Sunday Wisdom No. 34
Most difficult leadership skill, Lee is nowhere, after Corona, durable business, western philosophy limits, Parasite symbols, nightmare artist, Worldizing, Contagion, Rahman's music, good decisions
If things are looking a bit bleak for you by any chance, here’s something uplifting from me.
I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s a long read, but totally worth the time. So much of knowledge has been compressed into this book that it’s almost unbelievable. It’s a good refresher on the progress of science and Bryson covers nearly everything — space, physics, chemistry, geology, particle physics, genetics, biology, fossils, microorganisms, and more. He takes us with him on the ultimate eye-opening journey, and reveals the world in a way most of us have never seen it before. This is how science should be taught. If you haven’t read it yet, you just dunno what you are missing out.
Now’s the time for your weekly dose of multidisciplinary reading to upgrade your thinking and decision making. And if you’re seeing this newsletter for the first time, you can subscribe here.
📝 What I Wrote
In the last two editions of Sunday Wisdom, I wrote about the limits of our knowledge, and on the importance of having an inner scorecard. Today I’m going to talk about the most difficult skill a leader has to master.
What’s The Most Difficult Leadership Skill?
With the rampant layoffs, forced acquisitions and death of several businesses, I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what it takes to be a leader in these tough times.
You don’t necessarily have to be the founder or the CEO of a company to be a wartime leader. Departments within a large organisation, sports teams, research groups, NGOs, and several institutions go through wartime situations. If you have a side hustle with your friends, it applies to you. If you are the head of your family, it applies to you as well. In fact, if you are leading a team of individuals in any form, you are a leader, and it applies to you.
I believe organisational design, process design, metrics, hiring and firing are all relatively straightforward skills to master. There’s not much ambiguity. But as a leader the toughest skill you have to master is to manage your own mindset.
💡 An Idea For You
Say what you will about tradition but unless you have a reasonable alternative you’d best not mess with it. Traditions have survived generations. They have stood the test of time.
Anything that has remained in practice for a long time is very likely to remain in practice for a long time. Traditions are Lindy proof.
📑 I Enjoyed Reading
The Devastating Decline of a Brilliant Young Coder — “In Cloudflare’s early years, Lee Holloway had been the resident genius, the guy who could focus for hours, code pouring from his fingertips while death metal blasted in his headphones. But some years before the IPO, his behaviour began to change. He lost interest in his projects and coworkers. He stopped paying attention in meetings. His colleagues noticed he was growing increasingly rigid and belligerent, resisting others’ ideas, and ignoring their feedback.”
What Would Aristotle Do in a Pandemic? — “Consider the rule that we should take whatever action is necessary to save the most lives, which seems like a no-brainer. But now suppose a healthy young man comes to the hospital for a routine test. As it happens, the hospital is treating six mortally ill patients, each in need of a different vital organ. So the doctors decide that they should euthanise the young man and use his organs to pull six patients from the jaws of death.”
When The Dust Settles — “Your neighbour’s children play their sports but only after digital temperature measurement each time that they leave the field. You hug your neighbor but you do so with an eye for what onlookers may think about you. Dining out is reserved for the most exclusive restaurants, the type that can enforce minimums that begin to address a lacking volume. Functioning movie theatres are rare.”
What Makes a Business Durable? — “Buffett’s approach is to figure out why a company has had a high return on capital in the past, has a high return in the present, and is likely to have a high return in the future. Once he knows the reason for the high return—the company’s “moat”—he can judge how durable that moat is.”
Why Western Philosophy Can Only Teach Us So Much — “To travel around the world’s philosophies is an opportunity to challenge the beliefs and ways of thinking we take for granted. By gaining greater knowledge of how others think, we can become less certain of the knowledge we think we have, which is always the first step to greater understanding.”
📹 I Enjoyed Watching
Parasite — The Power of Symbols — “In this video, we examine the way Parasite cleverly utilises symbols and motifs to express its theme.”
The Nightmare Artist — “The horrifying paintings of Polish artist Zdislaw Beksinski, whose work combined Freudian nightmares with fragments of World War 2 and Holocaust imagery, also serving as a key inspiration for the modern heavy metal aesthetic.”
How Walter Murch Worldized Film Sound — “How do you capture the acoustic spirit of a place without the software to simulate it? In the early 70s legendary film and sound editor Walter Murch invented a technique called Wordizing that solved the problem of realistic reverb.”
Contagion – Anatomy of a Global Pandemic — “A video essay about Contagion and the anatomy of a global pandemic.”
How A. R. Rahman Scored Bombay — “This video breaks down A. R. Rahman’s use of music and the (possible) thoughts behind composing the music for Mani Ratnam’s 1995 film on the fateful Mumbai riots, BOMBAY.”
🤔 Worth Thinking About
A good decision cannot guarantee a good outcome. All real decisions are made under uncertainty. A decision is therefore a bet, and evaluating it as good or not must depend on the stake and the odds, not on the outcome
— Ward Edwards
Complement this with Thinking in Bets.
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