Book Notes

Richard Feynman – Six Easy Pieces

Six Easy Pieces – by Richard Feynman
Date read: 8/2/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

Perhaps the most accessible introduction to physics that there is. Six Easy Pieces highlights the easiest, foundational chapters from The Feynman Lectures on Physics – a book based on Feynman’s lectures to undergraduates at the California Institute of Technology between 1961-1963. The chapters discuss atoms, basic physics, how physics fits in with other sciences, energy, gravity, and quantum behavior. Feynman’s ability to reduce complex subjects into simple pieces and stories, weaving in his humor and showmanship along the way, made him such a fascinating, approachable teacher.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Features the six most accessible chapters from The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1963). 

Intro on Feynman:
Demonstrated balance in his practicality and showmanship. “Feynman was driven to develop a deep theoretical understanding of nature, but he always remained close tot he real and often grubby world of experimental results.” Paul Davies

Similar to Benjamin Franklin, broke arbitrary rules at will, viewed his world and social environment as a series of puzzles and challenges.

“For Feynman, the lecture hall was a theater, and the lecturer a performer, responsible for providing drama and fireworks as well as facts and figures.” David L. Goodstein

On his teaching methods: “First figure out why you want the students to learn the subject and what you want them to know, and the method will results more or less by common sense.” Feynman

What distinguished Feynman was his ability to reduce deep, abstract ideas to something you could begin to wrap your mind around.

Fundamentals of physics:
Experimentation: “The principle of science: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific ‘truth.’”

“The sole test of the validity of any idea is experiment.”

Imagination: But you also need imagination to take hints, guess at patterns beneath them, and run another round of experiments to check your guess. Similar to product development. 

The most important hypothesis in all of science: “Everything is made of atoms…there is nothing that living things do that cannot be understood from the point of view that they are made of atoms acting according to the laws of physics.” 

How to tell if a guess is right: 1) When nature has arranged to be simple with few parts so we can predict what will happen. 2) Measure against less specific rules derived from them. Bishop always on a red square, always check on our idea about the bishop’s motion by looking for that. 3) Approximation.

If it’s not science, it’s not necessarily bad:
Avoid getting trapped into a shallow perspective: ”If something is said not to be a science, it does not mean that there is something wrong with it; it just means that it is not a science.”

The small and large operate according to entirely different laws:
Things on a small scale behave like nothing you have any direct experience with.

Isabella – Kirstin Downey

Isabella: The Warrior Queen – by Kirstin Downey
Date read: 8/17/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

A portrait of Isabella of Castile (1451-1504), Queen of Spain, whose unlikely rise to the throne helped establish her as one of the most powerful, poised female leaders in history. Isabella was a complex figure with a complicated legacy to match. She financed Christopher Columbus’s journey to the New World and was one of the first to grasp its significance. She led the reconquest of Granada–the crown jewel of Muslim forces in southern Spain–through ten grueling years. And she unified a war-torn country, riddled with crime and political conflict, but in doing so established the Spanish Inquisition. Downey sheds a human light on Isabella, despite her polarizing reputation. If nothing else, the way Isabella navigated a minefield of powerful men proves deeply inspiring.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Isabella’s childhood:
Spain was a kingdom splintered by political conflict, countryside was riddled with crime, rulers were distracted by constant civil wars. 

In 1453, Constantinople fell to Muslim Turks. Set tone for constant fear and turmoil between Muslim and Christian worlds. Viewed as an omen of bad things to potentially come. Isabella was born into a world where the Ottomans posed a universal military threat and were attempting to make their bid as the world’s super power. 

Isabella turned to the Catholic Church which gave her life some sense of stability amidst the chaos. Feared the unknown in the spiritual realm, made her susceptible to the influence of church officials. 

Grew up third in line for throne, considered valuable mainly for her potential as a pawn in a political marriage when the moment called for it. 

Humble beginnings led to an unlikely rise to power in a time when women weren’t likely to wield power. 

Characteristics: devout, articulate, pointed, idealistic, tough, disciplined, farsighted.

Multidisciplinary:
Multilingual (French, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Portuguese), musically gifted (played several instruments and sang), magnificent dancer. 

Dualities:
"She was not a woman to suffer a slight lightly or forgive easily. In addition to Isabella’s good qualities, a certain hardness of character was developing in her. It made her able to survive the difficulties of her childhood and adolescence, but it also made her rigid and unforgiving.” KD

Rise to the throne:
In 1468, Isabella’s brother, Alfonso, died (either by poisoning or the plague) while in conflict with their older half brother, Enrique (King Henry IV). Isabella had taken Alfonso’s side, but after his death, she was next in line for the throne and in serious danger (people close to the throne had a habit of dropping dead in those days). From here she had to tread lightly.

