drive toward it with all your might, people will accept when you correct course.” EC

Make your best guess and go with it. Decisions can be made far faster (product development) if you assess them in terms of how reversible they are (*See Shane Parrish’s interview with Shopify’s CEO, Tobi Lütke).

Avoid the temptation to oversimplify (and overcomplicate)
In early days of Pixar while Catmull was selling the Pixar Imaging Computer to make money, he sought advice of experienced professionals because he was unsure and stressed. Simple answers were seductive and prevented him from asking more fundamental questions.

Many leaders assume too much credit in their successes and ignore the role of randomness and luck.
*See Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness + Occam’s Razor

Important to acknowledge role of randomness and luck, because this allows you to keep an open mind, check your ego, and make rational decisions. Not everything you did was a stroke of genius.

Make room for the unknown in creativity. It can bring inspiration and originality. Not everything needs to have a point or be about productivity/efficiency.

Thinking Fast vs. Slow
Steve Jobs would often shoot down Ed Catmull’s arguments when they disagreed because he was a much faster thinker. Catmull would wait a week, collect his thoughts, deliberate, then state his case. Jobs always kept an open mind.

Candor and Trust
“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Lack of candor, if unchecked, ultimately leads to dysfunctional environments.” EC

Without candor, you fail to establish trust. Without trust, creative collaboration becomes impossible.

You are not your idea. If you emotionally invest and overidentify with your idea, you’ll become defensive when challenged or given feedback.

Guiding Principles
The search for a story is the search for a guiding principle. This allows Pixar’s films to evolve drastically from their original treatments. Once they find the guiding principle, easier to build the characters, storyline, settings to better communicate that.

Don’t become emotionally attached to a single character or storyline, become emotionally attached to the guiding principle. Look for deep truths and build from there.

“Originality is fragile. And, in its first moment, it’s often far from pretty. This is why I call early mock-ups of our films ‘ugly babies.’ They are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete. They need nurturing–in the form of time and patience–in order to grow.” EC

Pixar’s use of “guiding principles” could be interchangeable with “vision” in product development. Don’t get attached to a single feature. Invest in the vision.

Experimentation and Failure
“Experiments are fact-finding missions that, over time, inch scientists toward greater understanding. That means any outcome is a good outcome, because it yields new information.” EC

Animated shorts are Pixar’s version of prototypes. Relatively inexpensive way to test the waters and see if they’re onto something.

Make it safe to take risks: “Rather than trying to prevent all errors, we should assume, as is almost always the case, that our people’s intentions are good and that they want to solve problems. Give them responsibility, let the mistakes happen, and let people fix them...Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the ability to recover.”

Constraining creativity is a steep price: “The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.”

Depth
“We all know people who eagerly face the unknown; they engage with the seemingly intractable problems of science, engineering, and society; they embrace the complexities of visual or written expression; the are invigorated by uncertainty. That’s because they believe that, through questioning, they can do more than merely look through the door. They can venture across its threshold.” EC

Creativity
“Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process–reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hallow character finds its soul.” EC

“Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.” EC

Learn the fundamentals and key players (the map), then rip it up and make your own way (*See Bob Dylan, Chronicles). At its core, creativity is about embracing ambiguity and discomfort.

“There is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger there without panicking.” EC

“Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear.” EC

Multiculturalism
When Disney acquired Pixar, Catmull helped run both animation departments separately. Wanted each to have their own identities and be able to differentiate themselves, as long as they shared a sense of personal ownership and pride in the company.

Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify, has a similar approach. He encourages each group within the company to establish their own culture. He doesn’t try to impart a single homogenous culture across the entire organization.

Inspired – Marty Cagan

Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love – by Marty Cagan
Date read: 1/9/19. Recommendation: 7/10.

A valuable resource for technology teams that’s tailored to product management. Cagan discusses the principles of strong product teams and breaks down the individual roles–product managers, designers, engineers, product marketing, and other supporting positions. He also discusses the process of getting to the right product through discovery, ideation, prototyping, and testing. At times it can be a bit prescriptive and could use a few more stories to illustrate the concepts and techniques. But overall, worth the read for entrepreneurs operating in this space or those looking for an introduction to technology product management.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

The best product teams share three main principles:
1. Risks tackled up front (value, usability, feasibility, business viability)
2. Products are defined and designed collaboratively
3. Focus is on solving problems, not implementing features

Product/market fit: smallest actual product that meets needs of a specific market of customers.

Product Manager key responsibilities (all focused on evaluating opportunities and determining what gets built):
1. Deep knowledge of customer (issues, pains, desires)
2. Deep knowledge of data and analytics
3. Deep knowledge of all aspects of your business (stakeholders, finance, marketing, sales, legal, technical capabilities, user experience)
4. Deep knowledge of your market and industry

Successful product people are a combination of smart, creative, and persistent.

