My dad, brother, and I are now doing a monthly book club together. One of us chooses a book, we all read it, and then we do an hour-long video conference and talk about it. We’ve done this for about six months now and it’s wonderful.
A few months ago Daniel chose Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. It was a powerful book that started off strong.
“I can think of no bigger misstep in American history than the invention and perpetuation of the idea of white superiority. It allows white children to believe they are exceptional and entitled while allowing children of color to believe they are inferior and less deserving. Neither is true; both distort and stunt development. Racism crushes spirits, incites divisiveness, and justifies the estrangement of entire groups of individuals who, like all humans, come into the world full of goodness, with a desire to connect, and with boundless capacity to learn and grow. Unless adults understand racism, they will, as I did, unknowingly teach it to their children.
No one alive today created this mess, but everyone alive today has the power to work on undoing it. Four hundred years since its inception, American racism is all twisted up in our cultural fabric. But there’s a loophole: people are not born racist. Racism is taught, and racism is learned. Understanding how and why our beliefs developed along racial lines holds the promise of healing, liberation, and the unleashing of America’s vast human potential.”
I found myself nodding many times as I read this book. When I finished, I wandered around the web and found this TEDx Fenway talk by the author which does a great job of a high-level summary of the book.
I particularly liked this framing:
“What I’ve learned is that thinking myself raceless allowed for a distorted frame of reference built on faulty beliefs. For instance, I used to believe:
- Race is all about biological differences.
- I can help people of color by teaching them to be more like me.
- Racism is about bigots who make snarky comments and commit intentionally cruel acts against people of color.
- Culture and ethnicity are only for people of other races and from other countries.
- If the cause of racial inequity were understood, it would be solved by now.”
Dad, Daniel, and I talked extensively about the notion of “Good intentions, bad information.” While it applies to many situations, it’s especially key in applying critical thinking to a complex, or deeply challenging situation, especially one where there is a visceral bias (emotional or intellectual) that appears. Consider applying Curiosity, Courage, and Tolerance by doing the following.
- Curiosity: Ask yourself silently, “Why did I just think that thought?” Force yourself to chase down the “why” before you go on.
- Courage: Resist feeling terrified that you will say the wrong thing. There are lots of different ways to say something with a qualifier that you don’t have any idea whether what you are saying is going to be offensive, interpreted correctly, or correct.
- Tolerance: Tolerate your own feelings of discomfort, anger, grief, and embarrassment. Take a deep breath and calmly press through into the situation.
There’s a lot more in the book that both challenged me and helped me. I’m sure I interpreted plenty of it wrong, but, in the same way that I’m reading and exploring a lot of feminist literature, I’m going to include explorations of race and ethnicity in the stuff I’m reading.
Daniel – thanks for choosing Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race as one of our monthly books.
Cat Hoke’s book A Second Chance: For You, For Me, And For The Rest Of Us is out.
I wrote a long post about it in October when I read a draft of it. Cat is remarkable and she lucked out by partnering with the amazing Seth Godin on this book (Seth is the publisher).
I’m sending a copy to every CEO in our portfolio. We’ve got a pretty regular Foundry Group book club thing going at this point, as I know Rajat Bhargava and Will Herman’s book The Startup Playbook is also going out to a bunch of the CEOs. And each of my partners is getting a copy of Lee McIntyre’s Post-Truth this week.
I read a lot and encourage everyone around me to join in on the good stuff. Cat’s book is definitely good stuff. She mixes her own life journey with the mission of Defy Ventures along with the impact that Defy has had on so many people – both “entrepreneurs-in-training” and the volunteers who work with the EITs.
I’ve talked about Defy Ventures a lot on this blog and Amy and I have become significant supporters through both The Anchor Point Foundation and my volunteer engagement. I’m particularly proud, however, of my partner Jason and his wife Jenn who have picked up the mantle as co-chairs of Defy Ventures Colorado and launched the Colorado program. I was in prison with them, 50 volunteers, 50 EITs, ten people from the Defy team (including Cat), and Governor Hickenlooper two weeks ago.
All of this has been inspired, and led, by Cat. I didn’t know much about the US prison system prior to meeting Cat several years ago. My own journey with this has been incredibly powerful. Being able to experience it with other entrepreneurs and investors, including Jason and Jenn, a number of the Techstars team, and many others who I know has been wonderful.
If you want a pre-book taste, the Reboot podcast that I did with Jerry Colonna and Cat is a good start.
But, do yourself a favor. Buy Cat’s book A Second Chance. Read it, let it into your life, and ponder what a second chance really means.
P.S. I have several people in my life who I need to give a second chance to. I’m not ready yet, but I hope I will be at some point. And yes, the book will help you go deep on what this means for you.
This book was a delight. I started reading it earlier this year, caught up quickly (I started in July), and then mostly read a page each day when I was in the bathroom in the morning. I let it unfold slowly, reading the daily quote and Ryan Holiday’s (and Stephen Hanselman’s) thoughts on the quote, and then rereading the quote.
I was near the end so I finished it off last night. I smiled when after I read the December 31 meditation.
Stoicism is fascinating to me. While I don’t categorize myself as anything and try to resist being put in boxes, I like to take elements of different philosophies, religions, approaches, and styles and weave them into the fabric of me. As I was reading The Daily Stoic I found many ideas that spoke to me.
I’ve known Ryan from a distance for a while. We ended up at a dinner together at either SXSW or CES a number of years together and I remember an interesting and engaged conversation. For a while, I subscribed to his monthly Reading List email but in a fit of unsubscribing from everything, I unsubscribed.
I just re-subscribed.
Several times a year, I send a book (or two) to all the CEOs in our portfolio. I sent this one out this fall. I’ve heard back from a few that they enjoyed it, and I’m hoping that most of the CEOs are at least dipping into it.
If you’ve heard any of the names Zeno of Citium, Chrysippus, Cato the Younger, Seneca, Epictetus, Hierocles, or Marcus Aurelius, then you’ve heard of at least one of the famous Stoic philosophers. If you’ve studied any of them, you are in for a treat with this book as it presents Stoicism in a unique and very accessible way.
The book starts with a quote every day on January 1st. You’ve still got a few days to grab a copy from Amazon and start the year out with a daily dose of Stoicism.
As part of v52 of me, I’ve decided to commit to at least eight hours of sleep a night. I’m doing ok, but need to keep working at it.
From my early 20s, until v47, I woke up at 5 am from Monday to Friday. I’d then binge sleep on the weekend, often sleeping 12+ hours on Saturday or Sunday (my record is just under 16 hours of sleep.) When I had a major depressive episode early in v47, I stopped waking up with an alarm clock. For the next six months, I slept over 10 hours a night (often more than 12), every night.
I was extraordinarily sleep deprived. I knew it was bad for me on multiple dimensions, especially my mental health, so since then, I’ve slept until I woke up naturally each morning. Amy and I go to bed early – usually between 9 and 10 pm, so I’m still up between 6 and 7 am on most days.
Several friends, who know I both love to sleep and am intrigued with how sleep works, recommended that I read Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. It was excellent. While my self-assessment of my sleep habits are very positive, I learned a few things. More importantly, I now have a much better understanding of the “Why” surrounding sleep, especially around sleep’s importance to a healthy and long life.
There are a number of things that I’ve done in the past few years that have dramatically improved my sleep. In addition to eliminating alarm clocks from my life, I stopped taking sleep aids (Advil PM, Ambien) except for helping me reset on international travel (and, after reading this book, I’m going to give Melatonin a try for this situation.) I’ve stopped drinking alcohol. I don’t drink any caffeine after noon (and rarely more than one cup of coffee a day.) I take regular afternoon naps – almost every Saturday and Sunday and whenever I’m on vacation. Our bedroom is pitch black and 65 degrees. I started using a Resmed CPAP machine several years ago (I have a mild sleep apnea). I don’t read or watch TV in bed. Finally, a few months before v52, I stopped drinking fluids after 7 pm and have been skipping dinner several nights a week.
While reading this book, I realized how messed up our societal norms are around sleep. Kids needing to get up early in the morning to get to school by 7:30 am is insanity. ADHD drugs, especially in children, is basically doing the exact opposite of what is helpful. Drowsy driving is way more dangerous than drunk driving. Our schools have lots of different kinds of health education (physical, dietary, sex) but virtually nothing on sleep. The 9 to 5 work culture massively disadvantages people we call “night owls.” The macho ideal of a business person who only needs five hours of sleep a night is extremely counterproductive and dangerous, even though many of our visible leaders (business and political) claim they don’t need more than five hours a night.
