Book: Whiplash – How to survive our faster future.

Whiplash is a book about thriving in a world that is only gaining speed. Joi Ito was a director of now-famous MIT Media Lab and Jeff Howe is a veteran Wired author. Together, they dissect the most important scientific advances of history to discover what makes them tick.

Amazon link.

They distill it into few principles for thriving in a changing world.

The core premise is that old rules no longer serve us. Previously, the world roughly stayed the same over centuries. Now, I can expect everything to change few times during my lifetime. I cannot use the old playbook to navigate this landscape.

  1. Emergence over Authority – true innovation often happens despite of, not because of management. You cannot decree a breakthrough. 
  2. Pull over Push is basically Market economy vs Central Planning. Once you lay out the incentives in a proper way, people will know what should end up where. With central planning (push) you will be mostly clueless about the realities you are working with.
  3. Compasses over Maps will let you navigate the unexplored spaces
  4. Risk over Safety is safer long-term
  5. Disobedience over Compliance yields the best ideas.
  6. Practice over Theory will let you navigate the real world, not the textbook one
  7. Diversity over Ability adapts better to changing circumstances.
  8. Resilience over Strength will ensure you don’t break
  9. Systems over Objects will keep you going.

I would summarize it into: Be a gardener, not an Architect. Let people do their best and try not to mess the amazing process of ideation or learning.

Learning, we argue, is something you do for yourself. Education is something done to you.

Whiplash ties neatly into other books I have read recently:

  • Loonshots for a fantastic overview of the innovation process
  • Innovators for amazing history of the early computer age

My Highlights

  • and a Parisian could be forgiven for thinking that anything might happen on any given night, because anything often did.
  • humans are perpetually failing to grasp the significance of their own creations.
  • “What if the historical pattern—disruption followed by stabilization—has itself been disrupted?” ask the authors of “The Big Shift” in another article, “The New Reality: Constant Disruption.”
  • And then there’s anthropogenic complexity, or the kinds of systems—like our climate, or the chemistry of our water sources—made vastly more complex by man’s unwitting interventions. Put another way, we may have created climate change, but that doesn’t mean we understand it.
  • The quantity, or level, of complexity is influenced by four inputs: heterogeneity, a network, interdependency, and adaptation.
  • The culture isn’t so much interdisciplinary as it is proudly “antidisciplinary”; the faculty and students more often than not aren’t just collaborating between disciplines, but are exploring the spaces between and beyond them as well.

  • Learning, we argue, is something you do for yourself. Education is something done to you.
  • Resnick runs the Lifelong Kindergarten research group, and his dedication to what he calls the “four Ps” of creative learning—Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play
  • Emergence over Authority
  • A lipid never turned to a protein and said, “We need to get organized. We should all get together in the form
  • Maybe you’ll want an exotic pet? Try one of the boutique, pint-sized elephants on offer at the local GeneFab, or program your own.
  • All of these advances are creating a de facto system in which people worldwide are empowered to learn, design, develop, and participate in acts of creative disobedience.
  • Among the most underappreciated qualities of a great scientist is the willingness to look foolish.
  • To an engineer, understanding means taking it apart and putting it back together again.
  • Pull over Push
  • The logic of pull would be that supply shouldn’t even be generated until demand has emerged.
  • Instead, it is built on a platform of “rough consensus and running code,” the motto of the Internet Engineering Task Force,
  • “Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information.”
  • But serendipity is not luck. It is a combination of creating a network and an environment rich with weak ties, a peripheral vision that is “switched on,” and an enthusiasm for engagement that attracts and encourages interaction.
  • Favoring the compass over the map also allows you to explore alternate paths, make fruitful use of detours, and discover unexpected treasures.
  • If the system were mappable, it wouldn’t be as adaptable or as agile.
  • research group now known as the Lifelong Kindergarten, which generally furthered Papert’s vision of children using technology to expand their knowledge and powers of expression.
  • It is nearly impossible to have a detailed plan when leading a complex and creative organization like the Media Lab.
  • Instead of rules or even strategy, the key to success is culture.
  • It is more of a system of mythologies than some sort of mission statement or slogan
  • It informed Nicholas Negroponte’s admonition to “Demo or Die,” and it also informs Joi’s call to “Deploy.”
  • The “buy low, sell high” version of higher education is to try to find emerging fields where you have an unfair advantage and a passion.
  • Disobedience, especially in crucial realms like problem solving, often pays greater dividends than compliance.
  • Nobody has ever won a Nobel Prize by doing what they’re told, or even by following someone else’s blueprints.
  • This approach to work and to learning—probing, questioning, disobedient—helped create the Internet, and it is also changing industries from manufacturing to security.
  • In the industrialized, mass-production society of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, only a small number of people were supposed to be creative—the rest were simply expected to do as they were told.
  • simple design flaw—no letter encoded by an Enigma would ever be encoded as itself.
  • At the Media Lab, the favorite opener of any story is, “It turns out that…,” which basically means, “We were wrong in this cool way.”
  • but sometimes we have to go to first principles and consider whether the laws or rules are fair, and whether we should question them.
  • In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. —Yogi Berra
  • Students do not take science class, but “The Way Things Work.”
  • Neither do teachers organize the curriculum into “units” on, say, rocks and landforms. Instead there are “quests” and “missions” that culminate in a “boss level,”
  • Putting practice over theory means recognizing that in a faster future, in which change has become a new constant, there is often a higher cost to waiting and planning than there is to doing and then improvising.
  • Estonia, which provides free Wi-Fi to every nook and cranny of the Baltic state, in 2012 started teaching its first graders to code.
  • Education is what other people do to you. Learning is what you do to yourself.
  • effectively marshal the diversity that exists across a
  • there’s a positive correlation between successful solutions and what the researcher, Karim Lakhani, calls “distance from field.”
  • World War II, Homo sapiens’ terrible object lesson in national sympathy run amok.
  • Intervening responsibly meant understanding the role any innovation would play in a much larger system.
  • like DonkeyNet (yes, literally using donkeys to provide “drive-by” Wi-Fi for remote communities)
  • It will take many more technological breakthroughs before AlphaGo will be interested in going to nightclubs or running for office.

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