Around 2003, I published a small site sharing short views of culture, technology, and society by minds who were all smarter than me. The site had a short life, but the persistently curious reader and observer in me, now much older but just as hungry, wants to revive it and continue sharing.
Contact me to share your own ideas and comments. Or get this site’s feed.
“If you’re an amateur your focus should be on avoiding stupidity.” How to play the long game and succeed by avoiding mistakes … more >>
“Indeed, to the extent [that Whole Foods’ Mackey has compared Amazon to] Waterloo is a valid analogy, Amazon is much more akin to the British Empire, and there is now one less obstacle to sitting astride all aspects of the economy.”
– Ben Thompson, “Amazon’s New Customer,” Stratechery
Stoics saw human nature as capable of rationality if trained (a factor “rational actor” fans often ignore), training in three disciplines (of desires, actions, and reactions) and in four capabilities (“courage, temperance, justice and practical wisdom”) … more >>
“Obsoletion – where a cheaper, single-purpose product is replaced by a more expensive, general purpose product – is just as common as ‘disruption’ – even more so, in fact. Why the Mac (and PC), iPod, and iPhone weren’t so much disruptive as they were obsoletive.”
– Ben Thompson, “Obsoletive,” Stratechery
“Pop-up philosophy is often more of an occasion for selfie-snapping than self-reflection. How to find the time to stop, sit down and think.” more >>
–André Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School at City, University of London, author of The Stupidity Paradox: The Power and Pitfalls of Functional Stupidity at Work (2016). You can get the book on Amazon.
“It’s a grave mistake to think Google can replace your memory. It can, however, complement it, if we keep in mind what each does best.”
–Daniel Willingham, psychology professor at University of Virginia, “You Still Need Your Brain,” New York Times.
Is it normal to feel more spiritual as one ages? Hindus mark out four stages in life: brahmacari (student), grihastha (householder), vanaprashtha (forest-dweller), sannyasi (renounced one). This structure reminds me that perhaps the elderly are drawn to spiritual questions not because they are caught up in beliefs of rewards or punishments in the afterlife or because they fear death. Rather it may be because the time finally feels right to satisfy inchoate yearnings for any kind of answer to those questions. “The Aśrama System” by Patrick Olivelle … book available at Amazon.
“What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” Harvard political scientist Graham Allison says the Thucydides Trap can occur when a ruling power, feeling threatened by an assertive rising power, often resorts to war. Mr. Graham argues nations like the U.S. can apply lessons from history, apply mutual deterrence strategies, to deal with today’s emerging powers like China … more >>
“A good founder is capable of anticipating which turns lead to treasure and which lead to certain death. A bad founder is just running to the entrance of (say) the “movies/music/filesharing/P2P” maze or the “photosharing” maze without any sense for the history of the industry, the players in the maze, the casualties of the past, and the technologies that are likely to move walls and change assumptions.” more >>
–Balaji S. Srinivasan, venture capitalist, “The Idea Maze“
Self-talk can help us learn and think better. When we’re engaged in a conversation with ourselves, we typically ask ourselves questions along the lines of: “How will I know what I know? What do I find confusing? Do I really know this?” Whether we hit the pause button while listening to a podcast or stop to reflect while reading a manual, we develop skills more effectively by thinking about our thinking… more >>
–Ulrich Boser, book author and senior fellow at American Progress
“It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang onto.”
–Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and a prolific reader of books, once reading two per day in various disciplines when he was younger… more >>
“When I talk to researchers, when I talk to people wanting to engage in entrepreneurship, I tell them that if you read research papers consistently, if you seriously study half a dozen papers a week and you do that for two years, after those two years you will have learned a lot. This is a fantastic investment in your own long term development.”
– Andrew Ng, A.I. expert “Inside The Mind That Built Google Brain: On Life, Creativity, And Failure“
“Keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon and sleep like a dog.”
– Li Qing-Yun, Taoist Immortalist and herbalist, who is said to have lived for over 250 years >>
“Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before. It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.”
-U.S. Marine General James Mattis (now the U.S. Secretary of Defense), via Shane Parrish. See General Mattis’ reading list >>
“Events that take place in the first three months of gestation, a stage when the [human] fetus is really very small and developing very rapidly, can affect an individual for the rest of his or her life.”
– Nessa Carey, from her book “The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance.” You can get the book on Amazon.
“The point of travel is to go to places that can help us with our inner evolution. The outer journey should assist us with the inner one.”
– Alain de Botton. Visit his site “The Book of Life“
“The duty of man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads and … attack it from every side.”
Has the human mind, finite in its capacity, been finally eclipsed by science and technology? more >>
“Courage, President Kennedy knew, requires something more than just the absence of fear. Any fool can be fearless. Courage, true courage, derives from that sense of who we are … and the belief that we can dig deep and do hard things for the enduring benefit of others.”
– Barack Obama, in a speech on May 7th while accepting the 2017 Centennial “Profiles in Courage” JFK Award… more >>
“The best defence against combative ideologies isn’t more facts, but an admission of the limits to our knowledge.” Is human cognition reaching its limits in solving humanity’s social problems today?
-Dr. Robert Burton, author of A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves (2013). You can get the book on Amazon.
“The same incompetence that leads people to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence.”
-Dunning & Kruger
“I divide my officers into four groups: clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. [Among the four groups] anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions.”
-German general Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, used Hanlon’s razor to assess his men
“Being immersed in the commercial world constrains the mind, limiting it to conventional, acceptable thought; it is hard to close a sale if we pause in the proceedings to meditate at length about a man’s relation to the cosmos.”
-Daniel Klein, “Travels with Epicurus” – terrific book on aging well and gracefully with purpose, through the ruminations of an old man dawdling through the timeless philosophy of the wise. You can get the book on Amazon.
“Of all ridiculous things, the most ridiculous seems to me, to be busy – to be a man who is brisk about his food and his work.” Busy, in other words, is a decision … you don’t find the time to do things, you make the time to do things.
“Intelligence analysts should be self-conscious about their reasoning processes. They should think about how they make judgments and reach conclusions, not just about the judgments and conclusions themselves…”
– Richards J. Heuer, “Psychology of Intelligence Analysis” more >>
“The best remedy to anger is delay. For men are no beasts, who know no more how to be angry than they know how to pardon.”
Like these two brothers and many visitors to the Plum Village, I came, in 2016, with no expectations and no prior knowledge of the place, the people, or its practice. I did come armed with questions and brought a couple of books by Thich Nhat Hanh, renowned Zen master and Buddhist. After a month practicing silent meditation, I came away transformed … more >>
Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, Ingmar Bergman and Charles Darwin working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a high passion, ambition and capacity to focus, yet only worked a few hours a day. How did they manage to be so accomplished? more >>
Napoleon Bonaparte was said to have studied all the great wars before his time, those of Hannibal, Alexander the Great and others, so completely and intently that he was able to intuit coup d’oeil – the right strategy at the right opportunity – to earn his many victories in the battlefield. more >>
“Any type of change is hard, but institutional change – with the need to overcome tradition and bureaucracy – is the most difficult.” How father of modern oceanography Matthew Fontaine Maury mastered geographical, wind and sea data, and transformed maritime exploration… more >>
“You’ll have to work twice as hard to get half as much. So get busy,” says a mom to a 10 year-old Marty Chavez after complaining that he was the only Hispanic kid in a private school in New Mexico. Chavez is now Goldman Sach’s incoming CFO after years at the firm and as a serial tech entrepreneur… more >>
“The deep learning and AI sector have heated up in labor markets to relatively unprecedented levels. Large companies are recently paying $6–10 million per engineer for talent acquisitions, and $4–5M per head for pre-product startups still in academia …” more >>
“Our family lives in over-scheduled [team-sports] suburbia. Sometimes it feels downright dystopian. If you live in the suburbs [in the US], participation in team sports seems to be all the social activity on offer…” more >>
“The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality. But the law is also a memory; the law records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.”
-Barack Obama in Dreams from My Father. You can get the book on Amazon.
“Choosing whom to commit ourselves to [or stay married with] is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.” A short pep talk attempting to help modern couples live with the dilemma of needing closeness and freedom at the same time – from one of my favorite contemporary philosophers Alain de Botton. Visit his site “The Book of Life“
“This world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.” Sarah Kay writes, reads, and performs poetry for diverse audiences. I love her body of work.
Azeem Azhar talks with Professor Jeff Zachs, an authority on economic development and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Good conversation covering a wide range of topics: AI, wealth inequality, automation and ethics by Aristotle, who is one of my favorite philosophers. Soundcloud link (46 minutes)
“Paying attention is the only thing that guarantees insight. It is the only real weapon we have against power.”
–Michelle Dean, a writer for the New Yorker and New York Times, on why paying attention is a moral obligation.
“Look, my job is essentially just corralling more and more facts and information, and occasionally seeing whether that leads to some action. And Charlie [Munger] — his children call him a book with legs.”
-Warren Buffett, famous investor, billionaire, and a prolific reading machine who spends 80% of his day reading … more >>
Taylor’s Gift is a story of hope and courage in the face of tragedy. My dearest sister, who knows I love reading, gave it to me as a holiday gift to console me over the recent losses of our brother and our beloved dog. Thirteen-year old Taylor Storch lost her life in a skiing accident and the book tells the harrowing journey her surviving parents and family went afterwards. Taylor’s foundation now functions to preserve her legacy. You can get the book on Amazon.
The art of any deal is really the art of its next deal. “When we fail to consider the future consequences of mistreating our counter-parties in a current ‘deal’ or first phase, it can wind up leaving our “reputational cue ball” ill-positioned for the next shot—the next deal or phase to come down the pike.”
-Charles Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, and Shane Parrish on the four types of relationships.
Caterina Fake writes about literature, poetry, social justice and the arts on her site at caterina.net. I’ve been following her work and writings since 2000, around the time she launched her site and years before she became more well-known for founding Flickr (acquired by Yahoo), and Hunch (acquired and shut down by eBay). Over 118 thousand followers on Twitter and a Fast Company’s Fast 50 awardee.
Avinash Kaushik at Occam’s Razor is a main go-to resource for me on analytics and the data sciences. His blog is (and books are) written in very simple, plain English, and are easy to read, in honor of the former Franciscan friar William of Occam who above all valued principles of economy and simplicity.
Gary Vaynerchuk may hate me if I described him as my main go-to “motivational speaker” because in reality who he is, what he’s done with his work and Vayner Media defy one singularly apt description. Entrepreneur, social media expert, digital media baron, businessman, mentor, hyper-energetic speaker, the list could be endless #AskGaryVee. Over 1,400,000 followers on Twitter. Here’s a sample video of one motivating talk.
Azeem Azhar covers Exponential View and gives a weekly “tour” of how technology is changing business models, society, politics and the economy. I make room in my schedule once a week to at least listen to and reflect on his podcasts on Soundcloud. He has over 15,000 subscribers and 17,000 followers on Twitter.
Perhaps Nouriel “Dr. Doom” Roubini does not deserve his nom de guerre, but he correctly predicted many of the events in the last Great Recession in 2008. I am one of his over 425,000 followers on Twitter and a subscriber to his Economonitor site.
“My own theory is that we are in the middle of a dramatic and broad technological and economic shift in which software companies are poised to take over large swathes of the economy…the battles between incumbents and software-powered insurgents will be epic. Joseph Schumpeter, the economist who coined the term ‘creative destruction,’ would be proud.”
–Marc Andreesen, former founder of Netscape and venture capitalist at A16Z (listen to their podcasts), in a 2011 essay “Software is Eating the World,” still relevant to this day.
Robert Solomon’s “Building Trust in Business, Relationships and Life” often makes for dense, philosophical reading but is worth the effort once you get through it. Trust is a big deal – wars in history were often rooted in mistrust, and today our most important economic resource is credit, which is a form of trust in the future. You can get the book on Amazon.
Albert Meige on why in 2033, you will be “transferring,” i.e. selling your services to the highest bidder, unless you’re among the unlucky 90% who will not possess the right skills or education to be working. Mr. Meige runs Presans, an “open innovation” crowdsourced platform linking 5 million industry experts in business and strategy. 18-minute video.
Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind“ is the singular best book I’ve read in years. It’s a sweeping meditation and analysis of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific revolutions that continue to shape humanity, questioning along the way our notions of human exceptionalism. Barack Obama and Bill Gates also like the book. You can get it on Amazon.
Wikistrat crowdsourced consulting’s analytic community of over 2,200 diverse and interdisciplinary subject matter experts on geopolitics, strategy and economics is the future of management consulting. Its roster of over 500 PhDs and 125 former military officers, and simulation-driven methodology offer a compelling alternative to McKinsey or Deloitte.
Daniel Kahneman’s book on Thinking Fast and Slow is a very readable, non-technical purview of our mind’s often systematic thinking errors and how they are mainly due to “errors in the machinery of cognition (ie. biases, heuristics) rather than to the corruption of thought by emotion.” Terrific book on understanding your own mental systems, as well as a “must-read” at the CIA. You can get it on Amazon.
“Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding. Each book opens up new avenues of knowledge to explore.”
–Bill Gates’ list of books is on my virtual book shelf. He reads up to 50 books per year. I am often either consuming or planning to read one of the books he has read and recommends. Mr. Gates, founder of Microsoft, the Gates Foundation has over 30 million followers on Twitter and is perennially on the Forbes list of billionaires.
John Brockman’s The Edge is my go-to resource for answers to “questions on the edge of knowledge,” a never-ending source of stimulating discourse from brilliant minds. Mr. Brockman, the son of a former flower seller, has nearly 50,000 followers on Twitter and many contributors to his annual questions, such as this one posted in 2008 on what have you changed your mind about and why?
James Clear writes about “behavioral psychology, habit formation, and performance improvement.” I’m one of over 350,000 subscribers to his weekly newsletter and consumer of his simple but good content on mental systems. His article on four burners theory is a favorite of mine.
Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings ,”a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why,” is my go-to resource for meditations on design, philosophy, and psychology. Ms. Popova was a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree and in Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative in Business list.
Benedict Evans at Andreessen Horowitz is my main resource for “what’s going on and what will happen next” in artificial intelligence, mobile and technology. He has over 70,000 subscribers and 190,000 followers on Twitter.
Shane Parrish’s Farnam Street blog is my go-to resource for “making better decisions, creating new ideas, and avoiding stupid errors.” One of my aims in the years ahead is to rebuild my own mental latticework of models. Parrish has over 500,000 subscribers and is a big fan of Buffett and Munger as I am.
“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers,” former Harvard president and educator Charles William Elliot once said. If you like history, biographies or philosophy, thanks to Anubhab Tyagi’s work, you can read over 950 books for free.