The author, Matthew Walker, is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. While the book is thoroughly researched and supported by actual scientific studies that either Walker or his colleagues have done, it’s a very accessible book. I realized, as I was reading through the construction of the 17th experiment he was describing, that I was learning as much about how to do sleep studies as I was learning about the conclusions from the studies.
As a special bonus, the section on Alzheimer’s and cancer was powerful and a profound motivator to anyone who knows someone who has suffered from either of these diseases.
Time for bed.
Recently, my friend Ross Baird came out with a new book, The Innovation Blind Spot. In the book, Ross outlines and diagnoses a problem that I’ve been exploring for over a decade: our innovation economy neglects many people and ideas.
Ross kicks off the book with some pretty stark statistics: despite the fact that promising startup communities (such as my hometown of Boulder) are thriving, in most communities in America, firm creation is the lowest it’s been in a generation. With women making up less than 10% of new startups that are funded and African-Americans and Latinos making up less than 1%, it’s obvious we’re not seeing the best ideas in our innovation ecosystem.
Ross’ book is important because he focuses on solving this problem through HOW we invest, not just WHAT we invest in. It’s not enough for tech firms to say “we need more diversity – let’s go find different founders!” The design in how we find companies, perform diligence and make investments have unintentional side effects that cut many people out. One example highlighted in the book is that the very act of “pitching” a business tends to favor men (a Wharton study showed that men were 60% more likely to raise money pitching the exact same business as women.)
I’ve been thinking about ways to design startup communities to be more inclusive. A classic investor problem is a tension between wanting to be accessible to new founders while at the same time giving existing portfolio companies the time they deserve. When you’re getting a thousand pitches a year, you often tend to gravitate towards the people you already know and ideas that are familiar. Techstars has been a key part of addressing this issue for us as we’ve met thousands of companies we wouldn’t have otherwise and have invested – both directly and through our investment in Techstars – in a wide variety of founders all over the world.
Ross’s book also explores ways to build a stronger pipeline of different types people. As I’ve dug further into the problem, I’ve seen consistent ways that many people are excluded. For example, entrepreneurs go to conferences and network in order to find customers and investors. If you don’t have personal savings or family members who can help support you, you can’t afford that plane ticket. Organizations like the Techstars Foundation are working on addressing problems like this.
My favorite part of the book is when Ross talks about how places and communities can support their own founders. Ross’ final section is titled with one of my favorite words: “Topophilia“, or “love of place”. It’s a phrase I’ve embraced as we’ve built our startup community in Colorado and have tried to share with other communities around the world, both in my travels and through my book, Startup Communities. Whether you live in Cincinnati or Jakarta, you are far better able to help the entrepreneurs in your hometown than I am. I think that in order for us to ensure that entrepreneurs flourish everywhere, communities need to embrace them, and I’ve enjoyed being part of a community of folks like Ross who are trying to help communities do this worldwide.
Ross’s book is a quick, entertaining, informative read that diagnoses how we can do better as a startup community, and more importantly, focuses on the HOW. I encourage everyone in the innovation economy to read it.
Amy and I just spent a week of vacation off the grid in Aspen. I ran, read, and hung out. I had a fantasy about writing, but didn’t get to it. We watched Narcos Season 3, ate at a bunch of Aspen’s restaurants, and had an Amy pre-birthday dinner with our friends Dave and Maureen. And we napped – a lot.
I hadn’t had a vacation since mid-April, which is unusual for me as Amy and I try to take a week off the grid every quarter. On day three, which was a Monday, I settled into a total chill zone which lasted all week. I did my long run on Friday (instead of Saturday) and cruised from Aspen to Basalt. I then slept most of the day on Saturday when I wasn’t reading or eating. Yup – I’m marathon ready.
While I’m not quite finished with Reincarnation Blues, I did knock down six other books this week.
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening: Intense, powerful, horrifying, and inspiring all at the same time. Manal Al-Sharif is incredible. I hope I get to meet her someday – I’ll thank her for being brave enough to do what she does and to tell her story while doing it.
The Impossible Fortress: My inner 14-year-old loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. The Commodore 64 code was a bonus.
Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups – Timeless Advice from an Angel Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000: I met Jason Calacanis in the mid-1990s when he was peddling his Silicon Alley Reporter magazine. We’ve been friends ever since and I give him a big hug whenever our paths cross. He’s his normal outspoken and bombastic self in this book, which has lots of gems buried in it. I smiled a lot when I read it. And how about that subtitle …
The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War: This book was a grind, but it had a lot of good stuff in it. It’s only 784 pages so it took more than a day to read it. If you are trying to understand what is going on in the current American economy, and why the future will not look like the past, this is a good place to start.
Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America: As part of my effort to get rolling again on my #GiveFirst book, I thought reading this might be a useful kick in the pants. It wasn’t.
My next vacation is in mid-November. The tank once again has plenty of fuel to get me to that point.
I read Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy a few weeks ago. It’s a must read for every human on this planet.
Some of you know that I’m a huge fan of Adam Grant. His book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success is a key inspiration for the #GiveFirst moment, my own personal philosophy, and my upcoming book #GiveFirst: A New Philosophy for Business which should be out in 2018.
I’m also a huge fan of Sheryl Sandberg. I don’t know Sheryl well, but we hung out a few times 15 years ago and both Amy and I thought she was awesome. It’s been awesome to watch what she’s achieved – first at Google, and now at Facebook.
It’s even more remarkable to read the clarity with which she has processed the sudden loss of her beloved husband Dave Goldberg. I met Dave a few times in the last 1990s when he was running LAUNCH Media (we were investors via SOFTBANK) but didn’t stay in touch after Yahoo! acquired LAUNCH. However, many of my Bay Area friends were close to Dave and viewed him reverently.
Amy and I have lost several close friends in the past three months to cancer and suicide. Another friend was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. We are getting older and death is becoming a more visible part of our life experience.
Exploring how to process mortality is hard. I talked to a friend on my way home last night who is struggling with this. While these conversations are hard, I learn a little with each one.
Recently, I’ve been referring friends to Atul Gawande’s amazing book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End which is the best book I’ve read so far this year. I also send them to Paul Kalanithi’s book When Breath Becomes Air, which was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I know “best” is a weak qualifier, so just know that they are both in the same league as Norman Cousins’ classic Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration which had a profound impact on me in my mid-20s.
I just added Sheryl and Adam’s book to this league. Life and death are complicated. If you, like me, are constantly exploring it and trying to understand it, and yourself, better, I encourage you to read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. Sheryl and Adam – thank you for writing it.
The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries was one of two books I read this weekend (the other was Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness).
It was outstanding. I made it the August book club book for my dad and my brother. And then, this morning, I woke up to the following headlines.
- Putin bans VPNs to stop Russians accessing prohibited websites
- Apple Removes Apps That Allowed China Users to Get Around Filters
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who is paying attention. There is now a long history of governments trying to control the Internet. One approach over government is censoring the Internet; another is weaponizing it.
The Red Web covers Russia’s history around the Internet starting during the Cold War with a focus on the last twenty years. While Russia had a slow start, the Internet played a big part in both sides of things – the increasingly free flow of information combined with government control over information.
I believe we are at the very beginning of a new version of this battle. Since the beginning of humans, information – and the control of information – has been one of the key dynamics of power. At least we don’t need to use ravens anymore. But, depending on which country you are in, they might be a good backup plan.
On May 23rd, I got an email from one of my favorite sci-fi writers (and close friend) Eliot Peper. It was titled “My very first scifi short story” and said:
“David Cohen shared the idea that inspired this story. I drafted it last week. Thought you might enjoy and would love to hear what you think.”
I was in the middle of grinding through my email backlog, so this stopped me in my tracks as I spent the next 15 minutes reading Eliot’s new short story. The first few sentences grabbed me.
“Kamran Tir gazed into the mirror and confronted the fact that his genes had betrayed him. His thick dark hair was carefully groomed, his olive cheeks clean shaven. For someone who worked late so often, he was in reasonable shape.
The problem was his eyes.”
It was stunning. I’ve been reading and responding to Eliot’s writing since he wrote his very first book in 2014 titled Uncommon Stock. It’s a great example to me of the development of a writer and the effort required for mastery of the craft.
The backstory of how this came together, is a fun one. Eliot put it up on Amazon in the From the Author section, but it’s worth repeating to warm you up to the story.
A few months ago, I received an email from my friend David Cohen, “I’ve had an idea for a book for a while. Given what’s going on in America, I thought I’d send it to you because I sure as hell am never going to write it.” David went on to present a thought experiment: what if discrimination targeted eye color instead of skin color or any other trait?
Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you start writing books, your friends will start sending you ideas. Strangers too. You’ll get very good at letting people down easy. After all, you have your own dreams to bring to life.
But David’s premise stuck with me, lurking in the shadows of my subconscious and rearing its head at opportunity moments. It would visit me as I took the dog on a walk or did the dishes. It made me think of my opa whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis and my oma who risked her life every day to fight in the Dutch Resistance. Every time the idea resurfaced, it took on weight and texture, building up creative momentum until I had no choice but to write it.
Speculative fiction has a secret superpower. Imaginative stories invite us to experience plausible realities unlike our own. In doing so, they empower us to confront the myriad hidden assumptions we take for granted in our day-to-day lives. We cannot explore new worlds and return unchanged.
True Blue is a story about the absurdity of discrimination, the importance of being true to yourself, and our irrepressible capacity for overcoming injustice. It’s a story about standing up instead of standing by. It’s a story about finding the courage to stop caring what other people think.
These are truths we need to keep in mind now more than ever. Oh, and next time someone sends me an idea, I promise to pay attention.
Eliot just released True Blue on the Kindle. If you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free, otherwise, it’s $2.99.
I’ve written this post in the style Geraldine used in her book. As you read this, assume that I’ve failed miserably at it and Geraldine is 1000x funnier and more clever than I am.
I had a weekend of books. Amy’s cold drifted over into my part of the world so I slept a lot, ran a little to try to clear out the goo in my head, and read until I feel asleep again. And I ate nachos, several times, which I never do at home.
Last week I ordered 51 hardcover copies of Geraldine DeRuiter‘s new book, All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love, and Petty Theft, from Amazon. I did it to celebrate that my 51st year on this planet coincided with the publication of Geraldine’s first book. I brought two of the books home – one for me, and one for Amy. I think I’ll make a chair out of the other 49.
Geraldine writes a popular travel blog called The Everywhereist. Amy has characterized it as “pee in your pants funny” which I’ve never actually experienced, but I think I understand. Geraldine’s book doesn’t disappoint, as I wandered to the bathroom several times while consuming the 274 pages on Saturday. I laughed out loud a lot, but I also drank two bottles of Pellegrino in an attempt to stay hydrated.
All Over the Place is a memoir masquerading as a travel book. Geraldine starts off strong with a disclaimer which points you at what the journey of this book will actually be.
“So, if there is any advice I could dispense, it would be this: it’s absolutely incredible, the things you can learn from not having a clue about where you’re going – lessons that emerge after making a wrong turn, or saying the wrong thing, or even after accidentally doing something right. And in my case, this was all undertaken not in the company of a new love, but one that has enough miles on it to circle the earth three, maybe four times, is now sufficiently jet lagged, and lost its pants somewhere over Greenland.”
If you know Geraldine’s husband Rand Fishkin, you may recognize him as the not a new love. I learned a lot about Geraldine and Rand in this book, including their experience with poop and toilets, but is gender reversed from the experiences Amy and I have had (hint: Rand and Amy are the heroes of those particular stories.)
The chapter titles give you a feel for what you are in for:
- Marry Someone Who Will Hel You Deal with Your Shit (see above paragraph)
- Home Is Where Your MRI Is
- The Contents of My Mother’s Carry-On Look Like Evidence from a Prison Riot
- Life Lessons from a Three-Hundred-Year-Old Dead Guy and His Boring Clock
- Gelato Is an Excellent Substance in Which to Drown Your Sorrows
I think y’all know I’m a big fan of chocolate gelato. Which is what I went out and got after I had an extremely uncomfortable phone call with Geraldine after realizing that she’d found out that FG Press wasn’t going to publish her book by noticing that we’d taken her off the FG Press website as a future author. Of course, this was totally my fault, as I’d told the FG Press gang a month or so earlier that I’d call Geraldine to tell her we were shutting FG Press down and, as a result, wouldn’t be publishing her, or any other, books. I apologized 49 times, went out and found a chair to sit in, and had a chocolate gelato. I think she eventually accepted my apology, kept working on her book, and found a serious publisher (PublicAffairs/Hachette) who did an awesome job with All Over the Place.
I’m extremely proud Geraldine. Her first book is extremely true to her writing, her soul, and her soulmate. I learned a lot while reading it, and not just about Geraldine and Rand, but about life.