Deep Work – Cal Newport

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‘Deep Work’ is a surprisingly good book, and an easy and fast read.

It’s main message is simple. Find time to focus deeply on your work, every day. The book tells you why this is an important thing to do and offers some strategies to achieve it.

A Mind For Numbers – Barbara Oakley


Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Deep work is necessary to wring every last drop of value out of your current intellectual capacity. We now know from decades of research in both psychology and neuroscience that the state of mental strain that accompanies deep work is also necessary to improve your abilities. Deep work, in other words, was exactly the type of effort needed to stand out in a cognitively demanding field like academic psychiatry in the early twentieth century.

To make matters worse for depth, there’s increasing evidence that this shift toward the shallow is not a choice that can be easily reversed. Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work. “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” admitted journalist Nicholas Carr, in an oft-cited 2008 Atlantic article. “[And] I’m not the only one.” Carr expanded this argument into a book, The Shallows, which became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. To write The Shallows, appropriately enough, Carr had to move to a cabin and forcibly disconnect.

Jason Benn’s story highlights a crucial lesson: Deep work is not some nostalgic affectation of writers and early-twentieth-century philosophers. It’s instead a skill that has great value today. There are two reasons for this value. The first has to do with learning. We have an information economy that’s dependent on complex systems that change rapidly. Some of the computer languages Benn learned, for example, didn’t exist ten years ago and will likely be outdated ten years from now. Similarly, someone coming up in the field of marketing in the 1990s probably had no idea that today they’d need to master digital analytics. To remain valuable in our economy, therefore, you must master the art of quickly learning complicated things. This task requires deep work. If you don’t cultivate this ability, you’re likely to fall behind as technology advances.

On the other hand, my commitment to depth has rewarded me. In the ten-year period following my college graduation, I published four books, earned a PhD, wrote peer-reviewed academic papers at a high rate, and was hired as a tenure-track professor at Georgetown University. I maintained this voluminous production while rarely working past five or six p.m. during the workweek. This compressed schedule is possible because I’ve invested significant effort to minimize the shallow in my life while making sure I get the most out of the time this frees up. I build my days around a core of carefully chosen deep work, with the shallow activities I absolutely cannot avoid batched into smaller bursts at the peripheries of my schedule. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output.

My commitment to depth has also returned nonprofessional benefits. For the most part, I don’t touch a computer between the time when I get home from work and the next morning when the new workday begins (the main exception being blog posts, which I like to write after my kids go to bed). This ability to fully disconnect, as opposed to the more standard practice of sneaking in a few quick work e-mail checks, or giving in to frequent surveys of social media sites, allows me to be present with my wife and two sons in the evenings, and read a surprising number of books for a busy father of two. More generally, the lack of distraction in my life tones down that background hum of nervous mental energy that seems to increasingly pervade people’s daily lives. I’m comfortable being bored, and this can be a surprisingly rewarding skill—especially on a lazy D.C. summer night listening to a Nationals game slowly unfold on the radio.

“Let your mind become a lens, thanks to the converging rays of attention; let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.” This advice comes from Antonin-Dalmace Sertillanges, a Dominican friar and professor of moral philosophy, who during the early part of the twentieth century penned a slim but influential volume titled The Intellectual Life. Sertillanges wrote the book as a guide to “the development and deepening of the mind” for those called to make a living in the world of ideas. Throughout The Intellectual Life, Sertillanges recognizes the necessity of mastering complicated material and helps prepare the reader for this challenge. For this reason, his book proves useful in our quest to better understand how people quickly master hard (cognitive) skills.

As psychologists, Ericsson and the other researchers in his field are not interested in why deliberate practice works; they’re just identifying it as an effective behavior. In the intervening decades since Ericsson’s first major papers on the topic, however, neuroscientists have been exploring the physical mechanisms that drive people’s improvements on hard tasks. As the journalist Daniel Coyle surveys in his 2009 book, The Talent Code, these scientists increasingly believe the answer includes myelin—a layer of fatty tissue that grows around neurons, acting like an insulator that allows the cells to fire faster and cleaner. To understand the role of myelin in improvement, keep in mind that skills, be they intellectual or physical, eventually reduce down to brain circuits. This new science of performance argues that you get better at a skill as you develop more myelin around the relevant neurons, allowing the corresponding circuit to fire more effortlessly and effectively. To be great at something is to be well myelinated.

