Building a Business and Making Your Mark

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While ‘managing by bestseller’ is a misguided approach to fixing organizational problems, there is a lot to be learned from the leading experts and entrepreneurs on what’s different about building a business today.

Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business with Impact, edited by Jocelyn Glei, features insights from twenty-one leading experts and entrepreneurs to explore the principles that propel some of today’s most successful companies.

It’s about “applying the forces of business to creativity.”

In the foreword to the book, Scott Belsky, the Founder of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen, points to one of the fundamental problems with creativity: it’s often undiscoverable. And if it’s undiscoverable it has no impact.

Creativity has many definitions.

For me, creativity is solving problems in new ways and conceiving new ways of looking at the world.

Creativity can be expressed in many forms, like art, science, and thought.

But creativity is all too often undiscoverable and incomprehensible.

Art, without distribution and discovery, moves nobody. Did it ever exist? Science, without clear explanation and advocacy, won’t be understood by the masses. Will it make an impact?

Creation, he argues, “must be made accessible for consumption.” Creativity alone, is not enough. We need to make it consumable by channeling and packaging it.

99u Make your Mark

The best businesses are purpose driven. But you can’t go far without an incredible product experience. What guides all great product development are the twin ideals of “an unstoppable enthusiasm for bringing something great into the world and a relentless focus on usability.” Making good products takes time.

Excellense is doing

Enter Sebastian Thrun, the leader behind the team that created Google Glass and the Google Self-Driving Car. He’s also the co-founder of Udacity, which is trying to disrupt education by improving the learning experience. Thrun does a Q&A in the book and it’s one of the best things I’ve read recently.

How do you focus your energies at the beginning of a project?

When thinking about products, I like to use a mountain-climbing analogy. The first step is to pick a peak. Don’t pick a peak because it’s easy. Pick a peak because you really want to go there; that way you’ll enjoy the process.

The second thing is to pick a team you trust and that’s willing to learn with you. Because the way mountain climbing really works is that you can’t climb the entire route perfectly. You have to know that you are going to make mistakes, that you’ll have to turn around, and that you’ll have to recover.

You also have to maintain your sense of purpose. For a long time, it may feel like you’re on the wrong path, but you must have the resilience to forge ahead. You just have to keep moving uphill.

It’s about the process not the outcome.

For me, the journey is much more delightful if you can derive pleasure from the process every day, rather than at the end of the year. If your goal is to IPO and get rich, then you’re going to be in for a very long, very sad ride. Because most people don’t IPO and don’t get rich.

Our most important asset is our time, so I think it’s best to manage your time well right now and be happy about it, rather than focus on some deferred goal, like buying a fancy car in the future. The data shows that people who are rich aren’t any happier, so you might as well derive your happiness from what you are doing today.

How does iteration figure into your process? Do you think it’s best to create a functional prototype as soon as possible?

To return to the mountain idea, if you think about it, there’s no other way to get up the mountain than taking a hundred thousand steps. You could have all the meetings and all the documentation and work for weeks on end to make the perfect plan. But in my opinion, all you’ve done at that point is lost time. You’ve done nothing. You’ve learned nothing.

Sure, if this mountain has been climbed ten thousand times before, then you just get the book, and the maps, and you follow the same steps. But that’s not innovation. Innovation is about climbing a mountain that no one has climbed before. So there ought to be some unknowns along the way because no one has solved the problem yet.

And when you’re innovating, sheer thinking just won’t work. What gets you there is fast iteration, and fast failing. And when you fail, you’ve done something great: you’ve learned something. In hindsight, it might look a little embarrassing, and people will say, “You should’ve known that.” But the truth is you couldn’t have known because it’s unchartered territory. Almost every entrepreneur I know has failed massively many, many times along the way.

What’s the most common mistake that people make when they’re developing a product?

One mistake I see a lot is the eternal thinker, the perfectionist. This is the person that builds all the components without putting them together, because there’s perfection in component development. And they have this idea that if you only put things together right before launch, everything will go fine. Of course, that never happens.

The second mistake I see is more of a character issue, which is being discouraged by failure. Where you do something three or four times, spend half a year in development, and think, “Oh my god, I’m not there yet, let me change my career . . .” So that’s a lack of perseverance.

