Over the summer, I’ve been exploring Buddhism. I’m focused on it as a philosophy, not as a religion, but decided that reading a broad survey book that covered the history of Buddhism from multiple angles – historical, philosophical, and religious, might be interesting.
I stumbled up Buddhism 101: From Karma to the Four Noble Truths, Your Guide to Understanding the Principles of Buddhism at Explore Booksellers in Aspen. I grabbed it along with a few other books (something I do every time I enter a bookstore) and observed it sitting on my living room book table over the summer.
When we came back to Boulder, I carried a few books back with me including Buddhism 101. I’d started it and read bits of it but took a few hours on the couch this afternoon after my run and polished it off.
It’s a great survey guide to Buddhism. The chapters are short, very accessible, and remarkably clear. I’m sure some of the historical stuff will drift away from my memory, but the broad arc of the evolution of Buddhism and a reinforcement of the principles against this historical backdrop is now a solid base that I can build on.
If you have a meditation practice, a friend who is a Buddhist, or are just interested in having more than a millimeter deep understanding of Buddhism, this book will get you to two millimeters. And you’ll understand, after reading it, why there’s no value in getting attached to the number of millimeters.
I didn’t read much last month, but I got an email this morning from someone who mentioned that I’d like Greg Egan’s Permutation City. I read it in April when I was in Japan on my Q219 Vacation with Amy but never really blogged much about it.
All three of these books are outstanding. They are all near term science fiction, with extraordinary world-building dynamics, and complex time narratives.
While Neal Stephenson is possibly the best world builder in the entire fiction genre today, both Blake Crouch and Greg Egan are in the same category. Some people find Stephenson’s world-building overwhelming, but as a fast reader, I’ve learned how to skim through parts while absorbing the essence of what is going on. Interestingly, this technique isn’t required for Crouch but occasionally is needed with Egan.
All three books incorporate the concept of recursion in very foundation ways. Everyone studying computer science learns the magic of recursion very early on, often through the factorial example, listed below for fans of Scheme, just to bring back memories of 6.001.
(define (factorial x)
(if (= x 0)
(* x (factorial (- x 1)))))
While Crouch hits you over the head with it in the beginning, Egan spends about 100 pages getting you ready for it. Stephenson probably takes about 200 pages before you start getting a feel for it. But, by the last quarter of each book, you are deep, deep, deep, deep, …
I thought each book ended extremely well. For all three, I found myself staying up late reading, which is always a sign the book has grabbed me since my bedtime since I was ten has been 10 pm.
While summer reading time is almost over, you’ve still got a few weeks for one of these if you want to explore the literary equivalent of a Sierpiński triangle.
I recently met Renata George through a referral from Katie Rae (MIT Engine CEO, previously Techstars Boston MD). Renata told me about a book she was working on called Women Who Venture and asked me if I’d write the foreword.
I was honored to be asked to do this. The foreword I wrote follows. The book is out and available now in hardcover and on the Kindle.
As an avid writer and reader, I feel that a book is a unique medium that serves a different purpose than the other written media that we consume regularly. A book can display a variety of perspectives at once, providing enough details on the subjects it explores, while giving us space to contemplate.
When Renata George told me she was going to write a book about Women Who Venture, featuring around a hundred female investors of different generations, I immediately said I’d be supportive. Renata told me that she wanted to do in-depth individual interviews, to both learn and explain the true state of affairs in the venture capital, while celebrating women who best reflect this industry.
The existing bias in the venture capital industry is multidimensional and implicates career challenges not only for women, but also for other underrepresented groups. Many of the investors interviewed for this book, offer advice and solutions to address this issue. Their ideas are bold, opinions are candid, and the narrative sometimes goes against what we are used to reading in popular media.
Having unconventional perspectives to consider is helpful in understanding what true diversity looks like. By being exposed to it, we can identify particular actions that each of us, male or female, can take to generate positive change. It’s the critical mass of all the tiny changes that we can each make daily, that will eventually change the perception, and reality, of diversity in venture capital.
This book is an essential read for aspiring female venture investors who want to be inspired by the life stories of women who made it all the way to the top in venture capital. It is also a valuable resource for male investors interested in increasing diversity. Institutional investors can benefit from learning more about their investees, as well as find new general partners to consider investing in. Finally, entrepreneurs can benefit from the book by learning how the investors featured in it make investment decisions.
Fixing the diversity problem in venture capital will take a long time and require a continuous and steady pace of activities and changes. With Women Who Venture, Renata is helping us all along that journey.
One of my guilty pleasures is reading biographies about financiers and their companies. On Saturday, I gobbled down King of Capital, which is the story of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone from inception through 2011.
