Category: Books

‘The soup is getting cold’: Lessons in curiosity and perfectionism from Leonardo da Vinci

‘The soup is getting cold’: Lessons in curiosity and perfectionism from Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve recently finished listening to the audio version of Walter Isaacson’s excellent Leonardo da Vinci biography. I’m sure I’ve lost something from actually holding this one, but at least it came with a PDF that’s 70-something pages long with all kinds of images and timeline information.

We look up to Leonardo for a lot of accomplishments. The Mona Lisa. The Last Supper. Vitruvian Man. Flying machines. Methods for diverting rivers. Early ideas for a tank for military use. Molds of human organs. Notebook after notebook full of innovations and drawings and notes and curiosities.


More: What creative minds have in common (or don’t) »


But Leonardo was eminently human. You see, he was a terrible perfectionist, and, for lack of a better term, a bit of a flibbertigibbet. He was also supremely curious and inventive, and there are things you don’t have to be born with to emulate the good stuff.

First, a little thing about his life, and how it played in his favor to be who he was: Leonardo was born out of wedlock.

As the first-born son in his family, he would have been entitled to an inheritance, but he also would have been expected to take on his father’s profession. In this case, that profession was as a notary.

When he was 10, his father had the opportunity to legitimate him, which, again, would have made Leonardo the rightful heir over his half-brothers, but it would have been expected for him to become a notary. At that point, it seemed almost certain the notary guild wouldn’t have accepted him, and also that he wouldn’t have been very good at the job anyway.

He would later have a legal battle with his half brothers over some inheritance (he wasn’t entitled to any, but he settled with them for some other rights for them upon his death).

Maintaining his illegitimacy, then, allowed him to go off and create.


Leonardo wrote backwards, in a mirror script. It may have been a code, though an easily breakable one. Or, maybe that’s just the way he wrote. He was left-handed (we know that because of the direction of the hatching in his drawings). I’m right-handed, and when I try to write left-handed, my natural inclination is to reverse the script.

Leonardo wasn’t a fan of what Isaacson frequently dubs (not his term, I’m sure) received knowledge — that stuff we learn in books. He wanted to discover for himself. “Describe the tongue of the woodpecker” is a phrase that shows up in his notebooks.

He worked tirelessly on things he wasn’t paid for, just to sate his curiosity. He made great advances in Euclidean geometry, in human biology, in military technology. He designed a system to divert the flow of the Arno River, though it was never used. He is credited with designing the first helicopter, though it was probably meant for the stage, since he never included it among his military designs. He designed the first tank.

He was mercilessly detailed. Vitruvian Man is actually an improvement on Vitruvius’s studies on the proper proportions for drawing men. Leonardo spent hours with various men measuring lengths and widths, to determine what proportion of the body the head should be, and then from the hairline to the top of the nose, the nose to the chin, the mouth to the chin, ear to ear, the length of the arm, the distance from the naval to the top of the genitals, and on and on.


Leonardo had a very human flaw: he was a perfectionist. And perfection is a stumbling block to good.

The Mona Lisa, his most famous masterpiece, was commissioned in 1503, and was never delivered. He was still adding brush strokes when he died in 1519. His patrons frequently had to renegotiate contracts to require delivery of unfinished work plus return of advance payment if deadlines weren’t met. Some contracts, particularly early in his career, had frequent deadlines — and related penalties — attached.

He sweated over details the way only a true master could, sometimes staring at The Last Supper for an hour or two, making a single brush stroke, then retiring for the day.

He seems to have gained more admirers than detractors during his life, but there were plenty of letters of complaint along the way.


Endlessly curious, endlessly practicing, endlessly perfectionist. Two lessons and, perhaps, a warning from a great master.

But don’t forget to enjoy yourself. “I must go,” Leonardo intimated as the final notes were made in his notebooks. “The soup is getting cold.”

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Is your war worth fighting? Nature vs. nurture, free will and Good Omens

Is your war worth fighting? Nature vs. nurture, free will and Good Omens

This post may contain spoilers about the novel Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It came out in 1990, so don’t be mad at me for that. I haven’t seen the more contemporary Amazon Prime series, though, so I don’t know if it follows the story line closely. I won’t be offended if you decide not to read this because of the potential spoilers. I will be offended if I get angry emails/tweets/etc. because you couldn’t be bothered to read a paragraph of italic text.

The book is wonderful, by the way. It was recommended by the chess champion Garry Kasparov to the Persuasion Community.

***

In the novel Good Omens, Crowley and Aziraphale have been adversaries for a long time. Around 6,000 years, to be more precise. When you’re adversarial for that long, your battle becomes a bit of a partnership.

Crowley is a demon; Aziraphale is an angel. They are bound, by their natures, to act accordingly: Crowley clears out traffic so he can drive too fast; Aziraphale gives a wrecked bicycle some massive upgrades when he “repairs” it.

Crowley is given the job of bringing about Armageddon. He doesn’t particularly want to, but, well, demon. Nature.

Here’s the thing: You can only get the antichrist to do so much, particularly if his unsuspecting parents call him something mundane, like Adam. There’s nature vs. nurture at play. When the child is taught to love, his evil nature can only take him so far.

And there’s the matter of the hellhound, who shows up on the antichrist’s 11th birthday. His nature will be determined by the name the antichrist give him. Some are hoping for something along the lines of Killer. But he is endowed with the name Dog. And so he’s happy to see people, and he enjoys chasing rats and getting petted and will do pretty much anything for a treat.

Oops.


Fast forward a bit and Aziraphale is speaking with the Metatron (the voice of God). The angel is asking the Voice what needs to be done to avoid the coming battle between Heaven and Hell.

The point is not to avoid the war, Metatron says, it’s to win it.

Some battles — even if you’re not sure you can win them — are worth fighting.

You just have to know which ones.


Crowley and Aziraphale are not human. They are driven by nature. So is the hellhound, even if his nature is altered by Adam.

But Adam has as his nature the direction to bring about the end of the world. He is taught, however, to be better than that.

Nurture wins.

But so does free will: Adam still has the option to kick off Armageddon, but humans make it through.


And so, you.

Are you only what you were born for, or can you nurture something more? Alternately, if you’ve been taught the wrong things, is it in your nature to settle for them?

Do you have free will? You can always make a choice. Sometimes the consequences of your choices aren’t comfortable, but sometimes those choices have to be made anyway.

Go.