The last one I see is being driven by fear. When your competitor does something new, you become fearful and decide that you’re going to change course. But every single time you do this, you’re already behind your competitor and that’s just a bad idea. You have to have faith in yourself, and believe in your vision.

At some time, everybody is driven by fear. But we need to—as much as we can—take fear out of the game. One way to do this is to imagine that you are already successful. You’ve looked into the future, and you’ve succeeded. What would you enjoy doing today given that knowledge?

make your mark

Clearly, certain personality types are more comfortable with iteration and failure than others. Do you think you can learn to be if it doesn’t come naturally?

It’s obvious to me that there’s a certain personality type that can deal with failure more than others. But I think this awareness can also be acquired, especially when you realize that the failures that come out of experimentation really don’t relate to you as a person. It’s just the course of innovation; failure is a systemic part of that process.

For instance, if you’re driving a car, and after three hundred miles the car runs out of gas, no one takes offense because the “failure” is inherent to the car, not to you. It’s not your failure to operate the car correctly. We all know that you have to refill the gas tank; that’s just the way it is. So if we think of failure in innovation in the same way—as having to refill the gas tank regularly—we can take it much less personally.

That’s a great metaphor. So you think the idea of constant—and playful—experimentation is the best mind-set for innovation?

It’s very uncommon for people to have the attitude of “Wow, I don’t know.” In childhood, researchers call this a “growth mind-set”—this idea that you’re comfortable with the fact that you just don’t know something yet, or that you just can’t do something yet. But most people are raised with this feeling that they know everything.

But if you know everything, you can’t possibly innovate, right? It’s impossible, because there is nothing new to learn or discover.

There’s this funny saying that I like: “After high school, kids know everything, after their bachelor’s degree, they know something, and after a PhD, they now know that they know nothing.”

I think that the ability to see how much more there is to know and be humble about it is actually a good thing. Returning to the mountain metaphor, every mountain climber I know of feels small in the mountains and enjoys the feeling of being small. No matter what you do, the mountain is always bigger than you are.

Make Your Mark is the third book in 99u’s “missing curriculum” for creative leaders. The two prior ones are Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind and Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks & Build an Incredible Career.

Andy Warhol on Loneliness

"As soon as you stop waning something you get it. I’ve found that to be absolutely axiomatic."
“As soon as you stop wanting something you get it. I’ve found that to be absolutely axiomatic.”

In his pseudo memoir, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), which is more a collection of his thoughts on various subjects, Andy Warhol writes about the paradox of getting what you don’t want.

I had an incredible number of roommates. To this day almost every night I go out in New York I run into somebody I used to room with who invariably explains to my date, “I used to live with Andy.” I always turn white—I mean whiter. After the same scene happens a few times, my date can’t figure out how I could have lived with so many people, especially since they only know me as the loner I am today. Now, people who imagine me as the 60s media partygoer who traditionally arrived at parties with a minimum six-person “retinue” may wonder how I dare to call myself a “loner,” so let me explain how I really mean that and why it’s true. At the time in my life when I was feeling the most gregarious and looking for bosom friendships, I couldn’t find any takers, so that exactly when I was alone was when I felt the most like not being alone. The moment I decided I’d rather be alone and not have anyone telling me their problems, everybody I’d never even seen before in my life started running after me to tell me things I’d just decided I didn’t think it was a good idea to hear about. As soon as I became a loner in my own mind, that’s when I got what you might call a “following.”

As soon as you stop wanting something you get it. I’ve found that to be absolutely axiomatic.

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol is an examination of things important to him—love, beauty, art, fame, and business

Tiny Beautiful Things

On March 11, 2010, a new writer took over “Dear Sugar,” an advice column on the Web site the Rumpus.

She claimed she would offer a combination of “the by-the-book common sense of Dear Abby and the earnest spiritual cheesiness of Cary Tennis and the butt-pluggy irreverence of Dan Savage and the closeted Upper East Side nymphomania of Miss Manners.”

It became clear after a while that she was an advice columnist unlike others: intimate and frank, dispensing advice built on a foundation drawn of deep personal experience.

