What I’m Reading

January 13, 2009 — 4 Comments

Eleanor Roosevelt : Volume 2 , The Defining Years, 1933-1938 by Blanche Wiesen Cook (blown away by ER. she deserved a better biographer. it feels like the writer died in the middle and someone put it together from her notes without bothering to proofread)

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin (good. lame that this is already overplayed)

The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (Modern Library Classics) by Giorgio Vasari (amazing. much better than Plutarch’s Lives. Michaelangelo’s and Titians are the best. the translation is very readable)

The Tower Menagerie: The Amazing 600-Year History of the Royal Collection of Wild and Ferocious Beasts Kept at the Tower of London by Daniel Hahn (an example of an author ruining an otherwise fascinating book by interrupting themselves with too many footnotes, parentheses and tangents. I learned more his style mistakes than the subject)

How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq by Matthew Alexander (for some reason he annoyingly refers to himself and colleagues as ‘gators and it makes the whole thing seem ridiculous. Mark Bowden’s foreword a marketing ploy, it’s only 3 pages)

Also, I think Seth Godin is wrong in this post about advertising or at the very least, not being totally forthcoming. I guarantee when he does ads he doesn’t judge their success on math or conversions. It’s a tyrannous, poor set of incentives. Acquisition driven advertising unintentionally favors the short term of the long term and rips the life out of brands. They should be evaluated on whether they say something, otherwise it’s just arbitrage.

Daily Routine

January 10, 2009 — 7 Comments

Daily Routines is one of my favorite sites. Nobody seems to have any idea what I do so I thought I’d put mine down.

I get up between 9 and 10 and check my blackberry to see if anything important went down while I was sleeping. If there wasn’t an emergency (there usually is), I shower and put on jeans and a white t-shirt. If there was, I could end up spending the next two or three hours on the phone, pacing in my apartment. I don’t eat breakfast. I try to get to the office before twelve so there is parking, spending some time with my RSS reader and responding to emails before I leave. I make sure to read Buzzmachine, Transworld Business, Valleywag and my delicious inbox. The Wall St Journal comes every morning which adds nothing to my day but an extra trip to the trash.

At the office, I check in with my assistant to see how to projects he’s working on are going. I normally haven’t explained them well, so we spend some time fixing it. ______ has probably called me a few times by this point with new directions to take things on or ideas to flesh out. These get split up and delegated. I read at lunch and when I get back to my desk if it’s good. The rest of the day is spent talking to reporters, approving ads, phone calls and monitoring the Google and RSS alerts that let me pretend I’m everywhere at all times. I try to leave the office around 7 or 8.

Dinner with the girlfriend. An episode of House. Read for an hour. Run for 35 minutes. Jump rope after if there is time. If I wrote or worked something out in my head while I was running then I transfer it to text quickly before I shower. Emails to people as stuff comes up. Hang out. She goes to bed with dog around 12. I get back up and work until 2 or so. Reading or catching up on whatever I was too busy to get to during the day. I send the emails that I’ll get responses to in the morning. Send a To Do list to my assistant while he’s asleep to work on while I am asleep. ______ is normally still up, even on the east coast, so we talk again before I wrap up and go to bed.

“Strong Opinions, Loosely Held”

December 29, 2008 — 22 Comments

Elizabeth Hasselbeck doesn’t support the use of the morning after pill because she believes that “life begins at conception.” That’s a wonderful point of view if you ignore the pesky little fact that the only purpose of emergency contraception pills is to prevent conception from occurring. In fact, they have no effect whatsoever on a woman who is already pregnant. Now, no doctor would let you take them for fun but the point of the pill begins and ends well before Hasselbeck’s beliefs are relevant.

The test of her opinion rests at the moment someone informed her that she had misunderstood the medical function of the pill, a fairly common mistake. Did it change? Did she feel relieved or did she respond with “Hmmph, well I still don’t like it.”

Your opinion is either dependent on the facts or it’s not. When they change, you should shift along with them, not wobble and revert like an earthquake proof building. We know that, but try and see. Read something that directly contradicts a long-held opinion on a controversial issue (say gay marriage or tax cuts or some person you idolize), you can see how quickly you try to rationalize and preempt the arguments as though you have a stake in it. The reality is that it shouldn’t matter which side you’re on, so long as it’s the correct side.