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Time, revisited

Time, revisited

A couple years ago, I wrote this:

Time is always moving, but it doesn’t fly. It doesn’t even meander. It stretches and contracts and flows and fits into whatever mold you need it to fit into.

I called that post Tempus tabescet — “Time melts.”

A couple months later, I wondered if I was stuck somewhere else in time — my mid-20s, or whether I might be willing to take lessons forward.

The things that are behind us have shaped us, and continue to shape us. It’s up to us whether not only our tastes evolve as time passes, but also whether we continue to learn new things as we grow older.

I’ve recently read Present Shock, by Douglas Rushkoff. Summary point: This post publishes the morning of April 22, 2020, but if you’re reading it for the first time on the evening of September 18, 2032, it doesn’t matter that it posted 12 years ago, it’s new now.

In fact, everything is happening now. If you’re reading a book, the weight of the unread pages on the right shifts to the the weight of read pages on the left. Not so if you’re reading on Kindle (or your Nook or whatever): The completion numbers show, but it doesn’t really feel or look different. You’re always in the same place; only the words change.

As I write this, much of America has been under a stay-at-home order for a month or more. We’re coming on five weeks where I am. Time’s passing, but it seems to be going slower. I’m working my regular schedule. Our daughter is growing, developing. We walk the neighborhood a lot. There are fewer cars on the road. There are no planes in the sky. It’s peaceful. I hope we keep some of these things.

Time always moves at the same rate. We can decide how to measure it, or not. We can decide how to use it, or not. But it will march on. The Earth will keep spinning, and keep rotating around the sun. The moon will wax and wane.

While that’s happening, it’s always going to be now. You’re currently reading this sentence. Now you’re currently reading this one.

Make the most of your nows.

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On confidence, fear and making decisions: Lessons from ‘Learning to Fly’ by Steph Davis

On confidence, fear and making decisions: Lessons from ‘Learning to Fly’ by Steph Davis


You’ll notice how far away from the ledge we are in this photo. This was about three steps beyond my comfort zone, and I couldn’t wait to stop smiling for pictures.

“In the moment your feet leave the cliff, there’s no going back. The past is simply finished. And it’s you who must fly forward.”
          — Steph Davis,
Learning to Fly

I had a period last year when I got sucked into a bunch of climbing documentaries. Free Solo, of course, but also The Dawn Wall, Mountain and Valley Uprising, among others.

I’m not into heights, as you might have figured from the opening paragraph. What I’m into is understanding people who are different from me, particularly if they are excellent at what they do.

Somewhere along the way, I bumped into Steph Davis (not literally, I just came across her online).

I picked up her book Learning to Fly on Kindle.

She takes us through her life to the point of the book’s writing, and, if you’d rather read the book, just close this out and come back when you’re done.

Davis wanted to be a concert pianist, got a master’s degree, and then attended law school, for about a day. After that, she dropped out, lived in a truck and climbed mountains, eventually becoming an elite free soloist. That means she climbs mountains without ropes — not like walking uphill, more like completely vertical walls. In her words:

I grew up a studious, aspiring concert pianist with a master’s degree in literature, then subsequently dropped out of law school to live in a truck and become a professional climber, so I’ve learned not to rule anything out.

Then, she started skydiving — even though falling is the one thing every mountain climber doesn’t want to do.

Then, she started base jumping. It gave her the ability to climb a mountain without a rope and then just jump off it.

Then, she started taking a wing suit up with her. If base jumping allows you a couple of seconds of free fall then you open a parachute and ride it to the ground, a wing suit lets you steer at a high velocity for minutes before opening a chute. She lost her husband, and later her ex-husband, to wing suit accidents.


I am interested in exactly none of the things that Davis does for fun (and for a living, at various times). But there are three things to take away for everyone: decision-making, overcoming fear, and confidence.

Making decisions

Almost everything we do in life is reversible. Not all of is easy to reverse, but most of it is reversible. If you dive 50 meters, you’re in really deep water. If you get in trouble down there, you can’t just magically stick your head up above the surface — you have almost 200 feet of upward swimming to do, and you have to do it slowly enough that you don’t have problems with the decreasing pressure.

Two other things that are irreversible: Climbing a sheer face without a rope, and jumping from a high point, like a plane or a bridge or a mountain.

It seems from not only Davis’s book but also from the documentaries I’ve seen and interviews I’ve heard that the decisions to climb, how to climb, and whether and where to jump are not made lightly or without much research. People who plan to climb without a rope practice the route many times with a rope first. People who jump scout the landing area and check for obstacles before they even go to the jumping point, and they figure in the weather.

In other words, this is all dangerous, but very calculated. Davis again:

First of all, I’m not a thrill seeker. Second, like any serious climber, I’m inherently cheap, and skydiving is expensive. Third, I don’t prefer being scared. Falling, loud wind, cold air, hitting the ground hard…these are all things I also don’t usually go out looking for.

Consider some points to see what sort of decision-maker Davis is:

• She dropped out of law school to live in a truck and climb. It not only takes guts, it takes self-knowledge: she knew that law school wasn’t for her, and she knew that climbing was. She did what she had to do to climb, and she went on to make a living at it.

• When it was obvious her marriage wasn’t working, Davis got divorced.

• When Davis needed to try something new, she was ready to skydive. She called a friend, and asked him to help her learn — the next day, after she’d have to drive out to the place he lived.

He had barely got out his happy hellos when I burst out, “Brendan, I want to learn to skydive. Can you teach me if I come to Boulder? Tomorrow?”

• When it became obvious to her that skydiving was too expensive to be more than a whenever-she-could-afford-it hobby and she felt she had enough experience, she went right for base jumping lessons.

These are all major decisions, made quickly. From the Hagakure:

In the words of the ancients, one should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord Takanobu said, “If discrimination is long, it will spoil.” Lord Naoshige said, “When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly.”

But also keep in mind that, to the point of her writing the book, she had never suffered a serious injury climbing, and the couple of times she hurt herself jumping, she had bad gut feelings about the jumps but went anyway.

This speaks to experience. Get good at something, then make decisions. Go for it or don’t.


Overcoming fear

I didn’t want to feel scared, my physical ability impaired by feelings of fear. I flatly drew the line at free soloing anything I considered at all difficult and would choose moderate, classic routes as my overall ability increased year after year.

“My immunity to fear was not impenetrable,” she goes on to write, noting that, in some instances, she should have been much more nervous than she was.

But, we find out, when we make the decision to be done with fear, we can be done with fear.

