Book Notes

Confident Data Skills – Kirill Eremenko

Confident Data Skills – 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 day 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.”

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Atomic Habits – by James Clear
Date read: 11/4/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

The idea behind Atomic Habits is that by stacking tiny habits over time you can achieve compounding, remarkable results. Your outcomes, as Clear suggests, are the lagging measure of your habits. He offers great insight into nonlinear growth (breakthrough moments), identity, discipline, and environmental design, as it relates to behavior change. The models used throughout the book help make each concept relatable and are something I will come back to for years to come. The importance of playing the long game and building better systems is hard to undervalue. There’s room for everyone to improve in this capacity, and if nothing else it’s a refreshing reminder: “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?"

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

“To write a great book, you must first become the book.” Naval Ravikant

Automatic Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery

Self-improvement:

  • 1% better each day for one year = 37x better

  • “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement."

  • Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Knowledge is lagging measure of your learning habits. 

Nonlinearity:

  • Ice cube example warming from 26 degrees, one degree at a time, to 32 when it finally begins to melt. But no visible progress from 26-31.

  • Breakthrough moments = culmination of actions leading up to that point. 

  • Habits need to persist long enough to break through plateau where you don’t see tangible results or “success” as you’ve envisioned it. 

  • Sorites Paradox: Can one coin make someone rich? No, but as you keep adding/stacking coins (habits), at a certain point one coin makes the difference.

Goals vs. Systems:

  • Goals are good for setting direction, systems best for making progress.

  • “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.” Refinement, improvement and commitment to the process.

  • Goal is not to read a book, it’s to become a reader. Not to learn an instrument, it’s to become a musician.

Identity and behavior change:

  • Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want? If it’s a person who could write a book, that means consistent, reliable, etc.

  • Decide the type of person you want to be and prove it to yourself with small wins.

  • “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?"

  • At a certain point, the identity itself becomes the reinforcer. Behavior becomes automatic because it’s who you are. 

Keep your identity small:

  • Tighter you cling to an identity, harder it is to grow beyond it and less capable you are of adapting when life challenges you.

  • “When you cling too tightly to one identity, you become brittle. Lose that one thing and you lose yourself.”

  • Redefine yourself so you keep important aspects of your identity even when your role changes. Instead of “I’m the CEO,” “I’m the type of person who builds and creates things."

  • Identity should work with changing circumstances, rather than against them. 

Discipline:

  • “It is only by making the fundamentals in life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity."

  • “‘Disciplined’ people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations."

  • Create a disciplined environment —> easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it often.

  • Environmental design: Remove friction, make doing the right thing as easy as possible. Inversion: add friction to make bad behaviors more difficult.

Clarity:

  • Don’t mistake lack of clarity for lack of motivation, make it obvious.

  • Be specific about what you want and how you will achieve it. When you’re vague about your dreams it’s easy to ignore the specifics you need to do to succeed.

Imitation:

  • Proximity has powerful effect on our behavior (both physical and social environments). Running against the grain requires extra effort.

  • Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself.

  • “When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive. When changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive."

Motion vs. Action:

  • Motion = planning, strategizing, learning. Important, but don’t produce a result. Allows you to feel like you’re making progress without risk of failure. Ex) Making a list of 20 articles to write.

  • Action = behavior that will deliver an outcome. Ex) Actually sitting down to write an article.

  • Start with repetition, not perfection. Habits form based on frequency, not time.

Time inconsistency (hyperbolic discounting):

  • The way the brain evaluates rewards is inconsistent across time. From an evolutionary perspective, you naturally value present more than future

  • Costs of good habits are felt today. Costs of bad habits are felt in the future.

  • “Most people will spend all day chasing hits of quick satisfaction. The road less traveled is the road of delayed gratification. If you’re willing to wait for the rewards, you’ll face less competition and often get a bigger payoff. As the saying goes, the last mile is always the least crowded."

Consistency:

  • Always show up, even on your bad days. Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you.

  • $100 grows 50% to $150. Only takes a 33% loss to take you back to $100. Avoiding 33% loss just as valuable at 50% gain. 

Don’t enter games you’re not willing to play:

  • Maximize your odds by choosing right field of competition. 

  • Think about where you achieve greater returns than the average person and the type of work that hurts you less than it hurts others. 

  • Flow = 4% beyond your current ability.

Checking progress/reflection:

  • Annual review, EOY: 1) What went well this year? 2) What didn’t go so well this year? 3) What did I learn? https://jamesclear.com/annual-review

  • Integrity report, mid-year: 1) What are the core values that are driving my life and work? How am I living and working with integrity right now? How can I set a higher standard for the future?