A note on poison: poison was so popular in those days that there were schools of poison operating in Venice and Rome. A new word was coined – Italianated – which referred to murder by poison. Borgias also moved from Valencia to Rome and became experts in the field. 

Discipline: Isabella was proclaimed Queen of Seville in Alfonso’s place. Nobles urged her to take the throne. She could have clung to her first taste of real power. As Downey notes, throughout history those who have tasted power have been extremely reluctant to surrender it. Instead she weighed her options, considered the terrain, weighed her loyalty to Enrique against her own ambitions. Decided to favor patience over boldness, understanding Enrique’s claim to the throne was stronger. Asked to restore peace and the kingdom to Enrique. But she negotiated key terms: she was to be named the successor, would never have to marry against her will.

The reality of a female ruler in this era:
Men were shocked - it was viewed as a theoretical possibility, but not one to take seriously. Flew in the face of tradition. When Ferdinand learned she assumed the throne, he went into a state of rage. Saw himself as the legitimate ruler. Instead of backing down, Isabella held her ground. She softened his resistance by creating a power-sharing agreement that gave Ferdinand little real power and instead much of the symbolic importance (his name would come first on documents, proclamations, coins). Allowed him to claim credit for much of Isabella’s action over the course of their lives. But Isabella was the one leading the way. Prime example, Ferdinand wasn’t proficient in Latin, the official language of many heads of state, Isabella was. She controlled most communication. 

“Isabella’s role in Castile as reigning queen was so rare in world history that observers and commentators seemed unable to comprehend that a woman could be sovereign, and they persisted in identifying Ferdinand as the ruler regardless of the facts.” KD

After Isabella’s death, Ferdinand’s inability to rule became glaringly obvious. Contributed nothing significant of his own and entered Spain in pointless spats. 

Granada:
Fear of Ottoman attacks on Iberian peninsula, led Isabella to rally troops under Christian banner to protect the kingdom. 

Granada was the heart of Muslim forces in southern Spain. A hilltop, almost impenetrable, fortress. Reconquest would last ten years, with terrible casualties and violence on both sides. 

Granadans were undone, despite early victories, by infighting at home. 

Ability to bend people to her will: The main turn of events took place at the battle of Lucena. The Prince of Granada, Boabdil, was captured when his exhausted horse fell into a river and he surrendered. Ferdidand and Isabella knew there were problems between Boabdil and his father, the Sultan, Abu al-Hasan. Instead of treating him like a prisoner or ordering him executed, they treated him with great respect and politeness. His mother, Fatima, sent a fortune to secure his release. Boabdil also pledged himself to Isabella and Ferdinand and agreed to make large tribute payments each year. 

Abu al-Hasan soon fell ill and left Boabdil in a direct competition with his uncle, El Zagal, in a direct competition for the throne. Boabdil was captured once again at the battle of Loja. Isabella and Ferdinand promised to support him in a coup against his uncle before he was released. Boabdil captured Granada when his uncle left to defend another front, permanently dividing the troops on two fronts. Ultimately, this secret understanding led to the surrender of Granada. First significant triumph against Islam in hundreds of years.

Christopher Columbus:
Similarities to Isabella, “both possessed a messianic sense of destiny, intermingled with intense religiosity.”

Excellent mariner, but terrible administrator and judgment. 

In many ways, Columbus is the exact opposite of Ernest Shackleton. Favored his ego over the crew’s morale. First sailor to spot land on the voyage west was to receive a silk jacket and a reward of 10,000 maravedis from the queen. Columbus stole credit from a man named Rodrigo de Triana, and claimed the credit for himself. Eventually, men refused to follow his orders and he faced constant mutinies. 

On his return journey, instead of sailing directly for Spain, first stopped in Portugal, calcimining he had been blown by a powerful storm to the port of Lisbon. Columbus had private conversation with King João, gloating, after Portugal had previously rejected financial support for the expedition. 

On his third journey to the New World, found Santo Domingo in a state of chaos. Most people he left there were dead, the others were ill with syphilis. Instead of fixing the problem, he abandoned those people in search for new lands. Crews rebelled against him. Eventually he was sent home in chains. 

Isabella’s legacy:
Helped shift the government to be more professional – away from noble birth and more towards an educated elite chosen by merit. 

Sought to eliminate corruption in the church and apply new scrutiny. 

Emphasis on girls’ education, set new standard for women across Europe. 

