Quote of the week
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” -Marcus Aurelius
What I learned this week
Last month I finished 2 books: Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentmanly Warefare (by Giles Milton) and The 48 Laws Of Power (by Robert Greene). Here are some thoughts about the books:
Reading notes: Churchill’s Ministry Of Ungentmanly Warefare
It was quite an interesting read, a story about the unit of saboteurs in WW2. But not only did they carry out different acts of sabotage, they also became a department of warfare innovation.
What I found quite fascinating is, how the old school British military was reluctant to use acts of sabotage against the Nazis. The british idea of war in those times was quite “gentlemanly”, meaning you wouldn’t do anything considered unfair (acts of sabotage, assassinations,…).
Only by the time that a Nazi invasion in Great Britain was rumored, the British military didn’t see an other way out than to utilize so called “guerilla” tactics that would demoralize possible intruders.
Finally this launched one of the most successful departments in WW2, that was quickly adopted even by the US military after the end of the war (and developed what we know as the CIA nowadays). They cut german supply lines by blowing up railways, disabling electricity hubs or making shipyards unusable.
The book provides a really interesting take on history and an exciting story for everyone interested in history.
Reading notes: The 48 Laws Of Power
The 48 Laws Of Power are a quite controversial book. Why? Because it illustrates the dark side of politics, human psychology and biases.
Still, it teaches you several important ideas and makes you aware of the power games that go on around you. I think, we have to accept reality: politics and power are just usual things in our lifes, even if we don’t like them. Accepting and learning about them is definitely not a bad thing, so that you know how to deal with those dynamics.
Unfortunately the books takes about 300 pages till it really comes to the more universal points about human psychology. I can not go into every single one of them, but here are some highlight quotes from the book:
“They [greek gods] saw everything to come, right down to the intricate details. Men, on the other hand, were seen as victims of fate, trapped in the moment and their emotions, unable to see beyond immediate dangers. Those heroes, such as Odysseus, who were able to look beyond the present and plan several steps ahead, seemed to defy fate, to approximate the gods in their ability to determine the future.”
“It is tempting to want to fix our mistakes, but the harder we try, the worse we often make them”
“The visual […] short-circuits the labyrinth of words. It strikes with an emotional power and immediacy that leave no gaps for reflection and doubt. Like music, it leaps right over rational, reasonable thoughts.”
The 48 Laws Of Power gives interesting examples of how those power laws actually worked in historic context. I think this is both a strength (see the law in action) and a weakness (just because it worked once, does that mean it always works?). Still, I think the book is a really interesting read for everyone intersted in history and human behavior.
Focus vs. Distraction
Focus and distraction are some fundamental dichotomies of our every day life: Focus is what allows us to complete cognitively demanding tasks. Distraction is quite the opposite, allowing our minds to wander and to get into new topics, finding new solutions and exploring the world.
I thought distraction is what keeps us from focussing? Well, I guess that‘s true as well. But frame it as curiosity and it get a lot more positive image.
We live in an „attention economy“, where the attention towards things is one of the most important economic assets. It‘s not by coincidence that Facebook‘s success is measured in KPIs called „Monthly Active Users“ and „Daily Active Users“. Unfortunately this incentive really lets social media networks or mobile games design their product to maximize attention. Of course: The more screentime you get from your users, the more ads/products you can sell.
Don Norman argues, that we need to think about enhancing human abilities with technology, not weaken it. I would argue, that social media is already enhancing human capabilities by giving us the chance to stay in touch with more friends and loved ones. Typically human capabilities of maintaining social networks typically maxes out at group sizes around 150 persons. However, as soon as those companies start to maximize their profits, their attention starts to turn towards sales rather than enhancing customer wellbeing. It‘s probably a problem of the capitalist system we live in, rather than human intentions.
Cool thing of the week
A Tesla took flight and crashed into a parking lot. Unbelievable. This is an issue that some racing cars in Le Mans already had a few years ago (Youtube link).