This understanding is important because it provides a neurological foundation for why deliberate practice works. By focusing intensely on a specific skill, you’re forcing the specific relevant circuit to fire, again and again, in isolation. This repetitive use of a specific circuit triggers cells called oligodendrocytes to begin wrapping layers of myelin around the neurons in the circuits—effectively cementing the skill. The reason, therefore, why it’s important to focus intensely on the task at hand while avoiding distraction is because this is the only way to isolate the relevant neural circuit enough to trigger useful myelination. By contrast, if you’re trying to learn a complex new skill (say, SQL database management) in a state of low concentration (perhaps you also have your Facebook feed open), you’re firing too many circuits simultaneously and haphazardly to isolate the group of neurons you actually want to strengthen.

To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work. If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and distraction ubiquitous, you shouldn’t expect these systems and skills to come easily to you.

…when you switch from some Task A to another Task B, your attention doesn’t immediately follow—a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task. This residue gets especially thick if your work on Task A was unbounded and of low intensity before you switched, but even if you finish Task A before moving on, your attention remains divided for a while.

When we step back from these individual observations, we see a clear argument form: To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work. If you’re not comfortable going deep for extended periods of time, it’ll be difficult to get your performance to the peak levels of quality and quantity increasingly necessary to thrive professionally. Unless your talent and skills absolutely dwarf those of your competition, the deep workers among them will outproduce you.

This clarity simplifies decisions about what work habits a professor adopts or abandons. Here, for example, is the late Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman explaining in an interview one of his less orthodox productivity strategies: To do real good physics work, you do need absolute solid lengths of time… it needs a lot of concentration… if you have a job administrating anything, you don’t have the time. So I have invented another myth for myself: that I’m irresponsible. I’m actively irresponsible. I tell everyone I don’t do anything. If anyone asks me to be on a committee for admissions, “no,” I tell them: I’m irresponsible.

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! -Richard P. Feynman


Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

If you believe in the value of depth, this reality spells bad news for businesses in general, as it’s leading them to miss out on potentially massive increases in their value production. But for you, as an individual, good news lurks. The myopia of your peers and employers uncovers a great personal advantage. Assuming the trends outlined here continue, depth will become increasingly rare and therefore increasingly valuable. Having just established that there’s nothing fundamentally flawed about deep work and nothing fundamentally necessary about the distracting behaviors that displace it, you can therefore continue with confidence with the ultimate goal of this book: to systematically develop your personal ability to go deep—and by doing so, reap great rewards.

Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.

This concept upends the way most people think about their subjective experience of life. We tend to place a lot of emphasis on our circumstances, assuming that what happens to us (or fails to happen) determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes, such as whether or not you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this understanding. Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to. If you focus on a cancer diagnosis, you and your life become unhappy and dark, but if you focus instead on an evening martini, you and your life become more pleasant—even though the circumstances in both scenarios are the same. As Gallagher summarizes: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”

Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed. When measured empirically, people were happier at work and less happy relaxing than they suspected. And as the ESM studies confirmed, the more such flow experiences that occur in a given week, the higher the subject’s life satisfaction. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging. There is, of course, overlap between the theory of flow and the ideas of Winifred Gallagher highlighted in the last section. Both point toward the importance of depth over shallowness, but they focus on two different explanations for this importance. Gallagher’s writing emphasizes that the content of what we focus on matters.

This chain method (as some now call it) soon became a hit among writers and fitness enthusiasts—communities that thrive on the ability to do hard things consistently. For our purposes, it provides a specific example of a general approach to integrating depth into your life: the rhythmic philosophy. This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep. The chain method is a good example of the rhythmic philosophy of deep work scheduling because it combines a simple scheduling heuristic (do the work every day), with an easy way to remind yourself to do the work: the big red Xs on the calendar.

In Ericsson’s seminal 1993 paper on the topic, titled “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” he dedicates a section to reviewing what the research literature reveals about an individual’s capacity for cognitively demanding work. Ericsson notes that for a novice, somewhere around an hour a day of intense concentration seems to be a limit, while for experts this number can expand to as many as four hours—but rarely more. One of the studies cited, for example, catalogs the practice habits of a group of elite violin players training at Berlin’s Universität der Künste. This study found the elite players average around three and a half hours per day in a state of deliberate practice, usually separated into two distinct periods. The less accomplished players spent less time in a state of depth.

The idea motivating this strategy is that the use of a distracting service does not, by itself, reduce your brain’s ability to focus. It’s instead the constant switching from low-stimuli/high-value activities to high-stimuli/low-value activities, at the slightest hint of boredom or cognitive challenge, that teaches your mind to never tolerate an absence of novelty. This constant switching can be understood analogously as weakening the mental muscles responsible for organizing the many sources vying for your attention. By segregating Internet use (and therefore segregating distractions) you’re minimizing the number of times you give in to distraction, and by doing so you let these attention-selecting muscles strengthen.

