‘The Writing Life,‘ a 1989 collection of essays from novelist Annie Dillard, is one of the foundational contributions to the canon of teaching modern fiction writing.
A few months ago, I finally tore through the tidy, celebrated, delightful little book, commonly known as the friendly, fiction alternative to the 1920 grammarian guide from Strunk and White. (Interestingly a New York Times book review took a dim view of her collection, but it’s cherished today.)
There is an entire industry of creative productivity self-help resources. My friend Sean Blanda gave me ‘Manage Your Day-to-Day,’ one in a portfolio of books from 99U, an effort from Behance, the Adobe division where he works.
It was a quick and energizing read. Buy it for $8. As I like to do, I wanted to share a few of the directives I most acted on.
The fate of small, urban satellite cities and the role technology and entrepreneurship communities will have in their future is of interest to me. I recently wrote something about it for the Delaware state newspaper.
Today, any U.S. community preparing for the future is fostering a technology and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Delaware is too.
A recent News Journal op-ed on the matter didn’t take into account much of an organic, nascent community that is building toward a bigger impact. There are efforts in Newark, Lewes, Rehoboth and elsewhere, Wilmington, despite its challenges, already has the foundation of an innovation corridor. MORE
In large scale projects, preparing to do the work is often more important than doing the work. That was likely the biggest lesson I drew from the book, which chronicled a failed attempt by a consortium of French government and business leaders to build a sea-level canal and then a painful but ultimately successful American attempt that used locks and came at the heels of advancements in understanding how to deal with yellow fever.
I also drastically underestimated the magnitude the Panama Canal represented as an engineering and public health campaign. My previous ignorance to this period of human history is embarrassing.
As I often do when I read a book of relevance to leadership and history, I share my notes here.
Boston was built by Puritans, who celebrated civic power and class authority. Philadelphia was built by Quakers, who championed equality and deference.
Two hundred fifty years later, though considerably fewer people in those cities consider themselves a member of either group, their impact is still chiefly responsible for Boston outperforming and Philadelphia underperforming in their contributions to the greater world.
That’s the chief argument of the dense, heavily-researched, 500-page, 1979 academic classic Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, written by University of Pennsylvania sociologist E. Digby Baltzell (1915–1996). The core of the book is said to be based on some 300 interviews with Proper Philadelphians and Brahmin Bostonians, and part of a decades-long research focus that Baltzell had on his Protestant brethren — he has been sometimes credited with popularizing the “WASP” term.
This is a book that is a fabulous read for understanding Philadelphia and Boston, but it is also a treasure for those who love new perspectives on American culture, U.S. history and the development of cities.
While taking train rides between the northeast section of Spain en route to meeting up with old friends at the San Fermin Festival, there is nothing else to be read other than the 1926 classic novel ‘The Sun Also Rises‘ from Ernest Hemingway, which follows a similar route.
The internet doesn’t forget. So I often stockpile perspective (links) for the future.
In 2009, we at Technically Philly were digging our heels into looking at how diversify revenue for a local community news site. In the end, the largest driver turned out to be events, specifically the annual Philly Tech Week we organize. Before then and after some advertising, jobs board and light underwriting revenue, we toyed with donations, gettingsome prominent support and the requisite pushback.
In all the experimentation back then, I saved some great insight, much of which has been relevant lately. As we move back to a new form of that older conversation, I wanted to share a few takeaways from my reading back in 2009.
The unfaltering focus and dependable insensitivity of Jobs, so, having just finished it myself, I’ve been left trying to find causality: did those two qualities make him a better CEO and Apple a better company?
For focus, I believe it’s unquestionable: make fewer products and make them better. It’s the complete opposite of the market share angle of, say, spaghetti sauces. The second has me more uncertain, particularly when the success of Jobs is seen as motivation to drive employees to the edge.
The importance, sway and influence of one of the world’s most dominant 20th century newspapers was the focus of the 1998 collection of essays about the once powerful Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, edited by its former education reporter Peter Binzen, who also wrote Whitetown USA.
A central story line of the book was the Bulletin’s battle with the Inquirer, its chief rival, and how, in the end, the Inquirer, considered by many to be the chain response to the family-owned operation, won. Through all the bluster, I thought there were four primary reasons that rang most true to me:
The Bulletin fundamentally failed to innovate, remaining an afternoon daily as circulation fell with growing TV news audiences, increasing transportation costs due to traffic and changing news cycles.
The Bulletin failed to develop the revenue to stay competitive, including a premature sale of its nascent TV station, denying alcohol advertising and other funding methods that kept it lagging behind the Knight-Ridder funded Inquirer.
The Bulletin resisted aggressive editorial reconfiguration, following the investigative spirit of the 1970s that soared the reputation of the Inquirer behind editor Gene Roberts, and pushed out its own innovative editor George Packard.
The Bulletin came up short in following the suburban trend, having its 1947 purchase of the Camden Courier Post denied by the U.S. Department of Justice for anti-monopoly concerns was a large blow.
As I often do when reading something relevant to the news and innovation conversations I so adore, I wanted to share some choice thoughts from the book.