Author Archives: Blas

About Blas

Hi, I'm Blas Moros. I'm a half-Swedish, half-Venezuelan mutt who has been fortunate enough to live and travel the world. I spent the first 20 years of my life dedicated to tennis and this culminated in an amazing experience playing for the University of Notre Dame. I am now living in Chicago, working in the finance industry. I have a younger brother at the University of Chicago and a younger sister who is a senior in high school. My parents are unfailingly supportive and I won't ever be able to thank them enough for everything they have made possible for me.

Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way in Baseball by Sadaharu Oh, David Falkner

Summary

  1. Sadaharu Oh, one of the all time leading home run hitters, describes his journey towards mastery

Key Takeaways

  1. Oh’s proudest accomplishment and what he admires most is durability, endurance, spirit-discipline. Like he and Lou Gehrig had 
  2. Because of his profession, he was asked all sorts of questions about war and peace, politics and more. A man who has chased a little white ball his entire life should not be held as an Oracle from the Buddha 
  3. Baseball was a form of spirit discipline. A way to make myself a better person – although I surely never sought discipline for such a reason. It became my Way, as a tea ceremony or flower arranging or the making of poems were the Ways of others. 
  4. In his last game, he hit a home run and his opponents came out to shake his hands and bow to him. His opponents life’s his spirits and, in doing so, reminded him of something that I had spent 22 years learning. That opponents and I were really one. My strength and skills were only one half of the equation. The other half was theirs. 
  5. Practical training in skills, if done in a certain way, is a form of spirit-discipline. And in combat I learned to give up combat. I learned in fact, there were no enemies. An opponent was someone whose strength joined to yours and created a certain result. My baseball career was a long, long initiation into a single secret: that at the heart of all things is love. We are, each of us, one with the universe that surrounds us – in harmony with it, not in conspiracy against if. To live by being in harmony with what surrounds you is to be reminded that every end is followed by a new beginning – and that the humblest of life’s offerings is as treasured as the greatest in the eyes of the Creator. 
  6. I am not a religious man but I have been accompanied every step of the way by powers that are not mine alone. And so it was left to me always do make the most of the life I had. For myself and for what I am merely custodian to. 
  7. Fortune moves in and out of people’s lives like a living spirit. Because all of us are susceptible, sometimes we wind up seeing things; other times we scarcely know that our lives have been touched 
  8. A man’s purpose, my father has insisted to this day, is to be of genuine service to others 
  9. Defeat, like victory, is a passing thing. It is with you only as long as you insist on keeping it 
  10. The professional world enabled me after many years to understand that what I did everyday mattered far more than the glory or grief of a moment. I was not a “natural” hard worker. I have two in me, one is weaker, the other stronger. The weaker one always looks for a way out, wants fun and good times – and usually finds them; the other is therefore forced to work hard to catch up. 
  11. Just prior to the season, the coaching staff, as is traditional in Japanese baseball, reviewed the goals that were expected from each of the players on the team. There is no sense of contract in this, but there is a very strong cultural sense of obligation to which a player must answer. Obligation is a very powerful force in our lives – ours is a culture of shame – and the player who falls short of the goals established for him by his team runs the risk of having to answer to the sternest authority of all – his own sense of self worth. There were lofty goals for me for they seemed good targets to shoot for. However, what awaited me at the summit of my young baseball life was a three year free fall that nearly destroyed me
  12. In order to better deal with the high expectations, I adopted the slogan “take it easy.” Kawakami, a batting legend and hitting coach, and Wally Yonamine gave me their first baseman’s mitts. They were to be mine, letting me know in the strongest symbolic way they could that whatever batting problems I had were independent of my future with the Giants. I was the Giants’ new first baseman. I was very moved and obligated to them for this gesture. 
  13. Hitting is with your hip, not your hand. Imagine that your eyes are in your front hip. You can see the ball with your hip. It is difficult. Be patient and it will come. 
  14. I did not feel “easy” about this [living up to the obligation, loyalty, high standards that his nation expected of him]. I felt so stirred and fired up it took me some doing to convince myself that it was real. Oh, yes, I wanted to live up to that! I wanted to be worthy and responsible…was I confused? Confusion doesn’t begin to speak of it! But my brother taught me there was no need to make a display of feelings. I never imposed on anyone else what I was going through. 
  15. The dormitory exists for a purpose most valued in our culture – namely to nurture young people in the hard discipline of group endeavor. That a baseball team needs a sense of real togetherness is obvious, and that young people away from home for the first time need the helpful guidance of their elders is quite clear. But like everything, there is always a kind of balance between the ideal and the actual, and the tension between the two – in any culture – is how you begin to experience the particulars of a life. 
  16. Every man should have a good rival. Kitsugi saved my career even in the throes is the awful struggle between us. 
  17. The goal of zen is to become void of desire, but can a man attain such a high goal?
  18. It’s more important to do things than to brood over them 
  19. Ma, from Aikido, is space. It exists because there is an opponent. To eliminate ma, make the opponent yours. That is the real task. Absorb and incorporate his thinking into your own. Become one with him so you know him perfectly and can be one step ahead of his every movement. Make use of an opponent’s strength and yours will be doubled 