Grit – Angela Duckworth

Grit – by Angela Duckworth
Date read: 10/30/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

A detailed look at what sets apart highly successful people. Top performers, as Duckworth suggests, are unusually resilient and hardworking. But they’ve also developed something else–a deep awareness of what they want. Grit is this combination of direction and determination. She discusses the importance of effort, deliberate practice, purpose, and stamina over intensity. The best thing about the book and her writing is that she makes it real. It’s not about a magical experience that leads you to your passion, purpose, or life’s work. Instead, she emphasizes that this comes through a discovery period–often messy, serendipitous, and inefficient–followed by years of refinement, and a lifetime of deepening. It’s not going to happen overnight. You have to figure out what you’re working towards and what you can sustain indefinitely.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Grit = Direction and determination
-Highly successful people are unusually resilient and hardworking, AND know in a deep way what they want.
-Grit corresponds with well-being, no matter how you measure it.

Effort:
-An ability to suffer (effort) proves far more important than talent. It factors in twice.

-Talent x Effort = Skill, Skill x Effort = Achievement

-When you quit showing up, effort plummets to zero, skills stop improving. 

Darwin and Grit:
-“For I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work; and I still think this is an eminently important difference.” Darwin

-Darwin didn’t possess supernatural intelligence or genius. He made slow, meticulous progress through his power of observation and attention to detail. Forced himself to ponder difficult questions and ideas for years, instead of giving up or tabling it for later and forgetting.

Power of small, calculated actions, decisions, habits:
-“The most dazzling of human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary.” -AD

-“Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities…There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are done consistently and correctly, and all together, produce excellence.” Dan Chambliss

-“Greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.” Dan Chambliss

Prefer mystery to mundanity:
-We want to believe people are prodigies, we don’t want to sit on the pool deck and watch Mark Spitz progress from amateur to expert.

-“No one can see in the work of the artist how it has become.” Nietzsche

Stamina > Intensity:
-“Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time–longer than most people imagine.” AD

-“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” AD

-What can you sustain indefinitely? Have to hold the same top-level goal for years. 
*Make sure mid-level goals correspond to unifying top-level goal.

Passion as a compass:
-Think of these ideas as interchangeable with authenticity

-Takes time to get right, constantly adjust, realign, recalibrate. Takes you on wandering journey to where you want to be. The obstacle is the way. 

-“Passion for your work is a little bit discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening.” AD

Discovering your interests:
-Not through introspection but interactions with outside world. Can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. 

-Early interests can be fragile, vague, and need years of refinement.

Deliberate Practice:
-Clearly defined stretch goal, full concentration and effort, immediate feedback, repetition with reflection and refinement

-Supremely effortful, working at the far edge of your skills. Only sustainable for an hour at a time.

-Deliberate practice is a behavior, flow is an experience. Don’t always go together.

-Deliberate practice is for preparation, and flow is for performance. 

-Self-awareness without judgment. 

Purpose:
-Higher scores on purpose (importance of living a meaningful life) correlates with higher scores on grit scale.

-But purpose isn’t a magical entity waiting to be discovered, requires years of dedication and exploration.

-AD: Someone who had inkling of her interests in adolescence. Clarity about purpose in twenties. Experience and expertise to find and calibrate with single top-level, life-organizing goal.

Leadership:
-Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase), looks for three things on leadership team: capability, character, and how they treat people.

Writing:
-"Writing is failure. Over and over and over again.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

-Challenge of writing is to see your bad writing and go to bed. Wake up, refine it, make it not so terrible, go to bed. And do this on repeat until you have something decent.

The Manual – Epictetus

The Manual – by Epictetus
Date read: 10/24/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Enjoyed the Ancient Renewal translation by Sam Torode. I’m always eager to read any new or updated translation of the classics. I’ve always found Epictetus to be one of the more inspiring Stoic philosophers. This is a great introduction to Stoicism for those interested in the philosophy. It’s also a great refresher for those already familiar. He discusses themes of impermanence, substance, expectations vs. reality, mental toughness, and authenticity.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Sphere of control = free, independent, strong
Beyond sphere = weak, limited, dependent

Impermanence is the nature of all things.

Expectations vs. Reality:

  • “In preparing for any action, remind yourself of the nature of the action.”

  • Going to a pool? Remind yourself of the usual incidents.

  • “Is some oil spilled or wine stolen? Say to yourself, ‘Accepting these annoyances is the price of my peace and tranquility. All good things come at a cost.’"

You are responsible for you:

  • “People who are ignorant of philosophy blame others for their own misfortunes. Those who are beginning to learn philosophy blame themselves. Those who have mastered philosophy blame no one.” 

  • Don’t blame another for your state of mind, your conditions is result of your own opinions and interpretations.

  • “Do not wish that all things will go well with you, but that you will go well with all things."

  • "Follow your principles as though they were laws.” 

Substance:

  • “Do not take satisfaction in possessions and achievements that are not your own…What, then, is your own? The way you live your life."

  • Cannot always choose your circumstances, but you can always act well in your current position.

