“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders”

Goring told him that most people will go along with whatever their leaders tell them to do without question, whether it’s a democracy or fascist dictatorship.

Naively, Gilber replied, “There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

But Goring only laughed and said, “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Source here.

Reading this, I became scared for America, and I felt – for a moment – that even the so-called pacifists don’t feel peaceful anymore. They are angry, and some of them are turning to violence.

What Goring says echoes what I learned in The True Believer, which is a fantastic book about demagogues throughout history, and how they come to have the power and influence that they do.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Steve Erickson: “Ultimately democracy cannot be translated in terms of the material things it allows us to acquire”

The grand arrogance of America has always been that it would dictate its own terms to history rather than the other way around. Again and again the 20th Century has tried to say no to democracy, and again and again America has answered yes. The final American irony will be if, at the end of the century, with no foes left, having vanquished all those who laid siege to democracy, this country now turns to finish the job. If it succeeds, it will be because we forgot that ultimately democracy cannot be translated in terms of the material things it allows us to acquire, that it was always supposed to be dangerous, idealistic but not innocent, and forged of as many passions as there are voices, among which there is only common rage, and that is the rage for justice.

Alec Baldwin recommended this essay on his podcast. He essentially said it was the best essay he’d read that captured the essence of America during these tumultuous political times.

You can read the full essay here.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

A brief snippet of Paul Graham’s brief writing advice

His original essay is here.

A few favorites (all quoted):

  • Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can
  • Expect 80% of the ideas in an essay to happen after you start writing it, and 50% of those you start with to be wrong
  • …just say the most important sentence first
  • Read your essays out loud to see…which bits are boring (the paragraphs you dread reading)
  • Write for a reader who won’t read the essay as carefully as you do

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

New additions to the Personal Bible: Warren Buffett, Robert Greene, and a Hacker News comment

I created a Personal Bible for myself so I could re-read and re-re-read my favorite essays, poems, and passages of text. Below are new additions including a snippet from a Warren Buffett shareholder letter, a raw and honest comment on Hacker News, and some small snippets from other writers that I like.

Here’s my latest version as a PDF. Hope one day you can create one for yourself!

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Warren Buffett’s 1989 letter to shareholders
http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/1989.html

My most surprising discovery: the overwhelming importance in business of an unseen force that we might call ‘the institutional imperative.’ […] I thought that decent, intelligent, and experienced managers would automatically make rational business decisions. But I learned over time that isn’t so. Instead, rationality frequently wilts when the institutional imperative comes into play.

For example: (1) As if governed by Newton’s First Law of Motion, an institution will resist any change in its current direction; (2) Just as work expands to fill available time, corporate projects or acquisitions will materialize to soak up available funds; (3) Any business craving of the leader, however foolish, will be quickly supported by detailed rate-of-return and strategic studies prepared by his troops; and (4) The behavior of peer companies, whether they are expanding, acquiring, setting executive compensation or whatever, will be mindlessly imitated.

[…] After making some expensive mistakes because I ignored the power of the imperative, I have tried to organize and manage Berkshire in ways that minimize its influence. Furthermore, Charlie and I have attempted to concentrate our investments in companies that appear alert to the problem.

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I was the ambitious one, the one that strayed far from home, chasing the dream, getting caught up in the consumerism. I’m glad that by the age of 38 I have come to realize that I had everything that was important before I left. The remainder was a constant cycle of churn, want more, want bigger, want better, want newer, want more convenient. Except it’s hard when it’s being fed to you every day by every billboard, every sign, every menu, every advert, every press release, every news story, every TV show to differentiate between want and need. When you stop to analyze what you actually need – I mean really need: Clean air, clean water, shelter, nutrition, sanitation, family, community, companionship; how much of what you’re being sold every day is truly “needed” and how much of it is a want to fulfill some notion that has been sold to you by the media? – a Hacker News commenter

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David DeAngelo: Prove to yourself over and over that you can cope with rejection

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From Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power [Amazon]

Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness
When […] entering any kind of negotiation, go further than you planned. Ask for the moon and you will be surprised how often you get it.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

Jeff Bezos on Amazon’s culture and strategy: “Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied”

This is from his 2015 Amazon letter to shareholders [source]. So much good stuff on what makes Amazon such a sustaining high performing culture, how to align vastly different business units and products, what challenges he’s faced – and the lessons he’s learned from them – as the company has grown and grown and grown.

On alignment and shared values

[AWS and Amazon retail] share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence.

There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.

On managing big company process and complexity

As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2. A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes

The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.

On decision making

Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

Recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision.

Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions. But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.