Side Notes: August 2019


Curiosity should be trained like a muscle. Living with curiosity can lead to more interesting, present, and grateful days. 

I decided to make my way through a growing pile of papers, articles, books, and blogs. In this letter, I’m sharing notes from my favorites. A theme that emerged frequently from new angles was a sense of curiosity. I’m convinced any aspect of life can become more interesting and worthwhile if you apply more curiosity to it.

“Be interested. Everyone wants to be interesting but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk Failure. Reach out.”

More takeaways are below. Enjoy. 

As you're reading, if you think of others that would be interested in this monthly letter, passing it along would mean the world to me. Thanks in advance!

You and Your Research

This speech by Richard Hamming on great science can be applied to any project and industry. There is an overarching theme of learning to learn and pushing ourselves further in our daily tasks. Notable points:
  • Our society frowns on people who set out to do really good work. You’re not supposed to; luck is supposed to descend on you and you do great things by chance.
  • Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do, the more you can do, the more the opportunity.

  • The one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.

  • Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead, doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the replacement theory. 

  • Your dreams are a reworking of the experiences of the day. If you are deeply immersed and committed to a topic, day after day after day, your subconscious has nothing to do but work on your problem. Keep your subconscious starved so it has to work on your problem. 

  • If you do not work on an important problem, it’s unlikely you’ll do important work. 

  • The struggle to make something of yourself seems to be worthwhile in itself.

The Road to Self Renewal

This paper is written by John Gardner explaining why some folks are ok going through the motions in life while others are striving, failing, and growing constantly. 
  • Be interested. Everyone wants to be interesting but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk Failure. Reach out.  
  • You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments. Your identity is what you’ve committed yourself to.
  • Tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future.
  • We can’t write off the danger of complacency, of growing rigidity or of imprisonment by our comfortable habits and opinions
  • “There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.” 

Advantage Flywheels

Max Olsen details the powerful effects of building, understanding, and optimizing a flywheel for your business or personal projects. Here's a general definition of the Flywheel Effect..."Positive feedback loops that build momentum, increasing the payoff of incremental effort."
  • He covers common examples you are familiar with; maybe without even knowing, such as:

    • Direct network effect, Economies of scale, 2-sided network effect, Switching costs, Brand Habit, Proprietary Tech

  • Max includes fun real-world examples of flywheels created by Wal-Mart, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. 

  • What would your Flywheel look like at work or on a personal project?

  • Here’s a link to one of the most famous and strongest flywheels ever built, drawn by Walt Disney himself.
  • Below is one I drew for this Letter!

Polina Marinova: The Profile

She curates the most interesting stories each week. I highly recommend reading her weekly letter, The Profile. In particular, I especially loved her 28th Birthday issue which shared a few personally valuable ideas. My favorites are here:

  • Avoid the slush puddle at all costs - This is just as relevant living in Chicago as it is in Columbia, Missouri. Hats off to the guy at the end.

  • Life is about good stories. 

  • Happiness is found in the mundane - “we need to look at marriage up close and see that it’s built not out of anything poetic, but out of 20,000 mundane Wednesdays.”

  • Done is better than perfect.

What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial? 

This paper is written by Saras Sarasvathy at the University of Washington. She describes how entrepreneurs fundamentally attempt to solve problems with a different mindset. For example, in the test they used, entrepreneurs starting with exactly the same product ended up creating companies in 18 different industries!

  • Effectual Reasoning - effectual is the opposite of casual and inherently creative.

    • Requires imagination, spontaneity, risk-taking, and salesmanship.

    • Seasoned entrepreneurs know that surprises are not deviations but rather the norm.

    • They emphasize affordable loss over expected return.

    • The companies are built upon strategic partnerships along the way. 

    • They look to find the nearest possible market, tests, adapts, repeats and runs. 

  • Entrepreneurs begin with a set of means instead of a specific goal.

    • Who they are, What they know, Whom they know

  • Plans are made and unmade and revised and recast through action and interaction with others on a daily basis. 

  • They believe in a yet-to-be-made future that can substantially be shaped by human (their) action.

An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management 

This book is written by Will Larson. Through his experiences at Digg, Uber, and Stripe he has learned some do's and don'ts in the management realm. The book was targeted at software companies but there were plenty of great ideas that can be applied to any growing organization. 

  • It takes time and effort for a team to gel and find a groove with each other. Keep this in mind before adding a new person to the team. 

  • Consolidate your efforts as a leader. Spend the most time on teams that need the most help.

  • You only get value from projects you finish. To make progress you must ensure that some of your projects finish. 

  • Leadership is matching appropriate action to your current context

  • 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.

See what else I've been reading.

Book Notes:

The Last Pirate of New York - Rich Cohen 

Cohen is of the most exciting story-tellers alive. In this one, he dives into tall tales and folklore of the criminal underworld to find the first true gangster in New York. I have an affinity for mafia stories and this is as wild as any others out there. 
Sam Walton: Made in America - Sam Walton 

I found Sam's telling of the Wal-Mart story fascinating. Below are a few things that particularly stood out to me. These pillars were established from the beginning and continue through today in Wal-Mart's philosophy. 
  • Willingness to change, experiment, and adapt
  • Absolute focus on the customer
    • This encourages the true value of a dollar throughout the organization and allows for lower costs at each level in the process. 
  • Family owned and operated.

What has piqued your curiosity lately? Do you have any favorite essays that you re-read? 

Thanks for reading,
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Clayton Dorge · 604 Florence Ave. Apt 101 · Columbia, MO 65203 · USA

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