6 Non-$-Related Great Reads
There a million books out there on a variety of subjects that loosely inform investors on how to get what they want (or better yet, need). But, as promised, this list is a random selection of helpful insights from a non-investment/non-financial angle — a half-dozen ways to take your eyes off the charts ‘n tickers for a bit.
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
This book will have you asking yourself many provocative and useful questions. I dislike forecasts of any kind because they are usually wrong. Antifragile helps you prepare for an uncertain future without having to make any (doomed from the start) predictions. We will never know what crazy and unexpected things will happen, but we do know that some crazy unexpected things will happen, and being prepared for them can make a huge difference in our lives, businesses, and portfolios. Here are a few choice quotes from the book:
Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet.
How do you innovate? First, try to get in trouble. I mean serious, but not terminal, trouble. I hold — it is beyond speculation, rather a conviction — that innovation and sophistication spark from initial situations of necessity, in ways that go far beyond the satisfaction of such necessity.
Curiosity is antifragile, like an addiction, and is magnified by attempts to satisfy it — books have a secret mission and ability to multiply, as everyone who has wall-to-wall bookshelves knows well.
2 by Paul Graham:
1) How to Be an Expert in a Changing World1
This extends the anti-fragile idea into thinking and expertise. Graham asks:
Can you protect yourself against obsolete beliefs? To some extent, yes. I spent almost a decade investing in early stage startups, and curiously enough protecting yourself against obsolete beliefs is exactly what you have to do to succeed as a startup investor. Most really good startup ideas look like bad ideas at first, and many of those look bad specifically because some change in the world just switched them from bad to good. So I don’t even try to predict it. When I get asked in interviews to predict the future, I always have to struggle to come up with something plausible-sounding on the fly, like a student who hasn’t prepared for an exam.  But it’s not out of laziness that I haven’t prepared. It seems to me that beliefs about the future are so rarely correct that they usually aren’t worth the extra rigidity they impose, and that the best strategy is simply to be aggressively open-minded. Instead of trying to point yourself in the right direction, admit you have no idea what the right direction is, and try instead to be super sensitive to the winds of change. The winds of change originate in the unconscious minds of domain experts. If you’re sufficiently expert in a field, any weird idea or apparently irrelevant question that occurs to you is ipso facto worth exploring.
2) Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age
Graham — one of our best technology philosopher-kings — is also programmer and essayist. He may be the best business essayist alive. I wrote a little piece based on one of his analogies (why you should run up stairs). I could write 50 more similar pieces based on Graham’s essays. Hackers and Painters is a book collection of some of his best, but they are all available for free at paulgraham.com. If you have any aspirations to be a writer, make sure to read “The Age of the Essay,” which is on the website but not in the book.
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
This book studies creative people and creates a common framework for creativity based on their lives and insights. What sets this book apart is its discussion of the environment in which creative people make their discoveries. Csikszentmihalyi highlights the importance three aspects:
Creativity results from the interaction of a system composed of three elements: a culture that contains symbolic rules, a person who brings novelty into the symbolic domain, and a field of experts who recognize and validate the innovation. All three are necessary for a creative idea, product, or discovery to take place… creativity does not happen inside people’s heads, but in the interaction between a person’s thoughts and a sociocultural context. It is a systemic rather than an individual phenomenon.
Changing the conditions of your environment can increase the potential for creative insight. You’ll want to incorporate people and ideas from a lot of different areas.
It also seems true that centers of creativity tend to be at the intersection of different cultures, where beliefs, lifestyles, and knowledge mingle and allow individuals to see new combinations of ideas with greater ease. In cultures that are uniform and rigid, it takes a greater investment of attention to achieve new ways of thinking. In other words, creativity is more likely in places where new ideas require less effort to be perceived.
That was just two of my 125 highlights from this book. There is a ton in here to ponder and to help you better set yourself up for creative success.
A Technique for Producing Ideas
by James Webb Young
If you prefer fast reads and only want to read one of these books, this is the one for you. This book lays out the creative process almost like the scientific method. This book is entirely free of fluff or hero-worship (a common problem I’ve had with books on creativity).
Here is a distillation. Each of these five stages below is carefully considered. This is the book that cemented my goal to constantly collect ideas from a lot of different fields and store them in one place.
First, the gathering of raw materials — both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge. Second, the working over of these materials in your mind. Third, the incubating stage, where you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis. Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea — the “Eureka! I have it!” stage. And fifth, the final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.
Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It
by Steven Pressfield
I’ve enjoyed all of Pressfield’s nonfiction. You can read each of them in one sitting. This book is written in the same style Turning Pro or The War of Art — each chapter is a single, very short thought or story. This book teaches you how to craft a message: an advertisement, a novel, a eulogy, a non-fiction book, a market commentary, etc. If you care about the quality of your communication with others, this book will be helpful.
When you understand that nobody wants to read your sh*t, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer must give him something worthy of his gift to you.
Let’s start by reviewing the universal principles of storytelling. (This is really a distillation of everything we’ve learned so far from advertising, fiction, and filmmaking.) (1) Every story must have a concept. It must put a unique and original spin, twist or framing device upon the material. (2) Every story must be about something. It must have a theme. (3) Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Act One, Act Two, Act Three. (4) Every story must have a hero. (5) Every story must have a villain. (6) Every story must start with an Inciting Incident, embedded within which is the story’s climax. (7) Every story must escalate through Act Two in terms of energy, stakes, complication and significance/meaning as it progresses. (8) Every story must build to a climax centered around a clash between the hero and the villain that pays off everything that came before and that pays it off on-theme. There is nothing about any of these principles that cannot be applied to nonfiction, including your presentation on geraniums to the Master Gardening class.
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