  20. After three years and much desperation, the coaching staff decided to try the one legged stance they joked about earlier. This removed the hitch in my swing and improved my timing. Oh learned absolute focus and balance in this pose – ma, ki. Immovable self discipline comes only when you master the use of ki. Acquiring the “body of a rock” literally meant having the discipline to wait. This implies far more than balance. To train one’s entire being to hold back from the tricks and feints of a pitcher, no less than from an enemy with a sword, is finally the single most important step in harmonizing one’s ki with the opponents. Ma, the interval or distance between you, is eventually that which you rather than the other create by the strength of your waiting. Everything was now suddenly poured into this subtle act of waiting. For waiting, I understood in this moment, far from being something passive, was the most active state of all. In its secret heart lay the beginning and the end of all action. In it lurked the exact moment to strike. With the ability I had acquired to wait, I now could make my contact point somewhat further back. This in turn gave me slightly more time before I had to commit myself. I thus wound up being able to see an incoming pitch till the last possible moment…Later, I got to meet Hank Aaron and learned that he trained himself to wait by measuring the pitcher’s best fastball. 
  21. I learned to focus at all times on the area just below my navel. I achieved great balance with this focus and was always ready 
  22. There was baseball in everything I did. I had this gnawing sense of fear that I would let down or be unable to play up to what I had previously done. 
  23. Baseball was with me wherever I went. There was simply nothing else!
  24. You see, Arakawa-san explained [his hitting coach and, in many ways, mentor], the better you hit, the less reason you have to think. After all, isn’t the goal of Zen to achieve a void?
  25. One day, when I went for training, I assumed my pose with the sword and methodically began my swings. I had taken only three swings that day – normally I took hundreds – when Arakawa-san suddenly stopped me, a look of pleasure glowing on his face. That’s it! That’s it! You’ve done it, he said excitedly. Done what? I asked, puzzled. It had taken all this time but you have just performed three identical, perfect swings. There is no more to do for today than to concentrate as hard as you can on remembering what it is you have done. You have finally understood. That is all I can say. You must accept this now. 
  26. Teams devised the “Oh Shift” (much like the Ted Williams shift) to try to get me to alter my swing. It was a psychological challenge as much as anything. My answer was to swing as I always did, to keep the contest of hitting between myself and the pitcher standing 60 feet away. Arakawa-san and I had reached the point where there were no tricks in what I was doing. And consequently no tricks used against us would get in our way. Nothing could stop me from hitting. I longed to hit as a starving man longs for food
  27. Arakawa-san said we would beat Babe Ruth. I thought he was joking but he was earnest. I’ll never be sure but he got me thinking and aspiring towards greater goals than I ever would have had myself 
    1. A great mentor, coach, partner helps you see possibilities greater than you ever would have on your own
  28. The door of possibility had opened. I walked through, never to go back. This was not unadulterated joy as far as I was concerned. For I discovered in this most amazing season of my life that achievement and recognition were not necessarily the same thing. 
  29. There are 4 stages in martial arts training – technique, skill, art, the Way itself. Early on, Arakawa-San likened me to Musashi but now he said I also had his ability. Musashi said that he looked up to the gods and Buddha but that he would never rely on them 
  30. It took me 25 years to learn but after Arakawa-san there was no more important person in my life that Nagashima-san (the best and most prolific player on the Giants). Learning to play with him was everything. He was an all time legend but I’m not sure I ever truly knew him. This mysterious part accounted for the tremendous hold he had on the imaginations of people in our country. It is this part that makes me think he had genius as well as talent. 
  31. In a slump, you ask yourself “why?” This is silent, never to be overheard. It seals you in the privacy of effort. My why is that I’m hungry for skill! I kept a bat and a notebook at my bedside so that if I came out of sleep with an idea, I could practice it and then write it down. I also got in the habit of simply writing to myself to raise my spirits, as I was the one I had to depend on
  32. 7 steps of my form – fighting spirit, stance, grip, backswing, stride forward, downswing, impact 
  33. My old friends come from every walk of life. They bring with them many interests and many new things to talk about
  34. Making things too comfortable takes away the challenge. And everything I do, including salary talks, has only one goal – to keep my mind focused on the challenge 
  35. All of a sudden I was one shy of the 700 home run mark and it seemed like a real barrier. I found myself trying and, in trying, trying to stop myself from trying 
  36. I never once had the idea that because I had made this or that record I could just lie back and play the star. If anything, I worked harder than ever. 
  37. In 1980 I hit a slump but it was different than before. My spirit was not there. My desire for combat was gone. I have no anger anymore. Mastery in Aikido means loss of desire for combat. 
  38. After I retired, I became assistant manager. I was ready to give what I could to younger players. I had certainly been blessed by having a master teacher, and if I could ever give just one young player a fraction of what was given to me, my role would be fulfilled. I did not ask for nor did I expect to receive special considerations based on the stature I had acquired as a player. During practice, I made it a point to pull and push batting cages around, to pick up balls, and to do other ordinary grounds keeping chores. I ate and lived among the players  
  39. I learned from Arakawa-san, my greatest teacher, that the Way is long and mastery of any sort is not easy to achieve. Above all, what I learned from my Sensei was how to wait. I believe I learned the meaning of waiting on one foot. If I understand anything in this life, it is how to wait. It is not an answer. But for me it is everything. 
  40. Nin – Oh added this frequently to autographs he signed. It means patience, or more precise, constancy. 