Slowly over the next two years, we learned a little more about her until eventually Sugar formally introduced herself as Cheryl Strayed. Strayed is the author behind the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I remember reading this book cover-to-cover on a flight. When the pilot announced that we’d be circling Heathrow for 20 minutes, I was the only one happy. I only had a few pages left.

In a way Sugar’s advice columns — combined into the amazing collection Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar — represents an ad hoc memoir.

“But it’s a memoir with an agenda,” Strayed’s friend Steve Almond writes in the introduction, “With great patience, and eloquence, (Sugar) assures her readers that within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue.”

Inexplicable sorrows await all of us. … Life isn’t some narcissistic game you play online. It all matters— every sin, every regret, every affliction.

One of my favorite letters, the one for which the book is titled, comes in response to this question.

Dear Sugar,

I read your column religiously. I’m twenty-two. From what I can tell by your writing, you’re in your early forties. My question is short and sweet: What would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?

Love, Seeking Wisdom

Think, dear reader, for a moment on what you would respond before continuing. Here is what Sugar, or should I say, Cheryl, had to say.

These words will touch your soul.

Dear Seeking Wisdom,

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.

In the middle of the night in the middle of your twenties when your best woman friend crawls naked into your bed, straddles you, and says, You should run away from me before I devour you, believe her.

You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.

When that really sweet but fucked-up gay couple invites you over to their cool apartment to do Ecstasy with them, say no.

There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding. It’s good you’ve worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again. You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.

One evening you will be rolling around on the wooden floor of your apartment with a man who will tell you he doesn’t have a condom. You will smile in this spunky way that you think is hot and tell him to fuck you anyway. This will be a mistake for which you alone will pay.

Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin, you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.

Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.

When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t “mean anything” because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.

Say thank you.

Yours,
Sugar

Tiny Beautiful Things will endure as a piece of literary art,” Almond writes, “as will Cheryl’s other books (Torch and Wild), because they do the essential work of literary art: they make us more human than we were before.”

Four Reasons Why Plato Matters

1024px-Akropolis_by_Leo_von_Klenze
Plato devoted his life to one goal: helping people reach a state of fulfillment. To this day, his ideas remain deeply relevant, provocative, and fascinating. Philosophy, to Plato, was a tool to help us change the world.

In this short video Alain de Botton reminds us of the four big ideas that Plato had for making life more fulfilled.

Transcribed highlights below.

1. Think More

We rarely give ourselves time to think carefully and logically about our lives and how to lead them. Sometimes we just go along with what the Greeks called Doxa, or common sense. In the thirty-six books he wrote, Plato showed this common sense to be riddled with errors, prejudice, and superstition. … The problem is that popular opinions edge us toward the wrong values. … Plato’s answer is know yourself. (This) means doing a special kind of therapy: Philosophy. This means subjecting your ideas to examination rather than acting on impulse. … This kind of examination is called a Socratic discussion.

2. Let Your Lover Change You

That sounds weird if you think that love means finding someone who wants you just the way you are. In his play, the symposium, … Plato says true love is admiration. In other words, the person you need to get together with should have very good qualities, which you yourself lack. … By getting close to this person you can become a little like they are. The right person for us helps us grow to our full potential. … For Plato ‘a couple shouldn’t love each other exactly as they are right now,’ rather they should be committed to educating each other and enduring the stormy passages that inevitably involves. Each person should want to seduce the other into becoming a better version of themselves.

3. Decode the Message of Beauty
Everyone pretty much likes beautiful things but Plato was the first to ask why do we like them? He found a fascinating reason: beautiful objects are whispering important truths to us about the good life. We find things beautiful when we sense qualities in them that we need but are constantly missing in our lives: gentleness; harmony; balance; peace; (and) strength. Beautiful objects therefore have a really important function: they help to educate our souls.

4. Reform Society

Plato spent a lot of time thinking about how the government and society should ideally be. He was the world’s first utopian thinker.

In this, he was inspired by Athens’s great rival: Sparta. This was a city-sized machine for turning out great soldiers. Everything the Spartans did – how they raised their children, how their economy was organised, whom they admired, how they had sex, what they ate – was tailored to that one goal. And Sparta was hugely successful, from a military point of view.

But that wasn’t Plato’s concern. He wanted to know: how could a society get better at producing not military power but eudaimonia? How could it reliably help people towards fulfillment?