VPs of Product should have these four key competencies:
1. Team development
2. Product vision
3. Execution
4. Product culture

How to organize teams:
1. Alignment with investment strategy
2. Minimize dependencies
3. Ownership and autonomy: build teams of missionaries (they’re force multipliers), not mercenaries
4. Maximize leverage: establish a balance with shared services
5. Product vision and strategy
6. Team size: 3-10
7. Alignment with architecture: otherwise dependencies, slow pace
8. Alignment with user or customer: team focused on buyers should be different than the team focused on sellers
9. Alignment with business

Management’s responsibility is to provide product teams with business problems, objectives, and vision (NOT solutions). Let the team figure out the best way to solve the problems.

Product Discovery:
Collaboration between product, UX, and engineers to tackle risk before writing production-quality software. Outcome is a validated product backlog.

Purpose is to address value, usability, feasibility, and business viability risks.

Goal is to gain deeper understanding of customers and validate product ideas (qualitatively and quantitatively).

Dedicating time to framing the problem and communicating this can make significant difference in results.

“But one of the most important lessons in our industry is to fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” MC

Opportunity Assessment Technique:
1.
What business objective is this work intended to address?
2. How will you know if you succeeded?
3. What problem will this solve for customers?
4. What type of customer are we focused on?

Customer Letter Technique:
Product manager writes an imaginary press release or letter from hypothetical perspective of a customer talking about how it has improved their life.

Product Opportunities:
Assess the market and pick lucrative areas where pain exists. Or look at what technology enables and match that up with a pain point. Or encourage customers to use products to solve problems other than what you planned for.

One of biggest innovations at eBay was watching how customers used platform to sell things the team never would have imagined (concert tickets, fine art, cars). Built capabilities to facilitate these types of transactions after demand was established.

Customer Interviews:
Always be working to understand if your customers are who you think they are, if they really have the problems you think they have, how they solve the problem today, and what would be required from them to switch.

Prototypes:
Provide the ability to learn at much lower cost (time and effort) than building the full product.

Always ask, “what’s the fastest way to learn this?” MVP should be a prototype, never an actual product.

Benefits of prototyping: forces you to think through the problem at a deeper level, team collaboration, quickly assess one or more of the product risks.

A/B Testing:
Optimization A/B testing: Small changes, different calls to action, colors, fonts. 50/50 distribution. Conceptually similar.

Discovery A/B testing: Big differences, different concepts. Live-data prototype shown to 1% of users or less.

Necessity leading to invention:
In the early days of Netflix they had the same model (pay per rental) as Blockbuster. One of the many tests they ran was to assess customer interest in a subscription service (monthly fee for unlimited movies). They generated significant interest but created more problems in the process of bringing it to life. Most people wanted to rent the newest films which was prohibitively expensive. Netflix needed to get people to ask for a blend of old/new (inexpensive/expensive) titles. This was how the queue, rating system, and recommendation engine were born.

The Laws of Human Nature – Robert Greene

The Laws of Human Nature – by Robert Greene
Date read: 1/1/19. Recommendation: 10/10.

As close to perfection as a book can get. This is the culmination of Greene’s lifetime of work focused on power, influence, and mastery, brought together in a single text focused on the truths of human nature. It’s an instructive guide to human nature and people’s behavior, based on evidence rather than a particular viewpoint or moral judgment. As Greene emphasizes throughout the book, understanding human nature in a deep way is advantageous for countless reasons. It helps you become a strategic observer, better judge of character, outthink malicious people, motivate and influence those around you, alter negative patterns, develop greater empathy, and recognize your true potential. True to form, Greene pulls stories from both sides throughout history–masters and those who have failed spectacularly–to breathe life into each law. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s an incredible resource and an investment that will pay dividends for your entire life. The sooner you read it, the better.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

The book is an instructive guide to human nature and people’s behavior, based on evidence rather than a particular viewpoint or moral judgment. “It is a brutally realistic appraisal of our species, dissecting who are we so we can operate with more awareness.”

Chapter 1: Master Your Emotional Self, The Law of Irrationality

Rational people, through introspection and effort, are able to subtract emotions from their thinking and counteract their consequences. Generates more mental space to be creative and focus on what’s within your control. Irrational people lack this awareness. Rush into action without considering consequences.

Bubbles are the result of an intense emotional pull on people. Stimulate our desire for instant gratification (easy money, fast results).

People of high rationality (Pericles, Marcus Aurelius Leonardo da Vinci, Margaret de Valois, Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Mead, Warren Buffett), all share certain qualities–“a realistic appraisal of themselves and their weaknesses; a devotion to truth and reality; a tolerant attitude toward people; and the ability to reach goals they have set.”

