"In the Soviet Union, Taylorism was advocated by Aleksei Gastev and nauchnaia organizatsia truda (the movement for the scientific organisation of labor). It found support in both Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Gastev continued to promote this system of labor management until his arrest and execution in 1939."
-Excerpt from Wikipedia's article on scientific management.
Sebastian, I thank you for your constant thoughts and insights. I have an RSS application on my phone and only one subscription, which is SebastianMarshall.com. I can go on Hacker News anytime during the week to cherry-pick great articles from the continuous feed of articles, but I know that when I see that red (1) next to the app, I am going to read something excellent that day. [Sebastian: this was one of the most awesome things I've read, wow, thanks] Thanks for taking my email. Here's my question.. Do you believe that only great work can be produced by a mind solely devoted to that work at any given time? If so, would you be able to suggest books or resources I could acquire to being mastering concentration/mind devotion? I feel that sole devotion of the mind to a project could pretty much be an obvious factor of amazing results, but I find it hard to implement in my own life. I know I have the potential (as well as everyone else) to do amazing work. When I research amazing work done by people, the research yields the author to be devoted to their work to the point that it seems the author had NOTHING but the project on his/her mind as they work on it. When I study for college classes, I feel I am not taking in as much as I should be because my mind wanders on occasion, which is probably due to the idea that I have no interest in this class but the grade at the end. I understand that there will need to be emotional changes as well as mental changes in order to reach the status of a walking curriculum-sponge. I would like to hear your thoughts and suggestions on how to master concentration so that it may be applied to everything in life. Thanks Sebastian.
Thanks a really nice email C, thanks.
Re: intense focus, I don't think so, no. If you look at Steve Jobs, he was always dabbling in this or that random beautiful thing. He was getting into motorcycles or learning calligraphy or whatever thing unrelated to technology and computing. But he implemented and got a hell of a lot of that into his products later, partially because of his general love of beauty, typography, industrial design, etc.
I think there's probably some value in limiting the bulk of your creative time to a particular domain - then you could be more systematic and all your learning could be built on itself. Certainly, you'd be hard pressed to achieve a high level of mastery simultaneously in singing, painting, international trade, linguistics, archaeology, physics, and sports.
I love these guys, so I was thrilled when they invited me on the podcast. I'm on the newest episode - interview starts at 6:20 into the podcast. Definitely check out some other episodes when you're there - Dan and Ian are great.
Hint: It ain't the customer.
If you're doing anything where the quality of your work depends immensely on how engaged you are, then you are the most important stakeholder.
If you're not engaged, you won't produce well. The first and most crucial thing is that you remain engaged in your work.
Sometimes I get asked why I don't stick to the most popular topics that I write on well. Certainly, some of my writing is better than others. By writing broadly across many topics, I'm sure I lose a lot of readers that I could have if I had a more tight, focused theme.
But do you know what blog abandonment rate is? It's crazy-high.
One thing that's somewhat rare and useful is getting a look at how other people write letters to get stuff done.
Backstory here: I had about $1,000 in a CD for a few years now. I originally deposited it in order to get a secured loan against the CD to improve my credit score (it worked, I can discuss that another time). But now whenever I call on the phone they're being a big pain in the ass about not letting me get my money out of the CD, which is just sitting there at a pathetic 0.15% interest. It was never a top priority for me so I didn't pursue it, but then I had an idea.
I wrote this letter up, asked a friend to go visit the bank, and it was finished within a day (after them being unable to help after numerous calls) -
A flash A light A call Aloft Arise Again
A flash - a light? A call aloft Arise. Again.
Question from a reader -
Wanted to let you know the timing of your Anonymous Troll post was perfect. I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one affected in my being by people online who want to take me on/down. I have an ongoing struggle with online interaction because I used to get into similar kinds of situations and got extremely riled up and fueled for days on end.
Anyway, your post was encouraging and helpful for me; even just to see that other people--people I really respect--are stirred up by online conflicts. If you have any more insights on how to handle this in a balanced life, I'd love to hear them, or hopefully read about them on your blog. I'm still wrestling with the issue.
Good email here. Glad you wrote.
Very good question from a reader -
Reading one of your latest blog posts you mentioned that you used to be extremely slow at making decisions. I was wondering if you have any advice on that. I usually have trouble making decisions when there is no clear pro's or con's to a certain choice. For example I'm not sure which programming language to use for my next (web) project.
Does it matter? No. All you need to do is output HTML, JSON or whatever data format you need it in. Python/Ruby have major sites written with them. I'm comfortable using both and don't really have a preference.
Somewhat frustrating that this holds me back when I could have built a prototype in the time I'm searching for "the right answer".
I read an asininely large number of books. I probably open or start 300 to 500 books a year, finish 50, read substantial parts of 50 more, and listen to another 30 to 70 on audio. I tend to "fast read" books - which is where I skim until I hit a particularly good part, and then slow down for comprehension. When I read a book that's highly tactical, I try to go through it slowly over a couple months while implementing and testing the tactics.
The following isn't my list of favorite books, nor the best books written, nor even the most important to me. Instead, it's my picks of "must reads" if you're doing "creative building."
That's where you're simultaneously trying to invent/innovate while growing and diffusing your inventions and innovations. It's what entrepreneurs do, but not entrepreneurs only. The following list would be useful to someone trying to proliferate their writing, become prominent in fields ranging from music or journalism, and possibly even governance and politics.
There'll be a mix of philosophical, strategic, and tactical books on the list. Let's begin:
1. Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa - If you're talented and get frustrated with stupid people, you have to read "Musashi" by Eiji Yoshikawa. I mean, you have to. Musashi was one of the greatest swordsmen in Japanese history, invented a new Japanese longblade/shortblade mixed style of swordsmanship, and at one point fought himself out of an ambush when he was attacked by over 30 men. He was undefeated in over 60 duels, including defeating arguably the second best swordsman in Japan at the time while fighting with a wooden oar he carved into a rough swordlike shape. Yoshikawa writes his story about getting into conflict with mainstream society and all of the friction before finally finding a way to hone his craft without unnecessary conflict - and thus reach an even higher level of perfection. A brilliant philosophical read, but also a hell of a swashbuckling story. If you only read one book on this list, read this one.
I've scoured the books of history looking for trends - why did this person succeed, when that one failed? Why did this movement shape the world, while that one died out? Why did this nation win, and that one lose?
Some people think accidents explain history. Perhaps accidents explain some of history, but certainly not all. You see common virtues among those who succeeded, and frequently you see common vices among those who failed.
Of the common virtues, the successful seem to have an immense amount of loyalty and reverence for the people that "got them there," revering and celebrating them even as they bring more and more people to their banner. The people who break from their early friends and supporters usually end poorly, in an isolation of their own making.
You can see this with two men that had the biggest impact on their respective cultures - Muhammad in Arabia, and Hideyoshi in Japan.
Both men were low born, but came to be hugely influential. There are a number of similarities in their stories. They both found and married an exceptional, charismatic, diplomatic, high born, highly intelligent woman relatively early in their careers. The wives of these men - Khadijah to Muhammad, Nene to Hideyoshi - were their first, most passionate, and largest supporters when few else believed in them.