Notes from reading ‘Sapiens,’ a brief history of humankind

Our species, Homo sapiens, first grew powerful by banding together through myth-making. That self-deception is our strength and our curse.

That is something like the thesis of Sapiens, a kind of pop anthropology anthology that has — like all books that generalize heady issues — caught both praise and derision. Written by Yuval Noah Harari, it was first published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011 and in English in 2014. I was gifted a copy by a collaborator of mine, Deborah Diamond and I ready it in a couple weeks. I’m sharing here some of what I got from reading it.

Public intellectuals seem to face a harrowing choice. Either dive deeply into their subject matter to influence their peers but risk their ideas remaining obscure, or focus on translating and synthesizing for a broader audience, and attract scorn from those deeper situated in the academic. Harari is squarely in the latter category, garnering a 2018 New York Times profile focused on the adulation he’s received from tech executives, despite his criticism of their work.

Like a breakout hit in linguistics that I read, I approach these books with neither extreme. I find them fun, discover ideas to dive deeper into and often get inspiration. That was my experience with Harari’s book — even though I found myself ignoring extended passages of his extrapolation. I enjoyed it.

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To get only the ‘right’ words on paper, that’s the struggle: Janet Benton

As a followup to my 2018 podcast The Writing Process, I’m sharing occasional interviews with other celebrated authors, storytellers and other writers to gather their own writing advice.

Below, hear from Janet Benton, whose historical fiction novel Lilli de Jong came out in paperback last year. (Follow her on Twitter here) When her debut novel launched, Bustle called it striking and NPR listed it as one of its books of the year.

The book, known as a poignant look at feminism and motherhood, set in 1883 Philadelphia, is readily available as a hardcover, paperback, large-print edition, audio book and ebook through most booksellers and online.

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Lifetime Learning: listen to my IT Works commencement address

I was proud and charmed to be asked to address the spring 2019 Delaware graduating class of IT Works, an impactful, if small, workforce development program from nonprofit Tech Impact.

This cohort of 18 was the program’s largest so far, and in showing how powerful it is to give at-risk young people a free certificate program for tech support roles, they attracted enough friends and family that the audience was more than 100. The event was cheery, taking place inside the Wilmington offices of CapitalOne, a funder of the program.

You can read a version of my remarks here, or listen below (or download them here)

3 simple ideas for thriving in an open office

You can find a lot of solid advice for surviving the open office.

The historical arc of offices is richly told. Despite the criticism they get, I’m fond of them, over many offices or more established cubicles. Someone recently asked me for advice, and I found I had three quick answers that I stand by.

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The difference between developmental editing and copyediting

It’s a question of priority and need.

Though this runs across publishing and deeper in newsrooms, I’m speaking in a general sense about my own experiences, both in journalism and creative work.

Less about roles, I see two broad ways we approach editing: developmental editing and copyediting. One isn’t better or more important than the other. They’re just different tools in developing story. One supports the approach; one finalizes the landing.

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Lessons I learned from my mother 

It’s been 10 years since my mother died. I was 23, an adult by many measures but critically in other ways I wasn’t. For one, I was painfully unstable in my early professional steps.

In her final days, I sat with a bulky laptop in a hospital waiting room struggling with the feeling that I had as much control over her health as I did my job prospects. I was sad and frustrated and depressed and feeling very sorry for myself. So it follows that I didn’t take much time then to consider how much she had done for me.

Many years later, I still find it hard. I think of her often. In quiet moments when I’m doing something she loved or that she taught me, I still get the urge to call her. Sometimes, that makes me sad. But other times, as I’ve learned, my continuing on with things I know from her makes me glad. And because of my love of learning, it’s the memories of her teaching me something I love most.

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Here are 5 trends in ‘startup clusters’ I discussed in a lecture at Jefferson Innovation

Back in February I gave a lecture at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s ‘Innovation’ lab about trends in ‘startup clusters,’ or the modern, dense collection of next-stage companies.

I wrote about those trends here, and you can find my slides here (with my hilarious jokes). Below, for the hardy among you, watch my hour-long presentation.

Start with the doing. Then get to the done

Big goals can inspire. They can also paralyze.

One of the best outcomes from building the habit of building habits is having a skill to make big change. If you want to stop always being late. If you want to be a better public speaker. If you want to drive your company to new heights.

Once you identify the obstacles, these all are essentially tasks of building habits. But we often stare down the end of an enormous project and are so intimidated we never start. That happens to me a lot. So I remind myself that it all comes down to an incredibly simple act: just get started.

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A few quotes I read recently that are stuck in my mind

I often try to capture ideas from my reading. So I sometimes internalize those ideas by sharing notes here on my takeaways from something I’ve read.

Most usually that’s with nonfiction; though I’ve done it with fiction too when something really connects for me. But other times, I have a habit of squirreling away quotes or shorter notes, more often from fiction, in all sorts of places.

I had a few bundled up and thought I’d just share them here, if only for me to come back to more easily. They aren’t precisely tuned or themed, other than to be about life in some way or another.

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I changed a lot at my company. Here’s why beating a big Q1 revenue goal meant so much

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Nobody wants to follow someone who made General in peacetime.

I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot lately (Ben Horowitz calls its Peace/War Time CEO). In 2017, after eight years of informally leading the tiny community journalism organization I cofounded, I named myself CEO. Up until that point, my cofounder Brian and I had survived together. We’d always find a way to last a bit longer, growing slowly and thoughtfully as we navigated treacherous waters.

That survival approach was rational for growing a local news company in the early 21st century,  a time in which consumers maintain very high expectations for free and independent journalism but have not yet been fully trained to actually pay or otherwise support its work in a post-advertising world.

But in early 2018, as I was finally feeling the great responsibility of the CEO title, I took stock of where my company was.

Continue reading I changed a lot at my company. Here’s why beating a big Q1 revenue goal meant so much