Book: Innovators by Walter Isaacson

“How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution”

Walter Isaacson’s journey over the past few years adopted a particular theme: He wrote biographies of famous inventors and in the result – he learned a lot about how innovation happens. He started with Benjamin Franklin, later continued on with Einstein, Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci and now he published Innovators.

All of the amazing people described in Innovators were brilliant, capable and extraordinary. But what we quickly find out is that innovation does not happen in vacuum. It is a collaborative process, that requires a melting pot of creative energy to come up with something good.

„Creativity is a collaborative process. Innovation comes from teams more often than from the lightbulb moments of lone geniuses.”

Amazon link

But the idea itself is not enough – it’s fragile after birth and requires a nourishing ecosystem. Technical prowess is not enough – product sense is key to to success and business-savvy is what makes the neat hack a real breakthrough.

We learn the same thing from Outliers by Malcom Gladwell and Loonshots by Safi Bahcall. The lone genius myth is an unproductive and a false one. Innovation is a result of serendipity that can be designed.

Also, damn, the years of early computer innovation were wild, fun and exciting!

“Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics.”

A final note: My grandfather is an engineer and a former jet test pilot. This book brought him immense joy. I don’t know if it’s drugs, the early computer revolution (which he had no part in since he was in Poland) or some other part of his youth. But it was really heartwarming to hear him speak about sheer genius of the people in the book.

My Highlights

  • Lady Byron wanted to make sure that Ada did not turn out like her father, and part of her strategy was to have the girl rigorously study math, as if it were an antidote to poetic imagination

  • He prescribed Euclidean geometry, followed by a dose of trigonometry and algebra. That should cure anyone, they both thought, from having too many artistic or romantic passions.

  • The marriage was a match made in rational calculus.

  • Alan was conceived in Chhatrapur, India, and born on June 23, 1912, in London, while his parents

  • “Alan was slow to learn that indistinct line that separated initiative from disobedience.”

  • “A physicist is one who’s concerned with the truth,” he later said. “An engineer is one who’s concerned with getting the job done.”

  • The machine’s calculations were combined with the labor of more than 170 people, most of them women, known as “computers,”

  • problems. I could switch my vocabulary and speak highly technical for the programmers, and then tell the same things to the managers a few hours later but with a totally different vocabulary.” Innovation requires articulation.

  • “Grace was a good man,” he declared

  • and then accepted her point. Von Neumann could listen well, and he had also mastered the ingratiating art of feigning humility.

  • Edward Teller had devised a proposal for a hydrogen bomb, dubbed “the Super,” in which a fission atomic device would be used to create a fusion reaction. To determine how this would work, the scientists needed to calculate what the force of the reactions would be at

  • Edward Teller had devised a proposal for a hydrogen bomb, dubbed “the Super,” in which a fission atomic device would be used to create a fusion reaction. To determine how this would work, the scientists needed to calculate what the force of the reactions would be at every ten-millionth of a second.

  • the proprietary model produced companies that were so entrenched and defensive that they would miss out on the personal computer revolution in the early 1970s.

  • “One day ladies will take their computers for walks in the park and tell each other ‘My little computer said such a funny thing this morning!’ ” he japed in 1951.

  • example of teamwork, of brilliant individual contributions, and of the value of basic research in an industrial framework.”36 That precisely described the mix that had become the formula for innovation in the digital

  • Indeed, there was a symbiotic relationship between the advent of the transistor radio and the rise of rock and roll. Elvis

  • As happens in many biographies, there was also the theme of living up to a late father.

  • Understand which industries are symbiotic so that you can capitalize on how they will spur each other on.

  • “As [the company] has grown larger and larger, I have enjoyed my daily work less and less,”

  • Robert Noyce took this culture to the next level. To understand him as a manager, it’s useful to recall that he was born and bred a Congregationalist. His father and both grandfathers were ministers of the dissenting denomination that had as its core creed the rejection of hierarchy and all of its trappings.

  • The more open and unstructured a workplace, he believed, the faster new ideas would be sparked, disseminated, refined, and applied.

  • “His heroes had a strong tendency to get pursued by the villain across the galaxy and have to invent their way out of their problem while they were being pursued.

  • Proudly nerdy, they reconstituted themselves into the Hingham Institute Study Group on Space Warfare, and Slug Russell proceeded to code.

  • Russell later admitted, “I looked around and I didn’t find an excuse, so I had to settle down and do some figuring.”

  • Innovation can be sparked by engineering talent, but it must be combined with business skills to set the world afire.

  • “We hired her from the topless bar down the street,” Bushnell recounted forty years later to an audience of earnest high school students, who seemed somewhat baffled by the tale and unsure what a topless bar was.

  • When he built a new engineering facility, he decreed that it should have its own hot tub. “It was a recruiting tool,” he insisted. “We found out that our lifestyle and the parties were hugely good for attracting workers

  • At its core were certain principles: authority should be questioned, hierarchies should be circumvented, nonconformity should be admired, and creativity should be nurtured. Unlike at East Coast corporations, there were no fixed working hours and no dress code, either for the office or the hot tub.

  • Innovation requires having at least three things: a great idea, the engineering talent to execute it, and the business savvy (plus deal-making moxie) to turn it into a successful product.

  • “I am proud of the way we were able to engineer Pong, but I’m even more proud of the way I figured out and financially engineered the business,”

  • The creation of a triangular relationship among government, industry, and academia was, in its own way, one of the significant innovations that helped produce the technological revolution of the late twentieth century.

  • On October 4, 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite. The connection that Bush had made between science and defense was now twinkling in the sky every night.

  • With his wry sense of humor, he began referring to his vision with the “intentionally grandiloquent” phrase “the Intergalactic Computer Network.”

  • “All the other parents had to take what they got, but I was chosen. That probably gave me an undeserved sense of confidence.”

  • Instead he had a trait that was just as useful in promoting collaborative creativity and managing a team: he was decisive. More important, his decisiveness was based not on emotion or personal favoritism but rather on a rational and precise analysis of options.

  • It also helped him accomplish one of the most important tasks in building a network: getting everyone to buy into the idea.

  • building a military communications system that would survive an enemy attack. He knew that such a system could help prevent a nuclear exchange, because if one side feared that its communications system could be knocked out it would be more likely to launch a preemptive first strike when tensions mounted.

  • Internet’s creators preferred—to use the metaphor of the Internet itself—a system of fully distributed credit. They instinctively isolated and routed around any node that tried to claim more significance than the others.

  • One of the commonly accepted narratives of the Internet is that it was built to survive a nuclear attack. This enrages many of its architects, including Bob Taylor and Larry Roberts, who insistently and repeatedly debunked this origin myth.

  • It would route around any damage from a nuclear attack but also around any attempt to impose control.

  • discovered a verity that would remain true even in the age of digital social networks: it was useful—and fun—to get together in person, interfacing in the literal sense of that word.

  • NASA was able to send a man to the moon. Engineers in Silicon Valley were able to devise a way to put a programmable computer on a chip called a microprocessor. And ARPA created a network that could connect distant computers. Only the first of these (perhaps the least historically significant of them?) made headlines.

  • Engineering Task Force, put it, “We reject kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code.”

  • The combustible combination of creative writing, dropping acid for pay, and working as an orderly in an asylum led to his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

  • Kesey used the proceeds from his book, combined with some acid he had been able to liberate from the CIA experiments, to form a commune of early hippies called the Merry Pranksters.

  • Lewis Mumford warned that the rise of computers could mean that “man will become a passive, purposeless, machine-conditioned animal.”

  • over the course of many decades. “The counterculture’s scorn for centralized authority provided the philosophical foundations of the entire personal-computer revolution,”

  • “The freaks who design computer science” would wrest power away from the “rich and powerful institutions,” he wrote.

  • “Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics

  • Alan Kay, who would later advance each of these ideas at Xerox PARC, said of Engelbart, “I don’t know what Silicon Valley will do when it runs out of Doug’s ideas.”