Spanish Inquisition: showcased a failure to consider second and third-order consequences. Used to unify the kingdom during brutal wartime. But survived for three-hundred years after Isabella, creating an easy way to suppress and punish minorities. Haunted Spain for generations. 

Short-sighted, shallow thinking: “Isabella had succeeded in making Spain almost monolithically Catholic, but she had lost the industry and artistry of the Jews and Muslims who had lived there for hundreds, even thousands, of years. She made many enemies for the kingdom in doing so.” 

But far-sighted and recognized the world might be a bigger place than many believed at the time of her birth. Her eagerness to explore led to discovery of New World (or at least the recognition of its true value). New World was key to Spain’s prosperity (they extracted, $1.5 billion in gold and silver over the next 120 years). 

Ruling families of Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Monaco, all share a common ancestry from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. 

Thinking in Systems – Donella H. Meadows

Thinking in Systems – by Donella H. Meadows
Date read: 7/9/19. Recommendation: 8/10.

Great introduction to systems thinking – the ability to step back and appreciate the complexity of the interconnected whole. Meadows emphasizes the dangers of generalizing about complex systems and explains the key elements of resilient systems. This includes feedback loops, self-organization, experimentation, and alignment. She also digs into concepts like the tragedy of the commons, bounded rationality, modeling, and how to avoid the pitfalls of each. The benefit of systems thinking is that is helps you avoid isolated, shallow decision-making. With this comes the ability to appreciate the complexity of large systems, their connections, and how to improve or redesign them, when needed. This is an important book for anyone who’s working on complex problems or wants to grow into a more strategic thinker.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

The system lens:
Helps reclaim intuition about whole systems, hone abilities to understand parts, see interconnections, ask “what if” questions about future behavior, and be creative in redesigns. 

Ancient Sufi story about a king visiting a city of blind citizens on his mighty elephant. Each citizen touched a small part of the elephant (ear, trunk, legs) and drew false conclusions. Need a better understanding of the whole, not just the elements it’s made of. 

Questions for testing the value of a model:

  1. Are driving factors likely to unfold this way?

  2. If they did, would the system react this way?

  3. What is driving the driving factors?

Systems studies are not designed to predict, they’re designed to explore what would happen if factors unfold in a range of different scenarios. 

Dangerous to generalize about complex systems. 

Resilience: 
Rich structure of many feedback loops allows a system to thrive in a variable environment. Similar to Taleb’s concept of anti-fragility.

Resilience is similar to a plateau that a system can play safely upon. The more resilient a system, the larger the plateau and the greater its ability to bounce back when near the edges. Less resilient, smaller plateau.

Awareness of resilience allows you to harness, preserve, or improve a system’s restorative powers. 

Self-organization:
Self-organization is the strongest form of system resilience. System that can evolve can survive almost any change. That’s why biodiversity is so important.

“Insistence on a single culture shuts down learning and cuts back resilience. Any system, biological, economic, or social, that gets so encrusted that it cannot self-evolve, a system that systematically scorns experimentation and wipes out the raw material of innovation, is doomed over the long term on the highly variable planet.” DM

Experimentation is key to anti-fragility and innovation. But it’s difficult because this means giving up control. 

Antifragile: “In the end, it seems that mastery has less to do with pushing leverage points than it does with strategically, profoundly, madly, letting go and dancing with the system.” DM

Hierarchies:
DM: “Complex systems can evolve from simple systems only if there are stable intermediate forms.” Why they’re so common in nature. 

Hierarchies are system inventions – provide stability, resilience, and reduce the amount of information system needs to keep track of. Too much central control overwhelms and breaks a system. Unable to achieve more complex tasks. 

Models:
“Our knowledge of the world instructs us first of all that the world is greater than our knowledge of it.” Wendell Berry

Everything we know about the world is a model – languages, maps, statistics, mental models. Usually correspond well with the world (hints our success as a species), but will never fully represent the world with 100% accuracy. If they did, we would never make mistakes or be surprised. 

Mental flexibility = willingness to redraw boundaries.

Alignment + policy resistance:
Bounded rationality: People make reasonable decisions based on information they have about parts of the system they’re closest too. But they don’t have perfect information or ability to see more distant parts of the systems. This is why narrow-minded behavior arises. 

Policy resistance occurs when goals of subsystems are misaligned. Need an overarching goal to tie things together. Feedback loops should serve the same goal. Much of that is identifying what problem you’re trying to solve.

1967 Romanian government decided they needed more people so they made abortions illegal. Short term results saw birth rate triple, then resistance set in. People pursued dangerous abortion which tripled maternal mortality. 

Hungary, at the same time, was also worried about low birth rate. Discovered it was partially due to cramped housing so they incentivized larger families with more living space. Only partially successful because it was only part of the problem, but not a disaster like Romania.

Sweden was most successful because they recognized that the goal of population and government was not family size, but quality of child care. Birth rate has gone up and down since then without causing panic because they focused on long-term welfare and more robust goal, not a narrow, short-sighted goal. 

Silver Rule Example from Garrett Hardin (see Nassim Taleb, Skin in the Game): people who want to prevent other people from having an abortion aren’t practicing intrinsic responsibility unless they’re personally willing to raise the resulting child.

“If you want to understand the deepest malfunctions of systems, pay attention to the rules and who has power over them.” DM

The tragedy of the commons:
Result of simple growth in a system where a resource is not only limited, but erodible when overused. Selfish behavior more convenient and profitable than responsibility to whole community and shared future. 

E.g. uncontrolled access to national park (over-tourism) bringing in crowds that destroy park’s natural beauties.

Three ways to avoid the tragedy of the commons:

  1. Educate and exhort (moral pressure)

  2. Privatize the commons (makes direct feedback loop)

  3. Regulate the commons (mutual coercion agreements, i.e. traffic lights, parking spaces).

Turning Pro – Steven Pressfield

Turning Pro – by Steven Pressfield
Date read: 7/2/19. Recommendation: 7/10.

A solid follow-up to Pressfield’s earlier book, The War of Art. Short, concise, and relevant for any artist or entrepreneur. Highlights the difference between amateurs and professionals, and what it takes to reach the top of your craft. Pressfield discusses shadow careers, the power of concentration, navigating fear, and standing on your own. He also emphasizes that habits are the primary difference between amateurs and professionals. Professionals have better habits that help them simplify life.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Shadow Careers vs. Your Calling

  • Shadow career = metaphor for real career. Shape is similar but entails no real risk. No skin in the game. No consequences.

  • Pressfield’s version was driving trucks instead of writing…took pride in it, felt powerful + manly, the work was interesting, romance of being on the road.

Power of Habits

  • Habits are the primary difference between amateurs and professionals.

  • Professionals have better habits that help them simplify life.

  • “The Zen monk, the artist, the entrepreneur often lead lives so plain they’re practically invisible.” SP

  • Pros face just as much fear, but structure their day to confront and overcome it.

Overcoming Resistance

  • To overcome resistance, you need concentration and depth.

  • If you’re shallow and unfocused, you’ll never make it out.

  • The draw to failure or trouble is so strong because its incapacitating, let’s you off the hook.

  • What you’re must afraid of is what you must do.

Signs of an Amateur

  • Fear dictates decisions (fear of being different or rejected leads to inauthenticity, fear of solitude and silence).

  • Avoid resistance through drama, denial, distraction.

  • To combat this, you need self-awareness.

Signs of a Professional

  • Seek wisdom and instruction from masters without surrendering self-sovereignty.

  • Doesn’t sit around waiting for inspiration, acts in anticipation. Orderly, workmanlike in habits and routine.

  • Trusts and examines the mystery. “The place we write from (or paint from or compose from or innovate from) is far deeper than our personal egos. That place is beyond intellect. It is deeper than rational thought.” SP

  • “The best pages I’ve ever written are pages I can’t remember writing.” SP

Life is a Single Player Game

  • There is no tribe. The artist and the entrepreneur enter the arena alone.

  • “In the hero’s journey, the wanderer returns home after years of exile, struggle, and suffering. He brings a gift for the people. The gift arises from what the hero has seen, what he has endured, what he has learned. But the gift is not that raw material alone. It is the ore refined into gold by the hero / wanderer / artist’s skilled and loving hands.” SP

A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

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

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

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

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

Lord Kelvin, Polymath, Master of the Long Game:

  • Admitted to Glasgow University at the age of 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

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

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

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

The Gifts of Writing:

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

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

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

Quake Books/Writers:

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

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

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

The Work Is its Own Reward:

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

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

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

Good Writing:

  • “Good writing is about telling the truth” AL

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

The Process:

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

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

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

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

  • Third draft = dental draft. Check every tooth. 

Plot vs. Characters:

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

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

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

Intuition:

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

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

Writer’s Block:

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

Finding Your Voice:

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

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

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

Steal Like an Artist – Austin Kleon

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

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

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Your Influences Matter:

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

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

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

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

Ignore Style, Look Deeper:

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

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

Imitation:

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

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

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

Inspiration to Create:

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

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

Power of routine and systems: 

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

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

Creativity is subtraction:

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

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

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

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."