In his book, The Republic, Plato identifies a number of changes that should be made:

We need new heroes

Athenian society was very focused on the rich, like the louche aristocrat Alcibiades, and sports celebrities, like the boxer Milo of Croton. Plato wasn’t impressed: it really matters who we admire, for celebrities influence our outlook, ideas and conduct. And bad heroes give glamour to flaws of character.

Plato therefore wanted to give Athens new celebrities, replacing the current crop with ideally wise and good people he called Guardians: models for everyone’s good development. These people would be distinguished by their record of public service, their modesty and simple habits, their dislike of the limelight and their wide and deep experience. They would be the most honoured and admired people in society.

End Democracy

He also wanted to end democracy in Athens. He wasn’t crazy he just observed how few people think properly before they vote. Therefore we get very substandard rulers. He didn’t want to replace democracy with a dictatorship, but he wanted to prevent people from voting until they’d started to think rationally. That is, until they became philosophers. … To help the process Plato started a school: The Academy.

Still curious? So where do you go from here? The Great Books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis recommends this edition of Plato’s Complete Works. Another place to start, is this, slightly more detailed introduction to Plato.

What Is Time?

What is time

St Augustine, the theologian and philosopher, famously posed the question ‘What is time?’ in The Confessions. After waxing on for a bit about what he can say about time he admits (that he’s in a) “sorry state, for I do not even know what I do not know!”. Augustine is not alone.

Introducing Time: A Graphic Guide aims to help us understand the concept of time and its related puzzles “such as whether the past and future are real, whether time travel is possible, and the explanation of the direction of time.”

Clocks

In everyday life, we are probably most familiar with time from two sources: clocks, and our inner psychological experience of time.

Clocks are everywhere. There are grandfather clocks, watches, alarm clocks, even incense clocks that let you tell the time through scent.

There are also natural clocks.

But clocks existed well before the modern invention of portable artificial ones.

Over four thousand years ago, the Egyptians used obelisk shadow clocks, sundials, and water clocks which measured time by the flow of water passing through a stone vessel.

By 1800 BC, the ancient Babylonians had divided the day into hours, the hour into sixty minutes, and the minute into sixty seconds.

All the great civilizations of the past used the positions of the sun or stars to tell the time.

Looking at the stars with the naked eye, an ancient astronomer could tell the time to within fifteen minutes. And anyone can tell roughly the time merely by looking up at the sun.

Psychological Time

We also feel time pass. In addition to the physical time measured by various clocks, there is also psychological time. We have memories of the past and anticipations of the future. And we experience temporal durations of different sizes. We are personally, subjectively aware of time passing.

So time isn’t limited to clocks or our experience of time. It’s more than that. So is time merely in our head? That’s what Augustine argued. The Persian philosopher Avicenna agreed with him: “Time is merely a feature of our memories and expectations.”

But can this be right?

Although people disagree about their feelings of how much time has passed, they also enjoy remarkable agreement about the temporal ordering of events.

[…]

Except in rare circumstances, everyone (who has the same information available) agrees – for the most part – on the time order of events. There is definitely something objective and independent of a particular person’s feelings about the time ordering. The objectivity of the ordering of events in time proves that there is more to time than just our psychological sense of its passage. There is the fact that events seem to be laid out in a unique and observer-independent succession in time.

Maybe all there is to time is clocks.

This is actually already a deep question. But, at least at first glance, it seems the answer is “no”, for we often talk about a clock being wrong. You might say my watch is ten minutes slow or even completely off. This may be your excuse for being late for an appointment. But is your watch an infallible guide to time? No, we know it will “lose” a few seconds per year, even if it’s pretty good.

Clocks and Time-compressed

Between each “tick” of the clock, we want the same amount of time to pass. It should be no surprise that pendulums, which have regular periodic motion, can be used as clocks. But pendulums aren’t perfect. On a boat in high seas their motion will be disrupted, or in hot weather they may behave differently than in cold weather.

Consider a pendulum swinging back and forth twice. How do we know that the amount of time that passed on its first trip back and forth is the same as the amount of time that passed on its second trip? This question illustrates what the German philosopher Hans Reichenbach (1891 –1953) called the “problem of the uniformity of time”.

