“I always started a job with the feeling that I’d soon quit or be fired, and this gave ma a relaxed manner that was mistaken for intelligence or some secret power.”― Charles Bukowski, Factotum
Heard this one on the radio, T.J. Miller talking about his time in NYC. As a Londoner I find it highly relatable. (Transcript by me, from memory, hey ho.)
The thing about New York is that everybody is trying to make rent.
Everybody. So there is this respect in New York, which is, if you couldn’t make rent you would not be here.
And even feel sorry for the super rich trust fund kids because they’re not really in New York — when they get on the subway they’re not in the same hurry as when you and I are in a hurry, so that we can make rent.
New York will crush a man’s spirit in two weeks.
In a recent New Yorker article “Have Aliens found us?”, there is a reference to cargo cults. The magazine doesn’t go into detail, but cargo cults are super interesting in their own right, so here’s a little post about them.
When military bases popped up in the Pacific, they met islanders who were isolated from technology until then. And from the locals’ perspective, they got introduced to a lot of new stuff all the sudden. They’ve also seen the stationed military personnel engage in weird rituals on the island.
Islanders observed as Westerners went on to turn on some lights, then climbed a tower to make funny moves. In a short while an aircraft flew over to drop crates of weapons, food and other interesting stuff.
Islanders didn’t know what a factory or an aircraft was, what a radio is for. But the need to find out how things work is only human. So they quickly drew the wrong conclusion that it was God sending cargo to whoever asked for it, and Western people know a way to talk to God.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic — the third law of Arthur C. Clarke.
Anybody who has to work hard to get stuff, but learns how to get even better stuff with magic, would do what they did next.
When the military eventually left the island after World War II, islanders started duplicating the observed behaviors. They’ve built fake wooden airplanes, created a “radio” with headphones made of coconut halves, recreated military uniforms and flags. They climbed the tower, made the hand signals and waited.
Waiting ever since.
I hold the unpopular opinion that Radiohead is a pop band. Because, I say, you can’t realistically be called alternative when half the world knows and loves every song you’ve ever published.
Nothing against Radiohead of course. But, let me show you a bunch of songs that I dug up throughout the years. Chances are you haven’t heard them yet.
These songs each have <1000 listens on Spotify. And under 10 views on Youtube, hey ho!
And if you’re reading this blog as a teenager, with an ambition to be really alternative, this is gold. You get the point. Because if all your friends are “different” in the exact same way, then none of them really is. You will be. You’re the person who discovered the goods.
Without further ado, my three favorites from the list:
- Otik: Blasphemy
- Foundhim / Ponette: I’m Alone (Youtube link — with the exclusive opportunity to be one of their 21 monthly listeners!)
- Yuuki Sakai: Pol Gaso (Youtube link)
Go ahead and support the artists with your attention!
“The willingness to keep trying new things — different methods, uncomfortable tasks — when you are already an expert at something is what separates good from great. Focusing on your strengths is required for peak performance, but improving your weaknesses has the potential for the greatest gains. This is true for athletes, executives, and entire companies.
— Garry Kasparov in Deep Thinking
Now, who’s limited? Whenever you say “We will not do this”, then you lose. If you say “I’m going to do it when I feel like it, and when I don’t feel like it, I’m not going to do it”, then you’ve got choice and you’ve got some basis on which to be in control.
— Bandler & Grinder in REFRAMING: Neuro Linguistic Programming And The Transformation Of Meaning
“Living in New York City gives people real incentives to want things that nobody else wants – to want all the left-over things. There are so many people here to compete with that changing your tastes to what other people don’t want is your only hope of getting anything. For instance, on beautiful, sunny days in New York, it gets so crowded outside you can’t even see Central Park through all the bodies. But very early on Sunday mornings in horrible rainy weather, when no one wants to get up and no one wants to get out even if they are up, you can go out and walk all over and have the streets to yourself and it’s wonderful.”
– Andy Warhol, in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
For the Save Our Species campaign, Lacoste replaced its crocodile by ten threatened species, to bring attention to animal rights and biodiversity.
Advertising agency: BETC Paris. They know that the devil is in the details.
- Replacing Lacoste’s very logo shows how important the case is for the brand, and that they are fully invested in our environment. Call that “togetherness”.
- They’ve kept the colour and overall styling of the crocodile, so the campaign can only ever belong to this one brand. Good luck copying it, anyone else!
- It’s all just a limited series T-shirt – 1,775 pieces, so you had to be quick to get one. Scarcity effect is at full speed.
This year I’ve read 31 books, most of which were awesome. Collecting here the bits to remember them by; the two favourite books on top, then in no particular order:
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
“The First Industrial Revolution devalued muscle work, then the second one devalued routine mental work. […] That would be the third revolution, I guess: machines that devaluate human thinking.” In Player Piano’s world people either work in factories, or be social outcasts.
Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman? by Richard Feynman
The importance of deeply understanding things: “I can’t understand anything in general unless I’m carrying along in my mind a specific example and watching it go. Some people think in the beginning that I’m kind of slow and I don’t understand the problem, because I ask a lot of these “dumb” questions: “Is a cathode plus or minus? Is an an-ion this way, or that way?” But later, when the guy’s in the middle of a bunch of equations, he’ll say something and I’ll say, “Wait a minute! There’s an error! That can’t be right!”
About burning out: “Physics disgusts me a little bit now, but I used to enjoy doing physics. Why did I enjoy it? I used to play with it. I used to do whatever I felt like doing—it didn’t have to do with whether it was important for the development of nuclear physics, but whether it was interesting and amusing for me to play with.”
Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg
Job opportunities are a jungle gym, not a ladder. Only one criterion matters when picking a job: fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more tings to do than there are people to do them. “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.”
About work & having children: right before having a child can actually be a great time to take a new job. If she found her new role challenging and rewarding, she’d be more excited to return to it after giving birth. The time to scale back is when a break is needed or when a child arrives – not before and certainly not years in advance. If you have a good carrier with children, there’s less of a void when the children leave the house and you can get back to work.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Another awesome novel from Haruki Murakami. This one is quite like reading a bishōjo game, a coming-to-age story set in the 60s’ Tokyo – university times and life’s big questions. Surely not the last time I’ve read this book.
The 100 Dollar Startup by Chris Guillebeau
Highlights were: (1) get to your first sale as fast as possible, and (2) oftentimes it’s not required to jump full-time into a new business, evening hours & weekends is an option. The book is way longer than it should be, but is useful in inspiring to create info products.
The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros
Common sense dictates that a company is eventually worth whatever amount of money that company is capable of making, and the market’s expectations can’t do much beyond influencing today’s price. Soros argues that quite the contrary, market participants’ bias can shape the course of events, can change the future making of a company, which then can feed back to the bias and shape today’s expectation in return. Notice that this two-way connection between perception and the actual course of events interact in a shoelace-fashion. Makes a fun read.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
“Occupy yourself with few things, says the philosopher, if you would be tranquil. But consider if it would be better to say, Do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of a social animal naturally requires, and as it requires. For this brings not only the tranquility that comes from doing well, but also that which comes from doing few things. Since the greatest part of what we say and do is unnecessary, dispensing with such activities affords a man more leisure and less uneasiness. Accordingly on every occasion a man should ask himself, Is this one of the unnecessary things? Now a man should take away not only unnecessary acts, but also unnecessary thoughts so that superfluous acts will not follow after.”
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie
Today’s problems are the anxiety of tomorrow and the fear of yesterday. If the issue you need to deal with is something for today, let’s get busy and get it out of the way. If it’s a big problem facing: Look at what’s the worst that can happen? Try to accept it mentally, concentrate on the problem & try to improve on the worst. If it’s something you can’t change, just accept it.
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Opinionated and quick to judge, Nassim is hardly the best writer to read. A lot of his statements are simply false, and the only thing I’ve learned from the first half of the book is that the writer thinks highly of himself and puts everyone else down. Two takeaways from the second half of the book are: you don’t have to understand proper mathematics in order to use it successfully as a trader, and, I also liked the idea to be ’flexible’ enough to gain from downsides.
Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Essentially a howto for building ideas that have the potential to go viral. The six principles are (1) keep it simple: strip the idea down to its core (2) find the controversial, surprising, unexpected element of the message (3) being concrete is better than being abstract; other people don’t know what we know. (4) make it more credible (details in #3 also make it more believable) (5) emotional: why is the idea important for others? (6) stories: empower people to use an idea through narrative.
Quiet power by Susan Cain
Gaming all systems. For example, if your teacher’s job is to call out each student to talk in front of the class and you’re an introvert, then make sure to participate early when you can prepare ahead of time. Play for your strengths: know whether you like to be the person who gives ideas, plays devils advocate etc. (and again, prepare for those). Another important take-away from the book as a manager of any team: make sure that every single person has to share their opinion, to give room for introvert voices.
The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Naples and Rome and dolce vita, creepy manipulation, self-loathing, billionaires moving about. Can’t help to think that it would be super-easy to catch Tom in 2017 with so many traces left behind, but a very enjoyable read nonetheless.
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Candid feedback is the most important thing in creative processes. Creatives have to unlink themselves and the idea: the film and not the filmmaker is under the microscope. People shouldn’t be afraid of messing things up, erase all things from the company culture like “whose fault was this”, make it safe for others to be open about problems. Run experiments: short films in the beginning of the feature films are good for trying out directors and techniques. About solving problems: sometimes focusing on a problem one’s close to won’t help. Focus instead on the space around the problem to get closer to a solution.
