Friday Finds (Cities, Investing, China, The Odyssey)


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Hi friends,

This week, I watched the penultimate cut of my documentary about Porter Robinson. Explicitly, it tells the story of his music career. Implicitly, it's about the artist's journey: the emotional and intellectual quest to make something beautiful. I plan to premiere it in September, at my favorite movie theater in Austin.

Here's what I want to share this week:

  1. Director of Course Operations (Liftoff): The binoculars are out! We’re looking for someone to design learning journeys and build systems to measure student outcomes, who is seriously skilled with low-code and no-code tools. (We’ve added “Course” in the title to distinguish from supply chain and compliance-focused operations roles). If transforming the education system fires you up, you can apply here.

    All our open Write of Passage positions are here.
  2. Tyler Cowen’s Production Function: This podcast is one of my all-time favorite interviews. Tyler Cowen is just about the most prolific creator I know, and this conversation is all about his approach to productivity. (Listen here: iTunes | Overcast | Spotify)
  3. Don’t Kill Time: This is one of my most philosophical essays. It explores my challenging relationship with clocks and achievement, questioning: “How should we spend our time?”

Today's Finds

The Bill Gurley Chronicles: Many of the most successful writers of the past 30 years won't be remembered as writers. Bill Gurley is a prime example. He's a General Partner at Benchmark, the venture capital firm that's backed Uber, GrubHub, OpenTable, and Zillow. You'll notice all those companies are marketplaces. Bill Gurley was writing about marketplace economics in the 90s. He famously wanted to invest in a company like Uber, long before Travis Kalanick founded it. You can find links and summaries to all of Gurley's writing in this two-part series about venture capital, growth, and marketplaces (part 1 | part 2).

Ivan Illich: A strangely underrated philosopher, especially when you consider how clearly his books are written. Above all else, Illich was skeptical of scale and institutional structures. He believed in the power of individuals. When it came to cities, he critiqued the way cars pull people apart even though they help us move faster, (which theoretically brings people together). Just look at urban sprawl. Cars divide cities when urban planners slap a highway in the middle of a neighborhood. The cars are in control now. Too many cities serve cars, when cars should be serving cities. Illich was also skeptical of formal education. He didn't believe that schools could achieve universal education, and wrote: "The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new." For a summary of his work, I recommend this interview with his biographer David Cayley (here's the transcript). All of Illich's books are short. I recommend this one about school or this critique of our industrial economy.

Book Finder: If you like reading old books, you've probably realized they're a nuisance to buy on Amazon. When reprints are affordable, the quality is terrible. When they're nice, they're super expensive. This platform is the solution. It's the best place I've found for old and rare books, and upholds a level of quality that's hard to find these days.

Why Should You Read the Odyssey?: In Saving the Liberal Arts, I argued that college students are too young to study them. Even Plato said that people aren’t prepared to study the Liberal Arts until the age of 30. In Book VII of The Republic, he writes: “Let us take every possible care that young persons do not study philosophy too early.” In this interview, Daniel Mendelsohn explains why ancient stories like The Odyssey still have a practical benefit. “When your father dies, your accounting degree is not going to help you at all to process that experience. Homer will help you.” I also resonated with this comment: “The crude preoccupation with moneymaking as the only goal of a college education is giving us a citizenry that is extremely degraded, as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s only the crudest and least interesting practicality that has no time for the humanities.”

The World’s Most Influential Intellectual: If you’ve never heard of Wang Huning, it’s time to change that. He was one of Xi Jinping’s closest advisors and arguably China’s leading ideological theorist. In Chinese literature, his position is known as dishi, which translates to “Emperor’s Teacher.” For 20 years, he’s predicted that America will decline because of nihilism and hyper-individualism — both of which have led to skyrocketing inequality, the destruction of the family, and the utter destruction of its heritage. This piece offers an introduction to his ideas, while this piece dives into the man himself.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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