A Few Things: How To Have Transformative Ideas, The Score Takes Care Of Itself, The First Tycoon, Rules For Happiness, The Secrets of Art, The King Discovers The Halfways!!!
February 10, 2023
“One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.”
- Bruce Lee
“The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. The way real science goes is that you come up with lots of ideas, and most of them will be wrong.”
- Francis Crick
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
- Benjamin Franklin
A. A Few Things Worth Checking Out:
1. How do you come up with transformative ideas? This is a question we should all ask, but rarely do. Most days are like the days and week before. But change is not only possible, it is critical.
My favourite 5 questions were:
If you were forced to increase your prices by 10x, what would you have to do to justify it?
If all our customers vanished, and we had to earn our growth and brand from scratch, what would we do?
What if you made your most introverted teammates’ dreams come true: No more synchronous meetings, ever again?
What if you could change anything, regardless of what anyone thinks or feels?
What externality has the potential to kill the entire company?
Are you going to ask the big questions or go back to living a life of quiet desperation, as Robin Williams said here quoting Thoreau:
2. Two great listens on The Founders podcast.
A. Bill Walsh: The Score Takes Care Of Itself. Was a great, quick, fun listen. I am not into football, but then this book isn’t about football either. Its’ about building and leading winning teams.
Walsh served as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and the Stanford Cardinal, during which time he popularized the West Coast offense.
Walsh and team won six division titles, three NFC Championship titles, and three Super Bowls. He was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1981 and 1984. In 1993, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A few things I picked up around leadership and winning:
The book is really about having a winning mindset and process. Whether you win or lose, if you do the right things the score will take care of itself. Winners act like winners before they are winners.
It is critical to behave like a top notch team. Everything from how we answer the phone, to how we practice in pre-season, to how we dress. Make a commitment to be the best version of yourself - even when your current external results may not warrant that belief.
Don’t focus on your competitors - spend that time making yourself better so it is harder for them to compete against you. Don’t hesitate, don’t wait or delay. Get up and do what needs to be done.
B. The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The original tycoon and one of the most influential figures of his time. He lived from 1794 to 1877 and his genius shaped early America. At his death, his fortune was worth almost $200 bn in today’s dollars.
Vanderbilt made his fortune in multiple industries, starting with river steamboats around New York, then Ocean going steamboats, and then near the end controlling his railroad empire. If you ever been to New York, Grand Central station was built by his business.
A few things I picked up around building a business:
Vanderbilt kept adjusting his businesses by asking “where is there a market opportunity today?, where is their unmet demand?” His eyes were always open for opportunities.
He combined this flexible, pragmatic approach with unbridled courage and determination. A desire to succeed. He was always fighting against someone.
He was one of the first to figure out how to use business cycles: numerous times Vanderbilt bought stuff from people who were over-levered and needed liquidity. He was able to use the cycles be being the low cost provider, and he would often cut prices to kill the competition to take over their business. He was also one of the first to focus on vertically integrating.
3. I’m a sucker for a good happiness podcast and this one with Neil Pasricha on the Farnam Street podcast: Simple Rules for Happiness did not disappoint.
Pasricha is the author of seven books that collectively have sold over 2 million copies and spent over 200 weeks on bestseller lists. His first TED talk, “The 3 A’s of Awesome,” is ranked as one of the 10 Most Inspiring of all time.
Some ideas I will remember:
Your mindset matters. An optimistic mindset isn’t going to make good things happen, but a negative mindset is going to almost guarantee that negative things happen.
On resilience, remind yourself that you’ve done difficult things in the past. Now go take another swing at something that has been hard for you.
Stop changing who you compare yourself with. The more we succeed, the more keep comparing ourselves to others. Even Oprah is unhappy when she competes with Justin Bieber.
You won the lottery of life when you were born. Imagine never being born, and imagine all of the people that aren’t alive today and don’t get to see this present.
We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems. What systems are letting you down, what new ones should you setup?
Here is his original TED Talk, which has had 3.5mm views on TED.com. I still remember listening to it a decade ago.
5. The new season of Fauda is a great watch. If you are new to the series, it’s in the same vain as 24 or Homeland.
B. The Secrets of Art
I enjoy going to museums and looking at paintings, and want to get better at understanding them. Art is more than just a pretty picture.
These are two great books that taught me the importance of context, history and understanding an artist to understand their work.
Debra Mancoff: The Secrets of Art. The book covers about 40 paintings, sculptures and photographs and breakdowns their stories.
For example, the painting on the cover is da Vinci’s The Lady with an Ermine. Who are the people in this painting, what is the significance of the Ermine, and what else was da Vinci trying to say?
Here is Debra Mancoff’s take:
A letter discovered in 1900 confirmed the sitter’s identity as Cecilia Gallerani. She was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, regent to the reigning duke of Milan.
Ludovico had two nicknames: Il Moro for his dark complexion, and l’Ermelino or the white Ermine. Within a year of his investiture, Ludovico engaged da Vinci to paint Cecilia. This was his 1st commissioned portrait since joining the ducal household as resident painter in 1482.
But it turns out that using a multispectral camera they discovered that the painting did not start off like this. In the first stage of the painting Cecilia was alone, and in the second stage, the ermine was much smaller, milder and greyer. Why?
Another letter showed that Ludovico did not look forward to marrying the daughter of the duke for political reasons, since his mistress (Cecilia) was pregnant.
Mancoff thinks that the powerful presence of the ermine in the final stage may refer to another thing about ermines: they protected pregnant women.
Christopher Jones: How To Read Paintings. Is a much simpler and smaller book. He spends a few pages per painting walking you through famous paintings through history. It starts with The Kiss by Klimt and discusses The Alba Madonna by Raphael and Mont Sainte-Victoire by Cezanne, amongst others.
For example, the painting on the cover is Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. While a beautiful painting, what is it about, who is in the painting, why did Klimt paint it this way, and why are we captivated by it?
Here is Christopher Jones’ take:
The subject of the painting is Virgil’s poem: Orpheus and Eurydice, then mythical husband and wide who were separated on the cusp of the Underworld.
The figures are dressed in gold. It was Klimt’s favourite technique to apply gold leaf directly to his paintings, which he blended with his oil paint brushstrokes. A reason for this is that Klimt’s father was a Viennese jeweller who specialised in metalwork and gold engraving.
Klimt also took a trip in 1903 to Ravenna and spent a lot of time there with gold Byzantine mosaics. Mosaics have a peculiar quality of flatness that can transform into vibrancy when they catch the light. Many of Klimt’s paintings use geometric shapes in rich patterns that shimmer as the viewer’s eye moves across them.
But the decorative surface of this painting is not just ornamental. The play of circles and rectangles not only delineates the male and female figures, it also expresses a tension between them. The hands, limbs, faces thread effortlessly among the abstract shapes, and so the viewers eyes are drawn and released.
C. Charts That Had Me Thinking:
This week, my amazing wife Nilopar Uddin had the opportunity to meet with and present her novel "The Halfways" to the King and Queen Consort yesterday as part of their historic visit to Brick Lane.
Here's what Amazon says:
‘This novel is an absolute beauty, and already one of my favourites for 2022. Nilopar Uddin’s writing is entrancing, her characterisation, brilliant. In The Halfways, she has quite genuinely taken my breath away’ - Jenny Ashcroft, bestselling author of Beneath a Burning Sky.