4 Blogs/Podcasts That Revolutionized The World, Made People Lose Weight, and Improved Their Sex Lives

I went for a more catchy title for this post. It’s not a hundred percent accurate, but maybe it will generate some clicks. It’s actually four good blogs, e-courses, and podcasts that I’ve discovered. I hope you like them too!

Tim Ferriss: (Blog & Podcast) Ferriss has a list of questions that he relies on for each of his guests. His book, “Tribe of Mentors,” uses this list, but what makes that book so great is just how many people answered his request to pick some and reply for the book. The questions are intriguing. One example is, “How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a ‘favorite failure’ of yours?” The answers are revealing because A) can everyone answer the questions (from personal reflection), but B) the celebrities, athletes, and successful people he talks to give honest answers (we are learning from others’ mistakes). The book is a wealth of valuable advice and insight. There are dozens of people represented, and I enjoyed not only the answers, but also meeting and hearing from the lengthy list of achievers from different backgrounds.

American History Tellers (Podcast – iTunes, Spotify): Insightful history of America told with detail and embellished with stories that are sometimes from real-life, and sometimes made up, to help listeners understand what was happening at particular moments in history. Minimal advertising. Enlightening and a fun listen.

How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, 3rd Edition: (Audio Book/Class) This is a fascinating class/lecture series about what most people refer to as “classical music.” However, the professor/teacher clarifies the various periods of history so we can understand the differences in the music he plays for us. The professor has a very dry sense of humor, and I find myself laughing at his comments and descriptions often. Educational and fun.

Ryan Holiday: (Blog, Books) I’ve only recently discovered the writings of Ryan Holiday, but they have already made a big impact on me. My introduction to the Stoic philosophy was through his book “The Obstacle Is The Way,” which is a concise, easy, read that will leave you wanting more. I absolutely soaked up his lessons with gusto, and started reading other books by not only Holiday, but also the Stoic philosophers like, “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, “The Manual: A Philosopher’s Guide To Life,” and “The Art Of Living,” both by Epictetus. I’m trying to become better at living, at being a good person, and achieving goals I’m just learning to set for myself, and Holiday and the Stoics are a tremendous support system. I highly encourage everyone to read his books. You will not be disappointed if you enter into the relationship with an open mind.

 

 

 

 

4 Blogs/Podcasts That Revolutionized The World, Made People Lose Weight, and Improved Their Sex Lives

Book Review: Team of Teams

Written by General Stanley McChrystal, this book describes the challenges faced by the US Military in the conflict with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) after 2003.

McChrystal provides a good history to illustrate why the US Military looks, sounds, walks, and talks the way it did at that time. The countless changes to everything the military did over 200 years had created a behemoth that was very efficient at doing its job, however it wasn’t able to adapt to the rapidly changing environment that AQI had created and in which they were thriving. Though ruthlessly efficient, they were not effective.

McChrystal defines the changes that he felt were necessary to allow them to reach the point where they could adapt quickly to unexpected changes in the fight against AQI and therefore become more effective.

First he started by building relationships between teams. He points out that most elite teams like to compete against each other for bragging rights if nothing else, which eventually creates teams that aren’t really working together toward the same goal. He wanted to have teams that broke down some of that mentality and worked with all the other teams involved in the conflict – in the field, in the command center, in the intelligence teams, in the embassies around the world, and all the rest.

McChrystal began embedding talent from one team in another team for six months at a time. He made his leaders choose the best soldiers for these posts. He wanted the best possible soldiers to be the face of his strategy. This was the first step in building stronger connections between teams, and therefore building trust between them.

Next, he pushed decision-making downward to his subordinates to increase the speed of operations. He simply removed himself as a bottleneck from the flow of information and decisions. Where he felt he asked a few basic questions about the situation then gave his approval, he allowed his subordinates to simply make the decision and then update him to the logistics and details. He pushed this approach down further so teams in the field of battle could make faster decisions as well. This eliminated time spent requesting approval potentially through several layers of leadership. Minutes counted and they needed speed most of all. Surprisingly, where he thought there would be a degradation in the quality of decisions, he found that decision-making actually improved. Soldiers take it seriously when so many lives are on the line.

Finally, rather than acting as a strategist telling troops where to go or what to do, he made himself a “gardener” by simply nurturing the environment he had created and allowed the machine to function more like a complex organism. The speed of actions increased dramatically, and the fight against AQI turned in the favor of the US Military for the first time.

The book would have been an exciting and enjoyable read from start to finish, but the countless examples McChrystal used to illustrate ideas became monotonous and it hurt the book in the end. He borrows extensively from the histories of business, politics, manufacturing, military successes and failures, leadership decisions, etc. Though it’s a well-established approach to make a point (or many points) in a book of this nature, it became tiresome very quickly and lengthened the book needlessly.