Resistance training: resist reacting immediately. The longer you wait, the more mental space you have for reflection and the stronger your mind.

Accept people as facts: Stop judging people and wishing they would be something they’re not. View people as neutral–they are what they are–and you’ll stop projecting your own emotions onto them. Improves your own balance, calmness.

Deliberation + Conviction: “The horse and the rider must work together. This means we consider our actions beforehand; we bring as much thinking as possible to a situation before we make a decision. But once we decide what to do we loosen the reins and enter action with boldness and a spirit of adventure. Instead of being slaves to this energy, we channel it. that is the essence of rationality.”

Chapter 2: Transform Self-love into Empathy, The Law of Narcissism

We were all built for social interaction. Involving ourselves less with others atrophies our social muscle and has a negative effect on the brain.

Give people the same level of indulgence that you give yourself. Tone down your incessant interior monologue and pay deeper attention to those around you. Be eager to hear someone else’s point of view and give them your full attention. Mirror back the things they said.

Understand the value systems of other people and how it differs from your own. Allows you to enter their spirit and perspective when you might otherwise turn defensive.

Chapter 3: See Through People’s Masks: The Law of Role-playing

The harshness of life makes people turn inward. Recognize this level of self-absorption and how little you actually observe.

Detecting hostility or negativity early on increases your strategic options and room to maneuver–lay a trap, win them over, create distance.

Depth: “Cloak yourself in some mystery, displaying some subtly contradictory qualities. People don’t need to know everything about you. Learn to withhold information.” Coupled with some selective absence (not always being visible), this makes people want to see more of you.

Chapter 4: Determine the Strength of People’s Character, The Law of Compulsive Behavior

“It is not spirits or gods that control us but rather our character.”

Character is deeply ingrained in us (our layers), compels us to act in certain ways, often beyond our awareness/control. Layers include: genetics, early childhood, later experiences/habits.

“Train yourself to ignore the front that people display, the myth that surrounds them, and instead plumb their depths for signs of their character.” Patterns from their past, quality of decisions, how they solve problems, how they delegate, how they work with others.

“If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Lincoln

We each face insecurities. But this can be turned to a positive if channeled correctly. It’s about examining the deepest layers of your character, realizing your true potential, and redirecting this energy.

Chapter 6: Elevate Your Perspective, The Law of Shortsightedness

When you face an obstacle, slow things down, take a step back. You lack perspective in the present, but as time passes you gather more information and the truth reveals itself.

“Alarmed by something in the present, we grab for a solution without thinking deeply about the context, the roots of the problem, the possible unintended consequences that might ensure. Because we mostly react instead of think, our actions are based on insufficient information.”

Avoid lazy, non-consequential thinking (action A leads to result B), the world is more complex than that. “You want depth of thinking, to go several degrees in imagining the permutations, as far as your mind can go.”

“And in life as in warfare, strategists will always prevail over tacticians.”

Having a clear sense of your long-term goals allows you to withstand emotional overreactions of those around you.

“The years teach much which the days never know.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chapter 7: Soften People’s Resistance by Confirming Their Self-opinion, The Law of Defensiveness

Influence does not come from charming people with your own ideas. Instead, put the focus on others. This validation will lower their defenses and open their minds.

Play the long game by asking for advice. People love the attention and the opportunity to talk about their wisdom and experience. Then you can initiate series of small favors. They will continue to work on your behalf because stopping would call their initial evaluation of you (and their own intelligence/judgment) into question.

“He who goes away pleased with himself and his own wit is also greatly pleased with you.” Jean de La Bruyère

Confirm people’s self opinion to lower defenses and instill a feeling of inner security. What matters most is how people perceive their own character. We all have these ideas of who we are and the values that represent us, but we also struggle with self doubt. Providing people this validation lowers their guard and opens their own mind.

Look at people’s interpretations of situations, ideas, philosophies, films, books for signs of who they are.

Autonomy: “No attempt at influence can ever work if people feel in any way that they are being coerced or manipulated. They must choose to do whatever it is you want them to do, or they must at least experience it as their choice.”

Pick your battles: let the small changes go to bring down people’s guard for more important/larger items.

If you need a favor, do not remind others of the good things you have done for them in the past. Remind them of the good things they have done for you. Helps confirm their self-opinion.

Never follow praise with a request for help. Flattery is a setup and requires passage of time.

The Flexible Mind: Ideal state of mind retains flexibility of youth with reasoning powers of adult. Soften rigid mental patterns that you hold.

Recognize that you are not as good as the idealized image you hold of yourself. This awareness allows you to stop seek validation of others. Instead establishing your own independence and concern for the welfare of others (rather than getting lost behind the illusion you have of yourself).

Chapter 8: Change Your Circumstances by Changing Your Attitude, The Law of Self-sabotage

“Freedom comes from adopting a generous spirit–toward others and toward ourselves. By accepting people, by understanding and if possible even loving them for their human nature, we can liberate our minds from obsessive and petty emotions.”

Power of attitude to alter your circumstances: “You are not a pawn in a game controlled by others; you are an active player who can move the pieces at will and even rewrite the rules.”

“You do not need to be so humble and self-effacing in this world. Such humility is not a virtue but is rather a value that people promote to help keep you down. Whatever you are doing now, you are in fact capable of much more, and by thinking that, you will create a very different dynamic.”

The more tolerant you are towards others, the smoother your interactions and the more they are drawn towards you.

Measure people by their authenticity and the depth of their soul.

Chapter 9: Confront Your Dark Side, The Law of Repression

Learn to harness your own shadow by developing deeper awareness and channeling it. It’s a source of authenticity and energy.

Authenticity = self-awareness. The ability to laugh at yourself and admit shortcomings, maintain playfulness and spontaneity. No need to make a great show of your originality. The authentic individuals is someone who has managed to integrate child and adult, dark and light, unconscious and conscious.

Great art expresses depths of human nature (traumas from early years, emotions we try to forget). Powerful reaction triggered by repressed feelings.

Being too nice becomes a habit which can turn into timidity, lack of confidence, and indecision.

Subtract the shadow (assertive, ambitious side) of powerful, creative people and they would be just like everyone else.

“You pay a greater price for being so nice and deferential than for consciously showing your shadow.”

  1. Learn to respect your own opinions more than others, especially in your area of expertise. Trust your internal compass and your own ideas.

  2. Assert yourself more and compromise less. Do this at opportune times.

  3. Care less about what people think of you.

  4. You will have to offend or hurt people who block your path, have poor values, or who attack your character. Fuel your shadow in these moments.

Chapter 10: Beware the Fragile Ego, The Law of Envy

To combat envy…

  1. Practice gratitude by downward comparison.

  2. Move closer to what you envy and you’ll begin to see flaws (nothing is as perfect as it seems).

  3. Build confidence in yourself–your ability to learn and improve.

“People who are lazy and undisciplined are much more prone to feeling envy.”

Euthymia: Focus on yourself, your own sense of purpose, and your plans. Satisfaction comes realizing your potential, not earning praise or attention.

Pursue more moments where you experience dissolution of your ego and happiness is derived from beyond you and your achievements (observing beautiful landscapes or contemplating immensity of universe).

Chapter 11: Know Your Limits, The Law of Grandiosity

Recognize the role of luck. With success, raise your vigilance, keep your feet planted.

“The power you will build up in this slow and organic way will be more real and lasting. Remember: the gods are merciless with those who fly too high on the wings of grandiosity, and they will make you pay the price.”

Fantastical grandiosity: flake from one project to the next, believing they can try their magical touch at anything or become anything they want. Big talkers with vague vision.

Practical grandiosity: sense of proportion, recognize your limits, role of luck. Ability to focus deeply on a single project. Look for challenges just above your skill level. Cultivates intense connection/state of flow in your work.

Chapter 12: Reconnect to the Masculine or Feminine Within You, The Law of Gender Rigidity

Depth: Your character has natural depth and dimension. Bring out the masculine (adventurous, exploratory) or feminine (empathetic, sensitive) undertones to be more authentic and draw people in.

To become more creative, blend the analytical with the intuitive.

You lose depth and become rigid when you overidentify with certain gender roles (i.e. hyper masculinity). Power is in the golden mean between masculine and feminine. If you achieve this, mind will recover its natural fluidity.

Defy expectations…expand the roles you play so you’re not easy to categorize. This fascinates and draws people in so you can alter perceptions at will.

As children we had more fluid sense of self…wider range of emotions, open to more experiences, but as we defined our social self, we closed ourselves off this freer-flowing spirit.

The muse lies within. Move closer to the part of you that you’ve closed off (blending mind/soul to achieve depth). Here’s where creativity and a fascination in your work is found.

Chapter 13: Advance with a Sense of Purpose, The Law of Aimlessness

Operating with a high sense of purpose = a force multiplier. Greater connection to cause, higher morale, translates into greater force.

Humans crave a sense of direction…seeking a sense of purpose has a gravitational pull that no one can avoid. Keep watch over whether people have false (external sources, belief systems, conformity) or noble (sense of mission that you feel personally, intimately connected to) purposes.

Strategies for developing a high sense of purpose:

  1. Discover your calling - reflect on inclinations in your earliest years, examine moments when activities felt natural or easy, figure out the particular form of intelligence that your brain is wired for (mathematics, logic, physical activity, words, images, music). This will not appear to you overnight, it demands hard work and introspection.

  2. Use resistance - “Frustration is a sign that you are making progress as your mind becomes aware of higher levels of skill that you have yet to attain.”

  3. Lose yourself in the work - “peak experiences” where you are immersed in your work with a profound sense of calmness and joy. Create more, consume less. Design an environment where you have higher likelihood of achieving this experience.

Chapter 14: Resist the Downward Pull of the Group, The Law of Conformity

“When people operate in groups, they do not engage in nuanced thinking and deep analysis. Only individuals with a degree of calmness and detachment can do so.”

To combat this, develop ability to detach yourself from group and create mental space for independent, rational thinking.

Create a shared sense of purpose: Make people feel like a integral part of a group and you satisfy a deep, rarely met human need.

Infect people with productive emotions: Phil Jackson focused on communicating calmness so team wouldn’t overreact (rather than normal pep talks that overexcited/angered players).

Chapter 15: Make Them Want to Follow You, The Law of Fickleness

“Authority is the delicate art of creating the appearance of power, legitimacy, and fairness while getting people to identify with you as a leader who is in their service.”

Twin pillars of authority: far-reaching vision and empathy. Without these, group will sense lack of direction and constant tactical reactions to events.

Elevate your perspective and presence of mind above the moment and you’ll tap into visionary powers of human mind. Once you have a vision, work backwards with a flexible plan to reach your goal.

Bring out your natural complexity and stir conflicting emotions: make yourself hard to categorize, forces people to think of you more and results in larger presence. Blend prudence and boldness, spiritual and pragmatism (Martin Luther King Jr.), folksy and regal (Queen Elizabeth I), masculine ad feminine.

Balance presence and absence: you cannot project authority with an ordinary presence. If you appear too available or visible, you’ll seem banal. Social media might make you relatable, but also makes you seem like everyone else.

“Silence is a form of absence and withdrawal that draws attention; it spells self-control and power.”

Create more, consume less: “The world needs constant improvement and renewal. You are here not merely to gratify your impulses and consume what others have made but to make and contribute as well….Add to the needed diversity of culture by creating something that reflects your uniqueness.”

Leonardo da Vinci’s motto in life was ostinato rigore, “relentless rigor.”

“We distinguished the excellent man from the common man by saying that the former is one who makes great demands on himself, and the latter the one who makes no demands on himself…” José Ortega y Gasset

Chapter 16: See the Hostility Behind the Friendly Facade, The Law of Aggression

Put your opponents in a position where they feel rushed and impatient, makes them more emotional and less able to strategize.

Sophisticated aggressors cloak their maneuvers and play on emotions. People don’t like confrontation or long struggles so they’re intimidated and worn down by this. Primary motivation of aggressors is gaining control over environment and people. By seeing through their insecurities and anxieties and they will no longer be able to intimidate you.

Aggression is wired into us, but you have to learn how to channel it productively. What sets humans apart is aggressive energy, intelligence, and cunning. This powerful energy made us bold, adventurous and relentless (mentally and physically) in childhood.

Aggression stems from underlying insecurity, deep wound, reverberating feelings of helplessness or anxiety. Aggressors have less tolerance for these types of feelings which become their triggers.

“The more clearly you see what you want, the likelier you are to realize it.”

“Almost nothing in the world can resist persistent human energy. Things will yield if we strike enough blows with enough force.” (Painstaking perseverance: Edison, Marcie Curie, Einstein)

Preserve your bold spirit: losing this means losing a deep part of yourself. Recover the fearlessness that you had as a child. Speak up and talk back to people if they are insensitive or suggest poor ideas. Start small then you can can demand more from people and apply this growing boldness to your work.

Carefully channeling anger into your art (film, music, book, product) strikes a deep chord with people because it provides them an outlet. In our day to day we’re too careful and correct about communicating our own anger.

“In your expressive work, never shy away from anger but capture and channel it, letting it breathe into the work a sense of life and movement. In giving expression to such anger, you will always find an audience.”

Man's Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning – by Viktor Frankl
Date read: 12/14/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

Frankl documents his story of survival in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. His experience at Auschwitz reinforced one of his key ideas: life is not a quest for pleasure or power, but a quest for meaning. Throughout the book, he reflects on Nietzsche’s insight that, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Frankl suggests that there are three primary outlets to instill life with meaning: courage during difficult times, relationships, and creativity. I drew strong connections between this and one of my favorite books, Tribe by Sebastian Junger, which spotlights veterans and the struggle to find loyalty, belonging, and meaning in modern society. Man’s Search for Meaning is profound and a catalyst for insightful discussions on the importance of meaning and the role of suffering in our own lives.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Quest for meaning
Frankl’s experience at Auschwitz reinforced one of his key ideas: life is not a quest for pleasure or power, but a quest for meaning.

Authenticity, meaning, and the proper course of action is unique to the individual: “Life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way.”

