Winner Take All Technology

Survival of the Richest is an interesting article about a futurist who was asked to speak to a group of wealthy men, and the discussion that turned into a Q&A for surviving the apocalypse.

One of the parts of the article I found most interesting was the author’s discussion on ‘unbridled technological development in the name of corporate capitalism’. I found myself thinking about Zero to One, part of the start up canon recommended to all, by all in the venture capital fuelled bubble.

I struggled with a large part of the book that urged prospective founders to build monopolies, advice which flew in the face of all I’d learnt about the benefits of competition and the dangers of capitalism. There seemed to be a missing consideration – there was no balancing what might be good for the small number of founders and investors who own a monopoly with the effects on society as a whole

I think it’s one of the most frustrating parts of the narrative that dominates the current startup zeitgeist – the lack of wider awareness and ethical discussion on the way technology impacts the world. There are exceptions – Time Well Spent and Sam Altman’s interest in UBI for example.

The difference between a reflective summary and taking notes

I read an interesting little piece with an admittedly clickbait-y headline: “The 30 Second Habit That Can Have A Big Impact On Your Life“. Title (and capitalisation) aside I really liked the advice – after significant learning experiences or meetings, take 30 seconds to write down the most important points.

I pride myself on taking notes though more often than I like, I fall into the trap of mistaking detail for clarity. This is true both in professional meetings and personal journals – sometimes I feel like I need to get everything down and then by the end I’m spent and leave no time for the critical part, which is reflecting and summing it all up.

I’m looking forward to trying to put a bit of extra focus on this and trying to reflect a little bit more.

Good News Update

Beer in Hoi An

I’ve spent the past month bunkered down in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, working on a little project that I’ve been thinking about for about a year now. It’s an email newsletter focussed on ‘good news’ that attempts to balance a news cycle that favours the shocking, gruesome and grotesque.

It’s been an interesting time going through the many large and small decisions that come with starting an enterprise. I’ve tried to mix both the necessary admin like registering domains and social media accounts with the big picture stuff like validating the idea.

I drafted some emails and became semi-familiar with Mailchimp in an effort to craft some decent looking campaigns – I found the software incredibly easy to use. I’ve researched successful newsletters like The Skimm, The Hustle and Finimize. I played around with content and wrote two weeks worth of newsletters.

When I was ready I asked a group of friends to give some feedback on the idea, and signed up 20 of them for a little trial which is running now – I’ve scheduled the first four emails through Mailchimp.

In the meantime I’ve been working on setting up the website – I wanted something basic in WordPress but got so frustrated trying to customise it myself that I switched to Squarespace. At $30 AUD per month it’s more than I’d like to pay but it’s very easy to get up and running quickly, so I plan on looking for a more permanent solution later.

I’ve also been looking in to the business admin side of things – I toyed with setting up a company in the USA using Strip Atlas, or becoming an e-resident in Estonia, both of which look like interesting high-tech options. I settled with the cheapest and easiest option for me – becoming a sole trader in Australia. The only cost was registering the name of the business for $36.

I am vaguely aware that there are some tax implications of this business structure, so I searched for some online accounting software. Xero seems to be the clear leader in this space, but since I haven’t started and have no plans for revenue yet I didn’t want another $25 per month subscription. I did a bit of research and went with Wave, a cloud provider who have easy connections to bank accounts so I can import my credit card transactions and highlight the relevant expenses.

At times it seems like everything is coming together and on other days I feel like I wasted hours tinkering in WordPress to no avail. Overall it’s been a great learning experience so far and I’m really enjoying the process of setting things up!

I’m now in Hoi An, toasting the new venture with my Hannah, my partner in crime. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all goes!

Vale Anthony Bourdain

I first heard the news about Anthony Bourdain coming home from a night out in Ho Chi Minh City. Part of the reason we were in Vietnam was because of Bourdain – he evangelised the country and its food and I hung on his every word.