  • That is why Engelbart, even though he was a prescient theorist, was not truly a successful innovator: he kept adding functions and instructions and buttons and complexities to his system. Kay made things easier, and in so doing showed why the ideal of simplicity—making products that humans find convivial and easy to use—was central to the innovations that made computers personal.

  • launched a publication called the People’s Computer Company, which was not really a company but called itself one in honor of Janis Joplin’s band, Big Brother and the Holding Company. The scraggly newsletter adopted as its motto “Computer power to the people.” The first issue, in October 1972, had on its cover a drawing of a boat sailing into the sunset and the hand-scrawled declaration “Computers are mostly used against people instead of for people; used to control people instead of to free them; Time to change all that—we need a PEOPLE’S COMPUTER COMPANY.”81 Most issues featured lots of line drawings of dragons—“I loved dragons ever since I was thirteen,” Albrecht recalled—and stories about computer education, BASIC programming, and various learning fairs and do-it-yourself technology festivals.

  • string techs and engineers, and its other offbeat folks—including a prim and proper lady who sat up front who had been, I was later told, President Eisenhower’s personal pilot when she was a male,”

  • “The dystopian society envisioned by George Orwell in the aftermath of World War II, at about the same time the transistor was invented, has completely failed to materialize,” the historians Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson wrote, “in large part because transistorized electronic devices have empowered creative individuals and nimble entrepreneurs far more than Big Brother.”

  • “When you use a computer, you can’t make fuzzy statements. You make only precise statements.”

  • The mission: to drive the new PDP-10 as hard as they could and as long as they wanted, programming and playing on it nights and weekends, to see what things they could do to make it crash.

  • What particularly amazed Russell was Gates’s ability to associate different types of error with specific programmers back at DEC headquarters.

  • “I swore off computers for a while, and I tried to be normal,” said Gates. “I decided to prove I could get all A’s without ever taking a textbook home. Instead I read biographies of Napoleon and novels like Catcher in the Rye.”

  • He was also able to put himself into a history class with all the right girls and only one other boy (“a real wimp”) and make sure that he and his senior class friends had Tuesday afternoons free.

  • “Insert quarter, avoid Klingons.”

  • “There is something indefinable in an entrepreneur, and I saw that in Steve,” Bushnell recalled. “He was interested not just in engineering, but also the business aspects.

  • “The goal was to give the user a conceptual model that was unsurprising,” Frankston explained. “It was called the principle of least surprise. We were illusionists synthesizing an experience.”

  • Doing anything new at the company, he complained, seemed to require three hundred people working three years.

  • With a coder’s subtle humor, Stallman created a recursive acronym for his new operating system, GNU, which stood for GNU’s Not UNIX.

  • Linus Torvalds’s father was a Communist Party member and TV journalist, his mother a student radical and then print journalist, but as a child in Helsinki he became more interested in technology than in politics.

  • “The best and most effective way to lead is by letting people do things because they want to do them, not because you want them to.”

  • “I don’t like single-issue people, nor do I think that people who turn the world into black and white are very nice or ultimately very useful.

  • Fortunately, AT&T’s effort backfired. A federal appeals court dismissed the company’s claim, and the barriers to jacking into its network began to crumble. It was still illegal to connect a modem into the phone system electronically, but you could do so mechanically, such as by taking your phone’s handset and cradling it into the suction cups of an acoustical coupler.

  • “Tim’s not in it for the money. He accepts a much wider range of hotel-room facilities than a CEO would.”

  • “By the power vested in me by nobody in particular,” Andreessen began, “alpha/beta version 0.5 of NCSA’s Motif-based networked information systems and World Wide Web browser, X Mosaic, is hereby released.”

  • When he asked what it meant, he was told that wiki was the Hawaiian word for quick, and wiki wiki meant superquick.

  • When asked later whether having parents who were professors was a key to their success, they both cited going to Montessori schools as a more important factor. “I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world and doing things a little bit differently,” Page contended.

  • ‘Having a healthy disregard for the impossible.’

  • As the journalist Steven Levy pointed out, this feedback loop helped Google learn that when users typed in dogs they also were looking for puppies, and when they typed in boiling they might also be referring to hot water, and eventually Google also learned that when they typed in hot dog they were not looking for boiling puppies.

  • When Page and Brin realized that it was time to put aside plans for dissertations and leave the Stanford nest, they found a garage—a two-car garage, which came with a hot tub and a couple of spare rooms inside the house—that they could rent for $1,700 a month at the Menlo Park house of a Stanford friend, Susan Wojcicki, who soon joined Google.

  • In other words, the future might belong to people who can best partner and collaborate with computers.

  • creativity is a collaborative process. Innovation comes from teams more often than from the lightbulb moments of lone geniuses.

  • Even though the Internet provided a tool for virtual and distant collaborations, another lesson of digital-age innovation is that, now as in the past, physical proximity is beneficial.

  • Another key to fielding a great team is pairing visionaries, who can generate ideas, with operating managers, who can execute them. Visions without execution are hallucinations.

  • Innovation is most vibrant in the realms where open-source systems compete with proprietary ones.

  • Most of the successful innovators and entrepreneurs in this book had one thing in common: they were product people. They cared about, and deeply understood, the engineering and design.

  • The converse to this paean to the humanities, however, is also true. People who love the arts and humanities should endeavor to appreciate the beauties of math and physics, just as Ada did. Otherwise, they will be left as bystanders at the intersection of arts and science, where most digital-age creativity will occur. They will surrender control of that territory to the engineers.

  • They consider people who don’t know Hamlet from Macbeth to be Philistines, yet they might merrily admit that they don’t know the difference between a gene and a chromosome, or a transistor and a capacitor, or an integral and a differential equation.

 

Book: Loonshots

“How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries”

This book is essentially about innovation and how to sustain it. It draws parallels between the physics of phase transition and the innovation management theory.

The business realities are pulling big businesses/corporations in the direction of franchise improvements – producing more of the same, boring and tested products as before.

On the other hand, small shops and startups are incentivized to bet on crazy ideas, but they rarely have resources necessary to pull them off. The business realities pull them towards failure.

The key to success is dynamic equilibrium – fluid, permeable border between those 2 modes of operation, where groups working on innovative approaches can hand them off to improvement to franchise businesses.

Amazon Link

Vannevar-Vail rules

Vannevar Bush was responsible for creating National Defense Research Committee – a key institution that has helped turned the tide of war through innovation and first true “Loonshot factory”.

Theodore Vail was a president of Bell Labs. After he took over, the organization went on an amazing streak of mind-blowing discoveries, including the transistor, Digital photography chip and many others.

Both Bush and Vail put extra effort into nurturing innovation. Safi Bahcall calls these rules „Vannevar-Vail” rules:

  1. Separate the phases
    1. Separate your artists and soldiers
    2. Tailor the tools to the phase
    3. Watch your blind side: nurture both types of loonshots (product and strategy)
  2. Create dynamic equilibrium
    1. Love your artists and soldiers equally
    2. Manage the transfer, not the technology: be a gardener, not a Moses
    3. Appoint, and train, project champions to bridge the divide
  3. Spread a system mindset
    1. Keep asking why the organization made the choices that it did
    2. Keep asking how the decision-making process can be improved
    3. Identify teams with outcome mindsets, and help them adopt system mindsets

All this is very reminiscent of „Skunkworks” approach described in „Bold”

How to keep your organization innovative

Phase transition is a perfect lens for dissecting innovation. Just as water can turn to ice almost instantly, an innovative organization may loose its „spark”.

Sure, it will be able to survive for a while reliving past glory and selling their assets, but the sudden change from being on top of the world to a shadow of former self is not uncommon. Safi has isolated a few variables to explain why companies turn into „franchises”.

