Posted on My Books of 2018

2018 was a year that unconsciously revolved around power and entropy. The 48 books were dominated by Robert Caro’s incredible LBJ series, a late fascination with the physics and neuroscience of time and a renewed love of sci-fi and fantasy heralded by N. K. Jemisin, Cixin Liu, Ted Chiang and Naomi Alderman.

History and Biography

The four existing books of Caro’s LBJ series are quite simply the best biographies I’ve ever read. Good enough that I happily read more than 3,000 pages on a single president and can’t wait for the last book to be published. Caro’s LBJ is the lighthouse of this series, but he illuminates his time and the political and power structures of the United States like nothing I’ve ever read.

Chernow’s Grant would have been a top read in any year that didn’t contain Caro. I found the years focusing on Reconstruction more revelatory than those of the civil war itself. The Silk Roads was also a wonderful reframing of history away from the European-centric perspective I grew up with.

The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro
Means of Ascent: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro
Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro

“Making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It may seem hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.”

“Eisenhower was a fine general and a good, decent man; but if he had fought World War II the way he fought for civil rights, we would all be speaking German today.”

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro
Grant by Ron Chernow
Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts
Gates: How Microsofts Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews

“Announcing a product that didn’t exist, developing it on the model of the best version available elsewhere, demonstrating an edition that didn’t fully work, and finally releasing the product in rather buggy form after a lengthy delay: The history of BASIC was one that would repeat itself at Microsoft again and again.“

The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan
Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche by James Miller


Austin’s book on performance measurement could be considered dry but its grounding in 30 years of industry research acts as a valuable antidote to business books that mandate one-size-fits-all solutions without real understanding (ahem, Traction). Laszlo Bock and Patty McCord gave good insight into the People practices at Google and Netflix respectively while Bad Blood was as riveting as everyone said it was.

Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations by Robert D. Austin

“When a measurement system is put in place, performance measures begin to increase. At first, the true value of an organization’s output may also increase…because early targets are modest and do not drive workers into taking severe shortcuts.

Over time, however, as the organization demands ever greater performance measurements, by increasing explicit quotas or inducing competition between coworkers, ways of increasing measures that are not consistent with the spirit of intentions are used. Once one group of workers sees another group cutting corners, the “slower” group feels pressure to imitate. Gradually, measures fall ..out of synchronization with true performance, as workers succumb to pressures to take shortcuts. Measured performance trends upward; true performance declines sharply. In this way, the measurement system becomes dysfunctional.”

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute
Setting the Table: The transforming power of hospitality in business by Danny Meyer
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes by Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson
Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results by Christina Wodtke
Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when stakes are high by Kerry Patterson
Powerful: Building a culture of freedom and responsibility by Patty McCord
Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker


Miodownik’s book on materials was an excellently readable introduction to the chemistry of the objects around us, while Geoffrey West’s book on Scale taught me to see patterns and scaling laws everywhere. Pedro Ferreira’s history of the development of General Relativity reminded my how confused I am about the notion of Spacetime and so I followed it with Dean Buonmano’s excellent introduction to the interplay of physics and neuroscience as we seek to understand time and Carlos Rovelli’s Order of Time, which might be the most beautifully written science book I’ve ever read.

Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies by Geoffrey West

“large animals live long lives slowly, whereas small ones live short lives fast, but in such a way that their biomarkers such as the total number of times their hearts beat remain approximately the same. When rescaled according to ¼ power scaling the life-history events of all mammals collapse to the same trajectory…Maybe all mammals experience the sequence, pace, and longevity of life as being pretty much the same? A lovely thought.”

“anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World by Mark Miodownik
Lifes Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order from Chaos by Peter M. Hoffmann
The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity by Pedro G. Ferreira
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

“We can think of the world as made up of things. Of substances. Of entities. Of something that is. Or we can think of it as made up of events. Of happenings. Of processes. Of something that occurs. Something that does not last, and that undergoes continual transformation, that is not permanent in time. The destruction of the notion of time in fundamental physics is the crumbling of the first of these two perspectives, not of the second. It is the realization of the ubiquity of impermanence, not of stasis in a motionless time. …

The difference between things and events is that things persist in time; events have a limited duration. A stone is a prototypical “thing”: we can ask ourselves where it will be tomorrow. Conversely, a kiss is an “event.” It makes no sense to ask where the kiss will be tomorrow. The world is made up of networks of kisses, not of stones.”

Your brain is a time machine: The neuroscience and physics of Time by Dean Buonmano


I’d almost recommend reading Naomi Alderman’s superb The Power as a complement to Caro’s LBJ series. Both deal with the impact of power on people and what it reveals, albeit in vastly different ways. After much urging, I finally read Gone with the Wind and the power of that story is an interesting contrast with the execrable perspectives on race it espouses. Cixin Liu made me want to rush out into the street and tell everyone to stop broadcasting radio, TV, everything while N. K Jemisin repeatedly rocked my world with her Broken Earth series. Sidenote: don’t read her How long til Black Future Month before bed, your mind will not be able to switch off.

Finally, I’ve read every book by this author and Maya Rodale’s Duchess by Design is far and away her best work. Boldly set in the Gilded Age, this novel eerily reflects our own time, and is as much a romance to women helping women (and pockets) as it is a traditional love story.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

“Every returning New Yorker asks the question: Is this still my city? I have a ready answer, cloaked in obstinate despair: It is. And if it’s not, I will love it all the more. I will love it to the point where it becomes mine again.”

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Stories of your life and others by Ted Chiang
The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
Deaths End by Cixin Liu
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
Less: A novel by Andrew Sean Greer
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Duchess By Design: The Gilded Age Girls Club by Maya Rodale
How Long til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
Tinkers by Paul Harding


Everything in its place: the power of mise-en-place to organize your life, work and mind by Dan Charnas

Ruhlman asked Keller: What did it take to become great?
“Make sure your station is clean” Keller said.
Ruhlman paused, thrown off by the simplicity of the statement. “And?”
“And everything that follows from that” Keller replied.

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Posted on My Books of 2017

I managed to get through 38 books this year. Book of the Year was Bertrand Russell’s mammoth History of Western Philosophy, written by one of the few people who could write about Aristotle as a peer. Most inspiring were the Theodore Roosevelt biographies by Edmund Morris, while most absorbing fiction was Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels. Most disappointing was Yuval Hariri’s Homo Deus, after I loved Sapiens. Janna Levin’s book on the search for Gravitational waves was the best science read this year and had me gesticulating wildly in dive bars.


Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

A commander can use this temporal discrepancy (a form of fast transient) to select the least-expected action rather than what is predicted to be the most-effective action. The enemy can also figure out what might be the most effective. To take the least-expected action disorients the enemy. It causes him to pause, to wonder, to question. This means that as the commander compresses his own time, he causes time to be stretched out for his opponent. The enemy falls farther and farther behind in making relevant decisions. It hastens the unraveling process.

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the court of Nero by James Romm
Allenby, A Study In Greatness by Field-Marshal Earl Wavell
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

“Foreign Offices in Britain and Europe worried that their representatives might not be up to the physical hazards of dealing with Theodore Roosevelt. Junior diplomats campaigned for postings to his court on the basis of common youth and strength. The essential qualification was perhaps expressed by Cecil Spring Rice, Roosevelt’s former best man and now a British commissioner in Egypt: “You must always remember that the President is about six.”

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris


HBRs 10 Must Reads 2017: The Definitive Management Ideas of the Year by The Harvard Business Review
Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy by Sangeet Paul Choudary, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Geoffrey G. Parker
The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business by Rita Gunther McGrath
HBRs Must-Reads on Teams by The Harvard Business Review
Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life by Tonianne DeMaria Barry and Jim Benson
Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
Who: The A Method for Hiring by Geoff Smart and Randy Street
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization by Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey, Matthew L Miller, Andy Fleming, and Deborah Helsing


The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel by Yoko Ogawa
The Sailor who fell from grace with the sea by Yukio Mishima
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
The Raj Quartet: The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott
The Sport of Kings: A Novel by C. E. Morgan
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

What am I dying for? he cried back. I’m dying because this world I’m living in isn’t worth dying for! If something is worth dying for, then you’ve got a reason to live.

Americans on the average do not trust intellectuals, but they are cowed by power and stunned by celebrity. Not only did Dr. Hedd have a measure of both, he also possessed an English accent, which affected Americans the way a dog whistle stimulated canines. I was immune to the accent, not having been colonized by the English

When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel Of Obsession by Irvin Yalom


History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

“Pythagoras is one of the most interesting and puzzling men in history. Not only are the traditions concerning him an almost inextricable mixture of truth and falsehood, but even in their barest and least disputable form they present us with a very curious psychology. He may be described, briefly, as a combination of Einstein and Mrs. Eddy. He founded a religion, of which the main tenets were the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans.”

“It has always been correct to praise Plato, but not to understand him. This is the common fate of great men. My object is the opposite. I wish to understand him, but to treat him with as little reverence as if he were a contemporary English or American advocate of totalitarianism.”

Creation by Steve Grand
Play Anything: The pleasure of limits, the uses of boredom and the secret of games by Ian Bogost

Psychology and Sociology

Feminism is for everybody by Bell Hooks

I was an advocate for gay rights long before I knew the word feminism. My family feared I was a lesbian long before they worried that I would never marry. And I was already on my way to being a true freak because I knew I would always choose to go where my blood beats, in any and all directions.

The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time by Maria Konnikova
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Hariri


Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

At least 15 percent of human females possess a genetic mutation that gives them an extra (fourth) type of color photoreceptor—and this allows them to discriminate between colors that look identical to the majority of us with a mere three types of color photoreceptors. Two color swatches that look identical to the majority of people would be clearly distinguishable to these ladies.

The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientists Quest for What Makes Us Human by V. S. Ramachandran
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin
The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life by Nick Lane

Eukaryotes have ‘genes in pieces’. Few discoveries in twentieth-century biology came as a greater surprise. We had been misled by early studies on bacterial genes to think that genes are like beads on a string, all lined up in a sensible order on our chromosomes. As the geneticist David Penny put it: ‘I would be quite proud to have served on the committee that designed the E. coli genome. There is, however, no way that I would admit to serving on the committee that designed the human genome. Not even a university committee could botch something that badly.’


And Yet: Essays by Christopher Hitchens
Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows

Posted on My Books of 2016

I fell one short of my book a week goal at 51 books in 2016. This year Ive excerpted some books where I thought a particular passage was self contained and gave a sense of the whole. However, books that were not excerpted should not be considered less eloquent or inspiring, some of the best defied quotation.


The biographies were all doorstoppers this year. Manchesters Churchill trilogy is exceptional. He uses Churchill to shine a light on the period in general and the books are much richer for his breadth of vision. Plutarch was at times heavy going, but contains fabulous characters and political insight that struck remarkably close to home this year.

The Last Lion Vol 1: Winston Churchill, Visions of Glory 1874-1932 by William Manchester

“At the table Winston, cocky as ever, over-rode his host and dominated the conversation. Afterward he put it charmingly: “There were indeed moments when he seemed willing to impart his own views; but I thought it would be ungracious to put him to so much trouble.”

The Last Lion Vol 2: Winston Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940  by  William Manchester

“That same day Leo Amery approached Kingsley Wood and asked if the government was going to help Poland. Amery suggested dropping incendiary bombs on the Black Forest. “Oh, you can’t do that,” the air minister said, “that’s private property. You’ll be asking me to bomb the Ruhr next.”

The Last Lion Vol 3: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester, Paul Reid

Plutarch: Lives of the noble Grecians and Romans by Plutarch

“For it was well and truly said that the first destroyer of the liberties of a people is he who first gave them bounties and largesses. At Rome the mischief seems to have stolen secretly in, and by little and little, not being at once discerned and taken notice of.”