Making the decision to not do something doesn’t have to be rooted in fear. It can be rooted in the understanding that our skill sets are not all-encompassing. Another way to say that: Know your limits. Stretch them, yes, and stretch your comfort zone, but don’t attempt anything that is outside the scope of your capabilities, especially if your life is at stake.

You can practice and build your skill set in a safe manner before you take those bigger risks.

When it comes to something like free soloing, that means practicing over and over with a rope until you never miss. Yes, the possibility of a mistake still stands, but it diminishes greatly the more we practice.

Don’t take unnecessary risks, but don’t let fear stop you from doing the thing you’re prepared for.


Confidence

I was coming at the problem the way I knew, taking apart my weakness and working at it relentlessly, like the complicated parts of a Bach fugue. I wanted to fix it. And I knew from years spent on a piano bench that through sheer discipline and focus, I could.

This works for any problem you could possibly have, any weakness you could have. Focus and discipline can eliminate weakness — just remember to put that focus and discipline to work on the right thing. Where does it lead? “My natural confidence and strength were rooted in discipline and practice,” Davis writes.

Practice. Get stronger. It will give you confidence.

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The old year passeth: Winding up an eventful year

The old year passeth: Winding up an eventful year

It’s been a crazy damn year.

On Christmas Eve, our daughter turned a year old. I’ve spent most of the year with her — since I work from home, we opted to save our money and not put her in day care. Maybe this held her back a little, socially; yes, we were around other children in our visits to library storytime and we saw plenty of people about —; we weren’t shy about walks in the park, shopping or eating out — but there was no immersion.

It was definitely cool to see positive peer pressure at play — “Daddy, that little girl’s walking. Stand me up, Dude.” “Uh, sweetie, you’ve been standing for 3 days and you have to hold on.” “I said, stand me up, Dude.” “OK, fine. Don’t get cocky.”

But if I’m honest, for most of the first nine months of her life, I played a victim card. “I don’t get enough sleep. I don’t have time to exercise. I can’t get any quiet time. Everybody needs something from me. I haven’t run 2 miles since the marathon last year.”

My annual physical had me up some weight, but also with elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as borderline pre-diabetic.

That was a wake-up call. Choose: (a) Die young of a heart attack; (b) be around for a while but be on medications with side effects like muscle soreness and joint pain and lack of energy; or (c) do some fucking work.

I fumbled around for a month, and then decided, no more. I killed the last of my excuses. I didn’t get where I wanted to be, but I got on the right path, and I’ll be focusing on my health for 2020, even if it means getting up at 5am more often than I’d like.


I read a big pile of books (not counting the little ones we read to the baby). Five favorites from the year:

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins (audio). You’re probably familiar with Goggins, but if not, quick summary: He wanted to be a Navy SEAL. Just to qualify, he lost 100 pounds in 3 months. Then he had to get through hell week three times after he wound up with broken bones the first two times. When he got out of the military, he started running ultra marathons, and he set a 24-hour pull-up record.

Most recently, he went to run the Moab 240 (that would be a 240-mile race through the Moab desert). He went 7 miles off course and had to run those 7 miles back, and then at the 200 mile marker (so, 214 miles in), he was carted off to the hospital with a high-altitude edema. The race organizers wouldn’t let him finish (which makes sense, of course). And then he went ahead and finished on his own anyway.

Can’t Hurt Me is his memoir of growing up with an abusive father, and of getting out with a mother whom his dad wouldn’t marry, so there would be no financial obligation to her. He had a ghost writer on the book, and the audiobook version of it is read by the ghost writer. But it’s not a straight reading — after each section, he has a conversation with Goggins, going into more detail.

Creativity: The Human Brain in the Age of Innovation by Elkhonon Goldberg. Goldberg has put together the most comprehensive view to date of how creativity is handled in the brain. This stuff fascinates me, and, while I don’t know if it’s truly possible to exercise certain pieces of the brain, it means that if we can, we understand which parts target creativity.

While Goldberg does come at this from a very scientific standpoint, it’s a fairly accessible book. Not exactly beach reading, but you don’t need a degree in neurobiology to get it.

Feck Perfuction by James Victore. We outlined my highlights on Victore’s book just a couple of weeks ago, so I won’t go too deeply in here, but understand that Victore had a vision for his life. He way surpassed it, and then found himself lost because he didn’t have a plan for success. Learn from that. He did.

Read as a pair: Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.If you want a fresh perspective on where we’ve been (Sapiens) and where we’re going (Homo Deus), give these a read. And don’t be fooled by the subtitles. There’s nothing “brief” about these books.

Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual by Jocko Willink (audio available from Apple Music).This is a regular listen for me while I’m running, or while I’m making excuses for not running. The manual is divided into short, severable sections, so it can be listened to on shuffle. Or just read the thing, but I’m not sure it’s as effective in print. If you’re not sure who Jocko is or why you should listen, go watch Good (under 2 and a half minutes).

Plus the usual rereads: Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller; The War of Art, Turning Pro and Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. These are at least annual reads for me, sometimes twice a year. Pressfield reminds us to get to work; Fuller reminds us why. All four are quick reads.


We got the Better Humanhood Podcast up and running consistently, got this here blog going consistently, and repurposed some of the content for Medium. JKWD is still going strong.

Overall, the year was not a strong year. I felt weak, defeated and like a victim for much of it. But I finished strong, which brings momentum into 2020. Onward!

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Notes on Feck Perfuction by James Victore

Notes on Feck Perfuction by James Victore

“We are all born wildly creative. Some of us just forget.”

One of my favorite books I’ve read this year — and I’ve probably been through 60 or so — is Feck Perfuction by James Victore.

These are my highlights from the Kindle version of the book. I’m going to just leave his words intact here and let them stand on their own; maybe you’ll buy the book and get inspired. If you want further comment, check out the Better Humanhood Podcast tomorrow — I’ll expound on my favorites.

At its core, the book is about listening to your heart, fighting Resistance (in the Steven Pressfield sense), getting shit done, and shipping product.


“Inspiration without action is bullshit.”

“Your parents were wrong. Your purpose on this planet isn’t to become a millionaire, build a 401K, or even get a good job — your purpose is to figure out who or what you are. If you can do that, everything else is frosting.”

“The things that made you weird as a kid make you great today.”

“Weird is about the courage to be who you were born to be. Nerdy, goofy, fidgety; these are strengths. These are gifts!”

“When you accept your weirdness and believe in your gifts is when things get really weird. That’s when your cause inspires others. When people see their own struggle reflected in yours, you create the potential for shared humanity.”