The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering—and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem. Depending on your profession, this problem might be outlining an article, writing a talk, making progress on a proof, or attempting to sharpen a business strategy. As in mindfulness meditation, you must continue to bring your attention back to the problem at hand when it wanders or stalls.

I suggest that you adopt a productive meditation practice in your own life. You don’t necessarily need a serious session every day, but your goal should be to participate in at least two or three such sessions in a typical week. Fortunately, finding time for this strategy is easy, as it takes advantage of periods that would otherwise be wasted (such as walking the dog or commuting to work), and if done right, can actually increase your professional productivity instead of taking time away from your work. In fact, you might even consider scheduling a walk during your workday specifically for the purpose of applying productive meditation to your most pressing problem at the moment.


The Human Machine – Arnold Bennett

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(Would not read again)

It is a very short book so if you are looking for motivation you might as well give it a look.

Download Link


‘My brain is my servant. I am not the play-thing of my brain.’

You can control nothing but your own mind. Even your two-year-old babe may defy you by the instinctive force of its personality. But your own mind you can control. Your own mind is a sacred enclosure into which nothing harmful can enter except by your permission. Your own mind has the power to transmute every external phenomenon to its own purposes.

The art of life, the art of extracting all its power from the human machine, does not lie chiefly in processes of bookish-culture, nor in contemplations of the beauty and majesty of existence. It lies chiefly in keeping the peace, the whole peace, and nothing but the peace, with those with whom one is ‘thrown.

Your happiness is always dependent on just that person. Produce friction, and you suffer. Idle to argue that the person has no business to be upset by your tone! You have caused avoidable friction, simply because your machine for dealing with your environment was suffering from pride, ignorance, or thoughtlessness.

If we regard ourselves as free agents, and the personalities surrounding us as the puppets of determinism, we shall have arrived at the working compromise from which the finest results of living can be obtained.

In due season the man whose hobby is his brain will gradually settle down into a daily routine, with which routine he will start the day. The idea at the back of the mind of the ordinary man (by the ordinary man I mean the man whose brain is not his hobby) is almost always this: ‘There are several things at present hanging over me—worries, unfulfilled ambitions, unrealised desires. As soon as these things are definitely settled, then I shall begin to live and enjoy myself.’ That is the ordinary man’s usual idea. He has it from his youth to his old age. He is invariably waiting for something to happen before he really begins to live. I am sure that if you are an ordinary man (of course, you aren’t, I know) you will admit that this is true of you; you exist in the hope that one day things will be sufficiently smoothed out for you to begin to live. That is just where you differ from the man whose brain is his hobby. His daily routine consists in a meditation in the following vein: ‘This day is before me. The circumstances of this day are my environment; they are the material out of which, by means of my brain, I have to live and be happy and to refrain from causing unhappiness in other people. It is the business of my brain to make use of this material. My brain is in its box for that sole purpose. Not to-morrow! Not next year! Not when I have made my fortune! Not when my sick child is out of danger! Not when my wife has returned to her senses! Not when my salary is raised! Not when I have passed that examination! Not when my indigestion is better! But now! To-day, exactly as to-day is! The facts of to-day, which in my unregeneracy I regarded primarily as anxieties, nuisances, impediments, I now regard as so much raw material from which my brain has to weave a tissue of life that is comely.’

And especially he readjusts his point of view, for his point of view is continually getting wrong. He is continually seeing worries where he ought to see material.

I finish. I have said nothing of the modifications which the constant use of the brain will bring about in the general value of existence. Modifications slow and subtle, but tremendous! The persevering will discover them. It will happen to the persevering that their whole lives are changed—texture and colour, too! Naught will happen to those who do not persevere.

If a man will devote his time to securing facts in an impartial, objective way, his worries will usually evaporate in the light of knowledge.


Why Nations Fail – Daron Acemoglu

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(Recommend, Would Read Again )

The author presents an idea and then spends 500 pages defending that idea through various historical examples, from all over the world. Overall, the book is interesting and at times very entertaining, however, it quickly becomes repetitive as the author keeps hitting us in the face with the same idea all over and over again.



“THE REACTION TO LEE’S brilliant invention illustrates a key idea of this book. The fear of creative destruction is the main reason why there was no sustained increase in living standards between the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions. Technological innovation makes human societies prosperous, but also involves the replacement of the old with the new, and the destruction of the economic privileges and political power of certain people. For sustained economic growth we need new technologies, new ways of doing things, and more often than not they will come from newcomers such as Lee. It may make society prosperous, but the process of creative destruction that it initiates threatens the livelihood of those who work with old technologies, such as the hand-knitters who would have found themselves unemployed by Lee’s technology. More important, major innovations such as Lee’s stocking frame machine also threaten to reshape political power. Ultimately it was not concern about the fate of those who might become unemployed as a result of Lee’s machine that led Elizabeth I and James I to oppose his patent; it was their fear that they would become political losers—their concern that those displaced by the invention would create political instability and threaten their own power.”