What I got out of it

  1. I had never heard of Sada but his story is incredible – his 3 years of struggle lead to desperation which allowed him to try something unusual – hitting on one foot. His thoughtfulness and clarity of thought are beautiful. The steps towards mastery using a Zen-like framework apply broadly (pair with Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning)

January 2019

The Rabbit Hole
     
Jump In. 
 

My monthly newsletter covers the books I have read over the course of the month, the challenges I undertook as well as some other interesting articles, blog posts, interviews, tools, hacks, etc.

Books

Full list of books read in 2019201820172016, 2015, 2014

Any book, which is at all important, should be immediately re-read

Essays

  • I want to become a better writer so will sporadically put out essays – my attempt to dig into fun, new, and/or surprising ideas. Besides becoming a better writer, I have found that writing helps me flush out my thoughts and ideas and this process makes it painfully transparent how little I truly understand. If I can’t write about it or explain something simply, I don’t truly understand it. I also believe that ideas beget ideas and I hope this process helps unlock and uncover more of them.
  • Costanza’s Law of Contrast

Teacher’s Reference Guides

  • None

Monthly Challenges

  • No caffeine – first couple days were tough but made me realize the impact caffeine has on me (elevated heart rate, a bit of a frantic mood, etc.). I’ll go back to regular coffee soon but limit it to 1 per day and might do one week of no caffeine per month to cycle off

Other

Amor Fati Amor.

Blas

Problem avoidance is the strategy of avoiding head-on encounters with a stubborn problem that does not offer a good point d’appui, or toe hold. It is the most under-rated of all methods of dealing with problems. Little wonder, for its practitioners are not to be found struggling valiantly against staggering odds, nor are they to be seen fighting bloody but unbowed, nor are they observed undergoing glorious martyrdom. They are simply somewhere else, successfully doing something else. Like Lao Tzu himself, they have slipped quietly away into a happy life of satisfying obscurity. The opposite of passivity is initiative, or responsibility – not energetic futility. Choose your systems with care. Destiny is largely a set of unquestioned assumptions.” – John Gall

December 2018

The Rabbit Hole by Blas Moros 
     
Jump In. 
 

My monthly newsletter covers the books I have read over the course of the month, the challenges I undertook as well as some other interesting articles, blog posts, interviews, tools, hacks, etc.

Books

Full list of books read in 201820172016, 2015, 2014

Any book, which is at all important, should be immediately re-read

Teacher’s Reference Guides

  • Machine Learning – getting to know the basics in these topics was not only a lot of fun but I think really important as they will likely become pervasive and permeate every area of life. The language and terms used to describe these different topics also gave me some vocabulary and a new way to think about learning, AI, habits, training, and serve as great metaphors to think about other areas not directly related to AI/ML.

Monthly Challenges

  • Changed the routine up a bit this December. Rather than reading new books, I’ve reviewed what I’ve read this past year as well as the best things I’ve read over the past ~5 years or so (see links above under “Books”). My goal was to spot patterns across topics and time, making it a priority to reflect more deeply on what I’ve already read in order to let these great teachings sink in. Really enjoyed this practice and will likely keep up.

Other

As we begin 2019, I’d love any recommendations on what to read, learn about, do, how I can improve the site, and anything else that might come to mind.

I appreciate and am grateful for all your feedback and for the community we’ve built together these past 5 years.

Amor Fati Amor.

Blas

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” – African Proverb

November 2018

The Rabbit Hole by Blas Moros 
     
Jump In. 
 

My monthly newsletter covers the books I have read over the course of the month, the challenges I undertook as well as some other interesting articles, blog posts, interviews, tools, hacks, etc.

Books

Full list of books read in 201820172016, 2015, 2014

Any book, which is at all important, should be immediately re-read

Teacher’s Reference Guides

  • Machine Learning – need another month at least to get a basic understanding but it’s a fascinating space

Monthly Challenges

  • 200 mg L-Theanine with coffee in the mornings – super sharp focus but didn’t sleep well and was hot all the time. Might do every once in a while when needed but not every day.

Other

Amor Fati Amor.

Blas

“What you dislike in another take care to correct in yourself.” – Thomas Sprat

 

October 2018

The Rabbit Hole by Blas Moros 
     
Jump In. 
 

My monthly newsletter covers the books I have read over the course of the month, the challenges I undertook as well as some other interesting articles, blog posts, interviews, tools, hacks, etc.   

Books

Full list of books read in 201820172016, 2015, 2014

Any book, which is at all important, should be immediately re-read

 

Teacher’s Reference Guides

  • None

Monthly Challenges

  • Buffett Partnership Letters – great learning how Buffett thought about investing early on in his career and how he has adapted throughout time. Same ideas of circle of competence, margin of safety, Mr. Market, humility shine through

Other

Amor Fati

Blas

 

“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills

 
     
   

Costanza’s Law of Contrast

Besides being one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, I think there’s an important lesson in The Opposite: contrast.

In the episode, after a typical string of poor luck, George decides to do the opposite of what he has always done and ends up with the beautiful girl, a great job, confidence, and more. He is candid about his situation saying, “My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents” to the beautiful girl who is taken totally off guard and becomes intrigued by this portly man. The rest of the episode follows a similar pattern.

While hilarious, simply doing the opposite of what your instinct tells you doesn’t fully translate to the real world. However, what does work in the real world is doing things which are contrarian and correct.[1] This is what makes great startups, great investments, great decisions. If it was obvious, it would have been done already and there’d be no margin, no opportunity. Lots of things are contrarian, but relatively few are contrarian and correct. Figuring out that this overlap in the concentric circle of contrarian and correct is where you should be aiming is the first step and hopefully this essay helps pave the road.

A subtle variety of “contrarian and correct” is contrast. If you have no contrast, you have no room for separation, differentiation, or efficiency. Competition is too tough this way as there is no way to stand out. It becomes a race to the bottom. In physics terms, this is the Second Law of Thermodynamics and it states that “the greatest thermodynamic efficiency is achieved by combining the hottest possible source with the coldest possible sink.” So, what? So, contrast. If you can create enough contrast with your competitors, you can achieve incredible competitive efficiency. You are a “hot source” operating in a “cold sink” – working smarter, not harder. This is what George tapped into in this episode. When every guy hides their insecurities and George confidently and transparently stated his, he stood apart. 

This framework applies across the board and is partially what makes it so powerful. It is an invariant strategy, applicable across time, space, industry, and geography. Nuclear reactors exploit this physics principle, crabs exploit this biological principle, and you too can exploit this human’s systems principle too.

