Category Archives: Books

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

Summary

  1. Patagonia exists to challenge conventional wisdom and present a new style of responsible business. We believe the accepted model of capitalism that necessitates endless growth and deserves the blame for the destruction of nature must be displaced. Patagonia and its two thousand employees have the means and the will to prove to the rest of the business world that doing the right thing makes a good and profitable business. Make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Key Takeaways

  1. History
    1. Chouinard started off making pitons and replaced the European attitude of “conquering” mountains with the American view of leaving no trace
    2. We were our own best customers from the start. We made the tools, gear, clothes that we wanted.
    3. We didn’t have much competition – no one else was foolish enough to want to get into that market!
    4. Kris McDivitt when she became CEO of Patagonia – I had no business experience so I started asking people for free advice. I just called up presidents of banks and said, “I’ve been given these companies to run and I’ve no idea what I’m doing. I think someone should help me. And they did. If you just ask people for help – if you just admit that you don’t know something – they will fall all over themselves trying to help. So, from there I began building the company. I was really the translator for Yvon’s vision and aims for the company
    5. We had to surround ourselves with people we wanted to spend a lot of time with, who would be our product’s first customer. They had to come to work on the balls of their feet and go up steps two at a time, dress however they wanted, even barefoot, have all the flextime to surf the saves when they were good or be home with a sick child. We needed to blur that distinction between work and play and family
    6. I couldn’t find any American company we could use as a role model
    7. I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80% proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession and degree of specialization that doesn’t appeal to me. Once I reach that 80% level I like to go off and do something totally different; that probably explains the diversity of the Patagonia product line – and why our versatile, multifaceted clothes are the most successful.
    8. You can’t wait until you have all the answers to ask! I had faith the product was good, and I knew the market, so we forged ahead to shift our entire line of polypropylene underwear to the new Capilene polyester. Our loyal customers quickly realized the advantages of Capilene and Synchilla, and our sales soared. Other companies, just introduced rip-offs of our bunting and propylene clothes, had to scramble to keep up.
    9. I abide by the MBA – management by absence
    10. I was the outside guy, responsible for bringing back new ideas. A company needs someone to go out and get the temperature of the world, so for years I would come home excited about ideas for products, new markets, or new materials. I also began to see the environmental degradation happening. Some countries were in so much trouble that they were eating their seed corn
      1. Great term for being too short-sighted. Have to be planting your tree farm continuously, can’t be eating your seed corn
    11. Before he could help us, he said he wanted to know why we were in business. I told him the history of the company and how I considered myself a craftsman who had just happened to grow a successful business. I told him I’d always had a dream that when I had enough money, I’d just sail off to the South Seas looking for the perfect wave and the ultimate bonefish flat. We told him the reason we hadn’t sold out and retired was that we were pessimistic about the fate of the world and felt a responsibility to use our resources to do something about it. We told him about our tithing program, how we had given away a million dollars just in the past year to more than 200 organizations, and that our bottom-line reason for staying in the business was to make money we could give away.
  2. Values
    1. Never exceed your limits. You push the envelope, and you live for those moments when you’re right on the edge, but don’t go over. You have to be true to yourself; and you have to know your strengths and limitations and live within your means. The same is true from business. The sooner a company tries to be what it is not, the sooner it tries to “have it all,” the sooner it will die. It was time to apply a bit of Zen philosophy to our business
    2. The Iroquois have a 7-generation planning. As part of their decision process, the Iroquois had a person who represented the seventh generation in their future. If Patagonia could survive this crisis, we had to begin to make all our decisions as though we would be in business for 100 years. We would grow only at a rate we could sustain for that long.
    3. I’ve hard that smart investors and bankers don’t trust a growing company until it has proved itself by how it survives its first big crisis. If that’s true, then we’ve been there
    4. We have controlled our growth to what we call organic growth. We don’t force our growth by stepping out of the specialty outdoor market and trying to be who we aren’t. We let our customers tell us how much we should grow each year. Some years it could be 5% growth or 25%, which happened during the middle of the Great Recession. Customers become very conservative during recessions. They stop buying fashionable silly things. They will pay more for a product that is practical, multifunctional, and will last a long time. We thrive during recessions
    5. Some crises were created by management to keep the company in yarak, a falconry term meaning when your falcon is super alert, hungry, but not weak, and ready to hunt
  3. Product Design Philosophy
    1. Our philosophies aren’t rules, they’re guidelines. They’re the keystones of our approach to any project, and although they are “set in stone,” their application to a situation isn’t. in every long-lasting business, the methods of conducting business may constantly change, but the values, the culture, and the philosophies remain constant. At Patagonia, these philosophies must be communicated to everyone working in every part of the company, so that each of us becomes empowered with the knowledge of the right course to take, without having to follow a rigid plan or wait for orders from the boss. Living the values and knowing the philosophy of each part of the company aligns us all in a common direction, promotes efficiency, and avoids the chaos that comes from poor communication. We have made many mistakes during the past decade, but at no point have we lost our way for very long. We have the philosophies for a rough map, the only kind that’s useful in a business world whose contours, unlike those of the mountains, change constantly without much warning
    2. Having useful and high-quality products anchors our business in the real world and allows us to expand our mission. “Make the best,” period.
    3. Quality = degree of excellence
    4. Function of an object should determine its design and materials
    5. The more you know, the less you need
    6. Good design is as little design as possible
    7. We’ve found that each new line requires the hiring of 2.5 new people. The best-performing firms make a narrow range of products very well. The best firms’ products also use up to 50% fewer parts than those made by their less successful rivals. Fewer parts means a faster, simply (and usually cheaper) manufacturing process. Fewer parts means less to go wrong; quality comes built in. and although the best companies need fewer workers to look after quality control, they also have fewer defects and generate less waste
    8. I’d rather design and sell products so good and unique that they have no competition…The value of our products even seems to grow over time. In Tokyo there are stores that deal only in vintage Patagonia clothing
    9. When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong – Buckminster Fuller
    10. Because of our commitment to quality, we run at such a slow pace that we’re the turtles in the fashion race. Our design and product development calendar are usually 18 months long, too long to be a contender in any new fads
      1. Use their slow cycles quality to their advantage by “missing” fads
    11. It’s almost as if every idea has its own time
  4. Production Philosophy
    1. Coming in second, even with a superior product at a better price, is often no substitute for just plain being first. This doesn’t mean we should be “chasing” trends or products. It applies more to “discovering” a new fabric or a new process. Again, the key word is discovering instead of inventing. There’s imply no time for inventing. Maintaining a sense of urgency throughout a company is one of the most difficult challenges in business. The problem is further compounded by having to depend on outside suppliers who may not have the same sense of expediency. I constantly hear people giving lame excuses of why something is impossible or why a job didn’t get done on time
