Thinks 164

Simon Winchester in an essay on technology: “Japan introduced the bullet train, the Shinkansen, in 1964…No accident attended its first journeys, nor in any of the journeys in the years and decades since. These days the Tokaido line, running between Tokyo and Osaka, sends ultra-high-speed trains in each direction every six minutes on average, 130,000 of them each year. Four hundred and twenty-five thousand passengers are carried every day along the three-hundred-mile route, at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. The average delay is just twenty-four seconds. Not a single person has ever been killed on the line.”

You are a network: by Kathleen Wallace. “You cannot be reduced to a body, a mind or a particular social role. An emerging theory of selfhood gets this complexity…The network self view envisions an enriched self and multiple possibilities for self-determination, rather than prescribing a particular way that selves ought to be. That doesn’t mean that a self doesn’t have responsibilities to and for others. Some responsibilities might be inherited, though many are chosen. That’s part of the fabric of living with others. Selves are not only ‘networked’, that is, in social networks, but are themselves networks. By embracing the complexity and fluidity of selves, we come to a better understanding of who we are and how to live well with ourselves and with one another.”

The Five Biggest Mistakes Companies Make With Customer Surveys: by Utpal Dholakia in WSJ. “Among them: They ask too many questions, or too few.”

Thinks 163

Parry Ravindranathan on podcasting, writing in BloombergQuint [Audio Media In The 21st Century]: Rebirth Of The Spoken Word: “You can listen while doing other things like cooking, reading, nodding your head during annoying zoom meetings and—parents will agree here—during times when you need a release from dealing with your kids. You don’t have to be fully engaged like with video. In India, the third-largest podcast market in the world after the U.S. and China, the growth has been enormous in all languages. India has its own platforms in JioSaavn and Gaana in addition to the global players and they have all gained large audiences.”

Bo Ilsoe: A multi-part series on the “incomplete guide to leadership”. From Part 1: “A hierarchical responsibility — a title — is by nomination. Leadership is not. Leadership is the innate individual expression and empowerment of others who take you toward your goals. This empowerment motivates and enables others to contribute. Done well, leadership results in contributions delivered unselfishly by stakeholders and employees alike. They will apply themselves and marshal resources, with the company’s mission as their North Star. Leadership is an emergent skill for every individual. Throughout our lives, we can learn as leaders. Leadership is cultural. It is contextual. There are common characteristics of great leadership, but they are expressed and delivered by individuals. Leadership is a journey of self-discovery.”

How India shackles its small businesses: by Gireesh Chandra Prasad in Mint.

Thinks 162

Nancy Sherman: “The early Stoics taught that we are world citizens connected to all of humanity through our reason. Marcus Aurelius paints a graphic image in his “Meditations.” He jots his notes in the quiet of nightfall after a day of battle during the Germanic campaigns. The detritus of the battlefield is on his mind: Picture a hand and head lying apart from the rest of the body. This is what a person makes of himself when he cuts himself off from the world. We can’t be “at home in the world,” a Stoic catchphrase, if the good is reduced to self-interest, or grit is defined as go-it-alone self-reliance.” [NYTimes]

A 2016 essay by TCA Srinivasa Raghavan on the Indian Constitution: “The simple truth is that although it is a fine document from an aspirations point of view, it is simply not a practical one for a politically independent India. It suffers from two flaws. One is that its design and purpose is a colonial one: that is, of a very strong central government that the British had prescribed via the Government of India Act, 1935. That Act was not designed for change or even managing change; it was prescribed for maintaining the status quo. The other problem is that it gets into too much detail of the administrative kind.”

