First up: Congratulations to my friends and fellow Brightonians at Brandwatch, which sold to Cision this week for $450 million. A demi-Unicorn emerging from our seaside stew of tech, creatives and the end of a 15 year journey for the team. I had the privilege of seeing them in action right at the start, in a co-working office on Middle Street. The CEO, Giles Palmer, is an inspiration and a lovely man to boot. I’ve written a bit about resilience in a week where we’re probably all having to draw on our reserves of the stuff – the tenacity and brilliance of the Brandwatch leadership and team have always been deeply admirable. Chapeau!
Naive-er say never
Writing this newsletter makes me write more stuff that should really be blog posts, so I’ve broken out a couple of sections and put them on my blog. This one is about how having a clever insight can blind you to the real work that needs to be done: Being clever: “How’s that working out for you?
The shape-shifting crisis
I was so taken with the above description of the nature of running a business during the pandemic that I based a large part of our company meeting on it. I’ve broken it down more in a blog post and the FT article I found the quote in is excellent, all about CEOs’ mistakes during the crisis and what they have learned.
I’ve also written a bit more about it on my blog.
How long will this job take? System thinkers’ have a rule of thumb…
We are surprised over and over again at how much time things take. Jay Forrester used to tell us, when we were modeling a construction or processing delay, to ask everyone in the system how long they thought the delay was, make our best guess, and then multiply by three. (That correction factor also works perfectly, I have found, for estimating how long it will take to write a book!)
— Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows
Sometimes the underestimation of the amount of work is a result of overoptimism, but it can also just be about plain old impatience:
I realize with fright that my impatience for the re-establishment of democracy had something almost communist in it; or, more generally, something rationalist. I had wanted to make history move ahead in the same way that a child pulls on a plant to make it grow more quickly. I believe we must learn to wait as we learn to create. We have to patiently sow the seeds, assiduously water the earth where they are sown and give the plants the time that is their own. One cannot fool a plant any more than one can fool history.
—Václav Havel, playwright, last President of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic (Quoted in Thinking in Systems)
Books I’m reading
“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know this is poetry.”"
— Emily Dickinson’s definition of poetry (via Francine Prose in Reading Like a Writer)
The new audiobook recordings of the Wolf Hall trilogy by Ben Miles are a wonderful excuse to go back to those books. I’ve been completely drawn in all over again. Miles played Cromwell in the RSC stage adaptation of Wolf Hall and has a deep sympathy for the character. In the recent Arena documentary about Hilary Mantel he came across as someone as fascinated by her books’ central character as she is herself. As well as being Cromwell, his interpretations of the other characters are fantastic too. Mantel, who cast Miles for the new audiobooks said:
Having played Thomas Cromwell on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon, in the West End and on Broadway, Ben understands the main character from the inside. His insights from the rehearsal room helped shape the story. He is familiar with how all the characters grow, from first page to last. His voice is as close as can be to the voice that’s in my head as I write.
I’m also reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Religion and Politics, by Jonathan Haidt. It’s a necessary book right now and I’m really enjoying its practical interrogation of where our moral values come from, and how to deal with the ways we use them so differently from one another. Essential reading, as evangelised by my friend, the lobbyist and campaigner Steve Moore.
I’m not reading it yet, obviously, but…
Very exciting book news: the Nobel prize-winning Polish author Olga Tokarczuk’s The Books of Jacob will be published in English later this year. One of her previous books, Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead is a personal favourite (also a great film, called Spoor, which sometimes crops up on MUBI but is otherwise hard to find in English).
Here’s a choice bit of poetic – as in it takes the top of your head off – prose from the protagonist of her novel Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead to whet your appetite for the new work:
We believe we are free, and that God will forgive us. Personally I think otherwise. Finally, transformed into tiny quivering photons, each of our deeds will set off into Outer Space, where the planets will keep watching it like a film until the end of the world.
Even though I don’t know when I will fly again I felt like I wanted so many of these sleep-on-plane gizmos. Probably a mix of travel nostalgia and the fact that I don’t sleep well even when I’m not on planes.
Could WFH = +GDP?
Cardiff Garcia @CardiffGarciaRobert Gordon is optimistic that productivity growth in the 2020s will be meaningfully higher than in the atrocious 2010s (HT @leo_feler): https://t.co/DDNM8HNQvN https://t.co/g1utrGnABm
#MIT’s 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2021
Dr Kavanagh on post-traumatic growth. Find the good things (full thread here):
Yes I am old enough to start banning words and phrases and enjoy tweets like this (and would add “now more than ever” to the pile:
It’a taken ten years if hype and bad marketing implementations, but a bit of AR content just elicited a spontaneous “wow” from me. All it took was a mission to an alien world and a few trillion dollars.
Sweet! “How it Started Meme” – a Woodstock couple then and 50 years later:
Instantly transport yourself to another city:
Extremists aren't stupid. But they are less intelligent. Maybe it should be viewed as a mental illness or disability according to a report in the Guardian:
Participants who are prone to dogmatism – stuck in their ways and relatively resistant to credible evidence – actually have a problem with processing evidence even at a perceptual level, the authors found.
[…] “For example, when they’re asked to determine whether dots [as part of a neuropsychological task] are moving to the left or to the right, they just took longer to process that information and come to a decision,” Zmigrod said.
In related news: Conspiracy theories are like Pringles – once you pop you just can’t stop: OneZero: Hex Factor: Inside the Group Offering $250,000 for Proof of Superpowers
“The problem with fringe beliefs is that often one conspiracy begets another,” writes author Colin Dickey in The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession With the Unexplained. “Once you’ve decided that the consensus is wrong about a given arena of scientific knowledge, it’s easier to cast suspicion on other consensus beliefs as well, and once you’ve made the choice to doubt mainstream science, it can be hard to pick and choose which orthodoxies to discard.”
[…] Our current era is no different. Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology at Chapman University, started the Chapman University Survey on American Fears with two colleagues in 2014, as part of his research on belief and religion. In the years from 2015 to 2018, when the survey specifically inquired about paranormal phenomena, the percentage of respondents who professed belief in everything from haunted houses to Bigfoot got bigger every year. For example, in 2015 41.4% of people believed it was possible for a house to be haunted by spirits, 18.1% thought aliens have recently visited Earth, and 11.4% believed Bigfoot was real. By 2018, 57.7% believed in haunted houses, 35.1% in alien landings, and 20.7% in Bigfoot.
And lastly, good news for long German word fans:
Let the neologisms multiply:
Thanks for reading! Tell your friends!