Factotum – Charles Bukowski



(This book was painful to read)

A guy in the USA going through shitty jobs, drinking, sex and complaining that women are sluts. His dream is to become a writer, when in reality he can’t hold the easiest job for more than a few months.

I did not enjoy reading this book. It was the first book I’ve read written by Bukowski and will probably be the last. His writing style is just too painful…

The main character is a weak man. A man without a backbone. A man full of desires and ambitions and no will power to achieve anything. Instead, he chooses a life of whining and binge drinking. He reminds me of a dumber version of the protagonist from the Catcher in The Rye.

This book paints a picture of the person you should never become.


“I was a man who thrived on solitude; without it I was like another man without food or water. Each day without solitude weakened me. I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it. The darkness of the room was like sunlight to me.”

“Yes, your attitude. You think we didn’t notice it?” That’s when I first learned that it wasn’t enough to just do your job, you had to have an interest in it, even a passion for it.

“I wasn’t all that clever. It was more instinct than anything else. I always started a job with the feeling that I’d soon quit or be fired, and this gave me a relaxed manner that was mistaken for intelligence or some secret power.”

“When I went to the Yellow Cab Company I passed the Cancer Building and I remembered that there were worse things than looking for a job you didn’t want. I went in and it seemed easy enough, the same old forms, questions, etc.”

“I didn’t like parties. I didn’t know how to dance and people frightened me, especially people at parties. They attempted to be sexy and gay and witty and although they hoped they were good at it, they weren’t. They were bad at it. Their trying so hard only made it worse.”

Atlass Shrugged – Ayn Rand

Atlass Shrugged – Ayn Rand

662Atlass Shrugged

(Must Read)

Atlass Shrugged is a dangerous book. I read it 6 years ago and it is one of the books that changed my life. Both for better and worse. This book has as much potential to be misinterpreted  as The Bible.

Before you read it, however, make sure you get to know a little bit more about its author, Ayn Rand. Born in Russia, she was very much against the communist ideas and she pretty much makes sure that everyone in the world knows how much communism in Russia sucked. She successfully predicts how the Soviet Union will collapse in her book by describing the way poor incentives can lead to economic decline.

There are a lot of ideas in this book and I am not up for the task to analyze or even summarize. I will simply state how it made me feel and what it made me believe in.

It made me believe in a world where my own strength and will-power are the only things that matter. In relying on myself rather than seeking help and alms from friends and families. It made me certain that I am my own man and that I will shape my life with my own efforts and no external help. That truth matters more than popular opinion. That I am the only person to blame for my failure.

The book gave me the strength to pursue my own ideas when the people around me went into a totally different direction. It made me respect my own opinions about how things are or should be.

It also alienated me from my friends and family.

A lot of the ideas in this book are dangerous, a lot are simply bullshit, a lot are brilliant. Be critical when reading Ayn Rand. I can empathize with her anger and ways of viewing the world, however, she takes some of her ideas to the extreme.

Atlass Shurgged is a must read book. Don’t be scared of its length, as it is quite an easy read. Just, just read it… I will even make it easier for you: PDF Link


“If you don’t know, the thing to do is not to get scared, but to learn.”

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

“I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle.”

“If men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked, that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given, that the destruction of a value which is, will not bring value to that which isn’t. The businessman who wishes to gain a market by throttling a superior competitor, the worker who wants a share of his employer’s wealth, the artist who envies a rival’s higher talent—they’re all wishing facts out of existence, and destruction is the only means of their wish. If they pursue it, they will not achieve a market, a fortune or an immortal fame— they will merely destroy production, employment and art. A wish for the irrational is not to be achieved, whether the sacrificial victims are willing or not. But men will not cease to desire the impossible and will not lose their longing to destroy—so long as self-destruction and self-sacrifice are preached to them as the practical means of achieving the happiness of the recipients.”

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! -Richard P. Feynman

surelySurely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

(Would not read again)

What I got from this book is that Feynman was a bit of a narcissist and definitely a dick. He has some very good points on education and how flawed the system is.

There are definitely some entertaining bits in the book and value to be extracted. However, the feeling I get from this book is Feynman bragging to everyone how awesome he is.


“When I came out of the hypnosis and looked at the back of my hand, I got the biggest surprise: There was a burn on the back of my hand. Soon a blister grew, and it never hurt at all, even when it broke. So I found hypnosis to be a very interesting experience. All the time you’re saying to yourself, “I could do that, but I won’t”—which is just another way of saying that you can’t.”


” I’ve very often made mistakes in my physics by thinking the theory isn’t as good as it really is, thinking that there are lots of complications that are going to spoil it—an attitude that anything can happen, in spite of what you’re pretty sure should happen.”

“Then there was John Von Neumann, the great mathematician. We used to go for walks on Sunday. We’d walk in the canyons, often with Bethe and Bob Bacher. It was a great pleasure. And Von Neumann gave me an interesting idea: that you don’t have to be responsible for the world that you’re in. So I have developed a very powerful sense of social irresponsibility as a result of Von Neumann’s advice. It’s made me a very happy man ever since. But it was Von Neumann who put the seed in that grew into my active irresponsibility!”


“And then I thought to myself, “You know, what they think of you is so fantastic, it’s impossible to live up to it. You have no responsibility to live up to it!” It was a brilliant idea: You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing. It wasn’t a failure on my part that the Institute for Advanced Study expected me to be that good; it was impossible.”

“Hah!” I say. “There’s no importance whatsoever. I’m just doing it for the fun of it.” His reaction didn’t discourage me; I had made up my mind I was going to enjoy physics and do whatever I liked. I went on to work out equations of wobbles. Then I thought about how electron orbits start to move in relativity. Then there’s the Dirac Equation in electrodynamics. And then quantum electrodynamics. And before I knew it (it was a very short time) I was “playing”—working, really—with the same old problem that I loved so much, that I had stopped working on when I went to Los Alamos: my thesis-type problems; all those old-fashioned, wonderful things. It was effortless. It was easy to play with these things. It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate.


” Now, what about the lessons?” “OK,” he says. “The whole principle is this: The guy wants to be a gentleman. He doesn’t want to be thought of as impolite, crude, or especially a cheapskate. As long as the girl knows the guy’s motives so well, it’s easy to steer him in the direction she wants him to go. “Therefore,” he continued, “under no circumstances be a gentleman! You must disrespect the girls. Furthermore, the very first rule is, don’t buy a girl anything—not even a package of cigarettes—until you’ve asked her if she’ll sleep with you, and you’re convinced that she will, and that she’s not lying.” “Uh…you mean…you don’t…uh…you just ask them?” “OK,” he says, “I know this is your first lesson, and it may be hard for you to be so blunt. So you might buy her one thing—just one little something—before you ask. But on the other hand, it will only make it more difficult.” Well, someone only has to give me the principle, and I get the idea. All during the next day I built up my psychology differently: I adopted the attitude that those bar girls are all bitches, that they aren’t worth anything, and all they’re in there for is to get you to buy them a drink, and they’re not going to give you a goddamn thing; I’m not going to be a gentleman to such worthless bitches, and so on. I learned it till it was automatic. Then that night I was ready to try it out. I go into the bar as usual, and right away my friend says, “Hey, Dick! Wait’ll you see the girl I got tonight! She had to go change her clothes, but she’s coming right back.” “Yeah, yeah,” I say, unimpressed, and I sit at another table to watch the show. My friend’s girl comes in just as the show starts, and I’m thinking, “I don’t give a damn how pretty she is; all she’s doing is getting him to buy her drinks, and she’s going to give him nothing!” After the first act my friend says, “Hey, Dick! I want you to meet Ann. Ann, this is a good friend of mine, Dick Feynman.” I say “Hi” and keep looking at the show. A few moments later Ann says to me, “Why don’t you come and sit at the table here with us?” I think to myself, “Typical bitch: he’s buying her drinks, and she’s inviting somebody else to the table.” I say, “I can see fine from here.” A little while later a lieutenant from the military base nearby comes in, dressed in a nice uniform. It isn’t long before we notice that Ann is sitting over on the other side of the bar with the lieutenant! Later that evening I’m sitting at the bar, Ann is dancing with the lieutenant, and when the lieutenant’s back is toward me and she’s facing me, she smiles very pleasantly to me. I think again, “Some bitch! Now she’s doing this trick on the lieutenant even!” Then I get a good idea: I don’t look at her until the lieutenant can also see me, and then I smile back at her, so the lieutenant will know what’s going on. So her trick didn’t work for long. A few minutes later she’s not with the lieutenant any more, but asking the bartender for her coat and handbag, saying in a loud, obvious voice, “I’d like to go for a walk. Does anybody want to go for a walk with me?” I think to myself, “You can keep saying no and pushing them off, but you can’t do it permanently, or you won’t get anywhere. There comes a time when you have to go along.” So I say coolly, “I’ll walk with you.” So we go out. We walk down the street a few blocks and see a café, and she says, “I’ve got an idea—let’s get some coffee and sandwiches, and go over to my place and eat them.” The idea sounds pretty good, so we go into the café and she orders three coffees and three sandwiches and I pay for them. As we’re going out of the café, I think to myself, “Something’s wrong: too many sandwiches!” On the way to her motel she says, “You know, I won’t have time to eat these sandwiches with you, because a lieutenant is coming over…” I think to myself, “See, I flunked. The master gave me a lesson on what to do, and I flunked. I bought her $1.10 worth of sandwiches, and hadn’t asked her anything, and now I know I’m gonna get nothing! I have to recover, if only for the pride of my teacher.” I stop suddenly and I say to her, “You…are worse than a WHORE!” “Whaddya mean?” “You got me to buy these sandwiches, and what am I going to get for it? Nothing!” “Well, you cheapskate!” she says. “If that’s the way you feel, I’ll pay you back for the sandwiches!” I called her bluff: “Pay me back, then.” She was astonished. She reached into her pocketbook, took out the little bit of money that she had and gave it to me. I took my sandwich and coffee and went off. After I was through eating, I went back to the bar to report to the master. I explained everything, and told him I was sorry that I flunked, but I tried to recover. He said very calmly, “It’s OK, Dick; it’s all right. Since you ended up not buying her anything, she’s gonna sleep with you tonight.” “What?” “That’s right,” he said confidently; “she’s gonna sleep with you. I know that.” “But she isn’t even here! She’s at her place with the lieu—” “It’s all right.” Two o’clock comes around, the bar closes, and Ann hasn’t appeared. I ask the master and his wife if I can come over to their place again. They say sure. Just as we’re coming out of the bar, here comes Ann, running across Route 66 toward me. She puts her arm in mine, and says, “Come on, let’s go over to my place.” The master was right. So the lesson was terrific! When I was back at Cornell in the fall, I was dancing with the sister of a grad student, who was visiting from Virginia. She was very nice, and suddenly I got this idea: “Let’s go to a bar and have a drink,” I said. On the way to the bar I was working up nerve to try the master’s lesson on an ordinary girl. After all, you don’t feel so bad disrespecting a bar girl who’s trying to get you to buy her drinks—but a nice, ordinary, Southern girl? We went into the bar, and before I sat down, I said, “Listen, before I buy you a drink, I want to know one thing: Will you sleep with me tonight?” “Yes.” So it worked even with an ordinary girl! But no matter how effective the lesson was, I never really used it after that. I didn’t enjoy doing it that way. But it was interesting to know that things worked much differently from how I was brought up.”  – Please don’t try to imitate that behavior


