How an artificial language from 1887 is finding new life online ... Like its vastly more successful digital cousins — C++, HTML, Python, Linux — Esperanto is an artificial language, designed to have perfectly regular grammar, with none of the messy exceptions of natural tongues. Out loud, all that regularity creates strange cadences, like someone speaking Italian slowly while chewing gum. William Auld, the Modernist Scottish poet who wrote his greatest work in Esperanto, was nominated for the Nobel Prize multiple times, but never won. But it is supremely easy to learn, like a puzzle piece formed to fit into the human brain. ... Decades before Couchsurfing became a website (or the word website existed), Esperantists had an international homestay service called Pasaporta Servo, in which friendly hosts around the world listed their phone numbers and home addresses in a central directory available to traveling Esperantists. It may be a small, widely dispersed, and self-selected diaspora, but wherever you go, there are Esperantists who are excited that you exist. ... There’s no money, no power, no marketing, no prestige — Esperanto speakers speak Esperanto because they believe in it, and because it’s fun to speak a foreign language almost instantly, after a couple months of rolling the words around in your mouth. ... Esperanto was invented in 1887 by a Polish ophthalmologist named L.L. Zamenhof, who hoped his creation would bring about world peace. Zamenhof saw a turbulent world divided by language, and concluded that the situation was too complicated, essentially unfair, and ultimately doomed. He believed that the languages people already spoke were oversaturated with history, politics, and power, making it impossible to communicate clearly. Esperanto was a fresh start, a technology that would allow its speakers to sidestep the difficulties of natural languages altogether.
Studies in the past two decades indicate that people often understand and remember text on paper better than on a screen. Screens may inhibit comprehension by preventing people from intuitively navigating and mentally mapping long texts. … In general, screens are also more cognitively and physically taxing than paper. Scrolling demands constant conscious effort, and LCD screens on tablets and laptops can strain the eyes and cause headaches by shining light directly on people 's faces. … Preliminary research suggests that even so-called digital natives are more likely to recall the gist of a story when they read it on paper because enhanced e-books and e-readers themselves are too distracting. Paper's greatest strength may be its simplicity.
Our age reveres the narrow specialist but humans are natural polymaths, at our best when we turn our minds to many things ... I travelled with Bedouin in the Western Desert of Egypt. When we got a puncture, they used tape and an old inner tube to suck air from three tyres to inflate a fourth. It was the cook who suggested the idea; maybe he was used to making food designed for a few go further. Far from expressing shame at having no pump, they told me that carrying too many tools is the sign of a weak man; it makes him lazy. The real master has no tools at all, only a limitless capacity to improvise with what is to hand. The more fields of knowledge you cover, the greater your resources for improvisation. … We hear the descriptive words psychopath and sociopath all the time, but here’s a new one: monopath. It means a person with a narrow mind, a one-track brain, a bore, a super-specialist, an expert with no other interests
What can business learn from Big Science? … AS A technical feat, ATLAS takes some beating. It is the world’s biggest microscope, used by physicists at CERN, a large laboratory near Geneva, to probe the fundamental building blocks of matter. Its barrel-shaped body, 45 metres long, 25 metres tall and weighing as much as the Eiffel tower, was assembled in a cavern 100 metres beneath the Swiss countryside from 10m parts, nearly twice as many as in a jumbo jet. It generates more data each day than Twitter does. … It is also a remarkable organisational achievement. The components were designed by hundreds of scientists and engineers from dozens of institutions. They were subsequently sourced from 400-odd suppliers on four continents, at a cost of $435m. At any one time the experiment involves more than 3,000 researchers from 175 institutes in 38 countries. … Does a multinational science project like ATLAS have much in common with a multinational business?
Ernest Hemingway writes in the bedroom of his house in the Havana suburb of San Francisco de Paula. He has a special workroom prepared for him in a square tower at the southwest corner of the house, but prefers to work in his bedroom, climbing to the tower room only when “characters” drive him up there. ... A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him. ... He keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream. ... This dedication to his art may suggest a personality at odds with the rambunctious, carefree, world-wheeling Hemingway-at-play of popular conception. The fact is that Hemingway, while obviously enjoying life, brings an equivalent dedication to everything he does—an outlook that is essentially serious, with a horror of the inaccurate, the fraudulent, the deceptive, the half-baked.
The internet promised to feed our minds with knowledge. What have we learned? That our minds need more than that ... My point is not that we should return to some romanticised preindustrial past: I mean only to draw attention to contradictions that still shape our post-industrial present. The physical violence of the 19th-century factory might be gone, at least in the countries where industrialisation began, but the alienation inherent in these ways of organising work remains. ... When the internet arrived, it seemed to promise a liberation from the boredom of industrial society, a psychedelic jet-spray of information into every otherwise tedious corner of our lives. In fact, at its best, it is something else: a remarkable helper in the search for meaningful connections. But if the deep roots of boredom are in a lack of meaning, rather than a shortage of stimuli, and if there is a subtle, multilayered process by which information can give rise to meaning, then the constant flow of information to which we are becoming habituated cannot deliver on such a promise. At best, it allows us to distract ourselves with the potentially endless deferral of clicking from one link to another. Yet sooner or later we wash up downstream in some far corner of the web, wondering where the time went. The experience of being carried on these currents is quite different to the patient, unpredictable process that leads towards meaning.
Discovery used to mean going out and coming across stuff - now it seems to mean turning inwards and gazing at screens. We've become reliant on machines to help us get around, so much so that it's changing the way we behave, particularly among younger people who have no experience of a time before GPS. ... Experts believe that making maps in our heads, by working out routes and remembering them, is a vital cognitive function for developing minds. ... the maze and its leafy purlieus were also vital as an escape from the overwhelming busy-ness of court life. Kings and courtesans fled the info-babble of their own day to this soothing oasis of flower power, centuries before the hippies were even thought of.
What if you had the opportunity to learn how to improve the quality of your forecasts, measured as the distance between forecasts and outcomes, by 60 percent? Interested? ... Phil Tetlock is a professor of psychology and political science at the University of Pennsylvania who has spent decades studying the predictions of experts. Specifically, he enticed 284 experts to make more than 27,000 predictions on political, social, and economic outcomes over a 21-year span ended in 2004. The period included six presidential elections and three wars. These forecasters had crack credentials, including more than a dozen years of relevant work experience and lots of advanced degrees—nearly all had postgraduate training and half had PhDs. ... Overall, Tetlock’s results provide lethal ammunition for those who debunk the value of experts. ... While famous experts had among the worst records of prediction, they demonstrated “skill at telling a compelling story.” To gain fame it helps to tell “tight, simple, clear stories that grab and hold audiences.” These pundits are often wrong but never in doubt. ... foresight is a real and measurable skill. One test of skill is persistence. High persistence means that you do consistently well over time and are not a one-hit wonder. About 70 percent of superforecasters remain in those elite ranks from one year to the next, vastly more than what chance would dictate. ... second is that foresight “is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, of updating beliefs.” Importantly, the essential ingredients of being a superforecaster can be learned and cultivated. ... Tetlock and his colleagues found four drivers behind the success of the superforecasters:
- Find the right people. You get a 10-15 percent boost from screening forecasters on fluid intelligence and active open-mindedness.
- Manage interaction. You get a 10-20 percent enhancement by allowing the forecasters to work collaboratively in teams or competitively in prediction markets.
- Train effectively. Cognitive debiasing exercises lift results by 10 percent.
- Overweight elite forecasters or extremize estimates. Results improve by 15-30 percent if you give more weight to better forecasters and make forecasts more extreme to compensate for the conservatism of forecasts.