The uniformity of time

Firstly, your personal estimations of time won’t be precise enough for science. We need to know whether the first trip seemed exactly the same as the second trip. Secondly, your feeling as to the amount of time that passed is subjective. You might say the same amount of time went by, but your friend might not think so. Thirdly, and most importantly, you’re measuring the time that passed with your thoughts, but these are – plausibly – physical processes, and so this merely pushes our question back a step. That is, we would then ask how you know how long your thoughts last?

Newtonian Time
Newtonian Time-compressed

Real time, according to Newton, does not depend on any particular clock, or even any particular material object in the universe. Time is independent of the contents of the universe. It is this time that is used in the unchanging laws of physics. The laws of physics tell things where to be and when to be there. In telling them when to be where, Nature assumes a particular time measure.

According to Newton, we shouldn’t confuse any of (our) actual imperfect clocks with the perfect, invisible, clock that is independent of any physical object: Time.

Not everyone agrees with Newton. His idea of absolute time continues to be both influential and hugely controversial. In the language of philosophers of science, Newton is both a Realist-he thinks that the time mentioned in the laws of physics is really Time itself – and an Absolutist–he thinks that time is independent of any particular physical process.

Relationalism
Relationalism-compressed

Opponents of Absolutism, known as Relationalists, hold that time is essentially just change, or the measure of change. By change we mean change in the relationships between physical objects. Aristotle (384– 322 BC), the Greek philosopher, held that time is simply the measure of motion. Time is the measure of one physical process against another.

In this view, contrary to Newton’s, time is dependent on the physical contents of the universe since time is defined via their change. Time for Aristotle is dependent on its sensible measure – actual physical clocks.

In the Relationalist view, because time is dependent on physical movement, it seems time doesn’t pass when there is no change. Can we conceive of looking at the stars, having them stop, and still being able to experience time passing? Aristotle considered this question and pointed out that in such a case we’re still measuring the progression of time with our changing thoughts and feelings. We need these to stop too.

Because our brains will be frozen too, it is true that we wouldn’t notice the passing of time. Could time pass by nonetheless? It would, if time is independent of change. So, in Newton’s view, it would at least be conceivable for time to pass without any change at all. But according to Relationalism, this is impossible. Time is just the measure of change. No change, no time.

Tensed Time
One part of the book that stood out for me was the nature of tensed theory of time, which offers another use of branching. I connected the theory of tensed time to alternative histories.

The tensed theory of time probably best corresponds with one’s intuitive idea of time, or the idea of time shared with the proverbial “man in the street”. On this theory, the future is unreal. The event corresponding to what you will do after you read this sentence does not exist. The future is unsettled and ripe with possibility. As time passes, the world “chooses” one path from among all the available ones. The past is set and the present is that instantaneous point where the past and future meet. The world, in this picture, has the structure of a branching tree …

Tensed Time

This theory corresponds to our idea that “what’s done is done”, that the past cannot be changed, and that the future can be changed because it is “open”.

Life Without Time
Adding to our thoughts on time is Mitch Albom’s beautiful passage found in The Timekeeper:

Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.

Introducing Time goes on to further explore the nature of time and our relationship to it.

What Matters Most

The Holstree Manifesto

The Holstee Manifesto sits above my fireplace. A reminder to live a life of purpose and meaning.

This is your life. Do what you want and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love. Stop over-analysing, life is simple. All emotions are beautiful. When you eat, appreciate every last bite. Life is simple. Open your heart, mind and arms to new things and people, we are united in our differences. Ask the next person you see what their passion is and share your inspiring dream with them. Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once, seize them. Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating. Life is short, live your dream and wear your passion.

Aphorisms for Thirsty Fish: The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin

“Expectation is the grandfather of disappointment. The world can never own a man who wants nothing.”



One hundred years after Confucius, came Wu Hsin. His name literally means ‘no-mind.’ And there is almost no trace of this person available, which is probably how he would have liked it.

That’s because he’s likely fictional. His messages however are timeless and can be found in the excellent Aphorisms for Thirsty Fish (The Lost Writings of Wu Hsin).

