There are two good reasons to work on an idea almost no matter what:
- If you can learn something that you can use for the rest of your life. Be careful with this definition. A fancy new programming framework doesn’t qualify. Learning to write code does. Trying sales for the first time does.
- If you can work with people you admire. Even if the idea goes to zero, you can take good relationships into the next project. And the one after, until kingdom come.
When in doubt, build something beautiful.
My home-wework at Aldwych has a line of tall desks along the main window. I have to get there early because the best spots all go by 9.25am, but then I can place my laptop in the window, have a coffee and work away, as I watch busy town being busy outside. It’s a great day.
I’m a big fan of standing desks lately, and started to frequent the co-working offices that offer those. I have to work in different areas almost every day, but standing desks are commonplace enough nowadays, so there are some in pretty much every co-working office. These spots are the easiest to get as well, because who wants to stand all day anyway?
Other than in Aldwych of course, because window seats are window seats on an airplane and they are window seats at work too.
I do standing desks in the mornings, have lunch, and then back in the lounge or a normal desk for the afternoon. Tuesdays I’d start the day with a mile swim, and then get to the office by 9am. Those days are my favorite days now.
Not sure whether standing all day is any healthier than sitting all day by the way, so don’t consider any of the above as health advice. With my messed up back I manage to hunch over any surface anyway.
Facebook announced Libra stablecoin, so here are two quick predictions:
In 2020 Google and Apple will also announce their coin.
In the year after, Google will announce they’re shutting theirs.
Amazon and Serverless is pushing hard to convince this new generation of devs, that servers and databases are some kind of an unnecessary wizard move.
I mean I think this is a good thing, because managed services are great. Maintenance is usually the easiest to outsource, whilst anything business logic related requires so much in-depth knowledge of the problem, that writing specs often means writing 80% of the service already. Software development time is scarce resource these days, so it should only be deployed on things with the highest impact – managing a Kubernetes cluster is rarely the one.
For my generation of devs, embracing Serverless can be challenging because with it a massive part of our knowledge is becoming obsolete. The goal is not just not having to SSH into a box, the goal is not to be able to SSH into a box at all – so what difference does it make that you know your way around in there? So the world is moving on, managed services are the future, and it’s not even because of the massive scale it enables, but because fuck maintenance, fuck operations, and fuck spending development time on setup.
Compare this all to electricity’s early days, when people ran their own generators. Ask any “sparky”: as soon as a stabile wall plug becomes available, you better start using it.
Readers of this blog know what this post is about: here’s a list of books I’ve read in 2018. The good, the bad and the ugly, in no particular order, with the notes I took from them.
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
While negotiating, stay focused. All negotiation is an information gathering exercise. Ask questions that are useful for interviews as well, such as: What about this does work for you? How would you like me to proceed? What about this is important for you?
Getting to yes: (1) separate the person from the problem (2) focus on why they ask for stuff and not what they ask for (3) cooperate for win-win options (4) mutually agreed upon standards to evaluate the options.
Start with no: try to get the other party say ‘no’ as soon as possible, to make them feel in control. “Is this a bad time for the call?”
Make sure you understand the other party’s point of view, and try to rephrase it in a way they know you understand how they feel. “That’s right!” is always better than “you’re right!”.
Useful tools are: mirroring (‘Please make 2 copies of each’ – ‘2 copies of each?’), labeling (‘It looks like you don’t want to go back to jail’), accusation audit (say the bad things about yourself out before the other person can, because it makes it sound exaggerated and untrue, therefore easier to defuse).
If you hear ’this isn’t fair’, there are two options to respond: counter with mirroring, or: ‘let’s go back to where we treated you unfairly and restart from there’.
An example to deliver terribly bad news: ’By the time we finish this call, you’ll think I’m a lousy business man, I can’t budget and I might even have lied. But I wanted to take this proposition to you first before I run off to another party.’ Now they know they can choose between losing all of the $2000 or keeping only $500.
About salary or price negotiations: if you really, absolutely, have to go first, name a *range*. Otherwise try not to go first. Always use odd numbers. Some numbers sound less moveable than others. Say, 84K sounds more written in stone than 90K.
For confrontational encounters, use ‘How am I supposed to do that?’ to transforms them into group problem solving. Push the work to them with questions like ‘why would you ever change your supplier to us?’
Rule fo three: if your counterpart agrees to something they seem to be uncomfortable with, try to confirm it three times. It’s very difficult to lie more than twice.
