The Machiavellian concept became associated with communist revolutionaries and then was revived again among 1960s-era countercultural activists. In recent decades, movements across the political spectrum have taken it up. Many return to a classic of the form.
Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” is a guidebook for social and political organizers, written in 1971 in response to the rise of McCarthyism and its suppression of radical thought. Alinsky begins by acknowledging that the world is not always how we would like it to be, and that as organizers, it is our job to start from where things are and work towards change. He emphasizes the importance of building bridges and creating alliances, as well as the need for self-reflection and an understanding that we may not always be right. Alinsky advises organizers to be aware of the power dynamics at play and to use any means necessary to achieve their goals, as long as they are ethical and have a moral foundation. He also stresses the importance of communication and being able to connect with and mobilize the “have-nots” in order to bring about real change. Alinsky’s book is often referred to as a “The Prince” for the disadvantaged, offering strategies and tactics for those working towards social and political revolution.
Many view the book as controversial, as Alinsky, an avowed progressive and nationally-recognized labor community organizer, outlines tactics that any movement could take hold. I found it informative and foundational. My notes are below.
Set an objective and guide your progress with key results.
It’s the main guidance of a long-popular management framework that was effectively outlined in the 2018 book Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs written by legendary venture capitalist John Doerr, who has long championed the process. My company began testing the framework in late 2020, as the pandemic necessitated new organizing principles, and I read the book last year.
In short, OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, is a goal-setting method that involves setting clear and measurable objectives and tracking progress towards them using quantifiable metrics. The goal of OKRs is to focus an organization’s efforts and ensure that everyone is working towards the same objectives.
They are designed to be challenging, but achievable, and should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure they are still relevant. OKRs were developed by Intel in the 1970s and have been used by companies like Google and Bono to drive success. The effectiveness of OKRs comes from their clear framework for setting and achieving goals, their encouragement of collaboration and communication within an organization, and the regular review and update process that ensures they remain relevant.
To implement OKRs successfully, it’s important to tie them to strategy, provide feedback and recognition, and be transparent about them. It’s also important for OKRs to be seen as important at every employee level and for them to represent the majority of an organization’s work. Managers should be aware of what excites their direct reports, what they want to change, what skills they want to add for career growth, and what is blocking progress on OKRs. It’s also important to have a mix of committed and stretch goals and to use all team meetings to address OKRs.
Understand your disposition as both an elephant and a rider.
Our default state of happiness is largely in our genes – upwards of 50% of our general disposition. We make snap decisions about the world (the elephant) and only afterward rationalize those instincts (the rider). We can learn and train ourselves to reduce and adapt to these patterns, but only to lessen their impact.
That’s one of the big themes around happiness that appears in Happiness Hypothesis, the 2006 positive psychology book from Jonathan Haidt. Though 15 years old, it’s part of a library of positive psychology books that I’ve been making my way through. It still offers a good foundation, and so I recommend it. (I also recommend the Happiness Equation, and this essay)
“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire or achieve directly,” Haidt writes, pulling from extensive research. “You have to get the conditions right and then wait“
Those right conditions for happiness are love, the right goals for flow and engagement. Happiness doesn’t only come from within, then, and certainly not only from without but from between. He even shares his Happiness formula: H Happiness = S (Set Point, genes or temperature range) + C (conditions of life that can’t change as easily) + V (voluntary activities we do)
Below find my extensive notes for my research purposes in the future.
In the hundreds of millions of years of the history of mammals, humans play a very short part. So a book about mammals ought not dwell on us too much.
That’s the case with The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us by paleontologist Stephen L. Brusatte, who rose to prominence with a similarly titled booked on dinosaurs. The book is fun but serious, with a very long and detailed accounting of what brought us to today. Get the book. (Image courtesy of this piece on mammal development after the asteroid-fuelled death of the dinosaurs)
Americans have a long established belief in a right to privacy — even as that right has been outshined by others.
The right to know is prominently American, with its relationship to the Freedom of the Press. The 20th century was “the era of the journalist,” according to James Reston, a one-time New York Times executive editor, who led the publication of the Pentagon papers and died in 1995.
Today, the right to be forgotten is a prominent trend emanating from Europe. But the right to privacy relates to both and much more. It’s important to understand it.
So goes Seek and Hide, a new book by academic Amy Gajda. It is thorough and compelling, rich with court law and the stories that help describe our cultural relationship to privacy. Go buy a copy. (New Yorker coverage here)
Long before the change happens, people start by talking.
That’s how community organizing really happens. Before intersectionality or the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Civil Rights movement, or even before the recent explosion of the alt-right, somewhere people quietly come together to form a movement. What do those moments have in common?
That’s the focus of The Quiet Before: On the Unexpected Origins of Radical Ideas, a new book by Gal Beckerman, a books editor for the Atlantic and formerly The New York Times. (Find a review in the Washington Post)
Below, find notes for my future review — and watch an interview Beckerman did with Sewall Chan, who spoke at the 2020 edition of an annual journalism conference I host.
No time management system can save you if you won’t save yourself.
Our human capabilities are powerless against software, global scale and machine learning. We can’t keep up. It’s the “efficiency trap” — the more effective we get, the more others rely on us. Time management, then, isn’t about getting more done but rather it’s about deciding what not to do and how to be at peace with our decisions.
The average human lifespan today is about 4,000 weeks — which gives the book its title and its purpose. After spending much of his career chasing each productivity hack, the author came to a newfound philosophy. Late in the book he describes it as his “Cosmic Insignificance Therapy”: recognizing our futility in the universe is a prerequisite for sustaining a balanced life.
High-achievers can still work hard and do great work. He writes about how. More than anything though the book argues we need the right foundation before we ever chase “inbox zero.” As a productivity nerd myself, I enjoyed the book and got lots from it. It is far less tactical and so may not resolve what some want out of a time management book, but it succeeds at adding something new to the conversation.
Empires rise and fall in predictable ways that follow long-established patterns.
An emerging power invests heavily in education, infrastructure and trade to create wealth, which it protects by strengthening its military. Elsewhere the current leading power grows decadent with rising wealth inequality, in-fighting and fading investments until the emerging power confronts it – and wins. War and revolution start the cycle anew.
That’s among the biggest themes from the high profile 2020 book from Ray Dalio, the founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds: Principles For Dealing With The Changing World Order Why Nations Succeed And Fail. It’s part of the “principles” series that includes extensive independent research that Dalio’s team maintains here. He intends to look at the longest historical period possible to find patterns that can inform what happens next.
Most pressingly, he argues we’re at the late stage of the American empire, when the United States will continue to decline from its role as the world’s global hegemony and cede that position to China. I’ve been disappointed that much of his coverage has not challenged him on what seems a very big conflict of interest: Dalio is heavily invested in China, an authoritarian country that does not protect criticism, and he has been careful to avoid criticizing the party. In short, the book’s biggest flaws may be that he pulls his punches against China. Still, by using his own determinants and data, he paints a stark picture of unassailable patterns over the last 500 years up until today that looks like this:
Below I share my notes from reading the book for my future reference.
Language variation is becoming more distinct, not less, in the United States.
So argues the 2012 book “Dialect Diversity in America: The Politics of Language Change” by influential linguist and academic William Labov.
One major divergence in dialects is between African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and white dialects but differences go wider too. According to Labov, people from cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia, and New York now speak more differently from each other than they did in the 1950s. This seems counterintuitive given the ubiquity of mass media, but academic linguists have shown that one-way communication does less to influence how we talk than our peers.
The book is insightful and compelling Get yourself a copy. My notes for future research are below.
We operate with limited information and are outcomes are heavily influenced by others with varied priorities. That’s the setup for the 2018 book Thinking in Bets by poker player Annie Duke. She was near to several poker scandals but has since focused on decision science — with her poker past as an effective storytelling device.
It was popular in business circles. The book is effective in conveying a clear overall point and synthesizing relevant research. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.