Byron Sharps How Brands Grow was that rare marketing book that largely avoids the bloviation of its peers and focuses on what we can quantitatively learn about building businesses. Anands Content Trap is the best book on media Ive read in a while, though his attempts to apply his own lessons to Harvard indicate that medias problems are easier to diagnose than solve.

How Brands Grow by Byron Sharp

“We can see the fickle (actually probabilistic) nature of people’s beliefs if we ask them the same question more than once. This is seldom done in market and social research. Surveys generally ask different people each time, which is why even experienced market researchers are unaware of this phenomenon.

 If on the first survey, 30% of people agreed with the statement ‘Hertz rents attractive cars’, then on any subsequent survey the figure is usually close to 30%. This (misleadingly) suggests a great stability of beliefs. But, if we analyse the answers of each individual we see something startling. Typically only half the people who on the first survey agreed with the statement do so again on the second survey, and an equal number of people who did not agree with the statement the first time now agree with it. So the overall level of agreement remains at 30% but the repeat or stability rate (people say yes both times) is only half.”

Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multi-sided platforms by David Evans and Richard Schmalensee

The Content Trap: A Strategists Guide to Digital Change by Bharat Anand

“The Content Trap is a mindset that afflicts nearly every organization struggling to confront the problems of getting noticed and getting paid, from media to finance to education, and whether they’re producing stories or designing phones.

First is the obsession with isolated triggers rather than recognizing the conditions that make them spread. This is akin to believing that product features in isolation drive success or failure rather than what causes users to share and connect. This is an error of misplaced focus, a result of confusing cause and effect. Second is the effort to preserve content at all costs—rather than seizing the opportunities around it. This is an error of drawing product boundaries too narrowly. Third is the relentless search for best practices, the belief that there’s one “right approach” to confront digital fires—rather than understanding that the right way to fight fires depends on the context in which they burn. This is an error that mistakes strategy for universal solutions.”Design

The Timeless Way of Building is a magical book that is ostensibly about architecture but made me look at design and life in general with fresh eyes. Its written in a zen style and is the book I recommended to the most people this year.

The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander

“The idea that a building can and ought to be made of modular units is one of the most pervasive assumptions of 20th century architecture. Nature is never modular. Nature is full of almost similar units (waves, raindrops, blades of grass) but though the units of one kind are all alike in their broad structure, no two are ever alike in detail.

At each scale there are global invariants and detailed variations. In such a system there is endless variety; and yet at the same time endless sameness. No wonder we can watch the waves for hours; no wonder that a blade of grass is still fascinating, even after we have seen a million of them.

It follows that a building which is whole must always have the character of nature, too. This does not mean that a building or a town which is alive will look like a tree, or like a forest. But it will have the same balance of repetition and variety that nature does.”

Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton

Hooked: How to build Habit-forming Products by Nir Eyal

Just Enough Research by Erika Hall


The Underground Railroad is as good and harrowing as everyone says it is. Its less about the banality of evil than the sheer casualness of evil. Anthony Doerr was my favorite new find of the year, I dont know anyone who writes as beautifully as he does. Robert Harris does an excellent job of fleshing out the life of Cicero in his roman trilogy.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Siege by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

Shift by Hugh Howey

Dust by Hugh Howey

The Girl on the Train: A Novel by Paula Hawkins

Lady Claire is All That by Maya Rodale

Portnoys Complaint by Philip Roth

The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe

Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris

Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris

Dictator: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


Tim Wus Attention Merchants is excellent and places whats happening in advertising today in its appropriate context. Mario Calabresis book about Italian terrorism is intensely personal (as the son of a policeman murdered by terrorists himself) and shines with humanity, a short, wonderful read. Generals and Generalship was the kind of short common sense book it takes a lifetime to write and should be on the bookshelf of any CEO.

The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads by Tim Wu

“Consequently, AOL would sometimes set up auctions between two dot-coms—say, two online grocery services—to extract the most it could. Using that method, it scored an astonishing $60 million from a start-up named It all followed from a bracingly direct internal mantra—“Kill ’em.” The team’s goal became taking at least half of the partner’s venture funding in any deal.”

Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh

Pushing Past the Night: Coming to terms with Italys terrorist past by Mario Calabresi

Generals and Generalship by Field Marshal Earl Wavell

“I will give you two simple rules which every general should observe: first, never to try to do his own staff work; and secondly, never to let his staff get between him and his troops. What a staff appreciates is that it should receive clear and definite instructions, and then be left to work out the details without interference. What troops and subordinate commanders appreciate is that a general should be constantly in personal contact with them, and should not see everything simply through the eyes of his staff.”


Clear and Simple as the Truth changed the way I think about writing more than any other book Ive read. Its a beautiful and brilliant lesson on classic style.

Rascal by Sterling North

15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management by Kevin Kruse

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Clear and Simple as the Truth by Francis Noel-Thomas and Mark Turner

“The surface mark of classic style that is most uncongenial to practical style can be picked out by what we call the ‘last-third test’: once you’ve progressed a little way into a piece of writing, block out the last third of the sentence as you come to it, and imagine the standard things you might expect to occupy that position based on what you have already read. If what in fact does occupy that position is routinely one of those standard and expected things, then the piece may be a paragon of practical writing but is unlikely to be classic. This is not because classic sentences reverse themselves at the end: once you see a classic sentence, you will recognize that the sentence was true to its direction, but that does not make the sentence predictable, because it usually contains a conceptual refinement that is clear and simple as the truth but not a cliché and hence not predictable. Examples:

Although a dirty campaign was widely predicted, for the most part politicians contented themselves with insults and lies.

With peer pressure and whippings at school and at home we were soon completely socialized and as happy as children anywhere.

In the same year the UK, Russia and France decided to intervene to enforce an armistice “without however taking any part in the hostilities.” The allied fleet went to parlay with the Turkish fleet anchored in Navarino Bay and ended up destroying it.”

The Paleo Manifesto by Josh Durant

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture by Ruth Benedict

Philosophy and Psychology

Waking Up is most interesting when it digs into the neuroscience of the self and least interesting when Harris is talking about various acid trips he has taken. The chapters that deal with just what is really going on in our brains and its implications for the notion of a soul are fabulous.

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness Ancient Tips For Modern Challenges by Donald Robertson

Immortality: the Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization by Stephen Cave

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion by Sam Harris

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson


Gleicks The Information was occasionally heavy going but worth the persistence. However, the best science book for me was Mukherjees The Gene. While its a beautifully written history of the last hundred years of biology and its social impact, the mind-blowing part occurs when he digs into the implications of CRISPR, recombinant DNA and embryonic stem cells. You can almost see Gattaca over the horizon. Ellenbergs book on mathematics was well written and made me want to read more about the topic while Wohllebens Hidden Life of Trees is one of those jewels that reframes a world you are barely conscious of into sharp focus.

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Richard Feynman

“If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied”

How Not To Be Wrong: the Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe McFadden, Jim Al-Khalili

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

Posted on Looking Back: Seven Years at Chartbeat

I broke the news over on the Chartbeat blog today that recently I resigned as CEO from the company that has dominated my every waking thought for the last seven years. I feel like it’s time to get my hands dirty again in the mess of building a new company. I was able to do this, knowing that I was leaving it in good hands with an excellent team and a strong CEO in my former COO John Saroff.

As Chartbeat looks to the future, this is one of those rare moments where I get to look back and celebrate what the team has been able to accomplish. Chartbeat has always been mission-driven. Tattooed on our hearts is S.S. McClure’s statement that the vitality of democracy requires popular knowledge of complex questions. When we fail at this, we get Trump.

Getting to popular knowledge means it is not simply a journalist’s job to write the important stories but to communicate them. The important story that is weighed down by impenetrable text or hidden behind the wrong headline fails as much as the clickbait pablum masquerading behind a golden lede. Chartbeat’s first job was, and is, to show journalists where they were writing but not communicating.

Now, nearly every newsroom can look at the mirror of their audience and understand if what they wish to say is being heard. Sometimes, the reflection is unpalatable but if we are to do our jobs we cannot look away and fantasize a more pleasing image.

If journalists were to see clearly, they would need metrics that usefully reflect reality. Our competitors and often our customers thought us crazy for refusing to show unique visitors or pageviews, but we felt that a product should have an opinion and if so that that opinion should be clear. We oriented our products around the idea that publishers should care about audience more than traffic and created accurate new metrics like engaged time that endeavored to reward content that did not just attract users but kept them.

Since then almost every modern analytics service in the media industry has adopted these metrics (under various names) and it warmed my heart to see the New York Times, GQ, and The New Yorker among others define their best of year lists through the prism of total attention instead of clicks. It’s a long way from perfect, but the mirror is a little more clear.

Finally, we believed that journalism could not truly be sustainable unless we found some way to quantitatively link the quality of the content to the value of the page. We had no background in advertising, but understood that unless we tried to change the way journalism was funded, we’d always only be tackling one side of the problem. The team took on the Herculean task of defining an entirely new currency and infrastructure for advertising based around attention rather than impressions.

We were immensely lucky that the Financial Times saw something special in what we were doing and worked with us to bring this to market. They subsequently and justifiably won awards for the best commercial innovation of 2015. Now a coalition of publishers and technology companies are showing what can happen when you care more about a person’s mind than their index finger.

I’m under no illusions as to the challenges that remain in trying to change the fundamentals of an advertising industry inured to sclerotic inertia, but the challenge is attracting the brightest minds and the cause is just.

CEOs get to take the blame but they also get to take the credit. Often the former is warranted and the latter is not. That is certainly so in my case. As proud as I am of what the team have been able to accomplish externally over the last seven years, my proudest moments have been watching these people who I love attack each challenge, demonstrate an unswerving commitment to something larger than themselves and grow beyond their own horizons.

It has been the privilege of my life, and I will miss you all.

Posted on My books of 2015

In 2015, I got the chance to read 54 new books, though they seemed to fall into narrower fields than in previous years. Ive divided them into categories and the starred books at the top of each are my top picks.

History and Biography

*Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
*Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
*A Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Gonzo: A Graphic biography of Hunter S. Thompson by Will Bingley Anthony Hope-Smith
An Astronauts guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past by Ray Raphael

2015 was the year of Alexander Hamilton and there was no way I couldnt read the Chernow biography, which is both a fabulous biography of Hamilton and a nice counterpoint to the more positive view of Jefferson I read in the Meachem last year. As someone who wasnt educated in America I came to Zinn late but he blew my goddamn mind. Sapiens is a book in the Guns, Germs and Steel vein and is the one that most people recommended I read. They were right.

Philosophy and Psychoanalysis

*What is Ancient Philosophy by Pierre Hadot
*A Book forged in Hell: Spinozas Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age by Steven Nadler
Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity by Rebecca Goldstein
Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems by Jules Evans
The World Beyond your Head: On becoming an individual in the age of distraction by Matthew Crawford
The Art of Zen Meditation by Howard Fast
Psychoanalysis: the Impossible Profession by Janet Malcom

Pierre Hadot confirmed his place as my favourite writer on philosophy this year and I continued to geek out about Spinoza who must have been one of the most fascinating and honorable men to walk this earth. He was a major influence on Locke who was a major influence on the Founding Fathers. Malcoms book on Psychoanalysis I picked up to try and understand that world a little better and how it differed from CBT which has more of a basis in stoicism. I came away thinking that while freudian analysis cetainly helps some people it is a deeply weird approach.


*The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in our Time by Jonathan Weiner
The Accidental Universe: The World you thought you knew by Alan Lightman
What if?: Serious Science Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilisation in the aftermath of a cataclysm by Lewis Dartnell
The Universe in the Rear View Mirror: How Hidden Symmetries Shape Reality by Dave Goldberg
How we got to now: Six innovations that made the modern world by Steven Johnson

The Beak of the Finch was the standout science book I read this year. Its story of the work of evolutionary biologists in the Galapagos is utterly fascinating and shows you just how much evolution is continuing to shape and adapt the environment around us.


*Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to make Groups Smarter by Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie
*The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge
*Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom De Marco, Tim Lister
Kaizen Express: Fundamentals for your Lean Journey by Toshiko Narusawa and John Shook
Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement by Gen Stanley McChrystal
Targeted: How Technology is revolutionising advertising and the way companies reach consumers by Mike Smith
Inside Cisco: The Real Story of Sustained MA Growth by Ed Paulson
Opposable Mind: Winning through integrative thinking by Roger Martin
Inspired: How to create products customers love by Marty Cagan

Wiser was an excellent business book in that it leant on data not hyperbole to make its case, thus separating itself from 90% of its brethren. Ive long been a fan of what Mark Roberge achieved at Hubspot (Ive even tried to poach his people in the past) and this was one of the better books on sales management out there. Finally, Peopleware is a classic I only now got round to reading and it reminded me of just how many things Im doing wrong. Again. Special shout out to Mike Smith who wrote what is the primer on the ad tech world and somehow made it all very readable.


*Middlesex: a Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides
*Submission: A Novel by Michel Houellebecq
*A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Privileges: A Novel by Jonathan Dee
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Gilead: a Novel by Marilynne Robinson
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: A Novel by Anthony Marra
Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey
The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl
Everythings Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
Absurdistan: a Novel by Gary Shteyngart
I am Pilgrim: a thriller by Terry Hayes

2015 felt like a great year for fiction for me. Middlesex was a profound and inspiring look at transgender identity. A Personal Matter was a beautiful and depressing book about a new fathers struggle to cope with new and immense responsibility. The fabulous Submission looked at a world where France becomes an Islamic state and by the end I couldnt help but be reminded of Dr Strangelove.


*Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas by Natasha Dow Schüll
*The Sense of Style: The Thinking Persons Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
*Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
The Power of No by James Altucher, Claudia Altucher
The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership by Bill Walsh, Steve Jamison, Craig Walsh
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis
Letters of Note: An Eclectic collection of correspondence deserving of a wider audience by Shaun Usher

I didnt start the year thinking I would read an entire book on Machine Gambling addiction but Im glad I did. A great book that goes into the detail of how casinos design themselves to encourage addiction and just how emphatically it can take hold. Pinkers Sense of Style is a worthy successor to Strunk and White and with the exception of a couple of turgid chapters is beautifully written itself. Scott McCloud gave me a completely different perspective on comics, an art form I think Ive been way too dismissive of in the past.

Posted on What we break when we fix for Ad Blocking

I’ve been doing an informal poll of journalists, media executives, ad tech people and VPs of sales over the last few weeks. Each of these people owe their livelihood to digital advertising and yet the overwhelming majority confessed to using ad blockers. At my own company whose mission is to ensure the future of sustainable quality content, ~55% of the people polled used ad blockers. If the people who can directly connect their salary to ads being on the page are blocking ads, then it is highly unlikely that the current raft of appeals to the publics moral responsibility will have any success whatsoever. The individual action is difficult to connect to the collective outcome even if you won’t make rent as a result.

If we assume that ad blocking will survive and thrive, the interesting question will be whether in seeking their own unilateral answer to their problems, users find themselves with a web they hardly recognize and one in which the hopes they had for a better experience are confounded by their own actions. In trying to make content access easier, it may get harder; in trying to be more private we may be more transparent; and in trying to keep our content unsullied by advertising we may find them even more intertwined.

Closing the web

Paywalls have been successful for a small few national brands with devoted Superfans and for some local papers with a geographic exclusivity of content. However, most have done little to move the needle for publishers. With the standard paywall set up today around 2% of visitors even see the paywall and around 0.5% of them actually convert. However, the standard dictum of monetise Casualfans indirectly with ads, monetize Superfans directly with subscriptions breaks down in an ad-blocked world. That leads to an increasing rationale for more content to live behind the paywall. Over time you’re likely to see bundling options come about but it does mean that you are dealing with an increasingly closed web.

One of the great things about the web has been that if you could access it then there was equality of that access. If the content that best informs our thinking is increasingly only available to those willing to pay then it has troubling impacts for those living in poverty or countries for whom a $9.95 monthly subscription is out of reach.

Sidebar: Contrary to an oft-espoused opinion, advertising was not the original sin of the web. It was the principal mechanism by which we could ensure equality of access to an open system of global information. A more accurate phrasing would be to say that the original sin of the web was to disconnect the value of ads from the users experience on the page. The data is clear: the better the user experience = the more attention you can capture while an ad may be in view = the greater impact on recall and recognition. Ad-supported pages that prioritise user experience are more effective, but we set up our systems to care about page loads not performance. It’s that early mistake that led us to a web that might be increasingly closed to those who most need it.

The unexpected consequences of a desire for privacy

It’s not just about speed; ad blockers are also handy for those who care about their privacy online. Here’s the problem with that. If publishers can’t make money from ads on their page, then a solution is to make money from ads elsewhere. Specifically, with Facebook Instant Articles or in Apple News where ads are free to roam with a 70/30 split of the takings. If publishers are forced to take refuge with Facebook, then the unilateral actions of those privacy-oriented users lead to the exact opposite of what they wanted. Instead of a private browsing experience, they are forced to access the content they desire in a system that knows more about them than anyone else. In seeking greater privacy, the user becomes wholly transparent.

The scaling challenges of Native Advertising

The final outcome of ad-blocking regularly floated is that publishers will switch to forms of advertising that are not easily distinguished from their normal editorial content. Companies like the New York Times have shown that native advertising can be high quality and this is not the place for that perennial debate. The question is whether native advertising can scale to replace the digital advertising revenues lost. That might be difficult.

Analysts point to Buzzfeed, Forbes, Medium and others that have made content marketing scale. However, almost all that have done so have been platforms where the user sees contributions from a multitude of different voices and thus accepts that brands are as likely to post content as their slightly-racist Uncle Jerry. Publishers that do not pursue a platform strategy and instead aim for a singular voice embodying trust, authority or expertise might well find that native advertising is a piece of the pie, but that users react more negatively to an increasing ratio of native advertising to editorial content than they would with the platforms. As users we may have to ask ourselves whether the frame of the Mona Lisa being covered with Mcdonalds ads is less attractive to us than the idea of a clean frame around a portrait of the Mona Lisa eating a Big Mac.

From all this I’m deriving two maxims:

1) No matter how closely connected to the issue, users will be unable to connect individual actions to global outcomes
2) Users actions to unilaterally create a better web experience will have an equal and opposite effect

It will be interesting to see if either of these hold up over time.

Posted on A correction around the death of the mobile web

David Pakman of Venrock recently wrote a good piece on where we spend our attention. Hes absolutely right that attention is the true currency of the media business and drops a lot of knowledge.


He also repeats a common error. Specifically, Pakman says:

First, we spend 86% of mobile time in-app. The idea that the mobile web is a credible channel through which to reach consumers is largely disproven at this point.

Nope. Mobile web and mobile in-app behaviour are not binary. When users are in the facebook app, they spend a tremendous amount of time accessing the mobile web through facebooks own in-app browser. The same for twitter and others. We enter social apps for discovery and then access the mobile web while still in-app. It is a mistake to conflate time spent on the mobile web with time spent in a traditional browser.

This is why when media sites talk about the astonishing growth of mobile they are generally not talking about their own apps where traffic behaviour tends to show a loyal but small and slow-growing audience. Instead the traffic that is swiftly breaking the 50% of total traffic mark is mobile web traffic of which more comes from social sources than anywhere else, and most of that is in-app (and depressingly for twitter, by an order of magnitude mostly facebook).

A more valuable analysis of whether the mobile web is a credible channel to reach consumers would be to:

Separate time spent within the facebook/twitter/whatsapp/etc mobile browsers from native in-app behaviour and then combine them with traditional browsers to get a true picture of the mobile webs share of attention.

Remove from the pie chart the categories where, by their nature, brands do not have a meaningful opportunity to reach consumers (utilities/productivity/non ad-supported gaming etc).

Then one could analyse what share of the available channels for brands to reach consumers on mobile the mobile web represents. Im willing to bet Mr Pakman a good steak dinner at the restaurant of his choice that it will surpass the credibility bar quite comfortably.

Now all this may change. The mobile web experience is a shit show. Facebook is pushing hard with its instant articles, Snapchat is experimenting with Discover. However, today, to analyse the mobile web without accounting for in-app mobile-web browsing is about as useful as trying to understand national infidelity rates by sampling Ashley Madison users.

Posted on On Writing Well by William Zinsser: selected notes

These are some of the highlights for me from Zinssers book. RIP.

  But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. 

  How can the rest of us achieve such enviable freedom from clutter? The answer is to clear our heads of clutter. Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can’t exist without the other. It’s impossible for a muddy thinker to write good English. 

Writers must therefore constantly ask: what am I trying to say? Surprisingly often they don’t know. Then they must look at what they have written and ask: have I said it? Is it clear to someone encountering the subject for the first time? If it’s not, some fuzz has worked its way into the machinery.  

Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.

Don’t worry about whether the reader will “get it” if you indulge a sudden impulse for humor. If it amuses you in the act of writing, put it in. (It can always be taken out, but only you can put it in.) You are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.

The secret of his [Menckens] popularity—aside from his pyrotechnical use of the American language—was that he was writing for himself and didn’t give a damn what the reader might think. It wasn’t necessary to share his prejudices to enjoy seeing them expressed with such mirthful abandon. Mencken was never timid or evasive; he didn’t kowtow to the reader or curry anyone’s favor. It takes courage to be such a writer, but it is out of such courage that revered and influential journalists are born.  

Also bear in mind, when you’re choosing words and stringing them together, how they sound. This may seem absurd: readers read with their eyes. But in fact they hear what they are reading far more than you realize. Therefore such matters as rhythm and alliteration are vital to every sentence.     

As for what point you want to make, every successful piece of nonfiction should leave the reader with one provocative thought that he or she didn’t have before. Not two thoughts, or five—just one. So decide what single point you want to leave in the reader’s mind.   

For the nonfiction writer, the simplest way of putting this into a rule is: when you’re ready to stop, stop. If you have presented all the facts and made the point you want to make, look for the nearest exit.  

Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: “a bit,” “a little,” “sort of,” “kind of,” “rather,” “quite,” “very,” “too,” “pretty much,” “in a sense” and dozens more. They dilute your style and your persuasiveness. Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.  

If a phrase comes to you easily, look at it with deep suspicion; it’s probably one of the countless clichés that have woven their way so tightly into the fabric of travel writing that you have to make a special effort not to use them.   

As for substance, be intensely selective. If you are describing a beach, don’t write that “the shore was scattered with rocks” or that “occasionally a seagull flew over.” Shores have a tendency to be scattered with rocks and to be flown over by seagulls. Eliminate every such fact that is a known attribute: don’t tell us that the sea had waves and the sand was white. Find details that are significant.   

The hardest decision about any article is how to begin it. The lead must grab the reader with a provocative idea and continue with each paragraph to hold him or her in a tight grip, gradually adding information. The point of the information is to get readers so interested that they will stick around for the whole trip. The lead can be as short as one paragraph and as long as it needs to be. You’ll know it’s over when all the necessary work has been done and you can take a more relaxed tone and get on with your narrative.   

What struck me most powerfully when I got to Timbuktu was that the streets were of sand. I suddenly realized that sand is very different from dirt. Every town starts with dirt streets that eventually get paved as the inhabitants prosper and subdue their environment. But sand represents defeat. A city with streets of sand is a city at the edge. Notice how simple those five sentences are: plain declarative sentences, not a comma in sight. Each sentence contains one thought—and only one. Readers can process only one idea at a time, and they do it in linear sequence. Much of the trouble that writers get into comes from trying to make one sentence do too much work. Never be afraid to break a long sentence into two short ones, or even three.   

