Book Notes

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”).

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.”

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.

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.

Everybody Writes – Ann Handley

Everybody Writes – by Ann Handley
Date read: 9/3/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Handley’s background in marketing differentiates this from other ‘how to write’ books. She remains focused on how to write better and the rules of writing, but there’s an emphasis on measurable results. It’s a solid resource for any writer or content creator. It’s a great reminder (and guide) to cut the unnecessary, be more direct, and improve readability. All of which are important because they help you not only capture initial attention, but also preserve/build that momentum between sentences and paragraphs. The end goal is creating something that resonates with your audience and enriches their lives.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.


My Notes:

Writing is a habit, not an art.

"If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." -Stephen King

Many brilliant writers emphasized routines and schedules for writing: Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Oliver Sacks, Benjamin Franklin. All kept regular hours to cultivate creative rhythms.

"Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life." -Gretchen Rubin

Place the most important words and ideas at the beginning of a sentence.
-Good first impression, builds momentum, encourages the reader to continue.
-Avoid starting sentences with: "According to," "There is a," "It is important/critical/advised," "In my opinion," "The purpose of," "In 2018," "I think..."

Use a customer-centric POV:
-Replace I or we with you to shift focus
-Company-centric: "We offer accelerated application development." "A better way to learn how to cook."
-Customer-centric: "Deploy an app to the cloud at lunch hour. And still have time to eat." "Become a cook in 30 days."

Misplaced modifiers:
Wrong: Only publish good content
Right: Publish only good content.

Use familiar, yet surprising analogies:
-Instead of: "The leaves of the giant pumpkin plant are huge."
-Try: "The pumpkin leaves are the size of trash-can lids, covering pumpkins the size of beer kegs."

Readability:
-White space makes your work readable (readers won't get through massive blocks of text).
-Shorter paragraphs (no more than three sentences or six lines).
-No more than 25 words/sentence.

Use real words:
-Avoid buzzwords and jargon at all costs (e.g. revolutionary, value-added, impactful, cutting-edge, leverage, incentivize, synergize)
-Be real, in all communication. Not: "You're my top resource." But: "I don't know what I'd do without you."
-Use natural sounding language

Active vs. Passive:
-Usual indicator of passive = "was" and "is"
-Passive: "The video was edited by a guy named Joe." Active: "A guy named Joe edited the video."
-Passive: "Duduk theme music is rarely featured on podcasts." "Podcasts rarely feature duduk theme music."

Rules to break:
-You can start sentences with and, but, or because.

Limit moralizing and prescriptive phrases at the beginning of sentences:
-Don't forget...Never...Avoid...Don't...Remember to...

Focus on how your product/service touches peoples lives.

"Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there'll always be better writers than you and there'll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that–but you are the only you." Neil Gaiman

"Your unique voice comes from knowing who you are, and who you are not." Ahava Leibtag

Seek out primary, not secondary sources.

Proper lengths:
Blog post - 1500 words
Email subject lines - 50 characters or less or 6-10 words
Line of text - 12 words
Paragraph - 4 lines or less
Headline - 70 characters or less

Shift mindset from 'always be closing' to 'always be helping.'
-"Focus relentlessly on how you can help your audience by enriching their lives.."

Headlines (less than 70 characters):
-What would make your reader turn and say, "Listen to this..."
-Spend as much time on the headline as you do on the writing itself.
-Use lively words (ultimate, brilliant, awesome, intense)
-Keep it benefit driven.
-"Create successful social media campaigns" headline on landing page, 26% better than "Join today and get access to SmartTools: Social Media Marketing."

Rules to live by:
-Try it again with fewer words
-Trust your own voice
-Use humor, whenever possible

The Invention of Nature – Andrea Wulf

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World – by Andrea Wulf
Date read: 8/18/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

The story of one of the most profound polymaths you've probably never heard of. Humboldt was a Prussian explorer, writer, geographer, and naturalist born in 1769. He revolutionized the way we view the natural world by making connections and framing nature as a unified whole. He viewed everything as reciprocal and interwoven, challenging the human-centered perspective that ruled up until that point in time (i.e. 'nature is made for the sake of man'). Humboldt's fascination with nature brought together art and science, combining exact observation with painterly descriptions, which helped make science far more popular and accessible. His work also influenced generations of scientists and writers including the likes of Charles Darwin, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. It's easy to see why Humboldt was so influential–the stories Wulf tells of his expeditions and adventures well into old age, are both fascinating and inspiring. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian aristocratic family, discarded a life of privilege to discover for himself how the world worked.

A multidisciplinary approach:
Humboldt revolutionized the way we see the natural world by making connections everywhere. He shaped our modern understanding of nature through his comprehensive/multidisciplined approach. "In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation." AVH

In nature (and in our individual lives) getting the overall conditions right is essential if we want to thrive.
-Neither our lives nor the forces of the natural world are siloed, independent components. Everything is interwoven.

Childhood tendencies:
-Escaped the classroom whenever he could to ramble through the countryside, collecting and sketching plants/animals/rocks.
-Would come back with pockets full of insects and plants, nicknamed 'the little apothecary'

Republic of Letters:
-During the new Age of Enlightenment, scientists around the world started an intellectual community that transcended national boundaries, religion, language. Used letters to pass along new ideas and scientific discoveries. Ruled by reason, not by monarchs.

Relationship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
-Despite Humboldt being 20 years younger, they became scientific sparring partners.
-Not a traditional master/apprentice relationship. One based on mutual respect, admiration, collaboration, and reciprocity.
-Goethe worked more intensely than he had in years after he met Humboldt.
-Goethe encouraged Humboldt to combine art and science.
-Goethe said that a single day with Humboldt brought him further than years on his isolated path.

"Nature everywhere speaks to man in a voice familiar to his soul." -AVH

Humboldt challenged the human-centered perspective that had ruled humankind's approach to nature for millennia (i.e. Aristotle: "Nature has made all things specifically for the sake of man.") He viewed everything as reciprocal.

Journey through Venezuela in 1800 would change the course of his life. This is where his fascination with the natural world married science and art.

No scientist had referred to nature like this (thanks to Goethe's influence)
Rapids of Orinoco: "Coloured bows shine, vanish, and reappear." Always measured and recorded, but brought the scene to life.

"What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements" AVH

Chimborazo Expedition:
-Snowcapped volcano in Ecuador, 21k feet (believed to be highest mountain in world)
-2,500 mile journey from Cartagena to Lima through harsh landscapes pushed their physical limits
-They were supposed to return home from Quito, but the ship that was supposed to come took a different route than they expected. Rather than despair, became an opportunity with Humboldt's perspective. Allowed them to set out for the volcanoes. 
-"Mountains held a spell over Humboldt. It wasn't just the physical demands or the promise of new knowledge. There was also something more transcendental. Whenever he stood on a summit or a high ridge, he felt so moved by the scenery that his imagination carried him even higher. This imagination, he said, soothed the 'deep wounds' that pure 'reason' sometimes created."