His writings are filled with paradoxes, which cause the mind to slow down and, at times, to even stop. Reading Wu Hsin, one must ponder. However, it is not an active pondering, but a passive one, much in the same way as one puts something in the oven and lets it bake for a while.

I’m a big fan of concentrated wisdom. The Art of Worldly Wisdom is one of my favorites. I’ve also found a lot of value in La Rochefoucauld and Nassim Taleb. So what then can we learn from Hsin? Here are a few of my highlights.

Our attachment to beliefs …

The attachment to beliefs is
The greatest shackle.
To be free is
To know that
One does not know.

Sleep …

It is understood that
Sleep is the desire for
A period of rest
For the body.
It is less understood that
Sleep is the desire for
A period of rest
Away from the body.

True peace cannot be disturbed…

What is called peace by many is
Merely the absence of disturbance.
True peace cannot be disturbed;
It resides beyond the reach of disturbance.

As if addressing our soundbite culture …

When one is enthralled with
The beauty on the surface of the ocean,
The immensity of its depths can
Never be discerned.

You can’t think your way to freedom.

Controlling the mind doesn’t
Take one to freedom.
Controlling the mind
Adds another link To one’s shackles.

Pain is physical, whereas suffering is mental.

Whereas pain is
A physical experience
Suffering is a mental one.
It is the sense that
Things should be
Other than they are.
Its antidote is Acceptance.

We can be in a crowd and still be alone.

Solitude is not
A condition of the body.
Instead, it is
A condition of the mind.
Solitude may be found
In the busy market or
May be elusive in the forest.

Feeling lost is the first step

For many,
The first step on
A spiritual journey is to
Become lost.
The final step is
Losing one’s self.

As if to explain why consumption does not make us any happier …

Chasing after the things
One yearns for is
Inferior to
Chasing after
The source of the yearning.

The search for happiness …

To search for happiness
Implies its absence.
This implication is a fundamental flaw.
Happiness is ever present.
It may become obscured,
Such obscuration being temporary.

How magicians fool us …

The preoccupation with
The foreground, the sights,
The smells,
The sounds,
Takes the attention away from
The background.
Yet, it is in this very background that
The Mystery resides.

The natural doesn’t need laws

What is natural
Follows no laws nor
Requires any.
Can there be a rule for
The beating of the heart or
The blackness of the raven?
There is a natural rhythm to
The workings of the world.
Some are discernable
While others cannot be discerned.
It is the dance
Between the two that
Creates action.

We cannot hide from ourself.

There is no forest,
There is no cave,
There is no mountaintop
Where one can hide From oneself.

Live in the moment …

The greatest enjoyment is experienced
When there is no concern for its duration.

Speaking of mindfulness, before it had a name, he writes:

The sum of a past is I was.
The sum of a future is
I will be.
The continuous crossing back and forth
Between the two
Obscures the present moment,
The I am, Being Itself.

On freedom …

A free man’s life is
A life that is free of
Demands,
Free of dependency.
With nothing to drag along
One goes where one will.

Anyone who has ever lived through a corporate reorganization …

Do not mistake
A mere rearranging of the furniture
For true change.

Being content is about dropping attachment and desire.

The man of contentment
Seeks nothing that
He doesn’t have and
Understands that
Whatever he has
Isn’t his to own.

In fact he later writes: “Chasing after more and more is futile. It is only less and less that lastingly satisfies.”

Building on this he incisively looks at our expectations

Expectation is the grandfather of
Disappointment.
The world can never
Own a man Who wants nothing.

Hsin writes on our desire to seek confirmation of what we already know.

You are not satisfied
With the answers
Given by others.
So you come to Wu Hsin.
But what you really seek
Are not answers
But confirmation
Of what you think
You already know.
If you were to admit
That you know nothing,
Then I will most gladly answer.

The greatest crime …

The greatest crime is
The overlooking of
Who you really are In favor of
The story of
Who you think you are.
This preoccupation with
Your personal drama is
The cloud that masks The sun.

On how to change the world …

To conquer the large,
Begin with the small.
To change your world,
Begin by changing yourself.
What needs to be changed?
Only the point of view.

Hsin, like me, sees failure as an opportunity.

Nothing succeeds like failure.
Failure is a natural
Call for attention,
Like pain.
To pay attention is to
Step out of your trance.