Find harmony in the motion: meaning differs from man to man, day to day. “What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”

Stop seeking specific advice: “Everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

Outlets to discover meaning
-Suffering (courage in difficult times)

-Experiencing something or encountering someone (qualities like goodness, truth, beauty...nature or culture...another person’s uniqueness by loving or caring for them)

-Creating (doing something significant, work or deed)

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.”

Uniqueness and singleness of your own suffering, love, and creative work is as impossible to replicate as it is to replace an individual human being. You are irreplaceable.

Dichotomy of control
Elements of Stoicism and identifying what’s within your control. You can have everything you possess taken from you except one thing, the freedom to choose how you respond to the situation.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Your life depends on decisions, not conditions: “Man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will become in the next moment.”

What attitude do you take towards life’s opportunities and challenges? Positive allows you to overcome inevitable obstacles, endure, and grow. Negative intensifies pain and leaves you in a worse spot.

Suffering
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Nietzsche

Human suffering (and the size of it) is relative. Whether great or little, it expands to fill the mind.

“There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” Dostoevski

How do you know if you’re worthy of your sufferings? The way you handle difficult circumstances allows you to add deeper meaning and depth to your life.

Suffering = a human achievement, indicates existential frustration. Sign that it’s time to recalibrate and reorient towards the meaning in your life. Just as pain in your foot indicates something is wrong or sensitivity to the moods of those around you tells you something about the group dynamic.

Don’t set out for equilibrium: “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
*See Tribe by Sebastian Junger, “Humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary.”

Suffering is only noble and meaningful when it is unavoidable.

Expectations
When prisoners would give up and decide they had nothing more to expect from life, needed to get them to realize that life was still expecting something from them...a task waiting to be fulfilled. For a father, this meant getting back to his child. For a scientist, this meant finishing his series of books. “His work could not be done by anyone else, any more than another person could ever take the place of the father in his child’s affections.”

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’”

Self-Actualization
“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time wrongly as you are about to act now!” Stimulates responsibleness, finiteness, finality of what you make out of yourself and your life.

Self-actualization is a side-effect of self-transcendence (selfless goals).

You are not your work: After having the manuscript of his first book taken when he entered Auschwitz, he was forced to question whether his life was void of meaning at that point.

“I should say having been is the surest kind of being.”

-Young people should envy the old...”Instead of possibilities in the future, they have realities in the past–the potentialities they have actualized, the meaning they have fulfilled, the values they have realized.”

Environment
Frankl remained in Austria after his liberation. Felt a connection to Vienna and the psychiatric patients there. Believed in reconciliation over revenge.

Make Time – Jake Knapp + John Zeratsky

Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day – by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
Date read: 11/28/18. Recommendation: 7/10.

Strategies and tactics for creating more time to focus on the things you care about. It’s not about productivity, it’s about setting your own priorities. Similar to Sprint, they offer a framework to assist in the process: Highlight, Laser, Energize, Reflect. The real value of the book comes from the individual tactics they suggest, such as creating a distraction free phone, differentiating between “fake” and “real” wins, and bucking cultural norms. It’s all about becoming more intentional in how you spend time and allocate your energy. If you want to work on improving your own priorities and ability to focus, this is a solid resource.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Make time for the things that matter. Not about productivity, but creating time in your day for the things you care about.

Framework: Highlight, Laser, Energize, Reflect

Highlight: Start day with single focal point and goal. Prioritize and protect that activity on your calendar.

Three strategies for choosing your highlight:

  1. Urgency - what needs to get done?

  2. Satisfaction - what do you want to get done?

  3. Joy - what will bring me the most joy when reflecting at end of day?

“You only waste time if you’re not intentional about how you spend it.”

If you’re stuck on what you should choose as today’s highlight, try redoing yesterday...gives you a second chance, build momentum, creates habits.

It’s never too late to change or choose your highlight...if the day isn’t going according to plan, recalibrate and focus on something ahead of you (i.e. enjoying dinner with friends).

Laser: Make higher-quality time to focus. “Every distraction imposes a cost on the depth of your focus. When your brain changes contexts–say, going from painting to a picture to answering a text and then back to painting again–there’s a switching cost.”

Distraction-free phone: Remove email, Infinity Pool apps, and web browser from your phone. Clear your home screen. Restores a sense of quiet to your day and helps you become more intentional.

“The best way to defeat distraction is to make it harder to react.”

Fake wins vs. real wins: Updating spreadsheet instead of focusing on harder, more meaningful project. Cleaning the kitchen instead of spending time that was intended for your kids. Email inboxes. This is all time and energy that could be spend on your highlight.

Email: “Every time you check your email or another message service, you’re basically saying, ‘Does any random person need my time right now?’”