“I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have been to check on them by noticing that nothing really worked. So I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you’ll see the reading scores keep going down—or hardly going up—in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to improve the methods. There’s a witch doctor remedy that doesn’t work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We obviously have made no progress—lots of theory, but no progress—in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to handle criminals.”

On Becoming A Leader – Warren Bennis


On Becoming a Leader


Usually I don’t expect much from this type of books. On this occasion, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

  • Have a purpose, passion, integrity, negative capability 
  • Shape yourself, rather than be shaped
  • Actively seek out new and uncomfortable experiences
  • View fear as a motivator that pushes you in the direction where growth lies
  • Be aware of the lenses you see the world through and change them if you don’t like what you see
  • Travel extensively, read a lot of books (How do I travel when I work all the time? Does a week on Palma even count as travelling?)



So let’s see if I cover the checklist:

What is my purpose? To become a strong person, to be well educated, able to understand the world and eventually to shape it for the better.

Do I actively seek out new and uncomfortable experiences? I would say no. A lot of the times it is sheer apathy that prevents me from getting new experiences. ” Can I really be bothered to do that? What is the point? ”

My greatest problem with fear is not what follows, it is the effect that fear has on my body and mind that scares me. It prevents me from being myself and think clearlyt. I am getting better at handling it, though… Meditation… Also, focusing on the emotions of the people around you until you forget about yourself and your fears seems to do the trick.

Am I mindful of how I perceive the world around me? Not really… I satisfy myself with the fist explanation that my brain / social conditioning provides. It is another area that needs improvement. Reframe, reframe, reframe…


1817, poet John Keats wrote in a letter to his brothers that the basis for real achievement was “negative capability … when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. ” There’s probably no better definition of a contemporary leader than that.  (True Detective, anyone?)

I think getting up in the morning is more exciting when you’re nervous. If you’re not nervous, you’re dead…. It’s time to change your life or your work the moment you stop having butterflies in your stomach.

The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision. The leader has a clear idea of what he or she wants to do—professionally and personally—and the strength to persist in the face of setbacks, even failures.