Now, what do your readers want to know next? Ask yourself that question after every sentence.   

Posted on My books of 2014

As Chartbeat has grown to 95 people, I’ve found it harder and harder to devote significant time to reading. I found more escape than usual in fiction and some months felt very meagre indeed. Still, the 54 books I did make it through in 2014 gave me much to think about. If I had to pick the three that affected me most it would be The Bully Pulpit, The Ascent of Science and The Orphan Master’s Son, but generally if I got through a book I thought it was worthwhile. There were several that were either abandoned or thrown aside with great force. They have not been included in this list. Which I’m sure hurts their authors dreadfully.


Adventures of a Bystander by Peter Drucker

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins

Adventures of a Bystander was a wonderfully written book on the life of the man every other management thinker plagiarizes. One of many vignettes that stuck with me: “Like all successful activists, she lived the old Irish definition of a peacelover: a person who is willing to listen after having knocked the opponent unconscious”. My Struggle is the first book in an obsessively detailed and candid look at the life of the author. If one were to describe this book it would sound insufferably mundane, but something about the writing meant that I couldn’t put it down. Be wary, this is simply the first of a series and it has obsessed an entire country.


A Country of Vast Designs by Robert Merry

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meachem

The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammed by Lesley Hazleton

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I’ve never heard a single American bring up President James Polk among the great presidents and yet his four year administration must count as one of the most productive and important on record. The man created the central bank and brought Texas, California and Oregon into the Union. Merry brings this to light in a coherent and accessible way.  Meachem’s Jefferson is sympathetic and made me see past the eccentricities that had previously given me a lower opinion of the founding father. Hillenbrand and Hazleton both crafted wonderful narratives of fascinating figures, but it was Doris Kearns Goodwin who taught me the most. Her biography of Roosevelt and Taft spends almost as much time on the investigative journalists of McClure’s and  is all the better for it.


Scaling up Excellence by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao

The Outsiders by William Thorndike

The Hard thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Turn the Ship Around! By David Marquet

The Master Switch by Tim Wu

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni

Creativity Inc. By Ed Catmull

Hope is not a Strategy by Rick Page

Scaling up Excellence and The Advantage were the two books with the most practical tactical advice for business and where I took the most notes. The Master Switch is essential for anyone who wants to understand a historical perspective on the importance of net neutrality and the Outsiders was an excellent catalyst for thinking about my company’s challenges at a far higher level than I had.


A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connolly

Blott on the Landscape by Tom Sharpe

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

In the Course of Human Events by Mike Harvkey

All you need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

BBB: What a girl wants by Maya Rodale

Mr Penumbras 24-hour bookstore by Robin Sloan

Black Lake by Johanna Lane

Mr Mercedes by Stephen King

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Lock In by John Scalzi

The Orphan Masters Son by Adam Johnson

The Laughing Monsters: A Novel by Denis Johnson

The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

The best fiction I read all year was the Orphan Master’s Son, a novel set in North Korea that is both riveting and appalling. Mike Harvey’s In the Course of Human Events is this decade’s Fight Club and the poetry of Blood Meridian and Black Lake was a beautiful thing to behold. Honourable mention to the beautiful Maya Rodale who published her first USA Today best seller and stayed married to me despite the severest of provocations.

Philosophy and Psychology

Stoic Spiritual Exercises by Elen Buzare

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and the Spirit by Daniel Quinn

The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the fate of God in the modern world by Mathew Stewart

Natures God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic by Mathew Stewart

The Antidote: Happiness for People who cant stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Wherever you go, There you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy by Donald Robertson

Punished by Rewards: The trouble with Gold Stars… by Alfie Kohn

Mans Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

This was the year I dug into the work of Bento Spinoza with Mathew Stewart as a guide. The Courtier and the Heretic is a great introduction, while Nature’s God connects Spinoza and other Epicurean inspiration to the thoughts and actions of the Founding Fathers. Nature’s God gets a little turgid in its middle section but is worth powering through for a different perspective on the philosophy behind the birth of America. The Philosophy of CBT shows just how much modern cognitive-behavioural therapy owes to stoic philosophy and is a worthwhile read for those who think that philosophy has nothing practical to offer.


The Ascent of Science by Brian Silver

Complexity: The emerging science at the edge of order and chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop

The Machinery of Life by David Goodsell

Zoom: From Atoms and Galaxies to Blizzards and Bees: How Everything Moves by Bob Berman

Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How two men revolutionised physics by Nancy Forbes and Bruce Mahon

Honorable mention goes to David Goodsell for an extremely accessible introduction to molecular biology, but the tour de force on this list is Brian Silver’s the Ascent of Science. A beast of a book (2.7lbs of science!), it takes you in incredible detail from Pythagoras and the early discoveries, through false hypotheses and debates to the Quantum physics revolution.  If you only read one science book next year, read this one. If you only read two, read this one again.


Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

The Story-telling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite by William Deresiewicz

The Ape and the Sushi Master by Frans De Wall

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Barbarians at the Gate is an essential piece of business history that should act as a caveat for all those whose commitment to winning continues even when the prize is no longer worth the effort. Excellent Sheep reads as very much the polemic, but don’t let that put you off. It is a caustic look at how our elite education system is failing our society.

Posted on My Books of 2013

I missed my goal by four and read 56 books in 2013. Some I had to struggle through for a month (I’m looking at you Advertising Media Planning) and others left me speechless at their brilliance. I’ve put an asterisk next to the books I particularly recommend and given short notes about those and a selection of the other books on this list. (Disclosure: after being berated by my wife for not doing so last year, the Amazon links here are affiliate ones, do with that what you will)

Biography and History

Walden by Henry Thoreau

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

*The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

*General of the Army by Ed Cray

Are we Rome by Cullen Murphy

The Washington and Franklin biographies were both enjoyable reads, though I left with a poorer impression of Washington and a better impression of Franklin. However, the two biographies I enjoyed most were Morris’ biography of the early career of Theodore Roosevelt which indelibly shows you that you could be doing more in any given day than you are and Ed Cray’s biography of General George Marshall, which was truly excellent. Marshall is probably the greatest leader and manager of the 20th century and I took hundreds of notes.


AntiFragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Different by Youngme Moon

*The Essential Drucker by Peter Drucker

Advertising Media Planning by Roger Baron

*The Feiner Points of Leadership by Michael Feiner

Competition Demystified by Bruce Greenwald

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

*Good Boss, Bad Boss by Robert Sutton

If you want to get the core of pretty much every subsequent business book ever written, read Drucker. Everyone else is just repeating him. With that caveat, the Feiner and Sutton books were interesting guides to becoming better at being a manager (something I sorely need), while the Power of Full Engagement (yes a blech title) essentially told me to eat and sleep better. Taleb once again scared me away from investing in the stock market and Greenwald had me spellbound with his book on strategy up until he started saying Steve Job’s attempt to reinvent Apple was doomed.

Fiction essays 

The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders

Tenth of December by George Saunders

Pastoralia by George Saunders

*Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

Phules Company Phules Paradise by Robert Asprin

*The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis De Bernieres

*Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord by Louis de Bernieres

*The Troublesome OffSpring of Cardinal Guzman by Louis de Bernieres

The Magicians The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

*The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Dune by Frank Herbert

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Even Cowgirls get the Blues by Tom Robbins

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins

Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates by Tom Robbins

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

*The Wicked Wallflower and Wallflower Gone Wild by Maya Rodale

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Indecent Exposure by Tom Sharpe

If you haven’t read de Berniere’s South American trilogy, stop what you are doing and do so immediately. They are funny, sexy and magical. The Art of Fielding made me give a shit about Baseball for the first time and Winter’s Tale was one of those books that makes you realize you will never be as good a writer as Helprin (here’s hoping they don’t screw up the movie). Maya Rodale (ahem, the missus) captivated with wonderful romances in a brand new series too.


*The Inner Citadel: the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Pierre Hadot

*Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot

The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Musonius Rufus on How to Live edited by Ben White

*Dialogues and Essays by Seneca

Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity by Catherine Wilson

If you are at all interested in Marcus Aurelius, Hadot’s book is a tour de force. In fact, just read everything Hadot has ever written. Seneca is always good value too.

Science, Psychology and Sociology

Drive by Daniel Pink

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss

*The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Disappearing Spoon was a wonderful tour through my weakest area of science: chemistry. It made a subject I’d always avoided come alive.


*The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker

How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

*The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallway

Books tome is a beast but it puts forward one heck of a framework for understanding the common threads through English literature. I only care about tennis for two weeks of the year, so thankfully the Inner Game of Tennis was much more about performance and mental composure than anything else, it’s well worth a read even if you hate tennis.

Posted on Never Give Up

I should say this is a story about an expedition,  a grand adventure, a test of human endurance. I should say that. This is a story about failure.

Right now, one of the people who knows me better than anyone else in the world is sitting in a hut in Punta Arenas, Chile and staring out at a plane destined to take him down to Antarctica and the greatest test of his life. He may be sitting there a while, the weather of the Drake Passage does not play well with aircraft and this is a dangerous journey at the best of times. Every day’s delay makes his dream a little more uncertain, but he’s been waiting ten years for this flight so he has learned to sit with a certain equanimity while the wind blows spiderwebs of snow across the runway. A part of him may even be thankful for the delay; after all this time, all this sacrifice there’s still a part of him that wonders if it can even be done. He’s not crazy to think that. After all, the last team who attempted to do what he is about to do died in the attempt.

Let’s step back for a second. It’s April 2001 and I’m a bowman on the good ship Logica, a 72-ft yacht deep in the Antarctic convergence zone racing from Sydney to Cape Town. One-third of my watch is out with injuries and I’m popping some special pills that our medic, a Mississippi gynecologist back home, has given me after a nasty fall from the mast in a storm had my back screaming with every move. I’m called on watch every four hours and  I went past exhaustion several weeks ago, but below decks, torch attached to my head I’m reading a bedraggled copy of a biography of Ernest Shackleton and I’m in awe. When it comes to the poles, the British have a long proud history of abject failure; the stories of men with frozen feet, indomitable will and inadequate preparation somehow move us more than most and I just a hundred miles north of that last continent could almost taste it.

March 2002 and I still haven’t got the poles out of my head. Id spend every penny I had  getting myself up to the Arctic on small expeditions and every time I would put on my telemark skis and step out onto the ice I would think about Robert Falcon Scott.

In late 1911, Scott and an eclectic team of scientists and sailors set out from Mcmurdo Sound on the Antarctic coast hoping to become the first to reach the South Pole. They manhauled unimaginable loads for 900 miles across the highest, driest, coldest, windiest continent on earth. By January 1912, they reached the pole to find a black tent buffeted by the winds and inside a letter to the Norwegian King. They had been beaten to the prize by the dog teams of that master polar traveller Roald Amundsen. Morale broken, bodies spent they turned for home. Slowly starving with each passing day, the team died off one by one. None survived.

To this day, no one has ever been able to walk unsupported from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back. It is the last great journey left, the longest unsupported polar journey in history and to the 2002 me, fresh off a round-the-world yacht race and slowly going crazy behind a desk in London, it felt like the ultimate challenge.

Once an idea takes you, it’s amazing how fast the world can step towards you and a few months later I was sitting in a Putney curry house talking to Ben Saunders, a guy my age who already had a respectable but unsuccessful North Pole expedition under his belt. Something between us clicked and we decided to finish what Scott started. I quit my job and Ben and I started working together as a team, putting together expeditions that would build our skills and prepare us for the big South Pole expedition we would undertake in 2003 after the small matter of raising the money to do so.