  • “If you truly wish to become a philosopher, you must gain self-control, give up friends who are bad influences, and be prepared to face ridicule and scorn, and be willing to give up honors, offices, riches, and fame.” Not to say you shouldn’t acquire these things, but the true philosopher is never dependent on these things.

  • “If you can acquire riches without losing your honor and self-respect, then do it. But if you lose what is dearest to you, no amount of money can make up for it."

Humility = Harmony

  • “If you are praised by others, be skeptical of yourself. For it is no easy feat to hold onto your inner harmony while collecting accolades. When grasping for one, you are likely to drop the other."

  • “A philosopher is one whose thoughts and emotions are internally anchored…When she fails, she takes responsibility. When she succeeds, she smiles to herself."

Defer Judgment:

  • “It is not the person who insults or attacks you who torments your mind, but the view you take of these things.”

  • "Do not be fooled by how things first appear. With time and greater perspective, you can regain inner peace."

  • Observe subtleties, “Do not mistake your impressions for the whole truth."

Memento Mori:

  • “Continually remind yourself that you are a mortal being, and someday will die. This will inspire you not to waste precious time in fruitless activities, like stewing over grievances and striving after possessions."

Mental Toughness:

  • “If you are diligent and consistent, those who ridiculed you will come to admire you. But if you abandon the path near the start because of their laughter, you are truly worthy of scorn."

  • “If you find yourself acting to impress others, or avoiding action out of fear of what they might think, you have left the path."

  • Use the world and your current situation as a practice ground for your philosophy

Authenticity:

  • Fulfillment is found in a life best-suited to your attributes and abilities.

  • "Find significance within yourself.” Don’t lose your honor striving for perceived significance.

The Messy Middle – Scott Belsky

The Messy Middle – by Scott Belsky
Date read: 10/20/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

More than a business book, and that’s what I loved about it. It’s a book about embracing the long game and leading through ambiguity–whether you’re a founder, entrepreneur, or artist, you’ll find relevance. Belsky details the endurance it takes to bring an idea to life. It’s not always as pretty as the beginning or end, but the middle is worthy of equal attention since it’s where most of the journey takes place. As a product manager, I found the book to be particularly insightful for my daily work and career. The next time I’m asked for a great product book, I’ll be recommending this. But again, the beauty of this book is that it’s relevant for anyone who’s building something from nothing. Those who are leading others (or themselves) through uncertainty will benefit greatly from it. Far from a generic business book with the same recycled ideas, it’s original, practical, profound, and one of the best books I’ve read all year.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

You cannot travel the path until you’ve become the path. Embracing the middle is the only way through.

Values/Principles:
-“The truth about telling the truth is that it does not come easy for anyone. It’s not natural or organic. The natural thing to do is tell people what they want to hear. That makes everybody feel good…at least for the moment. Telling the truth, on the other hand, is hard work and requires skill.” Ben Horowitz

-“There is no better measure of your values than how you spend your time.” SB, accounting of how you spend your minutes is hard truth of your values.

-Routines backfire when you do them without thinking. Throw a wrench in every now and then to see if it feels liberating and is no longer relevant/effective.

-Sometimes you guard your time too closely. Fluidity/flexibility to adapt is important, or else you won’t reach full potential. Need to create and preserve some margin of downtime in your day to accommodate opportunities. 

-You deserve this and you are enough. There’s a part of all of us that fights our own progress. Overcome these insecurities and doubts.

-"You are not your org chart, your department budget, or your title. Don’t let success at a company prevent you from pursuing scary and wonderful new opportunities to build.” Hunter Walk

Endurance:
-“You need to do your fucking job.” What Belsky would tell himself before going into a tough meeting, negotiation, or firing someone.

-“Playing the long game requires moves that don’t map to traditional measures of productivity.” SB

-“Curiosity is the fuel you need to play the long game.” SB 

-Resourcefulness is a competitive advantage. “Resources become depleted. Resourcefulness does not.” SB

-80% on boulders, 20% on pebbles.

Lead your team:
-Teams need to be reminded of where they are and progress they’ve made. Call out landmarks you pass and the terrain ahead.

-When discussing your teams efforts so far, weave in stories and leverage the perspective that excites you the most.

-Your perspective during trying times will help your team overcome moments of self-doubt.

-Not all meetings end with a solution, quit seeking a false sense of closure. Instead actively lead through a process of self-discovery.

-Unresolved conversations are draining. If you can’t provide closure, add energy, turn negative into positive. 

-“Your story has more gravity than you realize. Your job is to help your team make sense of the strategy–what they’re seeing, doing, and working toward. You are the steward of your team’s perspective, and there is always a way forward so long as you explain it.” SB

-Don’t aggressively market yourself, celebrate the people on your team and empower great makers. “Ego is rust. So much value and potential are destroyed in its slow decay.” SB

-Pick your fights and don’t deprive others of their own process. Sometimes the best way to instigate change is to plant questions as seeds and let them take root so you can avoid immediate reactions. 

Conviction:
-“For extraordinary outcomes, seek conviction in your work and build teams that value conviction over consensus.” SB

-Hesitation breeds incrementalism.

-Most effective way to communicate a vision is to declare it, rather than blunting blow with a comforting narrative that makes it sound less drastic.

-Progress is only possible once a decision is made. Can always backtrack and adjust as you learn along the way. Keep moving!

-Make your mind up quickly and go with the option that feels most right at first (don’t survey every available option). Otherwise you’ll waste time and energy searching for alternatives that may only be mildly more beneficial.

Self-awareness:
-Self-awareness is the greatest competitive advantage for a leader.

-Your sense of self shifts when you’re at a peak or in a valley. 

-Effort to understand how your mind works is only path to reliable self-awareness during intensity/stress.

-“You cannot win unless you know how you’re most likely to lose.” SB

-“Knowing when to ignore your experience is the true sign of experience.” -John Maeda

Ambiguity:
-Avoid temptation to describe what you’re building in context of what already exists (i.e. “It’s Airbnb for X”). 

-When you feel overwhelmed, remember the vision. Compartmentalize your ideas, look ahead, worry less about day-to-day concerns. 

-When you feel lost in ambiguity, ask a different question. i.e. Not “why aren’t people signing up?” but “what kinds of people would benefit most?”

-When you’re building something new, focus on asking the right questions instead of having the right answers. 

Defy prescribed roles:
-Directing blame and expressing disappointment take more energy than tackling whatever you’re criticizing. Take the initiative, even if it falls outside of your job description.

-“There is rarely a scarcity of process or ideas but there is often a scarcity of people willing to work outside the lines.” SB

-“You’re either a cog in the system or a designer of better systems…challenge every system you find yourself confined by.” SB

-Asking for permission to do what you know needs to be done will yield hesitation at best, rejection at worst.

Prioritize your team:
-“I have met many founders who obsess over product and steamroll their team. Most of them have failed. Team comes first.” SB

-If you want to execute well over time or make great products, prioritize your team over your goals and tend to your team before your product.

Hiring:
-Hire people seeking a journey rather than a particular outcome.

-Closing the confidence gap of new hires is more important than closing skills gap. Building confidence is important if you want to unleash someone’s potential. 

-Maturity and perspective > age and accolades.

-Best reason to fire people who aren’t performing is to keep your best people.

-Salary bands: subconsciously biased by age, years of experience, gender, and other characteristics that don’t correlate with indispensability. 

Founders:
-“What distinguishes great founders is not their adherence to some vision, but their humility in the face of the truth.” Paul Graham

-Greatest thinkers anchor ideas around a central truth they believe is unique and unrealized by others, but embrace questions when someone challenges them…they don’t look the other way.

-Poor leaders are too worried about being loved. The best founders have conviction in their ideas and aren’t hedging by spreading resources thinly across too many ideas. 

-Hold on to the openness, humility, and brashness you had in the begging.

Product:
-Speed through the generic stuff, but take time to perfect the things you’re most proud of. This is what differentiates your product, so it deserves a disproportionate investment of resources.

-Uniqueness of your product needs to be baked in, not sprinkled in at the end. Otherwise it’s likely to taste bland.

-Customers don’t engage with functionality, they engage with experiences. Make it more human friendly and accommodating to natural human tendencies.

-Competitive advantage is as much about what you choose to let go and not be, as it is about what you focus on. 

-One feature in, one feature out. Keeps you focused on simplicity.

-Having to explain your product, least effective way to engage new users.

-Empathy for your customers and humility in your market are powerful filters. Focus on these before you fall in love with your solution.

-Greatest brands developed by playing at far end of the spectrum and not trying to be everything to everyone. “Playing to the middle makes you weak.” Don’t give up your edge to appeal to broader audience.

-Engage emotionally as you create, but detach yourself when you’re evaluating.

Innovation:
-Every product or service in your life either helps you spend or save time. Best products remove a daily friction.

-Don’t be too different, familiarity drives utilization. Train customers on something new only when it’s core to what differentiates your product. Helps reduce cognitive friction.

-Big part of innovation is saying ‘you know what I’m really sick of?’ What frustrates you likely frustrates many others.

-True innovators value art up front and compete against incumbents through stuff that doesn’t intuitively scale. Give your customers something precious, uniquely personal, emotional, and seemingly scarce that cannot be easily scaled, automated, or commoditized. Preserving the art in your business gives it a soul that people can connect with. 

-At the beginning, must run manual experiments, spend endless amount of time with customers, and tinker until you find something special.

The Product Lifecycle:

  1. Customers flock to a simple product.

  2. The product adds new features to better serve customers and grow the business.

  3. Product gets complicated.

  4. Customers flock to another simple product.

The First Mile:
-Fewer options, shorter copy, simpler steps.