“In the particular lies the universal. what appeals to everyone is oatmeal. What works for a wide audience is prepackaged, easy to digest, and thoroughly bland.”

“In the particular lies the universal.”

“The only thing you learn by following the herd is that the view never changes. You never learn how to express your own truth or beauty and never find out the power therein. You never get to know who you are or what you are capable of. The hardest part is to trust that your story and opinions have value.”

“It’s literally impossible — barring a full frontal lobotomy — for me, or you, to behave like anyone else. There are times for a little ‘get-along-go-along’ social lubrication, but as I see it, ‘fitting in’ denotes a lack of character.”

“The world has enough safe, bland, dull crap.”

“Your attitude creates your reality.”

“In the pursuit of adulthood, we join the Working Dead, spending most of our lives at jobs that financially sustain us, but are less than satisfying.”

“To continue to develop as humans, we need play in our lives — and not just on the weekends.”

“Maybe a crazy idea is not so crazy.”

“Creativity is dangerous. Not creativity as decoration — the perfect mauve wallpaper to match the couch — but creativity as inventing and pioneering.”

“Creative thinking challenges the rules and norms — the way society works. It’s the New chafing against human nature’s habit of questioning and rejecting anything considered new.”

“Every creation signals the death of what came before. Creativity is change, and change is both inevitable and natural. You can fight change, but it won’t end well for you. Or you can choose to accept it and grow with change.”

“Your biggest fear is not spiders or sharks — it’s you. It’s the fear of expressing who you are — lest someone actually see you.”

“Dragons are real. Heroes are real, too. We all have dragons, but we’re not all heroes.”

“No one gives you freedom. It is not earned or doled out over time. You take it.”

“But what example am I to my children if I give up all hope and sell my dreams? I serve my family best when I am happy, excited about my work, and getting paid for my creativity. I want my children and even the public to see me fighting for my living and my freedom, not begging for it. This is certainly not an easier route, but undoubtedly it’s a better one. And one with a better epitaph.”

“The problem with the rules is that they’re generally unisex and one – rule – fits – all. They promote conventional, business – as – usual thinking and don’t allow for the concepts of individuality or play.”

“No one outside of our heads really cares about the nitpicky details we stress over.”

“You know what’s better than perfect? Done. Done is better than perfect.”

“Everything about your life is a test.”

“Life is a test of your conviction and vision.”

“Make the work you want to make, dance like a fool, and leave your ego at the door.”

“As a communication designer, my job is not to communicate. I want to make your head explode.”

“My primary objective is to make strong, surprising, and memorable statements that teach, inform, inspire, or even confuse. To do this, I have to ignore logic and stop making sense.”

“The American artist Edward Ruscha devised a simple rule for distinguishing between bad and good art. Bad art makes you say, ‘Wow! Huh?’ Good art makes you say, ‘Huh? Wow!'”

“As Newton’s first law tells us, an object at rest — like your ass — tends to stay at rest.”

“Experience is great, and practice has its place, but boldness makes way for action.”

“Our parents, teachers, and friends paint a picture for us of what success looks like. It is usually exactly as advertised on TV — the mad scramble for moneyhousejobmoney. Were this brainwashed version of reality true, the world would be populated solely by accountants and bankers. It would be a bleak and dull world with no room for the misfits, artists, and creators who form our culture.”

“Success isn’t a dot on your lifeline that you hit at age 40 or age 65, before immediately retiring or dying. It’s a process that has a very definite beginning — right now — and depends on how you carry yourself at every point along the way. It’s a conscious choice to feel successful that you breathe into your character. Do not wait for success to saunter into your life; there is no papal anointment or secret handshake. It’s a done deal. Congrats. Welcome to the club.”

“Don’t waste your efforts trying to please other people. Make work that is meaningful to yourself first.”

“If, in the effort of bringing people to your cause, you feel like you’re selling yourself, please stop. No one wants to read your sales bullet points or hear a canned elevator pitch you handily memorized.”

“You can’t trick someone into loving you.”

“The antidote to fear is action.”

“The world is brimming with would – be authors, dancers, and entrepreneurs full of bright and innovative ideas, holding the future of creativity inside them. Most of their ideas will never make it to market and their talents will remain silenced. The biggest reason for this is too much thinking and not enough doing, too much worry and not enough action.”

“You can’t be a mover and a shaker if you’re standing still.”

“Systematic and strong growth — for a garden, your business, your children, even your Instagram following — comes from love, attention, and consistency.”

“I have seen countless businesses succeed not because they were genius ideas, but because they continually followed through on their plans.”

“The reason so many wonderful ideas and beautiful sketches are born on bar napkins is that you are in a fucking bar, not at your job, not trying, not working, not forcing your brain through a grinder. Your sense of mirth and play are in an altered state.”

“Complacency is the enemy, and settling down is settling.”

“No one goes it alone. You have no archenemies planning your demise. The world wants you to be happy and to succeed. Ask for help. There are people who have made the journey before you. Reach out to them. Like angels with gifts, they want to share their knowledge and help.”

“Dream big — if you want a pony, ask for a unicorn.”

“We want creative freedom and agile lives, yet we attach ourselves to the very things that restrict our movement.”

“Once, while he was finishing up a large fuse box, his dad reached in and signed the inside of the box. ‘Why did you do that?’ David asked. ‘Artists sign their work,’ came the reply. The point here is about taking pride, ownership, and responsibility for your work. If it’s a good job, ‘I did this.’ If there’s something amiss, ‘I did this.’ Our reputation is all we have, and our signature should be a mark of that excellence.”

“I love being busy, but it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy and confuse mere business with real growth.”

“The hustle and the daily grind can wear you down. Fuck the hustle.”

“Bravery puts you into the game; fear keeps you from doing something really stupid.”

“The secret of the universe is that no one knows shit. No one has the right answer, because no one has your answer.”

“Everyone is making it up as they go; some just fail more successfully.”

“Your flaws, quirks, and extra curves make you stand out. Lead with them.”

“Most of us are terrible judges of ourselves, let alone our work. We’re so familiar with the marks we make that we can’t recognize them as unique or special.”

“The best designers are interesting people first. Smart, funny, and curious people. Here’s my point: Learn everything. Then forget it. Let the original details and nuance blur, put your own imprint on the content and action, then create.”

“You may call it being the change or leading by example, or just doing your best. But if you want to change the world, you have to start with yourself. Real change starts with your education, your empathy, and your awareness of the world around you.”