Fancy doing an unsupported return journey to the South Pole? Great! Let’s get started. First, strap a 400lb sledge to yourself and start pulling that across uneven terrain for 1,800 miles. Luckily only the first 900 miles are uphill. Now bring the temperature down to −40 degrees and add a fierce headwind that seeks out every inch of exposed flesh and freezes it within seconds (good luck if you need to pee!). Your body is going to be burning up to 10,000 calories a day and can only absorb about 6,000 so calorifically speaking you’re doing the equivalent of a double marathon every day for four months on a starvation diet. Just to keep things interesting, let’s add the constant possibility that the snow beneath you collapses and sends you hurtling into a crevasse the size of a cathedral that you never saw coming.

In short, a South Pole expedition is pretty much the worst way to spend four months you could possibly imagine, but if you were to ask Ben I don’t think he would say that’s the tough part. The tough part is getting to the start line in the first place. Antarctica is far away from everywhere and doing anything in Antarctica is ridiculously expensive. Imagine if you kept a car in New York but the only way to fuel that car was to charter a private jet and fly fuel in from England. That’s the logistics of an Antarctic expedition and between us we had no cash and no clue how to get any.

We didn’t go to the South Pole in 2003. Or 2004. Or 2005. Living month to month on whatever I could scrounge together, putting together small expeditions or managing other people’s just so I wouldn’t lose my connection to the cold places, I grew to fear and then hate my parent’s yearly Christmas letter to their friends which would explain ‘Anthony has decided to postpone his South Pole expedition for another year to raise more funds’. For Ben and I, we had proclaimed a grand goal. We had told people year after year this was the year we were finally going to go south. And every year we had to look at the nervous smiles as we publicly failed. Again and again.

2006 passes and by now Ben is scratching by giving talks to schools and I am making money holding the boring end of the tape measure for my flatmate as he measures disused office buildings. My parents have started to have very real fears about my future and I can see the strain on their faces as they ask whether I think it’s ever going to happen. I fake a smile and say ‘this year for sure’.

2007 begins. It’s been five years since I decided to go South and I’ve blagged my way to New York on a friend’s airmiles to see if Americans are more willing to fund a crazy dream than the cynical brits. While I’m there, I get talking to some guys running a funded startup and they ask me if I fancy coming in with them. I tell Ben that it will only be for a few months until expedition season starts and say yes. I never go back.

Oh, I tell myself that I’ll go back eventually and that this startup thing is just a phase, but in my heart I know that I was done. Exhausted with a broken dream and the certain, public indisputable knowledge that I had set myself an audacious goal and failed. In fact I had not even come close.

By 2008, while I plunged into a world of media startups and heard phrases like ‘sharing is the key’ come out of my mouth, Ben never lost faith in the dream we had shared. That january, he called me to let me know that he had raised enough money for a bare bones solo North Pole expedition. It wasn’t the South Pole yet, but it was something. Eight days in to the expedition, Ben’s ski binding sheered in two and there was no possibility of repair. It took him two more years to raise enough money to try even that expedition again only for a cracked fuel bottle to contaminate all his food after a fall from an ice ridge. In 2011, while I’m on stage spouting off about the importance of real-time adaptation for superior business results, Ben is sitting in a hut in Resolute Bay, Canada watching a storm obliterate the weather window he has for even a chance at reaching the start point. I get on the satellite phone with him and the anguish in his voice is so great that it makes me well up to even remember it now.

For ten years, Ben hustled, trained, evangelised and dreamed. For years after I had given up, he was beaten and bloodied by the harshest storms, broken equipment, a thousand no’s from potential funders and the sly and cynical smiles of those who have never left their armchairs. He sat alone in a tent hundreds of miles from the nearest human and watched as his dreams were shattered again and again and again. And somehow every day he got back up, faced the sunrise and pushed on.

Early this year, Ben rang me with news. Finally, thanks to the combined efforts of Intel and Landrover he had the funds he needed to go south. The dream that began in a South London curry house a decade before was actually happening.

So now he sits, watching the wind in Punta Arenas and steeling himself for the biggest challenge of his life, the first unsupported journey to the South Pole and back. And I find myself speechless. Well almost. I couldn’t say much to Ben when I saw him off earlier this month. We’re both British and emotions are an awkward bunkmate at the best of times. A simple handshake and a firm ‘don’t fuck it up’ were all I was able to say. This is what I should have said.

Ben, to many the journey you have ahead of you is incredible and impossible. Its success lies on a knife edge of survival and good luck, but it pales compared to the journey that got you here. You are the best man I know and whatever Antarctica throws in your way, whether you reach your destination or not, you are already the greatest inspiration and symbol of hard-won success I could have. Thank you for never giving up, always check for frostbite and I’ll see you on the other side.


For those of you struggling with your own startups or other at-times seemingly fruitless challenges I would highly recommend following Ben on his site, twitter and instagram. It will bring instant perspective and hopefully inspiration.

Posted on My Books of 2012

Here are the books that devoured my weekends and early mornings this year.


I loved Tom Robbins and Gillian Flynn this year, but didnt see the fuss about Hilary Mantel and Wolf Hall. I relished every perfect morsel of Sakis short stories for the sheer craft that they displayed. Old favourites such as Wilt and Flashman were returned to and still gave every bit as much enjoyment as when I first read them and I was privileged to read Maya Rodales fabulous romances before publication.

Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Flashman by George Macdonald Fraser

The Tattooed Duke By Maya Rodale

Seducing Mr Knightly by Maya Rodale

Enders Game by Orson Scott Card

1Q84 by Haruki Murukami

The Vanished Man by Jeffrey Deaver

Wilt by Tom Sharpe

The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places: A novel by Gillian Flynn

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Year Zero by Rob Reid

In One Person by John Irving

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

The Complete Short Stories of Saki by Saki

The Racketeer by John Grisham (audiobook)


The Modern Firm and The Future of Management both gave good introductions to the new style of organisational design that is outcompeting traditional command-and-control structures. Predictable Revenue was an excellent introduction to how Salesforce built their inside sales team. Andy Grove is always good value and Marshall Goldsmiths book was wonderful for its sheer applicability to some of the challenges Im facing today.

The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise of the Protean Corporation by Michael Malone

HBRs 10 Must-reads on Managing Yourself by Harvard Business School

Little Bets by Peter Sims

On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis

Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross

CEOFlow by Aaron Ross

The Seven Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler

The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig

Business Without Bosses by Charles Manz Henry Sims

The Modern Firm by John Roberts

Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems by Yaneer Bar-Yam

The Machine that Changed the World by James Womack

Joy at Work by Dennis Bakke

Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove

Open Book Management by John Case

So Good They Cant Ignore You by Cal Newport

The Future of Management by Gary Hamel and Bill Breen

What Got You Here Wont Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith


Everyone should read Donald Norman, it will make you look at the world differently and become more frustrated with door handles.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

Designing for Emotion by Aaron Walter

History Biography

I loved every history book I read this year. Stephen Clarke taught me something new about Englands relations with France when I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the rosbif-frog rivalry. The Swerve was a nice introduction to Lucretius and just how wonderful the ancient world was. A World on Fire was a wonderfully different perspective on the civil war and Crisis in Bethlehem shed new light on a town I spend a lot of time in these days. Finally David Bodanis tells the wonderful story of Emilie du Chatelet and Voltaire with aplomb: a must for any woman struggling in a male-dominated scientific establishment.

1000 Years of Annoying the French by Stephen Clarke

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Baron de Jomini version)

A World on Fire: Britains Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman

Crisis in Bethlehem by John Strohmeyer

Life of Marcus Cato the Elder by Plutarch

Passionate Minds: Emilie du Chatelet,  Voltaire and the Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment by David Bodanis


My interest in stoicism led me to explore Zen buddhism, Taoism and Shinto this year and I was fascinated by the parallels between Zen and Stoicism in particular. Alan Watts was a fantastic introduction to Zen and a superb writer and Seneca was a great compass to follow.

Darwins Worms: On Life Stories and Death Stories by Adam Phillips

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

One Arrow, One Life: Zen, Archery and Enlightenment by Kenneth Kushner

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

The Spirit of Zen by Alan Watts

What is Zen? by Alan Watts

Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryo Suzuki

Shinto: the Kami Way by Sokyo Ono


Astrophysics blew my mind this year and Neil DeGrasse Tyson was my dealer of choice. If you ever truly want to feel in awe of our universe, you should read his books. I also continued my interest in Ant and Bee colony development and found the Superorganism tough going but rewarding.

Death by Black Hole by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith

The Higgs Discovery by Lisa Randall

The Superorganism by E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler

Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley

Psychology/Sociology/The Internets

Thinking Fast and Slow had a huge impact in making me rethink the way in which I make decisions and how I can better engage my System 2 thinking. Taleb was at his grumpy best and Johnson is always thoughtful and diverting.

Too Big to Know by David Weinberger

Emergence by Steven Johnson

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemen

The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris

Fooled by Randomness by Nicholas Nassim Taleb

The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs


Ive been a Hitchens fan for years but its only when I read his collected essays that I realised the sheer breadth of his learning and intellect. What a tragic loss.

Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson

Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

The Art of Being Unreasonable by Eli Broad

When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Posted on 2011 in Books

In 2011, 41 books taught, challenged and entertained me (down from 43 in 2010, a worrying trend). This was how it played out.


Straw dogs by John Gray
The Enchiridion by Epictetus
The Writings of Musonius Rufus translated by Cynthia King

Straw Dogs was recommended to me by a close friend and it was a book I promptly disagreed with. Its central thesis was that man was still a slave to animal passions and thus, still ruled by violence, had not advanced in any way. I contrast that with the world I see in which slowly, painfully we have consistently enlarged our circle of care from family to tribe to include those who would have once been persecuted for beliefs and practices foreign to ourselves. It is imperfect and unevenly distributed, but, particularly if you read Orlando Figes on the casual brutality of pre-revolution Russian peasantry, that any part of the world we live in today is utterly different to that horror says something about our ability to progress.

Epictetus and Musonius Rufus have had more effect on me than any other writers I think I have ever read. Their outline of stoicism is something I had begun to delve into last year and now consider to be core principles to abide by. As with all philosophy, one should not just put on the full mantle of stoicism without questioning or challenging its parts (and some parts do invite challenge), but as a pathway to a more honourable, happier life it has been supremely valuable. I’d recommend William Irvine’s a Guide to the Good Life as a great introduction to stoicism.


Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter
Good, Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
The Strategy Paradox by Michael Raynor

Michael Porter’s classic is incredibly dense with useful information and perspective, so much so that it can occasionally become a challenging read. It’s hugely important for understanding the importance of where you are in your industry with regard to its evolution and your competitors. One of the most enlightening and refreshing concepts was that strategy within an industry is often ideally about making moves that do not have a negative impact on your competitors; negative impacts = retaliation = diminishing margins. Porter’s work also ties nicely in with my stoic reading as his exhortation that the key to every company is that it live in harmony with its industry and environment is almost word for word the mantra of stoicism that man should live in accordance with nature.

In contrast to Porter’s heavy prose, Rumelt’s Good Strategy, Bad Strategy is beautifully written and accessible. It is also iconoclastic and brilliant. Rumelt dismisses most companies mission statements and vision as just so much indistinguishable blather; instead he asks that we focus on the kernel of good strategy: diagnosis of the environment, development of guiding principles and a coherent set of actions that spring from these principles. Michael Raynor’s Strategy Paradox is fascinating, particularly for its placement of uncertainty at the core of managing strategy. He points out that those strategies with the greatest profit potential exist at the edges of the cost leadership-product differentiation continuum. These same strategies are also those most vulnerable to uncertainty and disaster. If his formulations for overcoming this seem less concrete than his diagnosis, it merely exemplifies the seriousness of the challenge.


SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
The Leaky Funnel by Hugh Marcfarlane
Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma way by Michael Webb

Rackham’s classic is one of the few sales books based on actual data rather than personal anecdote. It draws upon data gathered from 35,000 sales people to piece together the components of successful sales. It’s dismissive of the aggressive close techniques taught elsewhere and I’ve made it required reading for my sales team. The Leaky Funnel takes a ‘business book as novel’ approach to teach its message. It’s interesting in the way it focuses on the connection of sales to the rest of the business entity and is a fast read.

Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way is interested in sales in a far more macro fashion than SPIN selling and as such is a useful complement. It was the book that helped me to better understand the function of marketing and how much of successful sales is structural rather than based upon personal ability.


Lies my Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
Skunkworks by Ben Rich
Gotham: a History of NYC to 1898 by Mike Wallace
Where Good ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From and Rich’s Skunkworks both delve into the history of innovation; Johnson looking at the factors that come together behind innovative advances and Rich giving a detailed history of his time leading the original Skunkworks at Lockheed. However, the beasts that blew me away this year were Gotham and Lies my teacher told me. Be warned Gotham is gigantic, but as a book that constantly surprised and taught me about my adopted city it is highly recommended to every New Yorker. Whenever I think that the pace of startups is frenetic, I can reflect on just how recent so much of New York is and the incredible pace with which it was built would put almost every modern entrepreneur to shame.

Lies my teacher told me takes aim at the way school textbooks have burnished lesser men into heroes and fudged facts in order to get the nod from partisan school boards. Among other things, it outlines the atrocities of Christopher Columbus and the veil that has been drawn for so many over the origins of the civil war (yes, it was principally about slavery, not states rights). Give it to your children and watch them lay down some knowledge on their high-school history teachers.

Management and Organisation

High Output Management by Andy Grove
The Goal: A Process of ongoing improvement by Eli Goldratt
The Fractal Organisation by Patrick Hoverstadt
The Balanced Scorecard by Robert Kaplan

High Output Management is a great practical read for management at all levels. It lays into the problem of co-ordination between departments while ensuring knowledgeable management and makes a good case for a matrix reporting structure within organisations. It also doles out advice on people management that I have found helpful over the last year. The Goal is, like the Leaky Funnel, a business book written as a novel and succeeds well in its mission. It focuses on the Theory of Constraints and condenses the problem of businesses down to Throughput, Inventory and Operational expense. It’s obviously aimed at bricks and mortar industry but I found the lessons valuable for my own more ephemeral business.

The Balanced Scorecard was a whitepaper with 200 too many pages in it, though maybe my harsh judgement comes from the fact that its focus is on far larger businesses than I am involved with. I had high hopes for the Fractal Organisation that were immediately tarnished by the churlish tone the author adopted in his introduction, however looking beyond that there were good nuggets of information around the problems that organisations find when facing the need to adapt to environments of greater and greater complexity.


Scott’s Last Expedition: Journal by Robert Falcon Scott
Big Dead Place by Nicholas Johnson
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Adland by James Othmer

The debate over Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic still rages, and I’ve read my fair share of the combatants around this, but nothing gave me the same insight as Scott’s own words. His passion for science and his essential humanity burn through and his last words to his family are choking. Johnson’s Big Dead Place gives the alternate view of Antarctica: that of the life of modern day base workers. It’s a highly engaging book that suggests that whatever scientific purpose is proclaimed by the Antarctic authorities, it is stifling bureaucracy (and alcohol) that rules in the south.

The Steve Jobs biography has been dissected by others and we don’t need another one here. Othmer’s Adland was not quite what I expected and thus I got the sense I was reading it for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless it is an engaging look at one man’s journey through the advertising world; here be dragons.


Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connolly
The Drop by Michael Connolly
11/22/63 by Stephen King

Lord of Light is a classic fantasy I return to at least once a year, and I am fooled into believing I know more about hinduism than I really do every time. What comes through Michael Connolly’s books is his expert grasp of the minutiae of his subjects; this is a guy who knows the LA crime beat. I read the entire Hunger Games Trilogy in one evening, which testifies to its popcorn readability; it was fascinating to see how Collins had brought together utterly disparate worlds with ease (think Project Runway meets Deliverance). Snuff was, as always with Pratchett, a diverting read but not up to par with some of his other discworld novels and 11/22/63 was both a fascinating meditation on time travel and paean to the late 50s and a simpler time.

I finished the year on Skinnny Legs and All by Tom Robbins and it was the best work of fiction I read all year. A fascinating look at art, the divine Goddess and the Middle East conflict.


Lessons Learned by Eric Ries
Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson

Lessons learned is a compendium of Eric Ries’ blog posts and is full of useful lessons that are probably more ably organised in his latest book. Venture Deals is a useful primer, but if you’re interested in this kind of stuff I would highly recommend The Entrepreneurs Guide to Business Law by Bagley and Dauchy as a more comprehensive read.


Liars Poker by Michael Lewis
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Be the Pack Leader by Cesar Millan
Naval Miscellany by Angus Konstam
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
A Geography of Time by Robert Levine
Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You by Marcus Chown
Talent is overrated by Geoff Colvin
Everything is Obvious (once you know the answer) by Duncan Watts

I won’t go into detail here about all of these. Everything is Obvious was a fascinating look at how we deal with information and The Hero with a Thousand Faces drew some fascinating parallels around our various myths and legends. Michael Lewis is always good value and my wife swears that she keeps me in line with the lessons from Cesar Millan’s books.

Looking at these books it feels like this year was dominated by me trying to understand my business better and myself better. I hope I can put what I’ve learned here effectively into practice.

Posted on The Problem of Prediction

Heres a talk I gave at the Mashable Media Summit recently where I attempt to argue that everything you need to know about the real-time web you can learn from a Japanese automotive engineer who was born in 1912 and never saw a web page.


Posted on Four things I learned on a round-the-world yacht race

11 years ago this month, I stepped aboard a 72-foot racing cutter affectionately called The Good Ship Logica and began a 10-month round the world yacht race, the only one to go around the world against the currents and prevailing winds. Below deck, I was the geek, making sure the satellite could broadcast despite 90ft waves blocking line of sight; above deck I was the Bowman, standing at the pointy end and getting the shit kicked out of me by walls of water as our team struggled to take down huge sails that the wind wanted to keep up.

Today I learned that someone mishandled a crane in Portsmouth during a routine maneuver and dropped Logica, effectively killing it. This was the boat that I learned to trust to keep me safe through hurricanes, lightning strikes and the worst the Southern Ocean had to offer. It was the boat that I cursed every time a rampant wave picked me up and tossed me down the deck like a rag doll, slamming me into rigging and stanchions. It was the boat in whose bowels I spent cold hours pumping water into buckets after the electric pump failed, the boat that taught me how to sleep on a rollercoaster while a generator roared next to my head, the boat I loved, heart and soul.  Now she’s gone.

So today I’ve been thinking about the lessons she taught me.

The opposite of fear is not bravery, it’s initiative

When my first hurricane at sea hit, it came out of nowhere. I was delivering a boat (the older, smaller sister of Logica) across the Atlantic from Plymouth to Boston. The boom swung across the deck with such ferocity that it ripped the pulley system that controlled it out of the deck and flung it out to sea; the third wave took the heavily bolted down compass and consigned that to the ocean. Our skipper was up on deck so fast it seemed incredible that he had just been asleep and, screaming above the waves, he got us working to try to bring down the mainsail and control the wayward boom. Our boat was so far over on its side that the mast was dipping into the ocean and water was starting to drag the mainsail and the boat further down into the lifeless grey. I don’t remember being frightened, at least not in the way I had always thought about fear; traditional fear involves some prediction of a future you would rather avoid. At this point, I couldn’t begin to think about a future at all. I just remember feeling utterly drained of initiative. I would do whatever anyone asked me to do, but I was utterly unable to think or to act for myself.

I brooded over that night for months afterwards, dwelling on my own inadequate response when faced with a true crisis. I knew I was due to set out on a round-the-world yacht race the next year and was terrified that I didn’t have what it takes, that I would let down my team when it mattered most.

In October 2000, my skipper came below decks and asked us if we had ever seen the Perfect Storm (It had occurred on the Grand Banks near our position at the time). “Yeah, three storms converging on the Flemish Cap” replied Adam, the bowman on the other watch. “We’re in luck” the skipper replied, “we’ve only got two storms converging on us”. We watched the scarlet dawn rising and remarked upon the sailors motto ‘red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, we’re fucked’.

We had more warning this time, but the hurricane still hit with a vengeance. There’s something about the sea when the wind gets above 70 knots of breeze (80mph), it becomes gunmetal grey, as if not even colour could live in these conditions. Our bow team struggled up to the foredeck to take down the headsails and put up our storm staysail. Orange and bulletproof, we needed it up if we were going to be able to steer a course through this storm at all. This was the moment I had thought about for years, but for some reason I was not the same man who had been so useless on that previous voyage. I was able to think, to act on my own initiative and help my team to survive. It was a revelation and gave me hope that the ability to lead in a crisis was not inbuilt from birth but could be learned, that I could become better. The lesson I took from this is that bravery is a term applied retroactively, after the work has been done and the danger has passed. In a situation that engenders fear and terror, don’t ask yourself to be brave; simply ask yourself to act. The bravery comes later.

Finding fault is a luxury best saved for tomorrow

My first day of training on the yacht and I’d already managed to break something. A sail was tumbling down and the boat was losing speed. The first mate darted across the boat to find out what had happened and I started in on a long and rambling tale of the series of unfortunate events which had, through no fault of my own, caused the damage we were looking at right now. I was barely three sentences in, when the mate interrupted me: “I don’t give a crap whose fault it was, I just need to know what to fix”.

The words hit me like a sledgehammer, my concern had been with my perceived reputation and standing as a competent crewman, his concern was simply that the boat wasn’t working right and yet it needed to be. Identifying the incompetent culprit responsible or working out the precise series of events leading us to here were luxuries that could wait for another time because right now the boat needed to be fixed before we lost too much speed and time. If I was ever going to truly pull my weight with the crew, I would have to learn to be ok with people potentially thinking the worst of me or ascribing failures to me that were not directly my own fault, what mattered was keeping the boat moving. I find thinking of that day instructive when facing a board meeting, finding fault or assigning blame is an idle luxury, what matters is keeping the company moving.

Do your thinking before the crisis

We were deep in the Southern Ocean, one of the nastiest environments on earth and three of us were sitting on the windward side of the deck (the high side) with little to do but endure the waves crashing over us and make sure the helmsman didn’t get hurt. Our skipper came up on deck to take a look around and spotted a trailing rope on the leeward side that he wanted to tidy. He made his way down to where the deck was skimming the water and began to bring in the rope when a rogue wave took him by surprise and knocked him down the deck. All three of us leaped forward to grab him before he was washed overboard, but two of us were stopped short by our safety lines like a dog reaching the limits of its leash.

Only Glyn, had the presence of mind to first unhook his safety line get across to the other side, reattach and reach our skipper before it was too late. While I and my team-mate had been sitting there grumpily bearing the waves and wishing we were elsewhere, Glyn had been running through scenarios in his head and working out potential plans of action should any of them occur. He knew that there isn’t necessarily time in a crisis to stop, assess the best course of action and then enact it, so you have to do your thinking beforehand. Be constantly working through ‘what if?’ scenarios so that your brain has the advantage when an accident happens and you are not left flailing helplessly at the end of a line watching someone get washed away.

Leave it on the Last Wave

Our round the world yacht race involved putting 18 people in a tin can, plunging it in salt water and shaking it violently for 10 months. People hallucinate through lack of sleep, the unconscious tapping of teeth can provoke a knife fight (which occurred on another yacht in a previous race) and one simply can’t avoid someone if you have an argument. The only way for your team to mentally survive in that kind of environment is to embody the motto of ‘Leave it on the last wave’. The argument you had during a sail change? That happened on a wave way in the distant, leave it out there where it belongs. The time you almost came to blows with a team mate over something so minor you both can’t remember, leave it on the wave where it started because the wind has changed and there are new sails to be put up and a new course to take advantage of. The lesson on a boat is clear, you can either let go of slights or negative emotions or you can damn near kill someone. There’s not much wiggle room in between.