It all really boils down to tug of war between internal politics and desire to contribute to the product. The M in this equasion is the max amount of employees your organization will be able to sustain without transitioning into a “franchise”. So if you want to remain innovative:

  • Introduce Equity on top of salary. Keep in mind – that may be soft equity, like autonomy or recognition
  • Increase management span, by having more direct reports. See that this value is squared, so this will have the biggest impact.
  • Decrease salary growth rate in hierarchy – that way, contributing will be more important than getting promoted.

Twitter thread

While reading this book, I isolated the most interesting bits on Twitter – this is a new thing I am trying to better remember the book I am reading.

My Highlights

  • 1. The most important breakthroughs come from loonshots, widely dismissed ideas whose champions are often written off as crazy.
  • The most important breakthroughs rarely follow blaring trumpets and a red carpet, with central authorities offering overflowing pots of tools and money.
  • They pass through long dark tunnels of skepticism and uncertainty, crushed or neglected, their champions often dismissed as crazy
  • We can think of the two competing incentives, loosely, as stake and rank.
  • As teams and companies grow larger, the stakes in outcome decrease while the perks of rank increase. When the two cross, the system snaps. Incentives begin encouraging behavior no one wants. Those same groups—with the same people—begin rejecting loonshots.
  • We will identify the small changes in structure, rather than culture, that can transform a rigid team.
  • The idea that would turn the course of the war passed through a decade-long tunnel of neglect and skepticism.
  • One molecule can’t transform solid ice into liquid water by yelling at its neighbors to loosen up a little. Which is why Bush didn’t try to change military culture.
  • phase separation and dynamic equilibrium were the key ingredients in Bush’s recipe.
  • Although Bush didn’t know it, FDR was suffering from severe cardiac disease and possibly metastatic cancer.
  • The New York Times, however, questioned its conclusions and patiently explained the nature of science to Bush (and his 41 MD and PhD coauthors):
  • The magic of Bush and Vail was in engineering the forces of genius and serendipity to work for them rather than against them. Luck is the residue of design.
  • they are careful gardeners. They ensure that both loonshots and franchises are tended well, that neither side dominates the other, and that each side nurtures and supports the other.
  • Separate your artists and soldiers
  • Leaders of powerful franchises across every industry routinely dismiss early-stage projects by picking at their warts
  • Love your artists and soldiers equally
  • When Jobs returned twelve years later, he had learned to love his artists (Jony Ive) and soldiers (Tim Cook) equally.
  • Manage the transfer, not the technology
  • The next day, the chiefs of both the Army and Air Force found identical notes on their desks: I’ve seen the new radar equipment. Why haven’t you?
  • well-separated and equally strong loonshot and franchise groups
  • Note: Automattic should not pride itself in chaos but dynamic equilibrium
  • “Ah, my boy—it’s not a good drug unless it’s been killed at least three times.”
  • In the real world, ideas are ridiculed, experiments fail, budgets are cut, and good people are fired for stupid reasons.
  • Obesity was “disgusting,” he said. “Maybe if the idea got around again that obesity is immoral, the fat man would start to think.” Keys’s
  • The statins would grow into the most widely prescribed drug franchise in history, saving millions of lives. But first, Endo’s drug had to survive the Three Deaths.
  • Much later, scientists learned that rats have mostly HDL (“good cholesterol”) circulating in their blood, and very little LDL,
  • With Paula’s encouragement, which he later called “Spouse Activation Factor” (SAF),
  • Beware the False Fail
  • They train people for the project champion job—the Deak Parsons skill-set—and elevate their authority. It goes against the grain.
  • When someone challenges the project you’ve invested years in, do you defend with anger or investigate with genuine curiosity?
  • With P-type loonshots, people say, “There’s no way that could ever work” or “There’s no way that will ever catch on.” And then it does. Let’s
  • With S-type loonshots, people say, “There’s no way that could ever make money.” And then it does.
  • Deaths from P-type loonshots tend to be quick and dramatic. A flashy new technology appears (streaming video), it quickly displaces what came before (rentals), champions emerge (Netflix, Amazon), and the old guard crumbles (Blockbuster).
  • He was called Attila the Hun, Bob the Butcher, Darth Vader, and—in case the message was still not clear—Fang (he has prominent canine teeth). On weekends, he’d go to work and leave notes on desks: “I was here. Where were you?”
  • That’s pretty much what the major airlines faced in 1978. They were locked into long-term contracts, paying wages far higher than what brand-new competitors were paying.
  • Thirty years before Big Data became a Silicon Valley buzzword, American discovered big data.
  • At Trippe’s request, Lindbergh lobbied on behalf of Pan Am for its Latin America routes. Imagine you are a career Post Office bureaucrat, and the most worshipped young man on the planet walks into your drab, ten-by-ten-foot office. Pan Am won every US postal contract to the region.
  • Trippe went to the main branch on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. At the information desk, he asked for the logs of the nineteenth-century clipper ships that traded across the Pacific.
  • Buried in the old handwritten documents, Trippe found a reference to a deserted island midway between Honolulu and Shanghai, called Wake Island. An American expedition had claimed the island in 1899.
  • Soon the shovel hit a metal box. Lindbergh had the designs to Germany’s jet engines. When Lindbergh returned to the US, he filed his report, then immediately called on Trippe. Trippe rehired Lindbergh on the spot. It
  • Trippe had played possibly the highest-stakes game of business poker in corporate history up to that time—a $269 million order for 45 unprecedented commercial jet planes—and won.
  • Let’s call it the Moses Trap: When ideas advance only at the pleasure of a holy leader
  • “There’s a rule they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School: if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.”
  • Sick dogs that were fed quinine to treat parasites showed an unusual type of crystal in their urine. Those microscopic crystals, called herapathite, turned out to be the highest-quality polarizers ever discovered.
  • In Washington, DC, shortly after his first meeting with FDR, Vannevar Bush heard about Land’s vectograph. Within a year, the Army and Navy were using 3D terrain maps to prepare for battles in Europe.
  • Land’s 3D still images were soon converted for use in film, which turned into a craze. (At its peak, in 1953, Polaroid was making six million pairs of 3D glasses per week.)
  • Couples realized their prints would not be seen by technicians at developer labs. And so was born what Polaroid delicately called “intimacy” pictures.
  • The familiar story of the decline of industry Goliaths begins with decades of success, after which the proud old company grows stale. It loses its hunger.
  • First: The dangerous, virtuous cycle builds momentum
  • Second: The franchise blinders harden
  • Hooke suggested some of the initial ideas, he did not have the skills to create a complete system. Newton did. Newton was a great synthesizer, just as Jobs was a great synthesizer.
  • Newton tried to crush Hooke and bury his contributions (including, allegedly, losing the only known portrait of him).
  • Sir Francis Bacon wrote, “As the births of living creatures are at first ill-shapen, so are all Innovations, which are the births of time.”
  • Franchise projects are easier to understand than loonshots, easier to quantify, and easier to sell up the chain of command in large companies.
  • You can analyze why you argued with your spouse. It was, let’s say, your comment about your spouse’s driving. But you may improve marital relations even more if you understand the process by which you decided it was a good idea to offer that comment.
  • System mindset means carefully examining the quality of decisions, not just the quality of outcomes. A failed outcome, for example, does not necessarily mean the decision or decision process behind it was bad.
  • Failing to analyze wins can reinforce a bad process or strategy. You may not be lucky next time.
  • 1. Separate the phases • Separate your artists and soldiers • Tailor the tools to the phase • Watch your blind side: nurture both types of loonshots (product and strategy) 2.
  • Create dynamic equilibrium • Love your artists and soldiers equally • Manage the transfer, not the technology: be a gardener, not a Moses • Appoint, and train, project champions to bridge the divide 3.
  • Spread a system mindset • Keep asking why the organization made the choices that it did • Keep asking how the decision-making process can be improved • Identify teams with outcome mindsets, and help them adopt system mindsets
  • “With notably rare exceptions, Germany remained largely at peace with its neighbors during the 20th century.”
  • 1. At the heart of every phase transition is a tug-of-war between two competing forces. 2. Phase transitions are triggered when small shifts in system properties—for example, density or temperature—cause the balance between those two forces to change.
  • A policy of banning trucks from passing other trucks (called a truck-overtaking ban) reduces the pileups behind trucks. Those pileups temporarily increase the density of cars and can push smooth traffic flow across the dashed line and into a jam.
  • A change in control parameters transforms one kind of motion (smoothly flowing cars) into a different kind of motion (jammed flow) by making the smooth flow very sensitive to small disruptions (driver tapping on his brakes).
  • The power of a beautiful model comes from what you choose to omit.
  • You need to decide if you will spend the final hour of the day on (a) work that might increase the value of your projects (polishing up the client presentation; researching coffee machine designs), or (b) networking and promoting yourself within the company (currying favor with your boss, your boss’s boss, or other influential managers).
  • If, however, promotions come with a 2 percent increase in pay, who cares? You might as well put your energy back into your project, where some extra effort could earn you a bigger bonus or increase the value of your stake in the company’s success.
  • chapter). Promotions happen so rarely that it’s not worth spending any time politicking. With a span of two, however, you are constantly in competition with your peer.
  • The greater your equity fraction, the more likely you are to choose project work over politics.
  • adjusting their structure (#2 → #3). When group size exceeds the
  • McElroy was an outsider. Unlike Bush, he had neither technical nor military experience. He began his career selling soap door-to-door for Procter & Gamble. Eventually he came up with the idea of shows that housewives could watch during the day, which P&G could use to deliver ads directly to their living rooms.
  • Use soft equity
  • They are granted authority to choose their projects, negotiate contracts, manage timelines, and assign goals. The combination of visibility and autonomy creates a powerful motivating force:
  • But every organization can find opportunities to increase autonomy, visibility, and soft equity.
  • One exception is a recent article, “Goals Gone Wild,” which traces a handful of famous business disasters to poorly constructed goals.
  • The analysis goes beyond the normal experience of a rubber-stamper payroll person. In other words, it requires a strategic chief incentives officer.
  • Which takes us to another reason a wide management span helps nurture loonshots: it encourages constructive feedback from peers.
  • Catmull designed a system for a group of peer film directors to regularly coalesce around a project and give its director advice—honest feedback from colleagues rather than marching orders from marketers or producers.
  • Creatives are suspicious of those outside their faith.
  • Reduce the return on politics: Make lobbying for compensation and promotion decisions difficult. Find ways to make those decisions less dependent on an employee’s manager and more independently assessed.
  • Use soft equity: Identify and apply the nonfinancial rewards that make a big difference. For example: peer recognition, intrinsic motivators.
  • Increase project–skill fit: Invest in the people and processes that will scan for a mismatch between employees’ skills and their assigned projects. Adjust roles or transfer employees between groups when mismatches are found. The goal is employees stretched neither too much nor too little by their roles. •
  • Fix the middle: Identify and fix perverse incentives, the unintended consequences of well-intentioned rewards. Pay special attention to the dangerous middle-manager levels, the weakest point in the battle between loonshots and politics. Shift away from incentives that encourage battles for promotion and toward incentives centered on outcomes. Celebrate results, not rank.
  • Bring a gun to a knife fight: Competitors in the battle for talent and loonshots may be using outmoded incentive systems. Bring in a specialist in the subtleties of the art—a chief incentives officer. •
  • Fine-tune the spans: Widen management spans in loonshot groups (but not in franchise groups) to encourage looser controls, more experiments, and peer-to-peer problem solving.
  • (painting a fly on urinals has been shown to reduce urinal spillage by 80 percent).
  • Both the film and the drug-discovery industries have separated into two markets—the market of the Majors, who trade in franchises, and the market of small specialists, who nurture loonshots.
  • The 1687 book was a sequel to his first book, on the invention of what is now called a pressure cooker, so Papin called it A Continuation of the New Digester of Bones. Buried in the back, after a section on how to cook cows’ horns and dried vipers, in what might be called the greatest example of burying the lead in history, was the answer to his puzzle on how to add a piston to Boyle’s air pump. It described the key components for a new invention: a steam engine.
  • So Kamprad went to Poland and discovered high-quality suppliers—for half the price. He passed the discounts on to customers.
  • and especially for delicately explaining to me, on occasion, why something I thought was funny was not quite so much.

Book: How to talk to anyone

This book is a practical translation of Dale Carnegie’s „How Win friends and influence people„. However, the advice here is more tactical and updated compared to the original version.

Amazon Link

I picked up this book because I am getting married in 3 weeks and I want to avoid the faux-pas during the party. I know reading a book about smalltalk while doing wedding preparations is weird, but hey – that’s me.

Contrary to other books, nobody recommended this one to me. I searched amazon and found this gem and I have to say – I am very pleasantly surprised. This is a book-buying strategy that Kevin Systrom from Instagram uses.

The things I have to particularly work on

Being more conscious about how I make others feel

I usually get into the thick of the conversation, forgetting about everything else. I get excited about what we talk about and respond instinctually. But sometimes my instinctual responses are driven by my Ego and I have to curb it. I have a tendency to jump in with „me too” a little too soon.

STOP INTERRUPTING PEOPLE

I have a nasty habit of interrupting people when I know what they are trying to say. I am often wrong AND interrupt people.

I need to let them speak!

The strongest tips for me:

  1. Flooding smile, after recognising someone, so they feel smile is especially for them
  2. Glue eyes to conversation partner. I sometimes dart my eyes all over the place, since it makes it easier to focus on hard conversation. I need to work on affixing my stare on the conversation partner
  3. Picture a wire hanging in the doorway, grab it with the teeth to straighten up the posture
  4. How do you spend most of your time instead of „what do you do” ?
  5. Delay revealing your similarity, let people revel in their interests.
  6. Review your repertoire of smiles 🙂
  7. Return the stolen spotlight! ‘So what happened after the … (and fill in the last few words.)
  8. Whenever you are discussing emotionally charged matters, let the speaker finish completely before you jump in. (I am so bad at this!) Hear their facts but empathize like mad with their emotions.

My highlights

  • There are two kinds of people in this life: Those who walk into a room and say,‘Well, here I am!’ And those who walk in and say,‘Ahh, there you are.’
  • ‘Just give ’em great posture, a heads-up look, a confident smile, and a direct gaze.’ It’s the ideal image for somebody who’s a Somebody.
  • ‘The study went on to say a big, warm smile is an asset. But only when it comes a little slower, because then it has more credibility.’
  • Don’t flash an immediate smile when you greet someone, as though anyone who walked into your line of sight would be the beneficiary. Instead, look at the other person’s face for a second. Pause. Soak in their persona. Then let a big, warm, responsive smile flood over your face and overflow into your eyes. It will engulf the recipient like a warm wave. The split-second delay convinces people your flooding smile is genuine and only for them.
  • In addition to awakening feelings of respect and affection, maintaining strong eye contact gives you the impression of being an intelligent and abstract thinker.
  • Pretend your eyes are glued to your Conversation Partner’s with sticky warm toffee. Don’t break eye contact even after he or she has finished speaking.
  • This is the look Winners have constantly. They stand with assurance. They move with confidence. They smile softly with pride. No doubt about it! Good posture symbolizes you are a man or woman who is used to being on top.
  • Before walking through any door – the door to your office, a party, a meeting, even your kitchen – picture a leather bit hanging by a cable from the frame. It is swinging just an inch higher than your head. As you pass through the door, throw your head back and chomp on the imaginary dental grip which first pulls your cheeks back into a smile,
  • Visualize a circus iron-jaw bit hanging from the frame of every door you walk through. Take a bite and, with it firmly between your teeth, let it swoop you to the peak of the big top. When you Hang by Your Teeth, every muscle is stretched into perfect posture position. You are now ready to float into the room to captivate the crowd or close the sale (or maybe just settle for looking like the most important Somebody in the room).
  • The instant the two of you are introduced, reward your new acquaintance. Give the warm smile, the total-body turn, and the undivided attention you would give a tiny tyke who crawled up to your feet, turned a precious face up to yours, and beamed a big toothless grin.
  • When meeting someone, imagine he or she is an old friend (an old customer, an old beloved, or someone else you had great affection for). How sad, the vicissitudes of life tore you two asunder. But, holy mackerel, now the party (the meeting, the convention) has reunited you with your long-lost old friend!
  • Whenever your conversation really counts, let your nose itch, your ear tingle, or your foot prickle. Do not fidget, twitch, wiggle, squirm, or scratch. And above all, keep your paws away from your face. Hand motions near your face and all fidgeting can give your listener the gut feeling you’re fibbing.
  • Express yourself, but keep a keen eye on how your listener is reacting to what you’re saying. Then plan your moves accordingly.
  • See yourself walking around with Hang by Your Teeth posture, shaking hands, smiling the Flooding Smile, and making Sticky Eyes. Hear yourself chatting comfortably with everyone. Feel the pleasure of knowing you are in peak form and everyone is gravitating toward you. Visualize yourself a Super Somebody.
  • Small talk is about putting people at ease. It’s about making comforting noises together like cats purring, children humming, or groups chanting. You must first match your listener’s mood.
  • it’s not all what you say, it’s how you say it.
  • How do you put people at ease? By convincing them they are OK and that the two of you are similar. When you do that, you break down walls of fear, suspicion, and mistrust.
  • Anything you say is fine as long as it is not complaining, rude, or unpleasant.
  • Your business cards and your Whatzit are crucial socializing artifacts. Whether you are riding in the elevator, climbing the doorstep, or traversing the path to the party, make sure your Whatzit is hanging out for all to see.
  • Whenever you go to a gathering, wear or carry something unusual to give people who find you the delightful stranger across the crowded room an excuse to approach. ‘Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice your … what IS that?’
  • Do humanity and yourself a favour. Never, ever, give just a one-sentence response to the question, ‘Where are you from?’
  • Learn some engaging facts about your hometown that Conversational Partners can comment on. Then, when they say something clever in response to your bait, they think you’re a great conversationalist.
  • open an old-fashioned encyclopedia – all rich sources for future stimulating conversations. Learn some history, geography, business statistics, or perhaps a few fun facts to tickle future friends’ funny bones.
  • ‘No man would listen to you talk if he didn’t know it was his turn next.’
  • Flesh it out. Throw out some delicious facts about your job for new acquaintances to munch on.
  • ‘Leil, I’d like you to meet Gilbert. Gilbert’s gift is sculpting. He makes beautiful wax carvings.’
  • listen to your Conversation Partner’s every word for clues to his or her preferred topic. The evidence is bound to slip out. Then spring on that subject like a sleuth on to a slip of the tongue.
  • ‘Well, when I meet someone, I learn so much more if I ask about their life. I always try to turn the spotlight on the other person.’
  • Never be left speechless again. Like a parrot, simply repeat the last few words your Conversation Partner says.
  • The sweetest sound your Conversation Partner can hear from your lips when you’re talking with a group of people is ‘Tell them about the time you …’
  • Big Cats never ask outright, ‘What do you do?’ (Oh they find out, all right, in a much more subtle manner.) By not asking the question, the Big Boys and Girls come across as more principled
  • ‘How … do … you … spend … most … of … your … time?’
  • ‘Here’s how my life can benefit yours’
  • When you delay revealing your similarity, or let them discover it, it has much more punch.
  • Whenever people mention an activity or interest you share, let them enjoy discussing their passion. Then, when the time is right, casually mention you share their interest.
  • When someone starts telling you about an activity he has done, a trip she has made, a club he belongs to, an interest she has – anything that you share – bite your tongue. Let the teller relish his or her own monologue.
  • However, consider how much better he feels when you tell him, ‘YOU’VE asked a good question.’
  • Start every appropriate sentence with YOU.
  • Review your repertoire of smiles
  • neat phrases make powerful weapons.
  • All pros think of holes they might fall into and then memorize great escape lines. You can do the same.
  • Don’t hide behind euphemisms. Call a spade a spade. That doesn’t mean Big Cats use tasteless four-letter words when perfectly decent five and six-letter ones exist.
  • An innocent joke at someone else’s expense may get you a cheap laugh. Nevertheless, the Big Cats will have the last one. Because you’ll bang your head against the glass ceiling they construct to keep little cats from stepping on their paws.
  • It’s not the news that makes someone angry. It’s the unsympathetic attitude with which it’s delivered.
  • Just one out of every four weekends, do something totally out of your pattern.
  • When you want to give someone the subliminal feeling you’re just alike, use their words, not yours.
  • Unlike ‘uh huh,’ they are complete sentences such as ‘I can appreciate you decided to do that,’ or ‘That really is exciting.’
  • Then use the pronoun we when discussing anything that might affect the two of you.
  • A compliment one hears is never as exciting as the one he overhears. A priceless way to praise is not by telephone, not by telegraph, but by tell-a-friend.
  • Whenever you are talking with a stranger you’d like to make part of your professional or personal future, search for one attractive, specific, and unique quality he or she has.
  • Ask the important people in your life what they would like engraved on their tombstone.
  • You take people’s breath away when you feed their deepest self-image to them in a compliment. ‘At last,’ they say to themselves, ‘someone who loves me for who I truly am.’
  • People perk up when they hear their own name. Use it more often on the phone than you would in person to keep their attention.
  • Don’t answer the phone with an ‘I’m just sooo happy all the time’ attitude. Answer warmly, crisply, professionally. Then, after you hear who is calling, let a huge smile of happiness engulf your entire face and spill over into your voice.
  • ‘Is this a convenient time for you to talk?’
  • Whenever you leave a voice mail message for anyone, try to include a cliff-hanger:
  • When you leave a message, say ‘I can be reached between three and five your time.’
  • If you do business with people around the world, be sure to extend good wishes to them for their holidays.
  • VIPS frequently come early to get their business done before party regulars who ‘hate to be the first one there’ start arriving.
  • When people support the real why of the party, they become popular and sought-after guests for future events.
  • ‘What kind of people will be at this party, and what will they be thinking about?’
  • Politicians always eat before they come to the party
  • Right after you’ve talked to someone at a party, take out your pen. On the back of his or her business card write notes to remind you of the conversation: his favourite restaurant, sport, film, or drink; whom she admires, where she grew up, a high school honour; or maybe a joke he told.
  • Cool Communicators allow their friends, associates, acquaintances, and loved ones the pleasurable myth of being above commonplace bloopers and embarrassing biological functions.
  • Big Winners never gape at another’s gaffes.
  • ‘Now please get back to your story.’ Or better yet, remember where they were and then ask, ‘So what happened after the … (and fill in the last few words.)’
  • Whenever you suggest a meeting or ask a favour, divulge the respective benefits.
  • Reveal what’s in it for you and what’s in it for the other person – even if it’s zip.
  • Whenever a friend agrees to a favour, allow your generous buddy time to relish the joy of his or her beneficence before you make them pay the piper. How long? At least twenty-
  • Whenever you are discussing emotionally charged matters, let the speaker finish completely before you jump in.
  • Hear their facts but empathize like mad with their emotions.
  • A premature letter of commendation for favours not yet received could be a clever tactic.
  • Heavy Hitters, even when they do not agree with the speaker, support the podium pontificator. Why? Because they know what it’s like to be on.
  • Be the first to applaud or publicly commend the man or woman you agree with

Book: Thanks a Thousand

I have issues with focusing on here and now. I tend to be very future-oriented, rapidly jumping from goal to goal. This makes focusing on the present moment a bit difficult and something that I have to put conscious effort into. AJ Jacobs has a similar problem, so in this charming book,  he resolved to thank everyone involved in making his morning cup of Coffee.

He set a goal of thanking a thousand people from the barista to inventor of a paper cup, dock workers who carried the coffee beans to owners of the coffee plantation in Colombia. This picturesque adventure is intertwined with findings of the science of gratitude.

  1. The crucial thing is to stop and notice what you grateful for
  2. Grounding yourself in the moment and coming back to here and now is key
  3. If you act as if you are grateful, you will become grateful

Yep, there is a TED talk.


The other angle presented in the book  (and something to be grateful for) is that the modern world is incredibly interconnected. The logistic chains go around the globe, and it is impossible to untangle the threads of global commerce. This synergy is a good thing since global trade increases peace as described by Yuval Noah Harrari and reduces global poverty, as explained by Hans Rosling.


AJ Jacobs also was a guest on Tim Ferriss show podcast. Except for the concepts in this book, he described that he has a file called „The One Thing” in which he notes one takeaway from every article he reads. I love this idea and started keeping my own. It is also an excellent benchmark to tell me if I want to read/continue a specific piece of writing. If I can’t see a takeaway, I’ll just stop reading.

I am searching for practical ways to practice gratitude for some time now. So far these two have stuck:

My Kindle highlights

  • My three boys are required to write old-fashioned handwritten thank-you notes when they get birthday gifts, much to their disbelief.
  • I’m mildly to severely aggravated more than 50 percent of my waking hours. That’s a ridiculous way to go through life. I don’t want to get to heaven (if such a thing exists) and spend my time complaining about the volume of the harp music.
  • We spend far too much time fretting about what we’re missing instead of focusing on what we have.
  • The act of noticing, after all, is a crucial part of gratitude; you can’t be grateful if your attention is scattered.
  • On my way home, I make a pledge. Though I probably won’t hug any other baristas, I promise to look them in the eyes—because I know I’ve been that asshole who thrusts out the credit card without glancing up.
  • “Grateful living is possible only when we realize that other people and agents do things for us that we cannot do for ourselves. Gratitude emerges from two stages of information processing—affirmation and recognition.
  • It’s a key reason gratitude is so difficult to maintain, and why it takes so much effort and intention: If something is done well for us, the process behind it is largely invisible.
  • “Gratitude has a lot to do with holding on to a moment as strongly as possible,” Scott told me. “It’s closely related to mindfulness and savoring. Gratitude can shift our perception of time and slow it down.
  • savoring meditation.
  • We overemphasize individual achievement when, in fact, almost everything good in the world is the result of teamwork.
  • recently read an article about the poet Robert Bly, who said that when he was a kid and skinned his knee, his mother would say, “Just be thankful that you didn’t break your leg.” He
  • a Museum of Modern Art exhibit called “Humble Masterpieces,”
  • But I do believe in WOLO: we only live once.
  • But I’m going to embrace my confirmation bias and stick to believing that coffee is healthy overall.
  • when I’m feeling particularly annoyed about something—the rattle of the air conditioner, say—I’ll repeat a three-word phrase: “Surgery without anesthesia.”
  • My first reaction was, “Hey! This author somehow retroactively
  • A couple of years ago Slate published an article about pallets with the following headline: “The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy,” which is probably one of the Top Fifty Most Hyperbolic Headlines About Shipping Logistics Ever!
  • When I press send, I realize I have just written possibly the most passive-aggressive thank-you note in history. Thank you, now please change. I’m still waiting to hear back.

Book: Freakonomics

Freakonomics explores quirky consequences of economic realities. If you ever wondered how realtor’s commission structure is impacting your house sale price or if crack dealing is a steady source of income – this book will be of interest to you.
Presented is the most practical version of the economy – one that works, shapes the world around us but is full of twist, turns and messiness of real life.

My Kindle Highlights

  • Morality, it could be argued, represents the way that people would like the world to work—whereas economics represents how it actually does work.
  • Incentives are the cornerstone of modern life.
  • For every clever person who goes to the trouble of creating an incentive scheme, there is an army of people, clever and otherwise, who will inevitably spend even more time trying to beat it.
  • The low-cheating holidays represent little more than an extra day off from work. The high-cheating holidays are fraught with miscellaneous anxieties and the high expectations of loved ones.
  • And an exclamation point in a real-estate ad is bad news for sure, a bid to paper over real shortcomings with false enthusiasm.
  • The gulf between the information we publicly proclaim and the information we know to be true is often vast.
  • So the conventional wisdom in Galbraith’s view must be simple, convenient, comfortable, and comforting—though not necessarily true.
  • Working together, journalists and experts are the architects of much conventional wisdom.
  • The problem with crack dealing is the same as in every other glamour profession: a lot of people are competing for a very few prizes.
  • when there are a lot of people willing and able to do a job, that job generally doesn’t pay well. This is one of four meaningful factors that determine a wage. The others are the specialized skills a job requires, the unpleasantness of a job, and the demand for services that the job fulfills.
  • An editorial assistant earning $22,000 at a Manhattan publishing house, an unpaid high-school quarterback, and a teenage crack dealer earning $3.30 an hour are all playing the same game, a game that is best viewed as a tournament.
  • That’s because an expert whose argument reeks of restraint or nuance often doesn’t get much attention. An
  • “The basic reality,” Sandman told the New York Times, “is that the risks that scare people and the risks that kill people are very different.”
  • Risk = hazard + outrage.

Book: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Yes, this is the book in which Malcolm Gladwell wrote that you basically need 10 000 hours of practice to get world class at something.

Many more people have heard about 10 000 hours concept than the book itself. They may be even surprised to learn that this number is NOT a core concept. It appears maybe 3-4 times.

The core message Malcolm Gladwell is trying to impart is that success is not individual. It is a product of individual effort and the opportunity to turn this effort into mastery.

The success of a person is shaped by the interaction of environment, upbringing and most of all – timing.

Hard work is only the price of admission, but it is not sufficient.

[Amazon link]

The key to mastery is long hours of deliberate practice. Work put into developing talent has to be continually challenging to conquer and yet easy enough that’s it not overwhelming.

But 10 000 hours of deliberate practice sounds much easier than it is. It’s not sitting somewhere in the basement, just chipping away at it.

You have to have the string of opportunities – each with just the right amount of challenge – present themselves over and over again.

On some level, it makes perfect sense.  If the majority had the opportunity to reach mastery levels, it would be – by definition mediocre. Mastery is at the top of „pyramid” precisely because only a few attain it. It has to be one of the harder things to achieve.

Hard-working attitude is not enough. Only the lucky few have even the opportunity to spend so much time putting the hours in.

The point was brought very close to home when I started the chapter about the upbringing of Bill Gates. Bill had a unique opportunity – by chance he had dedicated access to a school computer since he was thirteen. In that time, nobody was able to afford it. In the result, Bill spent close to 10 000 hours of programming and developing his understanding of how computers work.

Of course, he is a brilliant, driven individual. But many other people are as well,

I am much less intelligent and driven than him, but in retrospect, I have to credit my career to my specific upbringing. Since a very young age, I have been included in ‚engineering’ tasks both by my grandfathers and my dad.

One of my grandfathers was a jet engineer. He has a knack for dirty macgyver-style tinkering and likes to keep half-done parts or projects everywhere.

My dad was in his time a carpenter, painter, metallurgist and an entrepreneur. He also liked to do things his way, and he loved to modify everything to add his unique „improvements.”

I spent half of my childhood taking machines and appliances apart and developed quite an experience in how things are put together.

When the Internet came to Poland in 1990s, by chance I developed a website for my scout team and somehow got „stuck” developing websites for a living (!) since I was 15. That is almost 20 years now.

Of course, to be even moderately successful, I had to have some other qualities, but my sheer amount of experience in both technical reasoning and web technologies themselves will be just hard to beat by anyone.

Naturally, until the world changes enough that my experience will become a drawback rather than an advantage.

Till then, (nerd) party rages on.

My highlights

  • If you make a decision about who is good and who is not good at an early age; if you separate the “talented” from the “untalented”; and if you provide the “talented” with a superior experience, then you’re going to end up giving a huge advantage to that small group of people born closest to the cutoff date.

  • The small initial advantage that the child born in the early part of the year has over the child born at the end of the year persists.

  • Denmark. They have a national policy where they have no ability grouping until the age of ten.”

  • “Matthew Effect”

  • We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.

  • The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals,” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any “grinds,” people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.

  • Mozart, he argues, actually “developed late,” since he didn’t produce his greatest work until he had been composing for more than twenty years.

  • “We have seen,” Terman concluded, with more than a touch of disappointment, “that intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.”

  • He’d had to make his way alone, and no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.

  • But as is so often the case with outliers, buried in that setback was a golden opportunity.

  • The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with. For a young would-be lawyer, being born in the early 1930s was a magic time, just as being born in 1955 was for a software programmer, or being born in 1835 was for an entrepreneur.

  • Even the most gifted of lawyers, equipped with the best of family lessons, cannot escape the limitations of their generation.

  • For centuries in Europe, they had been forbidden to own land, so they had clustered in cities and towns, taking up urban trades and professions.

  • The distinctive buildings that still stand on the lower half of Broadway in Manhattan—from the big ten- and fifteen-story industrial warehouses in the twenty blocks below Times Square to the cast-iron lofts of SoHo and Tribeca—were almost all built to house coat makers and hatmakers and lingerie manufacturers and huge rooms of men and women hunched over sewing machines.

  • Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.

  • the consensus appears to be that that region was plagued by a particularly virulent strain of what sociologists call a “culture of honor.”

  • But a herdsman does have to worry. He’s under constant threat of ruin through the loss of his animals. So he has to be aggressive: he has to make it clear, through his words and deeds, that he is not weak. He has to be willing to fight in response to even the slightest challenge to his reputation—and that’s what a “culture of honor” means. It’s a world where a man’s reputation is at the center of his livelihood and self-worth.

  • The triumph of a culture of honor helps to explain why the pattern of criminality in the American South has always been so distinctive.

  • Planes are safer when the least experienced pilot is flying, because it means the second pilot isn’t going to be afraid to speak up.

  • Our ability to succeed at what we do is powerfully bound up with where we’re from, and being a good pilot and coming from a high–power distance culture is a difficult mix.

  • high–power distance communication works only when the listener is capable of paying close attention, and it works only if the two parties in a conversation have the luxury of time, in order to unwind each other’s meanings. It doesn’t work in an airplane cockpit on a stormy night with an exhausted pilot trying to land at an airport with a broken glide scope.

  • In languages as diverse as Welsh, Arabic, Chinese, English and Hebrew, there is a reproducible correlation between the time required to pronounce numbers in a given language and the memory span of its speakers.

  • In this domain, the prize for efficacy goes to the Cantonese dialect of Chinese, whose brevity grants residents of Hong Kong a rocketing memory span of about 10 digits.

  • The Chinese is literally ‘out of five parts, take three.’ That’s telling you conceptually what a fraction is.

  • “No food without blood and sweat.” “Farmers are busy; farmers are busy; if farmers weren’t busy, where would grain to get through the winter come from?” “In winter, the lazy man freezes to death.” “Don’t depend on heaven for food, but on your own two hands carrying the load.” “Useless to ask about the crops, it all depends on hard work and fertilizer.” “If a man works hard, the land will not be lazy.”

  • it’s not so much ability as attitude. You master mathematics if you are willing to try.

  • “Education lays the foundation of a large portion of the causes of mental disorder,” Jarvis wrote.

  • one of the singular features of rice cultivation is that because of the nutrients carried by the water used in irrigation, the more a plot of land is cultivated, the more fertile it gets. But in Western agriculture, the opposite is true. Unless a wheat- or cornfield is left fallow every few years, the soil becomes exhausted.

  • When it comes to reading skills, poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session.

  • “I find that the problem with math education is the sink-or-swim approach.

  • Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

 

 

Book: Four Tendencies

Upholders ask: “Should I do this?” • Questioners ask: “Does this make sense?” • Obligers ask: “Does this matter to anyone else?” • Rebels ask: “Is this the person I want to be?”

In this book, Gretchen Rubin introduces another framework to categorize people. I know, the idea of boxing in folks is flawed, but this only creates a typology based on how people respond to expectation. It does not struggle to explain all behaviors and incongruencies of human interaction. The broad strokes are:

Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.

Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations

Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

This revelation blew my mind.

I am a classical Questioner and reading about myself was like getting a manual I never knew existed. It explained why I have trouble closing cabinet doors, why I love lists and spreadsheets and deep research about product before committing to purchase.

Most of all, it made me more aware of small differences between me and other people in their strategies. Thanks to this book I am less judgmental and more sensitive about whole variety of people’s choices. It has even cast a lot of light at the relationship with my Mom. Deep stuff.




Take the four tendencies quiz to find out which one are you

Obligers

Upholders

Questioners

Rebels

respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.

respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.

question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations.

resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

  • Good boss, responsive leader, team player

  • Feels great obligation to meet others’ expectations 

  • Responsible

  • Willing to go the extra mile

  • Responds to outer accountability

  • Self-starter

  • Self-motivated

  • Conscientious

  • Reliable Thorough Sticks to a schedule

  • Eager to understand and meet expectations 

  • Data-driven

  • Fair-minded (according to his or her judgment) Interested in creating systems that are efficient and effective

  • Willing to play devil’s advocate

  • Comfortable bucking the system if it’s warranted

  • Inner-directed

  • Unwilling to accept authority without justification

  • Independent-minded

  • Able to think outside the box

  • Unswayed by conventional wisdom

  • Willing to go his or her own way, to buck social conventions In touch with his or her authentic desires

  • Spontaneous 

  • Susceptible to overwork and burnout

  • May show the destructive pattern of Obliger-rebellion

  • Exploitable

  • May become resentful

  • Has trouble saying no or imposing limits

  • Defensive

  • Rigid

  • Often struggles when plans or schedules change

  • Can seem humorless and uptight

  • Uneasy when rules are ambiguous or undefined

  • Impatient when others need reminders, deadlines, supervision, or discussion

  • Demanding

  • May become anxious about obeying rules that don’t even exist

  • Can suffer analysis-paralysis

  • impatient with what he or she sees as others’ complacency

  • Crackpot potential

  • Unable to accept closure on matters that others consider settled if questions remain unanswered

  • May refuse to observe expectations that others find fair or at least nonoptional (e.g., traffic regulations)

  • May resist answering others’ questions

  • Likely to resist when asked or told to do something

  • Uncooperative

  • Inconsiderate

  • Has trouble accomplishing tasks that need to be done consistently, the same way, every time

  • Acts as though ordinary rules don’t apply

  • Restless; may find it difficult to settle down in a job, relationship, city

  • Struggles with routines and planning

  • May be indifferent to reputation

  • They readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations

  • They put a high value on meeting commitments to others

  • They succeed when given accountability, with supervision, deadlines, monitoring, and other forms of accountability, such as the duty to be a good role model

  • They may have trouble setting limits on others’ demands They may have trouble delegating, because they feel that some expectations attach to them personally They must have systems of external accountability in order to meet inner expectations

  • They may be exploited by people who take advantage of them, and because of that

  • They may feel resentful or burned out, in which case…

  • They may need managers or others to alleviate expectations, or they may rebel

  • They readily meet external and internal expectations

  • They’re self-directed, so they can meet deadlines, work on projects, and take the initiative without much supervision

  • They enjoy routine and may have trouble adjusting to a break in routine or sudden scheduling changes

  • They hate to make mistakes, and because of that…

  • They may become very angry or defensive at the suggestion that they’ve dropped the ball or made a mistake

  • They put a high value on follow-through

  • They may need to be reminded that, unlike them, others aren’t necessarily comforted or energized by getting things done

  • They may have trouble delegating responsibilities, because they suspect that others aren’t dependable

  • They question all expectations and meet them only if they believe they’re justified, with the result that they may meet only inner expectations

  • They put a high value on reason, research, and information

  • They make decisions based on information and reason; sometimes, the reason is that it’s important to someone else

  • They follow the advice of “authorities” only if they trust their expertise

  • They follow their own judgment—sometimes even when it flies in the face of experts who (allegedly) know more

  • They persistently ask questions, which may make them seem uncooperative or defiant They hate anything arbitrary—rules like “Five garments to a fitting room”

  • They dislike being questioned themselves; they consider their actions carefully so they find it tiresome or even insulting to be asked to justify their decisions

  • They may have trouble delegating decision making, because they suspect that others don’t have a sufficient basis for action

  • They resist both outer and inner expectations

  • They put a high value on freedom, choice, identity, and self-expression If someone asks or tells them to do something, they’re likely to resist.

  • They may respond to a challenge: “I’ll show you,” “Watch me,” “You can’t make me,” “You’re not the boss of me” They may choose to act out of love, a sense of mission, belief in a cause

  • They have trouble telling themselves what to do—even when it’s something they want to do

  • They meet a challenge, in their own way, in their own time

  • They don’t respond well to supervision, advice, or directions

  • They tend to be good at delegating If they’re in a long-term relationship, their partner is probably an Obliger

Obligers need accountability

Upholders want to know what should be done

Questioners want justifications

Rebels want freedom to do something their own way

My highlights

  • The simple, decisive question was: “How do you respond to expectations?” I’d found it!
  • As with all the Tendencies, arguments work better when they address that Tendency’s values.

Questioners:


  • In accepting those inner expectations, Questioners show a deep commitment to information, logic, and efficiency. They want to gather their own facts, decide for themselves, and act with good reason; they object to anything they consider arbitrary, ill-reasoned, ill-informed, or ineffective. Many, many people are Questioners; only the Obliger Tendency has more members.
  • Questioner was the Tendency most likely to agree with the statement “I do what I think makes the most sense, according to my judgment, even if that means ignoring the rules or other people’s expectations.”
  • why this task, why this way, why now?
  • Questioners have the self-direction of Upholders, the reliability of Obligers, and the authenticity of Rebels.
  • But an Upholder or an Obliger may think, “Why do you get to exempt yourself from a rule that everyone’s expected to follow?”
  • In fact, Questioners are often puzzled by others’ willingness to act without sound reasons.
  • I’ve noticed that a love of spreadsheets is very common among Questioners—they also tend to send people lots of articles.
  • Along the same lines, Questioners tend to be very interested in improving processes.
  • Similarly, for young Questioners, school can present a real challenge, because many school rules seem arbitrary or inefficient, and teachers and administrators often feel little obligation to justify them.
  • Along those same lines, the Questioners’ desire to customize, and their questioning of expert advice, can be frustrating for those to whom they turn for help, advice, or services:
  • For instance, legendary entrepreneur and business leader Steve Jobs was a Questioner, and when he was a young man he believed that eating a fruit-heavy, vegetarian diet meant that he didn’t need to worry about body odor—even though many people told him that, in fact, he did need to worry about
  • One puzzling note about Questioners: They often remark on how much they hate to wait in line. A friend told me, “I hate waiting in line so much that I can’t even carry on a conversation while waiting to be seated in a restaurant.” Perhaps it’s the inefficiency.
  • Delivery can sometimes make a big difference in whether others see a Questioner as constructive or obstructive.
  • “I’m definitely a Questioner. Although doesn’t everyone or at least most people think the same way?” Nope, they sure don’t.
  • “Have you noticed that Questioners resist being questioned themselves?”
  • A Questioner wrote to explain: We Questioners have thought about the logic behind our decision. So it’s a) exhausting to revisit something and lay out all the reasons and/or b) we feel we’re right, so we don’t feel like we have to justify it to someone else.”
  • Because Questioners make careful decisions, they’re often annoyed—even insulted—when people question them.
  • And, of course, Questioners particularly hate questions they consider a waste of their time.
  • so when I feel myself getting sucked into research mode, I ask myself, ‘Is this information actually relevant to what I’m trying to decide? Why am I spending this time and energy on this question?’ ”
  • Questioners need clarity, and to get clarity, they can ask questions.
  • Is Tony Robbins a questioner? Maybe that is why he appeals to me so much
  • Is there a better way to do this?
  • “Well, I’ll do these pointless things because they actually do have a point, which is to please my grandmother.”
  • “Don’t just focus on the first order of reason, but think about the second order of reason. You’re doing it for your reasons.
  • It’s important for Questioners to remind themselves to do what they must so that they can do what they want.
  • Their questioning ensures that an organization uses its resources most effectively.
  • My wife jokes that she knows we’re married forever, because I already did the research and made the decision. She’s actually right!”
  • Childhood can be a painful time for Questioners, because children are so often expected to do things because an adult “said so.”
  • It’s worth noting, too, that Questioners often show a strong urge to customize

Obligers:


  • How does an Obliger meet an inner expectation? By creating outer accountability.
  • When what others expect from Obligers is what they expect from themselves, they have the life they want.
  • Obligers vary dramatically in what makes them feel accountable.
  • Also, for some Obligers, accountability works better when it’s positive. Reminders and oversight feel like nagging, and nagging may trigger Obliger-rebellion.
  • But now I realize that this doing-it-for-my-kids strategy can help Obligers accomplish something worthwhile.
  • For instance, many Obligers characterize their behavior as “client first”—a reason for pride.
  • The Obliger pattern is not an issue of self-sacrifice, self-esteem, boundaries, motivation, people-pleasing, or discipline, but rather—and I repeat it yet again—an issue of external accountability.
  • For instance, for many Obligers, spouses or family count as part of themselves, so their spouses’ expectations become “inner” expectations and are therefore ignored.
  • the Obliger expects others to know to stop imposing their expectations, without prompting, to provide relief for the Obliger
  • “I work out every day by getting my husband to ask me about it when he gets home.
  • People who ask for accountability know they need it.

Rebels


  • Rebellion is the opposite of compliance, but rebellion is not freedom.
  • want other people to do what I want, just like I want me to be able to do what I want.”
  • Just as they often pair with Obligers, Rebels often pair with family members as work partners—perhaps because a relative has more understanding, experience, and tolerance for the Rebel.
  • information, consequences, choice—with no nagging or badgering.
  • If he thinks you’re not watching, he won’t need to rebel against your expectations.”

Pairs


  • One Obliger gave a small but telling example: “I use crosswalks and follow the walk signals, while my Questioner husband doesn’t find it important to use crosswalks or signals, so he jaywalks.”
  • An Obliger parent can get very impatient with a Questioner child, whose questions can seem tiresome or cheeky.
  • Similarly, when Obligers complain about something they “have” to do, Questioners don’t have much sympathy, because they think, “If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it” or “Why did you say you’d do it, if you don’t want to?”
  • We may think we know the “best” way, or the way others “should” work, but whether at home or at work, as long as the tasks are getting done, we should let other people suit themselves.
  • It’s all too easy to assume that what persuades us will persuade others—which isn’t true.
  • One of my Secrets of Adulthood is that we’re more like other people than we suppose and less like other people than we suppose. And it’s very hard to keep that in mind.
  • Upholders value self-command and performance • Questioners value justification and purpose • Obligers value teamwork and duty • Rebels value freedom and self-
  • And one of the worst, most common mistakes when we’re trying to help someone change a habit? Invoking the dreaded “You should be able to…”
  • To craft a sign that works well for all Four Tendencies, we should provide information, consequences, and choice.
  • The happiest and most successful people are those who have figured out ways to exploit their Tendency to their benefit and, just as important, found ways to counterbalance its limitations.
  • “How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions?”
  • Upholders ask: “Should I do this?” • Questioners ask: “Does this make sense?” • Obligers ask: “Does this matter to anyone else?” • Rebels ask: “Is this the person I want to be?”