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Lessons in exponential growth from <em>Bold</em> by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Lessons in exponential growth from Bold by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

In 1976, Kodak invented the digital camera.

You could be forgiven if you forgot all about Kodak. I had. Wikipedia says that, as of this writing, the company still has a bit over 6,000 employees. The company had to sell off a lot of its assets in 2012, and managed to make it out of Chapter 11 in September of 2013.

The company started way back in 1880, when George Eastman started manufacturing dry plates. It grew into film and then added cameras and eventually became a company that sold you a camera, the film and the developing.

And then they built the first digital camera. They owned the intellectual property on the technology.

They didn’t care. They were early, and thought it was going to be a bust.

What happened? Peter Diamandis outlines it simply:

Kodak was married to the “paper and chemicals” (film development) business… their most profitable division, while the R&D on digital cameras was a cost center.

They saw the digital world coming on, but were convinced that digital cameras wouldn’t have traction outside of the professional market.

They certainly had the expertise to design and build consumer digital cameras — Kodak actually built the Apple QuickTake, generally considered the world’s first consumer digital camera.

He would later write in Bold (co-written with Steven Kotler) that Kodak didn’t take into account Moore’s Law — which predicts the acceleration of processing speed — or the convalescence of other technology that would not only make digital photography viable, it would all but eliminate the film processing market.

In a city of 100,000 people (not big but definitely not nothing) and an art school, I know of one place to get film developed on-site. Anyone else who offers film developing sends it off for processing.

Probably to Kodak.

“Don’t be tied to your history,” Diamandis goes on to write in his blog post, outlining a series of don’ts to help avoid your business being disrupted. More importantly, though, he offers tips for disrupting your own business, the way Kodak had the rare opportunity to do.

He suggests starting with adjacencies. If you make printers, look at ink. Look at what Apple did to the accessories market a couple of years ago, changing its charging sockets.

I won’t rehash his post. You should go read it.

As you might imagine, if a blog post is full of great insight, a book that merely begins with the general premise of the insightful blog post must be something really worth reading, right?

Right.

Following are some of the more important takeaways, at least from my point of view.


As a business, grow exponentially. Use clear vision and big goals to motivate, and look toward major innovation. Here are some definitions and tips.

Exponential organizations spread exponentially through networks and are disproportionately large compared to the number of employees, while linear organizations have to add employees to add customers.

To think about this in action, consider, say, Facebook or Twitter. They can add a few hundred thousand customers and need to add a few people to technology support and security. If your local grocery store added a few hundred thousand customers, they’d need to add thousands of employees to help keep the shelves stocked and get people checked out.

Crowd-sourcing as much as possible can help an organization go exponential. Tim Ferriss talks about testing the title and subtitle of The Four-Hour Workweek on Google Ads, setting up unique URLs with “Under Construction” pages and seeing which title and subtitle combination drew the most visitors.

On the product side, Quirky calls for designers to submit products and the most popular ones wind up in their shop, with enough funding for fulfillment. It crowdsources product R&D while giving designers a place their stuff will get sold without having to deal with it themselves.

“Goal-setting is one of the easiest ways to increase motivation and enhance performance,” he writes, noting that having goals increases performance and productivity 11-25 percent.

While having big goals is important to driving innovation — improving something 10 percent keeps you stuck with the same tools and limitations, he writes, while going for a 10 times improvement requires you to invent something — lining goals up with values can lead to some amazing work.

In 1943, the US Army charged Lockheed Martin with building something entirely new to help defeat the Germans, whose jet fleet was increasingly becoming a major threat in World War II.

Since improving existing technology only a little was not going to be a good strategy, Lockheed sent some engineers into isolation — where they would be uninfluenced both by the other work going on in the company and by distraction — and they created something brand new in a month.

They innovated and delivered a new jet months quicker than the Army even managed to get them a contract.

That project, the Skunk Works, still exists as an innovation team.


Other notes

Gartner hype cycle.

The Gartner hype cycle details the commercial success arc of new innovations. It peaks early and then crashes, but then works its way back up.

While the hype cycle research has been around for a while, we can see it clearly in recent technology, even in the internet age. Think about Friendster and MySpace. They peaked early, and while they’re both still around, they didn’t make it for the long haul, really.

It also puts me in mind of virtual reality. Remember the movie Hackers? Fisher Stevens’ character stands on a VR platform with goggles and gloves. It’s been around a long time, and is only just now — decades later — starting to get near to being in many homes.

The great Kevin Kelly thought virtual reality was coming in the 1990s. He tells Chase Jarvis he’s not real sure it’ll be in every household this time, but there’s a reasonable chance he’ll be wrong a second time.

The Six Ds of emergent technologies and exponential growth

  1. Digitalization — Anything that can be digitized can be subject to Moore’s Law
  2. Deception — The first steps appear small, but if we think the early steps at .01, .02 and .04 all look like zero, we miss that we’re getting toward one, and once we hit one, we’re 20 steps from over a million
  3. Disruption — New technology comes along deceptively slowly then blows up
  4. Demonetization — The shadow economy in plain sight. Think Google giving away office tools (like Docs and Sheets) in exchange for data instead of dollars, or Linux being entirely free
  5. Dematerialization — Goods disappear, so do services surrounding those goods (think about Apple getting rid of the headphone jack)
  6. Democratization — Costs drop so low that (almost) anyone can afford them

Google’s 8 innovation principles

Here are the ways that Google looks to grow:

• User focus
• Share everything
• Look for ideas everywhere
• Thing big, start small (iterate)
• Never fail to fail
• Spark with imagination, fuel with data
• Be a platform
• Have a mission that matters

Think at scale

These are the things that Larry Page (Google), Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink), Richard Branson (Virgin) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon, Washington Post) consider when growing their businesses:

• Risk-taking and risk-mitigation
• Rapid iteration and ceaseless experimentation
• Passion and purpose
• Long-term thinking
• Customer-centric thinking
• Probabalistic thinking
• Rationally optimistic thinking
• Reliance on first principles (fundamental truths)

Make stone soup

You’re probably familiar with this old tale of soldiers who get a village to chip in to make a good soup from nothing.

You can throw something out there, and if it has a good foundation, others will chip in to help build your product.

Other resources

A few places you can connect with Diamandis and his projects:

Abundance Hub
Singularity Hub
Singularity University

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Crazy, coffee and conundrums: Lessons from <em>Abundance</em> by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Crazy, coffee and conundrums: Lessons from Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler

In the years that most informed my early adulthood — those from my mid-teens to my mid-20s, say — I frequented the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. I had many late nights and long, deep conversations at the now-closed Fire & Water Cafe (you can now see remnants, or indeed, a new iteration, at Cafe Evolution up the road in Florence).

I visited friends at Smith College, which has an all-female undergraduate student body.

And the city is also known for the Northampton State Hospital, a mental institution that grew so big in its first century so as to be serving nearly 2,500 patients by the mid-1950s.

Northampton State Hospital was also a terrible place — you can actually see some of it in the asylum scenes in the movie “In Dreams” — that in 1978 a judge ordered the institution to reduce its patient load to 50 by 1981.

While the Brewster Decree (or Northampton Decree, as it’s sometimes called) didn’t fully close the hospital until 1993, you don’t go from serving over 2,000 patients down to 50 without largely just discharging your patients out into the streets of the city.

A number of those wandering, previously committed souls were still out wandering the city in the 1990s and early 2000s while I was also out wandering the city. So I learned some stuff from them, too.

“You need to be a little crazy to change the world,” write Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler on page 233 of Abundance, “and you can’t really fake it.”


Coffee

I drink a lot of coffee. My wife will have a cup when she wakes up, and sometimes, on a day off, she might have a second. On my days off, I’ll drink one cup when I wake up, and two or three more throughout the day. If I’m working, I’ll have one when I wake up, one while I’m making dinner, and then it’s a fairly steady stream of joe until midnight or 1 a.m., depending on when I’m scheduled.

Depending upon whom you ask, coffee might have been discovered as a beverage in the ninth century or the tenth century or perhaps a little bit later, at least for the modern version (thirteenth century).

It was probably more like the seventeenth century when we started mass producing coffee and slurping it like we do.

Something else I enjoy drinking is beer, which we’ve probably had since we figured out agriculture (leave some grain in a pot, head out for a hunt, it rains, you come back in a few days, drink the water out of the pot and get drunk).

Take an hour of your life to watch “How Beer Saved the World” — you’ll probably learn more than you wanted to.

When water wasn’t safe to drink because we had sewage and dead animals running into our water supplies and no treatment plants, we were drinking beer, because the fermentation process made it safe to drink.

So, for centuries, we were drinking beer, and then we figured out coffee. We didn’t go from half-drunk to sober, Diamandis and Kotler point out, we went from half-drunk to wired.

In his essay Java Man, Malcolm Gladwell gives coffee (and tobacco) a lot of credit for really getting us going as a species.

It is worth noting, as well, that in the original coffeehouses nearly everyone smoked, and nicotine also has a distinctive physiological effect. It moderates mood and extends attention, and, more important, it doubles the rate of caffeine metabolism: it allows you to drink twice as much coffee as you could otherwise. In other words, the original coffeehouse was a place where men of all types could sit all day; the tobacco they smoked made it possible to drink coffee all day; and the coffee they drank inspired them to talk all day. Out of this came the Enlightenment. (The next time we so perfectly married pharmacology and place, we got Joan Baez.)

In time, caffeine moved from the café to the home. In America, coffee triumphed because of the country’s proximity to the new Caribbean and Latin American coffee plantations, and the fact that throughout the nineteenth century duties were negligible. Beginning in the eighteen-twenties, Courtwright tells us, Brazil “unleashed a flood of slave-produced coffee. American per capita consumption, three pounds per year in 1830, rose to eight pounds by 1859.”

What this flood of caffeine did, according to Weinberg and Bealer, was to abet the process of industrialization–to help “large numbers of people to coordinate their work schedules by giving them the energy to start work at a given time and continue it as long as necessary.”

I’ve certainly had at least (and probably more than) my fair share of focus and productivity thanks to caffeine. Just listen to Kelvin and I slurping away during our JKWD podcasts.


OK, so let’s talk about the lessons we learn from Abundance. This was supposed to be a post about the book, remember?

First, let’s look at how we move from thinking in a scarcity mindset to thinking in an abundance mindset.

Abundance is wrought of technology.

If I have an orange tree and I pick all the oranges on the lowest branches, I now have a scarcity of oranges. When someone invents the ladder, I now have an abundance of oranges, since I can reach all the fruit on the higher branches.

In the mid-19th century, aluminum was more valuable than gold. The top of the Washington Monument is capped in aluminum. It cost more per ounce than the average daily wage for someone working to build it. In the ensuing decades, researchers in America and France would figure out how to isolate the metal with an electrolytic process, and now it’s so easy to get aluminum we wrap our cold pizza in it.

Some 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, but 97.3 percent of that is salt water. Lots of people today die from lack of clean drinking water, but when we come up with a good desalination technology, the scarcity will go away.


The bottom of pyramid, the domino effect and reworking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Right now, hundreds of millions or billions of people live in poverty, food scarcity, water scarcity, lack of health care, etc. These people represent the the bottom of the pyramid — a swath of humanity large enough to boost up the rest of the world, except for the fact that they’re suffering.

If we can take care of these people, they can contribute to society, solving more (world) problems.

Think, also, of a mother who spends her day toting water for cleaning and drinking and cooking. Giver her clean running water in her home, and now she can go to work, raising both the wealth of her family and her nation’s GDP.

Give Bill Gates enough money to pay his bills, now he can go defeat malaria. Give a painkiller-addicted, depressed MMA fighter a new purpose, and he can go build wells in the Congo.

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who, in the mid-20th century, developed a fundamental hierarchy of needs. It starts with basic human needs (food, water, air and such) at the bottom, and once you can get that taken care of, you can move on to the next level, with the top being self-actualization, or the ability to be personally fulfilled.

Diamandis and Kotler argue for reworking Maslow’s pyramid into a three-tier pyramid starting in about the same place, but basically replacing the middle three tiers with a single tier that includes education, energy (as in power, be it solar, battery, etc.) and communication. At the top, you find liberty, freedom and other things that many of us take for granted, like health care.


Other Notes and Resources

Worry Brain

The amygdala is an almond-shaped sliver in the temporal love responsible for assessing danger and then looking to neutralize it. I talked about this in the our crazy brains spisode of the podcast. It’s an anxious slice of your brain, and once stimulated, it almost never shuts up. It’s responsible for fight or flight, and the biggest problem it has right now is there are very few real reasons to be naturally concerned, so it makes up worst-case scenarios to find a reason to panic.

Don’t get caught up in what your amygdala’s telling you, or you have problems, and probably not even real ones.

Four motivations for innovation

From the weakest to the strongest, there are the reasons people innovate:

• Curiosity
• Fear
• Wealth
• Significance

In other words, money is actually a stronger driver than many people might admit, but it’s still not as strong a driver as the esteem in which you’ll be held.

Other resources

A few places you can connect with Diamandis and his projects:

Abundance Hub
Singularity Hub
Singularity University

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As the brain spins: It takes incremental growth to build toward monumental growth

As the brain spins: It takes incremental growth to build toward monumental growth

I’ve gotten very into the brain recently. I’m not really sure why – it’s just one of those things that popped up in my life and I decided to roll with it.

I was listening to Steven Kotler on Joe Rogan’s podcast and decided to go to the library and take out Kotler’s book The Rise of Superman.

The brief backstory on Kotler is that he got Lyme disease, it was misdiagnosed and he was in bed for three years. Eventually a friend convinced him to go surfing and his body started to heal. “Hmm,” he thought. “Surfing is not a known cure for chronic autoimmune diseases.”

So he did some research and discovered that action sports with a fair bit of risk get us into a state called flow, a state that not only helps with decision-making in high-pressure situations, it’s that state that gets us writing, conversing, coding or whatever for hours with a high level of correctness and efficiency.

Kotler figured out for himself while writing a book that he could get himself into flow reliably with a specific bit of exercise he would use any time he was blocked and trying to solve a problem. If you’ve ever sat down with a friend and started talking and all of a sudden four hours have passed, you’ve been in flow.

Anyway, Kotler was so fascinated with flow he started a business around it.

In The Rise of Superman, Kotler outlines some of the neuroscience behind flow. Meanwhile, I was taking another one of my random walks through the library stacks and Kayt Sukel’s The Art of Risk jumped out at me.

She was a badass when she was younger. A climber who, after getting divorced, took her one-year-old son and backpacked around Europe. She got in an MRI machine and had an orgasm for a book and went around the country talking about it.

But she found herself taking fewer risks as she got older and wondered why, so she set out to figure out what goes on in a risk-taker’s brain.

And fuck if she wasn’t writing about the same bits of the brain that Kotler wrote about.

Somewhere in there – and I have absolutely no idea how I came across this – I stumbled upon a study of gamma brain activity and Parkinson’s.

We’ll come back to this later, but gamma activity is a signifier of flow.

Crazy. It was a sure sign that I needed to know a little more.


Here are some things we know about the brain. While I’ve been reading a lot here and there, the most succinct source for the historical stuff in this section is The Great Brain Book by HP Newquist.

Several thousand years ago, the Egyptians, in the mummification of the dead, were the first people to cut open bodies in an effort to preserve them.

They thought the brain was trash.

In the mummification process, the organs were removed so that the body could dry. The heart was returned to the chest. This is the organ the Egyptians believed handled thought, emotion and everything else, and that it would be useful in the afterlife to have it inside the body.

The lungs, kidneys and other stuff that sits in the torso were placed in jars and left nearby the body in the tomb (the Egyptians also left toys and tools and other things they thought the body could use in the afterlife).

Then they shoved a chisel in the nasal cavity, stuck a hook up there and yanked out what they could of the brain. They would later scoop out whatever was left.

They didn’t leave the brain in the body. They didn’t even put it in a jar. It just went out with the garbage.

Things go that way for about 1,400 years, until Herophilus, the “father of anatomy,” cuts open cadavers and finds that the brain does connect to the rest of the body. This is around 300 BCE.

Four to five hundred years later, Galen posits that the brain actually handles a lot of functions, including moods. He gets the mechanism so wrong it’s not worth discussing, but there’s at least the understanding that the brain controls a good bit of what makes us people.

We’re at about 1,900 years ago now.

Over the next, oh, 1,750 years, we get detailed drawings, but no real new science.

Then, in 1848, a railroad worker named Phineas Gage is clearing some space to lay track. He puts dynamite in a hole, tamps it down, and BLAM! – the explosive blows before he can get out of the way and his tamping rod goes up through his jaw, behind his left eye and out the top of his head.

As he’s laying on the ground, the rod still stuck in him, workers come over and collect what they assume is the body of their late colleague. Instead, they help Gage up, and he’s walking around and talking just like normal.

Well, as normal as you can be with a tamping rod sticking out of two holes in your head.

Gage lives another 12 years, with the only real noticeable side effect being that he turns into a really grumpy dude.

Doctors, of course, started examining him right away, and they studied his brain long after he died.

The biggest discovery early on from Gage’s examinations was that different parts of the brain handle different things.

In 1861, a French physician named Pierre Paul Broca meets a patient named Louis Victor Leborgne. Leborgne could only say the syllable, “Tan.” He seemed perfectly normal otherwise. His body language suggested that he understood everything that people said to him or asked him, but he couldn’t say anything but “Tan.”

Broca postulated that Leborgne had damage in the part of his brain that handled language, and, sure enough, when they opened his head upon his death, one part of his brain was badly decayed.

In the 1870s, a pair of doctors figured out that the right side of the brain handles the left side of the body and the left side of the brain controls the right – in other words, the two sides of the brain work independently.

Over the ensuing half-century, we learn that the brain sends out electrical signals, and in 1924, we get the EEG, which worked then pretty much the same way it works now (we of course now also have the MRI as a more comprehensive way to look at brain activity).

In the 1950s, Wilder Penfield discovers he can get physical reactions by stimulating different parts of the brain.

And that’s it, until very recently. Quick review:
1700 – 300 BCE: We go from throwing out the brain to learning that it’s connected to the rest of our inside.
Around 100 CE: We start thinking the brain controls our feelings
Around 1500 CE: Anatomists start drawing things
1848-1950s CE: We learn basically everything you and I learned in science class about the brain.

More on innovation timelines: Rambling thoughts on innovation »


That covers about 3,650 years.

In the 60 or so years that have passed since then – and we all know people who are way older than that – we’ve learned so much more. We’ve developed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines that can read what’s going on in the brain. We know what each part of the brain does, at least to some extent. We know about neurotransmitters. We know about brain waves.

And we’ve been manipulating pieces here and there, with more and more accuracy. With the development of earlier drugs like fluoxetine and sertraline (Prozac and Zoloft, respectively), we figured out how to do things like block some neurotransmitter receptors. More and more specific drugs have been developed as well, and a current fad is over-the-counter nootropics like Alpha Brain and lion’s mane-and-chaga mushroom “coffee” (both of which I’ll recommend, but the Alpha Brain much moreso than the mushroom coffee).

