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Highlights 2020: Week 35
I’m trying something a bit different this week. Inspired by Nat Eliason’s Medley, I’m splitting this up into three sections.
These are the three sections I had a laid out in the beginning of the newsletter, but found it hard to weave them together. I’ll just let you jump around where you please!
Small Business Highlights
Hiring great people is my one and only plan for growth right now. While there are a few tech companies that are outliers (h/t WhatsApp), in general an employee generates around $100k in revenue for a SMB.
Obviously, there are folks who generate a disproportionate amount of revenue (whether high or low). But when I look at the high quality of work life, it’s totally related to the people who work for me.
Bill Bonner, the founder of the controversial newsletter juggernaut, Agora Publishing, put in perspective on his 60th birthday:
You see before you a man of modest talents, but immodest achievements. For the modesty of his talents, he has only himself to blame. But for the immodesty of his achievements, he has all the people in this room to thank. And I want to take this opportunity to thank you all. You see, I have been extremely lucky. A lot of entrepreneurs are not so lucky. They are only marginally incompetent ... good enough at a variety of tasks that they are hard to shove aside. They have opinions on marketing and management. Even worse, sometimes they have unshakeable convictions and absolute confidence in their own judgment. Those poor guys are practically doomed, in my opinion. I, on the other hand, owe everything to my own incompetence. When anyone new came into the office, I practically fell over myself to get out of his way. Some will generously say that I delegated authority. But that is not true. I shirked it. You and other partners, associates and employees just picked it up off the ground where I left it.
Bill Bonner, Family Fortunes
I’ve begun filtering [most] books by whether or not their author has done the thing he’s writing about. The problem is, the most relevant stories or businesses don’t usually write much about them. You often get a biography that focuses on their birth, education, marriage, model train collection and philosophical thoughts of the world. Not bad stuff, but it means you have to tease out the numbers:
You can learn about discerning underlying logic by reading memoirs of people who were successful, and technical manuals by experts in their field. In different types of business, repeat purchase rate, churn/attrition rate, or referral rate might be a key piece of hidden logic to optimize your business around.
Christian Living Highlights
The past few weeks have felt like a fight with acedia.
To get back in the game, I doubled-down on getting up early and spiritual reading.
In the past I’ve sometimes felt “locked in” by habits. The difference between a regular disposition and a habit may seem like splitting hairs, but helps me keep away from giving up my agency to something I’ve done over and over.
[I]f you are shaped by habits, you lose part of your freedom; but, strictly speaking, virtue is not a habit. It is an extraordinary inventive capacity that enables us to carry out excellent acts that are profoundly in conformity with God’s will. It is a stable disposition to do good.
Virtue is precisely what enables us to perform excellent actions easily and joyfully, in a stable manner, with profound interior freedom, the freedom of the children of God.
Ironically, I have tons of ideas in times of sloth. But busyness or even productivity aren’t a guarantee I’m looking into the highest good. In fact, when the distaste for spiritual goods hits, I often get scattered and shine my thoughts everywhere.
There are many, many different objects in this crazy, wonderful world for the light of our minds to light up, but if the light is weak or foggy or unreliable, all its objects will be dim, and our grasp of them weak, and our very selves dim and weak like ghosts. Our mind can be compared to the light, and everything in our world is an object to it. To improve the light itself—to clarify it and intensify it and focus it and master it—is more important than to know any of its objects (except God and yourself, the only two realities you can never escape for a single moment, in time or in eternity).
 Sometimes translated sloth, this is being sad about pursuing a spiritual good. Like, skipping prayer time when I know it’ll bring me a feeling of peace, or even eating ice cream when I had planned on fasting.
I’ve grossly neglected the fiction section of this newsletter. Here are a couple standalone quotes to kick off!
Alastair Reynolds is an astrophysicist turned sci-fi writer. Boy, does he make me think! Note to self: multiply the number of small best I can take.
Blind replication—nothing smart about it, but because it’s happening simultaneously in a billion-odd places, they win over us by sheer weight of numbers.
Hard magic systems and hard science fiction are two of my favorite categories. Brandon Sanderson tops the charts in terms of a fantasy author who keeps his writing relatively free of gratuitous sexual content AND weaves a fun story.
He has some helpful rules on writing magic systems that clarified a lot in story development for me:
Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.
Brandon Sanderson, “Sanderson’s First Law”