Books I’ve read in 2019

Readers of this blog know that my first post in January is usually the list of books I’ve read last year. So without much ado: my favorite three books with notes, and the rest as a list in no particular order.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

(1) Is there a God? No. (2) How did it all begin? By accident. (3) Is there other intelligent life in the universe? Maybe. (4) Can we predict the future? No. (5) What is inside a black hole? Particles. (6) Is time travel possible? Maybe later. (7) Will we survive on Earth? Yes. (8) Should we colonize space? Yes. (9) Will AI outsmart us? Yes. (10) How do we shape the future? With education.

Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch

“Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.”

About listening to critics: if you thought about how [your movie] going to hit people, or if it’s going to hurt someone, or if it’s going to do this or do that, then you would have to stop making films. You just do these things that you fall in love with, and you never know what’s going to happen. […] A painter paints a painting. No one comes in and says, “You’ve got to change that blue.” It’s a joke to think that a film is going to mean anything if somebody else fiddles with it.

The ONE Thing by Gary Keller

Do your most important work (your ONE Thing) before your willpower is drawn down. Work on what matters most. Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list – a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results. If you know what your ONE thing is, it’s easier to say no: say no to everything that doesn’t help your ONE thing.

About thinking big: success is built sequentially, one thing at a time. Think big and bold: don’t let small thinking cut your life down to size. Once the ONE thing is set, it’s easier to make it to be a habit, and it’s easier to find the lead domino that starts the chain of ever-bigger dominoes.

About relationships: imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls, but work’s ball is made of rubber. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls–family, health, friends, integrity–are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.

…and the rest of the list:

  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Also sprach Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Waking Up by Sam Harris
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • Reframing by Richard Bandler & John Grinder
  • The Storytellers Secret by Sejal Badan
  • The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Bold by Peter Diamandis
  • Deep Thinking by Garry Kasparov
  • Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
  • Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Seriously… I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
  • The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
  • The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly
  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling
  • Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  • Buffett, The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein
  • The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton
  • The Richest Man in Babylon by George Samuel Clason
  • Herr Lehmann by Sven Regener
  • Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff
  • Think Small by Owain Service
  • Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller
  • Principles by Ray Dalio
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Santa wipes

Let me show you the toilet paper that my wife got us for Christmas.

Two biggies.

  1. There are places where you don’t want to see red. One of those places is anywhere near stool. Santa has a lot of red. I have a lot of missed heartbeats.
  2. After use, Santa doesn’t look any prettier. Rudolph’s nose gets a little — muddy.

Happy festivities!

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UNPOP — great songs on Spotify with under 1000 listens

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!

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Work on an idea, no matter what, if…

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.

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Current standings

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.

Fade out.

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Two quick Libra predictions

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.

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Steampunk devs

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.

And it’s only fair, because whoever grew up on writing frontend Javascript code, or Python, and has never really seen another language or environment, does already think 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.

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Books I’ve read in 2018

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.

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The best super power to have

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 anywhere.

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.

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