I think that “OK, I know but still…” is about the dumbest possible phrase that can come out of your mouth. There’s almost never an excuse for it. It’s rooted in this delusionally coddled belief that you can somehow dissent from the world around you and it will make a difference. Look at the people who live their lives that way: George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Margaret Mead, Marxists, the annoying feminists who totally missed the problem with Hasslebeck’s argument and how that ultimately panned out for the things they all wanted to accomplish. The results do not look good.

What I’m Reading

December 28, 2008 — 5 Comments

The Hustons by Lawrence Grobel (long but very good. about the director John Huston)

The Age of the Moguls by Stewart H. Holbrook

The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst by Kenneth Whyte (tip from Tyler Cowen. it’s on the 3 years that Hearst took over the New York newspaper market. one of the better biographies of those breed of capitalists)

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman (these kinds of books could use some fresh examples – worth having still)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (better than Blink. he could have called more people out but the whole ‘straw man’ criticism is obnoxious)

Someone made me a Crunchbase profile. It’s blank if anyone wants to edit it. Crunchbase is actually a really good idea, there should be an intermediate service for people not notable enough for Wikipedia but still have verifiable biographies that should be aggregated. I’m not saying I’m one of those people but it’s helped me out before when trying to research something.

TheBoxOfficeJunkie is updating again and worth reading. Can you believe Home Alone made $300 million at the box office in 1990?

Pictures of Children Crying is yet unannounced but will be incredibly funny if done right.

Means to an End

December 23, 2008 — 16 Comments

People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash and eat. When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts. – Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

I just read this book called The Age of the Moguls, which is very good. The author doesn’t make this point explicitly but in the course of telling the stories of Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon, Carnegie, Hearst, Standford, Du Pont and Field, he makes it quite clear: That behind every great fortune is not just a crime but a single man who for whatever reason outworked everyone around them.

A man that at 2 in the morning asleep in bed heard a slight irregularity in the manufacturing process and tracked it down with a lantern in pajamas. Or worked his own mines. Or wrote 6,000 letters a year. Or spent every second trying to figure out what made a newspaper perfect.

Outliers, Gladwell’s new book – which the reviews completely misunderstood and didn’t appreciate in the way it deserves – brings up his 10,000 hours concept again. Since that’s such a nice, big round number I think it’s really easy to accept without really absorbing. It’s almost too sticky. You sort of forget that every one of those hours was an individual choice and propelled into being by some personal force.

Gladwell believed he got his hours as a science writer at the Washington Post meeting late night deadlines and educating himself to write on complex subjects. Vanderbilt got his ferrying people into Manhattan as a teenager. Andrew Carnegie was the personal secretary to a railroad genius that soon put him in charge of his own division.

People don’t understand my criticsm of the Brazen Careerist kids but I think it boils down to me inferring that they’ve somehow come to believe that it’s all very easy. That to become a great marketer you just have to talk about marketing a lot. Or that career advice comes from people who look at careers. They’ve just assumed that it the authority they’re after is fundamentally a product of projecting it long enough to feel natural. It’s the same entitlement in the little quips and anecdotes that let people reduce it down to some sort of math problem. Like the real secret to Seinfeld was the clever way that he marked his calendar every morning.

I’m trying to think about it this way: if you envision the end result – a mastery of some sort – 10 or 15 years down the road, what are you doing right now to contribute to that? Cutting your teeth, when you examine the expression requires both a time when and an subject to cut them on. At some point, that has to stop being a metaphor.

There is a lazy hubris in just throwing around that number or thinking you know what you want to be. What about – and I think this is what the people we’re talking about have actually done – figuring out what you need to subject yourself to become approximately that person? Deciding the conditions under which you can crystallize and making them a reality instead of pompously assuming they’ll come about naturally. Lots of people can talk about what they’d like to be, very few can confidentially tell you what they’re doing about it now.

When I look back on the period a long time from now, I should be able to see two or three fortunate convergences that shaped what I became. A clear indication that the work I’m doing now was instrumental in cumulating advantage. Because when I got out of bed I had the same conversation that Marcus had, decided that ‘faking it until you make it’ is bullshit and got to work. And finally, that it was all the same that nobody gave me any credit until I cashed the hours in.