Naturgemälde, a lesson in the importance of the way you present/depict information;
-Drawing of Chimborazo that illustrated nature as a web in which everything was connected.
-By picking a particular height of the mountain, you could trace connections across the table to see temperature, humidity, species of plants/animals at different altitudes.
-No one had shown such data visually before, showed for the first time that nature was a global force with corresponding climate zones across continents. 

Unified Whole:
-He wasn't interested in finding new isolated facts but in connecting them. Less concerned with classifying the world into taxonomic units with a strict hierarchy and categories, like the scientists before him.
-To prove this, he couldn't look at it just as a botanist, geologist, or zoologist. Had to take a multidisciplinary approach and leverage each.

Racial Equality - Reflected his expanded worldview from being well traveled, greater empathy and greater tolerance when you've interacted with different people/societies/cultures. 
-Humboldt believed slavery was a disgrace and the greatest evil.
-All members of the human race were equal, from the same family (much like plants). Humankind just one small part. But nature itself is a republic of freedom (where he differed from Thomas Jefferson).

Location matters:
Returning to Europe after his adventures he chose Paris. Hub of like-minded thinkers, scientific societies, and Europe's publishing center (for fast distribution so he could share his new ideas). 

Broad appeal, reaching new audiences:
Scientists and thinkers were impressed by his publications and lectures, fellow writers adored his adventurous stories, while the fashionable world of Parisian society was delighted by his charm and wit.

Personal Narrative:
-Humboldt's book that followed his voyage chronologically to South America.
-First travel book to ever combine exact observation with a painterly description of landscape.
-Previous writers only measured, or collected plants, or gathered economic data from trading centers.
-Took readers onto the crowded streets of Caracas, across the dusty plains of the Llanos, and deep into rainforest along the Orinoco. Capturing imaginations along the way.
-Influenced British literature and poetry with his depictions of South America (Frankenstein, Don Juan).
-This was the book that inspired Charles Darwin to join the Beagle, and he knew it by heart.

Berlin Lectures:
-1827 arrived back to Berlin (reluctantly) after leaving Paris.
-Gave 76 free lectures over the course of 6 months that were unlike anything Berlin had ever seen. 
-Exhilarating, utterly new. By not charging an entry fee, packed audiences ranged from royal family to students, servants, scholars, bricklayers, and half of those attending were women. Democratized science.
-Took his audience on a journey - talked about poetry, astronomy, geology, landscape painting.
-One of his greatest achievements was making science accessible and popular.

Relishing adventure into old age:
-At age 59 on his journey through Russia, rarely showed signs of fatigue. He would walk for hours, crawl into deep shafts, chisel off rocks, scramble up mountains, then set up instruments at night for astronomical observations. *Similar to Ben Franklin, thriving on adventures in old age.

Humboldt's influence on Darwin:
-Showed Darwin how to investigate the natural world from within and without, not just from isolated approach of zoologist, etc.
-Both had the rare ability to focus on smallest detail then pull back to examine global patterns. Flexibility in perspective allowed them both to understand the world in a completely new way.
-Laid the groundwork for his theory of evolution.

Launch point for Darwin:
-Voyage of the Beagle by far the most important event of his life and determined his whole career, as he acknowledged.

Years of dedication:
-Voyage of the Beagle took five years. Much like Humboldt's voyages, these were years of painstaking work. 

Self-awareness:
-When Humboldt began work on his most influential book, Cosmos, he was aware that he didn't and couldn't know everything. Recruited an army of expert scientists, classicists, and historians to help.

Black coffee = "concentrated sunshine" AVH

Cosmos:
-Three sections: 1) Celestial phenomena, 2) Earth (geomagnetism, oceans, earthquakes, geography, meteorology), 3) Organic life (plants, animals, humans).
-Brought together a far greater range of subjects than any other previous book.
-Shaped two generations of American scientists, artists, writers, and poets.

Humboldt's last words at age 89: 
"How glorious these sunbeams are! They seem to call Earth to the Heavens!"

"Voyages on foot, Humboldt said, taught him the poetry of nature. He was feeling nature by moving through it."

"Not only was his life colorful and packed with adventure, but his story gives meaning to why we see nature the way we see it today. In a world where we tend to draw a sharp line between sciences and the arts, between the subjective and the objective, Humboldt's insight that we can only truly understand nature by using our imagination makes him a visionary." 

Rework – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier

Rework – by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier
Date read: 8/4/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Relevant to anyone building, running, or growing a business. Fried and Heinemeier offer valuable first-hand experience that goes against conventional, mediocre business advice. They discuss the approach and tactics they've used to grow their own software company, Basecamp, to reach over 3 million people around the world. Much of their advice centers around remaining small, frugal, and profitable. They caution against business plans, workaholics, and ramping up as an end goal. Instead favoring adaptability, hiring people who have lives outside of work, and simplicity. They even encourage letting your customers outgrow you, rather than altering your product to add complexity. Keep it simple and build something that makes it as easy as possible for new people to get on board (that's where the continued growth lies).

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

Plans let the past drive the future. They put blinders on you. "This is where we're going because, well, that's where we said we were going." And that's the problem: Plans are inconsistent with improvisation.

The timing of long-range plans creates problems because you're making decisions before you've begun, "You have the most information when you're doing something, not before you've done it."

Following a plan that has no relationship with reality is worse than having no plan at all. 

Ramping up doesn't have to be your goal. Don't be insecure about running a small, fulfilling business. 

Workaholics:
-Try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force = inelegant solutions
-"Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a  faster way to get things done."
-"When people have something to do at home, they get down to business. They get their work done at the office because they have somewhere else to be."
-You want people who have a life outside of work and care about more than one thing -- shouldn't expect the job to be someone's entire life if you want to keep them around for the foreseeable future.

"The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use."
-Make hundreds of tiny decisions a day when you're building a product or service. If it's someone else's problem you're stabbing in dark. When you solve your own problem, the light comes on and you know what the right answer is.

"The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it's almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute."

"When you want something bad enough, you make the time–regardless of your other obligations. The truth is that most people just don't want it bad enough. Then they protect their ego with the excuse of time."

At Basecamp, they design their product to be as simple as possible because they believe software is too complex with too many features/buttons/confusion. They're comfortable with alienating certain people because the product from competition does more (but at the cost of being less intuitive). 

Basecamp focuses on timeless desires (not trends): speed, simplicity, ease of use, clarity.

After their first product had been around for a while, a few early customers said they were growing out of the application and wanted them to change the product to mirror additional complexities and requirements. They said no. Justification: "We'd rather our customers grow out of our products eventually than never be able to grow into them in the first place."

There are always more people who are not using your product than people who are. Make it as easy as possible for those people to get on board. That's where your continued growth potential lies.

"Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition."

Find the epicenter, ask yourself: "If I took this away, would what I'm selling still exist?" i.e. hot dog from a hot dog stand.

When things aren't working, don't throw more at the problem. Do less. Will force you to make tough calls and sort out what actually matters.

Content and putting in the work >  tools
-Equipment is often a crutch for people who are desperate for shortcuts.

"Momentum fuels motivation." (and the same goes for inspiration)
-Get it out there, get feedback, don't squander your momentum/inspiration.

Inject what's unique about the way you think into what you sell - i.e. Zappos, customer service.
-Competitors can attempt to copy your product, but they can't copy how you sell it, support it, explain it, deliver it.

Enthusiasm for a new idea is not an accurate indicator of worth or priority. Let it marinate.

Build an audience/platform:
-Share information that's valuable to build a loyal audience. That way when you launch and need to build traction, the right people will already be listening.

"Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them. Teaching probably isn't something your competitors are even thinking about."
-Forms a bond unlike traditional marketing tactics
-Teaching = loyalty, respect, trust.
-Share everything you know.

"Imperfections are real and people respond to real."
-Don't worry how you're supposed to sound, be real.
-Pare things down to their essence, but don't remove the poetry (too polished sounds robotic).
-Talk to customers the way you would to friends (explain things like you're sitting with them in person).

Give some away for free (free trials). You should be confident that the product/service is so great that people will come back for more. 

"Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth. It's hard but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out. You have to do it for a long time before the right people notice."

Don't hire someone for a position until you've tried it first.
-Better understand the nature of the work, what a job well done looks like, know which questions to ask, and you'll be a much better manager.

"Don't hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain."
-Pass on hiring people you don't need, even if that person's a great catch. Worse problem to have smart people on board who aren't engaged/doing meaningful work.

"How long someone's been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they've been doing it."

With a small team, you need people who are going to do work, not delegate. Delegators are deadweight. They love to pull people into meetings where they get to seem important.

Hire managers of one - people who come up with their own goals and execute.
-Look at background, have they run something on their own or launched their own projects?
-Great product advice: find someone who's capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through.

"Writing is today's currency for good ideas."

"Write to be read, don't write just to write."
-Think of one person then write for that person (not a mob). 

"When something goes wrong, someone is going to tell the story. You'll be better off if it's you."

"When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers."

The Geometry of Wealth – Brian Portnoy

The Geometry of Wealth – by Brian Portnoy
Date read: 7/4/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

A look into the relationship between money and meaning. Portnoy suggests that wealth and investing are about funding contentment and underwriting a meaningful life, as defined by you. Not about getting rich, having "more," and losing yourself on the hedonic treadmill. He explains that simplification is the path towards effectively managing expectations in money and life–and the trajectory of a happy life is shaped by expectations. The Geometry of Wealth is as practical as it is philosophical. À la Charlie Munger, Portnoy emphasizes individual behavior, mainly self-control and self-awareness, as the most important factor in investment success. He suggests we focus on being "less wrong" over being "more right," in the sense that asset allocation is far more important than security selection and market timing. But he also takes a deeper look at experienced happiness, reflective happiness, expectations, and human nature, which adds an entire extra dimension to this fascinating book.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

"Do not hurry; do not rest." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Examines the relationship between money and meaning, and how wealth figures into a joyful life.

Difference between rich and wealthy
-Rich is having "more" - hedonic treadmill on which satisfaction is fleeting
-Wealth is funded contentment, ability to underwrite a meaningful life, as defined by you
-Wealth is only achievable when purpose and practice are calibrated

Simplification is the smart path toward effectively managing expectations. In general terms, met expectations lead to temporary happiness and unmet ones lead to temporary sadness.

A "good" investment is one that meets expectations. And when expectations of the future don't match reality, we end up with dismal outcomes–not only financially, but emotionally. 

Dual Process Theory: "System 1" versus "System 2" (as popularized by Daniel Kahneman)
System 1: Fast brain loves consistency, biased to confirm beliefs and see patterns even when they don't exist. Avoid ambiguity and doubt.
System 2: Specializes in effortful mental activities, slow brain requires significantly more energy (glucose and other chemicals)

Three factors which determine lifelong happiness:
-Genetic disposition ~ 40%. This is your set point, return to this level (features and attitudes you're born with).

-Circumstance ~ 10%. Only a slight impact (and these are the attributes many of us define ourselves by). Where you live, what type of house you have, physical appearance, family dynamic, job, etc.
How can these have such a small impact? The brain is wired with an ability to adapt to whatever situation we find ourselves in, and it does it so much more quickly than we anticipate. It's a remarkable defense mechanism, for it allows us to transcend most setbacks in life. 

-Intention ~ 40%. Conscious decision-making and deliberate actions have significant impact on our quality of life experiences. Empowering, while you can't get around biological set point, still have capacity to make a big difference through personal drive and self-improvement.

"[Those who far better in life] have better coping strategies in the face of adversity–they confront problems rather than avoid them, plan better for the future, focus on what they can control and change, and persist when they encounter obstacles instead of giving up." -Timothy Wilson

Prepared mind = better life outcomes

When it comes to money, simplicity means having a limited number of clearly articulated concepts that both make sense of a noisy world and drive sharp, reasonable decisions.

Experienced Happiness: Maximize pleasure, narrower in scope, shorter in duration, hedonic, daily mood.
*Impact of money on experienced happiness caps out around $75k/year. Life's basic comforts met (which we become quickly accustomed to). Good and bad moods come at same pace for someone making $100k vs. $1m.

Reflective Happiness: Maximize contentment, broader in scope, longer in duration, eudaimonic (human flourishing), purpose, deeper sense of fulfillment.
*Reflective happiness does not cap out a specific income level. Does not diminish, keeps growing. But it always remains relative to your current position ($1000 raise for new college grad has larger impact than it would for CEO). When money is spent to underwrite sources of contentment, money buys happiness. 

Contentment = control (afford better nutrition, healthcare, more independence, time, flexibility), competence (invest in skills, potential), connection (sociality of experience, networks, memberships, access), context (time to find purpose). 

The "good life" is not the tweak of ephemeral pleasure, but the engagement with more meaningful, virtuous pursuits. Momentary pleasures are distinct from the enduring gravity of meaningful experience. 

"[Success stems not from] beating others at their game. It's about controlling yourself at your own game." -Jason Zweig
*Your own behavior far most important factor in investment success.

Much of what humans are good at does not center on weighing consequences of a possibility many years in the future.

Getting the restaurant right is more important than picking the right dish. Choosing investments works similarly. Big choice at hand is asset classes. Don't fetishize precision. Get it roughly right. Save yourself time and mental energy.

Asset allocation = far more influential than security selection and market timing. 
*90% of performance differences among investors are explained by asset allocation

Prioritize being "less wrong" over being "more right."

Only a handful of basic principles needed to achieve good investment results (but we crave complexity so we fail to execute):
-Buy low and sell high
-Diversify
-Stick to your plan

Crave complexity because we crave choice, which is a proxy for the control we perceive to have over our lives. More choice translates into a greater sense of safety (however false it might be).

A "good" decision is one that leads to a reasonable and appropriate outcome, not one that achieves other arbitrary goals like beating the market or trumping others. A "bad" decision starts with either vague or unrealistic expectations.

Accept the uncertainty of this game, remain humble in the pursuit of better things, and there's a decent chance that things will be okay.

"To achieve satisfactory investment results is easier than most realize; to achieve superior results is harder than it looks." -Benjamin Graham

The trajectory of a happy life is shaped by expectations. When the future meets or exceeds our expectations, we tend to be happy' when it doesn't, we're not.

Assessing annualized returns -- the longer the time frame, the narrower the range of outcomes (+/-10%). Shorter time frame, large (and more erratic) range of outcomes (170 to -70%). 

When we say that stocks make about 10% per year, it would be a mistake to assign the outcome of the entire group to any one member. Individual stock can be a dud or rocket ship. Best bet is to own a broad swath of the market.

With true diversification, there will always be something in your portfolio that sucks (and that's okay).

Compounding is the quiet protagonist in more tales of progress than nearly any of us has considered. Einstein supposedly called it the most powerful force in the universe.

Charlie Munger: "The first rule of compounding: Never interrupt it unnecessarily."

"Approximately 99% of the time, the single most important thing investors should do is absolutely nothing." -Jason Zweig

"The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning but a link between ages, both memory and expectation. Every moment is a new beginning with a continuum of history. It is fallacious to segregate a moment and not to sense its involvement in both the past and future." -Abraham Heschel

Our ability to think through time and see our future selves has limitations. Most profoundly, we discount the future: we value today more than tomorrow. Time discounting is an evolutionary instinct. We didn't pass on killing the small animal right in front of us in hopes of maintaining our energy to attack a larger herd of fatter animals that may or may not come later. We tend to live in the now because it seems the safer thing to do.

"Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they're finished." -Daniel Gilbert

Narrative of the book: Stoic playbook for navigating money life, moving from perception to action to will. Self-awareness and self-control are key principles. Embrace adaptive simplicity. 

The Four Tendencies – Gretchen Rubin

The Four Tendencies – by Gretchen Rubin
Date read: 5/29/18. Recommendation 7/10.

Rubin details four main personality tendencies–upholder, questioner, obliger, rebel–that we all gravitate towards based on how we handle internal and external expectations. It's an interesting look into human nature and quite valuable when considering how we should motivate, persuade, or navigate conflict with ourselves and others. There's no one-size-fits-all. She details each of the four tendencies in depth, while conceding that there are an enormous range of personalities, even among people with the same tendency. This dramatically influences how each of the tendencies are expressed. The goal of the book is to help us better understand ourselves and those around us by building greater self-awareness and acknowledging our differences. That way we can leverage our strengths, navigate our weaknesses, and build lives that work better for us.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

My great interest is human nature, and I constantly search for patterns to identify what we do and why we do it.

Upholder (19%): Meets outer expectations, meets inner expectations
Questioner (24%): Resists outer expectations, meets inner expectations
Obliger (41%): Meets outer expectations, resists inner expectations
Rebel (17%): Resists outer expectations, resists inner expectations

When we consider the four tendencies, we're better able to understand ourselves. This self-knowledge is crucial because we can build a happy life only on the foundation of our own nature, our own interests, and our own values.

There's an enormous range of personalities, even among people who share the same tendency...These qualities dramatically influence how they express their tendencies.

There's no best or worst tendency. The happiest, healthiest, most productive people aren't those from a particular tendency, but rather they're the people who have figured out how to harness the strengths of their Tendency, counteract the weaknesses, and build the lives that work for them.

Knowing other people's tendencies also makes it much easier to persuade them, to encourage them, and to avoid conflict.

"Of all the tasks which are set before man in life, the education and management of his character is the most important." -William Edward Hartpole Lecky, The Map of Life

Upholder:
-Find it easy to decide to act and then to follow through, easily form habits
-Independent and reliable, high degree of self-mastery
-Discipline may make them appear rigid to others, but they feel free, effective, and independent

Weaknesses include delegating (doubt others ability to follow through), holding others accountable (since they don't need outer accountability, not sympathetic towards those that do).

Upholders value self-command, so they tend to pay a lot of attention to getting enough sleep, exercising, having fun, keeping gas in the car, and so on. Upholders also least likely to struggle with addiction. 

Although upholders can indeed reject outer expectations in order to meet inner expectations, they don't always have a clear sense of what they expect from themselves. For an inner expectation to be met, it must be clearly articulated. Therefore, upholders must take care to define for themselves what they want and what they value–that clarity is essential.

For me, once I'd clearly heard the voice of my own inner expectation, doing the work wasn't hard. But it took me a long time to hear that voice.

Upholders want people to do things for their own reasons–which is a big demand.

Questioner:
-Deep commitment to information, logic, and efficiency
-Gather their own facts and decide for themselves, object to anything arbitrary, ill-reasoned, or ineffective
-Almost never unquestioningly meet an expectation

Least distinctive tendency, other three tendencies recognize how they're different from other people. Questioners view their questioning not as evidence of a pattern but as merely the logical, universal response to life.

Upholders and questioners are self-centered and self-ish, in the sense that the aims of the "self," which are inner expectations, are at the core of what they do.

Obliger:
-Meets inner expectations by creating outer accountability (must create structures of outer accountability)
-Gain the most from learning about their tendency (and the largest tendency for both men and women)
-Get along most easily with the other three tendencies

Obligers must pick the right kind of accountability for them...vary dramatically in what makes them feel accountable.

Obliger rebellion - obliger keeps meeting expectations that seem unreasonable until the "snap" which is almost always abrupt.

Rebel:
-Resist all expectations, want to do what they want to do, in their own way and in their own time
-Wake up and think "what do I feel like doing right now?"
-Enjoy challenges and defying people's expectations
-High value on authenticity and self-determination (lives should be a true expression of their values)

Rebel/questioners: "I do whatever I choose." Rebel/obligers: "I refuse to do what anyone tells me to do."

For information-consequences-choice to work, it's crucial that rebels do indeed suffer unpleasant consequences. 

Information, consequences, choice. Without lectures or micro-management or rescue.

Rebels become dependent. Their freedom from the mundane responsibilities of life is often possible because someone else handles the duties of daily existence for them.

Rebels respond much better when an action is framed in terms of choice, freedom, and self-expression instead of constraint and duty.

It's all too easy to assume that what persuades us will persuade others–which isn't true. One of my secrets of Adulthood is that we're more like other people than we suppose and less like other people than we suppose.

Upholders want to know what should be done. Questioners want justifications. Obligers need accountability. Rebels want freedom to do something their own way.

Upholders value self-command and performance. Questioners value justification and purpose. Obligers value teamwork and duty. Rebels value freedom and self-identity. 

