The Best Ideas

November 29, 2013

“The best ideas are when you take two older ideas that have nothing to do with each other, make them have sex with each other, and then build a business around the ugly bastard child that results. The child that was so ugly nobody else wanted to touch it. Look at Facebook: combine the internet with stalking. Amazing!” – James Altucher

This is an excerpt from his book “Choose Yourself!”.


Redefining Failure

November 27, 2013

Motivating viewpoint found on Lifehacker:

“It’s easy to see why we fear failures, screw-ups and unknowns when you consider how they are traditionally defined:

Failure: 1. lack of success; failing 2. unsuccessful person or thing. 3. non-performance.

Screw-up: 1. bungle, mess. 2. mismanage a task. 3. thing incorrectly done or thought.

Unknown: 1. not known. 2. unfamiliar.

You can shift your perception and recognize their value (or at least take out the sting) by redefining them as follows:

Failure: 1. the starting line 2. part of process. 3. on the path to success.

Screw-up: 1. sign of innovation. 2. output of dedicated work 3. result of perseverance.

Unknown: 1. creative challenge. 2. new opportunity.

Failures, screw-ups, and unknowns help you build resilience and character, give you insights about your work, yourself, and others, enrich your experiences, test your emotional intelligence, and add to your knowledge and skills.”

The Past Is A Blurry Place

November 25, 2013

I’m reading a couple of biographies of some famous scientists at the moment. Whilst doing this I’m also trying to figure out how the authors went about it, especially what (imo) works and what doesn’t.

There’s also the issue of the ultimate purpose of the book. If it’s a (conventional) biography, it should be reasonably complete, accurate and balanced. However, a few questions always crop up:

  • Should it also give a flavour of the personality as a whole, as a real-life human being, rather than just as a smart scientist?
  • How accessible should it be, namely, what is the target audience?
  • How long should it be (which in my opinion means how likely anyone will read it rather than just dip into it)?
  • How much research is needed, doing just the obvious or also going deeper? For example, looking at journals and diaries if they exist and, as a result, perhaps question standard views?

Whilst thinking about this, I stumbled across this fascinating quote:

“In a true history or biography, of how little consequence those events of which so much is commonly made! For example, how difficult for a man to remember in what towns or houses he has lived, or when! Yet one of the first steps of his biographer will be to establish these facts, and he will thus give an undue importance to many of them. I find in my Journal that the most important events in my life, if recorded at all, are not dated.” – David Thoreau

This insight certainly rings a bell with me, especially the last sentence.

Maybe the past is always a blurry place.

Doing What You Believe In

November 15, 2013

“People seldom do what they believe in, they do what is convenient, and then repent.” – Bob Dylan

How true.

I’ve Had This Great Idea!

November 13, 2013

From a review of the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson:

Here’s Bud Tribble, another member of the Macintosh team, describing what it was like to work for the great man (Jobs): “If you tell him a new idea, he’ll usually tell you that he thinks it’s stupid. But then, if he actually likes it, exactly one week later, he’ll come back to you and propose your idea to you, as if he thought of it.”

I’ve noticed this behaviour with quite a few people over the years but I was amused to find that it was also true of Jobs!

On a related theme, when I’d just left academia and was starting out in the commercial world, my manager once told me that he’d be away for a few weeks as he had to visit a number of international research centres (US, Japan, EU etc).

He explained that his remit was to try to get a co-ordinated strategy amongst these highly competitive groups (within the same company). I remarked that this seemed a pretty thankless task as it seemed unlikely to get anywhere (for all the usual reasons).

He agreed it was tricky but to get over this he said that he’d use a very simple technique that previously had always worked. He’d listen carefully to all their separate ideas (some being the total opposite of others of course) and put together a mix that seemed a good way forward (for the company as a whole). He’d then go back to the groups one by one and explain the new strategy and remark that the bulk of the good ideas came primarily from that group. This wasn’t strictly true of course but they were nevertheless ready to believe it and to my surprise they all signed up!

In reality, I’m sure it was a lot more complicated than this – he was probably planting the seeds of ideas with each of the groups as he went along. However, the basic point is still the same – it takes time for new ideas to sink in and people always want/need a sense of involvement.

In conclusion, it’s helpful to learn the invaluable skill of ‘biting your tongue’!

Think About Your Choices

November 10, 2013

“We can pick our teachers and we can pick our friends and we can pick the books we read and the music we listen to and the movies we see, et cetera. You are a mashup of what you let into your life.” – Paula Scher (designer)

It’s quite useful to reflect on this – what could you change?

On a related theme, and from a previous post:

Assuming it’s even only roughly true, it’s still worth thinking about, at least in a business context!

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” – Jim Rohn

In particular, if you want to get to a new place, spending more time with some different people may make that journey possible or easier although initially it’ll be more difficult or inconvenient.

Be Clear About Your Destination

November 1, 2013

“Don’t tell me what you invented. Tell me about who you changed.” – Seth Godin

From here.

I’ve just realised – there’s no point in my telling friends “I’m writing a book about X”, I need to say “I’m planning to change people’s views on X”, and believe it too. The book is the vehicle not the destination.