-Need to prime your audience to know, 1) Why they’re there, 2) What they can accomplish, 3) What to do next.

-30% of your energy should be allocated here. Top of funnel for new users, deserves to be well thought out. 

-Remember, people are lazy, vain, and selfish. You have 30 seconds to engage and address each concern.

-Best hook is doing things proactively for customer. Once you help them feel successful and proud, will engage more deeply and take time to learn and unlock the greater potential of what you’ve created. 

Measuring Success:
-Always ask “what is the real goal here?” Answer is rarely as measurable as you may think.

-Avoid too many measures, the more numbers you’re tracking, the less attention you pay to any of them.

-Boil your business down to one or two core metrics.

-Prefer, a referral network for independent professionals, uses a single metric, “number of working pairs.” Allows them to focus on what matters instead of getting caught in surface measures like revenue or downloads.

-Iconic and breakthrough product insight are not the result of trying to improve a metric. Square’s iconic UX requiring everyone to sign using a finger instead of bypassing small transactions.

Investors:
-“For strong companies, financing is a tactic. For weak companies, financing is a goal.” SB

-Is the team attempting to defy a likely outcome or make it happen in a better way? Invest in the latter. Uses forces already in play.

Editing:
“The question that I find most helpful to ask is, ‘if you had to keep 10 percent, which 10 percent would you keep, and if you had to, absolutely had to, cut 10 percent, which 10 percent would you cut?’” Tim Ferriss

Desire to Learn:
-Warren Buffett spends 80% of each day reading. When asked about keys to success, Buffett pointed to a stack of books on his desk and said, “Read five hundred pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

-Annual letters to investors, Buffett is self-reflective and self-deprecating. Admits when he struggles to understand something or has made dumb decisions. Remarkably open to changing his mind. All because of his persistent desire to learn.

Leonardo da Vinci – Walter Isaacson

Leonardo da Vinci – by Walter Isaacson
Date read: 9/29/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

The amount of information in this book is incredible–biographies by Walter Isaacson are not quick reads. Throughout the book, I’d marvel at not only Leonardo, but also Isaacson’s ability to aggregate so much information and tell a compelling story. He’s brilliant in drawing out subtle themes that help tie everything together. Leonardo feels relatable and human in that his genius was self-made, built from personal experience/experiments, and dedication to his craft(s). But he also feels simultaneously distant in that the breadth of his abilities across disciplines, obsession with detail, and ability to bridge observation and imagination seem otherworldly. This book is an investment, but you’ll walk away with a reenergized curiosity and a newfound appreciation for the finer details in life. That’s what makes books like this worth it–the message resonates far stronger than what you might get out of a 200-page popular nonfiction title.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

Archetype of the Renaissance Man – combined art, science, engineering, technology, the humanities.
-Ability to make connections across each discipline is key to innovation, imagination, creativity, and genius.
-Benjamin Franklin was the Leonardo of his own era, no formal education, taught himself.
-The world has produced other thinkers who were more profound and logical, and many who were more practical, but none who was so creative in so many different fields.

Genius:
-Leonardo's was a human one, built on will and ambition (not a divine recipient live Newton or Einstein)
-He had almost no schooling, his genius was based on skills of curiosity and intense observation.
-Ability to blur the lines of reality and fantasy, marrying observation and imagination, was key to his creative genius/innovation.
-Obsession is a component of genius.

"Vision without execution is hallucination...Skill without imagination is barren." WI

Teaches us to marvel about the world we encounter each day, appreciate details, and make each moment of our lives richer.

Self-taught:
-Born out of wedlock so wasn't required to pursue family notary business. Instead, able to pursue creative passions.
-Took pride in lack of formal schooling, led him to be a disciple of experiment and experience.
-Freethinking attitude and willingness to question dogma saved him from being an acolyte of traditional thinking.
-Disciple of experience.

Curiosity and intense power of observation:
-Fanatical, and similar to Einstein, about things many people overlook after the age of ten ("why is the sky blue?")
-Aided by the sharpness of his eye which caught details that most of us glance over.
-"Describe the tongue of a woodpecker"
-Most distinguishing and inspiring trait was his intense curiosity.

Environment matters:
-Spent most of his career in centers of creativity and commerce: Florence, Milan, Rome.
-Few places offered better creative environment than Florence in the 1400s (interwove art, technology, and commerce). The culture rewarded those who mastered/mixed multiple disciplines.
-Surrounded himself with students, companions, patrons.
-"Ideas are often generated in physical gathering places where people with diverse interests encounter one another serendipitously." WI (why Steve Jobs liked to have central atrium in buildings, Benjamin Franklin founded a club).
-In the court of Ludovico Sforza (Milan), Leonardo found friends with diverse passions who could spark new ideas in each other. He moved here initially to recast himself as engineer, scientist, and inventor.
-"Genius starts with individual brilliance. It requires singular vision. But executing it often entails working with others. Innovation is a team sport. Creativity is a collaborative endeavor." WI

Apprenticeship with Verrocchio:
-Leonardo began his apprenticeship under Verrocchio at age 14.
-Rigorous teaching program that involved studying surface anatomy, mechanics, drawing techniques, effects of light and shade on draperies, beauty of geometry.
-When mastering drapery drawings under Verrocchio, Leonardo pioneered sfumato–technique of blurring edges (removes sharp edges so objects appear closer to how we see them). Allows room for our imagination to fill in the rest. Outlines of reality are inherently blurry, leaving a hint of uncertainty that we should embrace.
-After apprenticeship ended at 20, continued to work and live there.

