Thursday, 31 August 2017

Thought: Overcoming self-doubt before presenting

Mel Robbins gives a great tip on overcoming self-doubt before presenting in a meeting anything!

Mentally say to yourself. 5....4....3...2...1. Go!

To see more, check out her CreativeLive course on How to Break the Habit of Self-Doubt and Build Real Confidence.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Review: Uncle Nino

Harmless fish-out-of-water comedy about an Italian uncle who goes to stay with his American family lacks bite. Mild and predictable, it occasionally stretches credulity and leans towards sentimentality without much explanation. For example, the eponymous character somehow manages to become semi-fluent in English within a few days.

Verdict: A fishy tale.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Review: A Man Called Ove

Ove is the archetypical grumpy old man. He doesn't have a good word to say about anyone or anything (with the exception of car manufacturer Saab, at least before it was taken over by an American company).  The novel starts with his hilarious attempt to buy a computer from an Apple store and his utter bafflement at iPads. This chapter alone should be required reading for any UX professional.

The prose is deceptive. It is often extremely simple, but sometimes profound insight wise. It is deeply sad in places - grief and loss are themes that ripple through the book.

Ultimately though, it is the story of how men like Ove come to exist - and that's a journey worth taking. Most of us have an Ove-like character in our lives, or if you are a man - you possibly exhibit some of the same traits yourself.

I watched the movie shortly after completing the book. It's a fairly good adaptation, but lacks the meaning and redemptive power of the book. Pars is particularly good, and near exactly how I imagined her character. The rest of the cast not so much although Ingvoll also comes close.

Verdict: The Existential Man

Review: Valkyrie

Valkyrie is an account of the final utterly audacious attempt to assassinate Hitler.  Cruise as well as host of British luminaries, such as Terence Stamp, manage to carry off a complex, but gripping tale of disillusionment, political manoeuvring and ultimately thrilling execution.  For Cruise, it is a surprisingly muted performance which might have benefited from surfacing more of his natural charisma while others feel a bit miscast as they simply look too British, even British army at times.

Of course, we know how it sadly turns out at the outset, but like Apollo 13, it's a compelling journey to get there.

Verdict: Last assassination hero.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Review: You're Coming With Me, Lad

Pannett's "tales of a yorkshire bobby" are soothingly funny, often quirky and in one case, desperately tragic.

This book details his return to Yorkshire after spending a few years working for the Met. It's a slower pace of life and offers the possibility of romance together with a shift in focus e.g. towards wildlife crime.

The writing isn't quite as tight as the oft-compared to Herriot vet books - but overall, the prose is easy and engaging.  Like Herriot, he adds just enough operational detail (I loved the wishing for the help of PC Rain to help keep the criminals off the street) and deftly combines it with an obvious love of North Yorkshire and the characters that populate it.

It'll be interesting to see how they age and whether they become classic period pieces like Herriot's.

Verdict: The Gentle Touch.

Thought: Hating work after 35

This week, Bloomberg covered the results of a survey from a HR firm. It turns out:

  • 1/6 of 35+ hate their job
  • 1/3 of 55+ don't feel appreciated

Basically, as we get older work seems to lose its shine. For comparison, only 8% of millennials report hating their work.   There are probably lots of reasons for this e.g. being passed over for political reasons, not achieving dreams, routine, work-life balance etc.

I'm not sure this is a new phenomenon.

As a youngster, I experienced something of the same at school. For me, and many others, school lost its shine around the age of seven. After that it became kiddie prison. I still did reasonably well academically, but I'd realised school was a racket. And if it wasn't quite pointless, it was no longer fun and exciting.

Much of my learning from then on, took place outside of school. For example, I would near devour odd old musty-smelling volumes of encyclopaedias obtained for almost nothing from charity shops and jumble sales.  If I wanted to, I could disappear down rabbit holes of learning for as long as I liked. I had, for example, a six-month obsession with learning everything there was to know about rats!

Then, when I was around fourteen, I discovered something interesting:

School could be hacked.  

In one of my  art lessons, we were given an assignment I didn't particularly want to do. Over one weekend, I put together my own assignment and did all of the preparatory work for it. I probably thought, if I have to do this art stuff I might as well have fun with it in my own time. I showed my "home" work to my art teacher and to my surprise, she suggested I work on that instead of the set assignment.

Art lessons were never the same after that. If I didn't like the look of the assignment, I'd bring my own alternative one instead. That flicker of empowerment was enough to maintain my interest in the rest of school.

