If you watched the Super Bowl this year, you probably saw Microsoft’s heartwarming commercial about children with disabilities using an adaptive Xbox controller to play games with their friends. In case you missed it, here it is:
First of all, these kids are absolute heroes for what they are living with and somehow doing with a smile. Nothing makes you more aware of your own fragility, mortality, and good fortune than observing someone, especially a child, with a major health issue. Owen (in the commercial), for example, is only nine years old and has already had to endure 33 surgeries.
There are many forms of entertainment: movies, music, TV shows, sports, video games, board games, books, and more. It is very, very easy to dismiss all of these things as a luxury or even a waste of time. You’ve heard the argument before: “Imagine if all the money and energy that goes into the entertainment industry were put into something productive, like curing cancer”. This is a seductive, but wrong, argument.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben is an eye-opening read that will have you looking at the natural world in a completely new light. If you took high school biology, you probably learned that one characteristic of plants is that while they’re alive, they are static creatures. We were told that although they adapt to their environment, they live at a standstill in the same place for their entire lives. And they certainly aren’t communicators. Well, as you’ll learn in The Hidden Life of Trees Key Takeaways, trees are actually dynamic, social, and incredibly complex creatures. The Hidden Life of Trees provides an entertaining deep dive into the alien world of trees.
I recently had an opportunity to chat with Ryan Helms on his Hustle to Freedom podcast. It was a pretty wide-ranging conversation that included lots of background on Unlimited Brewing as well as The Startup Gold Mine. In particular, we got into how to start a business as a side hustle and de-risk it along the way. This episode should be useful to anyone interested in side hustles, beer, and problem solving.
Give it a listen and make sure to subscribe to the podcast!
Twelve Years a Slave Key Takeaways outlines the key lessons I took from Northup’s memoir of his experience being kidnapped and made a slave in the Deep South. Northup’s account is particularly enlightening because he was a well-educated, prosperous individual in New York prior to his kidnapping and is able to convey his experience in great detail. When it was published, the book was a bestseller but unfortunately became unknown after the Civil War. It resurfaced in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement and has since become a prominent primary source for readers looking to better understand pre-Civil War America.
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford is a well-written, entertaining book about the journey of humanity through time. Genetics is a topic frequently discussed in popular media, at least in part because it presents discrete variables (genes) which allow comparison between individuals on a common substrate (the human genome). However, as Rutherford so eloquently presents, popular genetics encourages many biological misconceptions that are oversimplifications, at best.
“Sorry, this just isn’t a good fit for us right now.”
This simple but terrifying sentence is a recurring nightmare for founders trying to close deals with corporate partners. And it’s even worse when you’ve been working on a deal for months and were banking the fortunes of your company on its success. So when you’re rejected, is it all over or is there something you can do to turn things around?
Here are some tangible next steps to take when your corporate partner says no to a deal:
Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge by Terence McKenna is a book that’s frequently mentioned by experts in the psychedelic community, and for good reason. McKenna, a legendary writer and commentator on drug culture, was an ethnobotanist by training. In this book, he explores humanity’s ancient relationship with chemicals that alter consciousness, as well as the historical impact of drugs on Eastern and Western societies. Food of the Gods Key Takeaways will be focused on the major historical points as well as McKenna’s prescriptions but I highly recommend reading this book yourself to get the entire (complicated and entertaining) story.
Last week, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed the largest contract in NFL history, worth up to $180 million over the next six years, with about $70 million being paid out by March 2019. As a Packers fan, it’s a relief to know that Rodgers is signed until he’s 40. At the same time, reading the specifics and comments about the contract got me thinking about what it means to be the “highest paid” person on a team, in a league, or even within a company.
Being the highest paid is, in large part, not a function of your financial needs but instead a recognition that you are the “most valuable” player on the team or in your industry. It’s also a function of what the competition is paying for similar players – it is no accident that Rodgers’ contract came mere months after Kirk Cousins’ record-setting $84 million, three year contract.
But there is a flip side to being paid the most. The highest paid person on the team – whether the quarterback, the star basketball player, or the CEO – will also be the first one blamed if things take a turn for the worse. Compensation and blame are two sides of the same coin. You can bet that if the Packers have a bad season, commentators and fans will be blaming Aaron Rodgers’ contract for the team’s lack of talent.
Everything else being equal, we’re all trying to make as much money as we can. But it’s important to recognize that the more you get paid, the more you’ll be blamed if things go badly. And this is a fair, reasonable, and ethical reaction – and an essential point of Nassim Taleb’s Skin in the Game.
Anger over executive compensation happens most often when there is a separation between compensation and an executive’s skin in the game. This anger is most obvious when the CEO of a badly performing company makes millions of dollars, despite their lackluster results. Most of us don’t have much issue with Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk being billionaires – they took enormous personal risks to build their respective companies. On the other hand, most people would have problems with a Congressperson becoming a billionaire while in office.
Of course, this rule doesn’t just apply to CEOs and quarterbacks. It’s true at all levels, whether you’re a team lead at a software company or a store manager at McDonald’s. Being compensated better automatically means you will have a greater share of the blame if your team performs badly. And that’s how it should be.
The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson is a book primarily about how the human brain engages in self-deception to serve our own (sometimes ugly) motives. We’ll get deeper into The Elephant in the Brain key takeaways below but in summary, our brains have evolved to hide our own motives from ourselves. This may seem odd at first – isn’t introspection considered a good thing? The answer is clearly that it has been an evolutionary advantage to not fully understand our own motives. The purpose of this book is to shine light on the true motives behind many of our behaviors and social institutions – like school, medicine, government, non-profits, and more.