Sometimes you have to crack some eggs

To free the chick,
The shell must be broken.
To free what is inside
One must shatter
What is outside.

How we live …

What is known is familiar
Yet unsatisfying.
What is unknown is feared
Yet desired Life thrives in risks and
Dies in stasis.
Live.

On the delta between our expectations and reality …

The world changes profoundly
When demands on it cease.
The real world and one’s imagined world
Share little.

What’s better than the acquisition of knowledge? Invert. Getting rid of ignorance. This passage also reminds me of the Arab Scholar Ali Bin Abi-Taleb, who said: “keeping one’s distance from an ignorant person is equivalent to keeping company with a wise man.”

Ridding oneself of ignorance is
Worth more than the acquisition of knowledge.
With memory gone
The past is gone
Relinquishing hopes and fears
The future is gone.
The present is upon you.
In every moment.
You are free.

Not only is Hsin full of knowledge, he’s often beautiful in his writing. Consider this …

The Infinite has no preferences.
It kisses both the darkness and
The light equally.

Aphorisms for Thirsty Fish is a worthy read.

What Book has the Most Page-for-Page Wisdom?

Here is what happened when I asked twenty-seven thousand people “What is page for page the book with the most wisdom you’ve ever read?”

My thinking was, and still is, that you need to filter what you read. Reading, I mean really reading, is not simple. It’s time consuming. So aside from finding time and remembering what you read, you want to make sure you’re reading the right things. There are a few approaches to this filtering. One is to employ the Lindy Effect. But another approach that I use personally is, and this is really going to sound simple, to ask smart people what they’re reading, what they learned from, or, in this case, what book has the most page-per-page wisdom.

The results are often surprising and I usually find one or two books that I’ve never heard of that offer a lot of value.

In no particular order, here is what twitter had to say:

Seeking Wisdom, by Peter Bevelin
This is number 8 on the list of books that changed my life. It is also the book I give away most often, sending innumerable copies around the globe.

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan
This is one of the best-selling science books of all time. I’ve never read it, so I ordered it after reading the blurb: “retraces the fourteen billion years of cosmic evolution that have transformed matter into consciousness, exploring such topics as the origin of life, the human brain, Egyptian hieroglyphics, spacecraft missions, the death of the Sun, the evolution of galaxies, and the forces and individuals who helped to shape modern science.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
A book that a lot of people, myself included, talk about but have never read. It’s time to change that.

Do the Work!, by Steven Pressfield
I liked Pressfield’s, The War of Art enough to pick this manifesto arguing that ideas are not enough, you actually have to do the work.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
I’ve picked this book up at least 3 different times in my life and stopped reading it for one reason or another. Considered a cult classic by many, I haven’t found the right time to read it … yet.

The Conquest of Happiness, Bertrand Russell
First published in 1930, this book attempts to “diagnose the myriad causes of unhappiness in modern life and chart a path out of the seemingly inescapable malaise.” The book remains as relevant today as ever, and in this edition Daniel Dennett, who showed us how to how to criticize with kindness, re-introduces Russell’s wisdom to a new generation of readers and thinkers calling the work “a prototype of the flood of self-help books that have more recently been published, few of them as well worth reading today as Russell’s little book.”

This is Water by David Foster Wallace
This is one of the best things you will ever read (and hopefully periodically re-read). I wholeheartedly agree with this selection.

Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
Another of the books that changed my life and also one of the books that I gave away at the Re:Think Innovation workshop. Translation matters enormously with this book, get this one.

Letters from a Stoic, Seneca
Love love love. As relevant today as it was when it was written.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
The person who recommended this book said “you can’t throw away any one page of this book.” You can read a quick overview of the book, but I’d recommend digging in.

Dr Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
I agree. Don’t write it off because it’s a kids’ book. I love this book.

An Intimate History of Humanity, by Theodore Zeldin
I’d never heard of this work exploring the evolution of emotions before. Time magazine called it “An intellectually dazzling view of our past and future.”

The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck
I’d never heard of this book (seriously) either and it’s sold 7 million copies. A book to “help us explore the very nature of loving relationships and lead us toward a new serenity and fullness of life.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
“For all the answers, stick your thumb to the stars!”