Great Books I’ve Read — Part V
The Fountainhead: There are people who live their entire lives based on what others will think. In fact, there are far more people like this than you might realize. These people perform all of their actions based on how they believe others might perceive them. For instance, they choose their careers based on how others will view them, they make statements based on how others will react to them, they give charity so they can be viewed as virtuous, they do their work to gain recognition from others, they make money to gain prestige from the public. These people are “second-handers” who never do anything based on their own beliefs; they live in the eyes of others. Despite that, many of these people are viewed positively by society (as they wish to be): as “altruists”, as being “selfless”, since they are constantly doing things based on others.
On the flip side, there are people — very few — who live life on their own terms. They make decisions based solely on their own beliefs. They choose careers based on what they want to do, they make statements that they firmly believe in, they give charity (perhaps anonymously) to get personal enjoyment out of the act of giving, they do their work for the love of the work itself, and they make money as a means to an end that they want to achieve for themselves. These people are independent thinkers, the “prime movers” that move the world forward. Yet the world views them negatively: as being “egotistical” or “selfish”, since they are constantly doing things based on themselves.
Despite the public perception, the latter person moves the world forward while the former holds the world back. We need more prime movers in the world; being “selfish” and performing activities for one’s own fulfillment and ego are the characteristics of the visionaries that drive progress for all of humanity. And they don’t do it to gain recognition and fame, rather they do it for their own personal love and utility gained from the work itself. They ignore the “critics” who are constantly trying to tear them down.
The Man Who Solved The Market: It can take a very long time (sometimes decades) to achieve what you set out to do. If you are convinced that what you are aspiring for is possible, don’t quit (especially if the rewards are huge).
There is a compounding effect on data. Collect as much of it as possible for as long as possible.
Hillbilly Elegy: A vicious cycle of hopelessness is the critical issue within certain demographic groups in our country. Government policy — which often exacerbates the issue— is only part of the solution; breaking this vicious cycle requires improving the household environment in which children grow up. Growing up, children need their home to have peace (to study), love (to feel safe), a role model (to motivate and aspire to).
Tiger Woods: An unfiltered look at what it takes to be the greatest: insane work ethic, laser focus, ruthless competitiveness. As well as an unfiltered look at how a maniacal attitude like this — inherently one that isolates you from the rest of the world, including your family — can destroy your life and reputation.
The Frackers: (1) “Experts” don’t know everything, and the opposite of the “obvious” can be true. As gas prices soared in the US in the early 2000s, our foremost oil & gas experts believed we were a few years away from running out of energy. Low and behold, new technology developments (horizontal drilling + fracking) resulted in an enormous amount of oil and natural gas production. As a result, the US not only had enough gas for itself, but became a massive exporter of energy and one of the largest energy producers in the world. The US is now energy independent, and oil & gas prices decreased dramatically and have never recovered. If you would have told this to someone knowledgeable in the early 2000s, they’d have thought you were crazy. However, sometimes the opposite of the obvious actually comes true. (A current example: the emptying of cities vs. the foregone conclusion that urbanization would continue forever.)
(2) Entrepreneurship is possibly more about survival and reacting to the market than anything else. Out of all the characters in this book, the one I’m most enamored by (from a purely entrepreneurial perspective) is Charif Souki. He was a restaurateur-turned-energy businessman who, at the time when oil & gas prices were skyrocketing, realized it would be cheaper to import Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and turn it into gas on the US coast than it would be to find and produce energy within the US. He raised billions of dollars on this thesis, only to witness the aforementioned “opposite of obvious” scenario play out. When energy prices tumbled, he was left with a facility to turn imported LNG into gas that would now be more expensive than producing within the US. With his company’s stock price down to $1/share (90%+ from its all-time high), he realized there was another path: take natural gas from the US, liquify it, and export it abroad (the opposite of his initial approach). This would provide international markets with cheaper access to energy. The only problem: Souki needed $12 BILLION more to repurpose his existing facility. 99% of people would have quit at this point. But Souki had the perseverance to intelligently react to the market and the passion to sell his new concept to investors. He ultimately managed to raise the capital and build his LNG export facilities.
