It has been a while since my last handpicked post as life got really busy for week or two.
Here is a collection of articles, podcasts, and even videos I have consumed over the last two weeks.
Articles I Saved
“You could be the best observer in the world but if you can’t communicate what it is that you see, it doesn’t do you any good.”
I want to do this course!
This conversation makes me think I could be Sherlock Holmes at work!
Seriously though, this is a skill worth cultivating. I have long held the idea of completing a drawing class so that I can learn to see how an artist sees.
Even the best models of the world are imperfect. This insight is important to remember if we want to learn how to make decisions and take action on a daily basis.
I use models all the time at work. They are most often visual, as in a diagram of what I am seeing or hearing, but they can also exist in Excel and other forms.
This article is a great reminder that every model, or framework, is just one perspective. For as long as the perspective is useful, the model will be useful.
However the model is never the whole truth.
Podcasts I Heard
This is a serious conversation with a very funny man.Trevor Noah is the host of Comedy Central’s the Daily Show. He’s also a stand-up comic who grew up in apartheid South Africa, the son of a black mother and a white father. That was illegal in apartheid-era South Africa, so Noah grew up hiding his real parentage, only seeing his father in carefully controlled circumstances. Somehow, he managed to turn this into a very funny, very incisive stand-up act. Today, he occupies one of the commanding heights of American comedy, and when you talk to him, you can see why: he’s funny, but he’s also damn smart, with an outsider’s perspective on America’s very unique problems. In this conversation, we talk about:- What it was like growing up biracial in apartheid South Africa- Noah’s experience watching South Africa’s post-apartheid truth and reconciliation commission, and what an American one might look like- Noah’s thoughts on the right to be forgotten on the internet- How Donald Trump’s superpower is his lack of shame- The ways in which Obama’s presidency changed – and sometimes inflamed — the conversation about race over the last eight years- What Obama does and doesn’t share with other Black celebrities in “transcending” race- The parallels between experiencing catcalling and experiencing racism- Noah’s critique of both “objective” news sources, and biased ones- Why Noah was taken aback by the response he got criticizing Bernie Sanders- Noah’s news diet, and why he doesn’t watch as much Fox News as you might think- How Noah develops a joke, from start to finishAnd much more. Enjoy!
What a joy to listen to this conversation.
If you are hoping for comedy from Trevor Noah you will be disappointed. This not a comedy podcast. But if you want to understand the foundation of his comedy then listen to this.
A conversation of this caliber is a pleasure to listen to.
There are some very astute observations made by both Ezra and Trevor. Their willingness and opening to going near a few tough issues, without judgement should be applauded.
Trevor brings his experience outside America, in South Africa, and from touring the world, to American politics and culture. He provides an interesting lens to view that world.
In this episode we find that the solution can be the problem. The hour begins with a charming couple from Utah who stumble across a clever fix to their clogged drain problem one day while they are showering together. For them, the impulse to fix the problem leads to a happy adventure into the world of patenting and manufacturing a new product. From there, the hour takes a turn to explore how this very same impulse to fix a problem — the impulse that has led the human species to invent telephones and bicycles and rocket ships — has surprising consequences when it comes to the problem of mental illness.
I’ll be upfront now and admit I can’t remember. I do know that I have to hold back from listening to Invisibilia … it is easily one of my favorites.
It’s a remarkable ecosystem that allows each of us to exercise control over our lives. But how much control do we truly have? How many of our decisions are really being made by Google and Facebook and Apple? And, perhaps most importantly: is the Internet’s true potential being squandered?
As before I listened to this one a while back. I do remember being fully engaged listening to it. You will have to take my word for it.
This one is much shorter — think of it as philosophical steroids. It may take a few minutes to get into, so be patient. Here, you’ll find pithy, actionable things that you can implement, such has how to keep track of the right things and how to create a narrative that serves you best. It’s very simple, but it’s a foundational skill and mindset that I try to practice myself. This was a fantastic reminder.
I transposed a passage, around minute 27, where Seth discusses personal brands.
Here is one excerpt:
“I think your brand is the promise that you make, implicitly or explicitly. What do I expect from you when I hire you, when you show up in my headphones, when we engage? What’s the promise?”
This seems a great way to think about your value, and who you are as a person.
He goes on a bit later to make this point.
“Your brand, is a story. And it is a story that helps people tell themselves a story about you.”
Perception, to me, is that last sentence. How are people seeing you, and what are they saying about you.
He then adds this gem right after.
“The stores people tell themselves about you are never true. They can’t be. No one knows you as well as you do. “
Well worth remembering.
Bowdoin College in Maine and Vassar College in upstate New York are roughly the same size. They compete for the same students. Both have long traditions of academic excellence. But one of those schools is trying hard to close the gap between rich and poor in American society—and paying a high price for its effort. The other is making that problem worse—and reaping rewards as a result.
“Food Fight,” the second of the three-part Revisionist History miniseries on opening up college to poor kids, focuses on a seemingly unlikely target: how the food each school serves in its cafeteria can improve or distort the educational system.
This is the second, in a three-part series, where Malcolm Gladwell really digs into the American college system.
It is good to know that there are some schools out there who actively choose to help students who need that help.
In the early ’90s, Hank Rowan gave $100 million to a university in New Jersey, an act of extraordinary generosity that helped launch the greatest explosion in educational philanthropy since the days of Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefellers. But Rowan gave his money to Glassboro State University, a tiny, almost bankrupt school in South Jersey, while almost all of the philanthropists who followed his lead made their donations to elite schools such as Harvard and Yale. Why did no one follow Rowan’s example?
“My Little Hundred Million” is the third part of Revisionist History’s educational miniseries. It looks at the hidden ideologies behind giving and how a strange set of ideas has hijacked educational philanthropy.
This is just depressing. You really can justify anything if you want to.
How is all this income tax free? I just don’t get it … I guess if you have put all the rich and powerful in their rich and powerful positions then you can get away with anything.
Anyway the tax free bits aside, there is one idea he brings up that has truly stuck with me.
In the first half of the podcast he talks about research (The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer is Wrong) comparing Football (soccer) teams to Basketball teams. He introduces the terms weak link and strong link teams.
The idea is that in some sports a team is only as good as its weakest player (soccer), and in others the strongest player can dominate everyone and pull a team through (basketball).
It is not that a great soccer team doesn’t need a star. It is more that if the team cannot get the ball to the best player to score, then it does not matter how good he is. He is dependent on them. He can only do so much on his own.
This analogy seems fitting in many environments. In some workplaces, the team, department, or company is only as good as the weakest part of the team.
It does not matter how good your sales person is, if your product is poor. Or perhaps your product is great, your sales person is great, but your service and support suck … and on and on …
In 1984, Elvis Costello released what he would say later was his worst record: Goodbye Cruel World. Among the most discordant songs on the album was the forgettable “The Deportees Club.” But then, years later, Costello went back and re-recorded it as “Deportee,” and today it stands as one of his most sublime achievements.
“Hallelujah” is about the role that time and iteration play in the production of genius, and how some of the most memorable works of art had modest and undistinguished births.
We listened to this in the car today.
First, what influence did Shrek have?
Second, his main thesis that genius can often be a work in progress, and a long time in the making, gives us all hope.
I work in versions. Constantly trying different approaches. I am not ‘genius’, but I do have this idea of what I am going for in my head, and I keep trying different things until I find it.
I think that is a skill I want my children to inherit …
We put the ‘conceptual genius’ on a pedestal. We revere and celebrate these individuals. In itself this is not a bad thing.
However, if we think this is the only way genius can exist, then we do ourselves a disservice.
Videos I Watched
I started watching TED videos again this week to mix it up.
Sebastian Junger talks about Tribes, I think he has a book on this topic.
This short video sticks out for me as an information architecture discussion. In many ways our tribe is how we group things. And there are many groupings, in a hierarchy similar to city, to state, to country.
We define these groups to suit our purpose. They can be flexible, if we choose.
However, his main point here is that we should respect each other more.
Respect is not the same as liking.
Great talk with a strong lesson.
Listen, listen, listen.
People will tell you what they need.
I heard about this talk preparing for my own on storytelling. It was given as an example of good storytelling, as he tells us about a lesson learnt growing tomatoes new to the Zambezi.
Book I am Reading
Yes I am still reading this one … I have been distracted preparing for a talk and therefore not reading.
Here are a few quotes from the weekend. These are from a section in the book where the author continues to discuss assertion techniques.
I selected these, as a parent, thinking about how best to both protect our kids, and equip them for the real world. The two quotes describe different types of consequences, Natural Consequences and Logical Consequences.
Natural consequences are based on the normal flow of events and take place without anyone’s interference. They represent the pressure of reality. This method is based on inaction—simply allowing another person to experience the consequences of behavior without trying to cushion the blow.
Logical consequences are arranged or applied. They must be experienced as logical in nature and not as arbitrary or capricious actions. If a child spills milk, he must wipe it up. If a person repeatedly arrives late for an appointment, he only is given the remaining amount of time for the interview. If there is no time remaining for the interview, he must reschedule it. When several people do not arrive on time for a meeting, it is still begun at the stated time. In each case, the consequences were logically related to the behavior.
The author distinguishes logical consequences from punishment, in the punitive sense. This is hard to do in the moment. I know. This is, however, a timely reminder.
These quotes remind me of this answer on Quora, to the question “What are some unique, effective ways to discipline a child?“.
I read this passage over 3 years ago.
“A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself this: “If my child screws this up, will it cost more than $20 to fix, hurt more than a scraped knee, or take longer than an hour to clean up?” (Adjust according to your financial/emotional/time budget.)” – Brian Davis on Quora
Early days on this one. I have only just started listening to it as an audio book on Audible.
The books is based in Stoic philosophy.
Here are two quotes to give you some idea of what this book is about.
“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”
― Ryan Holiday,
“We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.”
― Ryan Holiday,
These two quotes sum up why I find this book interesting.
First is that understanding that what we see around us is not The Truth. There is no such thing. We are influenced by our own history, education, culture, and experience in life.
The second is a big one for me, responsibility.