These kids might never read a map or stop at a gas station to ask directions, nor have they ever seen their parents do so. They will never need to remember anyone's phone number. Their late-night dorm-room arguments over whether Peyton or Eli Manning won more Super Bowl MVPs will never go unsettled for more than a few seconds. They may never have to buy a flashlight. Zac is one of the first teenagers in the history of teenagers whose adult personality will be shaped by which apps he uses, how frequently he texts, and whether he's on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat. Or whatever comes after Snapchat. Clicking like, clicking download, clicking buy, clicking send—each is an infinitesimal decision in the course of the modern American teenager's life. They do this, collectively, millions of times a minute. But together these tiny decisions make up an alarming percentage of their lives. This generation is the first for whom the freedom to express every impulse to the entire world is as easy as it used to be to open your mouth and talk to a friend. ... You hear two opinions from experts on the topic of what happens when kids are perpetually exposed to technology. One: Constant multitasking makes teens work harder, reduces their focus, and screws up their sleep. Two: Using technology as a youth helps students adapt to a changing world in a way that will benefit them when they eventually have to live and work in it. Either of these might be true. More likely, they both are.
As America switches from an industrial economy to a digital one, its bluest collar workers are facing the toughest challenge of their lives. Can miners really learn how to code? ... coal is basically over. The federal government has pumped nearly $23 million into the region in the last two years to diversify the post-coal economy and retrain miners into jobs like installing broadband fiber. But until there’s some serious new high-paying option, most ex-mine workers are getting by on unemployment, taking lower paying jobs, moving away, or, as one put it to me, “going into panic mode.” ... The job, they determined, would start with a 22-week training program to learn how to code. Trainees would be paid $15 an hour, which came from federal funds pumped through a regional economic development agency. That’s less than miner wages, but it was better than working at the McDonald’s double-lane drive-thru downtown. Then, after those 22 weeks, Justice and Parrish would put up three dollars for every one from the government and build a coding team that could take on real, paying work. ... Most had heard the program’s radio ad. “Have you been laid off from a job in the mining industry? If you are a logic-based thinker willing to work and learn new things, we have a career opportunity for you. BitSource is bringing the computer coding revolution to Eastern Kentucky.”
Walter Pitts was used to being bullied. He’d been born into a tough family in Prohibition-era Detroit, where his father, a boiler-maker, had no trouble raising his fists to get his way. The neighborhood boys weren’t much better. One afternoon in 1935, they chased him through the streets until he ducked into the local library to hide. The library was familiar ground, where he had taught himself Greek, Latin, logic, and mathematics—better than home, where his father insisted he drop out of school and go to work. Outside, the world was messy. Inside, it all made sense. ... Not wanting to risk another run-in that night, Pitts stayed hidden until the library closed for the evening. Alone, he wandered through the stacks of books until he came across Principia Mathematica, a three-volume tome written by Bertrand Russell and Alfred Whitehead between 1910 and 1913, which attempted to reduce all of mathematics to pure logic. Pitts sat down and began to read. For three days he remained in the library until he had read each volume cover to cover—nearly 2,000 pages in all—and had identified several mistakes. Deciding that Bertrand Russell himself needed to know about these, the boy drafted a letter to Russell detailing the errors. Not only did Russell write back, he was so impressed that he invited Pitts to study with him as a graduate student at Cambridge University in England. Pitts couldn’t oblige him, though—he was only 12 years old. But three years later, when he heard that Russell would be visiting the University of Chicago, the 15-year-old ran away from home and headed for Illinois. He never saw his family again. ... Though they started at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, McCulloch and Pitts were destined to live, work, and die together. Along the way, they would create the first mechanistic theory of the mind, the first computational approach to neuroscience, the logical design of modern computers, and the pillars of artificial intelligence. But this is more than a story about a fruitful research collaboration. It is also about the bonds of friendship, the fragility of the mind, and the limits of logic’s ability to redeem a messy and imperfect world. ... “He was absolutely incomparable in the scholarship of chemistry, physics, of everything you could talk about history, botany, etc. When you asked him a question, you would get back a whole textbook … To him, the world was connected in a very complex and wonderful fashion.”
You wouldn’t see it in most classrooms, you wouldn’t know it by looking at slumping national test-score averages, but a cadre of American teenagers are reaching world-class heights in math—more of them, more regularly, than ever before. The phenomenon extends well beyond the handful of hopefuls for the Math Olympiad. The students are being produced by a new pedagogical ecosystem—almost entirely extracurricular—that has developed online and in the country’s rich coastal cities and tech meccas. In these places, accelerated students are learning more and learning faster than they were 10 years ago—tackling more-complex material than many people in the advanced-math community had thought possible. ... The change is palpable at the most competitive colleges. At a time when calls for a kind of academic disarmament have begun echoing through affluent communities around the nation, a faction of students are moving in exactly the opposite direction. ... lately, dozens of new math-enrichment camps with names like MathPath, AwesomeMath, MathILy, Idea Math, sparc, Math Zoom, and Epsilon Camp have popped up, opening the gates more widely to kids who have aptitude and enthusiasm for math, but aren’t necessarily prodigies. ... In New York City last fall, it was easier to get a ticket to the hit musical Hamilton than to enroll your child in certain math circles. Some circles in the 350-student New York Math Circle program run out of New York University filled up in about five hours. ... The pedagogical strategy at the heart of the classes is loosely referred to as “problem solving,” a pedestrian term that undersells just how different this approach to math can be. The problem-solving approach has long been a staple of math education in the countries of the former Soviet Union and at elite colleges such as MIT and Cal Tech. It works like this: Instructors present small clusters of students, usually grouped by ability, with a small number of open-ended, multifaceted situations that can be solved by using different approaches.
Should we make decisions based on intuition and emotion, or should we make decisions more rationally, with data, analytics, and numbers? The best process for making decisions under pressure is to use the data and numbers to inform our intuition. In addition, leaders must recognize and avoid falling prey to a number of mind tricks and biases. Power dynamics can also lead to poor decisions, and leaders do best to pursue an inquiry-based—rather than advocacy-based—approach. ... When making decisions under pressure, there are four tensions. Any decision in an organization generally has an ethical issue, a strategic issue, a financial issue, and a legal issue. Sometimes, there is tension among those issues. What makes perfect sense strategically might not make sense legally, or what makes the best sense financially might not make sense ethically. Part of the decision-making process is having the ability to recognize and manage the fundamental tensions that exist in most of the decisions we face. ... The way to do that is by answering three questions. First, how do I motivate and encourage the people and the organization to be aligned with what we are trying to achieve? Second, operationally, when we are under threat, how do I make sure that the business will be able to continue during these threatening circumstances? Third, how do I communicate the decision that I am about to make?
People tell me about miniaturization, about electric motors the size of the nail on your finger. There is a device on the market by which you can write the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin. But that's nothing. That's the most primitive, halting step. ... Why not write the entire 24 volumes of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" on the head of a pin? ... Let's see what would be involved. The head of a pin is a sixteenth of an inch across. If you magnify it 25,000 diameters, the area of the head of the pin is equal to the area of all pages of the encyclopedia. All it is necessary to do is reduce the writing in the encyclopedia 25,000 times. Is that possible? One of the little dots on the fine halftone reproductions in the encyclopedia, when you demagnify it by 25,000 times, still would contain in its area 1,000 atoms. So, each dot can easily be adjusted in size as required, and there is no question that there is enough room on the head of a pin to put all of the "Encyclopaedia Britannica."
Since its release seven years ago, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children. There are over 100 million registered players, and it’s now the third-best-selling video game in history, after Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft — and Mojang, the Swedish game studio behind it — for $2.5 billion. ... There have been blockbuster games before, of course. But as Jordan’s experience suggests — and as parents peering over their children’s shoulders sense — Minecraft is a different sort of phenomenon. ... For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together: a place where kids engineer complex machines, shoot videos of their escapades that they post on YouTube, make art and set up servers, online versions of the game where they can hang out with friends. It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. ... Minecraft culture is a throwback to the heady early days of the digital age. In the late ’70s and ’80s, the arrival of personal computers like the Commodore 64 gave rise to the first generation of kids fluent in computation. They learned to program in Basic, to write software that they swapped excitedly with their peers. It was a playful renaissance that eerily parallels the embrace of Minecraft by today’s youth. ... Today it costs $27 and sells 10,000 copies a day. (It’s still popular across all age groups; according to Microsoft, the average player is between 28 and 29, and women make up nearly 40 percent of all players.)
Scholze’s key innovation — a class of fractal structures he calls perfectoid spaces — is only a few years old, but it already has far-reaching ramifications in the field of arithmetic geometry, where number theory and geometry come together. ... his unnerving ability to see deep into the nature of mathematical phenomena. Unlike many mathematicians, he often starts not with a particular problem he wants to solve, but with some elusive concept that he wants to understand for its own sake. ... “I understood nothing, but it was really fascinating,” ... Scholze worked backward, figuring out what he needed to learn to make sense of the proof. ... Despite the complexity of perfectoid spaces, Scholze is known for the clarity of his talks and papers. ... Scholze makes a point of trying to explain his ideas at a level that even beginning graduate students can follow
Steinway, one of the world’s most prestigious musical instrument brands, is looking to China to breathe new life into lackluster sales. To succeed, the company will need more than smart marketing. It will need to fine-tune a cultural mind-set in a country that once dismissed pianos as bourgeois luxuries. ... Steinway dealers have to convince their wealthier clientele that the instruments make good investments, avoiding the overly aggressive sales tactics that tripped up some early efforts. They have to educate parents about the potential payoff of buying a piano that can cost as much as an apartment. And they need to woo music students who are increasingly turning to lower-cost keyboards and so-called smart pianos, which use lights, iPads and other technical tools to teach basic skills. ... The company, known for its painstaking craftsmanship, has grudgingly entered the digital game. ... Founded in 1853 in a Manhattan loft by a German immigrant, Steinway flourished for generations by selling high-end pianos, each crafted by hand from materials like Sitka spruce and cast iron, in the United States and Europe. But the company has suffered as piano playing wanes in the West. Music schools and concert halls have cut back on orders. Piano stores have closed. ... By some estimates, the country has as many as 40 million piano students, compared with six million in the United States. ... As it pushes to remake the country into a cultural superpower, the Chinese government has encouraged students to take up the piano by building concert halls and investing in music education. Among the country’s wealthiest families, the arts have become a source of spiritual fulfillment and a status symbol. In rich coastal cities, real estate scions and technology executives are buying Steinway pianos — some outfitted with diamonds and wood from Africa and India — to complement collections of Porsches and Picassos.
Governments around the world have sought to incorporate elements of the “Singapore model” into their own approach to teaching maths and science. The latest is the UK, which earlier this month announced that half of England’s primary schools would adopt the style of maths teaching that is used in Singapore, with up to £41m in funding over four years to train teachers and provide new textbooks. But what is it about Singapore’s system that enables its children to outperform their international peers? And how easy will it be for other countries to import its success? ... A sense of being dwarfed by vast neighbours runs deep in the national psyche, inspiring both fear and pride. In a speech to trade union activists on May Day last year, prime minister Lee Hsien Loong told citizens: “To survive, you have to be exceptional.” ... Aiming to move away from simple rote-learning and to focus instead on teaching children how to problem solve, the textbooks the group produced were influenced by educational psychologists such as the American Jerome Bruner, who posited that people learn in three stages: by using real objects, then pictures, and then through symbols. That theory contributed to Singapore’s strong emphasis on modelling mathematical problems with visual aids; using coloured blocks to represent fractions or ratios, for example. ... The Singapore curriculum is more stripped down at primary level than in many western countries, covering fewer topics but doing so in far greater depth — a crucial factor in its effectiveness
I believe my lack of business education was an asset because it encouraged me to ask a lot of questions and to think from first principles. I recall going to an equity research morning call and hearing the utility industry analyst suggest the slow-growing companies under his coverage deserved price-earnings (P/E) multiples in the high teens and the tobacco industry analyst imply that his fast-growing companies should trade at P/E’s in the mid-teens. How does that make sense? I was dropped into a world of rules-of-thumb, old wives’ tales, and intuitions. ... My first breakthrough occurred when a classmate in my training program handed me a copy of Creating Shareholder Value by Alfred Rappaport.3 Reading that book was a professional epiphany. Rappaport made three points that immediately comprised the centerpiece of my thinking. The first is that the ability of accounting numbers to represent economic value is severely limited. Next, he emphasized that competitive strategy analysis and valuation should be joined at the hip. The litmus test of a successful strategy is that it creates value, and you can’t properly value a company without a thoughtful assessment of its competitive position. ... The final point is that stock prices reflect a set of expectations for future financial performance. A company’s stock doesn’t generate excess returns solely by the company creating value. The company’s results have to exceed the expectations embedded in the stock market.
1. Be numerate (and understand accounting).
2. Understand value (the present value of free cash flow).
3. Properly assess strategy (or how a business makes money).
4. Compare effectively (expectations versus fundamentals).
5. Think probabilistically (there are few sure things).
6. Update your views effectively (beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be protected).
7. Beware of behavioral biases (minimizing constraints to good thinking).
8. Know the difference between information and influence.
9. Position sizing (maximizing the payoff from edge).
10. Read (and keep an open mind).
Paul attempted work on a memoir he had begun some years earlier, but he wasn’t confident that his life story was worth telling at all. He had expected a few consulting gigs to materialize, but each fell through, for one reason or another. A friend told Paul he had to be more entrepreneurial, to create his own opportunities. But Paul didn’t feel like an entrepreneur. He’d spent his life as a company man. ... Wanting to impress his fellow interns and bosses, Paul went to Ralph Lauren and spent his entire projected summer earnings on suits. ... as with any internship, the hope was that Paul would get as much as he gave—that he’d be learning something. Sally asked that Paul prepare to give a few presentations about his career to the other interns. That way, Paul would get a chance to hone his communication skills for an audience decades his junior.
Learning math and then science as an adult gave me passage into the empowering world of engineering. But these hard-won, adult-age changes in my brain have also given me an insider’s perspective on the neuroplasticity that underlies adult learning. ... In the current educational climate, memorization and repetition in the STEM disciplines (as opposed to in the study of language or music), are often seen as demeaning and a waste of time for students and teachers alike. Many teachers have long been taught that conceptual understanding in STEM trumps everything else. And indeed, it’s easier for teachers to induce students to discuss a mathematical subject (which, if done properly, can do much to help promote understanding) than it is for that teacher to tediously grade math homework. What this all means is that, despite the fact that procedural skills and fluency, along with application, are supposed to be given equal emphasis with conceptual understanding, all too often it doesn’t happen. Imparting a conceptual understanding reigns supreme—especially during precious class time. ... The problem with focusing relentlessly on understanding is that math and science students can often grasp essentials of an important idea, but this understanding can quickly slip away without consolidation through practice and repetition. Worse, students often believe they understand something when, in fact, they don’t. ... Chunking was originally conceptualized in the groundbreaking work of Herbert Simon in his analysis of chess—chunks were envisioned as the varying neural counterparts of different chess patterns. Gradually, neuroscientists came to realize that experts such as chess grand masters are experts because they have stored thousands of chunks of knowledge about their area of expertise in their long-term memory. ... As studies of chess masters, emergency room physicians, and fighter pilots have shown, in times of critical stress, conscious analysis of a situation is replaced by quick, subconscious processing as these experts rapidly draw on their deeply ingrained repertoire of neural subroutines—chunks. ... Understanding doesn’t build fluency; instead, fluency builds understanding.
It’s the year 2120. You feel no hunger, no cold, no heat, no pain. There’s no need to eat or to take medicine, though you can if you like. You are beautiful, intelligent, and charismatic, as are your friends, co-workers, lovers. Though the economy is fiercely competitive, retirement is not far off. You do not fear death. Look out your office window and you see sunlit spires towering over tree-lined boulevards. ... At least this is what you think you see. In fact, you live and work in virtual reality. Your city amounts to racks of computer hardware and the pipes that cool them. And you are not "you" in the traditional sense: You are an "em," a robotic brain emulation created by scanning a particular human brain and uploading it to a computer. On the upside, you process information 1,000 times faster than a human. On the downside, you inhabit a robotic body, and you stand roughly two millimeters tall. ... This is the world Robin Hanson is sketching out to a room of baffled undergraduates at George Mason University on a bright April morning. To illustrate his point, he projects an image of an enormous futuristic city alongside clip art of a human castaway cowering on a tiny desert island. His message is clear: The future belongs to "ems." ... This may sound more like science fiction than scholarship, but that’s part of the point. Hanson is an economist with a background in physics and engineering; a Silicon Valley veteran determined to promote his theories in an academy he finds deeply flawed; a doggedly rational thinker prone to intentionally provocative ideas that test the limits of what typically passes as scholarship. Those ideas have been mocked, memed, and marveled at — often all at once. ... Hanson, deeply skeptical of conventional intellectual discourse, argues that academics have abdicated their societal responsibilities by ignoring more speculative work.
Sustainable value creation has two dimensions: the magnitude of the spread between a company’s return on invested capital and the cost of capital and how long it can maintain a positive spread. Both dimensions are of prime interest to investors and corporate executives. ... Sustainable value creation as the result solely of managerial skill is rare. Competitive forces and endogenous variance drive returns toward the cost of capital. Investors should be careful about how much they pay for future value creation. ... Economic moats are almost never stable. Because of competition, they are getting a little bit wider or narrower every day. This report develops a systematic framework to determine the size of a company’s moat.
In theory, the redesign begins with a problem. The problem might be specific or systemic or subjective. A logo makes a company’s image feel out of date. A familiar household object has been overtaken by new technology. A service has become too confusing for new users. And so on. The world is, after all, full of problems. ... The human desire to solve problems fuels brand-new inventions too: The wheel, for example, eased conveyance significantly. But the redesign tends to address problems with, or caused by, dimensions of the human-designed world, and identifying such problems may be the designer’s most crucial skill. Redesigns fail when they address the wrong problem — or something that really wasn’t a problem in the first place. While progress may entail change, change does not necessarily guarantee progress. But a clever redesign, one that addresses the right problem in an intelligent fashion, improves the world, if just by a bit. ... the platonic ideal of the redesign: A designer sees a problem, proposes a solution, makes a difference. Such tidy narratives fuel a reigning ideology in which every object, symbol or pool of information is just another design problem awaiting some solution. The thermostat, the fire extinguisher, the toothbrush, the car dashboard — all have been redesigned, whether anybody was clamoring for their alteration or not.
We need to read and to be readers now more than ever. ... We overschedule our days and complain constantly about being too busy. We shop endlessly for stuff we don’t need and then feel oppressed by the clutter that surrounds us. We rarely sleep well or enough. We compare our bodies to the artificial ones we see in magazines and our lives to the exaggerated ones we see on television. We watch cooking shows and then eat fast food. We worry ourselves sick and join gyms we don’t visit. We keep up with hundreds of acquaintances but rarely see our best friends. We bombard ourselves with video clips and emails and instant messages. We even interrupt our interruptions. ... And at the heart of it, for so many, is fear—fear that we are missing out on something. Wherever we are, someone somewhere is doing or seeing or eating or listening to something better. ... Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them.