I looked up to Bourdain – he was a fantastic writer, a traveller and a lover of street food. I was first introduced to him watching No Reservations, one of the iterations of his television show. I read Kitchen Confidential in Costa Rica, and soon devoured his follow up books. His cookbook (illustrated by Ralph Steadman of Gonzo fame) has pride of place in our kitchen at home. His shows were about more than food – he shone a light on our shared humanity through food and booze.

He was curious, adventurous and non-judgmental. Nothing was ‘weird’, just different to our limited definition of ‘normal’, a definition he encouraged us all to expand. He was and will continue to be an enormous inspiration to me and many others.

He left behind a fantastic body of work – you can read about him in this great piece in the New Yorker, browse The New York Times ‘best of Anthony Bourdain’ or check out his life through photos over at Esquire.

I’ll aim to do him proud by spending the next two months sitting at small plastic tables, eating delicious local street food, sinking cold Vietnamese beers and sharing conversations in the country that he loved visiting most. I hope he has found peace. Vale Anthony Bourdain.

 

Artisan is the future

artisan

I just read a great article about the growing movement of ‘artisanal’ products. In a world when goods are becoming so commoditised, hand-made wares made by expert craftsmen suddenly seem very appealing.

I think there are a few things driving this trend. ‘Custom made’ has always been a way to differentiate in the luxury market, though it’s more than that. I think consumers are becoming more conscious of waste and want something reliable, something they can “BIFL” (Buy It For Life is a growing subreddit).

I believe there will be a continuing trend towards bespoke, unique and customised products, with a hefty premium on those crafted by skilled artisans.

Here’s the article.

Desiderata by Max Ehrman

Speaking of timeless advice and beautiful writing…

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Jack London’s advice on writing

One of the great techniques I learned about during the Learning How to Learn course was ‘Pomodoro’, which sounds remarkably like what Jack London used to do (he called it ‘stints’).

I believe his advice applies not just to writing but to anything creative or deep that requires a state of flow. More than 100 years on it still applies.

Don’t dash off a six-thousand-word story before breakfast. Don’t write too much. Concentrate your sweat on one story, rather than dissipate it over a dozen. Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will none the less get something that looks remarkably like it. Set yourself a “stint,” [London wrote 1,000 words nearly every day of his adult life] and see that you do that “stint” each day; you will have more words to your credit at the end of the year.

Study the tricks of the writers who have arrived. They have mastered the tools with which you are cutting your fingers. They are doing things, and their work bears the internal evidence of how it is done. Don’t wait for some good Samaritan to tell you, but dig it out for yourself.

See that your pores are open and your digestion is good. That is, I am confident, the most important rule of all.

Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.

And work. Spell it in capital letters. WORK. WORK all the time. Find out about this earth, this universe; this force and matter, and the spirit that glimmers up through force and matter from the maggot to Godhead. And by all this I mean WORK for a philosophy of life. It does not hurt how wrong your philosophy of life may be, so long as you have one and have it well.

The three great things are: GOOD HEALTH; WORK; and a PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE. I may add, nay, must add, a fourth—SINCERITY. Without this, the other three are without avail; with it you may cleave to greatness and sit among the giants.

Originally found at AOM.

Less stuff, more time

For a while now, I’ve had an obsession with time. I think a lot about how best to spend my time, what I value, what brings meaning to my life and how to make sure I’m making the most of what I’ve got.

When I first started my ‘corporate’ career I was impressionable and started reading GQ, buying expensive suits and shirts, shoes and ties, tie clips and even bloody pocket squares! I try now to be a more conscious consumer but I realise it’s a really easy trap to fall into.

“We have a lot of stuff but we are poor in terms of our time and control of our time,” says Schor. “We must shift onto a path where we are less orientated to accumulating stuff and more orientated to accumulating time, connecting with people, building social capital. It is not how many toys you have when you die; it is much more the richness of your social life, that’s what really matters.”

This is an excellent quote from the really simple but well written article in Womankind “Why we need more time, and less clothes“. From a personal and sustainability perspective, it’s always interesting to think about whether you really need to buy a new set of threads.