    2. To stay ahead of competition, our ideas have to come from as close to the source as possible. With technical products, our “source” is the dirtbag core customer. He or she is the one using the products and finding out what works, what doesn’t, and what is needed. On the contrary, sales representatives, shop owners, salesclerks, and people in focus groups are usually not visionaries. They can tell you only what is happening now: what is in fashion, what the competition is doing, and what is selling. They are good sources of information, but the information is too old to have the leading-edge products. There are different ways to address a new or idea or project. If you take the conservative scientific route, you study the problem in your head or on paper until you are sure there is no chance of failure. However, you have taken so long that the competition has already beaten you to market. The entrepreneurial way is to immediately take a forward step and if that feels good, take another, if not, step back. Learn by doing, the process is faster
    3. The designer must work with the producer up front. this applies to every product. This team approach is concurrent rather than assembly-line manufacturing. A concurrent approach brings all participants together at the beginning of the design phase. Only about 10% of a product’s costs are incurred during the design phase, but 90% of the costs are irrevocably committed
    4. This level of quality requires a level of mutual commitment much deeper than the traditional business relationships. Mutual commitment requires nurture and trust, and those demand personal time and energy. Consequently, we do as much business a we can with as few suppliers and contractors as possible. The downside is the risk of becoming highly dependent on another company’s performance. But that’s exactly the position we want to be in because those companies are also dependent on us. Our potential success is linked. We become like friends, family, mutually selfish business partners; what’s good for them is good for us. The best often finds us attractive business partners because they know our reputation for quality, long-term relationships, that we’ll pay a fair price, commit to fabric purchases, and keep their sewing lines running at an even clip
    5. I think of Patagonia as an ecosystem, with its vendors and customers an integral part of that system. A problem anywhere in the system eventually affects the whole, and this gives everyone an overriding responsibility to the health of the whole organism. It also means that anyone, low on the totem pole or high, inside the company or out, can contribute significantly to the health of the company and to the integrity and value of our products…The whole supply chain has to be a functioning, interconnected system.
    6. You identify the goal and then forget about it and concentrate on the process
  5. Distribution Philosophy
    1. At Patagonia we sell our products at a wholesale level to dealers, sell through our own retail stores, through mail order, and through e-commerce, and do it all worldwide
    2. We fulfill orders at 93-95% throughout the selling season. This has been determined to be “ideal” because to fulfill at lower rates loses too many customers but to get to 98% is inefficient for inventory. You might have to double inventory to achieve a 98% fulfillment rate
    3. The customer should only have to make one phone call. Just as the Patagonia production philosophy requires on-time product delivery from its suppliers, so Patagonia must deliver its products on time to tis customers, and “on time” means when the customer wants it. Our model for customer service is the old-fashioned hardware store owner who knows his tools and what they’re made for. his idea of service is to wait on a customer until the customer finds the right widget for the job, no matter how long it takes.
    4. In owning our own retail stores, we’ve learned that it is far more profitable to turn that inventory more quickly than to have high margins or raise prices. This was especially true when we had to pay high interest rates on our loans. You want sharp customers who know the market and its customers. They place small orders from suppliers but more often. You don’t want to waste expensive retail space to carry extra inventory. You display the products as if it were a showroom but keep the backstock in the basement or nearby stockroom
    5. Key benefits of having a working partnership with a few good dealers
      1. We don’t have to expend the effort, time, and money to seek out new dealers
      2. We limit our credit risks
      3. We minimize the legal problems associated with cutting off a dealer whose bad service is a reflection on us
      4. We develop loyal buyers who make a commitment to the line and either carry a broad representation of the line, or in the case of a small specialty shop, in-depth inventory
      5. We maintain better control over our product and image
      6. We receive better information about the market and our products
    6. Our dealers win because they have a product line that sells year after year, protection from market saturation, a stable pricing structure, expertise from us in buying, merchandising, and displaying our products, being part of Patagonia’s synergistic marketing and distribution program.
    7. Marketing Philosophy
      1. Patagonia’s image arises directly from the values, outdoor pursuits, and passions of its founders and employees. While it has practical and nameable aspects, it can’t be made into a formula. In fact, because so much of the image relies on authenticity, a formula would destroy it. Ironically, part of Patagonia’s authenticity lies in not being concerned about having an image in the first place. Without a formula, the only way to sustain an image is to live up to it. Our image is a direct reflection of who we are and what we believe.
      2. Our guidelines for all promotional efforts
        1. Our charter is to inspire and educate rather than promote
        2. We would rather earn credibility than buy it. The best resources for us are the word of mouth recommendation from a friend or favorable comments in the press
        3. We advertise only as a last resort and usually in sport-specific magazines
  1. Financial Philosophy
    1. Who are businesses really responsible to their customers? Shareholders? We would argue that it’s none of the above. Fundamentally, businesses are responsible to their resource base. Without a healthy environment there are no shareholders, no employees, no customers, and no business
    2. At Patagonia, making a profit is not the goal, because the Zen master would say profits happen “when you do everything else right.” In our company, finance consists of much more than management of money. It is primarily the art of leadership thought he is balancing of traditional financing approaches in a business that is anything but traditional. In many companies, the tail (finance) wags the dog (corporate decisions). We strive to balance the funding of environmental activities with the desire to continue in business for the next hundred years…We avoid, at all costs, to go on a growth at any cost (suicide) track
    3. We recognize that we make the most profit by selling to our loyal customers. A loyal customer will buy new products with little sales effort and will tell all his friends. A sale to a loyal customer is worth 6-8x more to our bottom line than a sale to another customer
    4. Quality, not price, has the highest correlation with business success
    5. Whenever we are faced with a serious business decision, the answer almost always is to increase quality. When we make a decision because it’s the right thing to do for the planet, it ends up also being good for the business
    6. Returns and bad quality in manufacturing cost millions of dollars each year. But what is the cost of a dissatisfied customer?
    7. By growing at a “natural rate,” by growing by how much our customers tell us they want our products, we do not create artificial demand for our goods by advertising. We want customer who need our clothing, not just desire it.
    8. We never wanted to be a big company. We wanted it to be the best company, and it’s easier to be the best small company than the best big company. We have to practice self-control, growth in one part of the company may have to be sacrificed to allow growth in another. It’s also important that we have a clear idea of what the limits are to this “experiment” and live within those limits, knowing that the sooner we expand beyond them, the sooner the type of company we want will die
    9. We have little to no debt and this allows us to take advantage of opportunities as they come up or invest in a start-up without having to go further in debt or find outside investors. In any age when change happens so quickly, any strategic plan must be updated at least every year. An inflexible plan is centralized planning at its worst. It is oblivious to changes in reality
    10. We win with the government as well. We don’t play games, we aim to pay our fair share but not a penny more
  2. HR Philosophy
    1. A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both. – LP Jacks
    2. A business that thrives on being different requires different types of people
    3. We provide on-site childcare because we know parents are more productive if they’re not worrying about the safety and well-being of their children. Ours has an infant care room for children as young as 8 weeks and rooms progressively for toddlers to kindergarteners. The staff-to-child ratio in all parts of the center exceeds what is required by the state, and the caregivers are highly trained, and most speak more than one language to the kids. We encourage parents to interact with their child by breast-feeding, having lunch together, or visiting at any time. More than once we have had a father who fell asleep with this child at naptime. The first few years of a child’s life are recognized as being the most important learning period of their entire lives. When their brains are actively growing is the best time for them to learn cognitive skills, including problem solving and sensory processing, and language, social, and emotional skills. They are also learning physical skills, including gross and fine motor skills, as well as perceptual skills. Our child development facility is producing one of our best products, excellent kids. The babies are constantly being held and handled by lots of caregivers; they are being raised by a whole village, with lots of stimulation and learning experiences. As a result, when a stranger says hello to them, they don’t run and hide behind their mother’s skirts
    4. There are more than 500 employees in Ventura and more than 60 children in the center. We charge the parents rates that are comparable to local child-care centers, because we fund it with another $1m in subsidies. But what appears to be a financial burden is in fact a profit center. Studies have shown that it costs a company an average of 20% of an employee’s salary to replace an employee – from recruiting costs, training, and loss of productivity. 58% of our employees in Ventura are women, and many occupy high-level management positions. Our center helps us retained our skilled moms by making it easier for women to progress in their careers. Both moms and dads are motivated to be more productive, and the center attracts great employees.
    5. One cautionary tale we learned: if you’re going to have a child development center, you also need to give at least 8 weeks of paid maternity/paternity leave (we actually offer 16 weeks fully paid leave and 4 weeks’ unpaid for the mother, as well as 12 weeks fully paid paternity leave). Otherwise, many young parents still unclear on the concept of parenthood dump the baby in the nursery as soon as possible and go back to work and to pay for the new car or whatever. Those first few months are extremely important for children’s bonding with the parents instead of child-care workers.
    6. The child development center, with tax subsidies, pays for itself, ad the cafeteria requires only a small company subsidy. Patagonia is consistently included in a list of the 100 best companies to work for and for working mothers. Why on earth would anyone run a company that was hard to work for?
  3. Management Philosophy
    1. We never order employees around, so they have to be convinced that what they’re being asked to do is right, or they have to see for themselves it’s right. Some independent people, until the point arrives that they “get it” or it becomes “their idea,” will outright refuse to do a job.
    2. In a company as complex as ours, no one person has the answer to our problems, but each has a part of its solution. The best democracy exists when decisions are made through consensus, when everyone comes to an agreement that the decision made is the correct one. Decisions based on compromise, as in politics, often leave the problem not completely solved, with both sides feeling cheated or unimportant, or worse. The key to building a consensus for action is good communication. A chief in an American Indian tribe was not elected because he was the richest or had a strong political machine; he was often chosen as chief because of his bravery and willingness to take risks and for his oratory skills, which were invaluable for building consensus within the tribe. In this information age it’s tempting for managers to manage from their desks, staring at their computer screens and sending out instructions, instead of managing by walking and talking to people. The best managers are never at their desks yet can be easily found and approached by everyone reporting to them. No one has a private office at Patagonia, and everyone works in open rooms with no doors or separation. What we lose in “quiet thinking space” is more than made up for with better communication and an egalitarian atmosphere. Animals and humans that live in groups or flocks constantly learn from another. Our cafeteria, besides servicing healthy organic food, is convenient for everyone and is open all day as an informal meeting place.
    3. Systems in nature appear to be chaotic but in reality, are very structured, just not in a top-downs centralized way. Like in an ant colony, no one ant is in charge of a colony, there is no central control. Yet each ant knows what its job is, and ants communicate with one another by way of very simple interactions; altogether they produce a very effective social network. A top-down central system like a dictatorship takes an enormous amount of force and work to keep the hierarchy in power. Of course, all top-down systems eventually collapse, leaving the system in chaos
    4. A familial company like ours runs by trust rather than on authoritarian rule. I’ve found that whenever we’ve had a top manager or CEO leave the company, there is no chaos. In fact, the work continues as if they were still there. It’s not that they were doing nothing but that the system is pretty much self-regulating
    5. A study found that the most successful CEOs in America (not the celebrity CEOs) all enjoy working with their hands. They solved problems for themselves rather than looking for a repairman. The longevity of a CEO’s career is directly proportional to his or her problem-solving skills and ability to adapt and grow with the job
    6. If for whatever reason we have another downturn in our business like we had in 90-91, our policy is to first cut the fat, freeze hiring, reduce unnecessary travel, and generally trim expenses. if the crisis were more serious, we would eliminate bonuses and reduce salaries of all top-level managers and owners. Then shorten the workweek and reduce pay, and finally, as a last resort, lay people off
    7. How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top.
    8. You might think that a nomadic society packs up and moves when things get bad. However, a wise leader knows that you also move when everything is going too well; everyone Is laid-back, lazy, and happy. If you don’t move now, then you may not be able to move when the real crisis happens. Teddy Roosevelt said, “In pleasant peace and security, how quickly the soul in a man being to die.” Bob Dylan says, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” New employees coming into a company with a strong culture and values may think that they shouldn’t rock the boat and shouldn’t challenge the status quo. On the contrary, while values should never change, every organization, business, government, or religion must be adaptive and resilient and constantly embrace new ideas and methods of operation.
  4. Environmental Philosophy
    1. Anyone who thinks you can have infinite growth on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist. – Kenneth Boulding
    2. Elements of our environmental philosophy
      1. Lead an examined life
      2. Clean up our own act
      3. Do our penance
      4. Support civil democracy
      5. Do good
      6. Influence other companies
    3. Every time we’ve elected to do the right thing, it’s turned out to be more profitable
    4. I have a definition of evil different than most people. Evil doesn’t’ have to be an overt act; it can be merely the absence of good. If you have the ability, the resources, and the opportunity to do good and you do nothing, that can be evil
    5. When you get away from the idea that a company is a product to be sold to the highest bidder in the shortest amount of time, all future decisions in the company are affected. The owners and the officers see that since the company will outlive them, they have responsibilities beyond the bottom line. Perhaps they will even see themselves as stewards, protectors of the corporate culture, the assets, and of course the employees
    6. It seems to me if there is an answer, it lies in these words: restraint, quality, and simplicity. We have to get away from thinking that all growth is good. There’s a big difference between growing fatter and growing stronger
    7. The ship’s carpenter on Shackleton’s lifeboat the James Caird took only three simple hand tools with him on the passage from Antarctica to South Georgia Island, knowing that, if he needed to, he could build another boat with those tools. I believe the way toward mastery of any endeavor is to work toward simplicity; replace complex technology with knowledge. The more you know, the less you need. From my feeble attempts at simplifying my own life I’ve learned enough to know that we should have to, or choose to, live more simply, it won’t be an impoverished life but one richer in all the ways that really matter.

What I got out of it

  1. A really fun read on someone who never wanted to get into business but ended up founding a very successful and robust one. Grow appropriately, infinite growth is impossible, live simply, treat your people/suppliers/customers well, be the first customer for your products and know them intimately

The Last Lion by William Manchester

Summary

  1. Manchester describes not only the man, but the times, context, history, background, “gestalt” in which he lived. “This is a biography and not a history, but you are often confused because they are in fact quite different. A biography details the life, context, times, and decisions of a man and is not merely a chronological recounting of the past. As a biographer, we try to re-create an illusion of the man’s life to give people a true sense for who they were and the circumstances they were dealt.”

Key Takeaways


Vol. 1: 1847-1932 Visions of Glory

  1. Many men have judgment, few have insight. He was an extroverted intuitive and his capacity to inspire and unite was unrivaled. He preferred to work by intuition and impulse rather than analysis. This is what the country needed at this time but it rubbed many people the wrong way. Most men misjudge their importance, Churchill did not. He was indispensable
  2. In the age of the specialist, he was the antithesis. He was a Renaissance man in every sense of the word. The defender of freedom, a poet a writer, a statesman, a politician, a biographer, a historian, one who is a force of character and can never be summed up easily. He is one of history‘s great men.  It is pointless to expect consistency and balance in genius.  He was different from other men and had what seemed to be built in shock absorbers that allowed him to continue on through all his defeat and downturns.  It was said that one of the strongest traits was his ability to focus on one thing and doing it exceedingly exceedingly well. That is a trait of genius .
  3. Deep insight and not stability were his forte. He knew the British people had to be united when Hitler came to power.
  4. Although Winston was brave and a strategic mastermind, it was his mastery of the English language which set him apart and helped him shape history.
  5. The book begins with a deep dive of the British empire and how large and dominant it was at its height –  spanning 3x the size of the Roman empire! This unstoppable mindset and the belief that it was the British right to rule is important to understand and cover because it heavily influenced Churchill in many ways 
  6. He spoke to the British people, the world, like nobody before or since. He was raw, real, unabashed
  7. In all his life he showed incredible courage – from his time in the military to his final days as a politician. He was accused of loving war but this was not the case. He felt the heaviness but knew he had to step up or things would get much worse
  8. Winston was as much American as he was British. His mother was from New York and he loved her dearly but she neglected him early on. Later, however, because of her promiscuity and relationships with multiple wealthy and influential men, she was able to open many doors for Winston. His nurse was the most important person in his life until he was 20. He was also beat savagely at his boarding school, was bored in class, and rebelled against authority. His only defense was an unconquerable will and he showed how stubborn and iconoclastic he was early on.  He struggled mightily in school, never achieving good grades and hardly getting into colleges or prestigious schools.  
  9. His father was a prominent politician but played his cards wrong and ended up being kicked out, never to return again. He deeply loved his father and considered him an idol, but his father neglected him and hardly spoke to him because he didn’t achieve in traditional measures. Famous men are typically the product of unhappy childhoods
  10. Churchill had great faith but also believed you have the power to change things. He changed his image to one of an athlete, a bulldog, to display to others his courage and confidence
  11. Churchill is one of the most losing politicians of all time. He switched parties numerous times, rubbed people the wrong way, and was often thought as a charlatan who had a lot of talent and intellect but didn’t know how to harness it 
  12. He always fought for and rooted for the underdog, as he himself was the underdog. He suffered serious bouts of depression and melancholy, was bullied as a kid and never fit in. The most insecure and oppressed people seek external approval and Churchill was no different. He simply wanted people to applaud him and tell him how great his works were, not to offer critical feedback or advice. He always thought that he was destined for greatness and was rather arrogant about it at times. He loved being the center of attention and would often listen to his own speeches and re-read his own work to listen to himself 
  13. It was said that Churchill was a simple man – he simply enjoyed the best of everything 
  14. Churchill never had a feel for the British public. He simply did his own thing. He was born into a society where class differences were prevalent and accepted. It was said that he would’ve been just fine in the feudal society.  His aristocratic heritage was the cause of many blind spots but it was also responsible for his great talents as well. He was never accused for being humble and owned up to that
  15.  Churchill had an incredible memory, able to remember and recite thousands of lines of poetry and what he remembered he hardly forgot.  He was also an incredible writer and made his money as a journalist and author.  Since he was young, the only thing he wanted was become master of the written and spoken word.  He didn’t improvise. He planned and wrote ahead of time and wrote most of his speeches in the bathtub with a cigar. He dictated his speeches to a secretary who typed them up then came the scissors and the glue to rearrange the lines multiple times before the final draft was ready.  The final draft had bigger letters for what he wanted to emphasize spacing between words that he wanted to stress and bolded others what he thought most important 
  16. Churchill was a voracious reader, remembering everything he read and calling the dead authors his friends from whom he often pulled from. He was never a man for small talk
  17.  In his early 20s he got shipped off to India with the British army. It was at this point that he started becoming an auto didactic, reading everything from Aristotle to Plato to Socrates, learning from the lessons of history.  He allowed himself to believe whatever he wanted to believe even if paradoxical or contradictory and let reason take him wherever she might.  It was at this time he decided he wanted to get into parliament, but first he decided he needed to be a famous war hero who displayed courage. He brilliantly manipulated his mother and her lovers so that he could be on the front lines where ever the fiercest battles were 
  18. Churchill had his own path, he fashioned his own life. He didn’t follow anyone 
  19. Churchill went down to South Africa during the Boer War. He was held captive there for some time and showed great courage throughout his time there. Once he came back to Britain, he had earned a lot of political power and recognition. He had parties fighting for him to join their constituencies and the people were excited about him.  He became magnetic around this time and soon a great speaker. He memorized every word he wanted to say, just like his father had.  Nobody put in more work to prepare for his speeches but it was paradoxical that he was also the quickest on his feet. Churchill didn’t care about  approval, he simply wanted attention.  
  20. One of Churchill‘s advantages was his lack of formal education. He questioned everything, thought from first principles, and wasn’t afraid of stating simple truths. These were things which others, who were more buttoned up and had more classical training, did not even consider or were too afraid to even think about 
  21. One must be always ready to change sides, if that is the side of justice.  What is the use of supporting your side only when it’s right? It is exactly at the time when they are wrong, when there is disagreement, that you must step up and speak.  He fought for what he thought was right, not what his party said was right. This made him many enemies on all sides and when he was young, he wasn’t able to handle this solitude too well. He went into deep bouts of depression. He experienced this later on too but managed them and learned how to handle them when he was alone and behind closed doors. He jumped sides early on from a tory to a liberal. One said this was ambition because he could move ahead faster but he retaliated by saying that some men change parties to match their principles whereas others change their principles to match their parties 
  22. Winston as awkward with women. He really only liked talking about himself and abhorred small talk. He eventually became very dependent on his wife but early on he didn’t seem to respect women too much
  23. Traditional religions were losing their grip on the English and they were looking for substitutes. This meant that dogmatic, hardheaded, and simple answers to complex questions attract people because this allows them to have something to hold onto that feels concrete 
  24. By the early 1900s, the British had conquered pretty much everything there was to conquer. This just stifled people’s energy and innovation, making them turn inwards and expecting higher levels of innovation and fulfillment to come from England herself
  25. Men rarely understand the sources of their strength 
  26. His same qualities attracted and repelled – his compulsive and witty conversation offended and attracted
  27. His capacity for work is difficult to even understand but he still had time for polo, leisure, travel, and more. 
  28.  He was in egoist in the true sense of the word – whatever he was focused on was then, by definition, the most important 
  29. England for centuries adopted the grand strategy of allying with the second most powerful country in Europe and that is how they defeated Napoleon, but the strategy was not written down until Churchill came along.  The English Navy also had a mandate that they must be more powerful than the second and third most powerful navies.  
  30. The best admirals do not risk the vessels that they’re given, they win by superior strategy. During World War I, Churchill was the First Admiral and although his thinking and strategies on the war were spot on, he didn’t have authority to fully carry them out. He wanted to open up a second front in the Dardanelles so that they could exploit the Axis Powers unstable ally, Turkey, and gain the upper hand. It didn’t work however because the top brass wasn’t committed and people ended up blaming him for the fiasco and wanted to exclude him from the cabinet after the war. After the war it was determined that if his strategy was followed through correctly and effectively the war could’ve ended several years earlier. He saw that trench warfare was savage and there was no decisive advantage. That’s why he fought so hard for gaining control of the Dardanelles but it didn’t pan out because he didn’t have authority to do things as he saw fit and those in charge we’re stuck in the past and couldn’t change their strategies as the technology changed. Generals tend to fight their last war 
  31. Change is the master key. Particular parts of the mind can be tired by overuse but it can be rested by using other parts of the mind. This is why Churchill loved to draw – it was his escape, a way to recharge
  32. At it’s apex, politics, strategy, economics are all one. 
  33. This understanding of strategy and military maneuvering was second to none.  However, after World War I, he was blamed for many fiascoes and things that he really wasn’t in charge of. During and after the war, Churchill experienced much isolation and criticism. Clementine told him his flaws, how his confrontational nature, need for the limelight, and sharp words earned him many enemies, distancing first rate men and attracting those who were fickle and could turn on him at any time. 
  34. It is amazing what people can justify to themselves by changing their reasoning 
  35. After WWI, the Russian and Bolshevik threat was not wasted on Churchill. He wanted to suppress them militarily but PM Lloyd George was vehemently against it and Winston had learned his lesson that he should not bulldoze his way through life when those who make the ultimate decision are so against it 
  36. One of Churchill’s biggest battles was with Communism. However, he often mistook pink for red and had major battles with the socialist labor unions. He was the Chancellor at this point and doing an excellent job. He was gaining great popularity and people were guessing when he would end up at 10 Downing St. as prime minister but there was hesitation too because he was still independent and not beholden to any one political party 
  37. Churchill was against Gandhi’s freedom of India mostly because it was out of an old school of thought that Britain had to hold onto their colonies or else they would become irrelevant. But, he also argued that the tens of millions of untouchables were in a position worse than slaves and if left alone, the country was and these people would be in a worse position because of all the religious infighting. However, it was also a difficult time to get the British population to really care for it was in the middle of the Great Depression. He was a political pariah through much of this period 
  38. Churchill became one of the world’s highest paid and most prolific writers. He sold books magazines articles and earned a healthy living off these skills 
  39. Churchill was one of the first to see the writing on the wall and understand how dangerous Hitler was and how damaging the treaty of Versailles was.  He recognized some of himself in Hitler even though he understood, before anyone else, the evil vision that Hitler had. Hitler too recognized his greatest foil in Churchill even though Churchill was not in power 

Vol. II: 1932 – 1940 Alone

  1. Churchill loved his baths and was very particular about them. They had to be filled the right amount and at the right temperature before he would jump in. He started every day with breakfast in bed and spent several hours reading editorials and newspapers.
  2. Although he is known for always drinking, he was never drunk and said that he got more out of alcohol than alcohol I’ve gotten out of him 
  3.  Churchill had a faculty for organizing large works, had an uncanny ability to focus on what he was working on in that moment, and did a surprising amount of the first hand reading, writing, and synthesizing of his works 
  4. He would spend between 6-8 preparing for a 40 minute speech and he made it a priority to remove all bureaucratic jargon and include as many visuals and emotional ties as he could.  He was extremely precise with his words and demanded the same of others 
  5. He could recite entire epic poem from memory but had trouble remembering the names of his servants. He treated them quite poorly and would often times act childish and impulsive if they didn’t understand him or do as he wished.  In one quarrel with one of the servants, the servant lashed out and said that Winston was rude first and Churchill replied, “yes I was, but I am a great man!” There was no arguing this as everyone in the house knew he was right.  He was not a man to apologize but he would sit show he was sorry I being appreciative for what you have done for him 
  6. The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him and the easiest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show that distrust 
  7. I would rather be right than consistent 
  8. Other than Churchill, few others saw the writing on the wall and how hungry Germany was to recover their honor at the first possibility. They had hate in their hearts, were embarrassed by the Versailles Treaty and wanted revenge. One of the more shortsighted and devastating decisions was to try to recoup some of the losses from the Great Depression by having the losers of the war pay for it. This germinated hatred and the desire for revenge which culminated in World War II 
  9. No trap is as deadly as the trap you set for yourself. Many other political and astute figures were duped by Hitler. They were drawn in by his magnetism and believed him when he said that all he was looking for was peace 
  10. Political genius lies in seeing over the horizon anticipating a future invisible to others
  11. He was a poor politician by the traditional sense of the word, although he was the most gifted orator of his time. He didn’t have the patience to proceed by traditional parliamentary processes and he didn’t have the skill to manipulate the House 
  12. Although he was a brilliant strategist, he missed how important and decisive submarine and air dominance would come to be. He was far ahead in calling for a rearmament and strengthening of England to offset the not so secret rearmament of Germany 
  13. Stanley Baldwin was the most popular and powerful PM in a long time and he knew that he would lose that if he were to call for a rearmament of England. This might have been the right call even though it was a tough and unpopular decision 
  14. Great wars usually come only when both sides have high confidence in victory 
  15. The blind spot of the time was that everyone preferred peace to war because of the atrocities seen in World War I. However, Hitler managed to  unite and set fire to a huge group of people who felt betrayed, broken, and who wanted revenge. They were willing to fight to regain their honor when nobody else was 
  16. When Hitler invaded the Rhineland, all the officers were terrified because they knew that if France acted they would be crushed. It was later learned that this was when Hitler was most nervous but he saw the risk is worth taking.  According to existing treaties, if France was attacked and they mobilized, Britain would send troops to support but they decided not to. The British decided to call this an assertion of equality rather than an act of war 
  17. Men of genius are able to focus on one thing exclusively more intensely than average man and never tire. Churchill’s focus was now on Hitler at the exclusion of everything else. He did whatever he thought was needed to stop him even before others even recognized the danger he posed
  18. Hitler understood his orderly people and knew he couldn’t usurp the government. So, he went about acquiring power through normal means and moved his way up. He used the secret police and other intimidation methods to get votes but it was done with the intention of looking legitimate in the eyes of the people so that they would accept him 
  19. Churchill understood that short simple words that were commonly understood or more powerful and effective than fancy words. He also believed that the key to a rousing speech was sincerity the speaker had to truly believe and be enthusiastic about what he was talking about and then it would be infectious 
  20. 1937 was a difficult year for Churchill. King Edward abdicated the throne in order to marry Mrs. Simpson and the way that Winston handled the situation and his ties to the king and his constant call for rearmament in order to equal Germany strength left him with no political power and he even contemplated leaving politics altogether
  21. As a political outcast he didn’t have the same constraints and expectations as those who held responsibility and this allowed him to maneuver and track down information on Germany’s position and actions that otherwise may have been difficult or riskier to attain
  22. Really interesting to learn more about the mindset and priorities of people at the time. Appeasement was the route they took because everyone was so shell-shocked and devastated by World War I that everyone was trying to avoid war at all costs and keep the economy strong and growing. Many saw how powerful Hitler and Germany were becoming but we’re reluctant to act on it for fear of war and economic devastation 
  23. Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland was one of those rare historical moments which took on a momentum of its own and exerted its own field of pressure 
  24. Prime minister Chamberlain was ineffective in dealing with Hitler. He didn’t understand how ambitious he was or how vengeful the country was. Churchill, on the other hand did. He and Hitler were very much the same and may be why they understood each other – they were both both artistic, believed in the supremacy of their countries, that they were men destined for greatness, and both used their intuition rather than reason to lead 
  25. In hindsight, the appeasement efforts were pitiful and ineffective but at the time, the public was so distraught by the first world war that they cheered the concessions made to Germany regarding Czechoslovakia.  This Munich Agreement had torn the government in the country apart as people were either applauding Chamberlain and the peace he had manufactured or understood that this was only a temporary solution that Hitler would be back and stronger than ever 
  26. Wise men avoid extravagant predictions
  27. Churchill was a terrific writer and thinker as he was able to assemble droves of information in his head, form it into a prism. and reflect it with blinding leaps of intuition.  His writing and research helped him dive into the past and find patterns that would help him navigate through World War II 
  28. Churchill was willing to change his mind in order to protect his country. Even though he hated the Bolsheviks, he knew that an alliance with Russia was a great idea so that Hitler would have a two front war if it got to that point 
  29. The present is not tidy or understandable and, once it has become the past, if one tries to make it neat, it only becomes implausible  
  30. A fundamental misconception about dictators in this time was that they could be reasoned and negotiated with. They hate compromise and negotiation 
  31. The British ruling class we’re also known as the leisure class and they hated to be in a hurry. They disappeared on the weekends and could not be reached. Hitler, knowing this, took advantage of that by making big moves and key decisions on the weekend when the people with the power and authority to make decisions weren’t around. He used velocity to his advantage 

Vol. 3: 1940-1945 Defender of the Realm

  1. Coming in August

What I got out of it

  1. Like great biographers do, Manchester gives an intense look into the context, time, environment, in which Churchill live. Loved hearing about his quirks, his “gyroscope” which kept him on the right track regardless of the public’s mood, his oratorical skills, and so much more

An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management

Summary

  1. This book starts with organizational design – it gets the right people in the right places, empowers them to make decisions, and then holds them accountable for their results. Next are some tools of management – from systems thinking to vision documents, metrics, reorgs, and career narratives. Approaches touches on how you might need to adjust how you manage as the organization scales. Culture is covered next and touches on how to nurture an inclusive team. Last is a focus on careers – interviewing hiring, and performance management

Key Takeaways

Organizations

  1. When I want to solve a problem quickly and cheaply, I think about process design. If process is too weak a force, culture too slow, and there isn’t much time, then organizational design is a good option
  2. One of the fundamental challenges of organizational design is sizing teams
  3. Managers should support 6-8 engineers and managers-of-managers should support 4-6 managers
  4. A team is at least 4 people as this diversity helps attack and solve complex problems in a more efficient manner
  5. Keep innovation and maintenance together as this leads to higher morale and will avoid creating a two-tiered class system of innovators and maintainers
  6. 4 states of a team and the general solution. Teams want to climb from falling behind to innovating, while entropy drags them backward. Each
    1. Falling behind – add people
    2. Treading water – reduce WIP
    3. Repaying debt – add time
    4. Innovating – add slack
  7. Consolidate your efforts as a leader. Don’t “peanut butter” the situation by trying to evenly spread yourself out. Spend the most time on the teams that need the most help. Adding new individuals to teams disrupts that team’s gelling process, so have rapid growth periods followed by consolidation/gelling periods
  8. Do not separate high-performing teams. They can tackle new problems but should stay together. Shifting scope works better than moving people because it avoids re-gelling costs, and it preserves system behavior. You can also try rotating individuals for a fixed period into an area that needs help
    1. Campbell – Teams > Individuals > Problems
  9. You obviously don’t want to stop growth, but you can concentrate that growth such that your teams alternate between periods of gelling and consolidation
  10. Counterintuitively, you can slow a team down by shifting resources to it, because doing so creates new upstream constraints. Slack is a beautiful thing. It gives people and teams time to improve areas and do it with minimal coordination costs
  11. The real system killer is not system rewrites but the migrations that follow those rewrites
  12. You only get values from projects you finish. To make progress, above all else, you must ensure that some of your projects finish
  13. Funnel interruptions into an increasingly small area, and then automate that area as much as possible. Ask people to file tickets, create chatbots that automate filing tickets, create a service cookbook, and so on.
  14. Projects and tasks must have owners – “Who owns X?”
  15. Block out large chunks of time each week to focus. Telecommute, block out 8-11 each morning, experiment until you find something that works for you. The best solution is a culture of documentation – read documents, and a documentation reach that actually works. Try to get off the “critical path” – don’t be a gatekeeper. This is a significant implementation bug rather than a stability feature to be emulated (except for very important legal/financial/other matters that should have a gatekeeper.)
  16. Organizational debt – the sibling of technical debt and represents things like biased interview processes and inequitable compensation mechanisms, systemic problems which prevents your organization from reaching its potential. Responding to this is central to being an effective leader. A great way to attack this is to focus on a few areas you want to improve and if you’re making progress, feel good about it. You can slack off on the other areas (for now). You can’t do it all at once
  17. Succession planning is thinking through how the organization would function without you, documenting those gaps, and starting to fill them in. This is often overlooked but is vital for the long-term success of your team and organization. First step is to figure out what you do – write down what meetings you attend, what your role is in those meetings, recurring processes, individuals you support, emails you send, requests coming in, to-do lists, external relationships. Taking 2-3-week vacations is actually a beautiful thing – you can see what slips through the cracks and these items can be the start of next year’s list.

Tools

  1. Change is the catalyst of complexity and these tools are meant to help lead efficient change – systems thinking, metrics, and vision
  2. Creating an arena for quickly testing hypotheses about how things work, without having to do the underlying work beforehand, is the aspect of systems thinking that I appreciate most
  3. Problem discovery – problem selection – solution validation – execution – problem discovery…
  4. For problem discovery look at – users’ pain, users’ purpose, benchmark, cohorts, competitive advantages/moats
  5. Must align on strategy and vision in order to scale effectively. Strategies are grounded documents which explain the trade-offs and actions that twill be taken to address a specific challenge. Visions are aspirational documents that enable individuals who don’t work closely together to make decisions that fit together cleanly
  6. No extent of artistry can solve a problem that you’re unwilling to admit
  7. Vision – vision statement, value proposition, capabilities, solve constraints, future constraints, reference materials, narrative
  8. Define goals through a target, baseline, trend, time frame
    1. See John Doerr on OKRs
  9. Since value is gained when a project is completed, you must celebrate completions, no matter how small
  10. Rolling out the change can be difficult/awkward but here are 3 steps to help
    1. Explanation of reasoning driving the reorganization (particularly those who are heavily impacted)
    2. Documentation of how each person and team will be impacted
    3. Availability and empathy to help bleed off frustration from impacted individuals
  11. The 3 rules for speaking with the media
    1. Answer the question you’re being asked – reframe difficult questions
    2. Stay positive
    3. Speak in threes – three concise points, make them your refrain, and continue to refer back to your three speaking points
  12. Failure modes – domineering personalities, bottlenecks, status-oriented groups, inert groups
  13. Presenting to senior management
    1. Communication is company-specific
    1. Start with the conclusion
    2. Frame why the topic matters
    3. Everyone loves a narrative
    4. Prepare for detours
    5. Answer directly
    6. Dive deep into the data
    7. Derive actions from principles
    8. Discuss the details
    9. Prepare a lot, practice a little
    10. Make a clear ask
  14. Communicating with teams/peers
    1. Be a facilitator, not a lecturer
    2. Brief presentations, long discussions
    3. Small breakout groups
    4. Bring learnings to the full group
    5. Choose topics that people already know about
    6. Encourage tenured folks to attend
    7. Optional pre-reads
    8. Checking-in – your name, your team, one sentence about what’s on your mind
    9. Every quarter I spend a few hours categorizing my calendar from the past 3 months to figure out how I’ve invested my time. This is useful for me to reflect on the major projects I’ve done, and also to get a sense of my general allocation of time. I then use this analysis to shuffle my goal time allocation for the next quarter

Approaches

  1. Work the policy, not the exceptions – consistency is a precondition of fairness so cultures which allow frequent exceptions are not only susceptible to bias, but also inefficient
  2. Collect every escalation as a test case for reconsidering your constraints. This approach is powerful because it creates a release valve for folks who are frustrated with edge cases in your current policies – they’re still welcome to escalate – while also ensuring that everyone is operating in a consistent, fair environment; escalations will only be used as inputs for updated policy, not handled in a one-off fashion. The approach also maintains working on policy as a leveraged operation for leadership, avoiding the onerous robes of an exceptional judge
  3. Velocity – when folks want you to commit to more work than you believe you can deliver; your goal is to provide a compelling explanation for how your team finishes work. Finishes is particularly important, as opposed to does, because partial work has no value, and your team’s defining constraints are often in the finishing stages.
  4. Management, at its core, is an ethical profession. To see ourselves, we don’t look at the mirror, but rather at how we treat a member of the team who is not succeeding. Not at the mirror, but at our compensation policy. Not at the mirror, but at how we pitch the roles to candidates
  5. Strong relationships > any problem. Start debugging problems from the relationship angle before anything else. With the right people, any process works, and with the wrong people, no process works
  6. Instead of avoiding the hardest parts, double down on them
  7. Do the right thing for the company, the right thing for the team, and the right thing for yourself, in that order
  8. The best management philosophy never stands still, but – in the model of the Hegelian dialectic – continues to evolve as it comes into contact with reality. The worst theory of management is to not have one at all, but the second worst is one that doesn’t change.
  9. Long bones have growth plates at their ends, which is where the growth happens, and the middle doesn’t grow. This is a pretty apt metaphor for rapidly growing companies, and a useful mental model to understand why your behaviors might not be resonating in a new role. Execution is the primary currency in the growth plates because you typically have a surplus of fairly obvious ideas to try and there is constrained bandwidth for evaluating those ideas. What folks in the growth plates need is help reducing and executing the existing backlog of ideas, not adding more ideas that must be evaluated. Teams in these scenarios are missing the concrete resources necessary to execute, and supplying those resources is the only way to help. Giving more ideas feels helpful, but it isn’t. Away from the growth plates you’re mostly working on problems with known solutions. Known solutions are amenable to iterative improvement, so it would make sense for execution to be highly valued, but I find that, in practice, ideas – especially ideas that are new within your company – are most highly prized.
  10. Leadership is matching appropriate action to your current context
  11. As managers looking to grow ourselves, we should really be pursuing scope: not enumerating people but taking responsibility for the success of increasingly important and complex factors of the organization and company. This is where advancing a career can veer away from a zero-sum competition to have the largest team and evolve into a virtuous cycle of empowering the organization and taking on more responsibility. There is a lot less competition for hard work. Aim to grow scope through broad, complex projects
  12. You need to learn how to set your own direction – talk to peers and see what they’re thinking about, read technical papers, cast the widest net possible so that you understand the problem space
  13. For every problem that comes your way – close out, solve, or delegate

Culture

  1. An inclusive organization is one in which individuals have access to opportunity and membership
  2. Useful metrics – retention, usage rate, level distribution, time at level
  3. Useful programs – recurring weekly events, employee resource groups, team offsites, coffee chats, team lunches,
  4. Ingredients for a great ream – awareness of each other’s work, evolution from character to person, refereeing defection, avoiding zero-sum culture
  5. The best learning doesn’t always come from your manager – create a community of learning with your peers
  6. Humans are prone to interpreting events as causal, but it may be more appropriate to see problems in terms of a series of stockpiles that grow and shrink based on incoming and outgoing flows

Careers

  1. Interviewing tips
    1. Be kind to the candidate
    2. Ensure that all interviewers agree on the role’s requirements
    3. Understand the signal your interview is checking for
    4. Come to your interview prepared to interview
    5. Deliberately express interest in candidates
    6. Create feedback loops for interviewers and the loop’s designer
    7. Instrument and optimize as you would any conversion funnel
  2. If you like an interviewee and will extend an offer, have everyone who interviewed them send them an email or letter saying how much they enjoyed meeting them
  3. Have interviewers write up their feedback on candidates individually
  4. The most sacred responsibilities of management are selecting your company’s role model, identifying who to promote, and deciding who needs to leave
  5. If hiring from within, some necessary ingredients are: an executive sponsor, a recruiting partner, self-sustaining mission, a clear career ladder, role models, dedicated calibrations (performance reviews)

Appendix

  1. Teams have a limited appetite for new processes: try to roll out one change at a time and don’t roll out the next change until the previous change has enthusiastic compliance
  2. Process needs to be adapted to its environment, and success comes from blending it with your particular context

What I got out of it

  1. Some great tools, ideas, perspective on how to manage a quickly scaling organization

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben

Wohlleben goes into the nitty-gritty of how trees survive, communicate, protect themselves, grow, are social (much like human families), share nutrients, and so much more.

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn by Richard Hamming

“After more thought I decided that since I was trying to teach “style” of thinking in science and engineering, and “style” is an art, I should therefore copy the methods of teaching used for the other arts – once the fundamentals have been learned. How to be a great painters cannot be taught in words; one learns by trying many different approaches that seem to surround the subject. Art teachers usually let the advanced student paint, and then make suggestions on how they would have done it, or what might also be tried, more or less as the points arise in the student’s head – which is where the learning is supposed to occur! In this series of lectures, I try to communicate to students what cannot be said in words – the essence of style in science and engineering. I have adopted a loose organization with some repetition since this often occurs in the lectures. There are, therefore, digressions and stories – with some told in two different places – all in the somewhat rambling, informal style typical of lectures. I have used the “story” approach, often emphasizing the initial part of the discovery, because I firmly believe in Pasteur’s remark, “Luck favors the prepared mind.” In this way I can illustrate how the individual’s preparation before encountering the problem can often lead to recognition, formulation, and solution. Great results in science and engineering are “bunched” in the same person too often for success to be a matter of random luck. Teachers should prepare the student for the student’s future, not for the teacher’s past…Therefore, style of thinking is the center of this course. The subtitle of the book, Learning to Learn, is the main solution I offer to help students cope with the rapid changes they will have to endure in their fields. The course centers around how to look at and think about knowledge, and it supplies some historical perspective that might be useful. This course is mainly personal experiences I have had and digested, at least to some extent. Naturally one tends to remember one’s successes and forget lesser events, but I recount a number of my spectacular failures as clear examples of what to avoid. I have found that the personal story is far, far more effective than the impersonal one; hence there is necessarily an aura of “bragging” in the book that is unavoidable. Let me repeat what I earlier indicated. Apparently an “art” – which almost by definition cannot be put into words – is probably best communicated by approaching it from many sides and doing so repeatedly, hoping thereby students will finally mater enough of the art, or if you wish, style, to significantly increase their future contributions to society. A totally different description of the course is: it covers all kinds of things that could not find their proper place in the standard curriculum.”

PS – The book is expensive and hard to find but here is a PDF copy of the book and if you’re more of an auditory learner, here are Hamming’s “Learning to Learn” lectures

Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann

Summary

  1. Mental models help you become a more effective thinker and decision-maker and this book is a great compilation of some of the more well known and effective models

Key Takeaways

  1. Some of my favorite mental models discussed include:
    1. Arguing from first principles – you must understand the core, fundamental principles if you are going to be an effective thinker. A first principle is an assumption that cannot be deduced any further 
    2. De-risking – what steps can you take, what can you think through and control that would lower the risk?
    3. Premature optimization – it is better to iterate, take small steps and adapt and evolve as the situation unfolds rather than come up with grand plans and rigid blueprints
    4. The top idea in your mind – be very aware of what you’re thinking about since this shapes and colors what you see and how you behave. Paul Graham talks about this best
    5. Opportunity cost – the value you’re giving up by pursuing one thing rather than another
    6. Local vs. Global optimum – your mindset and time horizon very much determine how you act. Something that makes sense locally can be harmful globally
    7. Consequence-Conviction Matrix – how small/large are the consequences and how much conviction do you have? Large consequences and low conviction, take your time
    8. Resonant Frequency – a phenomenon that only occurs when the frequency at which a force is periodically applied is equal or near equal to one of the natural frequencies on which it acts. As leaders and teammates, we try to get on the same frequency as our team, lowering friction and getting better results
    9. OODA Loop – John Boyd’s assessment protocol – Observe, Orient, Decide, Act
    10. Heat-seeking missiles – leaders should learn from heat-seeking missiles and aim to be in the “hottest” areas – the areas with the most friction