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Have people show up for themselves: inspiration is the only sustainable way to lead people. Our why is the American Dream: American culture values entrepreneurship, independence and self-reliance. French culture values group-reliance and “Joy of Life”. It’s not better or worse, only different. The entrepreneur-type immigrants are drawn to America. It has less to do with the US and more to do with them.
What the dog saw by Malcolm Gladwell
Short stories by Malcolm Gladwell. Nothing specific to remember, but great writing style to learn from.
Dubliners by James Joyce
I was listening to the audiobook version read by Tadhg Hynes, and oh did his voice do justice to the book! Listening to the urban short stories with a nice Irish accent, it’s a time-travel right back to the 1900s Ireland. Dubliners doesn’t get any better than this.
Post Office by Charles Bukowski
Made me laugh and made me not to take life too seriously for a sec. As always, a twisted, dirty old man drinking booze and going about with women, this time with a postal bag.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
Passion mindset: what can the world offer you vs Craftsman mindset: what can you offer to the world? This one thought, many, many times over.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl
Holocaust with a psychiatrist’s eye. Who is a going to survive the concentration camp? Only the people who can identify a life’s purpose that’s worth living for. Prisoners got used to everything, but the way they imagined their future affected their longevity greatly.
The Virgin Way by Richard Branson
Short and snappy wins every time: life’s to short, get to the point, will you?! If you do start a company, you might as well start something that you enjoy doing.
About listening: “No one has learned anything from listening themselves speak.”, “Listen more: it makes you sound smarter.”, and “Listening is accompanied by note taking, which also helps to keep from law suits”.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Some ideas can go ’viral’ and become unstoppable – think of the broken windows phenomenon. Children are better off in a good neighbourhood & bad family than the other way around. A list of tightly related short stories in Gladwell-style.
The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross
Putting tech and trends into global perspective. I took notes like school boy, as an example: “There’s value leaving local hubs and heading to Silicon Valley. But the drain is mitigated by a few factors. First, there is the near-inevitable fact that the large platforms in Silicon Valley will be going public. Their ownership will be much more distributed than those locally owned cab companies, and many of the beneficiaries of those early investors.”.
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Take time to structure the request. The 6 principles are: (1) Reciprocation: people are more willing to comply with requests from those who have provided such things first; (2) commitment: people are more willing to be moved in a particular direction if they see it as consistent with an existing or recent commitment; (3) authority: in a study, 3 times as many pedestrians were willing to follow a man into traffic against the red light when he was merely dressed as an authority in a business suit and tie; (4) social validation: researcher who went door-to-door collecting for charity and carrying a list of others in the area who had already contributed; (5) scarcity; (6) liking: people prefer to say yes to those they know and like.
A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
Another brilliant one from Haruki Murikami, this one is a bit of a supernatural detective story intertwined with spies from the Cold War, mind-reading and afterlife.
Rework by 37 Signals
Start small, build only what’s absolutely necessary for launch and build everything else later. Don’t worry about nice-to-haves. Sell byproducts. De-commoditise the product by making yourself part of the process (like Zappos where customer service makes the shoes different).
Remote by 37 Signals
Feels like a collection of badly written blog posts. No, instead, feels like a BA homework assignment. Either way, after the first half I got annoyed and only skimmed through. It’s only in this list to make sure I don’t accidentally try to read it again.
The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman
Reading this book kind-of-feels-like being in Feynman’s introduction to physics class. Plus a chance to think about basic physics and feel good about oneself for still being able to understand it all.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.” And immediately contrasts that with: “We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and effort that went into making. […] But there are moments, particularly in times of stress, when haste does not make waste, when our snap judgments and first impressions can offer a much better means of making sense of the world.”
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
“Technology businesses tend to be extremely complex. The underlying technology moves, the competition moves, the market moves, the people move. As a result, like playing three-dimensional chess on Star Trek, there is a always a move.”
Note to self, read this again when hiring for C-level; the only way to have experience running a large organisation is to run one – in absence, no-one can tell whether you’re able to do such things.
Circularity by Ron Aharoni
Limits of formal logic, circular arguments, Cantor theorem etc. Playing around rather than sweaty work, and playing around with math is always fun.
The state coffee puts one in when it is drunk on an empty stomach under these magisterial conditions produces a kind of animation that looks like anger: one’s voice rises, one’s gestures suggest unhealthy impatience: one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas; one becomes brusque, ill-tempered about nothing. One actually becomes that fickle character, The Poet, condemned by grocers and their like. One assumes that everyone is equally lucid.
A man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public. I discovered this singular state through a series of accidents that made me lose, without any effort, the ecstasy I had been feeling. Some friends, with whom I had gone out to the country, witnessed me arguing about everything, haranguing with monumental bad faith. The following day I recognized my wrongdoing and we searched the cause. My friends were wise men of the first rank, and we found the problem soon enough: coffee wanted its victim.
— Honore de Balzac: The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee