Reading Strategists and Writing to Them

I’ve been doing a lot of interesting reading recently in a bid to continue improving how I go about living my life. There has been a fair amount of pay-off from the changes I’ve been making over the past couple of years, between marriage, a baby and of course the move to Japan!

Among the various sources of inspiration and advice I’ve been following is the excellent blog of Sebastian Marshall, a most fascinating chap who is pursuing the goal of becoming the most skilled strategist of our era. A lofty goal, but one I have little doubt he can achieve. I had a most interesting discussion with him on Skype last week about Eastern vs Western mentality and business practice that was illuminating.

Sebastian encourages his readers to make contact with him and many good articles and pieces have come out of that, so I decided I should also step out of the shadows and get in touch, hence the reason I ended up having a call with him. His review of what I’d written in my email was very positive too, so positive in fact that he decided to publish it on his blog.

In that article I mention a few items I have been reading and would like to give a slightly broader review and pointers on each of them…

Less Wrong

The home of modern rationality on the internet, currently powered by community submissions but founded on the bedrock of the writings of Eliezer Yudkowski. The barrier to entry on this site is steep as there is a lot of material to consume in the “Sequences“. I got my teeth into them properly only after I got Sony’s eBook reader and grabbed the eBook editions of them. I recommend this route as the material is much better read in an armchair than at a desk.

Eliezer’s day job is to try and make an AI, a rational friendly one that wont accidentally turn us into paperclips. In order to explain why this is a problem we should be concerned about, he discovered he’d first have to explain rationality and biases… out of this has come a very large body of work on how modern scientific methods, rationality and philosophy should work. His “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” is also very good fun.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Most “self-help books” serve their purpose by making you feel less bad about whatever item it is you need self-help for at the point of purchase. After that they tend to either gather dust or the contents turn out to be significantly less illuminating than the cover suggested or the barriers to completing the suggestions are way too high. You are therefore quite right to think that “self-help books” are largely to be avoided.

GTD is not one of those.

The principal of keeping your goals, projects and tasks written down in nice simple lists is, of course, obvious. But you have no idea just how effective it can be until you take a careful look at how to go about doing it and making sure you use the right tools.

How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

I guess people feel that this book sounds kind of creepy, seedy, or otherwise the kind of thing only an oily, souless, used car salesman would want to read so that he can get better at manipulating people. I certainly had that impression before I finally got around to picking it up and reading it.

The language is 1920s tub-thumping style, which is actually quite endearing after you get over the hurdle of taking it seriously. Certainly there is plenty of information in there your stereotyped used car salesman would like but that doesn’t mean that it is not equally applicable to anyone in any walk of life whose job, and the jobs of everyone they touch, wouldn’t be made better by interacting more effectively. The secrets aren’t all that deep and mostly boil down to “be excellent to one another”. If you want to make friends and influence people, the book genuinely recommends that you go out of your way to be friendly and helpful… not so seedy after all really!

Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa

The Samurai era is as close to modern Japan and informs its thinking in much the same way as the Wild West is to Americans. Musahi is a great fun, quasi-historical and epic romp through that world that is thoughroughly enjoyable and informative.

3 Comments to Reading Strategists and Writing to Them

  1. Scott Ponzani says:

    I’ve been a GTD geek/evangelist for a few years now. Using it has saved my sanity and my butt numerous times. The other three have piqued my interest. Think I just found my summer reading list.

  2. Cleodhna says:

    I went to Sebastian’s blog and read your piece, and thought you might enjoy today’s XKCD if you hadn’t already seen it:
    Marie Curie
    http://xkcd.com/896/

  3. Jamie Thom says:

    @Scott, I guessed you were – I heard you say the magic phase “getting to Inbox Zero” once. You can read the ePub eBook items on your iPod Touch with an app called “Stanza”.

    @Cleodhna, I did see that xkcd and also thought “how appropriate”. Zombie Marie Curie, lol.