Later, I figured work would probably turn out to be like school and I'd get fed up with it.  I was lucky to be assisted in this realisation by older adults either explicitly or implicitly. Some of them had always hated work, others had grown to do so.

That encouraged me to do three things:
  • Promise myself I'd never do a job I hated.
  • Build an FU fund to enable it
  • Wherever possible, I'd hack work in the same way as I had school.

I was reminded of this recently because of a recent article by Ramit Sethi where he basically does his usual schtick of ragging on something to inspire a reaction - even if his actual belief is a bit more nuanced. It's a neat trick. In this case, it was the FIRE community for their frugalness and extreme saving.

His, I guess, largely millennial audience were "hell, yeah"ing in the comments section. And that made me wonder if some of that reflects their relative newness to work.

I'm not in the business of doling out advice, but if are any of Ramit's millennials reading...Maybe it's worth considering that you might change your mind about work as you get older and that perhaps the FIRE community has something of a point.

Personally, financial independence is the ultimate FU fund as it gives you complete empowerment over your work.  I now prioritise working on things that:
  • Make a big difference to the organisation I work at.
  • Play to my strengths.
  • Enable me to learn and grow.

As long as I can keep doing that, I can't imagine giving up work for a while.

PS. None of the above should be construed as financial or career advice. As ever, do your own research, seek out a professional etc.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Review: The Wit and Wisdom of Tyrion Lannister

Pithy extracts of wisdom of the titular character from the book/tv series. Most are amusing or dark or both.  It's a succinct read as most quotes are one-liners. I spent nearly as long on this review as I did on reading the book.

The kind of thing you slip into someone's Christmas stocking or secret Santa.

Verdict: To the point.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Review: The Color of Money

Early Cruise pic and he gives a charismatic performance as a cocky pool prodigy who Newman is trying to mentor/exploit.  Newman won a deserved Oscar for his weary hustler. Mastrantonio provides able support as Cruise's character's street smart girlfriend.

Scorsese's movie starts off well as three way character study, but slightly flubs it in the second half when the focus shifts from group dynamics to driving the plot. Even so it's more subtle and less choreographed than some of his later movies, while still containing some of the same winning tropes e.g. the documentary like approach to explaining the various cons and hustles.

Blu-ray wise, I've seen better. There are no distracting artefacts, but also no scenes which pop either and given the number of close ups that's a real shame.

Verdict: Newman Cruise Control.

Thought: The Middle-class are the true job creators

Provocative and compelling

Review: The Five Hour Workday

Aarstol's book details his motivation for implementing a five-hour (8am-1pm) workday at his company, Tower Paddleboards.

It's a breezy confident read which is packed full of inspiring anecdotes, but unfortunately rather lacking in implementation detail. As a result, it's probably best read as a manifesto rather than a how-to guide.

Essentially, the core idea is that you get the best out of employees for only a few hours a day, and you can massively enhance their productivity using various tools which are helpfully listed on an accompanying website.

Taken together, motivated employees can deliver the same or greater levels of productivity as those working a full day.

It's a plausible pitch to founders.

I did find the short section on defining the company's values by aligning both staff and company interests and objectives instructive - as well as the final list:
  • Be positive
  • Be hungry and driven
  • Be authentic and compassionate
  • Be fun loving and social
  • Be open minded and think differently
  • Be selfless and family/team orientated
  • Believe my body is my temple
  • Be a transparent communicator. 
Overall, it's an approach not unlike and possibly inspired by Ferriss' Four Hour Work Week - which is the better of the two books if you had to choose one.

Verdict: Scaling Mr Ferriss

Quote: On death, failure and embarrassment

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.  You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Steve Jobs

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Review: Pawn Sacrifice

Eye-opening chess thriller cum biopic about Bobby Fischer's seminal win over Boris Spassky. Set during the cold war, the game is about more than just chess. It's also a chance for the Soviet Union and USA to assert their dominance.

Maguire is excellent at conveying Fischer's unreasonable arrogance, ambiguous mental health situation, unpleasantly unorthodox views and sheer brilliance. Schreiber plays the surprisingly likeable, and by comparison, more grounded Spassky.

Verdict: The Fischer King

Definition: Innovation

Satisfying users current or future wants/needs by turning an idea into a product or service with speedy and urgency, using minimal resources and costs.

