Category: books and media

Ten Favorite Futurists

1137px-van_gogh_-_starry_night_-_google_art_projectThis is a Top Ten list of books, stories, and one documentary film written by or about my all-time, favorite futurists…a label, by the way, that several (most?) of them might have resisted.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932) — I’ve always favored this vision of the future more than Orwell’s dystopian vision in 1984 because it has rung truer. For me, the future is less likely one where we are tortured and frightened into submission, but moreso one in which we are seduced and willingly manipulated into complacency.

On Computable Numbers, Alan Turing (1936) — I’m amazed at the genius of this paper, produced by Turing when he was at university. He literally invented the concept for the modern computer out of pure thought.

The Veldt, Ray Bradbury (1950) — Bradbury is my all-time favorite science fiction writer. This short story of unanticipated consequences of well-intentioned technology (a frequent theme) was a first introduction for me to concepts we see in virtual reality and smart home tech today.

The Cuckoo’s Egg, Clifford Stoll (1989) — Stoll’s book on tracking a cybersecurity break-in, written like a thriller, was my first exposure to the hidden world of hackers, white and black hats, and the global threats & protections that are part of our worldwide networks.

Heavy Weather, Bruce Sterling (1994) — I go see Sterling speak every year at SXSW Interactive. This book was my first exposure to climate change…published a dozen years before Al Gore’s breakthrough documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Marc Seifer (1996) — Tesla is the prototypical, 20th century example of a person who struggles all of their life to achieve the level of financial and professional success that, upon historical reflection, they seem due — even when they have both the genius and the work ethic, during their lifetime, that most would say are “all you need.” In certain respects, I think Tesla’s life is one of the great reminders of the career cliché “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

The Cluetrain Manifesto, Rick Levine and others (2000) — the guys nailed the open source and social media waves to come, upon the commercialization of the internet and the world-wide web. They are great examples of modern-day futurists, whose rewards are more reputational than financial.

The Singularity Is Near, Ray Kurzweil (2006) — there is no greater, present manifesto supporting the unwavering truth of an AI-dominant future. In other words, this book makes clear “the question isn’t ‘if’ it’s ‘when'” the singularity occurs and how we have prepared for that moment.

You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier (2010) — if Kurzweil is the gas pedal, then I view Lanier as the break pedal. Not a fully fair analogy, because both have thrown fuel and water on the fires of tech hype. But this book and Lanier’s 2013 follow-up, Who Owns the Future, are counterpoint appeals to putting the needs of individual people first — especially the creative class —  ahead of technology.

David Bowie: Five Years, Francis Whately (2013) — this documentary, somewhat like the biography of Tesla, captures the lightning of genius. Watching it provides glimpses, through the stories of others, of what it’s like to be a member of the supporting cast of a one-of-a-kind creator, in real-time, during the most productive and iconic phases of their lives.

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Four Gourgeous Dillard Excerpts

dillard-for-the-time-beingI read a lot. Weekly trips to the public library are my substitute for the farmers market runs of others.

It used to be, when I chose and checked out a book, that I felt an obligation to read the whole thing. Probably  a common trait among many boomers, whose parents were children of the great depression and, thus, felt compelled to finish anything given to them, whether a serving of luke-warm peas or a library book.

But, as an adult, I began to exercise discretion and began making quicker judgments about likes and dislikes in my book selections. Now, I’ll quit a book 10 pages in, 100 pages in…occasionally, when I simply grow tired of the subject, 3 or 4 days after the initial infatuation that moved me to check it out.

Perhaps this is why, when I find a book and author that I really enjoy, I latch onto their words that much more ravenously. This is the case, this year, with the writer Annie Dillard. Her book – For The Time Being – was a joy to read. Here are four excerpts, vividly described, which I hope will give you a glimpse of what the book offers. Enjoy!

#1

serinus_canaria_lc0210Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then shadow sweeps it away.

You know you’re alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet.

Kazantzakis says that when he was young he had a canary and a globe. When he freed the canary, it would perch on the globe and sing. All his life, wandering the earth, he felt as though he had a canary on top of his head, singing.

#2

KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera

Certain Indians used to carve long grooves along the wooden shafts of the arrows. They called the grooves “lightning marks,” because they resembled the curved fissure lightning slices down the trunks of trees.

The function of lightning marks is this: If the arrow fails to kill the game, blood from a deep wound will channel along the lightning mark, streak down the arrow shaft, and spatter to the ground, laying a trail dripped on broad leaves, on stones, that the barefoot and trembling archer can follow into whatever deep or rare wilderness it leads.

I am the arrow shaft, carved along my length by unexpected lights and gashes from the very sky, and this book is the straying trail of blood.

#3

1990-issue_us_penny_obverse_2It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so hungry and tired that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny.

But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.

It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

#4

Peeping through my keyhole I see within the range of only about 30 percent of the light that comes from the sun; the rest is infrared and some little ultraviolet, perfectly apparent to many animals, but invisible to me.

total_internal_reflectionAs for what I do see, a nightmare network of ganglia, charged and firing without my knowledge, cuts and splices it, editing it for my brain.

Donald E. Carr points out that the sense impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain: “This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it really is.”

Three Books On Living and Dying

when-breath-becomes-airI read Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air  this weekend. It is a great book; one worth owning, so you can refer back to it at moments of need.

I dog-eared several pages of my library copy, which I’ll share below. But, first, I want to mention to other books that are favorites by doctors.

First is The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks.

the-man-who-mistook-his-wife-for-a-hatThis book shows shares stories from Sacks’ practice, working with people who have neurological conditions. His patients were men, women, children, old, young, from many countries and means.

He writes about their conditions with a combination of curiosity, wonder, and compassion. Ever the detective, he describes how each situation presented its unique challenge for diagnosing and often, though not always, treating.

how-we-dieNext is How We Die, by Sherwin Nuland. Using a series of stories as the set up for each chapter, Dr. Nuland describes the variety of ways that people die, from old age, to infectious disease, to massive trauma, by way of accident or intent (e.g., homicide and suicide), and other causes of death.

In each case, he transitions from a vivid, personal accounting of death from the perspective of the patient, to a scientific, clinical description of the chemical, biological, and physical forces that combine to bring about the end of life, from whatever triggering event(s) occurred.

But, far from cold-hearted, the book is an honest, comforting accounting of a subject that is too often avoided, even though it is a universality that every human being shares — from the richest to the poorest of us.

So, I recommend these three books to you, providing a trilogy of insight on humanity and death.

In closing, some of my favorite passages from When Breath Becomes Air.

kalanithi[For brain surgery patients], “the question is not simply whether to live or die, but what kind of life is worth living. Would you trade your ability – or your mother’s – to talk for a few extra months of mute life? The expansion of your visual blind spot in exchange for eliminating the small possibility of a fatal brain hemorrhage? Your right hand’s function to stop seizures? How much neurologic suffering would you let your child endure before saying that death is preferable? …What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”

= = =

“In that first year (of medical residency), I would glimpse my share of death…At moments, the weight of it all became palpable. It was in the air, the stress and misery. Normally, you breathed it in, without noticing it. But some days, like a humid, muggy day, it had a suffocating weight of its own. Some days, this is how it felt when I was in the hospital: trapped in an endless jungle summer, wet with sweat, the rain of tears of the families of the dying pouring down.”

= = =

“Death comes for all of us. For us, for our patients: it is our fate as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms. Most lives are lived with passivity towards death — it’s something that happens to you and those around you….Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you  are ceaselessly striving.”

= = =

kalanithi-family“There is only one thing to say [to your child(ren)], who is all future, overlapping briefly with you, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

That message is simple.

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

END

Getting Hooked On Products

I recently swept through the book Hooked, by Nir Eyal. It was an easy read, presenting in clear, simple language mostly repackaged concepts from prior work of others.

I have no quarrel with that, btw, as I’d assert nearly every new best-selling book is a repackaging of prior work. The business book marketplace is built upon the premise of an endless appetite people have for insights, methods, and other promises of some slight advantage.

Who isn’t seeking knowledge that will “get you a step ahead” of your competition? But, back to Hooked

I jotted down a few of the more noteworthy take-aways, that I’ve shared below. If you are further intrigued by persuasion, reputation, and other topics of involving the intersection of technology and human behavior, read one of my posts from a few years ago and seek out the book Persuasive Technology.

So, without further delay, my Hooked excerpts:

= = =

img_9715_srgbWhen it comes to shaking consumers’ old habits, naïve entrepreneurs often find that better products don’t always win — especially if a large number of users have already adopted a competing product.

A classic paper by John Gourville, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, stipulates that “many business innovations fail because consumers irrationally overvalue the old while companies irrationally overvalue the new.”

Gourville claims that for new entrants to stand a chance, they can’t just be better; they must be nine times better. Why such a high bar? Because old habits die hard and new products or services need to offer dramatic improvements to displace the old routines.

= = =

img_9717_srgbWhile user habits are a boon to companies fortunate enough to engender them, their existence inherently males success less likely for new innovations and startups trying to disrupt the status quo. The fact is that successfully changing long-term user habits is exceptionally rare.

Altering behavior requires not only an understanding of how to persuade people to act — for example, the first time they land on a web page — but also necessitates getting them to repeat behaviors for long periods, ideally for the rest of their lives.

Companies that succeed in building a habit-forming business are often associated with game-changing, wildly successful innovation. But like any discipline, habit design has rules and caveats that define and explain why some products change lives while others do not.

= = =

img_9719_srgbIn his book “Something Really New: Three Simple Steps to Creating Truly Innovative Products,” author Denis J. Hauptly deconstructs the process of innovation into its most fundamental steps.

First, Hauptly states, understand the reason people use a product or service.

Next, lay out the steps the customer must take to get the job done.

Finally, once the series of tasks from intention to outcome is understood, simply start removing steps until you reach the simplest possible process.

Consequently, any technology or product that significantly reduces the steps to complete a task will enjoy high adoption rates by the people it assists.

= = =

img_9721_srgbExperiences with finite variability become less engaging because they eventually become predictable.

=  = =

END

Two quick End-Notes:

  1. You probably noticed, but the figures lacked any correlation to the content. They just happened to be the more interesting ones to me in the book
  2. If you are interested in my most highly recommended books from the past 20+ years, then browse my Amazon bookstore — enjoy!

Ebook to Softback: The Digest for Students of Entrepreneurship

SBF 2016-2I’m excited to announce that a revised and updated 2016 edition of the Naturally Caffeinated ebook is now available for download.

Further, the ebook is now a “pbook” — a “physical” book, printed as a softback, that you can buy for $10.

For an author-signed copy, send me an email using my Contact page. I’ll send you a link to a secure Paypal page.

A lot has happened since the 1st edition of the ebook was published a year ago.

May 2015

The ebook, sub-titled “Addicted to Entrepreneurship,” was first made available for download, with a new, dedicated Naturally Caffeinated blog for communicating updates, events and more.

We were grateful for the early support and reviews like these:

“I’m flattered to be included. I do wish Steve tremendous success with both the book and the Community!” -Guy Kawasaki, Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Evangelist 

“Your Ebook is now in my iBooks! Awesome pieces of advice!! So many are hard learned.” -Dr. Steve Elmore, Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Head of Customer Success, Convo, Inc.

“…very well written and seems to hit all the high points of the subject. I applaud your effort and am sure this will be useful to many, many readers.” -Ben Dyer, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, The University of Texas at Austin, Cockrell School of Engineering

“A refreshing and effective guide to help jump-start your new venture.” -Dr. Lynette Reed, Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) and Author, Researcher, Consultant

June 2015

The Community Edition of the ebook was launched, in collaboration with the online publisher, Weeva.

A “pay it forward” project from the beginning, the book’s goal was always two-fold:

  1. to provide lessons learned and stories of inspiration by experienced entrepreneurs for students of entrepreneurship and first-time founders
  2. to donate any proceeds from books sales and other fund-raising raised to programs providing entrepreneurial experiences and education among teenagers

nc-authorsBy soliciting men and women founders from around Austin and the world, we were able to capture the experiences and stories of more than 70 entrepreneurs, with insights in every aspect of new ventures.

July 2015

We agreed to publish two version of a hard back edition of Naturally Caffeinated, combining the original ebook content and the contributions from guest entrepreneurs like Jimmy Treybig, Jan Ryan, Admiral Bobby Inman, Kerry Tate, and many many more!

This edition is available for purchase on Amazon and at the Weeva online book store, where you can also download an excerpt from the hard back edition.

August

We announced that TEDxYouth@Austin – the country’s largest licensed TEDx event focused on young people – would be the first recipient of proceeds raised with the book.

September

PwC, Bridgepoint Consulting, Concepture, and Powershift Group hosted the Naturally Caffeinated: Community Edition launch party at Powershift’s offices, two blocks west of the Capital.

Q4 2015

NC-suzi sosa LinkedIN postLots of promotion and sales of the hard back book, including a great series written by Weeva, highlighting a variety of contributors’ posts, like this one by Suzi Sosa – Are There Gender Differences Holding Women Entrepreneurs Back? and this one – Would You Trade Places with Me? by Greg Businelle.

January 2016

Presentation of funds raised through Naturally Caffeinated to TEDxYouth, from on-stage at the Paramount Theater, during The Austin Forum’s January monthly meeting.

February

TEDxYouth@Austin 2016 was held at Westlake High School in Austin.

March

We began discussing plans for revisions to the ebook edition of Naturally Caffeinated, along with a limited run of printed, softback copies of the book for sale.

April

WIT kidsWe announced that WIT – short for “Doing Whatever It Takes” – would be the second recipient of proceeds raised with the book.

May

We debut the revised and updated ebook, as well as The Digest, at a series of events, including the Small Business Festival, featured in the photo at the beginning of this post.

David Bowie – Bond Genius

Before I get to the “bond genius” part of the title, a personal moment, to share my 3 Bowie favorites:

Diamond_dogsAlbum: Diamond Dogs – nothing like it. On first listen, it’s nearly repelling, in its unconventional musicianship and song-writing. But, listen closely and play it again, and the whole thing starts to become absolutely mesmerizing – an other-worldly lyrical vision and sound.

Song: Rebel, Rebel – ironically, the “hit” from Diamond Dogs. The irony is from the fact that the song sounds nothing like the rest of the album. Being over 40 years old, the track is far lesser-known to the Gen X and Y kids. It gets lost because it’s sandwiched in between the original Ziggy tracks and the latter-day, far better known Let’s Dance tracks. But, for my money, Rebel, Rebel is one of the most hard-charging rock-and-roll riffs of all time.

Video: Heroes – just watch…

bowie - backyardLive: The Backyard, Austin TX, April 27, 2004 – An amazing night. The Austin Chronicle’s review is on target, but of course comes up short with being able to capture the magic of the night.

Bowie was “on” and the crowd ate it up, me included. He and the band delivered the perfect set list. A night and a concert performance I’ll never forget.

* * *

Ok, now for the “bond genius” part. For this, I have to give full credit to one of my new favorite, morning newsletters, Quartz. I recommend that you check it out. It’s become part of my morning routine, with multiple round-the-clock issues available to be sent to your email. I get the early morning edition that hits my inbox around 5am.

This past weekend, they editors did a marvelous intro to the daily edition, talking about Bowie’s forward-thinking, on multiple levels. I really can’t improve on what they wrote, so I’m citing it here, in full – all credit (copyright) goes to Quartz. (Keep up the good work, Team Quartz!)

“If you ever doubted that David Bowie was from the future, consider how Ziggy Stardust clairvoyantly shorted the music industry.bowie - new yorker

The late musician was always internet savvy—he started his own ISP way back in the AOL days, and was among the first artists to offer a downloadable album, just when Napster was starting to scare the bejesus out of the record labels.

His insight into digital music led him to predict the internet’s disruption of the music industry and cash out early. Back in 1997, he created an entirely new financial instrument: “Bowie bonds” were essentially a bet against the recorded-music business, providing the musician a $55 million payout, secured by future royalties from his enormous back catalog.

”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” he told the New York Times in 2002. “The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”

In 1999, global music industry revenues were $14.6 billion; by 2009, they were only $6.3 billion. The entire offering of Bowie bonds was sold to Prudential Securities, which didn’t turn out to be very prudent: The 10-year bonds were eventually downgraded to junk status as music sales, including Bowie’s back catalog, evaporated.

Not all of Bowie’s predictions came true: He also told the Times that copyright itself was doomed. Due to the lobbying prowess of major media companies, copyright protection is stronger than ever—not that it has helped musicians much.

Streaming music services like Spotify pay out tiny fractions of a penny for every song played, making most professional musicians dependent on touring and other revenue streams. (Bowie predicted that too.)

Incidentally, the banker who helped to create Bowie bonds is now securitizing the royalty streams of one-hit wonders like Right Said Fred, the luminaries behind “I’m Too Sexy.”

RIP, Starman.”

RIP, indeed. Carpe diem, my friends.

Are You Naturally Caffeinated? Get the Book!

Hey – the new book is here! Actually: the new booksthere are 3 of them!!

1 – Naturally Caffeinated: Addicted to EntrepreneurshipEbook (free download)

2 – Naturally Caffeinated: The Community EditionAbridged edition

3 – Naturally Caffeinated: The Community EditionDirector’s Cut edition

nc-book-abridged

More than 70 contributors from Austin and around the world! Lessons learned and stories of inspiration! By experienced entrepreneurs, for first-time founders and students of entrepreneurship!

Learn everything about the history, contributors, publisher, special features and more on the “NCtheBook” website.