These are some of the gifts that Logica gave me, my friends have often remarked upon how the person who joined the race in September 2000 was utterly different from the man who left it in July of 2001. I miss my boat, I miss my team and I will always treasure what I learned on her deck.


Posted on 2010 in Books

These are the books that kept me company and taught me in 2010:


Four Steps to the Epiphany: Steve BlankThe Checklist Manifesto: Atul GarawandeThe Innovators Dilemma: Clayton ChristensenThe Innovators Solution: Clayton ChristensenPositioning: Al RiesLean Thinking: James Womack/Daniel JonesPerfect Pitch: Jon SteelComplete Guide to Accelerating Sales Force Performance: Andris Zoltners/Prabhakant SinhaPrinciples of Product Development Flow: Donald ReinertsenHacking Work: Josh KleinThe 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Al Ries

If Id only read one of these books it would be Steve Blanks, though the books I found myself quoting most were Clayton Christensens. Lean Thinking was one of my honeymoon books and got me thinking about my business in a totally different way. Perfect Pitch confirmed all my biases against powerpoint.


The Art of Game Design: Jesse SchellThe Inmates are Running the Asylum: Alan CooperSerious Play: Michael Schrage

Jesse Schell taught me about the importance of balancing game mechanics; Alan Coopers book was great in many ways but also showed its age in a world of agile methodologies.


The Ascent of Money: Niall FergusonHero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia: Michael KordaTeam of Rivals: Doris Kearns Goodwin

Team of Rivals was another awesome Honeymoon book that gave me some insight into how to manage a team, Michael Kordas Lawrence of Arabia biography shone a largely uncritical light on Lawrence but was a comprehensive account of his life and achievements.


The Count of Monte Cristo: Alexander DumasThe Broken Window: Jeffrey DeaverUnseen Academicals: Terry PrathchettThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Stieg LarssenThe Girl Who Played with Fire: Stieg LarssenThe Girl who Kicked the Hornets Nest: Stieg LarssenThe Burning Wire: Jeffrey DeaverBreakfast of Champions: Kurt VonnegutSiddhartha: Herman HesseThe Diamond Age: Neal StephensonJuliet, Naked: Nick HornbyA Man in Full: Tom Wolfe

Stieg Larrsens series were read over the course of four days so I think I must have liked them a lot, but the best fiction books for me were The Diamond Age and A Man in Full (part of my minor stoic obsession).


A Guide to the Good life, The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy: William IrvineThoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot: James StockdaleFlow: Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiThe Evolution of God: Robert Wright

Irvine provided a great intro to stoicism, while the Evolution of God put our beliefs in their proper historical framework. Flow is simply amazing for anyone wanting to understand how to get things done and be happy doing it.


E=MC2: David BodanisElectric Universe: David BodanisPhysics for Future Presidents: Richard A MullerThe Grand Design: Stephen HawkingBursts: Alberto Lazlo Barbasi

E=MC2 and Physics for Future Presidents were the clear winners here. Bursts was intermittently interesting but spoiled by the shoehorning of pointless narrative. Hawking blew my mind but I started to understand less as the book went on.


The Intellectual Devotional: David KidderAmusing Ourselves to Death: Neil PostmanBecoming a Writer: Dorothea BrandeThe Black Swan: Nassim Nicholas TalebI live in the Future: Nick Bilton

Amusing ourselves to Death kicked off my year totally changing my position on how we build for the Internet and what it means. The Black Swan provided great material for a future talk. The Intellectual Devotional is the best bathroom book out there and I learned from Nick Bilton that I apparently live in the Future too.

Posted on Why I listen to Country

There’s no reason on earth why I should listen to country music. I’m British, grew up in London and live in New York. I dislike music that panders to god or shallow patriotism and country music often does that in the same sentence. It frustrates me when people make a virtue of ignorance (‘a little bit backwards here in the back woods, who cares as long as it feels good’), and a constant harking back to the ‘good ole days’ suggests a strong antipathy towards progress that sits uncomfortably with the tech entrepreneur side of me.

But I love country. And not just the old-timey blue-grass country that might win me some level of acceptance among my New York hipster friends but full-on Sugarland, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert country. And I find myself echoing the cries of my co-workers when they’ve come in early in the morning to finger-picking guitar and words pronounced with more vowels than they contain and ask myself ‘why, Tony why?’

I think there are two reasons. In country music, when they aren’t talking about a ‘hottie with a smoking little body’ they often deal with themes not so much of young love but of long-term partnerships, a subject that has been much on my mind over the last year or two. There’s far greater reference to love being about building a life together with all the difficulty and decisions that requires than the emotion-dependence of some other genres. Here’s a verse from Terri Clark’s ‘I Just Wanna be Mad’:

Last night we went to bed not talking
Cause we already said to much
I face the wall you faced the window
Bound and determined not to touch

Weve been married 7 years now
Some days it feels like 21
Im still mad at you this morning
Coffees ready if you want some

I love that last line for everything that it says about long-term relationships, the acknowledgement that no matter how angry or hurt she might be, she’s in it for the long haul and she acknowledges what that entails.

The second reason is far more personal. Country Music is probably the only major musical genre that I had almost no exposure to until recently. I’d never listened to a country song until I met a Pennsylvania girl who, despite my complaints, would play it constantly. I subsequently moved in with that girl and recently, in a triumph of persuasion over her better judgement, married her.

She introduced me to country, and without her I have no frame of reference for the music. Whenever I hear country, I don’t have a thousand different memories of people or places from my past competing in my mind, I only have her. Every country song is our song, because they are all indelibly associated with her. Every time some guy in an over-sized hat sings about love, or family, or a life together, to me he is singing about her, about us. When we’re apart, I can conjure her through my iPod and feel joy, when a country song comes on in a shop I am immediately reminded of her and how truly inexplicably lucky I am to have found the woman who is now my wife and my life. That, more than anything, is why I listen to country.

Posted on On manhood, rain and umbrellas

One of the few consistently thought-provoking and enjoyable reads I have each week is Kortina’s weekly newsletter. This week he remarked on the English contingent of our office’s habit of not using umbrellas. In Betaworks, it serves as a clear demarcation between American men who find it incomprehensible to venture into the rain without protection and British men who often turn up looking a little bedraggled but defiant.

I found myself musing on this and wondering where such a distaste for a palpably useful tool came from. Maybe it’s a reaction to a previous generation of bowler-hatted umbrella-toting men that may or may not have existed but should certainly be resisted. However, I think it comes down to something more basic than that, it comes down to environments.

An umbrella is an attempt to create our own controlled environment in the middle of a situation over which we have no control. We don’t try to live within our world, to embrace its unpredictability but instead slide the lock up to the apex and stay safe within an area we control. It’s the can’t-live-without-aircon, mod-con, everything’s-deliverable world in miniature.

One sees the same thing when seeing those used to an umbrella caught out in the rain without one. Their shoulders will hunch, their neck will subside into their body and they look down towards the ground hurrying towards anything that promises respite, enduring each raindrop as a personal affront to their wellbeing and sense of place.

One of the wonderful lessons I learned from my round-the-world yacht race was that (when getting wet was inevitable) one could either make a feeble attempt to hunch away from the rain and hate every minute of the torrent, or one could embrace it and take the rain as a moment to be enjoyed. Now when I find myself battling against the rain for a moment, I remember those days and straighten my shoulders, bring my head up and slow my pace. I enjoy an environment I did not create and cannot control and it usually brings a smile to my face that seems absent from the commuters hurrying by. Next time it’s raining , just try it; you might not think those umbrella-less Brits are so crazy after all.

Posted on In the beginning: the Logos and the Church

When stuck in a conversation with a fundamentalist who believes in the literal truth of the bible, it can occasionally be instructional to point out that there are actually more disputed versions of the bible than there are words in the bible. This is hardly unsurprising, given the multitude of different often conflicting sources that had to be massaged into a coherent narrative, the push and pull of different groups within the early church who when creating a new copy would adapt the text to reflect what they believed Jesus ‘really’ meant and in doing so bolster the position of their sect in relation to others; and finally the natural errors that are so visible in the children’s game of Telephone when information is repeatedly imperfectly passed on.

What’s interesting to me in all this is the potential for these often minute changes in translation to have sent Christianity down very different paths than those it currently follows. Of these the most fascinating is the phrase that opens the gospel of John:

In the beginning was the word. And the word was god.

This has often been used to argue that the word of god (the bible) is indivisible from God itself and thus forms the basis of fundamentalist’s literal interpretations. However, in the original text the (greek) word used is logos:

In the beginning was the Logos. and the Logos was god.

This gets interesting, because while ‘word’ was certainly a possible translation of Logos, it was by no means the most common. In fact much had already been said about the nature of the Logos. The most common way to define it in Greek thought was as some kind of overarching reason; possibly usefully described as directions for a computer program of sorts. We had a certain free will as agents within the bounds of that program but were unable to breach it.

In the beginning was the program. And the program was god.

This program or ultimate rationality not only governed the physical world but was also a part of us, replicated within the structures of our brain defining our behaviour and morality.

What is truly fascinating about the different path for the Church that a more nuanced understanding of this one word might have meant is that it potentially resolves so much of the conflict between religion and science.

The problem of the Bible being unreliable and at times in complete contradiction to established fact is no longer an issue as the anthropomorphic God and his unchanging Holy book fade from view and are instead replaced with what might be first manifested as the Physical Laws of the Universe. Thermodynamics, relativity, motion: all laws that govern our lives and are, as far as we know, unbreakable. This means that Physicists search for the underpinning laws of the Universe becomes a search to better understand the nature of God.

There is also no need for scientists to discard or contradict the idea that this Logos is imprinted in ourselves too, defining our behaviour and morality. It has been repeatedly shown that morality does not principally come from us being read stories from a holy book as young children but from thousands of generations of evolution in which the actions we call moral today are simply those that made us more successful as survivors. Physical laws defined our world, moral imperatives evolved as the most effective pathway to survival within those boundaries.

Robert Wright talks about much of this far more eloquently than I in his ‘Evolution of God’ and the key point he makes is that as a result of the Logos we have been living within over time we have continuously been exposed to more and more beings in which applying those moral imperatives aids our success and survival. First ourselves, then our family, then our tribe, then our country, then our species, then even other species (vegetarians of the world unite!). Our moral circle is slowly widening over time to embrace more and more diversity.

Think of the church we would have had if they had embraced that definition of the Logos. A church not just in tune with science but proselytising it, a church that believed its mission was to accelerate the expansion of our moral circle and thus embrace equal rights and tolerance rather than quash them. That’s the kind of church that I might join.

(Some great books on this in addition to Wright’s include: Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman, The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker and the very long but utterly incredible How to Read the Bible by James Kugel)

Posted on How Streams might be killing our culture and Haiti might save it

In ‘Amusing ourselves to Death’ Neil Postman wrote one of the great books necessary to understand the internet. All the more impressive a feat because he wrote it in 1985. His work foreshadows emergent problems as the web begins to define its language and our culture for the first time, and just possibly points to the seeds of a salvageable future.

Postman wrote that the early 20th century brought forth two competing visions of the future: Orwell’s 1984, in which we are oppressed by a totalitarian regime and Huxley’s Brave New World in which our fascination with personal amusement means that we choose to oppress ourselves. Orwell’s dystopian vision was dying even by 1985, a year past its sell-by date and mere moments before glasnost. Huxley’s vision however, seemed only to have become more real.

Postman premise was  was that technological advances within media do more than give us new tools for the expression of our culture, they mediate it, changing not just what we think about but how we think at all.