While I’ve never met Schwarzman, I’ve had a handful of experiences with Blackstone, mostly with the Blackstone Foundation and the head of it, Amy Stursberg. The two most notable are the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network Colorado and the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. Both have been great and impactful organizations and Amy has been a delight to work with.
King of Capital was a really useful book to read on a number of levels. One thing it reminded me of was to read histories of contemporary organizations that were written in the past. While 2011 is only eight years ago, it’s a lifetime in the world of finance, private equity, venture capital, and business. And, the history, stretching back to the 1970s is literally a lifetime (at least for me, who was born in 1965.)
Numerous quotes stood out, but I’m highlighting a few that I thought were spectacular for various reasons. The first is from David Rubenstein (Carlyle Group co-founder – one of Blackstone’s competitors) in 2006.
“Inevitably when people look back at this period, they will say this is the golden age for private equity because money is being made very readily,” Carlyle’s cofounder David Rubenstein told an audience at the beginning of 2006. It was indeed private equity’s moment. That year private equity firms initiated one of every five mergers globally and even more, 29 percent, in the United States. Blackstone’s partners, though, had decidedly mixed feelings about the bonanza. They began to worry that the market was overheating.
2006 was still the pits for venture capital, although a number of legendary companies (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) were in their early phases of getting started. If you were a seed or early stage investor during this time (+/- two years) your returns over the next decade would be epic. However, existing venture investors were massively withdrawn and LPs were piling money into PE firms, not VC firms. And, as we all know, the future for PE and the global economy was about to get really scary.
By early 2007, “we told our [investors] that, notwithstanding the fact that everyone else thinks it’s a fantastic time, the economy is rocking, there are no problems, we’re pulling back,” says James. “We’re not going to be investing, we’re going to be lowering the prices, we’re going to be changing the kinds of companies that we’re going to buy, because when everything feels good and you can’t see any problems, historically you’ve been near a peak.”
That’s a quote from Tony James, who was the #2 at Blackstone for a number of years. I’ve had one meeting with him and he was incredibly impressive.
“It’s not that you see problems coming. You never see problems coming at that point, or no one would be giving you ten times leverage,” James says with hindsight. “There are no clouds on the horizon. What you see is too much exuberance, too much confidence, people taking risks that in the last 145 years wouldn’t have made sense. What you say is, this feels like a bubble.”
And then, a year later, the global finance crisis was in full bloom. Two years later (2009) there were predictions that all of capitalism would fail, every financial institution would be nationalized, and life as we know it would be over.
That obviously didn’t happen. But it was a rough period for a number of years, in which VC and PE swapped places for a while (VC became trendy), but are both now synchronized again in being extremely successful asset classes, while everything seems great and there are no clouds on the horizon.
I read Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things last weekend. This is the third time I’ve read it. It gets better each time. If you are a CEO and you haven’t read it, buy it right now and read it next weekend.
There are endless gems in the book, many of them from Ben’s own experience. My favorite of all time, that stays with me through all the work I do, is his distinction between “peace time” and “war time.”
I think the first time he wrote about this was in his post in 2011 titled Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO. There has been plenty of commentary on the web about it (see The Myth of the Wartime and Peacetime CEO, which really only says a CEO has to be effective in both wartime and peacetime to be successful.)
Ben has an incredible rant in the post that starts off with:
Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.
The rant is worth reading every single word, but I want to highlight and comment on a few of my favorites.
The first one is:
Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.
BSG fans know about rolling a hard six even though the definition is contested by pilots who think non-pilots confuse planes with dice. In wartime, the odds are often very against you. Sometimes you just have to get lucky.
Another one that I love is:
Peacetime CEO strives for broad based buy in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus-building nor tolerates disagreements.
Things during wartime are intense. Decisions have to be made quickly. Many will be wrong, need to be overturned, and new decisions have to be made. Sitting around arguing about what to do simply doesn’t work. Get all the ideas out on the table, but then choose. And then execute like crazy.
Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.
Your big hairy audacious goal in wartime is not to die.
As an investor, I’m involved in some companies operating in peacetime and others in wartime. There’s a lot of emotional dissonance during the day as I go back and forth between them. I’ve learned how to be calm in both modes and deal with my emotions outside the context of interacting with CEOs, founders, and leaders. But, Ben’s metaphor of peacetime vs. wartime has been so incredibly helpful to me as an investor in identifying what mode I’m in that I should probably get him some sort of a gift as a thank you.
I had surgery recently and a few friends, including Chris Moody and Sarah Ahn, gave me some books as gifts. They knew I’d be spending a lot of time on the couch either napping or reading, so my pile of infinite books to read became more abundant with a few good ones including The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates.