If you catch yourself not being able to say ‘no’, you’ve taken yourself hostage.
Speak Ericksonian by Richard Nongard
Practice the Cartesian Coordinates on everyday situations: “What will happen if I order pizza tonight? What won’t happen if I order pizza tonight? What will happen if I don’t order pizza tonight? What won’t happen if I don’t order pizza tonight?”
Practice the Perceptual Positions: examine the issue first as you see it, then as the other person or people involved see it, and then from a neutral, bird’s-eye view. Note what new insights and solutions arise from this exercise.
“What happens if you use a technique, but your client
doesn’t make the change?” – “Do something else. Milton Erickson didn’t view “resistance” as something that needed to be overcome. Instead, he viewed it as information he could use to succeed.”
The main reason to use stories is that storytelling catches a person’s attention. It bypasses the critical faculty and the conscious mind, engaging the subconscious ability to imagine and create. “If I tell you a story […], you’re trying to figure if you’re the best supporting actor or the fisherman captain or if you’re the bishop or if you’re one of those hermits. So, every time we hear a story, we try to see who it is, subconsciously, that we are in that story.”
Make it about the other person: “Hi, my name is Richard. I’m a hypnotist. I’m really glad to be here. Have any of you met a hypnotist before?”
About the T-shirt that reads “Stop falling in love with me”: in order for somebody to process that message, they would have to imagine a future in which they had fallen in love. Every little kid burns himself because we have to think about touching the stove in order to think about not touching the stove.
Practice using these: “You vs I”, “You may”, “Either”, “Notice”, “You may or may not”, “Creating”, “I am sure you”.
Identify people’s deepest needs and develop a strategy for attaining their desires. A parent is using covert hypnosis while presenting fake alternatives: “would you like broccoli or carrots?” — whichever the kids choose, they are still getting vegetables.
Take away ownership where applicable: change “having depression” to “being depressed”, or instead of “being anxious” you say “I feel some anxiety”. Either approach can lessen the sense of ownership and provide distance between the person and the issue.
The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey
It’s only human to want to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad. Letting go of judgments is the key to improve performance. It doesn’t mean ignoring errors: it simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them. There is a natural learning process which operates within everyone – if it is allowed to. Trust the body to learn and play, and in a short time it will perform beyond expectations. Compare this to the baby’s habit of crawling, because he doesn’t think he has a habit. He simply leaves it as he finds walking an easier way to get around.
About competition: until I realized the purpose of competition, I never felt really happy about defeating someone, and mentally I had my hardest time playing well when I was near victory. […] The difference between being concerned about winning and being concerned about making the effort to win may seem subtle,
but in the effect there is a great difference. When I’m concerned only about winning, I’m caring about something that I can’t wholly control. Whether I win or lose the external game is a result of my opponent’s skill and effort as well as my own.
About inner stability: the people who will best survive the present age are the ones Kipling described as “those who can keep their heads while all about are losing theirs.” Inner stability is achieved not by burying one’s head in the sand at the sight of danger, but by acquiring the ability to see the true nature of what is happening and to respond appropriately.
The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
People are like the moon: you mostly only ever see the one side they show you. Power and heat will reveal a person’s character: do they remain respectful and emphatic, or do they feel entitled and humiliate their underlings? Look for situations that are “uncharacteristic” for people, because that’s when you learn their true self. People’s character can’t be changed for the most part (although you can use bad traits for good things), so always hire or marry based on character traits that are a good fit.
Don’t give in to the illusion that other people always make irrational decisions while you’re always rational. Everybody, always makes decisions based on emotions. If you can, try to see things from a greater perspective and ditch short-term thinking. Strategy over tactics, every time.
Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini
The basic idea of pre-suasion is that by guiding preliminary attention strategically, the communicator can move recipients into agreement with a message before they experience it. Think of things like, (1) shoppers purchase more German wine if the shop plays German music, or (2) a job candidate cause evaluators to view her credentials as more substantial by presenting them in a weighty binder.
A few more examples: (1) if we want people to feel warmly toward us, we can hand them a hot drink (2) if we want them to be more helpful to us, show them photos of individuals standing close together (3) to sell expensive items, first arrange for people to write down a number that’s much larger than our price (4) never finish a writing session at the end of a thought: keep the final feature near-finished, because the drive for closure will get you back to your chair in the morning, impatient to write again (5) absence of confirming evidence is as important as evidence: Sherlock’s guard dog didn’t bark, so it had to be an inside job
Turtles all the way down by John Green
“Basically, the state of Indiana doesn’t consider pets people, but it does consider corporations people. So Pickett’s money would all go to a company that benefits the tuatara.”
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
The three most important Rockefeller habits are: (1) collect data (2) set priorities, KPIs and measure growth on a regular basis, and (3) establish a rhythm. Rhythm can be anything as long as it works: daily 15 min stand-ups, monthly reports etc.
Other notes I loved are:
- “Most architects start by designing the buildings. We focus on designing the business and then hire the people who design the buildings.”
- Setting a minimum list of priorities: start with a list of 25 and keep removing them. When you remove an item and it didn’t hurt much, that wasn’t a core item. If it hurts, put it back to the list.
- Three questions before meeting a new team: “What should we start doing, What should we stop doing, What should we continue doing?”
- Controlling choke points. (Example: beer makers and their limited supply of special hops.)
How to Hypnotize Anyone by The Rogue Hypnotist
Hypnosis as seen on TV is misunderstood, what it really is is super-tight focus. Think of mindfulness (bring your attention to your breath), or watching news on TV. People don’t do stuff under hypnosis that they wouldn’t want to do anyway. Embedded commands, word patterns, ambiguity, and many other tricks of the trade. “TV can’t tell you what to think but it can tell you what to think about.”
Always Eat Left-Handed by Rohit Bhargava
“[Oprah] will listen intently and ask leading questions. But then as the conversation starts, she will reflect on something that her guest says. She might interject with a story of her own. And she will interrupt often. But she does it with a rhythm that allows her conversations to continue. Her interruptions actually help the conversation flow better, and help uncover more interesting insights. And what most of us don’t realize is that interruptions could do the same”
The 12 Week Year by Brian P Moran
Conflicting intentions: if 1/9 of your intentions is to lose weight but 8/9 is to enjoy food and not to wake up to early for exercise, guess which one of those wins. To counteract, change the balance: craft the larger vision, and commit to it each day with small things as well as large. Reflect back in the evenings: were you working on things that take you closer to your vision, or are you just threading water?
In groups, make sure everyone has their own, personal vision which is aligned with the common goal.
Wie Man Wird Was Man Ist by Friedrich Nietzsche
Extremely quotable. About music: “was ich eigentlich von der Musik will: dass sie heiter und tief ist, wie ein Nachmittag im Oktober.”
About books and experience: “Niemand aus den Dingen, die Bücher eingerechnet, mehr heraushören, als er bereits weiss. Wofür man vom Erlebnisse her keinen Zugang hat, dafür hat man kein Ohr.”
Health: “jeder Physiologe wird das zugeben — ist, dass man im Grunde gesund ist. Ein typisch morbides Wesen kann nicht gesund werden, noch weniger sich selbst gesund machen; für einen typisch Gesunden kann umgekehrt Kranksein sogar ein energisches Stimulans zum Leben, zum Mehr-leben sein.”
Food: “Aber auch die englische Diät, die, im Vergleich mit der deutschen, selbst der französischen, eine Art »Rückkehr zur Natur«, nämlich zum Canibalismus ist”
Religion: “Gott ist eine faustgrobe Antwort, eine Undelikatesse gegen uns Denker —, im Grunde sogar bloß ein faustgrobes Verbot an uns: Ihr sollt nicht denken!”
Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins
Ownership gives you options. The Starving Artist tends to trust the system and hope for the best, but that’s a bad idea. The safest place for your work to stay is with you. No one has a more vested interest in your success than you do. Don’t trust the system to take care of you; that’s not what it was designed to do. Do whatever it takes to own your work; fight to keep the control. Hire help. Practice in public.
When the game is unfair, change the game you’re playing. Move to another city, create a new art form, get a different network. If the group you want to be a part of doesn’t want you, then create your own. This is what the Impressionists did when the gatekeepers of art in the nineteenth century rejected them. They opened their own gallery and invited people to it; and a century later, people remember them, not those who rejected them.
Just as Hemingway sought out key influencers in Paris, you can seek the influencers and gatekeepers in your own industry. Impress them, become their apprentices, and let them teach you. Rule of the Patron: before you reach an audience of many, you must first reach an audience of one. Every artist needs a patron. Without one, your success becomes exponentially more difficult; with one, it becomes not only possible but probable.
Originals by Adam Grant
“Cultural fit” is a catch-all phrase that keeps people from hiring others who are different. Commitment culture over star culture: the best team structure is if everyone can commit to the same principles. Also: “please don’t cheat” vs “please don’t be a cheater”.
About creating original ideas: practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new. The best predictor of originality is quantity. The more work someone does, the more probable it is that one of those will be a hit. To generate a hit idea, start with a radical idea first and then introduce tamed versions of them.
Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter
The paraphrase of Gödel’s Theorem says that for any record player, there are records which it cannot play because they will cause its indirect self-destruction. Phonograph vs molecular biology vs maths. Meaning lies as much in the mind of the reader as in the Haiku.
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
When you design anything, think about how people will use it. It is easy to design devices that work well when everything goes as planned. The hard and necessary part of design is to make things work well even when things do not go as planned. Errors are usually not the user’s fault, design can be faulty too. Blaming the person without fixing the root cause doesn’t fix the problem and the same error is likely to be repeated by someone else.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
About entropy: the increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time. Disorder increases with time because we measure time in the direction in which disorder increases.
About the beginning of time: if there were events earlier, then they could not affect what happens at the present time. Their existence can be ignored because it would have no observational consequences. The concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. This was first pointed out by St. Augustine. When asked: “What did God do before he created the universe?” Augustine didn’t reply: “He was preparing Hell for people who asked such questions.”
About infinity: In an infinite universe, every point can be regarded as the center, because every point has an infinite number of stars on each side of it.
Speed of light argument: as an object approaches the speed of light, its mass rises ever more quickly, so it takes more and more energy to speed it up further. It can in fact never reach the speed of light, because by then its mass would have become infinite, and by the equivalence of mass and energy, it would have taken an infinite amount of energy to get it there. For this reason, any normal object is forever confined by relativity to move at speeds slower than the speed of light.
You are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
What you focus on you create more of. Time wasted rationalizing the mediocre could be time spent creating the magnificent.
The Philosophy of Andy Warhol by Andy Warhol
“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.”
After Dark by Haruki Murakami?
Simply brilliant concept: the story of the book happens in real-time in Tokyo – you can literally start reading it at 10pm and finish whenever the story finishes.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
No one has ever reached riches without the help of others. Join a Mastermind. Knowledge in itself is not money, unless organized and purposed into definite plans of action and directed to make money. Thoughts are things. Example: the guy who wanted to become Thomas Edison’s business associate. He had a definite goal and not much else, but eventually met Edison who gave him the opportunity, because he looked so determined.
Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo
Whatever you present, find a way to be truly enthusiastic about it. Nothing big ever came from people who weren’t enthusiastic. Once you start presenting, story comes first and everything else second. Practice this story and make sure you can speak about it in a conversational tone: *don’t deliver* a speech, *tell the story*. A good story plot fits into 140 characters and takes less than 18 minutes to tell.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries & Jack Trout
Re-read this book every now and then! Some of the laws that work out of context: (1) Leadership: it’s better to be first than it is to be better. (2) Category: if you can’t be first in the category, set up a new category. (4) Perception: people don’t care about your product, they care what it does for them. (5) Focus: own a word in people’s mind (9) Opposites: if shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader; don’t try to be better, be different. (12) Line extensions: when you try to be all things to all people, you inevitably wind up in trouble. (13) Sacrifice: you have to give up something in order to get something. (22) Resources: without adequate funding, an idea won’t get off the ground.
The Creative Economy by John Howkins
Nils Bohr: profound truths are the ones where their opposite may well be another profound truth. Feynman’s rule of life: (1) have fun (2) always have a problem that needs solving in the back of your mind (3) don’t skip lunch. Less than 5-10 clusters are available in the top 15 creative industries. The world’s best architect is probably found in the USA, UK, Germany, Japan, Spain or Italy. Artists are either in NY or London. Compare USA’s debtor friendly vs UK’s creditor friendly mindset – former is where intellectual property bases businesses can thrive.
The Compound effect by Darren Hardy
Write down your “why”. As soon as you know what you want, try to find out what kind of person you need to be to attract that thing. Example: for most men, trying hard to catch a woman is usually fruitless – but, if you simply find out what that woman wants, you can *become* the ideal man for her.
Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker
Mathematical kitsch, don’t ever read or accidentally recommend to anyone. Two notes: look up amicable numbers, and that some viruses are platonic solids. “If you have ever caught certain viruses (such as herpes), then you’ve been invaded by icosahedrons.”
Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis
Ingredients: out-of-the-box thinking, cross-company collaboration, real-time market testing, and a commitment to being nimble and responsive in acting on the results. Regularly experiment with moonshot bets, to defense against incremental thinking about innovation that so often leads to growth stalls. Example: use the tagline “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail” at the bottom of every email that users sent, or using the question “How would you feel if you could no longer use [Dropbox]?”
The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham
Good opportunities have already been found by the smartest brains that work on this exact thing 24/7 – and they are priced accordingly. A popular pick is likely to be a bad pick for you. Look for relatively unpopular large companies. Unlike most people, many of the best professional investors first get interested in a company when its share price goes down, not up.
Remind yourself that the stock is a company. Who runs it? Do they act like managers, or act like the owners of the company? Read the company’s reports. A few pointers to avoid buying bad stocks:
(1) Read backwards. When you research a company’s financial reports, start reading on the last page and slowly work your way toward the front. Anything that the company doesn’t want you to find is buried in the back—which is precisely why you should look there first.
(2) Read the notes. Never buy a stock without reading the footnotes to the financial statements in the annual report. Usually labeled “summary of significant accounting policies”, one key note describes how the company recognizes revenue, records inventories, treats installment or contract sales, expenses its marketing costs, and accounts for the other major aspects of its business.
The 48 Laws Of Power by Robert Greene
A cynical approach to power. “Don’t outshine your master, because they get jealous and turn against you”, or “Make others rely on you”, or “Take credit for other people’s business”.
Find out others’ intentions and make sure yours are hidden. Don’t talk but listen, control yourself. The world secretly crave enigmas: the mysterious excites our imagination. Associate with the right people. Always find something that the other person needs, because self interest is the lever that moves people. Absence vs. presence: strong presence gives you more power but too much presence does the opposite. Make yourself less scarce and therefore more valuable.
And this one hit close to home: as a leader you may imagine that constant diligence and the appearance of working harder than anyone else signify power. Actually though, they have the opposite effect: they imply weakness. Why are you working so hard? Perhaps you’re incompetent and have to put in extra effort just to keep up? Perhaps you don’t know how to delegate and has to meddle with everything? The truly powerful seems never to be burdened or overwhelmed. They know how to find the right people to put in the effort and do the dirty work for them. Keep your hands clean, and surround yourself with only good things and announce only positive actions.
Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age by Paul Graham
If you want to make something that will appeal to future generations, one way to do it is to try to appeal to past generations. If you can make something that appeals to people today and would also have appealed to people in 1500, there is a good chance it will appeal to people in 2500.
A painting that suggests is usually more engaging than one that tells. Everyone makes up their own story about the Mona Lisa.
About jobs to take: if you’re in a job that feels safe, you are not going to get rich, because if there is no danger there is almost certainly no leverage. Everyone who gets rich by their own efforts will be found to be in a situation with measurement and leverage. Everyone I can think of does: CEOs, movie stars, hedge fund managers, professional athletes. Upside must be balanced by downside, so if there is big potential for gain there must also be a terrifying possibility of loss.
About heresy: in any competitive field, you can win big by seeing things that others daren’t. Within the US car industry there is a lot of hand-wringing about declining market share. Yet the cause is so obvious that any observant outsider could explain it in a second: they make bad cars. Cadillac stopped being the Cadillac of cars in about 1970. And yet I suspect no one dares say this. Otherwise these companies would have tried to fix the problem.
About the Valley: Hackers are unruly. That is the essence of hacking. And it is also the essence of American-ness. It is no accident that Silicon Valley is in America, and not France, or Germany, or England, or Japan. In those countries, people color inside the lines. I lived for a while in Florence. But after I’d been there a few months I realized that what I’d been unconsciously hoping to find there was back in the place I’d just left. The reason Florence is famous is that in 1450, it was New York. In 1450 it was filled with the kind of turbulent and ambitious people you find now in America. (So I went back to America.)
If you want to make money at some point: big companies want to decrease the standard deviation of design outcomes because they want to avoid disasters. The place to fight design wars is in new markets, where you can win big by taking the bold approach to design, and having the same people both design and implement the product.
Why don’t smart kids make themselves popular? If they’re so smart, why don’t they figure out how popularity works and beat the system, just as they do for standardized tests? No-one in the world works harder at anything than American school kids work at popularity.
Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut
The protagonist is a veteran who started life as an illustrator who couldn’t make it as a ‘real’ artist because his paintings lacked depth and vision. And then he goes off to WWII and literally loses his sense of depth by having one of his eyes shot out. Ironically, this literal and figurative lack of depth perception that enables him to survive and not commit suicide while all of his other artist friends don’t.
One of the most useful things I learned on my entrepreneurial journey is that, the lead domino in all things entrepreneurial is learning to delegate.
Leadership is hard because the jump into being responsible for other people’s work is hard.
Learning to delegate is like learning to play tennis: you can’t learn it only from books. The only way to play better tennis is to go out to an actual court and start hitting the ball. You can read about the game and prepare in advance as much as you will, but my bet is that regardless of your best effort to prepare, the first time you actually try to play will be 100% different. You can’t see what you can’t see.
Similarly, the first experience with delegating anything meaningful will almost surely cause pain, because there are a zillion things where it can go wrong. You think you carefully explained what you need, until it turns out that it’s lost in translation.
That’s not a reason to give up trying.
And you might say that delegating is stupid right now and there’s nothing you need help with, but in my opinion, you have to delegate everything. Just in case you get really busy.
By the way, if you can’t find anyone who can do your job for what you’re getting paid, it’s time to raise prices. I made the mistake of working for too cheap many times before, and this is a great way to find about the mistake early on.
When I started out I hoarded all work. In my first startup, I’ve done all programming, marketing and all client management myself – until the week where I was trying to survive on 30-minute sleep four days in a row, and forgot a business meeting on the fifth.
The client called me from the place we were supposed to meet, and I didn’t pick up the phone because I was asleep at 2pm in the afternoon. They stopped being my client, and it wasn’t even a bad thing as far as my health was concerned.
I hired my first developer next week, to help me write code. That code was terrible compared to my super high standards, but it was all fine, because I quickly learned to give better feedback and they quickly learned to write better code.
This was a dream come true. Suddenly my job was to find out what to focus on and let others do the fiddly bits.
Fast forward a few years, when I’ve attended two universities and ran two companies at the same time. I studied in one school between Monday and Friday, visited the other one on Saturdays, and been in the office or on client meetings between classes. The trick was to have an assistant whose job was to come up with good reasons for my absence in case a client called, and brief me well for a scheduled callback. Scheduled, carefully, for breaks between classes.
So the only question is then, where would you start learning to delegate?
Start with something low risk: get someone to write specs for your app idea. Someone to pick up your phone, or someone to do the research for your homework. Focus only on the one thing you do better than anyone else, and let smarter folks help you whereever they can shine. With so much help available online in 2018, there’s no excuse not to try.
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.
One team I’m working with is 100% proper nerds. Imagine a transportation consultancy where people work with massive data models and advise governments, mayor’s offices or public events. To illustrate, one project we’ve worked on is the Champions League’s finals in Cardiff.
Definitely real nerds then. Not completely unlike Big Bang Theory but not exactly the same either. You definitely see more white ironed shirts than Google hoodies, but people are surely very much interested in what they do.
There’s a new project coming up, and on the kickoff meeting in the Bankside office I see consultants I haven’t met before. They are just as well: nerds, but you know, I too have studied maths for over 20 years. I can relate.
The meeting goes well, and I’m leaving the room with a friend who’s with the company for a longer time.
“Wait till you know these guys better”, he says. “They are nerds.”
“What do you mean they are nerds? You guys all are!”
“No, they are proper nerds. They are going-train-spotting-together level of nerds. They do actually: go out, watch trains, knowing exactly which service those are.”
Can’t wait for this project to get started!
I woke up for someone standing next to my bed. For real.
It’s an Airbnb with two rooms rented out: us in one, another couple in the next. The guy from the next room got confused when returning from a nightly toilet run, took the wrong turn and somehow ended up standing next to me when I was asleep.
If you’ve never had to wake up for a stranger standing next to you and trying to recognise your shape in the dark, well, it doesn’t feel very good.
Those nightmares when aliens gather around your bed while you’re asleep and paralysed, and then all sorts of shit happens.
The all sorts of shit in this case was mostly, someone with an Italian accent saying “Fuck I’m sorry I’m so sorry sorry I’m sorry” and rushing out of the room.
Which is all my girlfriend could remember of the next morning: some weird mumbled Italian swearing.
It might very well have been me.