"Just as coffee can grow...under 7,000 [feet] and cedar over 7,000. I think that every human being requires a certain type of soil, temperature, and altitude, very narrowly defined for some, almost universal for others–in order to feel free and happy, that is to say, free to develop his nature to the utmost of which it is capable. I believe that one can feel completely free both in a Trappist monastery or at the court in Berlin; but I think it would have to be an unusual and an unusually gracious personality that would feel free in both places." -Isak Dinesen

Real Artists Don't Starve – Jeff Goins

Real Artists Don't Starve – by Jeff Goins
Date read: 6/8/18. Recommendation 7/10.

Practical and refreshing resource for smart creatives and entrepreneurs. Goins picks apart the myths surrounding the Starving Artist and offers an improved alternative of the Thriving Artist. There are dozens of useful rules of thumb you can apply to your own position, no matter where you are in the journey. Thriving Artists build their creative dreams step by step (not overnight). They focus on rearrangement and building upon the work of those who have influenced them (not obsessing over originality). They leverage their existing jobs for resources (not quitting too early and without reason). They recognize the value of a multidisciplinary approach and multiple revenue streams (not mastering a single skill and risking it all on a single bet). Goins follows this same pattern throughout the book, detailing the difference in mindsets, how to position yourself in the market, and how to make a living. It's a modern-day guide for living a better, more creative life, without struggling for the sake of struggling. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Adrian Cardenas left MLB to pursue writing. To begin a new journey, he had to let go of what was expected of him.

Before you can create great art, you first have to create yourself.

The reason many of us never self-actualize is because it's easier to play a role in life than it is to become our true selves. It's easier to conform to what people expect than it is to stand out. But this is not the way great art is made, nor is it the way real artists are made.

Eventually, you have to decide who you are. You have to choose your role and own that identity. 

Creative dreams aren't launched overnight They are built gradually.

Study of 5,000 American entrepreneurs
-In the end, the more cautious entrepreneurs ended up being the more successful ones, whereas the risk takers who quit their jobs early were 33 percent more likely to fail.

The creative life is a series of small steps more than any single giant leap.

"Nothing is new except arrangement." -Will Durant

Creativity is not about being original; it's about learning to rearrange what has already been in a way that brings fresh insight to old material. Innovation is really iteration.

The Starving Artist worries about being original, whereas the Thriving Artist knows that stealing from your influences is how you make great art. (but you have to carefully study your influences before you steal)

Rule of Creative Theft: Greatness doesn't come from a single great idea or eureka moment. It comes from borrowing other people's work and building on it. We steal our way to greatness.

Such discipline is all but lost in our world today. We are far too impatient, too eager to show the world what we have to offer, too unwilling to take the time to learn the fundamentals of a craft. 

For generations, writers have done something similar in copying the words of their favorite authors verbatim. Hunter S. Thompson did this with the work of his idol, F. Scott Fitzgerald, when he wrote out the pages of The Great Gatsby to get a feel for "what it was like to write that way."

The marks of a good apprentice are patience, perseverance, and humility. 
-If you put in the work you will eventually see results.
-If you keep going, you will outlast the majority who quit at the first few signs of trouble.
-And always remember how far you still have to go.

The moment we begin to believe we deserve success is the very moment it will elude us.

Opportunities may come and go, but in the end, hard work is all we can measure.

"Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon, his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course." –Angela Duckworth

An artist's job is not to be perfect but to be creating.

Jeff Bezos: We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details.

Gradatim Ferociter: step by step, ferociously.

Can you stick around long enough to see your work succeed? Do you have enough grit to take a few critical hits and keep going? Or will you get discouraged at the first sign of failure?

If you are going to create work that matters, you are going to need an advocate–a person who sees your potential and believes in your work. This isn't just about money. You need someone to give you a chance, maybe even connect you to the right people.

Any job can be a means to making your art, if you have the right perspective. Employers become patrons when we begin to see them not as obstacles to the work we want to do but as a way of funding it.

One of the most important issues for a member of the Creative Class is location.

You must earn the attention of those already established in the scene. How do you do this? Serve them somehow. Use your gifts and talents to help others succeed.

Put your work where it has the greatest potential to succeed.

Study the people who already are where you want to go.

Rule of the Portfolio: Starving Artists believes she must master a single skill, whereas the Thriving Artist builds a diverse body of work.

In the Renaissance, people embraced this intersection of different disciplines, and those who blended them best were rightly called "masters."

Thriving Artists don't just live off their art. Like good investors, they keep diverse portfolios, relying on multiple income streams to make a living...The challenge, then, is knowing what investments to make and when.

Ability to hold multiple conflicting ideas in tension with each other in a way that they can build upon each other.

Every artist must fight for margin to create.

This is what most of us want: not to get rich off our creations but to have enough time and freedom to create what we want. We want to have the means to focus on what matters to us.

We often live out the stories we've been told, sometimes without questioning the truthfulness of them.

First master the mindset. Then the market. Then the money. 

The Inner Game of Tennis – W. Timothy Gallwey

The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis – by W. Timothy Gallwey
Date read: 5/1/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

I'm usually skeptical of anything that remotely resembles using sports as a metaphor for life, but this a tremendous read. It's less a book about tennis (although there are a few sections) and more about the art of relaxed concentration. It's a simple but profound concept that suggests the secret to performing your best is in developing a quiet confidence, and most importantly, not trying too hard. Gallwey draws a line between Self 1–the conscious teller, and Self 2–the doer. He advocates developing greater trust in Self 2, which helps to cultivate effortless concentration (flow), instead of a more tense, overly controlled approach which creates an unnecessary obstacle. Gallwey also offers an insightful perspective as he digs deeper into concepts including judgement, awareness, ego, and mindfulness, which adds another dimension to the book. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

The inner game: This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation.

The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard. He aims at the kind of spontaneous performance which occurs only when the mind is calm and seems at once with the body, which finds its own surprising ways to surpass its own limits again and again.

The concentrated mind has no room for thinking how well the body is doing, much less the how-to's of the doing.

The skill of mastering the art of effortless concentration is invaluable in whatever you set your mind to. 

Self 1 – the conscious teller (does not trust self 2)
Self 2 – the doer, natural capabilities

It is the constant "thinking" activity of Self 1, the ego-mind, which causes the interference with the natural capabilities of Self 2. Harmony between the two selves exists when the mind is quiet and focused.

Effortlessly alert – cat stalking a bird, effortlessly alert, gathering his relaxed muscle for the spring.

Judgments are our personal, ego reactions to the sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts within our experience....it is the initial act of judgment which provokes a thinking process.

In its process of developing, our tennis game gains a great deal from errors.
Bottom line: there is no substitute for learning from experience.

*Student/teacher reciprocal relationship: I had learned and he had learned, but there was no one there to take credit.

Ending judgment means you neither add nor subtract from the facts before your eyes. Things appear as they are–undistorted. In this way, the mind becomes more calm. 

Acknowledgment of and respect for one's capabilities support trust in Self 2 (*and self-confidence). Self 1's judgments, on the other hand, attempt to manipulate and undermine that trust.

Native language of Self 2 is not words, but imagery. Avoid how-to instructions.

It is as if we would like to think of ourselves more as an obedient computer than as a human being. As a consequence, we are apt to lose access to the direct pathway to the muscle memory that carries a more complete knowledge of the desired action.

In short, there is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones. It is the resisting of an old habit that puts you in that trench. Starting a new pattern is easy when done with childlike disregard for imagined difficulties. 

Awareness of what is, without judgment, is relaxing, and is the best precondition for change.

Relaxation happens only when it is allowed, not as a result of "trying" or "making."

As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Focus means keeping the mind now and here. Relaxed concentration is the supreme art because no art can be achieved without it.

The most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle...notice the exact pattern made by its seams as it spins. *Effortless and relaxed, not tense and overly controlled.

When the mind is fastened to the rhythm of breathing, it tends to become absorbed and calm. Whether on or off the court.

It is perplexing to wonder why we ever leave the here and now. Here and now are the only place and time when one ever enjoys himself or accomplishes anything. Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past. Nonetheless, few people are ever satisfied with what is before them at the moment.

The need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt. Only to the extent that one is unsure about who and what he is does he need to prove himself to himself or to others.

It is only against the big waves that he is required to use all his skill, all his courage and concentration to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacities.

Stability grows as I learn to accept what I cannot control and take control of what I can.
 

Enlightenment Now – Steven Pinker

Enlightenment Now – by Steven Pinker
Date read: 4/28/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

As the title suggests, Pinker makes the argument for reason, science, humanism and progress–the four themes that tie together thinkers of the enlightenment. He focuses on all the ways the world is improving, stating the case for optimism in a similar vein as The Rational Optimist (Matt Ridley) and The Moral Arc (Michael Shermer). It's a refreshing dose of perspective in a world that seems increasingly convinced that the end is near. Using statistics to back his position, Pinker tackles a range of subjects including inequality, political ideology, wealth, happiness, morality, and religion, to name a few. All this is not to suggest that progress is utopia, we should always strive to improve, but we should also appreciate how far we've come. The only drawback to the book is its density, which makes its ideas less accessible than I had hoped.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world.

Obliviousness to the scope of human progress can lead to symptoms that are worse than existential angst. *Cynicism that institutions of modernity have failed and every aspect of life is in a deepening crisis turns us toward atavistic alternatives.

"Optimism is the theory that all failures–all evils–are due to insufficient knowledge." -David Deutsch

Thinkers of the enlightenment sought a new understanding of the human. Four themes tie them together: reason, science, humanism, and progress.

"If triangles had a god they would give him three sides." -Montesquieu

[Enlightement] was an escape not just from ignorance but from terror. The sociologist Robert Scott notes that in the Middle Ages "the belief that an external force controlled daily life contributed to a kind of collective paranoia."

The invention of farming around ten thousand years ago multiplied the availability of calories from cultivated plants and domesticated animals, freed a portion of the population from the demands of hunting and gathering, and eventually gave them the luxury of writing, thinking, and accumulating their ideas.

Axial Age: Around 500 BCE, several widely separated cultures pivoted from systems of ritual and sacrifice that merely warded off misfortune to systems of philosophical and religious belief...It was not an aura of spirituality that descended on the planet but something more prosaic: energy capture. *Agricultural and economic advances provided more calories per person and shifted focus from short-term survival to long-term harmony. 

To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.

Political ideology undermines reason and science. It scrambles people's judgment, inflames a primitive tribal mindset, and distracts them from a sounder understanding of how to improve the world.

Availability heuristic: people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind. *Why news distorts people's view of the world.

Two other illusions mislead us into thinking that things ain't what they used to be: we mistake the growing burdens of maturity and parenthood for a less innocent world, and we mistake a decline in our own faculties for a decline in the times. As the columnist Franklin Pierce Adams pointed out, "Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory."

*American journalism defines "serious news" as "what's going wrong" which has led millions to quit believing in incremental system change and instead seek revolutionary, smash-the-machine change.

In the mid-18th century, life expectancy in Europe and the Americas was around 35, where it had been parked for the 225 previous years...By 1950, it had grown to around 60 in Europe and the Americas.

For an American woman, being pregnant a century ago was almost as dangerous as having breast cancer today.

For most of human history, the strongest force of death was infectious disease...but starting in the late 18th century with the invention of vaccination and accelerating in the 19th with the acceptance of germ theory of disease, the tide of the battle began to turn. Handwashing, midwifery, mosquito control, and especially the protection of drinking water by public sewerage and chlorinated tap water would come to save billions of lives.

"We are led to forget the dominating misery of other times in part by the grace of literature, poetry, romance, and legend, which celebrate those who lived well and forget those who lived in the silence of poverty. The eras of misery have been mythologized and may even be remembered as golden ages of pastoral simplicity. They were not." -Nathan Rosenberg

In two hundred years the rate of extreme poverty in the world has tanked from 90 percent to 10, with almost half that decline occurring in the last thirty-five years.

National income correlates with every indicator of human flourishing...*longevity, health, nutrition, peace, freedom, human rights, and tolerance.

Not surprisingly, as countries get richer they get happier; more surprisingly, as countries get richer they get smarter.

"From the point of view of morality, it is not important everyone should have the same. What is morally important is that each should have enough." -Harry Frankfurt

The confusion of inequality with poverty comes straight out of the lump fallacy–the mindset in which wealth is a finite resource...which has to be divided up in zero-sum fashion. [But] since the Industrial Revolution, it has expanded exponentially. That means when the rich get richer, the poor can get richer too.

In 2011, more than 95 percent of American households below the poverty line had electricity, running water, flush toilets, a refrigerator, a stove, and a color TV. (A century and a half before, the Rothschilds, Astors, and Vanderbilts had none of these things.) *50% had a dishwasher, 60% computer, 66% washing machine, 80% air conditioner and cell phone.

Inequality is not the same as poverty, and it is not a fundamental dimension of human flourishing. In comparisons of well-being across countries, it pales in importance next to overall wealth.

In some ways the world has become less equal, but in more ways the world's people have become better off.

Ecomodernism:
-Some degree of pollution is an inescapable consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. When people use energy...they must increase entropy somewhere in the environment in the form of waste, pollution, and other forms of disorder.
-Industrialization has been good for humanity. It has fed billions, doubled life spans, slashed extreme poverty.
-The tradeoff that pits human well-being against environmental damage can be renegotiated by technology. 

Dematerialization: Progress in technology allows us to do more with less...forty consumer products replaced by a single smartphone...the sharing economy.

Half of the world's homicides are committed in just twenty-three countries containing about a tenth of humanity, and a quarter are committed in just four: Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela...The lopsidedness continues down the fractal scale. Within a country, most of the homicides cluster in a few cities...Within cities, the homicides cluster in a few neighborhoods; within neighborhoods, they cluster in a few blocks; and within blocks, many are carried out by a few individuals. 

Horse-drawn era: The engine of city mayhem was the horse....hose-associated fatality rate was ten times the car-associated rate of modern times.

As indefensible or unworkable ideas fall by the wayside, they are removed from the pool of thinkable options, the political fringe is dragged forward despite itself. That's why even in the most regressive political movement in recent American history there were no calls for reinstating Jim Crow laws, ending women's suffrage, or recriminalizing homosexuality. 

Although the world remains highly unequal, every region has been improving, and the worst-off parts of the world are better off than the best-off parts not long ago.

"The entire concept of retirement is unique to the last five decades. It wasn't long ago that the average American man had two stages of life: work and death...Think of it this way: The average American now retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51." -Morgan Housel

Mindless consumerism? Not when you remember that food, clothing, and shelter are the three necessities of life, that entropy degrades all three, and that the time it takes to keep them usable is time that could be devoted to other pursuits. 
*Housework fell almost fourfold from 58 hours a week in 1900 to 15.5 hours in 2011. Laundry alone fell from 11.5 hours in 1920 to 1.5 in 2015.

In 1929 Americans spent more than 60 percent of their disposable income on necessities; by 2016 that had fallen to a third.

Happiness is the output of an ancient biological feedback system that tracks our progress in pursuing auspicious signs of fitness in a natural environment. We are happier, in general, when we are healthy, comfortable, safe, provisioned, socially connected, sexual, and loved.

Goal of progress cannot be to increase happiness indefinitely...but there is plenty of unhappiness that can be reduced, and no limit as to how meaningful our lives can become. 

We now know that richer people within a country are happier, that richer countries are happier, and that people get happier as their countries get richer. 
*But none of us are as happy as we ought to be, given how amazing our world has become.

Not every problem is a crisis, a plague, or an epidemic, and among the things that happen in the world is that people solve the problems confronting them.

[AI] advances have not come from a better understanding of the workings of intelligence but from the brute-force power of faster chips and bigger data, which allow the programs to be trained on millions of examples and generalize to similar new ones. 

Progress it not utopia...there is room–indeed, an imperative–for us to continue that progress.

"We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason...On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?" -Thomas Macaulay, 1830

Populism comes in left-wing and right-wing varieties, which share a folk theory of economics as a zero-sum competition: between economic classes in the case of the left, between nations or ethnic groups in the case of the right. Problems are seen not as challenges that are inevitable in an indifferent universe but as the malevolent designs of insidious elites, minorities, or foreigners. 

Education instills a respect for vetted fact and reasoned argument, and so inoculates people against conspiracy theories, reasoning by anecdotes, and emotional demagoguery. 

We are a cognitive species that depends on explanations of the world. Since the world is the way it is regardless of what people believe about it, there is a strong selection pressure for an ability to develop explanations that are true. Reasoning thus has deep evolutionary roots. 

Certain beliefs (i.e. climate change) become symbols of cultural allegiance. People affirm or deny these beliefs to express not what they know but who they are. We all identify with particular tribes or subcultures...make an enormous difference to the respect the person commands in his or her social circle.

Engagement with politics is like sports fandom in another way: people seek and consume news to enhance the fan experience, not to make their opinions more accurate.

A challenge of our era is how to foster intellectual and political culture that is driven by reason rather than tribalism and mutual reaction.

Philosophy grows out of the recognition that clarity and logic don't come easily to us and that we're better off when our thinking is refined and deepened. The arts are one of the things that make life worth living, enriching human experience with beauty and insight.

Historical scholarship has amply demonstrated that holy scriptures are all-too-human products of their historical eras, including internal contradictions, factual errors, plagiarism from neighboring civilizations, and scientific absurdities.

Today, of course, enlightened believers cherry-pick the humane injunctions while allegorizing, spin-doctoring, or ignoring the vicious ones, and that's just the point: they read the Bible through the lens of Enlightenment humanism.

Atheism is not a moral system. It's just the absence of a supernatural belief, like an unwillingness to believe in Zeus or Vishnu. The moral alternative to theism is humanism.

People are vulnerable to cognitive illusions that lead to supernatural beliefs, and they certainly need to belong to a community.

The problem begins with the fact that many of the precepts of Islamic doctrine, taken literally, are floridly antihumanistic...Of course many of the passages in the Bible are floridly antihumanistic too. One needn't debate which is worse; what matters is how literally the adherents take them.

The stranglehold of the Islamic religion over governmental institutions and civil society in Muslim countries has impeded their economic, political, and social progress.

Islam is not a race...Religions are just ideas and don't have rights. Criticizing the ideas of Islam is no more bigoted than criticizing the ideas of neoliberalism or the Republican Party platform.

Remember your math: an anecdote is not a trend. Remember your history: the fact that something is bad today doesn't mean it was better in the past. Remember your philosophy: one cannot reason that there's no such thing as reason, or that something is true or good because God said it is. And remember your psychology: much of what we know isn't so, especially when our comrades know it too.

Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of this, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. 

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield
Date read: 4/15/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Worth the investment for any creative. It's a short read and a manifesto that many hold dear. Pressfield cuts through excuses which embody what he defines as Resistance. He offers blunt advice to eliminate distractions and get on with the work you should be doing. The only thing that matters is sitting down and putting in the effort, every single day. The more you're able to remove your ego from that equation, the less interference there will be. We've all struggled with Resistance in some form–procrastination, fear, low self-confidence, rationalization. The War of Art is a call to overcome that and move yourself into a higher sphere by dedicating uninterrupted time to your craft. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center.

How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don't do the thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?

Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity...will elicit Resistance.

The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher.

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.

Anything that draws attention to ourselves through pain-free or artificial means is a manifestation of Resistance. 

A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution out of one's experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat.

The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He is lucky. He was born in the right place...The fundamentalist cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. 

The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery.

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

The professional takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself...the professional turns down roles that he's done before. He's not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They're the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Rationalization keeps us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.

The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. 

A pro views her work as craft, not art.

Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all compromise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

The professional is prepared at a deeper level...His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.

The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words, they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them.

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

What I call Professionalism someone else might call the Artist's Code or the Warrior's Way. It's an attitude of egolessness and service.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now." -Goethe

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:
-Seek to elevate his station by advancing against those above him
-Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy
-Act towards others based upon their rank in the hierarchy

Qualities of a territory:
-A territory provides sustenance
-A territory can only be claimed alone
-A territory can only be claimed by work
-A territory returns exactly what you put in

How Google Works – Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

How Google Works – by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg
Date read: 3/11/18. Recommendation: 9/10.

Fascinating read and tremendous resource for anyone working in a startup and/or the tech industry. How Google Works offers an insightful look into all the elements that have contributed to Google's success in recent years, as well as the initiatives that have come up short. The core tenets of the book emphasize the importance of creating great products, attracting smart creatives, and cultivating an environment where you can succeed at scale. Many of these contradict the way massive corporations work–Google values user experience over revenue, transparency at all levels, less ego, more freedom, fewer meetings, and smaller teams, to name a few. As a side note, make sure you grab the latest edition of this book, as it contains an interesting addition that discusses how Alphabet (Google's parent company) works.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

The core principle: The only way to succeed in business in the twenty-first century is to continually create great products, and the only way to do that is to attract smart creatives and put them in an environment where they can succeed at scale.

But a start-up, or any venture that is trying to do something big and new, favors the chaos. Start-ups don't run on process, they run on ideas, passion, and a common set of goals. They don't wait for the meeting to make decisions.

The best products are still the ones that are based on technical insights, those unique ideas that apply one or more technologies in a new way to solve big problems.

We have long felt that the start-up model, with small, autonomous teams located in one office led by passionate founders, is the most effective way to achieve remarkable new things (or fail quickly in the effort).

Business leaders should be constantly asking themselves the question, What could be true in five years?

Hire as many talented software engineers as possible, and give them freedom.

"In the old world, you devoted 30 percent of your time to building a great service and 70 percent of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts." -Jeff Bezos

Since the industrial revolution, operating processes have been biased toward lowering risk and avoiding mistakes. These processes, and the overall management approach from which they were derived, result in environments that stifle smart creatives.

A smart creative has deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of her trade, and plenty of hands-on experience.

Smart creatives, though, place culture at the top of the list. To be effective, they need to care about the place they work.

In the Internet Century, a product manager's job is to work together with the people who design, engineer, and develop things to make great products.

We invest in our offices because we expect people to work there, not from home. 

The Bezos two-pizza rule: teams should be small enough to be fed by two pizzas.

At the most senior level, the people with the greatest impact–the ones who are running the company–should be product people. 

MBA-style business plans are always flawed in some important way. This is why a venture capitalist will always follow the maxim of investing in the team, not the plan.

So although your plan might change, it needs to be based on a foundational set of principles...The plan is fluid, the foundation is stable.

Google Principles: Bet on technical insights that help solve a big problem in a novel way, optimize for scale, not for revenue, and let great products grow the market for everyone.

A technical insight is a new way of applying technology or design that either drives down the cost or increases the functions and usability of the product by a significant factor. The result is something that is better than the competition in a fundamental way.

Market research can't tell you about solving problems that customers can't conceive are solvable. Giving the customer what he wants is less important than giving him what he doesn't yet know he wants.

The best product had achieved their success based on technical factors, not business ones.

When you base your product strategy on technical insights, you avoid me-too products that simply deliver what customers are asking for. (Henry Ford: "If I had listened to customers, I would have gone looking for faster horses.") That sort of incremental innovation can work very well for incumbents....but for a new venture, it's not enough.

*Never prioritize revenue over growth. Do the opposite. Focus on creating the best user experience.

A workforce of great people not only does great work, it attracts more great people. 

Passionate people don't wear their passion on their sleeves; they have it in their hearts. They live it. (And the truly passionate don't often use the "P-word.")

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young." -Henry Ford

Google focuses on hiring "learning animals" who have the smarts to handle massive change and the character to love it.

Favoring specialization over intelligence is exactly wrong, especially in high tech...A smart generalist doesn't have bias, so is free to survey the wide range of solutions and gravitate to find the best one.

Rules of well-run meetings:
-Single decision maker
-Manageable in size (no more than eight people)
-Attendance is not a badge of importance – if you aren't needed, leave, or better yet excuse yourself ahead of time.

Spend 80 percent of your time on 80 percent of your revenue.

"Power comes not from knowledge kept but from knowledge shared." -Bill Gates

In all effective communication, reinforce core themes (At Google: putting users first, thinking big, not being afraid to fail).

Golden rule for management: Make sure you would work for yourself.

When you start a new position, for the first three weeks don't do anything. Listen to people, understand their issues and priorities, get to know and care about them, and earn their trust. So in fact, you are doing something: You are establishing a healthy relationship.

The more inclusive definition–innovation isn't just about the really new, really big things–matters because it affords everyone the opportunity to innovate, rather than keeping it the exclusive realm of those few people in that off-campus building whose job it is to innovate. i.e. Google self-driving cars vs. search engine improvements (core business with over 500 improvements/year).

Google[x] Venn diagram to determine if it will pursue something:
1) The idea has to be something that addresses a big challenge or opportunity
2) They have to have an idea for a solution that is radically different from anything currently in the market.
3) The breakthrough technologies that could bring that radical solution to life have to at least be feasible, and achievable in the not-too-distant future.

"Innovative people do not need to be told to do it, they need to be allowed to do it." -Udi Manber

Innovation has to evolve organically...Along the way, stronger ideas accumulate believers and momentum, and weaker ones fall to the wayside. There is no process by which to implement this evolution; its defining characteristic is its lack of process. think of it as a natural selection for ideas.

UX vs. revenue:
-Google Instant – immediate search results when you start typing. A few weeks before launch, no one had performed a detailed financial analysis. The product was obviously great for the user, so we all knew that launching it was the best business decision.
-Google has launched features that improve UX but hurt revenue a little (Knowledge Graph, side panel for people/places/things).
-Gmail – just concentrate on making it great and worry about revenue later.

Google knows that in the Internet Century user trust is just as important as dollars, euros, pounds, yen, or any other currency. Product excellence is the only way for a company to be consistently successful, so our prime directive when it comes to product strategy is to focus on the user.

There are rarely conflicts between [partners and customers], but when there are, our bias is toward the user. It has to be this way, regardless of your industry. Users are more empowered than ever, and won't tolerate crummy products.

Bigger challenges attract big talent. There is a symbiotic relationship between big challenges and highly smart, skilled people: The challenges get solved and the people get happy.

A good OKR should be a stretch to achieve, and hitting 100 percent on all OKRs should be practically unattainable.

70/20/10: 70 percent of resources dedicated to the core business, 20 percent on emerging, and 10 percent on new.

"If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions, and you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have tow in, otherwise good people don't stay." -Steve Jobs

The most valuable result of 20 percent time isn't the products and features that get created, it's the things that people learn when they try something new.

Create a product, ship it, see how it does, design and implement improvements, and push it back out. Ship and iterate. The companies that are the fastest at this process will win...Leadership's job must to feed the winners and starve the losers, regardless of prior investment.

And don't stigmatize the team that failed: Make sure they land good internal jobs. The next innovators will be watching to see if the failed team is punished. Their failure shouldn't be celebrated, but it is a bade of honor of sorts.

Antifragile: Management's job is not to mitigate risks or prevent failures, but to create an environment resilient enough to take on those risks and tolerate inevitable missteps. 

"Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment." -Mulla Nasrudin

Among your stronger employees, how many see themselves at the company in three years? How many would leave for a 10 percent raise at another company?