Reality should inform, not constrain.
-Leonardo redefined how a painter transforms and transmits what he observes.

Signature marks:
-Sfumato
-Luster: sparkling glint of sunlight in the eyes and curls of hair.
-Flowing curls
-Enigmatic smiles
-Twisting movements

Failures:
-Mistakes in his early twenties with light, perspective, and human reactions.
-First workshop that he opened of his own in 1477, only received three commissions in five years.
-Genius undisciplined by diligence. He frequently gave up on paintings and left them incomplete because they were too much for a perfectionist. His willingness to put down brush is also why he's known as an obsessed genius and not a reliable master painter.
-At age 30, he was known as a genius but had little to show for it. In his gloom, he left Florence for Milan.

Dedicated years and years of work to single projects:
-Would make refinements on many of his paintings for years/decades.
-Knew there was always more he might learn and techniques he might master, so he would often refuse to relinquish paintings.
-Squaring the circle took him years, his notebook filled with attempts.

Know your audience:
-Leonardo demonstrated a knack for swaying patrons because he knew his audience.
-Cast himself as an engineer, architect, and mentioned none of his paintings to Ludovico Sforza (Milan facing threats of local revolt and French invasion).

Unrealized visions:
-Design for utopian city was sensible and brilliant. Was never implemented but might have transformed cities, reduced plagues, and changed history.

Notebooks:
-Always kept a small notebook hanging from his belt
-7,200 pages currently in existence probably only represent a quarter of what he wrote, but that's more than all emails/digital documents from Steve Jobs in the 1990s.
-But he was always more interested in pursuing knowledge than publishing it. Made little effort to share his findings. Had no real understanding of the growth of knowledge as a cumulative and collaborative process. As a result, his work had less impact than it should have.
-"He wanted to accumulate knowledge for its own sake, and for his own personal joy, rather than out of a desire to make a public name for himself as a scholar..." WI

Looking for opportunities in every environment:
-While in the court of Ludovico Sforza, produced pageants. This was a way to channel artistic and technical skills - stage design, costumes, scenery, music, mechanisms, etc.
-Mechanical birds and wings he made during this time led him to observe birds more closely and consider real flying machines.

On Wealth:
"Men who desire nothing but material riches and are absolutely devoid of the desire for wisdom, which is the sustenance and truly dependable wealth of the mind." LDV

Anatomy:
-Saw art and science as interwoven. Art required deep understanding of anatomy, which was in turn aided by a profound appreciation for the beauty of nature. Intense studies here made him a better artist.
-Depicted in multiple layers (which he also later did while deconstructing complex mechanisms, making drawing for each element), using exploded views, multiple angles, stacked-up layers.
-He made 240 drawings with 13,000 words of text illustrating and describing every bone, muscle group, and major organ.
-His study of anatomy informed his art, but his other disciplines also aided his anatomical studies.
-Discovered the way the aortic valve works (vortices between the cusp and its sinus), only recently validated in 1960s.

The "Mona Lisa effect" - creating a stare or gaze that seems to follow viewer around the room. Comes from drawing realistic set of eyes staring directly at viewer with proper perspective, shading, and modeling.

The Science of Art
-Wove together shadows, lighting, color, tone, perspective, optics, and the perception of movements. Helped him perfect his painting techniques. But also pursued these complexities of science for the pure joy of understanding nature.

"Sometimes fantasies are paths to reality." WI

Patterns:
-His quest for knowledge across disciplines of arts and sciences helped him see patterns. But at the same time, his multi-disciplinary approach helped him avoid letting other patterns blind him.

Mark of a great mind is a willingness to change it:
-Willingness to surrender preconceptions, and always remain open-minded was key to his creativity.
-Best example: questioned then abandoned analogy between circulation of water on earth and circulation of blood in the human body

The Mona Lisa:
-Spent the last 16 years of life making additions, distillation of all his accumulated knowledge.
-Shows the development of Leonardo's painterly skills, but also his maturation as scientist, philosopher, and humanist.
-"The science, the pictorial skill, the obsession with nature, the psychological insight are all there, and so perfectly balanced that at first we are hardly aware of them." Kenneth Clark
-Reason he wanted to paint Lisa del Giocondo was because she was relatively obscure (not a famed noble or mistress), meant he wouldn't have to take direction from a patron.
-Flow of the landscape flows in her and becomes part of her.
-Perfected Lisa's elusive smile in his anatomical drawings. Represents his ultimate realization about human nature–never fully know true emotion from outer manifestation.
-Provokes a complex series of psychological reactions (which she also exhibits) why so many find her engaging.

Deluge Drawings:
-Conveyed his belief that chaos and destruction are inherent in the raw power of nature

"Talent hits a target that no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

"Be open to mystery. Not everything needs sharp lines." WI

Awesome takeaways and lessons from Leonardo summarized on pages 519-524.

Your Move – Ramit Sethi

Your Move: The Underdog’s Guide to Building Your Business – by Ramit Sethi
Date read: 9/20/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Ramit Sethi is one of my favorite humans and writers (I Will Teach You to Be Rich is a gem, if you haven’t read it). He’s someone who gets it. Whether it’s finance, or in this case business, he’s always focused on the things that matter and assigning things their proper weight. In Your Move he offers insight into handpicking customers, being more selective about who you target, and why that’s fundamental to success. He emphasizes authenticity and crafting a message that resonates with your target audience’s hopes, dreams, pain points, and fears. It’s a book that should be able to point you in the right direction whether you’re struggling with your initial idea, defining your audience, or putting yourself and your product out there. There’s actionable insight for each.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

A successful business doesn't mean more money. It means more success, peace of mind and time.

Don't give things away for free:
-People value what they pay for
-Huge difference between free reader and paying customer
-Paying customer is far more likely to engage/open/use whatever they've paid for

"Most people reading this will not become millionaires because it involves extremely hard work and insane perseverance." -RS

Invisible risk of doing nothing > risk of starting a business

If you create value, people will be more than happy to pay for it.

Authenticity matters. Listening matters. When you sit down with customers, encourage them to open up by saying "Tell me about that." Or if you're sending emails, ask "What are you struggling with today?"

Make sure you've identified and are talking with your target market.
-If Ramit had talked to people his parent's age when writing his first book, he probably would have heard something about saving for retirement earlier. That message doesn't resonate with someone in their early 20s who wants to know what to do with their money, make it work for them, and buy a round of drinks for their friends.

Be selective and handpick your customers
-Allows you to target wants, needs, hope, fears, desires of that audience with pinpoint accuracy (and create products they want).
-"Students for life" philosophy.
-Regularly encouraging people to unsubscribe from newsletter (those who stick around are highly committed and engaged).

"Your biggest challenge is customer selection. You pick the right customer, you win. You pick the wrong customer, you lose. Focus on helping great people get better." -Marshall Goldsmith

Learn to embrace mistakes, otherwise, you get stuck in analysis paralysis (thinking instead of acting).

"Focus on being decisive and less on trying to make the 'right' decision. You'll never know until you try, and if you're wrong, you can always try again." RS

Beginners focus on the wrong things – worry about minutiae that won't change a thing and ends up exhausting.

Experienced pros have gone through this and know what to pay attention to (and what to ignore).

"Anyone can be 'efficient'–meaning they can do a given task pretty well. But very few can be 'effective,' meaning they select the right things to work on in the first place. Focusing on the right things is a true superpower." RS

Focus on your audience more, your competition less.

"Be different to be better. Don't be different for the sake of being different." RS

When you nail the right audience, price is a mere triviality. People will pay substantial money if you're solving a problem that's important to them AND they believe you can solve it.

Systems mentality: Life is always going to be messy. Successful people don't rely on "motivation or "working harder" to make things happen. They have systems for the big wins and let the inconsequential stuff fall by the wayside.

To sell you need to know four key things about your customers: their hopes, dreams, pain points, and fears.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. The things that worked from $0 to $100,000 won't always work when you're trying to crack $500,000.

Change the words you use to sell your products and you can drastically increase revenue.
-Focus on the reader and their pains, challenges and frustrations as they relate to your niche.
-Articulate their biggest hopes, dreams, and goals.
-What do they want? What's frustrating? What's going on inside their heads?

Product or service tiers (i.e. intro, intermediate expert) changes the question from if I should buy, to which should I buy?

If you view yourself as their trusted advisor and you have a product that will help them, you should be doing everything in your power to let them know about it.

"Stop and ask yourself: Are your products awesome? Do they really help people? If the answer is 'No,' then you need to make a better product." Graham Cochrane

30% Raise:
-Change the words on your promotional pages (take focus off product, shift towards customers)
-Offer more expensive option (tiered pricing)
-Begin selling sooner and more often

The Consolations of Philosophy – Alain de Botton

The Consolations of Philosophy – by Alain de Botton
Date read: 9/8/18. Recommendation: 7/10.