The second basic ingredient of leadership is passion—the underlying passion for the promises of life, combined with a very particular passion for a vocation, a profession, a course of action. The leader loves what he or she does and loves doing it. Tolstoy said that hopes are the dreams of the waking man. Without hope, we cannot survive, much less progress. The leader who communicates passion gives hope and inspiration to other people.

The next basic ingredient of leadership is integrity. I think there are three essential parts of integrity: self-knowledge, candor, and maturity.“Know thyself,” was the inscription over the Oracle at Delphi. And it is still the most difficult task any of us faces. But until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word. Leaders never lie to themselves, especially about themselves, know their faults as well as their assets, and deal with them directly. You are your own raw material.

When you know what you consist of and what you want to make of it, then you can invent yourself. Candor is the key to self-knowledge. Candor is based in honesty of thought and action, a steadfast devotion to principle, and a fundamental soundness and wholeness.

As presidents, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter were all more driven than driving, and each seemed trapped in his own shadows. They were haunted men, shaped more by their early deprivations than by their later successes. They did not, then, invent themselves. They were made—and unmade—by their own histories.

When Henry Kissinger was asked what he had learned from the presidents he had worked with—a list that started with Kennedy, through whom he met Truman—Kissinger replied, “Presidents don’t do great things by dwelling on their limitations, but by focusing on their possibilities. ” They leave the past behind them and turn toward the future.


Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, on the need for being oneself, “I believe people spot phonies in very short order, whether that be on an individual basis or a company basis. As Emerson says, ‘What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say’.

…have often thought that the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, “This is the real me”.

…managers’ descriptions were “surprisingly congruous…. Learning is experienced as a personal transformation. A person does not gather learnings as possessions but rather becomes a new person…. To learn is not to have, it is to be. – some powerful stuff right there

In our discussion, I suggested that this kind of learning has to do with reflecting on experience. Kaplan said, “I would add a component to that, which is the appetite to have experience, because people can be experience averse and therefore not learn. Unless you have the appetite to absorb new and potentially unsettling things, you don’t learn…. Part of it is temperament. It’s a kind of fearlessness and optimism and confidence, and you’re not afraid of failure.

Clearly, to become a true leader, one must know the world as well as one knows one’s self. A variety of studies, as well as the lives of the leaders I talked with, demonstrates that certain kinds of experiences are especially significant for learning. These experiences include broad and continuing education, idiosyncratic families, extensive travel and/or exile, a rich private life, and key associations with mentors and groups.

Now a professor of constitutional law at American University, Jamie Raskin was an assistant attorney general in Boston when he warned against letting your ambition get in the way of your intellectual growth: “‘Ambition is the death of thought,’ as Wittgenstein said. A number of my friends are as ambitious as I am, but they suppress any thoughts that might be subversive or dangerous to their ambitions. Your intellectual life is really the ability to see how things can be different, and big institutions in society, whether public or private, often ask people to toe the line in any number of ways—personal, political, ideological. And clearly one can get ahead by doing that. I guess the only way to prevent ambition from killing your intellectual life is not to be afraid of losing, or to say something people might think is wrong, or crazy, something the institution isn’t ready to hear yet…. If you want a concrete tip, learn how to speed read. People say they don’t have time to read. My feeling is, ‘When in doubt, read it. ’ I can read a book in a couple of hours. ” – I am very much against speed reading good books. It just does not have the same impact on you.

The stranger in a strange land sees more and sees fresh. Being on the road not only requires the full deployment of one’s self, it redeploys one, tests one’s strengths and weaknesses, and exposes new strengths and weaknesses. Our two most sophisticated Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were inveterate travelers, and both spent much time in Europe. Those who travel farther from home learn even more.

Life has never been simple and is growing more complex all the time, yet we persist in attempting to reduce it to bumpersticker dimensions. The advocates of simplicity see reality as mechanical, static, segmented, and rational, when it is, in fact, organic, dynamic, whole, and ambiguous. They see relationships as linear, sequential and serial, discrete, singular and independent, when they are, in fact, parallel and simultaneous, connected, murky, multiple and interdependent. They are determinists, believers in cause-and-effect, when, in fact, probability is the rule and the inevitable hardly ever happens. They wear square hats, when they should try sombreros.

No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely—all your skills, gifts, and energies—in order to make your vision manifest. You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and to enjoy the process of becoming.

Whatever it is you want to do, you shouldn’t let fear get in your way. Fear, for most leaders, is less a crippler than a motivator. As Brooke Knapp said, “I started flying because I was afraid of it. If you give not 90 percent or 95 percent but 100 percent, you can make anything happen. The greatest opportunity for growth lies in overcoming things you’re afraid of. ” She went on to become one of America’s leading flyers.

The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse. ” Unless you are willing to take risks, you will suffer paralyzing inhibitions, and you will never do what you are capable of doing.Mistakes—missteps—are necessary for actualizing your vision, and necessary steps toward success.

Part of the trick is not creating situations where you’re inviting contests of egos. And oddly enough, the more willing you seem to be to let people participate, the less need they have to force participation. It’s the threat of being left out that exacerbates their ego problems and creates clashes.

Jacob Bronowski wrote, in The Ascent of Man, “We have to understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation…. The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better

Korn/Ferry International co-founder Richard Ferry belongs to what might be called the throw-them-into-the-water-andthey’ll-learn-to-swim school: “You can’t really create leaders. How do you teach people to make decisions, for example? All you can do is develop the talents people have. I’m a great believer in trial by fire, on-the-job experience. Put them out there in the plants, put them in the markets, send them to Japan and Europe. Train them on the job. ” Jim Burke and Horace Deets were succinct. Burke said, “The more experience and the more tests you survive, the more apt you are to be a good leader. ” Deets, speaking of his job as executive director of the American Association of Retired Persons, said, “It’s a tough job and, I would wager, can only be learned by experience. You can’t learn it by reading up on it, you’ve got to do it. The only real laboratory is the laboratory of leadership itself.

Everywhere you trip is where the treasure lies. ” Everywhere you trip is where the treasure lies. That’s learning from surprise, as well as adversity. Virtually every leader I talked with would agree

Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks all of us, and we grow stronger in the broken places

This brings me to what I think of as the Wallenda Factor, a concept I described in detail in Leaders and so will recap only briefly here. Shortly after the great aerialist Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978 while doing his most dangerous walk, his wife, also an aerialist, said, “All Karl thought about for months before was falling. It was the first time he’d ever thought about that, and it seemed to me that he put all his energies into not falling rather than walking the tightrope. ” If we think more about failing at what we’re doing than about doing it, we will not succeed

Empathy isn’t simply the province of artists. Former Lucky Stores CEO Don Ritchey said, “I think one of the biggest turn-ons is for people to know that their peers and particularly their bosses not only know they’re there but know pretty intimately what they’re doing and are involved with them on almost a daily basis, that it’s a partnership, that you’re really trying to run this thing well together, that if something goes wrong our goal is to fix it…

I always took a little more time, told people more than they needed to know…. You have to be absolutely straight with people, not clever or cute, and you can’t think that you can manipulate them. That doesn’t mean you have to think they’re all stars or that you have to agree with everything they do, but the relationship, I think, ought to be for real.

What does it mean to go from an industrial age to an information age? Beyond the ways we have to change as leaders and managers within the context of our enterprise, the world itself is changing, becoming more idea-intensive, more information-intensive, so the people who’re going to surface, to rise to the top, are going to be people who are comfortable with and excited by ideas and information.

I think the first thing one has to do [in setting out to change a culture] is get people on one’s side and show them where you want to take the company. Trust is vital. People trust you when you don’t play games with them, when you put everything on the table and speak honestly to them. Even if you aren’t very articulate, your intellectual honesty comes through, and people recognize that and respond positively.

These leaders have dealt with and continue to deal with this mercurial world by anticipating, looking not just down the road, but around the corner; by seeing change as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle; and by accepting it, rather than resisting it. One of the hardest lessons any novice skier has to learn is to lean away from the hill and not into it. The natural inclination is to stay as close to the slope as possible, because it feels safer and more secure. But only when the skier leans out can he or she begin to move and gain control, rather than being controlled by the slope. The organizational novice does the same thing: leans close to the company’s slope, submerging his or her own identity in that of the corporation. The leader stands tall and leans out, taking charge of his or her own course, with a clear view of where the course is going—at least until the snow starts to fall. Resisting change is as futile as resisting weather, and change—relentless change—is our weather now. It is that constant and that unpredictable. Leaders live in it, and so do organizations. And there is much organizations can do to make the process easier.

Common Cause founder John Gardner once said that leaders are people who understand the prevailing culture, even though much of the culture is latent, existing only in people’s minds and dreams, or in their unconscious. But understanding is only the first step. The leaders of the future will be those who take the next step— to change the culture. To reprise Kurt Lewin, it is through changing something that one truly comes to understand.

Max De Pree, in Leadership Is an Art, wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.

What managers expect of their subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress. A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill. • Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.

Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do. Leaders expect the best of the people around them. Leaders know that the people around them change and grow. If you expect great things, your associates will give them to you. Jaime Escalante believed that students in a Los Angeles inner-city high school could learn calculus. And they did. At the same time, leaders are realistic about expectations. Their motto is: stretch, don’t strain. Pretend you’re training for the Olympics, where easy does it. If you pull a muscle in today’s game, you sit on the bench for tomorrow’s.