Monday Musings (Cults, Censorship, Bathrooms, Kendrick Lamar)


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Hi friends,

Greetings from Austin!

The next Write of Passage cohort begins on March 2nd and opens for enrollment in one month. Space is limited so if you're interested in hearing more about the upcoming cohort, click here.

Here’s what I want to share this week:

  1. The Inversion of Censorship: The 20th century had two iconic dystopian novelists: George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. Everybody knows Orwell, but not enough people know Huxley, whose prophecy is increasingly looking correct, as Neil Postman wrote about so clearly. You can read my thread on Twitter.
  2. Don’t Kill Time: This essay of mine is more philosophical than normal. It’s about my tormented relationship with time and achievement. It explores a single question: “How should we spend our time?”
  3. 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 is conversation is all about his approach to productivity. (Listen here: iTunes | Overcast | Spotify)
  4. How to Take Notes Like Kendrick Lamar: Everybody knows Kendrick as a Grammy-nominated artist, but he’s also a prolific note-taker. In this video, I show the note-taking process that’s turned him into one of the greatest rappers alive today.

Coolest Things I Learned This Week

Are Cults Underrated?

Jesse Michels observes that many of the most popular 20th-century studies revealed the downside of cults. From Philip Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, we learned that group membership can make people act in terrible ways. Stanley Milgram's Shock Experiment showed that obedience to authority can cause similarly unethical behavior. The popularity of both discussions is, of course, a response to the horrors of World War II.

But what is a world without cults missing?

First, the belief in a radically different way of life. Cults are a place where people congregate to explore new ways of thinking, and the energy provided by the group makes them capable of extraordinary achievements. Second, the tight-knit experience of togetherness. As kids, we always loved feeling like we were in on a secret and cults provide the same rush of excitement for adults.

Though I’m not endorsing them, “cult” has an exclusively dirty connotation today. Maybe it's time to change that.

Given the creative potential of cults, it’s no surprise that the best Silicon Valley companies feel like one. Risk management isn’t a riskless enterprise. Reducing risk also comes with reducing upside potential.

Perhaps, we’re too hard on cults.

Also, if you aren’t following Jesse Michels’ YouTube channel, American Alchemy, it’s time to change that.

— —

Bursts of Creativity

What types of creatives thrive in bursts? Which ones benefit from consistent output?

On the burst front, Einstein was famous for a “Miracle Year” in 1905 where he published four groundbreaking papers — one outlined his theory of the photoelectric effect, another explained Brownian motion, another introduced special relativity, and another demonstrated mass-energy equivalence. That’s an insane year. Though he published a paper on general relativity in 1916 and applied that theory to the structure of the universe one year later, the majority of his output was clustered.

In my conversation with Tyler Cowen, he mentioned that Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past in a burst. Likewise, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in a burst, which is his best work by far. But on the side of consistency, you have people like Picasso, Shakespeare, and Johann Sebastian Bach, who were consistently productive.

— —

Company Building

Companies are like a ball: When the incentives are misaligned, the organization is stuck. But when everybody is aligned and marching in the same direction, the company can make rapid progress.

Aligning arrows is the CEO’s responsibility.

— —

The Delta of Progress

Achievement doesn’t make us as happy as we think it will. Perhaps, humanity depends on this delta because being more rational about the gains from achievement would make us less productive.

— —

Testing the Social Health of a City

I use a heuristic to judge the social health of cities I explore.

Among my favorites is the quality of public bathrooms. Only a select number of cities have free and clean public bathrooms (Tokyo comes to mind). Many cities require you to pay a small fee to use the toilet, which isn’t an issue if they’re clean.

But closed restrooms are the ultimate sign of urban decay. They imply that a city can’t trust people to use them responsibly and that society has fallen to the tragedy of the commons.

Locked bathrooms also reveal a decaying culture because they wouldn’t have originally been built if urban planners thought nobody would use them

I snapped this locked bathroom photo in Austin last week.

Photo of the Week

This week, I'll be making my first trip to Ireland, and next week, I'll be in London for my first time as an adult. Your travel recommendations for both cities are appreciated!

In Dublin, I'll be seeing Tom McCarthy who reached out to me with the best cold email I've ever received. He's one of the youngest people in history to build a nuclear fusion reactor and is one of the most intellectually curious people I know. Today, at only 21 years of age, he runs a startup accelerator in Dublin called Patch which he calls "Hogwarts for teenagers."

We snapped this photo in New York City together a few years ago.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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