Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant – Book

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How often have you wondered what traits and habits turn someone into “an original” – someone who succeeds in some way that makes them stand out, or even just someone who pursues their own interests without being concerned about what is considered as “normal”, or “cool”? How often have you wondered if you might be an “original” if you only did not have to work? This nonfiction offering, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant, attempts to study individuals or businesses that cultivate new ground either successfully or not. There is, quite logically, an attempt to create a matrix of characteristics which might help you analyze whether or not you might be an original, and traits which might explode some myths about people we respect as originals. He includes examples from current culture to back up his points.

Originals may not have the traits you would expect them to have. For example, the author tells us, originals are often procrastinators who put off delivering their final product until the last minute, which gives them time for late developments. They do not accept failure but they often fail many times before they find an idea that works. Grant tells about the ups and downs of the Warby-Parker site creators of the online eye glass site. People thought buying eyeglasses online would never fly but this site is now quite successful. The authors tells us that these originals and, in fact, most of these risk-takers often do not give up their day jobs. It seems that leaping in one aspect of your life while maintaining stability in others areas seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

The author goes through many studies that have been conducted by business experts trying to discover what makes businesses succeed or fail. The Segway and the Polaroid camera are both examples of business products that lost ground because the creators did not want dissenters and hired only admirers who could not break the “bubble” that would have allowed the business to respond flexibly to cultural trends or be aware of market trends that should have been heeded.

I don’t know how exhaustive our knowledge of “originals” is as a result of what this author shares with us. Any attempt to quantify complex and many-faceted intangibles; to produce a list of causes that will produce a desired effect in order to bring about such a non-concrete outcome, is bound to be oversimplified. Adam Grant does not actually give us a list of methodologies to become originals, rather he attempts to explode the myths we already have about what conditions it takes to be such an inventor, creator, prime mover. However there is plenty of encouragement In Grant’s book for people who think that all Originals are uniformly productive and consistently confident. It is also interesting to see what areas are the focus of those who study businesses.

You can find my reviews at Nancy Brisson at http://goodreads.com/

 

From Silk to Silicon by Jeffrey E Garten – Book Review and Comments on Globalization

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I tend to think that we are living in the most global age ever and my take on global government often harkens back to the science fiction books I have always enjoyed so much, so my construct tends to actually be governance of the galaxy. In The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov the Galactic Empire exists but it is on its way out. Preparations have already been made to train brilliant humans who will bring the Empire back from the Dark Ages into which it has been plunged. In Dune we have the Spacer’s Guild, the Bene Gesserit, and the noble houses in a feudal society with everyone owing allegiance to the Padishah Emperor. In Star Wars we know that there is a rebel alliance at war with the empire and prequels fill in the backstory showing us a government full of corruption, swollen, unwieldy, and divided.

So I often try to imagine what our government might be like if we did have a global government. I can imagine a system where we keep our individual nations but belong to some overarching body that coordinates everything and keeps a more and more complex world ticking along smoothly and peacefully (which you would think might be the United Nations, except that this idea makes some people paranoid). I realize that this is as much science fiction right now as any of my old beloved sci-fi books, but there is a corner of my mind that believes that we could possibly pull this off (a very optimistic corner of my mind).

But, Jeffrey E. Garten the author of From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization through Ten Extraordinary Lives does not see globalization as something to be achieved in the future if we ever get our act together. He feels that people on this planet have been making the world smaller and more connected for centuries and he doesn’t even go back as far as the Roman Empire. He goes back to Genghis Khan (1162-1227) ravaging his way across most of Asia and even perhaps into a swath of Europe conquering and killing out of motives very like vengeance but also mixing cultures along the way, sending beautiful objects and bright people to live in the peaceful parts of his empire and setting up the trade routes that became the very well-traveled Silk Road.

He goes on to talk about nine more people who have connected parts of the globe and made it easier for goods, services, and people to wander further and/or faster or even to stay in one place and still connect with distant corners of the planet. He includes Prince Henry the “Navigator” (although he believes that name is a misnomer), too young a son to inherit a kingdom but driven to find his niche in Portugal and perhaps his legacy. He begins as a conqueror, continues as a sponsor of explorations, and sadly winds up bringing slaves to Europe from Africa.

We have Cyrus Field who tried time and time again until he devised a system that worked to lay a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable from Newfoundland to England allowing messages to travel in minutes rather than weeks and months. Garten tells us about a Jewish banker who went home to the Jewish ghetto each night but was trusted to bring funds and investment money to and from rich and even royal men all over Europe and England. He tells us how Mayer Amschel Rothschild continued to live in his old neighborhood even as he founded banks in all of the important European cities and sent his sons out to run them. Would we have a modern banking system without him? Maybe, but it might not have gotten off to such a prosperous start.

Even Margaret Thatcher, a Prime Minister who people love to hate, is given credit for breaking up socialism in England and sponsoring free trade, things which ended what might have been a long-standing recession in Great Britain, at least for a time. And he tells us about Andrew Grove, eventual CEO of Microsoft, with his grasp of detail and his apparently inborn work ethic who revolutionized the microchip production industry when no one else seemed to be able to manufacture microchips that had the necessary qualities of consistency and usability.

There are a few others I did not name in this book review (great book, you should read it) but one of his main points was about what these folks had in common. They did not set out to contribute to the overall globalization of the world. They were not even always people who you would want to be in the path of, they could be cruel, they were all extremely determined, and their goals were often quite narrow, but offered out-sized consequences, sometimes deliberate, sometimes not.

So it seems all our talk about globalization in the 21st century needs to be placed in the context of all the connections made on our planet which began long before any of us existed. In other words, there is a historical context in which modern globalization is a continuation of a human tendency, rather than an innovation that is just coming into existence. Who will be the extraordinary individual who takes the baton and runs the next lap? Is this person already here, or far in the future? Only hindsight will tell. It could be you.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – Book

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If you want to have someone talk about something as serious
as finding the one person who you will love forever when there are so many ways
for this search to go awry get a comedian to write a book about it. If that
book explores romantic disasters that range from the heartbreaking to the ridiculous,
all the better. If that comedian does his due diligence and confers with
experts who study dating, comparing dating options over several generations the
deal gets even several notches better. We get graphs and jokes and an
illumination of cultural trends in heterosexual pairing (not just in America
but also in some interesting international locations).

Modern
Romance
by Aziz Ansari reads almost like one of those ethnographies
anthropologists used to write about various isolated tribes (á la Margaret
Meade). Fortunately Aziz’s humor is not intrusive, is usually quite hip, and
causes readers to chortle out loud on occasion. The author’s obvious love of
good food and his continual gastronomic observations add to the fun and perhaps
prove that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’.

Technology changes so fast that there is always the danger
that a book such as this will quickly turn into an ancient artifact. But right
now it is au currant and you probably
shouldn’t procrastinate about reading it, whether or not you are in the
relationship marketplace, because of the sometimes interesting research, both
informal and more academic that Ansari discusses.

Modern
Romance
ends with a discussion of whether a couple, after
experiencing that magical attraction of the first year to year and a half of a
great relationship should move into the less passionate, companionate phase
that follows it, or if an individual should just go from person to person and
peak to peak. Science makes a pretty good argument for growing up and moving
into that second phase apparently. Aziz says “But we want more than love. We
want a lifelong wingman/wingwoman who completes us and can handle the truth, to
mix metaphors from three different Tom Cruise movies.”

If you don’t know what it means to swipe right or swipe left
you should really find yourself a copy of Modern
Romance
and dive right in. If you know what this means this might be
required reading. 
 
By Nancy Brisson