The printing press ushered in a typographical epistemology; when thinking and creating we did so through the construct of the printing press. One of the elements of this construct was the sheer amount of information that could be imparted through print, it lent itself to volume. With volume came nuance and argument, challenge and careful refutation. Our minds were shaped through this typographical prism and it affected the entire culture even beyond the printed page. As I have noted before, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were seven hours long in which a crowd would be expected to follow an intricately constructed argument on a single point for hours at a time. Early novels were happily gargantuan (which author would even attempt to equal Richardson’s Clarissa now?). This is not to say that every work was one of volume (this was also the age of pamphleteers), but that the principal technology through which we expressed our culture also defined our ability to think within our culture. The technology was suited to expressing depth, and thus our culture reflected it.

The second aspect of this culture was that it was, in general, geographically limited. News was truly local, and as a result often actionable. The news they read had an intrinsic effect upon people’s lives. This is important; the news was something that was used as a guide to action, it had a purpose. This meant that the press were held to a certain standard of utility.

This largely changed with the next great technological epoch, the invention of the telegraph and photograph. The telegraph ushered in an incredible transition in our culture, news organisations raced to be the first to have the telegraph from Washington to New York and then across the country. Our media was no longer limited by geography, recency became prized over actionable information. An earthquake in California, or flood in New Orleans was now news that the people of brooklyn might expect and demand to read, but it was no longer information that they could do anything about. News was divorced from action and now flirting with entertainment.

The photograph intensified this transition, no longer was the printed word the principal carrier of our culture, it had been superseded by the image. And it turns out that a picture is worth far less than a thousand words, it merely paints a portrait from one man’s vantage point that brooks no contest or refutation. The media we received had ceased to be actionable and had become entertaining, it had ceased to be nuanced and open to challenge; it had become a statement of unalterable fact: a picture never lies.

Postman believed this reached its apotheosis with television. Television demanded that everything be entertainment, no action required but to consume. What’s more, that technology mediated towards brevity. A 30 minute newscast on average contains less words than a single newspaper column. This meant that only the most simple concepts could be delivered and it changed everything.

It was from the television preachers that we saw the rise of a fundamentalist christianity that preached that every single word of the bible was literal and true, no other message would have survived and thrived in minds built by television. Education, which had previously been supposed to have been a challenge to the intellect was now judged on how entertaining the teacher or materials might be. Instead of seven-hour debates we saw in the last election an endless stream of 30 second soundbites masquerading as debates. No thought too small, no challenge beyond the flat denial or wisecrack. Television had (and has) defined us, and we sit staring at Huxley’s Brave New World.

Postman never got the chance to see the Internet flower, and he might have thought the future he saw confounded. When the Internet was young, poor connection speeds and the sub-culture from which it was born meant that typography seemed to rule the day again. The language used to define how we interacted with this new medium were lifted from that typographical era, we ‘browsed’ ‘pages’ our default home was often index.htm. A medium in search of itself drew upon the metaphors of the past and sustained itself.

As if reliving history, the image and then television encroached upon this new typographical world and overtook it, but these were still in large part borrowed concepts adapting to a new environment instead of being created by it. The first change in epistemology that has truly been born out of this new technological change is the stream. It has no ubiquitous analogue within our former culture. Fragments of information, often unrelated flowing past in a vast ungraspable river of information into which we dip. Information has become an ambient part of our awareness, rather than a point of focus.

This new change might have made Postman fear ever more greatly for the future he left to us. We are not even given the luxury of a story beyond the headline; recency becomes not just the most important thing, it becomes the only thing; we know 140 characters about everything but have trouble reading a post as long as this one. Yes the stream brings each of these fragments together, but a thousand competing headlines do not equal a carefully constructed argument. Yes, the stream contains links that bring the reader to longer texts, but the impact of the stream on our culture means that our ability to delve to even this depth. We look in awe to those normal people who could sit through a seven-hour lecture 150 years ago, but I wonder whether the stream means that future generations will look in awe upon even our meagre efforts to focus on depth.

Just as with television we have less and less time with which to hold attention and get our point across, and thus must naturally lean towards emotion and away from intellect as the most effective and loyal respondent. Could streams give birth to the same level of intellectual enlightenment as the printing press? It seems more that we are exchanging being enlightened for being informed.

However, there is something here that makes the future seem brighter and the earthquake in Haiti in part points to this. The telegraph took away our proximity to news and our ability to act upon it, but the Internet of streams may yet bring it back. Geography no longer precludes our ability to act and the fragments of news we receive may engender micro actions and it is there, far more than in the stream, where the cumulative effect can mean something. The Haitian earthquake is potentially no longer something of interest primarily as entertainment, but is once again news that I can act on. As the web brings forward new ways for people to collaborate through micro-actions, such as kickstarter or If we ran the world it has the potential for each of us to make the news more than morbid entertainment, but a tool for action again. If we can nurture that crucial link and make those actions more implicit to how we interact with the web then over time we might just regain what was lost.

Posted on Observing the tech sabbath and running manhattan: my 2010 resolutions

After reading Kortinas great list of his resolutions, I was challenged to do my own. Ive never really been serious about resolutions before, they were always spouted half-heartedly and swiftly discarded. This year I wanted to start to really set out some major goals for myself. The intent in this is as much to exclude as to include: becoming proficient at archery and horse-riding are both goals of mine that I have shelved for this year, I want to focus on a few goals and execute them well. So heres a selection of my resolutions:


Observe a tech sabbath: At social foo last year, Michael Galpert of Aviary spoke about reconciling his always-on tech role with his life as an observant jew and the process of switching everything off for 24 hours once a week. Ever since, the idea has resonated with me more and more. Im utterly addicted to the dopamine fix of every tweet, email and foursquare check-in and I think that its taking me down a short-attention span path I dont wish to follow. As a result, Im going to try and turn off my internet access, close my laptop and leave my phone in a drawer every Sunday. I want to see what its like to go for a walk without music, go to a restaurant with only the people who are with me and have serious time for reflection.

Learn the ancient skill of focus: I kicked off this year with Neil Postmans 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, which looks at how the changes from a typographical culture through the telegraph and photograph to television have shaped how we interact and behave. While weve certainly gained much from technological advances, weve also lost something. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, crowds would sit and listen to two speakers discuss dense and nuanced positions for seven hours. Seven hours. Im embarrassed to say I dont think I could do that, but I want to. I want to reduce my often constant flitting from document to email to twitter and back and learn how to focus again. Im doing this with a simple timer, setting a period of concentration on one item and not letting up until the buzzer goes. Over time I want to extend that concentration so that I could one day sit through the kind of discussion that previous generations thought commonplace.

Improve my memory: The missus has oftentimes pointed to my hazy memory for things she has perfect recollection of, such as meeting, proposing etc. Im keen to try to improve this and delve into the loci system to see if that can help.

Get married, go on a honeymoon, learn how to dance: and importantly dont screw any of these things up for the other person with whom I have planned these things.


The marriage/honeymoon bundle is going to take up a fair amount of time this year and preclude doing too many farflung events. However, Im keen to:

Run the circumference of Manhattan: This to me seems like something more fun and illuminating than a straight mileage distance. I am often accused of rarely straying from the West Village and I hope this gives me a sense of the parts of Manhattan I rarely see.

Swim two miles/do a century ride/run a marathon: I might not be able to fit in an ironman this year but I want to get back up to the level where I could. Would also love to run the New York marathon as a good pal has assured me its the best in the world.

Get back into cross-country skiing: I was lucky enough to get a pair of bomb-proof back-country skis for xmas and Im keen to get back into it again. New York and Pennsylvania have numerous places where I can really get going and I loved it too much to let it slip.

Theres a few more resolutions related to my professional life and other new projects, but Ill keep those closer to my chest for now.

Posted on The American rebellion by Rudyard Kipling

Twas not while England’s sword unsheathed
Put half a world to flight,
Nor while their new-built cities breathed
Secure behind her might
Not while she poured from Pole to Line
Treasure and ships and men
These worshippers at Freedom’s shrine,
They did not quit her then!

Not till their foes were driven forth
By England o’er the main
Not till the Frenchman from the North
Had gone with shattered Spain
Not till the clean-swept oceans showed
No hostile flag unrolled
Did they remember what they owed
To Freedom and were bold!

Posted on Ironman John

Last year I wrote about my friend John Lake, who battled his way past brain tumours, depression, suicide bids and time in mental institutions to run the London Marathon and in some way find his purpose again.

John took something from that day and, to abuse a pun, he ran with it. On September 7th at 6am, John will zip up his wetsuit and enter the water for his first ironman triathlon. He will swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then run 26.2 miles, a marathon. For someone who, two years ago, couldnt run to the end of his block just getting to this stage is an awesome achievement. He will feel very different when he crosses the finish line.

When John ran the marathon he broke the record for money raised for the Brain Research Trust, with ten days to go he has already raised £7,300 and is aiming for £10,000. John is going to go through 13 hours of pain to show his support for people going through brain tumours, the least we can do is click on a link; please sponsor him now.

Posted on Furthest North

On 6 March, Rosie Stancer stepped off Ward Hunt Island and on to the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean. With temperatures sinking past -50C, her eyelashes elongated with ice and every millimetre of exposed skin burning with the cold she pulled her sledge over serried ranks of 30 feet high barriers of ice stretching before her for miles and miles. The Arctic, still shaking off the hold of winter would make each night a concert of shivering limbs and chattering teeth as the lightweight stove strove against the world with its rationed fuel and thin blue light.

The cold took no prisoners this year, and the toes of Rosie’s left foot were hit the worst as they froze, thawed, refroze, rethawed and frostbite took hold. As the temperature crawled up through the –40s and into the more temperate –30s, the sun became a fixture in the sky, no longer rising or setting but simply circling Rosie as she pressed north. However, the sun became a fleeting visitor as the rising temperatures brought burnished clouds each staking a claim to their piece of the horizon before enveloping the world completely in a deathly white.

As the clouds fell, Rosie’s senses became almost redundant. What use are ears when there is nothing to hear, what use eyes when all around you is white, what use touch when its only function is to remind you of the pain in your feet? There is no up, no down, no far away, no close up, no sky, no ground, just white and the dead weight of your sledge behind you as your only comfort against complete isolation.

At least as Rosie hauled, climbed, pushed, pulled, levered, smashed and at times dug her way north, the ice conditions began to improve. Then came the storms. Whipping across the Arctic, the snow was coerced into vortices around Rosie, burrowing into every crevice as the wind fashioned the encircling ridges into sails taking her east and south, away from her desired route and course. Continue reading Furthest North

Posted on Two Poles

The last six years of my life have been so singlemindedly focused on the poles, so caught up with snow, cold and ice that I sometimes manage to forget that there is a polar opposite to this world. Recently I was lucky enough to head briefly down to Naples, Florida where i met some incredible and inspirational people. I experienced the boundless enthusiasm and vigour of true entrepreneurs and enjoyed my first taste of southern hospitality, both exceeded every expectation.

But sometimes it is the simplest of things that take your breath away and for me that came when I walked down to the beach, took off my shoes and felt the sand beneath my feet for the first time in almost six years. Seabirds were whirling and diving; a group of friends threw horseshoes and two men stood with the lines of their fishing rods stretching out into the dappled sea. I asked them what they were fishing for and they cheerfully replied shark!.

In my normal travels, the sun setting and rising is a rare and ponderous occasion, but here the sun set so fast that I, engrossed in the conversation of my friend, almost missed its fall; as if it too could not resist the call of the water it illuminated. It made me long for the sea and old friends.

For now though, the Arctic has resumed its call upon me and as I do my best to help Rosie reach the North Pole I study weather forecasts and satellite images to track and forecast the Arctics mood and intentions. Todays infra-red was a beauty and seemed an admirable counterpoint to the picture above. A high pressure zone is currently keeping the skies clear over the pole, though it is also pressing down upon the ice. One can see widening leads beginning to make their presence felt to the west as the season pushes towards summer, while in the south-east a particularly nasty storm boils furiously. I hope that neither come to affect Rosie before she reaches her goal.