Book: Homo Deus – a history of Tomorrow

TLDR: Yes, you should read this book.

“In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods.”

Yuval Noah Harrari

Humanism has brought us incredible advances: We cured plagues, stopped wars, tamed nature. Climate catastrophe aside, we succeeded in overcoming every challenge thrown at a human race and came stronger and more resilient from experience.

Homo Deus is a book about the possible paths for humanity. Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens takes his insightful analysis of our species history and maps the trends and technological advances to present us with a possible future. I find this analysis highly accurate and agree with him on the direction we are facing.

Plagues and wars are no longer a daily concern. Now, my main struggle is finding ripe enough Avocado for my morning toast.

But this enormous success has brought its own trap: We have become accustomed to our way of life. 

Amazon link

The shortcomings of Humanism

You can only force people to do so many things. But it turns out that if you give them meaning and a purpose, they will be capable of incredible feats.

In early modern times, religion has provided this purpose generously. If you served God, you would go to Heaven. Everything made sense. You should, without a doubt, put all your efforts into furthering churches’ mission, even if that meant killing more pagans or dying yourself in the process.

Then came the Renaissance.

Slowly, but surely the religion was not the only game in town. People discovered the value of an individual human being, and human colossus started to gain more power ( Read this post by Tim Urban to learn more about the human collossus ).

During the Agricultural Revolution humankind silenced animals and plants, and turned the animist grand opera into a dialogue between man and gods. During the Scientific Revolution humankind silenced the gods too. The world was now a one-man show.

Yuval Noah Harrari

When you give people meaning and empower them to unleash their creativity, they will stop at nothing to achieve the goal. There is a catch, though.

The goal of Humanism is to remove any artificial meaning continually.

This is the primary commandment humanism has given us: create meaning for a meaningless world.

Yuval Noah Harrari

For a while, that meaning was elevating the living conditions of the western world. Fighting poverty, hunger, and diseases. Human spirit prevailing over the harsh environment.

We have succeeded in all these pursuits, but in the course of doing so, we have created problems that do not have clear solutions. We have run out of meaning, and postmodernism has poisoned our ability to seek it.

Different flavors of Humanism have pursued different ways of seeking that meaning:

  • Liberal Humanism is all about freedom of the individual – this is what we usually mean when we say “Humanism.”
  • Socialist Humanism aims to elevate the living conditions of the collective. By working together, we will thrive.
  • Evolutionary Humanism wants to create better conditions by ensuring only the strongest individuals continue to shape the future. 

In the second half of the twentieth-century humankind almost obliterated itself in an argument about production methods.

Yuval Noah Harrari

For a while, after World Wars, we have relished in the renewed sense of meaning yet again. Rebuilding our broken world, healing the wounds and ensuring working on the trauma gave us purpose.

But those days are gone.

What will be the new frontier?

“It took just a piece of bread to make a starving medieval peasant joyful. How do you bring joy to a bored, overpaid and overweight engineer?”

We are now heading straight for techno-utopia. Our every little annoyance is solved with technical advances. Now I do not need to seek an Avocado for my toast. The meal will be delivered to my doorstep without me leaving the couch.

And Avocado Toast is here to stay.

Every primary belief system has made use of one thing as the ultimate meaning source: The death itself.

  • “Obey, or you will go to hell.”
  • “Enjoy your time while you are here.”
  • “We are only playthings of the Gods, and we die when they are finished with us.”

Regardless of the specific theology, death was always a constant fact of life. At least you could count on that.

It is only natural that humans would try to attack it with considerable hubris. Hans Rosling expands on this in Factfulness.

The life span is increasing, thanks to medical advances rapidly.

We don’t have to invent immortality. To effectively live forever, your life expectancy has to improve by one year, every year.

Current medical improvements will keep you around long enough to see future medical enhancements and so on.

I am consciously getting around the topic of life quality in this scenario, since that may be a good question for another time.

Virtual Reality is also becoming a consideration. We could upload our consciousness straight into the Internet.

Let’s not lie to ourselves – many of us are already living there.

The perils of immortality

Let’s say we have achieved immortality.

We will have conquered everything. Where do we find meaning, then?

  • One idea is that the meaning is data being processed. Humanity is only the vector by which information is spreading.
  • We may find that space – “The Final Frontier” – is something that will infuse humanity with new Vigor
  • Do you have any ideas? I’m all ears

Another thing we are currently battling with is that it’s tough to change people’s minds.

Never before in human history, the reality has changed faster than people were dying. The psychological makeup after you are thirty makes you less likely to change mind and accept new concepts.

Max Planck famously said that science advances one funeral at a time.

Yuval Noah Harari

You could blame the recent resurgence of conservatism on the change velocity in the modern world. It will be exciting to see how humanity will adapt to this constant change.

Sidetone: The intersubjective level of Reality.

According to Harari, there are three levels of the reality:

  • The objective reality that we share. This one is governed by immutable laws of nature,
  • Intrasubjective Reality that is private for each and every one of us. It’s governed by our belief system,
  • Intersubjective Reality that we share, but it is governed by our shared belief systems.

Part of our political discussion recently is that we ignore the third, intersubjective level and try to classify our experience in one of the former two. We mostly do not agree about this classification.

There is a talk by Yuval Noah Harari in University of California:

My highlights

  • There are no longer natural famines in the world; there are only political famines. If people in Syria, Sudan or Somalia starve to death, it is because some politician wants them to.
  • Whereas in March 1520, when the Spanish fleet arrived, Mexico was home to 22 million people, by December only 14 million were still alive. Smallpox was only the first blow. While the new Spanish masters were busy enriching themselves and exploiting the natives, deadly waves of flu, measles and other infectious diseases struck Mexico one after the other, until in 1580 its population was down to less than 2 million.8 Two centuries later, on 18 January 1778, the British explorer Captain James Cook reached Hawaii.
  • Altogether the pandemic killed between 50 million and 100 million people in less than a year. The First World War killed 40 million from 1914 to 1918.
  • In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes.23 Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.
  • as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and
  • What Rwanda earned from an entire year of looting Congolese coltan, the Chinese earn in a single day of peaceful commerce.
  • When the moment comes to choose between economic growth and ecological stability, politicians, CEOs and voters almost always prefer growth.
  • Rather, for modern people death is a technical problem that we can and should solve.
  • They maintain that anyone possessing a healthy body and a healthy bank account in 2050 will have a serious shot at immortality by cheating death a decade at a time.
  • Max Planck famously said that science advances one funeral at a time.
  • Indeed, even chimpanzees in the jungle sometimes live into their sixties.
  • Galileo Galilei died at seventy-seven, Isaac Newton at eighty-four, and Michelangelo lived to the ripe age of eighty-eight, without any help from antibiotics, vaccinations or organ transplants. Indeed, even chimpanzees in the jungle sometimes live into their sixties.29
  • When you take into account our belief in the sanctity of human life, add the dynamics of the scientific establishment, and top it all with the needs of the capitalist economy, a relentless war against death seems to be inevitable.
  • You fought for your country when you were eighteen, and paid your taxes when you were forty, because you counted on the state to take care of you when you were seventy.30
  • liberty. It’s important to note, however, that the American Declaration of Independence guaranteed the right to the pursuit of happiness, not the right to happiness itself
  • Epicurus recommended, for example, to eat and drink in moderation, and to curb one’s sexual appetites.
  • It took just a piece of bread to make a starving medieval peasant joyful. How do you bring joy to a bored, overpaid and overweight engineer?
  • Forget economic growth, social reforms and political revolutions: in order to raise global happiness levels, we need to manipulate human biochemistry.
  • The principle is clear: biochemical manipulations that strengthen political stability, social order and economic growth are allowed and even encouraged (e.g., those that calm hyperactive kids in school, or drive anxious soldiers forward into battle). Manipulations that threaten stability and growth are banned.
  • Some 2,300 years ago Epicurus warned his disciples that immoderate pursuit of pleasure is likely to make them miserable rather than happy.
  • To attain real happiness, humans need to slow down the pursuit of pleasant sensations, not accelerate it.
  • In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods.
  • Breaking out of the organic realm could also enable life to finally break out of planet earth.
  • In the twenty-first century, the third big project of humankind will be to acquire for us divine powers of creation and destruction, and upgrade Homo sapiens into Homo deus.
  • Thus the Old Testament God never promises any rewards or punishments after death.
  • This is what we fear collectively, as a species, when we hear of superhumans. We sense that in such a world, our identity, our dreams and even our fears will be irrelevant, and we will have nothing more to contribute.
  • But most experts think on a timescale of academic grants and college jobs. Hence, ‘very far away’ may mean twenty years, and ‘never’ may denote no more than fifty.
  • but soon enough men who had no impotence problems in the first place began using the same pill to surpass the norm, and acquire sexual powers they never had before.45
  • Once stem-cell research enables us to create an unlimited supply of human embryos on the cheap, you can select your optimal baby from among hundreds of candidates,
  • Knowledge that does not change behaviour is useless. But knowledge that changes behaviour quickly loses its relevance.
  • The new history will explain that ‘our present situation is neither natural nor eternal. Things were different once. Only a string of chance events created the unjust world we know today. If we act wisely, we can change that world, and create a much better one.’
  • In most Semitic languages, ‘Eve’ means ‘snake’ or even ‘female snake’.
  • because the twenty-first century will be dominated by algorithms. ‘Algorithm’ is arguably the single most important concept in our world.
  • Over the last few decades biologists have reached the firm conclusion that the man pressing the buttons and drinking the tea is also an algorithm.
  • These algorithms undergo constant quality control by natural selection.
  • What we call sensations and emotions are in fact algorithms.
  • It is therefore likely that frightened humans, frightened baboons and frightened pigs have similar experiences.
  • John Watson, a leading childcare authority in the 1920s, sternly advised parents, ‘Never hug and kiss [your children], never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning.’
  • A modern Jewish family that celebrates a holiday by having a barbecue on their front lawn is much closer to the spirit of biblical times than an orthodox family that spends the time studying scriptures in a synagogue.
  • During the Agricultural Revolution humankind silenced animals and plants, and turned the animist grand opera into a dialogue between man and gods. During the Scientific Revolution humankind silenced the gods too. The world was now a one-man show.
  • Everything that happens in the cosmos is judged to be good or bad according to its impact on Homo sapiens.
  • Hence the existence of souls cannot be squared with the theory of evolution.
  • So perhaps behind all the sensations and emotions we ascribe to animals – hunger, fear, love and loyalty – lurk only unconscious algorithms rather than subjective experiences?
  • Consciousness is the biologically useless by-product of certain brain processes. Jet engines roar loudly, but the noise doesn’t propel the aeroplane forward.
  • it implies that all the pain and pleasure experienced by billions of creatures for millions of years is just mental pollution.
  • Mind and body are made of pipes, cylinders, valves and pistons that build and release pressure, thereby producing movements and actions. Such thinking had a deep influence even on Freudian psychology, which is why much of our psychological jargon is still replete with concepts borrowed from mechanical engineering.
  • Starting with the assumption that we can believe humans when they report that they are conscious, we can identify the signatures of human consciousness, and then use these signatures to ‘prove’ that humans are indeed conscious.
  • According to Turing, in the future computers would be just like gay men in the 1950s. It won’t matter whether computers will actually be conscious or not. It will matter only what people think about it.
  • This declaration stops short of saying that other animals are conscious, because we still lack the smoking gun. But it does shift the burden of proof to those who think otherwise. Responding to the shifting
  • Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness,
  • This declaration stops short of saying that other animals are conscious, because we still lack the smoking gun. But it does shift the burden of proof to those who think otherwise.
  • If a hive faces a new threat or a new opportunity, the bees cannot, for example, guillotine the queen and establish a republic.
  • First, they placed loyal communist apparatchiks in control of all networks of cooperation, such as the army, trade unions and even sports associations. Second, they prevented the creation of any rival organisations – whether political, economic or social – which might serve as a basis for anti-communist cooperation. Third, they relied on the support of sister communist parties in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe.
  • Classical economists have probably never left their laboratories and lecture halls to venture into the real world.
  • These are sets of rules that, despite existing only in our imagination, we believe to be as real and inviolable as gravity.
  • there is a third level of reality: the intersubjective level.
  • Meaning is created when many people weave together a common network of stories.
  • Sapiens rule the world because only they can weave an intersubjective web of meaning: a web of laws, forces, entities and places that exist purely in their common imagination.
  • Humans think they make history, but history actually revolves around the web of stories.
  • Just like the living-god pharaoh, the living-god Petsuchos was lovingly groomed by attending priests who provided the lucky reptile with lavish food and even toys, and dressed him up in gold cloaks and gem-encrusted crowns.
  • But nowadays we habitually say that the United States built the first nuclear bomb, that China built the Three Gorges Dam or that Google is building an autonomous car. Why not say, then, that pharaoh built a reservoir and Sobek dug a canal?
  • Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the angel with the rubber stamp.
  • Sousa Mendes, armed with little more than a rubber stamp, was responsible for the largest rescue operation by a single individual during the Holocaust.2
  • He is convinced that everything happens because of him. Most people grow out of this infantile delusion. Monotheists hold on to it till the day they die.
  • Indeed, even today when US presidents take their oath of office, they put their hand on a Bible.
  • Consequently the system may seem to be working well, but only if we adopt the system’s own criteria.
  • History isn’t a single narrative, but thousands of alternative narratives. Whenever we choose to tell one, we are also choosing to silence others.
  • How do you know if an entity is real? Very simple – just ask yourself, ‘Can it suffer?’
  • Corporations, money and nations exist only in our imagination. We invented them to serve us; why do we find ourselves sacrificing our lives in their service?
  • We always believe in ‘the truth’; only other people believe in superstitions.
  • Religion is any all-encompassing story that confers superhuman legitimacy on human laws, norms and values.
  • For religions, spirituality is a dangerous threat.
  • When religions advertise themselves, they tend to emphasise their beautiful values. But God often hides in the fine print of factual statements.
  • The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange
  • Yet in fact modernity is a surprisingly simple deal. The entire contract can be summarised in a single phrase: humans agree to give up meaning in exchange for power.
  • If modernity has a motto, it is ‘shit happens’.
  • On the practical level modern life consists of a constant pursuit of power within a universe devoid of meaning.
  • For thousands of years priests, rabbis and muftis explained that humans cannot overcome famine, plague and war by their own efforts. Then along came the bankers, investors and industrialists, and within 200 years managed to do exactly that.
  • This is the primary commandment humanism has given us: create meaning for a meaningless world.
  • develop a particular liking for ‘Panda Dung tea’ from the mountains of Ya’an in Sichuan province, made from the leaves of tea bushes fertilised by the dung of panda bears.
  • at least during the nineteenth century nationalism was closely aligned with liberalism.
  • My current political views, my likes and dislikes, and my hobbies and ambitions do not reflect my authentic self. Rather, they reflect my upbringing and social surroundings. They depend on my class, and are shaped by my neighbourhood and my school.
  • While it is a favourite pastime of Western academics and activists to find fault with the liberal package, they have so far failed to come up with anything better.
  • Pius led a series of reforms in Catholic dogma and established the novel principle of papal infallibility, according to which the Pope can never err in matters of faith (this seemingly medieval idea became binding Catholic dogma only in 1870, eleven years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species).
  • In the second half of the twentieth century humankind almost obliterated itself in an argument about production methods.
  • until they finally discover what they need: some maxim, parable or ruling that, if interpreted creatively enough means God blesses gay marriages and women can be ordained to the priesthood.
  • The Bible is kept as a source of authority, even though it is no longer a true source of inspiration.
  • The sacred word ‘freedom’ turns out to be, just like ‘soul’, a hollow term empty of any discernible meaning.
  • For the experiencing self, it is impossible that adding a slightly unpleasant experience to a very unpleasant experience will make the entire episode more appealing.
  • The value of the whole experience is determined by averaging peaks with ends.
  • We identify with the inner system that takes the crazy chaos of life and spins out of it seemingly logical and consistent yarns.
  • Our narrating self would much prefer to continue suffering in the future, just so it won’t have to admit that our past suffering was devoid of all meaning.
  • if we want to come clean about past mistakes, our narrating self must invent some twist in the plot that will infuse these mistakes with meaning.
  • Medieval crusaders believed that God and heaven provided their lives with meaning; modern liberals believe that individual free choices provide life with meaning. They are all equally delusional.
  • We are about to face a flood of extremely useful devices, tools and structures that make no allowance for the free will of individual humans.
  • Is it a coincidence that universal rights were proclaimed at the precise historical juncture when universal conscription was decreed?
  • It is telling that already today in many asymmetrical conflicts the majority of citizens are reduced to serving as shields for advanced armaments.
  • An application called Deadline goes a step further, informing you of how many years of life you have left, given your current habits.
  • Algorithms won’t revolt and enslave us. Rather, they will be so good at making decisions for us that it would be madness not to follow their advice.
  • Liberalism will collapse on the day the system knows me better than I know myself. Which is less difficult than it may sound, given that most people don’t really know themselves well.
  • Modern humanity is sick with FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – and though we have more choice than ever before, we have lost the ability to really pay attention to whatever we choose.6
  • 1.Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? 2.What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness? 3.What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

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.

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.