The examples were so numerous and, to be honest, distracting that I skipped through several portions of the book to get back to his personal story which is where he should have stayed 95% of the time. Perhaps this is a bit harsh on McChrystal, but perhaps it’s also bad advice given by his publisher because it’s become the established formula in books of this nature… Which sort of goes against everything McChrystal says in the book about breaking down entrenched processes, routines and traditions to become more effective…

Book Review: Team of Teams

Book Review: The Shallows, What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains

This is a book about the human brain and how it works. At times it’s heavy reading, deep reading, which is very much the point. The author looks at how the brains of humans have developed over the millennia, not so much from an evolutionary perspective in terms of the shape of or newly formed regions in the brain but from the perspective of intellectual evolution. In other words, the brain itself hasn’t changed physically as much as it has changed in how it works based on two human developments that are actually quite recent in human history – maps and books.

Maps gave humans the ability to think in a more abstract way about the world around them. Books gave humans the ability to amass knowledge and to think more deeply than ever before. Books evolved from the cuneiform tablets of Mesopotamia and the Hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt, to the creation of papyrus documents, connecting papyrus documents together to make scrolls, to the invention of the actual book as we know it around 1400, and then to the evolution of the written word and how sentences are formed. As books became more available, writing styles developed and evolved and deep reading was more possible than ever before, which led to deep thinking.

At a broad level, writing and deep reading allowed humans to think about specific ideas and concepts rather than spending our time scanning our environments looking for enemies or game to feed ourselves – a very distracted state. Other inventions also contributed to human advancement, like clocks, but they didn’t have as great an impact on our cultural evolution as maps and books from the author’s perspective.

One of the more interesting things covered is neuroplasticity, or how the brain actually works. The human brain is capable of rewiring itself throughout our lives either through training or through recovery from injury. For example, when someone suddenly goes blind from injury or illness, the brain can rewire the areas devoted to processing visual stimuli and redirect those areas toward improving touch or smell or sound. There are numerous studies that support neuroplasticity.

However this flexibility can be both a strength and a weakness. While it  can rewire itself as mentioned to allow other senses to develop when one sense is damaged, neuroplasticity can also cause problems when this rewiring doesn’t go quite right leading to obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar depression, or others.

How does the Internet affect the development humans have achieved over the last 500 years or more? We don’t have the capacity for deep reading or deep thinking on the Internet. Corey Doctorow, writer and tech guru, is quoted as saying we are plunged into an “ecosystem of interruption technologies” when reading on the Internet limiting our ability for deep reading, and therefore deep thinking. The backlit computer monitor delivers competing rapid-fire stimuli through the numerous alerts and distractions that come along with the Internet.

Michael Merzenich, neurosurgeon and author, writes “As we multitask online we are ‘training our brains to pay attention to the crap.’

But I have to wonder if the author stopped too soon. He focused on our collective intellectual journey primarily over the last 500 years, and now that it’s changing because of the Internet it is for the worse. My first problem with that is the assumption that everything leading up to the Internet was in the right direction. Though I can point to no alternate direction humans could have taken, it’s still an assumption that how we developed was along the correct path. My second problem is that the Internet can only be a bad influence though it promises so much more.

What if our brains are being rewired in a way that is positive, but we’re not able to see the end result yet? Perhaps we’re in transition to a new state of enlightenment. If deep reading is focusing narrowly and deeply on a topic and the Internet scatters our attention shallowly and broadly, is there a point at which the breadth of the “knowledge pool” we’re wading in becomes in itself a positive thing? Maybe we haven’t yet reached that breadth of knowledge required to attain this new, different intellectual state of awareness.

Though the Internet may be making our thinking shallower, perhaps the multitude of associations that can be made through this theoretical breadth of knowledge can more than make up for the narrowness and deepness of the specialized knowledge of our recent past. In other words, the Subject Matter Expert may be replaced by the Renaissance Man, the Jack Of All Trades, the handyman…

Also, it makes the assumption that everyone was a “deep reader” and therefore a “deep thinker” prior to the Internet. Before the Internet MOST people listened to Top 40, not Mozart. They read tabloids, not The Iliad. MOST were watching Friends or Roseanne or The Nanny, not enjoying Shakespeare at the theater. At least in the USA…

Though I don’t disagree with the basic premise of this book (the Internet can be bad for us) I absolutely have to question the scale of the problem it brings to light, namely that the Internet is turning everyone into distracted neurotics…

I gave it two stars because I did learn from the book, but I have reservations that everything human society achieved prior to the Internet was in a linear direction toward positive or “correct” evolution.

 

 

Book Review: The Shallows, What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains