Newsletter 9


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How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg - The authors of Trillion Dollar Coach also wrote this book. No, it's not about the advertising business or the PageRank algorithm that made Google what it is today, but how Google creates an environment, recruits, and retains some of the best employees in the world. I thought it especially telling how often the authors mentioned creativity. A solid management book, but if I had to choose one of their books, Trillion Dollar Coach is far and away better and more important to read.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth - This book covered a lot of concepts that I've read about in other books and articles (some below), but Duckworth is the originator of a lot of the research. There's overlap with flow, fixed vs growth mindsets, “genius” think, and company culture. I'm not sure if it's worth reading the entire book. Other articles and books cover the general concepts well enough.


Some extraordinary episodes from this week:

Osman Rashid: “How did Chegg find a way through?” - Starting Greatness

Lessons of Greatness: Find your inner MacGyver - Starting Greatness

REPLAY E19: Richard Leftley, CEO of MicroEnsure Discusses Microinsurance - Profiles in Risk

How One CEO Successfully Led a Digital Transformation - HBR Ideacast

To scale, you must master the skill of storytelling: Scott Harrison, Founder & CEO, Charity: Water - Masters of Scale


The Future of Mathematics?

How to Know - Related to a few articles below. Well worth your time. From the summary:

This talk will discuss Kidd’s research about how people come to know what they know. The world is a sea of information too vast for any one person to acquire entirely. How then do people navigate the information overload, and how do their decisions shape their knowledge and beliefs? In this talk, Kidd will discuss research from her lab about the core cognitive systems people use to guide their learning about the world—including attention, curiosity, and metacognition (thinking about thinking). The talk will discuss the evidence that people play an active role in their own learning, starting in infancy and continuing through adulthood. Kidd will explain why we are curious about some things but not others, and how our past experiences and existing knowledge shape our future interests. She will also discuss why people sometimes hold beliefs that are inconsistent with evidence available in the world, and how we might leverage our knowledge of human curiosity and learning to design systems that better support access to truth and reality.

Simon Sinek || Performance vs. Trust - I'm not a fan of Simon, but this short clip about performance and trust is worth your two minutes.

1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Eric Cline, PhD) - I'm always interested in history and how we can learn from it.


How To Think Real Good - If there is one article you read this week, make it this one. There is so much to unpack here: problem formulation, importance of math, generalists vs specialists, etc. He summarizes his main points in the conclusion:

  • Figuring stuff out is way hard.
  • There is no general method.
  • Selecting and formulating problems is as important as solving them; these each require different cognitive skills.
  • Problem formulation (vocabulary selection) requires careful, non-formal observation of the real world.
  • A good problem formulation includes the relevant distinctions, and abstracts away irrelevant ones. This makes problem solution easy.
  • Little formal tricks (like Bayesian statistics) may be useful, but any one of them is only a tiny part of what you need.
  • Progress usually requires applying several methods. Learn as many different ones as possible.
  • Meta-level knowledge of how a field works—which methods to apply to which sorts of problems, and how and why—is critical (and harder to get).

Crony Beliefs - Somewhat related to How to Know from above, Kevin discusses two different belief systems and the value those beliefs add, i.e., whether they offer pragmatic or social value.

The Value of Grey Thinking - It may seem like common sense, but we fall into this trap of black and white thinking all of the time.

But the fact is, the reality is all grey area. All of it. There are very few black and white answers and no solutions without second-order consequences.

The Cognitive Distortions of Founders - In contrast to the prior article, a shocking amount of founders do think in black and white to a jarring extent. Jobs is easily the best example of this and the success that's possible. There needs to be some sort of balance, but I don't know where that line is.

I coached 101 CEOs, founders, VCs and other executives in 2019: These are the biggest takeaways - These are valuable insights for anyone to spend some time thinking about.

What Happens When Your Career Becomes Your Whole Identity -

Psychologists use the term “enmeshment” to describe a situation where the boundaries between people become blurred, and individual identities lose importance. Enmeshment prevents the development of a stable, independent sense of self. Dan — like many in high-pressure jobs — had become enmeshed not with another person, but with his career.

Randi Zuckerberg Thinks We Should Untangle Our Wired Lives - This is a long, winding read that went off on tangents and spouted a lot of things I don't agree with at all. It wouldn't have mailed this week's list if not for a few observations on work and life. This quote was interesting to think about:

Part of the reason work and home keep mixing despite our professed desires is that that's how Americans were taught to see an aspirational adult life. In every TV show and movie after Leave It To Beaver the gimmick has always been that the protagonist's job and personal life overlap– doctors in love, CIA agents defending their family, late nights at the office trading zingers or abuse stories. While we no longer think we want the overlap, the shows reinforced the false psychology that a person is something, all the time and everywhere, and the backdrop world “sees” it, accepts it. This applies just as much to negative depictions of work/life overlap, e.g. the obsessed cop whose wife is now divorcing him because of the job: the point isn't that the overlap is “good”, that's not the aspiration; the point is that the structure of these depictions represents the fundamental narcissistic fantasy: a fixed and clear identity– a character– seen by a potential audience. This is why home is not relaxing: we are working to not let it be all that we are.

‘Find Your Passion’ Is Awful Advice and What preschoolers can teach us about organizational culture and Cultures of Genius: Organizational Mindsets Predict Cultural Norms, Trust and Commitment - The concepts discussed in these articles may seem odd to group at first take. Whether it is an individual or an organization, a fixed mindset or growth mindset affects how we perceive our passion, career, leader, team, and organization.

Why Creativity Is a Numbers Game - This article echoes a similar thesis to Grit.

It's a great myth that creative geniuses consistently produce great work. Whereas consistency may be the key to expertise, the secret to creative greatness appears to be doing things differently—even when that means failing

Fashionable Problems - The insurance industry and specifically actuarial fits Paul's criteria for an unfashionable problem to a T.

It's time to start writing - I wish more presentations were 4-pagers. The process of having to be succinct but thorough requires a deeper understanding of what you're trying to convey.

What broke the bank - This should be on every company's radar. These problems aren't unique or special to one sector or industry.

A disastrous IT migration corrupted 1.3 billion customer records. The culprit was insufficient testing.

What's Amazon's market share? 35% or 5%? - There's a lot of talk about Amazon and monopolies, but it's important to put those conversations into the appropriate context.

Short-Term Thinking Is Poisoning American Business - A short opinion piece in NYT lamenting the lack of a long-term focus in business. I tend to agree with most of their arguments.

How Valuing Productivity, Not Profession, Could Reduce U.S. Inequality - An interview with economist Jonathan Rothwell discussing U.S. inequality.

Plato essentially said that a just society is one where people do what naturally suits them. To do that, you need equal opportunities for education and for skill development. They can’t be restricted by race or ethnicity or gender. You have to give everyone the chance to reveal their own talent. That requires a commitment to invest in everyone.

This AI researcher is trying to ward off a reproducibility crisis - As algorithms become more complex and used more in business, decision making, and research, reproducibility is key and should be a requirement.

The Machine Learning Reproducibility Checklist - A succinct one page checklist to follow to ensure reproducibility.

R Packages - The working in progress link to the second edition of Hadley Wickham and Jenny Bryan's book.

That's it for this week. Again, if you have anything you want to share or have any comments, shoot me an email at