Donald Boudreaux: “Government borrowing changes the identities of the particular taxpayers who incur the costs of government projects; government borrowing does not, however, enable taxpayers – considered as a group over time – to escape these costs. Government projects undertaken today and paid for with current tax revenues are paid for by taxpayers today. Government projects undertaken today and paid for with borrowed funds are paid for by those taxpayers who will be responsible for servicing and repaying the debt – namely, taxpayers tomorrow. While in principle some worthwhile projects – such as a hydroelectric dam that will operate for 75 years – are better funded with debt than with currently raised tax revenues, even these projects are costly. Buchanan warned that debt-financing’s shifting of the burden of paying for government projects and programs from current taxpayers to future taxpayers will incite current taxpayers to consume too much through government.

Thinks 161

How mRNA became a vaccine game-changer: from FT. “Rossi was inspired by Shinya Yamanaka, a Japanese scientist who had proved it was possible to turn any cell in the human body into an embryonic stem cell-like state by inserting four genes. Yamanaka’s discovery eventually won him the Nobel prize. But there was a problem: the genes he inserted ended up back in the DNA, a mutagenic event that increased a person’s chance of developing cancer…Rossi’s idea was to replicate the Japanese scientist’s achievement using mRNA instead, to reprogramme human skin cells so they could act as though they were stem cells.”

Eliot Peper: “Speculative fiction is all about asking “what if?” What if a lone astronaut got stranded on Mars? What if genetic engineers resurrected dinosaurs and stuck them in an amusement park? What if we are all living in a simulation? The question that sparked my latest novel, Veil, is “what if a billionaire hijacked the climate with geoengineering?” These questions are hooks. They capture the imagination and pique curiosity. That’s all well and good, but it’s only a starting point.To pay off a speculative setup, you need to keep the dominos falling as second-, third-, and fourth-order effects ripple out through the story. Momentum builds. Progressive complications tighten the ratchet. Unexpected reversals fling the reader forward.” [Techcrunch]

Atanu Dey on systems versus goals: “goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game… In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.”

Thinks 160

How technological innovation spreads

Daniel Kahneman: “Noise in general is unwanted variability. That is, when there is a judgment or a measurement or a decision, and there is variability, and the variability can be across occasions. When the same person judges the same object many times and reaches different conclusions, that’s one kind of noise. And the other kind of noise is what we call system noise.”

Shane Parish: “What seems like a difference in talent often comes down to a difference in focus. Focus turns good performers into great performers. Two keys to focus are saying no to distractions and working on the same problem for an uncommonly long time. Both are simple but not easy.”

Thinks 159

“What’s bigger than a megacity? China’s planned city clusters…Five regions with as many as 100 million people each aim to deliver the benefits of urbanization without the headaches.” [Technology Review]

David Perell: “The best way to understand an idea is to pull it apart and put it back together again, which you do by writing.”

Rita McGrath on scorecards to simplify strategy: “One simple antidote to this is to translate the grand strategy statement into scorecards that spell out what good looks like for your strategy, and conversely what it doesn’t look. A scorecard lets people see the logic behind your strategic choices throughout the organization and act in accordance. The screening statements implicit in the scorecard make it crystal clear which opportunities are desirable and which aren’t and allow ideas to be mapped against the same set of criteria. The magic is not the scores – the magic is the thought process behind them.”

Thinks 158

Founding vs Inheriting by Balaji Srinivasan: “When an heir inherits an institution, it’s like inheriting a factory. During normal times the factory continues to operate, the widgets keep coming out, and the career managers appointed by the original founder appear to have everything in hand. Nothing seems amiss. But something important has been silently lost, which is the founder’s ability to invent the institution from scratch – or reinvent it in the face of a crisis, like COVID-19. We can also think of this as read-only culture, the ability to repeat what an ancestor has handed down – but not recreate it from first principles.” [via Arnold Kling]

The power of personal: “Make both customers and workers feel that there is a person on the other side of the transaction. You’ll increase satisfaction, sales, and product quality.” [Thomas McKinlay]

How to forget something: “Memory relies on what cognitive scientists call retrieval cues…Rather than total retrieval-cue avoidance, try a technique called thought substitution. If you had a bitter argument with your sister and think of it every time you see her, work to focus on other, more positive associations. Practice until your brain sees her face and surfaces those better memories first and not the fight. You can also work on what cognitive scientists call direct suppression. ” [from NYTimes]


Thinks 157

Shopify’s president Harley Finkelstein: “The big shift that is happening that will exist long after the pandemic and, frankly, will be the future of retail, will be that consumers will simply say, “I want to buy however is most convenient for me.” And if you’re a really forward-thinking merchant like Allbirds, for example, and you know that it’s all about consumer choice, then you’re going to have a great physical store in San Francisco and New York City and a whole bunch of other places, you’re going to have a great online store, you’re going to cross-sell on things like Instagram and Facebook, you may also activate the TikTok ad channel because that’s when you can reach new potential customers. But what Shopify’s role in all that is, is that we want to integrate all of it into a centralized retail operating system.”

Zeynep Tufekci: “The problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium. Online, we’re connected with our communities, and we seek approval from our like-minded peers. We bond with our team by yelling at the fans of the other one. Belonging is stronger than facts.” [via NYT]

Watched: The Iron Lady (on Margaret Thatcher, played brilliantly by Meryl Streep)

Thinks 156

Elon Musk’s 7 Rules To Increase Productivity (via Gabriel Gruber). Among them:  “Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get [rid] of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience in which case keep them very short.” And: “Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

Katy Milkman on How to Change (Econlib): “The willpower problem is a really big one. I think too often we know from evidence people think Nike is right and I can just do it. And that’s just garbage. We aren’t good at pushing through…But, we ourselves have some ability to set systems up that also support success, individually. And, we can take a hint from what works when someone else is trying to help and use those same tools.”

Reason on the era of big government in the US: “Even if nothing truly terrible happens—no interest rate hikes, no runaway inflation, no major catastrophes or recessions demanding that we tap into a nonexistent rainy-day fund—the current projections show that, within a few decades, half of all tax revenue will be used just to pay the interest on the debt. By the time a child born today is old enough to be nostalgic for the 2020s, half of his annual tax burden will go toward paying off the debt—a debt that includes myriad benefits his parents received without paying for. Maybe his generation will come to care about fiscal responsibility. Maybe things will change even sooner than that: Perhaps Biden, once the fog of the pandemic has lifted and the cost of its response becomes clear, will rediscover the importance of balancing budgets. Until then, it’s clear that the era of small government is over.”

Thinks 155

The Economist on the creator economy: “Social-media platforms used to get most of their content for free. That dynamic is changing…Though there is more content than ever, platforms are competing harder than ever to get it. “There’s an arms race to acquire creators,” says Li Jin, founder of Atelier Ventures, a venture-capital firm. Startups are developing new ways for creators to monetise their work. Substack gives writers 90% of the subscription fees they charge for newsletters; together its top ten authors earn more than $15m a year. Twitch gives its game streamers more than half of its subscription fees, plus a cut of ad revenue and the money paid to “cheer” their performance. Cameo, a platform on which 40,000 celebrities sell personalised videos to fans, passes 75% of the spoils to contributors.” More from

Art Carden in WSJ: “…People vote for capitalism and against socialism in droves by trying to move to freer and more prosperous countries. Socialists might have laudable goals like feeding, clothing, and sheltering everyone–and I agree with these–but I would no more suggest socialism to treat poverty and inequality than I would prescribe leeches, mercury, and bloodletting to treat cancer.”

George Will on turning 80: “To be 80 years old in this republic is to have lived through almost exactly one-third of its life. And to have seen so many ephemeral excitements come and go that one knows how few events are memorable beyond their day. (Try to remember the things that had you in a lather during, say, the George H.W. Bush administration.) This makes an American 80-year-old’s finishing sprint especially fun, because it can be focused on this fact: To live a long life braided with the life of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to an imperishable proposition is simply delightful.”