While I’ve met Melinda’s husband Bill a few times, but I’ve never spent any time with Melinda. I know plenty of people who know her or work for her and have overlapped with a few organizations that we both support. However, after reading The Moment of Lift, I feel like I now know her. And, she is awesome.
The book is a combination of a memoir, a manifesto, a case study, and a roadmap. While it uses the backdrop of empowering women as the framework, it genuinely addresses how empowering women can change the world.
In the current entrepreneurial climate of “changing the world” and “making a dent in the universe”, this is the first book that I’ve read in a while that really hit home on these issues. I’ve felt discouraged recently by the tenor of the entrepreneurial discussion, where phrases like “changing the world” have become cliches and are really an entrepreneurial proxy for “making a lot of money.” While I don’t object to that, I get tired of the optimistic language as a shield, rationalization, or misdirection for the real underlying motivation.
Melinda turns this on its head in The Moment of Lift. The examples she gives are real examples of changing the world through foundational activities for women, mostly led by women, and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She devotes a chapter to each of the following topics:
- Maternal and Newborn Health
- Family Planning
- Girls in Schools
- Unpaid Work
- Child Marriage
- Women in Agriculture
- Women in the Workplace
Buried in the middle of the book is an intensely personal chapter about Melinda’s own journey. Her level of self-awareness, humility, and discovery reinforced her awesomeness, and created my own moment of lift while reading the book.
Melinda, both personally, and through her work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation inspire me. It was a perfect book to read while healing. Thanks Chris and Sarah for the gift.
Yesterday, I started my day by finishing A People’s History of American Empire: The American Empire Project, A Graphic Adaptation and ended my day by finishing Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope.
In between Amy took me to see John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (or maybe I took her to see it.)
All three experiences were satisfactory.
Mark Manson is a phenomenal writer. While the book is about hope, it’s not in the way you might think. He mixes philosophy, literature, opinion, self-help, inappropriate jokes, and thought experiments. His footnotes are in the spirit of David Foster Wallace. He has mastered when to include the word “fuck” in a sentence, although his publisher is apparently afraid to use it in unmodified in the book title.
The first half of the book is a setup for the really good stuff in the second half. He defines what he calls “The Uncomfortable Truth”, navigates the reader through an excellent explanation of the Thinking Brain vs. the Feeling Brain, and does a great job summarizing this with his theoretical protagonist “Emo Newton” in the chapter titled “Newton’s Laws of Emotion.” He ends the setup with “Hope is Fucked” which lands with a nice, violent explosion.
Against the backdrop of our current existence, Manson makes Einstein, Kant, and Nietzsche accessible. I particularly loved his section on Nietzsche, since I’m in the midst of writing a book about Nietzsche and entrepreneurship. AI plays a part in Manson’s future view, and he does a good job of summarizing it in the chapter “The Final Religion.”
After spending the day consuming these three inputs, I went to bed feeling that all was ok with the world. It is as it should be, has always been, and will always be. “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.”
Game of Thrones ends tonight. I think Daenerys melted the Iron Throne (physically and metaphorically) and no one sits on it. But we will see soon enough.
If you are looking for a great book to read this weekend, I recommend Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me. I read it last weekend and am still thinking about it.
McEwan is a magnificent writer. When the hardcover ended up on top of my infinite pile of books to read, Amy said, “Wow, you’ll love Ian McEwan’s writing.” Whenever Amy says something like that, I know I’m in for a treat.
The setting is London in 1982. But it’s a parallel universe. Alan Turing chooses jail over chemical castration, lives, and has created massive innovations that are 40 years ahead of their time. Lennon and JFK didn’t die. Jimmy Carter wins a second term. Margaret Thatcher gets booted after botching the Falklands War.
That’s the backdrop for the introduction of our protagonists Charlie and Miranda. Charlie uses his inheritance to buy an Adam, one of 25 first production models of artificial humans (13 Eves, 12 Adams are available – the Eves sell out immediately so Charlie ends up with an Adam.)
I love the narrative feature of a parallel universe. Amy and I started watching Season 2 of The OA last night which aggressively jumps to an alternative universe. Some of today’s best near term sci-fi writers are using this as a basis for their writing, although they are often less explicit about how they are twisting current reality to the alternative universe.
McEwan isn’t subtle about the twists, which makes the book awesome. You quickly feel that this 1982 is the real 1982 and things take off from there. Every time McEwan drops another new reality fragment, more pieces fall nicely into place.
The result is a very provocative journey through the introduction of an artificial human into the evolving relationship of two existing real humans.