An introduction to some of the greatest thinkers including Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Botton wraps each philosopher in the context of consolation for a different human struggle (Seneca = consolations for frustration). If you’re already into philosophy, it’s an interesting format you’ll find both strange and engaging. If you’re not, it provides an accessible introduction to the subject without requiring a college course on abstract thought.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Consolation for Unpopularity

Priority to be liked, rather than speak the truth. Laugh at modest jokes.

Socrates ultimate example of how to maintain confidence in an intelligent position which has met with illogical opposition.

Philosophy provided Socrates with convictions and rational (not hysterical) confidence when facing disapproval.

Philo, love; sophia, wisdom.

Not only the hostility of others that prevents us from questioning the status quo. Also, because we associate what is popular with what is right.

"We stifle our doubts and follow the flock because we cannot conceive of ourselves as pioneers of hitherto unknown, difficult truths." AB

Socrates encouraged us not to be unnerved by the confidence of people who fail to grasp complexities and formulate their views without rigour...established views don't necessarily emerge from faultless reasoning, but centuries of intellectual muddle.

Truth produced by intuition is like a statue without support.
Truth supported by reasons and an awareness of counterarguments ie like statue anchored by cables.

"If we are prone to burst into tears after only a few harsh words about our character or achievements, it may be because the approval of others forms an essential part of our capacity to believe we are right." AB

Two powerful delusions: we should always or never listen to the dictates of public opinion. Instead, strive to listen to the dictates of reason.

Consolation for Not Having Enough Money

Epicureanism suggests we are as bad at intuitively answering 'What will make me happy?' as 'What will make me healthy?'

Epicurus viewed philosophy as a tool to help us interpret distress and desire and help us avoid acting on immediate impulses and instead investigate rationality of our desires (rather than enter into mistaken schemes for happiness).

Sober analysis calms the mind.

Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one. The way we're enticed by commercial enterprises is by the sly association of superfluous objects with other, forgotten needs.

By understanding our true needs, excessive levels of consumption are destroyed by greater self-awareness and appreciation of simplicity.

"Mankind is perpetually the victim of a pointless and futile martyrdom, fretting life away inf fruitless worries through failure to realize what limit is set to acquisition and to the growth of genuine pleasure. [But at the same time] It is this discontent that has driven life steadily onward, out to the high seas..." -Lucretius

Consolation for Frustration

Expectations vs. Reality - We best endure those frustrations which we have prepared ourselves for and understand and are hurt most by those we least expected and cannot fathom.

Seneca's view of anger: Not from an uncontrollable eruption of passions, but from a basic error of reasoning.
-Frustrations are tempered by what we understand we can expect from the world.
-Greatest furies spring from events which violate our sense of the ground rules of existence.

"Rage is caused by a conviction, almost comic in its optimistic origins, that a given frustration has not been written into the contract of life." AB

"We must reconcile ourselves to the necessary imperfectability of existence." AB

"Not everything which happens to us occurs with reference to something about us." AB

Worst-case scenarios:
"If you wish to put off all worry, assume that what you fear may happen is certainly going to happen." Seneca
*bad things will probably happen, but they probably won't ever be as bad as we fear.

Wealth:
"Stop preventing philosophers from possessing money; no one has condemned wisdom to poverty." Seneca
-Stoicism (Seneca specifically) considers wealth a preferred thing. Not an essential thing or a crime.

"The wise man can lose nothing. He has everything invested in himself." Seneca

We might not be able to change certain events, but we are able to choose our attitude, which provides a sense of freedom.

Consolation for Inadequacy

"We ought to find out not who understands most but who understands best." Montaigne

"If I come across difficult passages in my reading I never bit my nails over them: after making a charge or two I let them be...If one book wearies me I take up another." Montaigne
-Wisdom doesn't require a specialized vocabulary, only makes an audience weary
-Writing with simplicity requires courage

"However modest our stories, we can derive greater insights from ourselves than from all the books of old." AB

Consolation for Difficulties

Pain is a natural, inevitable step on the way to anything good/fulfillment.

"The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains." AB

Nietzsche was striving to correct the belief that fulfillment must come easily or not at all, a belief ruinous in its effects, for it leads us to withdraw prematurely from challenges that might have been overcome if only we had been prepared for the savagery legitimately demanded by almost everything valuable.

Philosophy = voluntary living in ice and high mountains

"The ice is near, the solitude is terrible–but how peacefully all things lie in the light! how freely one breathes! how much one feels beneath one!" Nietzsche

"Don't talk about giftedness, inborn talents! One can name all kinds of great men who were not very gifted. They acquired greatness, became 'geniuses' (as we put it) through qualities about whose lack no man aware of them likes to speak: all of them had that diligent seriousness of a craftsman, learning first to construct the parts properly before daring to make a great whole. They allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than the effect of a dazzling whole." Nietzsche

Endurance:
"Fulfillment is reached by responding wisely to difficulties that could tear one apart." AB

"Not everything which makes us feel better is good for us. Not everything which hurts may be bad." -AB