Thought: Four tips for happiness

The Ladder has a nice summary of how you can hack your mind using neuroscience research to make yourself happier. Essentially, it boils down to four tips:

  • Get plenty of long hugs.
  • Ask yourself what you are grateful for.
  • Go for good enough when making a decision.
  • Label negative thoughts.

It turns out I'm doing fairly well with these tips.

The missus insists on plenty of hugs, and she will be pleased to learn there's solid science behind her requests.

I have recently begun a gratitude diary as part of my morning habit stack. It's quite reassuring to learn that it is the act of asking what you are grateful for which makes the most difference. This is because some of my gratitude statements are, frankly, bizarre. I am grateful for my clean carpets anyone?

As a fan of 80/20 and lean startup principles I long ago ditched perfection in decision making.

My regular meditation practice quite often encourages labelling of thoughts as "thought" and letting them drift on by.  It has yet to become an instant goto response though.

How are you doing on these happiness habits?

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Review: John Carter

Every year at least one film gets picked on to be the sacrificial turkey and ends up suffering at the box office accordingly. In 2012, it seemed that was the fate of John Carter.  I remember being confused by the advertising campaign and never actually saw a trailer. It was only later that I heard it was based on Burroughs' Princess of Mars.

I eventually picked up a copy on blu-ray out of curiosity as I have a bit of a fondness for pulpy science-fiction (I even like Jupiter Ascending).

Does John Carter deserve the beating it got at the box office and by critics? Frankly, it doesn't.  In a post-Star Wars world it doesn't feel that original, but the source material likely inspired much many 20th century science fiction films - and there are plenty of similarly derivative films that do enjoy success.

Kitsch makes a fine action hero in his part as an interplanetary Indiana Jones. He has an earnest charisma and good chemistry with the martian princess played by Collins.

Visually, it's a stunning looking movie with occasional comic touches and the action is generally well directed keeping on the right side of thrilling without ever becoming incoherently frentic.

Verdict: Mars' curse attacks. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

Review: Delicatessen

Darkly comic bizarre sci-fi from the same team as The City of Lost Children.  It's the everyday post-apocalyptic tale of a clown seeking work, and who finds it above a butcher's shop where humans are on the menu.

I have an odd history with Delicatessen which made it seem even more of a hallucinatory experience that it actually is.

It was a regular choice of the inmates of a shared house I lived in during the early 90s. Inevitably, they wouldn't actually chuck the well worn VHS tape into the player until around 1am and I would usually doze off sometime during the first half hour and wake up with a jump to the shouting, madness and confusion of the last ten minutes.

I finally watched it through during a 24 hour science-fiction film festival at Manchester's Cornerhouse cinema several years later. But given it was the last film in the programme - and presented at around 8am the following morning, I didn't remember much of that viewing either.

The good news is that it turns out to be every bit as horrifically wonderful as my dreams and half-memories had constructed it to be.

It is also gives me hope that one day I will complete a viewing of Frozen. About five attempts so far, including once with a room full of Filipinos who sang all of the songs providing a uniquely immersive experience.  Even so, I have not made it further than the principal building some ice palace before I fall asleep.

Verdict: French Cannibal Holocaust.

Review: How to Write a Review in 90 minutes

I grabbed this recently when it was on offer to see if I might find some tips for reviewing the books and films I mention on this blog. But I failed to notice it was a book primarily about reviewing theatre productions!

That said, it is still a useful little book with lots of helpful prompt questions for organising content and thinking up headlines. The guide to sub-editing and advice on writing succinct reviews quickly is also invaluable.

My favourite prompt questions were:
  • What kind of magic pill would this be?
  • How can you sum up how you feel in 3 words?
Doolan has an easy conversational writing style but there are a few repeated phrases and pieces of advice.

Verdict:  Good? Do better*.

*with this guide.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Review: The City of Lost Children

Nightmarish fantasy with some Heath Robinson like comedy moments. It's quite a difficult film to evaluate on a first viewing as the initially baffling elements slowly fall into place.

For example, there's a brain in a cabinet, conjoined twins, a dwarf woman, a borg like cult, a guy with mind control fleas and multiple clones of one person. This list of characters is by no means exhaustive - and the weirdness doesn't stop there.

Overall, by the end  I was satisfied I had worked out what was going on and enjoyed the journey in getting there thanks to some memorable characters, steampunk look and fairy tale like plot.

I can imagine revisiting this at least once.

