This is VERY American: I mean it’s full of acronyms and references to US political process and bodies and celebrities, and it assumes that you’re famiThis is VERY American: I mean it’s full of acronyms and references to US political process and bodies and celebrities, and it assumes that you’re familiar with all of that. So for me as a white English woman it was somewhat disorientating and I really had to stay awake to keep up – there’s a huge number of people talking about black issues in the context of a very US-centric political and societal system.
But it was worth it – the conversation – and it IS a conversation, it’s like sitting a room with this big crowd of movers and shakers that Ed Gordon has pulled together – is so thoughtful and wide-ranging. Race isn’t an American issue per se, of course, but I feel I understand the uniquely American dimensions of it so much better now, and the subtext of what’s going on in the Trump administration and the response to that, and the complexity of the Obama legacy and the state of black leadership today.
It was written before Kamala Harris was selected as Joe Biden’s running mate for the 2020 election of course, and I found myself wanting to ask how people felt about that, which I think is a sign that I was immersed in the conversation! ...more
I don't quite know what to tell you. As well as the killer title, this book has such a great premise - there's a dirty great hole in the middle of ourI don't quite know what to tell you. As well as the killer title, this book has such a great premise - there's a dirty great hole in the middle of our economic view of the world and until we start seeing and valuing the unpaid work that women do and the invisible economic sacrifices that they make every day so that the work we DO value in our economic models can take place, those economic models are incomplete. And it has flashes of brilliance too, particularly in the early sections (the prologue begins promisingly: 'Feminism has always been about economics. Virginia Woolf wanted a room of her own, and that costs money.').
But as a whole it is disjointed, staccato and rambling, and fails to build a real argument or call to action, and I finished it with a sense of disappointment and an opportunity lost. The swipes at 'economic man' are too often bitterly sarcastic and the although Marçal makes some great points she doesn't bring them together coherently or offer much by way of practical ideas for improvement. Not sorry I read it, but it could - should - have been SO much better. ...more
Thoroughly enjoyed this - it's rare to read a book that holds the attention from start to finish, but this is uniformly fascinating. Syed's trademark Thoroughly enjoyed this - it's rare to read a book that holds the attention from start to finish, but this is uniformly fascinating. Syed's trademark style is an interweaving of science, social science and story, and he uses that formula to great effect here. I thought I had a fairly clear idea of what the book would be about, and the first few sections didn't disappoint: in the chapter Rebels vs Clones Syed gives a devastating simple graphic illustrating how a group of similar thinkers, no matter how brilliant they may all be individually, are collectively dumb when it comes to solving complex problems compared to a team of averagely intelligent diverse thinkers. That theme of collective vs individual intelligence runs through the book, and reaches perhaps its most interesting and original articulation in the final section on the evolutionary advantage of social learning: Neanderthals had slightly bigger brains than our ancestors, but lost the evolutionary race because they were less well adapted to learn from each other. The more opportunity we have to learn, the more diverse the skills we can adopt from others, the smarter we collectively get. Another key theme is the discomfort of this, which Syed confronts squarely: of course it's more agreeable to spend our time with those with whom we agree. But it's also less helpful when there's important work to be done and complex issues to resolve. I was fascinated too by his illustration of the downright dangerous myth of standardisation: the cockpit was designed US Air Force planes' cockpits were designed for a carefully calibrated average, yet not a single member of its 4,000+ airmen was within a generous margin of error from that average on every dimension. Once they shifted to allow adjustments for each individual, their safety record improved dramatically. Syed draws out the implications for our work culture and our diets, amongst other applications, showing in passing why there are so many competing nutritional theories - it's not just the food, it's the make-up of the person eating it! Impossible to read this without learning something that will shift the way you see the world, for the better....more
It's a good title, but it's a misleading one. This is no 'how to' book. It's a thoughtful, rigorously intelligent (sometimes intellectualised) and widIt's a good title, but it's a misleading one. This is no 'how to' book. It's a thoughtful, rigorously intelligent (sometimes intellectualised) and wide-ranging long-form essay on what it means to be human in the 21st century. It's at once deeply personal and universally applicable. And it’s literally changed how I look at the world.
Odell is passionate about the natural world and about the necessity of anchoring our experience of being in that world, in its interdependent complexity, with specificity and detail. Most of us walk through the world with a general awareness of ‘trees’, ‘plants’, ‘birds’ and so on, and barely notice them as we focus on our human busy-ness. Odell names them, locates them in their native habitats, describes their habits and details, and the next time I go for a walk it’s like seeing the world in high-definition. I feel like I’ve been cheating myself of noticing these details, and the world around me of my attention.
There’s a dizzying range of ground covered here – from art theory to the history of communes to Greek philosophers to the mechanics of the algorithms that increasingly govern our attention – and occasionally the leaps can be disorientating. But I was never bored, and never tempted to skip ahead: the writing is beautiful and demanding, and the ideas worth the work required to grapple with them.
One of the most striking ideas for me was the reconceptualising of ‘productive work’ to encompass so much of what I spend my life engaged in, as a mother, but have always seen as ‘less than’ the work I do in my business. She talks about artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s manifesto defining the ‘death instinct’ (‘separation, individuality… dynamic change’) and the ‘life instinct’ (‘the perpetuation and maintenance of the species… equilibrium’).
‘The life force is concerned with cyclicality, care, and regeneration; the death force sounds to me a lot like “disrupt”. Obviously, some amount of both is necessary, but one is routinely valorized, not to mention masculinized, while the other goes unrecognized because it has no part in “progress”.’
This is a fascinating, well-informed romp through great innovations that almost didn’t happen, the reasons why they were resisted, and why they ultimaThis is a fascinating, well-informed romp through great innovations that almost didn’t happen, the reasons why they were resisted, and why they ultimately succeeded. Like every book that extrapolates general lessons from specific historical instances it begs some important questions – most obviously, how do you know when a loonshot is worth fighting through all that resistance for and when it’s just, well, loony?
For a humanities graduate like me it’s fascinating reading a book written by a physicist, and which contains so many scientific stories and metaphors. Bahcall uses the ‘phase separation’ metaphor extensively: at a particular temperature, liquid water turns into solid ice, and right at that freezing point it exists in two phases simultaneously, molecules of ice melting into the liquid, while molecules of liquid freeze solid as they attach to ice. And that’s the trick, says Bahcall: keeping the operational focus (the franchise) of an organisation ticking along to bring in the money and get things done, while finding space for innovation. It doesn’t happen by accident, but it can happen suddenly as a function of structure, and explains why so many companies that begin by embracing innovation, even being defined by it, can solidify into inertia as they grow.
One key point that Bahcall makes is that there are two different types of loonshots: P-type (based on products) and S-type (based on systems). We all get excited about P-type loonshots: sexy new technology, faster engines, brand new inventions that come in with a bang and quickly kill the old competition quickly. But often the loonshots that change the world are the more complex, slow-growing S-types, the low-price, out-of-town approach of Walmart, or the way that by outsourcing software and microprocessors to focus on hardware, IBM handed the future of computing to Microsoft and Intel.
There are so many more memorably named concepts in this book, in addition to those above: the Bush-Vail Rules, false fails, the Moses Trap… But I think my favourite is SAF. Judah Folkman faced ridicule for his theory on creating a drug to treat cancer, and almost gave up his research, but his wife Paula encouraged him to double-down. A few years later, his ideas finally saw the commercial light of day in the hugely successful drug Avastin. And Folkman said he owed it all to Spouse Activation Factor.
It’s not a book to read quickly – these are complex ideas and the writing, although highly readable, is dense and demands attention. But it’s endlessly fascinating and sets out ideas that will become standard tools in our thinking on innovation from here on. What more can you ask of a business book?...more