What I read this week – 36th week 2020

How do you measure whether your meditation is having any effect? The purpose of meditating isn’t to just get better at meditation, but to extend calm to the rest of your day too. One article I read this week explained that the author measures the success of her mindfulness practice by the number of times she gets angry. Personally, I’m not an angry person, but I would like to improve my focus and get less distracted. Because of this, I’ve decided measure success for my mindfulness practice by counting the number of times I get distracted or mindlessly pull out my phone. Whether or not you currently have a mindfulness practice or would like to build one, what would the desired result of meditation look like to you? (Go and comment on the LinkedIn post that brought you here and get a conversation going. And go like the post while you are at it, it really helps extend the reach of my posts to a larger network.)

This week I’ve been writing cover letters and applying for jobs. Of interest to me is an application to Darktrace (cyber-security crossed with AI) and Jumpstart (jobs at start-ups) but also an application to a start-up incubator to see if it would be possible to get funding and expertise for Nom Nom Not Dairy to scale fast. Regarding what I read: I’m happy to say that only one of the articles I mention this week is from medium (often too many of them are), and only two of them might need to be opened in an incognito tab to read (medium and HBR).

Work from home isn’t quite this picturesque. (A country house, by Sally Seago)

What I read

First, about remote work. We’ve all heard a lot about working from home, or wfh, in the past couple of months. This article explores the five levels of working from home, from being able to check emails and call people while at home at level 1, to “Nirvana” at level 5. According to the article, most people are only at level 2, where the office is essentially replicated online. Meetings and conversations are replicated with zoom, and you are still expected to be online 9-5 like a regular work day. Moving up the levels increases the amount of asynchronous communication and the amount of detail that is communicated in written communication, as well as the way the company invests in helping to build a productive work from home environment, such as quality webcams, call lighting, transmission speeds, etc.. An improved wfh environment (cultural and physical) allows for more deep work, and grants people the ability to work according to their own internal clocks, rather than working according to someone else’s. It also encourages a better work-life balance, as well as forcing the measurement of productivity to go from “hours in” to “quality work out”. (While I didn’t read it this week, here is a great article on measuring productivity.)

Google Search data for “Work from home” – Notable spike at the beginning of lock-down.

Next up, the eternal topic of conversation, social media. This week I read a fantastic article called Cancelling Cancel Culture in Varsity. In the article the anonymous student author lucidly explains why cancel culture is so dangerous. Specifically, cancel culture doesn’t allow conversation, and anyone who tries to promote conversation or tries to defend the victim of cancel culture is considered equally guilty. Cancel culture is authoritarian, and is a tool of the aggressively conventional-minded. (If you think that you aren’t conventional minded, have a think about whether or not you have any opinions that you might not openly admit. If not, is it just a coincidence that all of your opinions align with the popular narrative, or have you just conformed to the mainstream narrative?)

For a longer, deeper dive into social media, here is an interview with the oracle of Silicon Valley. Jaron Lanier is an American computer philosophy writer, author of books like Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and You Are Not a Gadget. The article discusses Lanier’s early life and upbringing, as well as his current opinions on social media. Lanier is still mostly of the same opinion – social media is dangerous – but some of his assumptions are being questioned in the wake of the BLM movement, specifically that digital activism is useless. In sum, Lanier is a fascinating person, well worth reading about if you have a modicum of interest in social media and the future of democracy.

Lanier had been early to the idea that these platforms were addictive and even harmful—that their algorithms made people feel bad, divided them against one another, and actually changed who they were, in an insidious and threatening manner. 

The Conscience of Silicon Valley, Zach Baron, GQ

Finally, back to business. What is effective leadership? Contrary to the old idea of the boss telling people what to do, HBR espouses the idea that humble “servant leader” is actually more effective. Instead of telling people what do do and enforcing policies, a servant leader asks “What can I do to help you do your job better?” I first came across the idea of a servant leader while at Cargill working with an agile project team. The concept immediately clicked with me, and it is nice to see recent publications pushing the idea outside of the IT bubble. In the article, a company that delivers bread and milk in the mornings experiments with servant leadership, and finds that the people on the ground already know how to solve the problems they are facing and have more and better ideas than management does. Additionally, empowering workers to change the business themselves increases dedication and work ethic. In sum, a servant leader can turn a business unit around.

Long Reads

Here are this week’s long reads, perfect for a quite coffee break at home or an evening read. Open these in another tab to discover later, or jump to them now if you have time. First, I thought I would have accomplished a lot more today. That one hit deep. It doesn’t really say much, but really reflects an occasional feeling I think we all get. Next, the story of one of the US’ biggest con-men, arms dealer, and insurance-fraudster. One hell of a read, and a fascinating man. Finally, the business of child abductions.

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s topics, or found the summaries even slightly useful, please do go and like the post on LinkedIn or twitter, it really helps me to reach a bigger network of people. As always, send me anything interesting or useful you have read in the last week at callum@callumacdonald.com, or on LinkedIn.

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