What I got out of it

  1. A great overview of mental models in a fun and comprehensive fashion. Not too many new or unexpected models but the examples given and how they tied them together was helpful

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

Summary

  1. The 5’s – what they are, how to do them, why they help to calm baby

Key Takeaways

  1. The 5’s – have to be done exactly right, sequentially 
    1. Swaddling – tighter than you think is comfortable 
    2. Side / Stomach – babies can feel like they’re falling if they are on their back so the side or stomach can be a much more calming way to hold them
    3. Shhhh – louder than you think is comfortable
    4. Swinging – must be done faster than you think. This will also be the first S you’ll wean at around 2-3 months of age
    5. Sucking – pacifiers should only be given when the baby is calm and when baby starts to suck, lightly tug on it. This will be the second S to be weaned
  2. Babies should really be in the womb another couple months so the baby’s first 3 months after birth can be thought of as the “4th trimester.” You want to mimic the conditions, sounds, temperature, etc. as closely as possible to make them feel comfortable and cozy.
    1. Hold them, dance, rock, wrap, white noise, car rides, walk outside, feeding, pacifiers, swings
  3. Don’t be worried about spoiling them, they need the confidence and comfort that you are there to take care of them – you’ll be able to easily wean them off
  4. A cry is not always meant to convey a message
  5. Colic simply a result of cessation of womb 3 months early
  6. Reduce SIDS
    1. Only let baby sleep on the back
    2. Breastfeed if you can
    3. Don’t smoke, drink, or use drugs
    4. Don’t overheat
    5. Use snug swaddles
    6. Offer a pacifier at bedtime
    7. Never sleep with your baby on a couch or waterbed
    8. If you choose to bed share, always use a co-sleeper attachment to keep your baby protected
    9. Remove pillows, toys, bumpers, and think or loose bedding that could cause smothering
    10. Practice tummy time to help your baby develop strong muscles to move away from choking risks
  7. 10 Red Flags
    1. Persistent moaning
    2. Supershrill cry
    3. Vomiting (green or yellow vomit and more than one ounce per episode and more than 5 per day)
    4. Change in stool (especially blood)
    5. Fussing during eating
    6. Abnormal temperature (more than 100.2 or less than 97)
    7. Irritability
    8. Lethargy
    9. Bulging soft spot on the head
    10. Poor weight gain
  8. Top 10 Survival Tips
    1. Trust yourself
    2. Lower your expectations
    3. Accept all the help you can get
    4. Get your priorities straight
    5. Be flexible – it’s much better to bend than snap
    6. Know thyself – how do your baby’s cries make you feel
    7. Don’t rock the cradle too hard
    8. Keep your sense of humor handy
    9. Take care of your spouse
    10. Don’t ignore depression

What I got out of it

  1. The 5’s haven’t worked for us too well yet but the sequence is good to know and it had some other good parenting tips

Decoded by Jay-Z

Summary

  1. Jay-Z’s autobiography where he gives context to his songs by explaining what was happening in his life when he wrote that song and what different lyrics really mean

Key Takeaways

  1. Grew up in a public housing project named Marcy. Saw his first cipher when he was still young and was instantly drawn to it. He’d write down every rhyme he could think of and said it was easy from the start. He practiced like it was a sport and read everything he could get his hands on, especially the dictionary, to improve his vocabulary
  2. Crack overtook his neighborhood by storm and by the time he was 15, while still rapping, it had taken a back seat to selling crack 
  3. Used rap to tell his story but wanted to be explicitly honest with it

What I got out of it

  1. Very interesting to see his actual lyrics paired with footnotes of him explaining exactly what he meant or what experienced influenced that line. So much depth and poetry worked into his lyrics that at least I had overlooked for years even though I have listened to some of these songs for years 

The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving by Lisa Miller

Summary

  1. Spirituality is an untapped tool for human development, fulfillment, happiness, success. With this, children can learn how to connect with others and better deal with difficult situations. The author aims to map spiritual development from kids to adolescents and show what a pivotal role parents play

Key Takeaways

  1. Spirituality differs from religion and that it is a feeling of being connected to a higher power, whatever that might be for you whereas religion is more specific in what you are connected to. An authentic and personal relationship with the higher power is far more important than the specifics
  2. Spiritual children are 40% less likely to abuse substances, 60% less likely to be depressed, less likely to be susceptible to other types of deviant behavior and more likely to thrive and finding meaning, purpose, and higher levels of academic success
  3. Kids are naturally empathetic, curious, open, caring, loving, and optimistic. It is only through time and for education that they lose these things. 
  4. The 6 spiritual strengths – trusting heart-knowing, validating direct transcendent experience, encouraging natural love of nature, ritual of meditation and prayer, sense of family as special, and belief in right action. These spiritual strengths and mindset will help with feeling connected and grounded, giving meaning to life. This will greatly help with depression and loneliness too
  5. Opportunities to grow spirituality 
    1. Engage honestly and authentically with your child. Give your approval and encourage them
    2. Use spiritual language daily – direct knowing, inner compass, connection, heart knowing
    3. Share own spiritual experiences transparently with your children
    4. Connect with your kids and meet them where they are
    5. Build a spiritual practice as a family – Sunday night meditation, Shabbat dinner, other rituals 
    6. Embrace relationships with everyone and all of nature – we are all one
    7. Express the sanctity of family and how grateful you are to be part of it. You are an inter-generational self, part of a long line within your family, not separate or above, part of something larger than yourself
    8. Strive to live an inspired life. Set a high standard, love others, see transcendence in each moment

What I got out of it

  1. A decent book (far too long and ended up skimming most of it) on the importance of spirituality in a child’s life and how to go about nurturing it

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Summary

  1. The story of Jonathan Seagull, the seagull who dared to be different and push the limits of flight, learning about himself, mastery, and perfection

Key Takeaways

  1. And then a hundred other lives until we begin to learn that there is such a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our purpose for living is to find that  for us now, o show it forth. The same rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, a ll the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.
  2. No, Jonathan, there is no such place. Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect…Perfect speed my son, is being there
  3. You can go to any place and to any time that you wish to go, the Elder said. I’ve gone everywhere and everywhen I can think of. He looked across the sea. It’s strange. The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere, instantly. Remember, Jonathan, heaven isn’t a place or a time, because place and time are so very meaningless
  4. To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is, you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived. The trick, according to Chiang, was for Jonathan to stop seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body that had a forty-two-inch wingspan and performance that could be plotted on a chart. The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once across space and time
  5. I wonder about that, Jon, said Sullivan, standing near. You have less fear of learning than any gull I’ve seen in ten thousand years. The Flock fell silent, and Jonathan fidgeted in embarrassment. We can start working with time if you wish, Chiang said, till you can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult, the most powerful, and the most fun of all. You will be ready to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and love.
  6. For in spite of his lonely past, Jonathan Seagull was born to be an instructor, and his own way of demonstrating love was to give something of the truth that he had seen to a gull who asked only a chance to see truth for himself.
  7. Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimited idea of freedom, Jonathan would say in the evenings on the beach, and precision flying is a step toward expressing our real nature. Everything that limits us we have to put aside…Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body too
  8. He spoke of very simple things – that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form. Set aside, came a voice from the multitude, even if it be the Law of the Flock? The only true law is that which leads to freedom, Jonathan would said. There is no other.

What I got out of it

  1. Has been 15 years since the last time I read this book and it hit me even more this time. Go live, do, practice, aim for perfection, freedom, and truth. It is the most fulfilling way to live and will open up dimensions that you couldn’t even imagine before