Deciding which industry to get into might be the most important career decision you will make. If everyone you’re going up against is top class, good luck! But if competition in an industry is less sophisticated, fragmented, complacent, slower, or inefficient for whatever reason (“cold sinks”), it can be a potential gold mine. Thinking of contrast in this way helps you find and decide which niche(s) to enter, and then outcompete the inefficient players who are already in it. Find a “cold sink”, determine what makes it inefficient, and go about exploiting it. On repeat. Velocity vs. Mass. Active vs. Inert. Proactive vs. Reactive. This framework could explain some of the success of companies which have been in industries typically considered unattractive.[2] 

The examples above are applicable to business and careers but how about for our personal lives? By following George’s example, we can do the opposite of what is the norm today and gain “contrast,” setting ourselves apart. 

In today’s social media age, there seems to be an instant gratification mantra. You can exploit that by choosing the delayed gratification option. Seek out that with a negative first order consequence but positive long-term benefits. This is likely the uncommon choice. Choose it. In the days of shallow and expedient work, do the deep and meaningful. Books rather than articles. Slow thinking rather than frantic. Balance rather than imbalance.

While exploiting what is common today is a good strategy, an even more robust one may be exploiting those things which have always seemed difficult for humans. Be open, authentic, and vulnerable when others are isolated, disingenuous, and walled off. Become a great writer and public speaker. Be generous. Give credit and take the blame. Because human nature is what it is and is slow to change, these things will always be difficult for people as it requires courage, self-knowledge, and independence of thought. Scarce qualities and, if you can genuinely foster them, so powerful since they offer true and sustainable contrast. 

From what I’ve laid out, the “norm” may seem nonsensical when taken out of context, but it typically isn’t. So, why do people act in these harmful ways? Habits, social pressure, fear of losing status, fear of losing your job, the environment and expectations which surround us. These subconscious self-preservation and hierarchical survival habits are deeply ingrained and drive much (most?) of what we do. How people act can make perfect sense when seen through these lenses and we can use these automatic, built in ‘trip-wires’ to our advantage. Stepping back and reconsidering what we truly want and what it takes to get there, we can see what actually serves us and what is simply a habit we’ve fallen into. With this clarity and focus, we can see the lunacy for what it is and change as needed.

This ‘stepping back’ gives you an ability to see things from a different angle – distance provides perspective. This is also known as Galilean Relativity. Nobody can fully know or understand the system they are part of but we can side-step (to some extent) this lack of understanding by getting the input and help from other’s with “fresh eyes” – those outside of our system due to their age, experience, background, expertise, or wisdom. For example, asking someone who is 20 years older what they wish they had known when they were your age is an effective way to avoid pitfalls and mitigate errors. You may not like their advice. It may seem crazy to you. And that is when it is most valuable. As Paul Graham wisely advises, pay attention to what surprises you.[3] There are tremendous benefits to mulling these things over because they defy your expectations and, if you can figure out why, you have a good shot of better understanding the people and world around you. Not doing so leads to confirmation bias and a slow and dangerous cementing of static thoughts, beliefs, and actions. When the world doesn’t align with what you think should have happened, your model is wrong, not the world. This seems obvious but can be surprisingly hard to honor when ego, expectations, assumptions, and biases get in the way and cloud our judgement.

“What the pupil must learn, if he learns anything at all, is that the world will do most of the work for you, provided you cooperate with it by identifying how it really works and aligning with those realities. If we do not let the world teach us, it teaches us a lesson.”

— Joseph Tussman

You can do this at any stage and with any problem, but you must have these people in your life that you trust and can count on. Not only depth but breadth of relationships and experience becomes obviously vital at this point.

Since we are all part of a system, we are all susceptible to errors and blindspots. But, if you are at least aware of this situation, you can take steps to mitigate it – ask for advice from those with “fresh eyes”, change the environment and/or the people you hang around, what you value, which hierarchy you are competing in, how you spend your time. This takes a consistent and concerted effort. Much like the fish doesn’t know she is in water, we often take the system we are in for granted. Pay more attention to what game you are playing rather than how to play it. Then you can more transparently see how your competitors act, what they value, what blindspots they have and use it to your advantage by acting in such a way which provides contrast.


[1] Peter Thiel’s Zero to One is a great resource for more on this

[2] Nucor Steel in steel production is a great example and Ken Iverson’s Plain Talk clearly discusses this along with the power of incentives, honest and in-touch management, and much more. It is an amazing book worth reading and re-reading

[3] Paul Graham: The Age of the Essay

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt, Jeff Cox

Summary

  1. Using The Goal (understanding the world and the principles that govern it), thousands of corporations have increased profits through reducing invenory, eliminating bottlenecks, and applyign the theory of constraints

Key Takeaways

  1. No exceptional brain power is needed to construct a new science or expand an existing one. What is needed is just the courage to face inconsistencies and to avoid running away from them just because that’s the way it was always done. This challenging of basic assumptions is essential to breakthroughs. Progress in understanding requires that we challenge basic assumptions about how the world is and why it is that way. If we can better understand our world and the principles that govern it, I suspect all our lives will be better. 
  2. I do not believe in absolute truths. I fear such beliefs because they block the search for better understanding. Whenever we think we have final answers, progress, science, and better understanding ceases. Understanding of our world is not something to be pursued for its own sake, however. Knowledge should be pursued, I believe, to make our world better – to make life more fulfilling
  3. Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Productivity is meaningless unless you know what your goal is
  4. The goal is making money but this can be expressed in many different ways (cash flow, ROI, net profit) and some measurements to help you track this include throughput, inventory and operational expense.
    1. Throughput is the rate by which money is generated through sales (finished product which isn’t sold is not throughput)
    2. Inventory is all the money the company has bought which it intends to sell
    3. Operational expense is all the money spent turning inventory into throughput.
    4. You must express the goal in terms of these measurements. Increasing throughput while simultaneously decreasing inventory and operational expense 
  5. Must consider the company as a whole, no local optimums
  6. A measurement not clearly defined is worthless, even dangerous. 
  7. Having people and machines working nonstop is inefficient 
  8. Dependent events and statistical fluctuations are incredibly important to understand and keep track of. Whatever is the slowest process or bottleneck of any sort is your limiting factor. You can sprint in every other area but if you don’t increase the throughput of the bottleneck, productivity won’t increase at all. The capacity of the plant is the capacity of the bottleneck. The actual cost of a bottleneck is the total operating cost / the number of hours the bottleneck produces. Make sure the bottleneck’s time is never wasted (idle, working on defective parts, working on parts you don’t need immediately) and, if you can, shift work from bottleneck to non-bottlenecks
  9. There must be a way to signal the bottlenecks with the release of material schedule – they must be at the “front” of the assembly process
  10. The amount of time material spends in a plant can be broken down into 4 parts
    1. Set up while the resource is being set up
    2. Process time
    3. Queue time for resources
    4. Wait time for another part.
    5. By reducing batch sizes you can decrease the amount of time parts spend in queue and wait time since you are no longer turning non-bottlenecks into bottlenecks 
  11. All of Rogo’s (the main character’s) suggestions make common sense but they flew in the face of everything he had ever learned and if he hadn’t taken the time to think and sweat through the problems himself, he would never have gained the conviction in them necessary to implement them and turn the plants around. What Alex really needs to learn from Jonah is not plant management practices but how to persuade people how to question common sense and common practice and how to overcome resistance to change
  12. Accounting’s true meaning is to keep control and see how much the company is spending, and helping to understand the process as a whole so that the best thing can be done for the organization. Financial metrics can be hurtful if they’re taken just for their own sake and looked at out of context
  13. Capacity constraint resources are one step below bottlenecks and have to be improved in lockstep or else you could get a wave of bottlenecks at the same time
  14. You have to shift from a cost-centered world to a throughput-centered one. You have to find the weakest link or the bottleneck first in order to increase throughput – not solely focused on cutting costs.
    1. Identify the bottlenecks
    2. Identify how to exploit the bottlenecks
    3. Subordinate everything to the above decision
    4. Increase the bottleneck
    5. If the bottleneck is still broken go back to step one, and don’t let company inertia stop you
  15. The more inventory, the less spare capacity you need and vice versa. As you take on more orders it might not create more bottlenecks but it drastically reduces your spare capacity which means you have to take on more inventory in order to compensate
  16. The first step must be to identify the week link as this is the bottleneck the areas you need to focus on first
  17. Three fundamental questions
    1. What to change
    2. What to change to
    3. How to go about making this change 
  18. A goal should not have a set final metrics – it should be something that triggers ongoing improvement and innovation 
  19. Toyota did away with economical patching and instead focused on the set up time trying to reduce that as much as possible. This allowed them to switch components of what the operator was doing quickly and efficiently
  20. Better production flow or shorter lead times creates incredible cost savings and efficiency savings for many reasons 
  21. A grave mistake by some top management is to layoff capacity – either people or machines – when throughput increases and efficiencies increase. This sends the signal to the company that if you become better and more efficient at your job, that you will lose it. Instead, encourage the sales team to go out and make more sales to take advantage of the increased capacity 
  22. Production’s biggest focus has to be improving flow. There are many other things that can be done but that ultimately lies with other departments. They must prevent overproduction (don’t produce unneeded product), condemn local efficiencies and focus on the global. Lastly, you must balance the flow after all these disruptions are mitigated 
  23. Small disruptions can become major ones but the most important disruptions are those which impact availability. Those are the ones you need to focus on and get rid of. In order to address, you should create a database of disruptions and whenever a major one which impacts availability occurs, it should be defined and described within the database

What I got out of it

  1. Goldratt did a great job of weaving in some valuable lessons in a story format. It was a production example but the ideas and the theory of constraint can be widely applied

The Dream Machine: JCR Licklider and the Revolution that Made Computing Personal by Mitchell Waldrop

Summary

  1. Licklider was far ahead of his generation in seeing the potential for computers – for making them humane and individual, in democratizing access to information, creating a symbiosis between man and machine. It was his work in the Pentagon along with many other visionaries who made this possible – that allowed for the standalone computer with a mouse and a graphical user interface to come into existence. His desire to understand how the brain worked as a system fueled his curiosity. Lick went on to form the ARPA Information Processing Techniques Office in 1962 and started the research funding for interactive computing and pervasive worldwide networks that has resulted in most of the technology we use today and also fueled the next generations of computing researchers – many of whom became the founders and mainstays of Xerox PARC. When computers were a short step removed from mechanical data processor, Lick’s treatises on human/computer symbiosis shifted our understanding of what computers were and could be.

Key Takeaways

  1. Lick’s goal was to forge ahead with the human/computer symbiosis and create an interconnected, self-perpetuating system into a single computer network. An electronic medium to connect everyone – the ARPA net. Today it is known as the internet and everything we now associate with it
  2. JCR Licklider may be one of the most intuitive geniuses of all time. He simply saw in his head how information flowed, and how people, things, and ideas are interconnected
  3. Lick, while humble and nice, hated sloppy work, glib answers, and never took anything for granted. He was mischievous and a little anarchical. He was never satisfied with the ordinary and always pushed the limits. His grounding in psychology was essential for his later work with computers as he always tried to design the computer and how it functioned to best meet the needs of the humans operating it. Lick approached every problem as a systems problem rather than a detailed or individual problem
  4. The first high-profile project he worked on was related to acoustics for the war and his boss had a simple mantra: hire the best people, buy them the best machines money can buy, inspire them to no end, and work them 14 hours a day. With this formula they achieve nearly everything they set out to
  5. Norbert Wiener was a prodigious character at MIT. He was a genius in multiple ways, especially mathematics where he was able to use his intuition and form physical models in his head of the problem rather than merely manipulating symbols on the page. He had the hologram in the head 
  6. Alan Turing didn’t like seeing what others had accomplished before him. He preferred to reinvent the wheel and figure things out for himself. He wasted a lot of time and reinvented the wheel but he came to understand things deeply.
  7. Johnny Von Neumann’s stored program concept created software and changed computing, opening up the potential that we associate with computers today
  8. Claude Shannon thought of information through a 5 part framework: source, transmitter, communication medium, receiver, destination. This simple framework helped him think through the purpose of information and not get bogged down in details. Information ought to measure how much you learn from a given message. If you knew everything in a given message, the information content is zero. However, information and meaning is separated as it relates to computers. Shannon also proved that it is possible to get a message through with perfect fidelity no matter how much static or distortion or how faint the signal. It’ll eventually get too slow and the codes too long but it is possible to overcome noise. This is the fundamental theorem of information theory. Shannon didn’t like how information and meaning could be too easily confused so he had Von Neumann come up with a new name and he came up with one immediately: entropy. Information is entropy. It has the same formula as the physicists formula for entropy. A mathematical variable related to the flow of heat. Information is everywhere and in everything it is as old as time and ties together the mind-body problem, computation, communication, and more
  9. Lick was interested in every domain and was always pulling in new ideas from different fields. He loved novel ideas and would always push himself and others to think about things differently in order to gain new or deeper insights. While Lick has high expectations for his team, he was extremely devoted and his team knew it – he had built a tribe more than a research group. Lick optimized for creativity and productivity so cared very little for credit. He would give his ideas and insights away for others to work on and publish so that he could get more done 
  10. Understanding how our brain works brought together information theory, logic, communication, cognitive science, behavioral psychology, and much more. Two key breakthroughs were understanding chunking and that it matters tremendously how our neurons fire and are organized – not just the raw number of neurons we have
  11. When Lick was brought on to head up the new ARPA project there was no budget, no mandate, no charter. This was perfect as they could simply talk about and work on the most important questions and topics as they came up, not being pigeonholed or sucked into a specific purpose but able to adjust and adapt to everything new that was happening
  12. A key realization for Lick was that if all his visions where to come true, he had to create a self-reinforcing and self-sustaining community between all the different groups who are contributing to this project. Without this focus and insight, many of these dreams might have been lost, forgotten, or not achieved for some other reason
  13. Corvado created the first open source system which led to the software boom and the PC. Controversial at the time, he followed the dictum that if you create something useful people, will use it. This was significantly different from other utilities of the past because rather than value flowing just one way (like electricity to users), value flows two ways now: from software to user and user back to software. This had tremendous implications
  14. Lick give people plenty of space as long as they’re doing something interesting and living up to his high standards. However, if not, he can be ruthless and shut down programs that weren’t performing
  15. For all of Lick’s strengths, he was terrible administratively. Frustrating his colleagues and friends as they had to badger him for weeks or months to get anything done. And, when everything is funded by ARPA, this was a huge deal 
  16. Lick at ARPA and Bob Taylor at Xerox Parc had to learn how to find a way to get their groups all to move together, to give their groups a sense of cohesion and purpose without crushing their spontaneity and creativity. They had to set things up and create an environment where they would follow their own instincts and self-organize. This is the fundamental to dilemma of management. Bob Taylor spent years traveling and getting to know the cultures of different high performing groups and he took the time to speak to the youngest people there. Not only tp pick up their ideas but to understand what their values were and how he could cater to them.  Taylor’s style of research can be summed up as don’t just invent the future, go live in it. Don’t worry about the cost for now but whatever you invent, make sure to use it and then show others how to use it and why it’s helpful. The only mandatory program was a once weekly discussion from the program leaders about what they were doing and for an hour the other people would have at him. This created a sense of cohesion and purpose and also flushed out ideas before going too far along the wrong path. These meetings often got heated and Taylor would help turn them from “class 1” to “class 2” meetings, meaning they would go from yelling at each other to having to explain the other side‘s position to their satisfaction. This worked amazingly well to flush out ideas and improve communication.
  17. Xerox PARC’s main vision was to create the digital office, an integrated symbiosis between working man and machine. Broadly, it was split into two groups – one focused on hardware and the other on applications. Low cost, high performance and high quality graphics was a thread which ran through everything they were trying to do. Moore’s Law was just beginning to take hold and this who were still sold on time sharing began to be able to see the possibility of an individual, high powered machine for everybody
    1. There was this thread that ran through Vannevar Bush, Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, and others. It was the ascent of man, it was like the Holy Grail. PARC would rationalize it according to what Xerox needed but whenever they could phrase an idea to align with this path everybody’s eyes would light up, hitting a sort of resonance frequency. 
      1. Engelbart’s “Mother of All Demos” – showing off technology which set fire to the vision of the future and what could be
  18. Alan Kay was one of the key members of PARC’s team and was a prodigy from a young age. He learned to read by the age of three and read hundreds of books before going to school. By that young age he knew that a lot of what the teachers were telling him was wrong or at least that there were multiple points of view. The teachers did not like this. He never distinguished art from science and was one of the key pioneers in this field. 
  19. Good names are incredibly important for prototypes – they have to be familiar, easy to spell, easy to use, easy to understand, have a broad theme, and conjure up pleasant feelings. 
  20. Alan Kay mentions that in the history of art, it is not the adults who actually invent the new medium who do amazing things, but the first generation of kids to grow up with it who do
  21. Xerox was growing so quickly in the late 1960s and 1970s that they almost choked on their own growth. In order to survive, they had to bring in management, marketing, and finance types – mostly from IBM and Ford.  While this helped them survive their amazing growth, it also reinforced some bad lessons – that nothing exists or is useful unless it could be shown and captured on the spreadsheet and eventually this led to the demise of Xerox PARC and that era of research and innovation. Jim O’Neil became the numbers guy and shut down much of the spontaneous generation and innovation because if it didn’t meet his numbers he couldn’t “see it” and wouldn’t buy into it. When sales and finance make all the shots, the company is on a downward spiral as they are not able to innovate or think long term
  22. Xerox PARC was an Eden in many ways but what allowed them to flourish was the vision, the people, and an abundance mentality. The fact that they had money to spend and didn’t have to jump through hoops to get it. When there is scarcity you don’t have a community, you just have a bunch of people trying to survive. In 1975 Xerox’s printer and copier business was being threatened and this was their cash cow. The instinct is to keep pouring money into this in order to save it but sometimes that isn’t appropriate. You must know when to cannibalize or disrupt yourself 
  23. You always got the sense that Lick was playing. He was like a kid in a candy store. His exploratory and curious child-like mind never went away. He was not suited to be an administrator or manager but was a visionary and community builder. He encouraged people and showed them what was possible, what they were really working towards 
  24. DEC took advantage of the open architecture and was able to foster creativity and uses for their machines that they never would’ve been able to come up with. Many people loved the ability to tinker, upgrade, or personalize what they bought rather than buying a finish package from an IBM for example. Roberts and his Altera machine would follow DEC‘s lead and make it an open architecture which unleashed a wave on entrepreneurialism and garage start ups by the hundreds – filling all sorts of niches and launching some of the world’s biggest and most successful companies (such as Microsoft)

What I got out of it

  1. An incredibly fun read – detailing not only the people and the history behind the computer revolution, but the atmosphere, thinking, and optimism which fueled it

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Regions by Joe Studwell

Summary

  1. This book is about how fast or not economic transformation is achieved. It argues there are 3 interventions the government can take to influence this process: maximize output from agriculture with highly intensive household farming (pushing up yields and outputs to its highest level which primes demands for goods and services), direct investment and entrepreneurs towards export-oriented manufacturing as it makes use of the limited skills of labor by working with machines and technology (subsidies should incentivize spending in technology and manufacturing), and interventions in the financial sector to focus capital on intensive small scale agriculture and manufacturing development. The state’s role is to keep money targeted at a development strategy which gets the highest rate of technological learning, giving the highest rate of return, and helping the country grow as sustainably as possible, improving the lives and outcomes of everyone .

Key Takeaways

  1. Agricultural
    1. Agriculture is the place to start with up-and-coming countries because the vast majority of their people are tied to the land. Structuring incentives so that these people can prosper creates the foundation for further economic success 
    2. By approximately evenly dividing up the land amongst the peasants and incentivizing a maximization of output (rather than profit), yields go through the roof which helped pay and feed these families. It allowed everyone to compete on an approximately equal footing and everyone believed they had a chance st success – which they did. This “gardening” approach is the most appropriate way to think about and structure agricultural societies early on as it can make full use of all the available labor. Surprisingly, these smaller plots owned by the farmers had far greater yields than many plantations – busting the myth of efficiency in large scale agricultural operations
    3. The political elite tend to be out of touch with the agricultural peasants and therefore undervalue and under-appreciate their power and ability to help the economy 
    4. If you want industrialization, first fix agriculture
    5. Even a total outsider can tell the difference between a plot of land tended by an owner vs. a tenant
    6. A consistent application of these policies across different cultures and regions is a stark reminder that geography is not destiny 
    7. Farmers laid the foundation for industrialization and their household savings provided the base to build factories and later the market for the goods these factories made. Taiwan is the prime example in this case as many factories were built in rural areas and many farmers became industrial entrepreneurs. Indonesia and the Philippines are the negative examples – they nationalized land before the farmers could build up wealth and plantation inefficiency took hold. In addition, loopholes in policies so the rich could amass massive land holdings, put the poor at a disadvantage and worsened conditions
    8. Besides owning the small fields, the farmers need the extension, marketing, and credit to progress 
    9. As rural laborers begin moving into higher paying industrial and service jobs, farming needs to rebalance from productivity towards profitability – shifting towards more mechanized farms away from gardening plots. The countries will need to specialize at this point, moving away from farm protection and subsidies and to a niche they can compete in. This shifts money to this area and gives other poor countries the chance to follow the same playbook 
  2. Manufacturing 
    1. If there is one thing economic history can teach us is that there are no economic policies or laws which are sound forever 
    2. Manufacturing helps local people learn skills and to leverage the machines which they initially import, increasing productivity. Local entrepreneurs know the local market but they must compete with international firms in order to continue improving and to survive long-term without protection 
    3. Government must incentivize – through protection and subsidy – their rural entrepreneurs so they can get into large scale manufacturing rather than service industries at this phase. They must have export discipline – proving that their goods are competitive on a global stage and thus merit subsidies to grow.
    4. The government shouldn’t pick winners as much as weed out losers. South Korea did this which is why they ended up with one or two massive companies in each sector without explicit state investment or control. Protectionism hurts in the short term but helps economies evolve and it’s people learn useful skills and in the long term is beneficial
    5. Growing economies typically start industrialization with textiles later moving on to steel, shipbuilding, food stuffs, petro-chemicals, and eventually cars other heavy industry
    6. While Taiwan what is the exemplar in land redistribution, South Korea took over as the exemplar of industrialization – setting up their entrepreneurs to have to compete with international markets and companies by providing enough subsidy and protection to let them grow, learn, and thrive
    7. It is interesting to look in hindsight that Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan accomplish their amazing feats with no, or at least very few, trained economists. They simply followed the model of early America and later Germany 
    8. Government must not ask entrepreneurs to innovate for moral reasons. Rather they must accept and incentivize their animal spirits so that they can innovate, industrialize, and develop the country as is needed for their own benefit and for the benefit of all
    9. More than ever, firms are able to flourish if they have the right state industrialization policies in place. Hyundai was able to flourish and become one of the world’s most successful car manufacturers from an unpromising start and a family with no automotive experience thanks to the favorable Korean policies 
    10. The goal is technological learning which hopefully leads to internal, domestic innovation. While land reform and infant industry regulations are difficult, there are no better options. Technical and technological progress equates to economic progress and history has shown that these difficult but necessary steps must be taken 
    11. Big business is incredibly important. There are smaller countries with big firms which have gotten rich but never the other way around. However, government must continuously restrain their entrepreneurs or else you end up with oligarchs like in Russia or SE Asia
  3. Financial
    1. Bank deregulation and removal of capital controls too early hurt developing economies such as Thailand or Indonesia. The agricultural and industrial sectors must be ready before these financial policies are enacted. Several different monetary and fiscal policy approaches have led to success but they all had the right policies, pointing at the right targets 
    2. In the Philippines, private banks would lend to the rich entrepreneurs at favorable terms which of course help them but didn’t help the country develop at all. However, ultimately what led to the downfall of economic collapse of the Philippines was their lack of export discipline which would have provided them with export loop feedback so that they could continuously improve and better compete on a global stage – improving their technical know-how across the country
    3. Korea and the Philippines both borrowed extremely heavily and were in a lot of debt but Korea used that money to improve the technology and scale to a global level where the Philippines did not
    4. Malaysia pumped too much money into real estate and the stock market instead of directing it towards industry. They tried to skip a step in order to compete and out do Singapore but this eventually led to an economic collapse and stagnated technological progress 
    5. Capital allocation must be tied to industrial policy and export performance or else capital will be deployed in low return investments. Government must incentivize and cajole entrepreneurs towards manufacturing and international markets. The financier is not the economic savior some suggest but responds to the environment around him which the government helps create. Foreign funds must not be allowed in too early and deregulation can only happen once manufacturing is humming and technological progress is underway 
    6. Banking systems are so effective because they respond to central bank policy which is controlled by government policy. It is a simple and effective method, easier to to control than bond and stock markets
    7. There is no good understanding today of when a country should deregulate 
  4. China 
    1. China first tried the mass scale agriculture approach but soon realized it was ineffective so they transitioned to the gardening approach which greatly helped feed and put to work hundreds of millions. They also abandoned an approach where they would try to come up with everything internally and opened up trade to buy, borrow, and steal the best inventions and processes rather than trying to come up with everything internally
    2. Chinese government has always been paranoid of being at the mercy of necessary food stuff importers. They have taken away a lot of farmland dedicated to these grains in the past decade and may soon change the policy so they secure enough food to be continue to be independent 
    3. It is yet to be seen if China’s close control of oligopolies can help the economy long term. So far they have been able to strike a balance between control and allowing the entrepreneurs and employees to profit 
    4. China has a heavy bias to public and state owned enterprises rather than private companies. 
    5. People worry about shadow banking systems which lend to wealthy citizens outside the direct view of the government in order to seek higher returns but this has existed in one form or another in every developing country. Whenever government policy favors agriculture and industry over finance, shadow finances will pop up
    6. China’s financial policies are not as loose as many think if taken into context of Japan and Korea in similar stages, the size of their economy and the make up of their assets, and the fact that little money is owed externally. They are making great technological progress with the money they’ve borrowed but the best days of industrial-led policy development have passed so they will need to be more efficient moving forward. It is China’s size and not necessarily their innovative policies which have shaken the world. It does not yet have any world renowned firms and, if it is to take the next step developmentally, must improve its institutional policies 
  5. Other
  1. One of the key lessons when analyzing failed states is that they are isolated, closed off, and do not trade or interact with external countries. It has shown to be very hard, if not impossible to thrive if you are not open and trade with other countries 
  2. There is a weaker than expected correlation between education and rise in GDP. Most education occurs on the job and within firms rather than in school settings making industrial focus extremely important. If there is no industry to serve as a vehicle for learning, formal education may go to waste 
  3. Demographics, political pluralism / democracy are very important but is not touched on at length in this book 
  4. Rule of law is not one of the pillars for economic development but it is for overall development 
  5. Broadly, there are two types of economics. The first is akin to an education for developing countries in which the people require the skills needed to compete with their global peers. It requires nurture, protection, and competition. The second is more focused on efficiency and is applicable for more developed countries which needs less state intervention, more deregulation, freer markets and a larger focus on profits. The question is not if there are two but when they meet and how to best transition between the two. Where certain economically developed countries have fallen flat is that they fail to continue to evolve and develop. No policy is good forever and things must change. In addition, economic development is only one leg of the stool. Freedom, rule of law, environmental health, and individual autonomy are equally important and are needed for any country to prosper
  6. There is no significant economy who has evolved successfully out of policies of free trade and deregulation from the get go. They require proactive interventions – namely in agriculture and industry that foster early accumulation of capital and skill 

What I got out of it

  1. For developing countries, the best way to prosper is to first redistribute land so the people can use gardening style agriculture to feed themselves and save some money, then government’s must create subsidies and protective policies so that internal industry can grow and flourish with the goal of increasing skill and technological know-how so that future innovation can happen, then finance comes into the picture and must be used to further direct these two areas effectively and sustainably

Out of the Crisis by Edwards Deming