Friday Finds (Pittsburgh, Picasso, The Bible, Steve Jobs)


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Hi friends,

Greetings from Pittsburgh!

A friend is getting married here this weekend, but I'm also jazzed about exploring the city. Last night, I went to the baseball game at PNC Park (one of the prettiest stadiums I've ever been to) and today, I visited the Andy Warhol Museum and the Heinz History Center.

Here's what I want to share this week:

  1. What's Up with Austin: Speaking of exploring cities, this is my long-form piece on my hometown of Austin, Texas. It's a hippie town that turned into a center of live music and has now turned into a tech hub. All those subcultures have interacted with the University of Texas (one of America's largest universities) and the Texas state government, which are based in town. Read the essay here.
  2. Girard Lectures Update: A few months ago, we published the introductory lecture to a series about René Girard's philosophy. The next six lectures will go into the specifics of his work. Instead of publishing them intermittently, we plan to batch-release them once they're all edited, in roughly 6-8 months. To receive them by email, click here.
  3. Imitate, then Innovate: Ironically, the more we imitate others, the more we discover our own unique style. That’s why there's a long lineage of comedians who tried to copy each other, failed, and became great themselves. Johnny Carson tried to copy Jack Benny but failed and won six Emmy awards. Then, David Letterman tried to copy Johnny Carson but failed and became one of America’s great television hosts. Reflecting on his influences, Conan O’Brien said: “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.” Read my full essay here. Or, if you prefer the same ideas in a YouTube video, you can watch it here.

    4. Founding Director of Product: We're looking for a de facto "Product CEO" to run our online writing program for high schoolers. This is as close you can get to founding a startup, without the risk that typically entails. We’re conducting interviews now, but applications are still open.

    (If this role isn't the right fit, but you still want to work with us, you can
    find all our open job positions here).

Today's Finds

The Two Kinds of Creatives: Why do some artists peak early while others peak later in their careers? This paper argues the difference comes down to the nature of an artist's intellectual pursuits. People like Picasso, whose work is conceptual, solidify their ideas before they start creating and tend to peak early. Meanwhile, people like Cézanne, whose work is experimental tend to discover things in the act of creation and peak later in their careers. When I visited Cézanne's hometown of Aix-en-Provence in Southern France, I was struck by how terrible his early paintings were and how many times he painted Mount Sainte Victoire. He'd sit on a little cliff and paint the thing over and over and over again, each time discovering something new. Here's the original paper. If you'd like something longer, Malcolm Gladwell explored the idea in an essay called Late Bloomers.

Why Leadership has Fallen: Where are all the great leaders these days? Maybe our leaders are getting worse. Or perhaps leadership has never been as great as the history books say. This essay argues today's leaders don't hold a candle to the last generation (leaders like Charles de Gaulle and Lee Kuan Yew), who were notable for being simultaneously influenced by meritocratic and aristocratic virtues. The author writes: "Hence Lee’s recurring references to 'Junzi' (Confucian gentlemen) and de Gaulle’s striving to become a 'man of character.' They believed in history, tradition and, in most cases, God." But virtue and character are no longer pillars of the university curriculum. Words like duty and nobility have vanished from classroom walls. Thus, our second-rate leadership.

Dominion: My essay, Why You’re Christian, explores how Christian ideas underpin the Western view of morality. To construct the ideas, I built upon this impressive 600-page piece of historical scholarship from Tom Holland. He argues the Bible defines Western thought, even if we’ve painted over those ideas with Enlightenment notions of truth and reason. On that note, it’s filled with golden nuggets like this: “That all men had been created equal, and endowed with an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, were not remotely self-evident truths… The truest and ultimate seedbed of the American republic—no matter what some of those who had composed its founding documents might have cared to think—was the book of Genesis.” What a provocative argument. For an introduction, I recommend this video interview and this book review.

Steve Jobs Speaks at MIT: In the spring of 1992, Steve Jobs spoke to the MIT School of Management. At the time, he was the CEO of NeXT. If you only watch one section, I recommend this one about consulting. From the level of the individual, he says that working as a consultant slows down learning because you only get a two-dimensional picture of what’s happening inside the company. The more you’re forced to take ownership over your decisions, the faster you’ll learn and the more three-dimensional your understanding will be.

Northrop Frye’s Biblical Lectures: This 25-part series explores the synthesis between the Bible and English Literature. It’s worth watching because the Bible infuses just about every aspect of civilization. To the extent the ideas feel obvious, it’s only because they’ve been so influential. They’ve become the water we swim in. Northrop Frye's lectures explore the metaphorical side of these canonical texts. In one of his lectures, Frye said: “The accuracy of history in the Bible is in inverse proportion to its spiritual value.” You’ll find a full transcript and show notes for every lecture here.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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