Become a fair-weather fan: “Sports fandom doesn’t just take time; it takes emotional energy. When your team loses, it sucks–it might bum you out and lower your energy for hours or even days. Even when your team wins, the euphoria creates a time crater as you get sucked into watching highlights and reading follow-up analysis.”

Sports satisfy deep tribal urge. Unpredictable story lines that finish with clear outcomes (win/lose), which is deeply gratifying since it’s unlike real life.

Buck cultural norms (TV, sports, etc.) to free up time and unlock creative energy. “If you’re constantly exposed to other people’s ideas, it can be tough to think up your own.” ^Similar to drawdown periods from Ryan Holiday.

It’s okay to be stuck. Stare at blank screen, switch to paper, go for a walk. But keep focus on project.

“You know the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest...The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.” Brother David Steindl-Rast
-Let go of caution, throw yourself in with sincerity and enthusiasm.

What matters is that you’re setting your own priority. “As long as we’re making time for what matters to us, the system is working.”

Chronicles – Bob Dylan

Chronicles: Volume One – by Bob Dylan
Date read: 11/23/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Dylan’s career is a master class in embracing the impermanence of identity and authenticity. The fragments of himself that he brought to life shows he understands this in a deep way. Dylan resonates with people because his songwriting tracks his own development as a human being. His songs reflect who he was–his observations, experiences, and imagination–and who he refused to be at each point in time. In Chronicles, it helps to be familiar with Dylan’s work since the chapters jump between different points of his career and he name-drops dozens of obscure folk artists. If that’s not your thing, it’s still worth reading. Just don’t get hung up on the dense sections. Dylan, full of complexity and brilliance, offers insight into creativity, identity and human nature. Chronicles will challenge the way you think and force you to consider things through a new lens–perhaps the highest compliment a book can receive.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

Mentors and Influences:
Woody Guthrie:
Dylan attributes his beginnings directly to Woody. The course of his life changed when he first heard him on a record in Minneapolis. Felt Woody had such a grip on things and a fierce poetic soul. On criticism that Dylan was trying too hard to be like Guthrie at the beginning of his career: “I wasn’t trying to fool anybody. I was just doing what I could with what I had where I was.”

Dave Van Ronk: “Dave got to the bottom of things. It was like he had an endless supply of poison.” Strong feeling of kinship, because Van Ronk took Dylan in and gave him a real stage with a real audience (Gaslight), a place to crash, showed him around Greenwich Village.

Van Ronk mastered his audience in a way that Dylan would take inspiration from. Would stare intently at someone in the crowd like he was singing just to them. He never phrased the same thing the same way twice.

Gorgeous George: Wrestler who visited Hibbing in mid-50s, walked by Dylan performing in the lobby of the National Guard Armory. Winked and said “you’re making it come alive.” All the recognition he would need for years to come.

“Sometimes that’s all it takes, the kind of recognition that comes when you’re doing the thing for the thing’s sake and you’re on to something–it’s just that nobody recognizes it yet.”

Johnny Cash: “He sounds like he’s at the edge of the fire, or in the deep snow, or in a ghostly forest...”

Environment:
Importance of being in the right place. He moved to Minneapolis to find something new and get away from Hibbing. “Nobody was there to greet me and nobody knew me and I liked it that way.”

Then he moved to New York to be closer to the singers he’d heard on records.

Early days when he got a regular gig at the Gaslight he was completely content. “I could breathe. I was free.”

Authenticity:
“It wasn’t money or love that I was looking for. I had a heightened sense of awareness, was set in my ways, impractical and a visionary to boot. My mind was strong like a trap and I didn’t need any guarantee of validity.”

“There were a lot of better singers and better musicians around these places but there wasn’t anybody close in nature to what I was doing. Folk songs were the way I explored the universe. They were pictures and the pictures were worth more than anything I cold say. I knew the inner substance of the thing. I could easily connect the pieces.”

Meaning > Influence. “Most of the other performers tried to put themselves across, rather than the song, but I didn’t care about doing that. With me, it was about putting the song across.”

Never accepted roles placed upon him. More of a cowboy or rebel than a Pied Piper and the voice of a generation that people wanted him to be.

In an effort to create breathing room for himself and his family, he did things out of left field to confuse people. Recorded country album, used a different voice.

Authenticity can be deception (crafting alternate identity) if you know your intentions. Dylan’s were noble, protecting his family, his privacy, create space so he could get back to experiencing, observing, and creating art.
*Benjamin Franklin did this same thing as Silence Dogood and the personas he crafted to submit essays to his brother’s paper.

Much of Dylan’s art and identity centered around who he refused to be at specific points in time and who he wasn’t. And in a backwards way, this revealed truths about him and breathed a different type of authenticity into his work.

Books/Reading:
Foundation that allows you to piece together your own identity/philosophy.