The Four: The Four (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google) have become enormous and created tons of positivity in our lives, but are they beginning to do more harm than good? Some of the obvious cases of harm include Facebook’s data privacy issues (e.g. Cambridge Analytica scandal) and Apple’s tax avoidance via Ireland (which was resolved by Trump lowering the tax hit on money repatriated into the US), but there also are many consequences of these firms that are not as apparent. For instance, The Four create tons of value for investors and their employees (via high share prices and salaries), but in doing so are creating a few huge winners and a lot more losers (e.g. the employees at competitors who have and will continue to lose their jobs; Uber drivers who are contractors getting paid very little and being provided none of the expected employee benefits such as healthcare or PTO; etc.).
Thus, there is a capitalist case to be made for breaking The Four up (more innovation due to more competition, more tax dollars for the US, more high-paying jobs due to competition, etc.). In any case, The Four are here to stay and everyone should know the stakes for both their personal and professional lives.
Dark Matter: Be happy with your own life because you never know how else it could have turned out. Even the simplest decision at some point could have produced a drastically different life outcome — for better or worse (the Butterfly Effect).
Pachinko: Life is like pachinko (Japanese version of pinball): there are other forces completely out of your control moving you around. Sometimes you end up a winner, some times you end up a loser.
It is hard to understand the suffering of a person (or group of people) without a true home.
Man’s Search for Meaning: Too many good quotes in here to not list them out:
“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, or a quest for power, but a quest for meaning.”
“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
“There are 3 ways to find meaning in life: (1) Work (doing something significant) (2) Love (caring for another person) (3) Suffering (specifically, the courage and attitude we have during difficult times)”
“Suffering in and of itself is meaningless, but we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.”
“You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
“The sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect.”
“Man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.”
“Boredom is now causing more problems to solve than distress.”
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”
“Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”
American Disruptor: Leland Stanford was the first railroad tycoon and built an empire after many initial failures and setbacks. Though there is some controversy revolving around how he built the railroad empire (he was simultaneously the Governor of California and the President of the Central Pacific Railroad, and was therefore able to influence government to allow him to utilize taxpayer dollars to fund the buildout of the tracks), he ultimately was able to use his wealth to create Stanford University, an institution that has become synonymous with entrepreneurship, innovation, and disruption.
Red Notice: Don’t underestimate how corrupt and unjust people and/or governments can be. But you can’t just give in — you need to fight back creatively, gathering as many supporters as possible for your cause (through unconventional tactics such as YouTube videos, press releases, investigative journal, classic politics, etc.). What might seem like a small, individual fight could result in change for thousands — or perhaps millions — of others battling the same corruption.
Bad Blood: Do your own diligence and don’t get caught up in the hype train. Just because people who are smarter, more successful, and more experienced than you are investing behind something, it doesn’t mean that they are right and that they have done their diligence. Ask employees (and former employees) inside companies what they think about the business and culture. Also, try to find out what attrition is within a company — high attrition is generally a bad sign.
Billion Dollar Whale: Ditto to Bad Blood. Jho Low (who was running 1MDB, Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, from behind the scenes) was able to dupe major governments, banks (including Goldman Sachs, who recently paid a hefty fine), celebrities, and businessmen. You need to do your own diligence and not purely rely on the signaling from others involved.
Ride of a Lifetime: Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur these days, but there’s something to be said about having loyalty to a specific company for a decade (or more). Bob Iger — who arguably had the coolest job in the world — didn’t found Disney; he instead took every single job he had — some glamorous, some less so — and performed exceptionally well, ultimately leading him to the top. Then to stay at the top, he took huge risks (via major M&A: Lucas Films, Pixar, etc.).
Don’t burn bridges, and in some cases work to repair the ones you did burn. After Bob Iger became Disney’s CEO, had he not reached out to Steve Jobs (despite Steve’s prior animosity toward Disney), their amazing relationship (personal and professional) wouldn’t have existed, robbing both parties of amazing partnerships, an eventual merger, and a lifelong friendship.
Homo Deus: I put this one at the end because I cannot say I recommend the entire book (more in the category of “books that should have been a blog post”). Read the first and last chapters and you will get 90%+ of the insights.