Verdict: Weird Bad Santa.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Review: The Truman Show

Possibly a career best performance for Carrey in a film which explores the nature of reality and the power of the media. Unsurprisingly, the thoughtful warmly funny script is by Niccol (cf GATTACA, In Time), while Weir brings his directorial flourish.

Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man who has unknowingly been part of a reality TV show, since his birth. Now middle-aged and complete with a Stepford-like wife who has a disturbing habit of posing with products and describing their virtues, he is beginning to wonder if everything is quite as it seems.

We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented, it's as simple as that.
Christof, Creator of The Truman Show 

Ahead of its time on first release, it's fascinating to revisit and see how much of the speculation holds up.

How does it do? Remarkably well in my view.

Reality TV, live streaming etc have in some ways overtaken the ideas in the film.  Elsewhere, the nature of our collective reality is under threat as some influential thinkers, like Elon Musk, believe we are in a highly advanced simulation. Lastly, the distortive power of media is as evident as ever through the recently surfaced phenomenon of fake news, increasing polarisation of political news and social media echo chambers.

In a way, we are all now living our own versions of the Truman Show.

Verdict: Truman's last laugh.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Quote: Want, need and risk

"Never risk what you have and need for what you don't have and don't need."
Warren Buffett

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Review: Zen and the Art of Cyclology

This is an economical read of around a dozen normal pages, but it contains many gentle truths about cycling.

It might have benefitted from giving each saying space to breathe on its own page, and perhaps a more whimsical cover.

Verdict: Trippy hippy cycling.

Thought: Cooking for others

I don't often cook for others. My missus generally grimaces and announces she  is only eating any food I've cooked because she is hungry.

But I currently have some friends staying and the call came an hour before their arrival home from a day's exploring. It contained a simple plea. Can you cook dinner?

It turned out I could. Dinner was fake-Mexican, but their looks of hunger and eager anticipation when I pulled out a hot baking tray of tortilla wraps and chips from the oven was immensely satisfying, even hygge-like.

Review: The Call of the Wild

London's evocative classic recalls the bitter harshness of life during the late 19th century gold rush in Canada. The principal character is Buck, a dog who is abducted from his home and sent north to work pulling sledges.

It is a character study which attempts to show how wilderness and despair can strip away civilisation to uncover a more primitive instinctual being. But it's also that we have an innate longing for this earlier nature. Darwin's theory of natural selection and in particular the "survival of the fittest"; a fairly recent idea at the time is another theme explored.

London does a superb and disciplined job of getting inside the mind of a dog while remaining a detached observer. It's hard to imagine many of today's authors not choosing first person to tell a similar story, but it would have overcooked it in this case.

"There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive."

Lastly, be warned. This is a brutal and visceral book at times.

Verdict: Buck stops here.


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Mini-review: Predicting the Turn

Starting with salutary tale of a Kodak - the company which invented the digital camera but failed to capitalise on it, Knox first makes the case for taking digital disruption seriously and then explains what to do about it.

First, he suggests you have to overcome any tendency to think of digital as a vertical - i.e. about marketing, when it is a horizontal force - capable of rewriting the business as a whole.

Act like a 30 year old startup
Intuit CEO on the transition from one off purchases recurring subscriptions 

The remaining part of the book covers four strategies for tackling disruption:

  • Acquire: Buy a startup challenger outright
  • Invest: Make an investment to further your financial and/or strategic goals
  • Partnership: Collaborate with relevant companies - small & large. 
  • Build: Figure out how to disrupt the disruptor by developing a competing product/service

and how to implement them including case studies, tips and possible pitfalls. For example:

  1. Don't mistake a disruptor for an outsider who doesn't know the business.
  2. Technology potentially massively expands the market. The total available market is a measure of how big the market could be in the future. For example, when horses were replaced by cars -we ended up with a lot more cars than horses. Uber's market is not just the taxi business, but also car rental and potentially car ownership.
  3. Partnerships. Be aware that startups have to move much faster than incumbents and plan accordingly. 
  4. Disrupt the disruptors through "search and reapply". Facebook may have done just this to Snapchat.
Most of PepsiCo's major strategic successes are ideas we borrowed from the marketplace - often from small regional or local competitors

Overall, this is a good short introduction into how to tackle the challenge of potentially disruptive startups. I learned a lot from it, but those of you more familiar with the world of strategic investment might find this treads familiar ground.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Quote: Definition of disruption

Disruption describes a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses. Specifically, as incumbents focus on improving their products and services for their most demanding (and usually most profitable) customers, they exceed the needs of some segments and ignore the needs of others. Entrants that prove disruptive beginning by successfully targeting those overlooked segments, gaining a foothold by delivering more-suitable functionality -  frequently at a lower price.

Incumbents, chasing higher profitability in more-demanding segments, tend not to respond vigorously. Entrants then move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents' mainstream customers require, while preserving the advantages that drove their early success. When mainstream customers start adopting the entrants' offerings in volume, disruption has occurred.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Review: The Bees

The Bees details life inside an English bee hive - and one bee in particular, Flora 717.  Flora 717 is the lowest of the various classes of bees - a sanitation worker - and life isn't easy if you're a bee.

Far from being a fluffy Disney-like story, this is a grim dystopian thriller of cult-like control, religious fundamentalism and random murder.

The alienness of the setting and life experience of the subject means it takes a little while to get into, but it is worth persevering with.

Verdict: Not for weak-hearted.

Review: The Terminator

It's been more than a decade since I last watched this classic sci-fi thriller.  Even so, it's almost impossible to imagine Arnie in the hero part and OJ as the titular character as was originally planned.

Arnie's near monosyllabic and muscular presence combined with staccato body movements creates an iconic performance. Hamilton also does necessary groundwork to make her astonishing transformation for Terminator 2 believable.

80s hair and occasionally rough looking effects shot aside this has aged surprisingly well. It looks good on blu-ray generally too.

Verdict: Another 80s time-traveller.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Thought: Real world anchoring

Anchoring is the heuristic where if we experience a piece of information (large or small) it affects how we perceive the next bit of information we are exposed to. It can be used to stunning effect in pricing.

Imagine if you see three pots of jam priced in the following way:
  • Premium Jam: £5
  • Middle Jam: £2
  • Bargain Jam: 50p
Many of us will choose Middle Jam. Why? Bargain Jam seems too cheap giving rise to the feeling that "there might be something wrong with it". Premium Jam has the reverse problem, it seems expensive compared to the others - but it has an important role in making Middle Jam feel about right. And this is regardless of whether Middle Jam is actually good value for money.

I have had a lovely example of this recently. For around six months, I've been using a 14kg kettlebell for dead lifts and swings. The main reason was a purely functional one: my bike has a similar mass and  occasionally I need to lift it over stiles and fences.

Initially, the kettle bell felt quite hard work, but I've slowly progressed to one handed rather than two handed swings and lifts and increased the number of each.  Six months in, and I have now caught the bug - and thought about a heavier kettle bell.

A 28kg one appeared on sale, and against all of the standard advice of slowly progressing I thought I'd at least try it out and maybe see I could do one or two lifts or swings with this alongside my 14kg bell. To my surprise, the new bell was noticeably heavier but I could manage the same workout (two handed rather than one handed) with it.

The old bell, however, now felt super light by comparison. It had never felt that way before. The power of anchoring in action!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Thought: Can we simply decide to upgrade our minds?

Somewhat inspired by Homo Deus and my recent appraisal, I have been wondering if we can simply decide to upgrade or change our minds.

So instead of having to traipse through the K├╝bler-Ross model of five stages of grief, or mistake based learning approaches encoded in memory or something else - can we just adopt a new piece of insight or mental model?

This is a view of the mind as an operating system. So if we don't like MindOS 1.0 - we can upgrade to version 2, pick new software (mental models) to run or switch OS completely. For example (and vastly simplifying) here are some different human OS and their interpretation of a natural disaster like an earthquake:

Medieval MindOS: If something bad happens it's probably because of a supernatural entity. I have limited agency over this, but maybe I can try paying better homage to the deity.

Late 20th C MindOS: If something bad happens, it's probably for reasons that can be understood, and in many cases, we can take preventive action to stop it happening next time or to mitigate its effects.

In some cases, we might also run fragments of operating systems which compete with each other or one version coming to the fore under particular circumstances.

Now the operating system(s) that dominates in our culture affects our collective reality. For example, we collectively decide that worthless pieces of paper have value and power (money) - and so they do.   But generally radical change to our collective MindOS takes time, resources and likely a lot of resistance.

But would happen if, we simply decided we were going to all upgrade together for a better reality e.g. perhaps a more fulfilling one?

It turns out that some leaders have attempted it and sometimes over comparatively short timescales. For example, Elizabeth I practically turned England from a Catholic country to Protestant one in the roughly the space of a decade or so.  There are plenty of other examples from other revolutionary leaders.

Mindfulness seems to be another recent attempt (at least in Western culture). This is in part the vision of ourselves watching ourselves and deciding our response rather than instantly reacting:

Mindful  MindOS: If something bad happens, I recognise it and the suggested response offered and I decide how I will respond to it.

or from the Navy Seals:

Responsibility MindOS: If something bad happens, I take personal responsibility for learning from and fixing it.

Interesting that these last two are variations of the late 20th Century MindOS.

It also makes me wonder if there are restrictions in what OS you can run due to limitations in our brains and bodies.  We might be kidding ourselves in terms of the progress we have made because we are unable to recognise those limitations generally.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Review: Anne of Green Gables

This is another of my irregular attempts to read a classic book - and this case, one I knew absolutely nothing about before picking it up.

It turns out to be the tale of another orphan called Anne who has an over active imagination.

The author in her opening description of local busybody, Rachel Lynde, is immediately mischievous, hinting at the drama and fun to come.

It's a neat trick to make Anne such a cheerfully garrulous  character as it makes the book feel like it is written in the first person rather than third. Hers is such a distinctive voice enthused with youthful optimism that it's impossible not to be carried along sometimes.
“But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.” 
“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.” 
“Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”

It's easy to see why this is a classic as while some of the situations may have dated a little, the book is radiant with humanity and warmth. It's comfort food in the form of a book.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Review: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Rovelli's is a Ronseal kind of book. It is brief - the only 80 pages or so contains nothing more than what is promised by the title.

But such matter of factness conceals some profound beauty. The mental picture I was left with of a warping and stretching space-time after the first lesson (on the General Theory of Relativity) is so utterly simple that it is magnificent.
"Ever since we discovered that the Earth is round and turns like a mad spinning-top we have understood that reality is not as it appears to us: every time we glimpse a new aspect of it, it is a deeply emotional experience. Another veil has fallen."
The other essays are similarly elegant although not always successful in their explanations. I came away still puzzled about loop quantum gravity.

And this is perhaps one of the best lessons any study of physics can impart to the ignorant layperson: acceptance. Acceptance of the weird, the strange and the completely contradictory.

Review: The Spy

Coelho's short account of the life of Mata Hari is both rewarding and frustrating.  It takes the form of a series of fictional letters exchanged between Hari and her lawyer around her trial and execution.

Rewarding because I was unfamiliar with the life of Hari beyond the basics of her being an exotic dancer who'd bedded a lot of powerful men and eventually been shot as a spy for reasons that weren't entirely clear.

Coelho does bring his trademark simple-truths-wrapped-up-in-beautiful-prose to the story, but thankfully it only surfaces sporadically.

For example, I loved the comparison of a life with tulip seeds. Seeds, like people, cannot change what they fundamentally are - and there is a sense of passing and continuity with the production of more seeds - and a few more:
"So you must learn to follow your destiny, whatever it may be, with joy." 
"When we don't know where life is taking us, we are never lost."
Frustrating because I felt like I could have done with more as the lack of depth of character exploration makes her seem vapid at times.

But the overall impression I was left of Hari is that of her as an early twentieth century equivalent of pop stars like Madonna, Rhianna,  Lady Gaga and even Miley Cyrus.  All creative powerful women which are regularly reinventing themselves and lauded, even a little fearfully, for their transgressive behaviour by the rest of society.

Thought: Work isn't going anywhere soon

As someone who's worked quite hard (and had more than a little luck along the way) to make work somewhat optional and is fascinated by the predictions around automation and artificial intelligence, I often think about a post-work world for both myself and others.

There's an interesting backlash happening in the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community right now as there appears to be some science saying retiring early isn't good for you.

That's troubling on one level, but I wonder if it's really true.

Vegetating on the sofa in front of the TV while chowing down on takeaways isn't the only option for your post-work world.  You can take your pick of pursuing hobbies, sports, learning new skills, travelling, volunteering etc.

Add in DIY and house based activities, and it seems to me that there will also be plenty to do - and gasp....much of it looks an awful lot like work.

Sure it's not always remunerated in traditional ways and it may not have the same 9-5 constraints and commute of a day job and perhaps is more enjoyable but with tools like a citizen's income, the gig economy and mobile working -  "normal" work for a lucky many could become the same as what many in the FIRE community seem to aspire to.

I wonder then if the Retire Early bit of FIRE is more about increasing the choices around what, how, where and when you work rather than opting for a bit of a rest that the word retirement suggests.  FIC if you like. Financially Independent, Choose.

Personally, I have the where bit of work dialled (I'm largely a home and mobile worker).

Occasional blip aside, the what I do has meaning, creates value for the organisation and provides growth opportunities while playing to my strengths. Similarly, I have quite a lot of autonomy in how I achieve results so the how is fairly sorted.

And so that leaves when.  I already try to match tasks to energy levels e.g. creative work in mornings, meetings and catchups in afternoons and I have some flexibility over start and end times.  Still, it would be good to look out of the window, see a sunny day and instantly decide to drop work and go out into the hills instead.

Perhaps that's something to work on for the future.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Like many biochemistry undergraduates, I came across the HeLa cell line as part of my studies alongside a brief description of where they had originated - a woman called Helen Lane who had had cancer.  They were robust and functionally immortal - and so ideal for cloning and testing therapeutics for humans.  I wondered about Helen and what had happened to her.

It turns out I wasn't alone in wondering - and the movie of the resulting bestselling book, details the life of the woman behind the cells while covering issues of racial and class prejudice, privacy, mental illness, medical ignorance and consent.

The story is told with a mixture of flashbacks to Henrietta's life combined with contemporary testimony about her and the impact she has made on her family's life. Winfrey is superb as a woman determined to give her mother a voice while struggling with her own illness and demons.  But the truth is that she has plenty of competition in the acting stakes from the rest of the cast.

Overall, it's a difficult, but profoundly moving and consequential watch.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Thought: Anarchism is the only alternative

A rare example of anarchism getting thoughtful mainstream media coverage.

There's more on Ross' viewpoint in the Guardian and on his site.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Mini-Review: Your Move: The Underdog's Guide to Building Your Business

The author, Ramit Sethi, brings his trademark tough love approach to helping you build a business through showcasing his own experiences, while bringing in a few other voices and case studies.

I liked the focus on deciding what building a business means for you e.g. ability to hire a babysitter once a week, or wanting to change the world in some specific way.  This is a good way to build intrinsic motivation.

Everything is figure-out-able.
Marie Forleo

The chapter where Ramit compared his early business self with his present self provoked an uncomfortable feeling of recognition at times.

His relentless focus on addressing the hopes, fears, wants and needs of his customers is a key takeaway for me.

Like Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,  Sethi encourages you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and enjoy the adventure of discovery. Again this has been a fairly recent crystallisation of a learning point for me, but looking back its been a familiar feature of my career to date. I'm always pushing out ahead of my employer and colleagues and often wondering if I'm about to run off a cliff ala Wylie Coyote.

One slightly annoying feature of the book? The regular references to an accompanying website for more in-depth information. I'd have preferred more direct links to the relevant page.

It's a minor grumble, and one I suspect Sethi would dismiss with a wave of "if you're not willing to browse a little, then this isn't for you..."

Lastly, while there's value here, it's clearly a lead generation/upselling tool for the Sethi empire. If that's not something you're happy with, see the previous paragraph.

In summary: if you've never started a business, but always wanted to, Your Move might just be the boot up the backside you need.

Quote: Definition of pivot

A pivot is not just changing the product. A pivot can change any of nine different things in your business model.  A pivot may mean you changed your customer segment, your channel, revenue model/pricing, resources, activities, costs, partners, customer acquisition - lots of other things than just the product. A pivot is defined as a substantive change to one or more of the 9 business model canvas components.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Mini-review: First Kill

Uninspired thriller populated with generic characters and plot turns so banal it would be unfair to call them twists.

Unsurprisingly, the cast can do little with the thin material on offer.  Truly clunky at times, even some of the exposition comes too late for the viewer to care.

It's a shame as Willis' name used to guarantee a certain level of fun - but his recent work has amounted to little more than cameos and/or phoned in performances in decidedly average movies.

This review makes it sound dreadful, and it isn't.  It's passable rather than awful.


Thought: Yes, and...

I recently came across this enhancement to brainstorming based on comedic improvisation techniques  via CreativeLive. The idea is that instead of simply shouting out random ideas, you are forced to build on what the previous person said by using the phrase, "Yes, and..."

You can see an example of it in action below: