Takeaways from the books I read in July 2023.
Do Hard Things by Steve Magness
Steve’s latest book, Do Hard Things, dismantles the stereotypical definition of toughness and provides a new version that is healthier, sustainable, and productive.
Steve rebuilds toughness based on four pillars:
- Embrace reality
- Listen to your body—to the insights coming from your feelings and emotions
- Respond, don’t react
- Transcend discomfort
The toughness Steve advocates for “replaces control with autonomy, appearance with substance, rigidly pushing forward with flexibility to adapt, motivation from fear with an inner drive, and insecurity with a quiet confidence.” It is a mental practice that builds resilience and develops long-term thinking, crucial tools for those who appreciate that actual gains come from compound interest and want to play infinite games.
We mistake external displays for indicators of their inner workings, not realizing that the need to proclaim that one is confident is undoubtedly a sign that they are anything but.
Out of Control by Kevin Kelly
I finished the book in July, but I’d been working my way through it since May—it’s a thick volume.
Written in the early nineties, Out of Control explores complex adaptive systems, distributed systems, systems thinking, evolution and co-evolution, and technology. Kelly takes the reader on a journey from the encased world of Biosphere 2 to the digital world of SimCity, from the computer-generate dinosaurs of Jurassic Park to Mark Pauline’s mechanical beasts.
The book is 29 years old, and it was bittersweet to read. Some of the predictions Kelly made came true, others not so much. In wondering why that was the case, Peter Thiel’s line came to mind, “They promised us flying cars. What we got are 140 characters.“
The book shows its age from time to time, like when it describes 50MB as an “immense store of data,” but it provides valuable insights into fields still in their infancy. The chapters focused on evolution and co-evolution are valuable in the context of our modern AI systems. The parts dedicated to distributed systems will give plenty of food for thoughts to async-first workers and leaders.
Networked data makes any job faster, better, easier. But data is cheap, and in the large volumes on networks, a nuisance. The advantage no longer lies in “how you do a job” but in “which job do you do?”
If you find complexity theory fascinating, I also recommend Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell. In Out of Control, Kelly laments the challenge of defining a measure for complexity. Published fifteen years later, Complexity dives deeper into the problem and explains why it is yet to be solved.
From Greater Good:
The easiest battles to win are those that are never fought.
Some people say that Star Wars can be good without the Jedi. Zahn’s work and that of the writers of Luthen’s monologue in Andor S1E10 are proof that, indeed, it’s not the Jedi that make a Star Wars good, but creators who care deeply about the characters and the universe they inhabit, and who are committed to their craft.
My daughter fell in love with The Magical Ballet Slippers, written by Nick Ellsworth and illustrated by Veronica Vasylenko.
In the story, four dancers go on a mission to recover the prima ballerina’s magical silver slippers, which a crow stole. But when they find them, they can’t resist trying them on, only to discover their magic is too much to handle. Only the point-of-view character, Lily, respects the slippers. She brings them back to the prima ballerina untouched, earning a spot with her on the stage, while her friends, dirty and frazzled by their misadventures, are left watching with the public.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I found The Magical Ballet Slippers a nice parable for respecting other people’s things and the value of hard work. I’d like to think the prima ballerina could control her magical slippers because of the time she spent mastering them.
As always, let me know if you pick up one of these books.