If you are a reader, especially one who likes (a) sci-fi and (b) literary fiction, you’ve got a fun weekend ahead of you if you grab Machines Like Me.
If you are an entrepreneur working on a physical product, Jules Pieri’s new book How We Make Stuff Now: Turn Ideas into Products That Build Successful Businesses is a must read.
Jules is the founder / CEO of The Grommet, a website that discovers a new and amazing product every single day. They’ve been doing this for around a decade (over 3,000 products). I’ve known Jules since around the time she started The Grommet and they’ve discovered and reviewed a handful of products that we’ve invested in over the years.
The book has two particularly compelling characteristics. Jules goes through 16 competencies for success for a hardware or consumer product business, each which are a chapter. These include chapters like Design and Documentation, Prototyping, Funding, Manufacturing, Packaging, Direct to Consumer, Logistics, and Inventory Management.
Then, each of these chapters is filled with case study examples from companies that have had products in The Grommet.
Jules’ context, experience, and practical advice combined with the case studies are powerful.
The book also starts off with a section (and five chapters) on starting your business, so it is extra helpful to the aspiring entrepreneur.
Jules (and team) – congrats on all the progress over the years with The Grommet. And Jules, thank you for this book – it’ll be very helpful for a number of entrepreneurs I know.
Amy and I took our Q219 Vacation in Kyoto and then finished up with a few days of work in Tokyo. I had a terrible cold so I spent a lot of time in bed sleeping and reading. We wandered around some in Kyoto and saw cherry blossoms, but the food was mostly lost on me given how crummy I felt.
I did, however, get a lot of reading done. So, as a return from vacation bonus, you get my reading list with some short comments.
It’s worth noting that I’m a “nice reviewer.” If I don’t like a book I don’t finish and, don’t list it on my Goodreads page, and never recommend it. So, my stars on Amazon / Goodreads always bias high and I try, in my reviews, just to give a feel for why the book might be interesting to someone.
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life: This was a quick read that helped get me in a frame of reference for the trip. It didn’t survive my cold or jet lag as the thoughts got buried, but I think they were rumbling near the surface again the past few days.
No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work (and How They Help Us Succeed): If you are a millennial, are frustrated with how you feel at work, or want to try a reset on your emotional engagement with your job, this is a great book. It is part of the Next Big Idea Club that I’m a member of (thanks Andy for the membership) so it was obligatory reading for me versus something I’d naturally choose, but I’m happy I read it.
Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present: Lots of short/medium stories that Cory Doctorow has written in the past decade or so about the near future. Some were great while some were a little long and tedious and became skimmers. I love Doctorow’s writing (and mind), so even the tedious ones are worthwhile getting a feel for since they provoke a bunch of ideas.
26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from My Marathon Career: I loved, loved, loved this book. Meb Keflezighi is one of my running heroes and he does an awesome job with this book. He uses his 26 marathons, in order, to tell his running autobiography, but more importantly explore lessons he’s learned on many dimensions from the challenges he faced before, during, and after each race. If you are a runner, this is a must-read.
The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are In a Video Game: I’ve been friends with Riz Virk since the mid-1990s when we were involved in a few early Internet companies. We haven’t had a lot of contact over the years, but I’ve enjoyed reading his writing and when he told me about this book, I gobbled it down. I’m going to write a longer post about it in conjunction with another book I read, but if you are intrigued (like I am) by the simulation hypothesis (e.g. our current existence is merely a computer simulation), grab it.
Becoming a Venture Capitalist (Masters at Work): Gary Rivlin did a nice job of a survey level book around the styles and approaches of contemporary VCs. It’s an extremely bay area / Silicon Valley-centric view but is a great introduction to anyone new to the industry or who wants a contemporary view of some of the higher profile and more successful Silicon Valley investors. He has a nice, and completely unexpected reference to the book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist at the end of the book, which made me smile.
Permutation City: This is the fiction version of The Simulation Hypothesis. I have a longer blog post coming on this one also, but it’s a massive winner and a delight to read. Great setup that is complicated, but comes together well followed by a gigantic pace of mind-blowing awesomeness.
Solitary: Mind-blowing, but in the opposite of awesomeness category at one level, and incredible at another level. Albert Woodfox is one of the Angola 3 – this is his autobiography of being in solitary confinement for over 40 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s a magnificent writer who captures the depths of what he confronted while staying true to how he faced it. This book is the heaviest I’ve read in a while, and, against the backdrop of life as a computer simulation, was hard at times to handle. It’s another must-read, but you need to settle in and give yourself space to process it while you are reading it.