Prime Future 132: A learning list


I’m in full 2022 wrap-up mode which means trying to capture all the learnings from another year while mentally preparing for a brand-new one.

My favorite new habit this year was to keep a running list of books I read and a few takeaways from each one, a learning list, of sorts. I love this habit so much and want to keep it going for the rest of my life.

So today’s newsletter is a hodgepodge sample from that list:

"All drama in leadership and life is caused by the need to be right." – The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. Ooph, does this resonate deeply with anyone else or just me?? 😵‍💫

“Always measure backwards. When we compare our current position against where we’d like to be (the gap), we tend to get frustrated. When we measure our current position against where we started, we tend to be deeply motivated because we see progress.” – The Gap & the Gain by Dan Sullivan.

WD Farr was one of the first cattle feeders to bring the feed to the cattle, instead of the other way around. He was also a catalyst for meat grading, which was a game changer in the US beef industry in creating a standard that gave consumers confidence in the consistency of the eating experience. Perhaps most poignantly, WD believed that “cattle would have to be bred and sold on a performance basis like hybrid seed corn. ….would increase the quality and yield of slaughtered animals, reducing the fatty wastes that increased the price of meat to consumers. Unfortunately, the beef industry works on averages. The poor, inefficient animals in every herd drag down the good animals. I do not believe any industry can exist on averages for a long period of time.” – Cowboy in the Boardroom by WD Farr.

An early innovation in meat packing was moving from vertical cross-species plants (aka multi-story) to horizontal, single-story, single-specie packing plants, and the simultaneous move from plants near population centers to plants near animals, which was enabled by refrigerated transport. – Meat Then & Now by Dell Allen.

The skill of optimal quitting is what separates amateur and pro poker players. A common misconception is that quitting will slow or stop our progress but the reverse is true. By not quitting you miss the opportunity to get closer to your goals. When you stick with something when there are other opportunities out there, that slows you down. Quitting gets you where you want to go faster.” – Annie Duke in Quit (some additional thoughts in the context of starting & growing businesses)

Change your identity to change your behavior and habits. In order to build the habit of going to the gym, I have to first see myself as someone who has the habit of going to the gym. Or as someone who takes smart risks and builds businesses. Etc, etc. etc. See myself as someone who _____ in order to have the motivation to build the habits of someone who _____. – James Clear in Atomic Habits (paraphrased)

Be My Guest is an autobiography by Conrad Hilton, as in the hotel guy. Forget flash in the pan tech founders, this was a story about building something that lasts and building it one hotel at a time. But interestingly one of the takeaways was to know your investors before you take their money: one of Conrad’s investors didn’t like how a deal had turned out post-1930s economic depression so he walked into the hotel and shot Conrad’s business partner. Yikes.

The 'technology' that changed the landscape and power dynamics of the US Plains was when the Spanish introduced horses into North America, which completely transformed the way some Native American tribes operated, particularly the Comanches who were virtually unstoppable when mounted on horseback and therefore reigned supreme across the plains for 200+ years until the Texans/US military came along in the mid-1800s. The intersection between this and the early cattle industry is that when the buffalo were cleared from the Plains, the Comanche’s food source and way of life went with them, along with many other Indian tribes, so they had no choice but to surrender to reservations. – Empire of the Summer Moon by SC Gwynne

Three things from Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan:

  1. Geographic features determined every country’s culture, economy, and politics, particularly waterways for trade.
  2. Because of each province’s unique geographic features, Canadian provinces are more economically integrated vertically with the US than horizontally with one another.
  3. The Japanese occupied all the economically relevant regions of China during WW2. (I had never heard about this and need to learn more, any good book recs?)

The Zimbabwe economy shrunk by 50% in 5 years when Mugabe rose to power in the 90's and took land from large commercial farmers and gave it in small pieces to new farmers who neither knew how to farm, nor how to farm effectively. The impact was drastic and horrific for the people of Zimbabwe. – When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin (it’s a memoir about his experience during Mugabe’s rise).

Jews were not even allowed to own property throughout Europe in the 1400s-1700s so being a merchant or trader was the only option available. Interestingly for some of those early pioneering souls who came to America to escape anti-semitism, they found those merchant and trading skills were a superpower they could put to work in the growing early commerce of America…and they built entire industries and lasting institutions. Amazing. – Tower of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant named Isaias Hellman Built California by Frances Dinkelspiel (I am a sucker for an immigrant success story and this one is epic.)

You think the meat industry is the only industry with extreme concentration? Lol. It’s actually true of most industries today. Monopolized by David Dayen is fascinating but almost makes you want to curl up in the fetal position, read at your own risk.

“The opposite of distraction is not focus, it is traction towards our goals. The opposite of distraction is momentum.” – Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman.

The Revolutionary War was not two-dimensional, the American militia vs. the British military. It was multi-dimensional chess with each side vying for additional support from Europe (France, Spain) and locally from various Indian tribes. Truthfully my takeaway here is that few things are black and white, there's often way more than 2 sides to any complex story. – The Taking of Jemima Boone by Matthew Pearl

“Find your foxhole people. These are the people you want in the foxhole with you when you go into comedy battle. Find these people, be around them, and be one of them. One of the signs of these foxhole people is that they find positive stories in the world around them. They do it reflexively. …had decided there was something good before he had decided what was good. He assumed there was a silver lining and then he found it.” – How to be the Greatest Improviser On Earth by Will Hines.

After WW1 the German Mark held just 4% of it's pre-WW1 value. I’d never heard a number put to this before, and it makes the post-WW1 economic challenges that set up the rise of Hitler even more clear. – The Warburgs by Ron Chernow (This also adds context to the history told in The Alchemy of Air about that same time period when synthetic fertilizer (invented in Germany and primarily manufactured there) was exploding, commercially.)

The Warburgs was a phenomenal book about an incredibly resilient family that kept getting back up and building every time their business was destroyed by factors outside their control, aka economic depressions, WW1, and WW2. One of the offspring of the lineage was obsessed with outcompeting his cousin, and the author summarized it this way: “Siegmund Warburg died, a deeply unhappy man devoured by a dream.” This made me think of the book Wanting by Luke Burgiss about the power of mimetic desire in our lives and how damaging it can be when left unchecked.

Execution matters. The famous rallying speech that Churchill gave was not only not praised at the time, it was actually criticized because Churchill was slurring his words and sounded sluggish. It was because he had a cigar in his mouth and couldn't be bothered to remove it, despite his advisors’ counsel. (obviously not an issue in the grand scheme because hi hello it was Churchill and he got the job done, but still an interesting example of why details matter) – The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

And finally, Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham was basically a 400-page guide in how NOT to do leadership. The secrecy, the bureaucracy, the blaming and shaming, and the CYA mentality instead of focusing on containing this massive problem with massive consequences. A total failure of leadership, from the low-level plant supervisor to the very tip-top of the government regime.

What did you learn from your own 2022 reading?

Book recs welcome here 🙂

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