Navigating your career path

I grew up with a pretty traditional mindset about career paths, and I thought I knew exactly what I wanted. I put my head down in school and studied, went straight into a very practical degree and then threw myself into landing a job at the most prestigious professional services firm I could find. When I finally came up for air I started to question whether I really wanted to be a ‘Partner’ or whether I was sleepwalking all along.

I’ve since spent a lot of time reflecting and thinking about a ‘career path’ and most importantly, how I’d like to spend my time on this earth. I recently came across “How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)” on the excellent Wait But Why blog and it is one of the best frameworks I’ve seen for introspection and analysis on this topic.

A couple of my favourite quotes are:

The real cause of tyranny of choice is accurately seeing the sheer number of options you have in today’s world while delusionally seeing those careers as the 40-year tunnels of yesterday’s world. That’s a lethal combo. Reframing your next major career decision as a far lower-stakes choice makes the number of options exciting, not stressful.

I think the tunnel analogy is excellent – I now view work experience and learning as cumulative and broadly applicable across different careers (outside of certain deep niche skills).

A better goal is contentment: the satisfying feeling that you’re currently taking the best crack you can at a good life path; that what you’re working on might prove to be a piece of an eventual puzzle you can feel really proud of. Chasing happiness is an amateur move. Feeling contentment in those times when your choices and your circumstances have combined to pull it off, and knowing you have all that you could ever ask for, is for the wise.

Great common sense advice.

 

Learning how to learn

I’m very fortunate to have some spare capacity at the moment to do some self-directed learning. There are a few topics that I’m interested in doing a bit of a deep dive into, as well as the general learning about new places, languages and cultures that comes with travelling.

With that in mind, I signed up for Coursera’s most popular online course: “Learning how to learn.” I found the four week course to be fascinating, informative and very well structured and taught. Essentially it’s a meta-look at how the brain learns and is filled with practical tips and tricks to improve the way you learn. Some of those tips and tricks formed the impetus for me to start writing more.

I’ve taken some notes on some of the areas I found most interesting or useful:

Focussed and Diffuse Modes of Thinking

The brain can only operate in one mode of thinking at a time. Focussed thinking follows well established neural pathways, where you are thinking about things that may be difficult but you’ve done before or know how to do.

Diffuse thinking is more freestyle, big picture or blue sky thinking. It’s letting your brain wander and create new neural pathways and connections to solve a novel problem.

It is important to create time for both modes of thinking. I often find I get a lot of ideas while in the shower, riding my bike or doing other random activities. I now understand this is my brain working in the diffuse mode!

The importance of sleep and exercise

The course really opened my eyes to the rhythms of the brain, which is always changing and generating new neurons. Your brain needs time to rest, to work away in the background, to clean up toxins and to deepen neural pathways. Both sleep and essential in this maintenance work.

Recruit dopamine and work on the process to help you focus

You can recruit neuro-modulators to help you beat procrastination. For example, dopamine is in the business of predicting future rewards and helps regulate your motivation. Scheduling rewards at the completion of the task can train your brain to maintain motivation.

Procrastination is your minds way of switching focus away from something that causes your anxiety. Process is the framework you can set up to minimise procrastination and maximise focus while completing difficult tasks or learning hard-to-grasp concepts. Using the Pomodoro Technique and ensuring your environment is distraction free (no phone in sight, no push notifications) are great ways to set yourself up for success.

How to bed things down in long term memory

Long term memory is important because it is where your brain stores fundamental concepts and models. There are some techniques you can use to ensure that the concepts you learn are stored properly in your long term memory and that you can access them easily.

Spaced repetition, recall and self-testing are fantastic ways to ensure you are really learning a concept, and also to practice retrieving that concept from your long term memory. Writing down or explaining to others are also techniques that help you retain information.

Summary

I felt like a lot of the concepts taught in the course are things I know intuitively, but perhaps couldn’t explicitly explain. It’s great to understand more about the science and neurobiology behind learning, as well as the cues to recognise what is happening when I feel like procrastinating. The practical techniques are really useful and I’m looking forward to learning more effectively.

I highly recommend this course for anyone studying, working or interesting in learning something new. I think it would be fantastic to teach at a high-school level – a lot of these tips would have been great when I was studying back then!