Monthly Rounds (August 2020) - Important People, Big Ideas, and 'How to Build a Life'

Hi friends,

These are my favorite pieces from August.


This profile of Mellody Hobson is compelling for many reasons, but perhaps mostly because not many people know who Mellody Hobson is. Like any good profile it helps answer the fundamental question: what is it about who someone is that helped make them into what they have become.

"Hobson was invited to a business persons’ breakfast with basketball great Bill Bradley, then a U.S. senator from New Jersey. It was the beginning of a remarkably formative friendship. “We started talking, and I don’t remember the name of one other person at the breakfast,” says Bradley today. That moment highlights another of Hobson’s gifts. “Someone once told me that the secret to success is being the person who other people want to see succeed,” says Parsons. “It’s more important than talent, brains, or luck. And Mellody is the person others want to see succeed.”


As remote works transitions from the “new normal” to simply the normal, companies who learn to thrive in distributed, asynchronous, and virtual environments will create more distance between them and their competitors. This piece outlines a framework for the five levels of autonomy in a distributed work environment. 

"Level two is where many companies have found themselves in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve accepted that work is going to happen at home for a while, but they recreate what they were doing in the office in a “remote” setting, like Marshall McLuhan talked about new media mediums initially copying the generation before. You’re probably able to access information from afar, you’ve adapted to tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but everything is still synchronous, your day is full of interruptions, no real-time meetings have been canceled (yet), and there’s a lot of anxiety in management around productivity — that’s the stage where companies sometimes install surveillance software on laptops."


I love the concept of documenting the “biggest ideas that changed one's life.” We probably encounter such ideas often but either forget to capture, adopt, or revisit these ideas enough to make them stick. I found this list particularly insightful.

"Everything’s been done before. The scenes change but the behaviors and outcomes don’t. Historian Niall Ferguson’s plug for his profession is that “The dead outnumber the living 14 to 1, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril.” The biggest lesson from the 100 billion people who are no longer alive is that they tried everything we’re trying today. The details were different, but they tried to outwit entrenched competition. They swung from optimism to pessimism at the worst times. They battled unsuccessfully against reversion to the mean. They learned that popular things seem safe because so many people are involved, but they’re most dangerous because they’re most competitive.”


Way before Jeff Bezos became the first human being to ever amass a net worth of $200 billion, he was a kid who spent some summers with his grandparents in Texas. In this transcript of his 2010 Princeton commencement speech, he tells the story of one of those car rides and a “big idea” that emerged from it.

"On one particular trip, I was about 10 years old. I was rolling around in the big bench seat in the back of the car. My grandfather was driving. And my grandmother had the passenger seat. She smoked throughout these trips, and I hated the smell. At that age, I’d take any excuse to make estimates and do minor arithmetic. I’d calculate our gas mileage — figure out useless statistics on things like grocery spending...At any rate, I decided to do the math for my grandmother...When I was satisfied that I’d come up with a reasonable number, I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder, and proudly proclaimed, “At two minutes per puff, you’ve taken nine years off your life!”

I have a vivid memory of what happened, and it was not what I expected. I expected to be applauded for my cleverness and arithmetic skills...That’s not what happened. Instead, my grandmother burst into tears….While my grandmother sat crying, my grandfather, who had been driving in silence, pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. He got out of the car and came around and opened my door and waited for me to follow. Was I in trouble? My grandfather was a highly intelligent, quiet man. He had never said a harsh word to me, and maybe this was to be the first time? ...We stopped beside the trailer. My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, “Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.”"


Harvard Business School’s Arthur Brooks recently started a new column for The Atlantic titled “How to Build A Life.” In this inaugural piece, he outlines three equations for happiness — a great place to start in a topic that never seems to lose its relevance.

“This column has been in the works for some time, but my hope is that launching it during the pandemic will help you leverage a contemplative mindset while you have the time to think about what matters most to you. I hope this column will enrich your life, and equip you to enrich the lives of the people you love and lead."


As always, I would love to hear updates about your life and what you have enjoyed reading, watching, and engaging with over the last month. If you are free to catch up or reconnect, please reach out. And if you know anyone who else would enjoy receiving these content, feel free to direct them here.