As much as Alpha Brain help you with your focus and thinking abilities, there are other supplements for other things, for example, I have been using ligandrol for almost 2 months now and I absolutely love it ligandrol testosterone booster. Testosterone is needed to help with the body and the brain, having low counts of testosterone can add to muscle loss and weight gain, this is why having a testosterone booster worked into the daily diet can help people with gaining muscle and battling fatigue.

Kotler also recommends a recipe for getting into flow predictably, though I won’t post it here as (a) he put the work in, (b) I haven’t tried it to be able to recommend it and (c) it might not be legal everywhere.

We’re only going to get better at manipulating our brains, too, and the speed of information gathering is going to continue to increase.

Exciting stuff, huh? And what amazing creatures we are!

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Lessons in leadership from Jocko Willink: <em>Extreme Ownership</em> and beyond

Lessons in leadership from Jocko Willink: Extreme Ownership and beyond

“Don’t count on motivation. Count on discipline,” Jocko Willink says on an audience Q&A episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast.

Willink is a retired Navy Seal and co-author with retired Seal Leif Babin of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. The two are partners in a corporate leadership consulting firm called Echelon Front (NOTE: auto-play audio, safe for work).

I first came to know of Willink on an interview-style podcast he did with Ferriss; Joe Rogan learned so much from that episode that he had Willink on his show soon after.

I know that lately with my non-fiction book reviews, I’ve been primarily listing the notes I took. But I took six pages of notes on this one. I’d be doing both you and Extreme Ownership a disservice if that’s how I approached this.

What I’m going to do first is recommend the book. It’s a quick read (I read it in three sittings, despite taking six pages of notes), it’s really interesting and it’s immensely practical.

In each chapter, Babin or Willink (they each wrote half the chapters) begins with a combat story. They set the stage, discuss the mission, how it was designed and executed, what went right and wrong, and discuss the principles at play. Then, in a short section, they more clearly define the principle. Finally, the chapter concludes with the principle at play in a business setting — using an example from a business their company has actually worked with.

The combat stories are interesting to me as someone who has never been in combat; I imagine they’d be interesting to someone who has served, as well. The principles are clearly defined. I’ve seen many of the business examples at play in companies I’ve worked for.

I tend to take bodies of work as a whole in my brain. These items were certainly in the book, but they also bleed into the podcasts and other writings. These are my four favorite takeaways (but again, read the book and listen for yourself). You can also scroll down to the bottom of this post for photos of my notes if you want more.

When the team understands the mission, they can better carry it out. This isn’t a new idea, but it is something that leadership has long been resistant to. Jump to around 50 minutes in this Richard Feynman lecture — when the military conscripted a bunch of engineering students to punch holes in cards at Los Alamos, it was slow going. But when Feynman got clearance to tell them what they were doing and why, they went from solving three problems in nine months to solving nine problems in three months, inventing new processes and programs along the way.

Too often, the people doing the work are asked to just do the work, without any insight into the larger goal. In other words, they don’t have a look at the big picture and are just checking off something on their to-do lists.

Be willing to tell your frontline workers why you want them to do something. At the very least, you give them a sense of purpose within the larger context of what you’re trying to accomplish. You might get a lot more, though: you might get better ways to do things. You might get insight into other ways to accomplish your goals. You might get insight into other things you’re also accomplishing without realizing it.

The more people you have invested in the goal, the more likely you are to be successful.

I think enough time has passed that I can talk a little about the time earlier this year when I thought I was going to be unemployed. I had received a month’s notice that my department was to be eliminated. A little less than two weeks later, an asshole with a gun shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, and instead of waiting until 9 a.m. to post to our news sites, when I was scheduled to work, I delayed my run by half an hour to post it before 7 a.m. A few days later I got a call that the company had decided not to eliminate my department.

I’m sure that the one action I took did not save the department. I’m sure, however, that it helped. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t understood our mission as a company and what my role in accomplishing that mission was. I don’t post news to check “post news” off my to-do list, I do it because it helps us achieve our goals. If I didn’t understand that, I might have just waited until it was time for me to clock in.

Departments within the same company need to find a way to work together without blaming each other for shortcomings. I’ve encountered this problem in every company I’ve ever worked for. Some of those companies have been hugely successful. Some have failed.

In every case, the problem has been communication. Specifically, a failure to communicate a reminder that different departments are not competing, trying to keep each other down. We are working toward the same goal. It seems sometimes like Department A is trying to sabotage Department B. In all likelihood, it really is that Department B has never told Department A what the problem is how Department A could better help Department B — and conversely, ask if there’s a way for Department B to help solve the problem, with different communication or other practices.

Leadership works in two directions within the chain of command: Down and up. Leadership is a personality trait more often than it is a function of title. If you have a leader among the rank-and-file, you’ll want to make sure you listen, even if you’re a great leader. A higher rank is not always an indicator of the best idea for every situation.

In about 4 of every 5 shifts I work, I have rank. I’m good at a lot of things. Sadly, delegation is not one of them, but I’m working on that. One of the things I have definitely gotten better at, though, is recognizing strengths in others and either leaning on them for the things they’re strong at, or asking them to teach me those things.

If you want to change the way things are done, pick your battles and earn the right to be heard. This is hugely important in every organization, not just companies. Every organization has its faults, and many of them are operational. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” is a common answer for why things are done the way they are. That doesn’t mean it’s a good answer.

When you see something that could be done better, it makes sense to speak up. But first, you must show you understand the mission: why you’re doing the thing you’re doing and why it’s been done that way for so long. You must be a voracious worker — someone who has earned the trust of those who have the power to change things before you’ll really be heard up the chain of command.

And if you make noise on one thing, you might not get heard on something else, so pick your battles. You don’t want to be seen as a complainer, someone who just hates all the processes. At some point, you’ll just be the boy who cried wolf.

***

Willink also has his own podcast. I personally don’t enjoy it: his delivery is very dry even if the information is interesting; it’s not for me. I know other people who enjoy it.

Photos of my notes: Pages 1-2 | Pages 3-4 | Pages 5-6

Political disclaimer: Willink and Babin are both veterans. They served their country with honor. They support the missions given them. They also follow Department of Defense guidelines n the way they write about war, soldiers and the U.S. mission. You do not need to agree with them to get a lot of their work. You do, however, need to be willing to look past your own prejudices, whether you agree with them or not. Either way, I don’t believe either of them is guilty of blind boosterism.

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