Dylan tore through books in his early days in New York. Whatever happened to be at the house he crashed at...philosophy, history, political, novels, poetry.

Couldn’t put into words what he was looking for at the beginning of his career so he searched for the principles and outline of it in books.

Machiavelli - it’s better to be feared than loved. Dylan - someone who is loved can inspire more fear than Machiavelli ever dreamed of.

Songwriting:
Happens in degrees, don’t just wake up one day and decide you want to write songs.

If you want to resonate with people, help them discover parts of themselves that they didn’t know were there.

Understanding and articulating the complexities and vagaries of mankind: “I wanted to understand things and then be free of them. I needed to learn how to telescope things, ideas. Things were too big to see all at once, like all the books in the library–everything laying around on all the tables. You might be able to put it all into one paragraph or into one verse of a song if you could get it right.”

Full complexity of human nature was template behind everything he would write. *Everything around him in the modern world, with all its myths, seemed absurd.

“Creativity has much to do with experience, observation and imagination, and if any one of those key elements is missing, it doesn’t work.” During the Woodstock years, it was impossible for him to observe anything without being observed.

Observation: things you see or hear outside yourself can influence your work. Dylan didn’t feel like he was in every song. But he didn’t feel like he needed to be.

Relaxed concentration: Working on songs for what would become “Oh Mercy” album. “It’s not like they’d been faint or far away–they were right there in my face, but if you’d look too steady at them, they’d be gone.”

Channeling personas into songs: Early days in NYC went to a musical production at a theater featuring songs composed by playwright Bertolt Brecht. Intensity and tough language of the songs drew Dylan in. Singers were thieves and scavengers, roared and snarled. Were like folk songs but more sophisticated. “Each phrase comes at you from a ten-foot drop...”

Transcending the Fundamentals:
“Folk music was all I needed to exist. Trouble was, there wasn’t enough of it. It was out of date, had no proper connection to the actualities, the trends of the time. It was a huge story but hard to come across. Once I’d slipped beyond the fringes it was like my six-string guitar became a crystal magic wand and I could move things like never before.”

In the early days, Dylan did things right. Put himself in the right environment. Acquired the knowledge first hand. But at some point you reach a plateau of incremental improvement and have to learn how to transcend the fundamentals.

Depth: “You have to know and understand something and then go past the vernacular. The chilling precision that these old timers used in coming up with their songs was no small thing.”

Beyond Folk: Dylan transcended folk roots by putting new imagery and attitude to them. Created something entirely new. What he was trying to express was beyond the framework available.

“It dawned on me that I might have to change my inner thought patterns...that I would have to start believing in possibilities that I wouldn’t have allowed before, that I had been closing my creativity down to a very narrow, controllable scale...that things had becomes too familiar and I might have to disorient myself.”

Easy to get distracted by minutiae. Claim a larger part of yourself, don’t get bogged down in the trivial details.

“I had the map, could even draw it freehand if I had to. Now I knew I’d have to throw it away.”

Expectations:
Never identified as the mouthpiece, spokesman, conscience of a generation. Those were expectations set upon him.

“All I’d ever done was sing songs that were dead straight and expressed powerful new realities. I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of.”

Struggled with his image growing out of control: “You learn that privacy is something you can sell, but you can’t buy it back.”

“The landscape burned behind us. The press was in no hurry to retract their judgment and I couldn’t just lie there, had to take the bull by the horns myself and remodel the image of me, change the perception of it anyway.” Authenticity as deception

Authenticity and Identity are Moving Targets:
1987: “There was a missing person inside of myself and I need to find him. Now and again, I did try a few times, tried hard to force it.”

“My own songs had become strangers to me, I didn’t have the skill to touch their raw nerves, couldn’t penetrate the surfaces...I couldn’t understand where they came from. The glow was gone and the match had burned right to the end.”

Inspiration:
Dylan felt like he was at the end of the road, stranded. He walked out of a rehearsal with the Grateful Dead, dejected, and wandered into a random jazz bar. Old jazz singer’s voice brought him back to himself and his own voice. Dylan felt like he had opened a window to his soul. Instead, became a source on inspiration and a new beginning.

Films as inspiration...would go to movies to get out of his own head and get into something else for an hour or two.

In Victory, Learn When to Stop:
“I wasn’t looking to express myself in any kind of new way. All my ways were intact and had been for years...I didn’t need to climb the next mountain.”

“Masters of War,” “Hard Rain,” “Gates of Eden,” – “written under different circumstances and circumstances never repeat themselves.”

“I had done it once, and once was enough. Someone would come along eventually who would have it again–someone who could see into things, the truth of things–not metaphorically either–but really see, like seeing into metal and making it melt, see it for what it was and reveal it for what was with hard words and vicious insight.”