Friday Finds (Prussia, Conflict, Steve Jobs, Psychology)

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Hi friends,

Greetings from Austin!

I'm off to the Yucatán Peninsula for an all-team Write of Passage retreat. We began the year as a full-time team of four. On our retreat in May we were a group of six, and we have 15 people coming this week — many of us meeting in person for the first time.

Monday is our only dedicated work day. The rest of the week is for bonding. We're snorkeling on Tuesday and visiting the Chichén-Itzá ruins on Wednesday.

I was recently on the Where It Happens podcast, where I talked about religion, education, Walt Disney, and what we're building at Write of Passage. Start with this short clip about how people in their 20s systematically stifle their ambitions when they should be taking risks.

(Here's the full interview: YouTube | Apple | Spotify).

Today's Finds

The Prussian Education System: Why is Western education so rote and mechanical? The story begins with an American named Horace Mann, who visited the Prussian region of Germany in the mid 19th century. Mann brought this education philosophy back to America. He placed students in grades by age, where they progressed in sync, regardless of how quickly they learned. He also imported the lecture method, which was common in European universities at the time. The Prussian system was deliberately designed to produce middling intellects. Military success was its principal aim. It crushed the inner spirit and manufactured a docile citizenry. American adoption of this approach accelerated in the Industrial Age because factories required obedient workers. If you're disillusioned with the American education system, a study of Prussia is a good place to begin. Start with this synopsis from John Taylor Gatto. If you're looking for something spicier, you'll enjoy this piece, though I can't endorse the ideas due to a lack of sources and careful reasoning.

Karen Horney: A mid-20th century psychologist. Unlike Freud, she believed our anxieties stem from childhood instead of conflicts between the id, ego, and superego. I like her idea that people have three reactions to conflict: "Move towards, move away, and move against." (1) Move towards people are the kum-ba-yah types. They want people to get along and are quick to repair conflicts. But because they need the approval of others to feel secure, they can suffer from people-pleasing. (2) Move away types flee from conflict and retreat into isolation. Instead of confronting the situation, they go quiet. To protect themselves, they become detached and exaggerate their need for self-sufficiency. (3) Move against types are quick to conflict. When something's wrong, they speak their mind. What they gain with honesty, they lose with hostility. Problems emerge when they leap to unfair conclusions or say things they don't mean in the heat of the moment. If you're interested in Karen Horney's story, here's a good overview. If this kind of psychology is your jam, you'll probably be interested in the Enneagram personality spectrum too.

Understanding Houellebecq: One of France's most controversial but influential authors. When I brought his name up during my trip to Paris, the guy I was talking to scoffed at me, rolled his eyes, and called him an irresponsible disgrace. Of course, this fuelled my curiosity. Though some of Houellebecq's claims are outlandish, his understanding of our contemporary spiritual malaise is rivaled only by the late David Foster Wallace. Houellebecq's particularly critical of sexual liberation. Like economic liberation, it widens the gap between 'haves' and 'have-nots'. Houellebecq writes: "In a perfectly liberal economic system [capitalism], some people amass considerable fortunes; others rot in joblessness and poverty. In a perfectly liberal sexual system, some people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and loneliness." Empirically, he's correct. Others themes of his work include religion, terrorism, genetic research, and drug addiction. For a written introduction, I recommend this piece and this one. If you prefer video, here's a 15-minute summary of his philosophy.

Steve Jobs' on Marketing: Unlike other computer companies in the 90s, Jobs' approach to marketing focused on values instead of product specs. When he returned to Apple in the 90s, he wanted to associate Apple with people who change the world (pioneers like Picasso, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King). This speech is a seven-minute introduction to his Think Different campaign. It's worth watching to see the clarity and simplicity of Jobs' thinking. If you prefer a transcript, I found one for you.

Head, Heart, Hands: Here's a fun way to think about companies. Each one has a different mix of each. Head-driven companies are analytical and strategic. They obsessively gather information and use it to inform their decisions, often at the expense of intuition. Heart-driven companies prioritize team camaraderie. They have strong internal values and a clear sense of mission, but start resembling a social club if they go too far. Hand-driven companies reward execution. With an action-oriented culture, they move quickly and iterate fast. But if they only use their hands, they suffer from a "fire first, aim later" mentality – and a lot of energy is wasted. The optimal balance depends on your objective. Doctors better have heart. Builders better have hands. Strategists better have a good head on their shoulders. I discovered this philosophy in a Twitter thread by Andrew Chen. On his time at Uber, he reflects: "People said Uber 1.0 was a 30% head, 5% heart, 65% hands kind of place. Ridiculously indexed on action. Often doing the wrong thing for the first few iterations, but with so much activity, things would get figured out later. Needed more love for drivers and team though."

If there’s you come across anything that belongs on this newsletter, please send it my way.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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