#64 There are infinite possible worlds; we just happen to live in this one.
Way of working, history, storytelling, emails, tennis & more
I’ve lots of interesting things to discuss today, so I will skip making any elaborate introduction. Let’s jump straight to today’s find.
1. Way of working
When writer and researcher Brie Wolfson thinks back on her time working at Stripe, the thing that stands out to her is that people really cared about the work. Cared enough to do multiple passes on a piece of copy that wasn't working, or pull long nights sprinting toward a launch. Cared so much that they knew pieces of company documentation by heart, and that nobody wanted to be the first person to leave the office, even on Friday.
That’s how the editorial team at Every introduces this masterpiece titled “What I miss about working at Stripe” by Brie Wolfson. I tried a couple of times but could not write a better introduction. So I am taking the liberty to use Every’s version as is.
As I read this post, all I dreamt was to build one team & company where I (or someone else in my team) will write one such post. I have worked with some really talented teams on exciting missions. There are many things that we’ve tried to make our time & experience of working as fulfilling. Some of these work and stick for a longer period, others fail miserably. But a few years down the lane, if we can recall even a few of those and feel a joy & pride, I think all this will be worth it.
I highly recommend reading Wolfson’s account.
2. History of nearly everything
Bill Bryson makes a very honest observation in the start of “A short history of nearly everything” - There seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy among textbook authors to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting and was always at least a long-distance phone call from the frankly interesting.
And then he goes on for over 550 pages to change that notion. And he does that in style!
If I am given the chance, I will include this book as a mandatory material for many courses - Geology 101, Chemistry 101, Physics 101 (and further specializations in all these areas), Writing humor, Doing research and what not!
This book is a masterpiece.
I’m listening to the audiobook version on Audible. William Roberts has made it one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard. His narration style and energy makes Bryson’s beautiful writing come alive. The book runs 19 hrs of listening time. It took some courage for me to start this one. But once I started, there was no going back. For the last couple of weeks, it’s made my journey through the crazy ORR traffic super enjoyable. I am really sad that the book is about to finish.
Here’s a couple of snippets from the book for you to experience Bryson’s magic:
“The upshot of all this is that we live in a universe whose age we can't quite compute, surrounded by stars whose distances we don't altogether know, filled with matter we can't identify, operating in conformance with physical laws whose properties we don’t truly understand.”
“Geologists are never at a loss for paperweights.”
“Tune your television to any channel it doesn't receive and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.”
3. How Do Individual Contributors Get Stuck?
Recently Manasvi shared a bunch of interesting reads on the topic of ‘feedback’. This short post from Camille Fournier stood out to me. It addresses a very common problem with a very unique solution. Here’s a quick snapshot from the post:
Everyone has at least one area that they tend to get stuck on. An activity that serves as an attractive sidetrack. A task they will do anything to avoid. With a bit of observation, you can start to see the places that your colleagues get stuck. This is a super power for many reasons, but at a baseline, it is great for when you need to write a review and want to provide useful constructive feedback.
Camille further suggests:
Noticing how people get stuck is a super power, and one that many great tech leads (and yes, managers) rely on to get big things done. When you know how people get stuck, you can plan your projects to rely on people for their strengths and provide them help or even completely side-step their weaknesses. You know who is good to ask for which kinds of help, and who hates that particular challenge just as much as you do.
I find it mutually beneficial for both the people involved in the feedback discussion. What do you think?
4. Little ways the world works
Morgan Housel’s recent essay focuses on some fundamental truths that are applicable in more than one field. Here’s the core premise of this essay.:
If you find something that is true in more than one field, you’ve probably uncovered something particularly important. The more fields it shows up in, the more likely it is to be a fundamental and recurring driver of how the world works.
He goes on to share a very useful application of this kind of knowledge.
It might sound crazy, but once you understand the basic principles of your profession, you might gain more expertise by reading around your field than within your field. Connecting dots between fields helps you uncover the most powerful forces that guide how the world works, which can be so much more important than a little new detail that’s specific to your profession.
Finally, he shares a lot of interesting & very insightful little ways the world works. You’re going to love this list.
5. Emails with Military Precision
Kabir Sehgal’s “How to Write Email with Military Precision” is a short read, but has some really interesting suggestions. Kabir has used a couple of tricks from military communication techniques to share these tips.
Here’s one such trick - Use keywords in the subject line clearly stating the purpose of the email.
Here’s a possible list:
Sounds fairly simple. I have used some other short hands in the past, but not such explicit keywords.
What kind of tricks do you use in your email subject & body for making them more impactful?
6. Tennis umpires and technology
“Inside the secret world of tennis umpires” is a fun & enjoyable read. One of core themes is summed up in this statement - “New technology was supposed to make umpiring easy. It hasn’t worked out that way”.
It shares many interesting observations & facts around this sport. Sample a few from the articles:
The challenge of umpiring is mental, not physical. A football referee might have to cover eight miles during a match, but they only have to stay alert for 90 minutes. The tennis chair umpire might be required to focus for more than four hours. While the line judges and ball kids work in one-hour shifts, the chair umpire remains.
At the highest levels, chair umpiring is an “exercise in psychology” ... The better the umpire is, the harder it is to spot what they’re actually doing.
Assigning umpires to a match is a delicate art – “different umpire, different outcome” is a phrase I heard a lot. For major tournaments, the umpires are assigned the night before the match, by the head of officiating and other senior figures. Chair umpires are not allowed to officiate anybody of the same nationality. That means if you’re an ambitious young umpire and a brilliant player emerges from your country, you’ve got a problem. One of the reasons great Spanish umpires have been overlooked for the French Open’s men’s singles final is because Nadal has dominated the tournament for almost two decades, winning it 14 times.
7. Everything else
Some random goodness from the internet:
Follow: Devanagari font is not a common sight on my Insta feed, and so I loved the work by Man vs. Type (@manvstype) , especially the “Hindi Logos” collection.
Watch: One More Try (an experimental skates video, super short, but impressive. Loved that background tune in the end), 0 to 20y in two minutes (really beautiful time lapse)
Read: Mathematical power of 3 random words (Yes, they can make really strong passwords, only if the world allowed us to use them), Unraveling The JPEG (Super geeky stuff, but the playable parts make it fun). Dear Airbnb (Joe Gebbia’s letter after he stepped down from his full time role at Airbnb)
Interact: What makes writing more readable (apart from the lessons, I loved the interactive play they have created in a simple web article).
Before we sign off, here’s a message from the Cosmos.
That's all for this week, folks!
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On Camille's piece: Interesting perspective. Conjures up the mental model of a dovetail. It's possible to also think of it as a barter system. Think of what's easy for you but hard for someone else; hard for you but easy for others. Then make the trade.
I'm going to write multiple comments if I have to. So Brie's account first. I read the piece and it just exudes joy and even some longing. And then you mirrored that feeling.
I wonder about us relying on our memory to recount experiences. How would a daily journal from Brie or anyone from Stripe read like? Would they have that perspective? Would it seem as joyful? I find Anne Frank's writing so powerful because it was written in the moment of experience. Incidentally, I've been reading up on experience and the memory of it and that has made me trust journals more than memoirs.
How do you see it?